The Labyrinth: Some Uncollected Poems 1944- 72 by James K. Baxter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I (of course) knew who James K. Baxter was. New Zealand’s greatest poet, largely ignored by the international literary world.
These poems were collected by Baxter’s good friend & fellow poet,J.E. Weir. Weir describes them as;
…a representative sampling of some 400 previously uncollected poems published by James K. Baxter during his lifetime.
And the poems are awesome! if they are in chronological order, Baxter had an assured and beautiful gift from the age of 18. These poems are stunning & beautiful in their complexity. Most told stories that I could relate to and I was sitting there going, “Wow. Wow. Wow.”
From the only poem that is dated In Monochrome
Five swans flew over: night fell from their wings
Flashing a dusky white. The cool night fell
To underwater calm. Sea rose in spray
The few stars came in quiet.
He was only 18 when he wrote that.
The last couple were more raw, basic I guess you could say. But he wasn’t a well man before his death at 46 (but looking 76) from Coronary thrombosis.
I do wish I hadn’t decided to do any research on Baxter, because in spite of the good he did in the communes he founded, he was also a bit of a shit really. Some of his letter have been published where he boasts of raping his wife, author & poet Jacquie Sturm. She should have been the first Maori published, but well… she wasn’t. There are other allegations of sexual assault against him. Horrifying.
From Conversation in a Garden
At Jerusalem. I tell her that obedience
Is pleasing to God and suitable for a woman
Blech. But the other poems are beautiful.