Monday, 18 February 2013

Settler Mythology: Colonial paladins in John Mulgan and Denis Glover

Susan L. Kinnear's paper on Settler Mythology: Colonial paladins in John Mulgar and Denis Glover was a fascinating read for me and shook my NZ surveying, gold and coal mining roots. For those like me who revere Denis Glover, it comes as a shock to get another sobering perspective on a writer and poet,' two men alone.' I won't say more, but I hope you will enjoy.

                                                     Susan L Kinnear, June 2011

There has always seemed to me something basically wrong
with young men who grow up in comfortable circumstances and
cheerfully accept the conservatism of an older generation.[1]
                                                                                                          John Mulgan                

Schoolboys at Auckland Grammar in the late 1920’s, John Mulgan and Denis Glover shared a passion for rugby, the sea and a joint goal of creating what they perceived to be a distinct literature for an increasingly independent New Zealand.  Mulgan’s Man Alone and Glover’s poem sequences Sings Harry and Arawata Bill helped to ‘install as the dominant discourse of New Zealand fiction’ a narrative that was laconic, terse, white and almost exclusively male, rejecting both older writers and women novelists as irrelevant in the New Zealand context. [2]

This chapter will explore the representation of the ‘man alone’ in the work of both Mulgan and Glover; arguing that rather than creating a unique voice for New Zealand, the settler stereotype of the old prospector who saves Johnson in Man Alone, and Glover’s ore panning Arawata Bill, evidence not a rejection of colonial literature, but a ubiquitous continuum of the colonial settler myth.  Their definition in opposition to the land, desire to exploit and obliviousness to the presence of the Maori does not carve a new identity for the New Zealand male; it continues one started a century earlier with the controversial Treaty of Waitangi.[3]  The paper will further demonstrate how both the inclusion and subversion of the pastoral idyll by both writers, while recognising the ambivalent relationship between the working man and his environment, demonstrates the Pakeha’s continuing colonial dominance over both nature and native in this ‘new’ national literature.

Both Mulgan and Glover disparaged the ‘old poets’ of New Zealand; the writers, publishers and men of letters in early 20th century New Zealand that Hilliard terms ‘the bookmen.’[4]   While Mulgan criticised his own father for the pastoral romanticism of his novel A Pilgrim’s Way in New Zealand,[5] which Mulgan viewed as derivative of colonial sentimentality, Glover dismissed all women’s writing as ‘feminine-mimsy’[6] by ‘’girlie-poets’[7] with staid Victorian values.  In his 1937 poem The Arraignment of Paris, which lampoons New Zealand’s women writers and the men who published their work, he writes:

            Alas New Zealand Literature distills
            an atmosphere of petticoats and frills
            (or shall we say, to shock the dear old vicars,
            an atmosphere or brassieres and knickers?)[8]

The one topic that characterised the new, muscular literature of the 1930’s above all others was the ‘man alone.’  Jensen argues that while Mulgan’s novel supplied the name ‘... the man alone was said to manifest himself in the drifting men of Sargeson’s stories [and] the solitary male figures in Glover’s poem sequences Sings Harry and Arawata Bill...’[9]    This motif is characterised not simply by the chief protagonist of Mulgan’s novel or the voice of Harry in Glover’s Sings Harry sequence, but by the colonial archetypes each writer uses to exemplify what is good and missing in modern society.  It is the frontier settler that initially saves Johnson from near death in Man Alone, and Arawata Bill whose heart and soul are full of the gold he seeks in the mountains.  This argument is further exemplified by the second paladin of the old sea dog, battling alone against nature and the wrath of the sea, and rejecting the comfort and companionship of home and hearth for a life of salt spray and adventure.  In Man Alone this old captain is the complementary trope of the prospector, who shows Johnson a type of honourable trust, selflessness and kindness that is missing from the younger generation in the novel. 

