Jack Ross, ed.: Spin 39 (March 2001)
David Howard, Shebang: Collected poems 1980-2000 (Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2001). ISBN 1-877228-59-1. $24.95
It seems that it’s at last time to look back on David Howard’s poetic career and attempt some assessments. A collected poems isn’t necessarily an ending, of course, but it is a milestone. Critics have occasionally said that his poetry has failed to adapt to changing times, but seeing the work in aggregate makes it easier to see what he’s been trying to do all along. It’s almost as if every poem is the same poem – or the same attempt to express the inexpressible: to achieve that “one / Poem maybe as cold / and passionate as the dawn” [W. B. Yeats], or, to adopt a model perhaps more to David’s taste, Paul Celan’s “Kargheit, Klarheit” [spareness, clearness]. That perfect poem would have to be simultaneously (how not?): a love poem; a poem deep in the historical consciousness; and an honest, jagged, meditation on the paradoxes of being human. Maybe, as Allen Curnow remarked in similar circumstances, it did get “written after all? It ought to be the single poem of which these are the lines and the spaces.” [Collected Poems 1933-1973, p.268].