Jack Ross, ed.: brief 30 - Kunst (November 2004)
Niel Wright, Only a Bullet will stop me now. Paekakariki: ESAW, 2004. ISBN 1-86942-044-6. 35 pp. RRP $15.00.
This book is certainly an interesting museum piece. First published in 1970 as part of its author’s epic The Alexandrians (now available, we’re told, in a multi-volumed “definitive edition”), it’s hard, at first sight, to work out what exactly it’s all about. “They have carpet / In the carport.” runs the poem “Life with the Joneses”  which seems to sit rather uneasily with the stilted “Hero’s Welcome,” an account of Theseus’s unfortunate first meeting with his father, the King of Athens. Most of the book, however, is taken up by a verse novella “The Sun Wheel,” the story of a fatal love triangle in mid-century Canterbury (“a psychological study of a topdressing tragedy,” according to the blurb). The rather clumsy, Masefield-esque versification cannot obscure the author’s real gift for narrative, and no doubt one could draw parallels between these two central stories if one wished. The blurb goes so far as to describe Wright’s Theseus as a “sort of Hamlet in reverse,” which seems to me special pleading, especially coupled with the claim that “Niel Wright in the 1960’s redefined English poetry not just in New Zealand but everywhere” … Comments like this risk leaving the author looking ridiculous, which is a shame given the immense labour and thought he’s clearly poured into his oeuvre as a whole. The stultifying conformity of Kiwi culture appears to be his principal theme (in this instalment of his work, at any rate), and one can’t help agreeing with him there!