As such, each author reveres aspects of the colonial society they purport to oppose, demonstrating Bloom’s theory of the anxiety of influence.[10]  Theirs is a triumph not of content, but of form; not a new ‘poetry,’ but a new ‘style.’  Their supremacy as ‘strong poets’ is a phenomenon witnessed across centuries by Bloom, where an emerging poet struggles to free himself from the influence of his forebears, but here, ultimately fails to separate himself from the continuum of the colonial paladin that links him to the older generation.[11]  Their triumph was, instead, to stylistically instill an essentially working class, ‘harsh, laconic, bitten-off masculine dialect’ into cultural consciousness as the new literary identify of New Zealand.[12]

Arguably, Mulgan and Glover were ‘strong poets‘ in every sense.  University educated first-class scholars, competitive, accomplished sportsmen, both men had attended the workers riots of 1932 as special constables, only to find themselves ‘facing the wrong way’ when they reached the barricades.[13]  Campaigners for social equality through literature and commentary, both subscribed to the political left and romanticised the worker as the emblem of human dignity.  Both volunteered for military service during the Second World War where Glover was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for saving hundreds of drowning marines during the D-Day landings, and was recognised with a Soviet Veterans Medal for running suicide missions against the Nazi’s to supply Murmansk.[14]  Mulgan fought his way through North Africa where most of his battalion was cut down, then parachuted into occupied Greece to run partisan resistance operations against the Axis forces.  He became a national hero for the mountain peasants, who came out of their villages to adorn his mule with garlands of flowers as he shadowed the retreating Nazi’s.  He was awarded the Military Cross and made a Lieutenant Colonel, before committing suicide in Cairo, and became the inspiration for the New Zealand intelligence officer in Louis de Bernière’s Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

Their distinguished service records, argues Jensen, gave additional credence to their role as warrior writers and ‘... added a special weight of masculine authority to the new literature.... Glover and Mulgan... seemed close to that ideal combination of literature and manliness, the whole man.’[15]  It is perhaps, not surprising, therefore that they were able to stylistically supersede their literary forebears who they regarded as ‘precious, flowery, sentimental, socially naive and out of date.’[16]  Indeed Pat Lawlor, a poet, journalist, and novelist of the ‘old guard,’ as well as founding member of New Zealand’s PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) society in 1934, criticised the modernist, and in Mulgan’s case realist, writing style published in the nation’s premier literary journal at the New Zealand Writers Conference in 1951, complaining that:

            Landfall has little or no regard for spiritual values or for interest in home or family            life.  As both are intimately concerned with art and literature... such regard is, to me,       incomprehensible... we are reaping a whirlwind of trouble from the disordered          writing of the days we live in... Admittedly the old writer has been squeamish,   fearing to look at a strong word or a woman’s stocking, but the modernist goes to    the other extreme and has thrown open his awful closet of profanities and             obscenities.[17]

New Zealand’s ‘new’ modern writers therefore, like their predecessors, were interested in literary traditions emanating from Great Britain; indeed Hilliard observes that poets such as Glover’s friend Allen Curnow were ‘just as concerned with Britain as the author of Home: A Colonial’s Adventure.’[18]  In debating the value of New Zealand’s new ‘modern’ literature therefore, Glover and his contemporaries demonstrated their own colonial lineage from imperial Great Britain, where the identity of the periphery aped the dominant culture of the centre.  Indeed, Hilliard argues that ‘... it would be simplistic to regard the bookmen as die hard anglophiles and their challengers as nationalists.  Many of the younger generation were attuned to British literary trends from TS Elliot to the left leaning poets of the 1930s such as Auden and Spender.’[19] Indeed Mulgan edited Auden and Yeats at the Oxford University Press and Ogilvie argues that almost all of Glover’s entire output could been seen as mediated by Spender.[20]

The stylistic triumph of Mulgan and Glover, in some ways, is not a story specific to New Zealand and echoes contemporary cultural debate in Britain; as Hilliard notes: ‘... a younger generation questions moral orthodoxies, writes more frankly, and their elders think they are peddling smut; young people mindful of the avant-garde write ‘free verse’ that their seniors see as yet another sign of modern degeneracy...’[21]  What is unique about New Zealand’s ‘strong poets’ is that, even with their supposed new voice, their narrative replicates colonial myths; the pioneer, the prospector, the adventurer, the sea captain.  They aggressively rebuff any validity for New Zealand women writers, portraying women in their own work as degenerate or vacuous, such as Rua and Mabel in Man Alone, and fail to incorporate any but the most derogatory Maori representations.  Indeed, New Zealand novelist Robin Hyde (Iris Wilkinson) complained of being bullied for her writing style by Curnow and Glover before committing suicide in 1939, and Hilliard notes that an entire generation of women writers in New Zealand were effectively silenced by the hegemony of Glover and Curnow in literary circles.  As such their arguments over the direction of poetry are conducted in ‘highly gendered terms’[22] that specifically exclude the ‘other’ which figures ‘only by its representational absence.’[23]

