David Howard, ed.: Complete with Instructions (2001)
X – Afterword
I should certainly never again, on the spot, quite hang together, even though it wasn’t really that I hadn’t three times her method. What I too fatally lacked was her tone.– Henry James
Strangely enough, after all that, I’ve come to the conclusion that there may actually be such a thing as Christchurch poetry. It’s a bit like those interminable discussions about the meaning of being Russian which you find in novels by Turgenev or Dostoyevsky. The ‘Westerners’ argue that you should be more European, more progressive; the ‘Slavonics’ believe you should retreat inwards to Orthodox Christianity and the mighty Russian soul. To the outsider, the distinguishing Russianness is the fact that they bother to have the discussion at all.
The unexpectedness of each of these poets is worth far more than their status in some critical scheme: I think of Julia Allen and her theory that half the people we see may be ghosts, as in her poem ‘Drop’ (below):
on the cliff above
and of John Allison talking of his determination to ‘celebrate the beauty, not the ugliness, of things.’ I think of Kenneth Fea emphasising with relish how one good nor’wester would blow all the rubbish away; of David Gregory’s exasperation with critics who would only discuss the green door on the cover of his book. I think of Rob Jackaman’s ‘silly hobby’ of photographing railways in third world countries; of Graham Lindsay’s loving evocation of that paradisal diorama in the Canterbury museum. I think of Mike Minehan fixing me with an appraising stare as she commented on the attractions of becoming a total recluse. Finally, I think of John O’Connor’s studiedly casual references to Xena and Hercules …
It’s simply a matter of finding a falsifiable hypothesis – as it were, a definition by exclusion. Predictably, I find myself coming back to that early Baxter poem, ‘High Country Weather:’
Alone we are born
And die alone;
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
Over snow mountain shine.
Upon the upland road
Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger.
The ambiguities somehow contribute to the point: the solitude, the hills, the sky – but also that discontented self-castigating observer who can never be eradicated from the most well-conducted of consciousnesses. Perhaps, then, it really is the South Island poem par excellence.
fellwith seaweeddrifting over
to swim youa w a y
on the cliff above
toa seagullandf l e w (clipped)
in a reasonably graceful celluloid manner
f l i c k i n gits wings
to get rid of the
Complete with Instructions. Edited by David Howard. ISBN 0-473-07646-2 (Christchurch: Firebrand, 2001): 60-61.
Complete with Instructions (2001)