Jensen attributes this overt aggression to the engendering of war as a rite of passage in New Zealand men.  He claims that ‘... soldiering is an activity which our writers present as integral to New Zealand masculinity, starting in childhood when the topic of war seizes boys imagination.’[24]  Mulgan reflects on this in Report on Experience where he describes the First World War with almost mythical reverence:

            We had never, in fact, outgrown the shadow of that earlier war, which our fathers            had fought.  It brooded over our thoughts and emotions.  Old wars take on dignity     and grandeur.  As children we had heard men’s stories, coming home, had stood      silent in parades of remembrance, knew the names of old battles and heroes as part of our lives.  We felt the tragic waste and splendour of this first Great War, and     grew up in the waste land it had produced.[25]

The troubled isolation of the old veteran of both war and life is a motif that both Mulgan and Glover turn to repeatedly.  Such a man is inexpressive and distrustful of articulacy, and as Allen Curnow notes, ‘... in every New Zealand poet, almost, there is a streak of the “Kiwi” - our word for patriotic common man - who disapproves, distrusts, or despises the personal voice.’[26]  This flat, male voice is evident in both Glover’s Harry and Mulgan’s Johnson as inflexible and unemotional, even in the face of extreme violence.  For example when Johnson kills Stenning his response to Rua is entirely consistent with that of a work-hardened, care-worn ‘cow-cocky’[27]:

            ‘My God,’ she said, her voice rising, ‘you’ve killed him.’
            ‘I didn’t kill him,’ Johnson said, without emotion.  ‘He tried to kill me.’
            She gasped, looking fearfully at the dead body of her husband.
            ‘God,’ she said, her voice dropping again to a whisper.  ‘God, and he’s dead now.’
            Her hands were clenched and her eyes were staring at Johnson.  He moved     uneasily.
            ‘He’s dead all right.’ Johnson said.  ‘We can’t help that now.’[28]
For New Zealand male intellectuals in the mid-twentieth century, Jensen argues, such scenes of death and violence are of particular interest for their masculine connotations.  ‘Literature that focussed on these topics would always be able to present itself as a serious business, the work of ‘responsible adult New Zealanders.’’[29]  This tone of voice and ‘serious’ subject matter was in direct contrast to the miniature and myth of Mansfield and Hyde and, as Hilliard notes ‘... a national literature that had Sargeson and John Mulgan with their realism and their concern with the culture of men, as its exemplary fiction writers, had little place for the ‘fantasy’ of some of Hyde’s novels.’[30]

This culture of men is exemplified by the archetypal pioneers Glover and Mulgan portray as bastions of decency in an otherwise degenerate society.  For Glover these men, Harry, the rural labourer and Arawata Bill, the eponymous fossicker, embody ‘qualities which Glover clearly finds very attractive,’ who survive by their own efforts and choose ‘... to stand apart from their fellows, needing nothing, but giving nothing either.’ [31]  Harry and Arawata Bill demonstrate qualities that, Thomson argues, ‘... acquisitive urban man was likely to have lost sight of.’[32]  They had achieved a liberated condition of existence that was at least valuable, and perhaps even ‘ennobling.’[33]  The poems Songs in the Sings Harry sequence open with a small boy, a ‘pupil’, learning all he can from the vast manifestations of nature around him:
            From the cliff-top a boy
            Felt that great motion,
            And pupil to the horizon’s eye
            Grew wide with vision.
                        Sings Harry in the wind-break

Rather than being a new literature for New Zealand and for the twentieth, rather than nineteenth century, it is an almost direct correlation to Wordsworth’s Prelude.  The boy is soon broken by civilisation and ‘grew to own fences barbed.’  Confronted with all the wonders of the Pacific, the boy, when a man, chooses instead the menial life of urban settlement:

            Who once would gather all Pacific
            In a net wide as his heart
            Soon is content to watch the traffic
            Or lake waves breaking short,
                        Sings Harry in the wind-break

To further highlight the colonial sentiment behind the poem, the imagery throughout is of adventure, chase and capture.  The boy could chose to trawl the pacific with the net of his heart, capturing the North Islands ‘like stars/in the blue water’ or wrestle with ‘old Tasman, the boar’ who ‘Slashes and tears’; nature will respond with ‘Mountainous anger’ to this grand colonial endeavor.  Or, he can sit ‘fat as a barrel’ behind his own urban fence and leave the sea ‘never disturbed’ as ‘nothing to do with me’[34] while other men conquer the Pacific.  This conquest of land and sea is a recurrent them in the Sings Harry sequences, where Harry ‘rode a whole island for my horse’ and hears the morning ‘sound of the axe’ and ‘bush-buried shot at mountain deer.’[35]  Religion accompanies the the settlers and all must learn that ‘only Christ, not Cortes/Can land upon the beach.’[36]  Land acquisition, bush clearance, hunting and aggressive Christianity are all present as emblems of the colonial settler’s impact on New Zealand.

Thomson eulogises such verse as ‘... fixing an imaginative interpretation of the land;’[37] if so, such an interpretation is anchored by white settler mythology and the exploitation of New Zealand’s natural resources for profit, as Harry illustrates in The Casual Man:

            Come, mint me up the golden gorse,
            Mine me the yellow clay
-  There’s no money in my purse
            For a rainy day
                        Sings Harry[38]

However, while Harry is a fictional character, Arawata Bill is based on the historical figure of William O’Leary, a prospector and ruby miner from Otago.  His was a solitary, self-contained, life-long quest for gems and ore, illustrated by Glover through brightly coloured adjectives and sparkling verse:

            But where is the amethyst sky and the high
            Mountains of pure gold?[39]

As Glover wrote in 1953, he saw old Bill as perpetually searching ‘... for something intangible round the next bend’ and the poems are riddled with the imagery of anticipated acquisition.[40]  But Bill is unlucky:

            Dreams don’t pay;
            There’s no gold the easy way[41]

He is left instead with shingle, and starts to question if the real gold of New Zealand is actually the solitary mountain life it offers:

            But the mountains on the rim of the day
            Have nothing to say.

            Am I stealing their gold
            As a gipsy steals a child,
            Am I frisking their petticoats
            Camping in the wild?[42]

The sequence itself, argues Thomson, is a quest where ‘... more has been found than was sought...’[43] and while Glover strives to appreciate the beauty of New Zealand and it’s oceans in his poetry ‘... it is nearly always the activity of man which has endowed the landscape with significance.’[44]  Nature is seen not as valuable in its own right, but valuable for what it offers Bill.  Conversely in Man Alone, the land is portrayed as raw and mean for its refusal to yield up sufficient crops on Stenning’s farm.

Mulgan’s colonial archetypes are more both more generous and more sociable than Glover’s.  Bill Crawley, the frontier settler and some-time gold panner, and the old whaling captain Petersen both represent a better age in Man Alone; an age apart from New Zealand’s financial disasters in the 1890’s and 1930’s.  While Billy Crawley doesn’t like strangers disturbing his bush hut and Petersen prefers to smoke than talk, they are timeless characters who live in harmony with their surroundings and exhibit a heroic and selfless generosity that ultimately saves Johnson in his hour of need.

Petersen is a ‘giant of a man with a drooping moustache.’[45]  Johnson works for him for a pound a week on a coastal scow, loading and unloading packing cases around the Bay of Islands, but it is Petersen’s ‘half-cast Maori cook’ who does Johnson’s share of the sailing duties.[46]  Like all good wily old sea dogs he has journeyed far and had his fair share of women.  A colonial adventurer, he has some tales to tell, but he is a moral, uncomplicated man who knows how to look after himself and doesn’t care much for conversation.  The extremely short sentences mirror his matter-of-fact ‘manly’ speech patterns as he grunts and swears his way through their dialogue:

            Petersen had travelled.  He was a Swede, born in Nova Scotia.  He had worked on         a whaler and round the islands.  He had been married twice, once in San Francisco        and once in Singapore: the first wife had died and the second had disappeared.  He           was sixty years old.  He talked about men he had met and places he had seen         sometimes, but not very often.  He was a simple man.  He cared a lot for the old          Sea-Spray, which was his life’s savings.

He tries to warn Johnson of the dangers of itinerancy, but Johnson disregards this advice, saying:

            ‘I don’t worry about not having a ship of my own, Pete.  I don’t worry about that any         more than I worried about not having a farm.  There isn’t any better country than      this, not where a man can go about and get work, and stop when he wants to, and             make money when he needs it, and take a holiday when he feels ready for one.’

Petersen acknowledges that this is ‘... the way all sailors live’ but calls Johnson a ‘bloody fool’ nonetheless and to some extent, the remainder of the novel proves Petersen’s warning right. Johnson doesn’t take the advice of this old colonial trope; he doesn’t save, his work dries up in the depression, he gambles and drinks, and is reduced to a life of squalor on a farm so indebted to the bank that it makes insufficient money for even basic standards of living.   In the end, harried by the police and facing a life term in jail, it is Peterson, the old hero of the colonial era, that Johnson turns to for shelter and escape.  Having been rescued from near death in the bush by the old settler, Bill Crawley, he is spirited away from danger by the old sea dog, Petersen.  Like Bill Crawley, who has lived in the bush for decades, Petersen is a constant feature of his environment with ‘grizzled eye-brows and blue eyes sunk deep,’ and ‘had not changed in any of the time Johnson knew him.’[47]  Despite this affinity with his environment, he demonstrates predictably colonial and derogatory attitudes towards the Maori, describing the the Maori of the Bay of Islands as ‘lazy bastards’[48] and Rua as a ‘whore.’[49]

Eventually, Petersen retires from the sea to build himself ‘... a trim little white painted two-roomed cottage’ on the beachhead of a deserted bay with ‘... a neat garden and paths paved with shells.’[50]  Tucked away from civilisation he plans, like Bill Crawley, Arawata Bill and Harry, to live out his days in the wilderness.  Thomson argues that, in Glovers poems, this retreat to the frontier masks a deeper anxiety:

            A life in the country or the mountains certainly seems to be the form of existence            most desired by Harry and Arawata Bill... [b]ut do they really feel the country is their   natural home?  Is it not a means of escape from an even more unsatisfactory alternative... one which proves in its turn to be incapable of salving the ache in the       heart... or of providing that mystical grail...?[51]

For Glover, theres is an anxiety of seeking a ‘gold’ outside of themselves that lies instead within, but from a postcolonial perspective, this is also the anxiety of possession; a crisis of belonging not to the land they have usurped, but the oppressive civilisation they have escaped.

Likewise, Huggan and Tiffin note that Allen Curnow’s ‘... ironic ballad House and Land (1941) is frequently taken to be an exemplary study of postcolonial white settler anxiety of the crisis of belonging that accompanies split cultural allegiance, this historical awareness of expropriated territory, and suppressed knowledge that the legal fiction of entitlement does not necessarily bring with it the emotional attachment that turns “house and land” into “home.”’[52]  This is evident in the cupidity Johnson experiences in Man Alone in the mechanised farm of the Blakeways and in his sterile relationship with Mabel where Mabel’s father has ideas about buying a farm:

            ‘You don’t want to go on taking wages from that red-faced bastard all your life,’ he          said.  ‘You want to keep your eye out for a bit of land...’
            ‘You get a good team of horses and hire them out and work around with them.  You       make money that way.  You want to get half-cleared land and bush land and clear      it...’
            Mabel’s father was back in the old days, the pioneer days, when you had to bake            bread if you wanted to eat bread, no groceries coming in three times a week on the        cream lorry.  Mabel’s grandfather had shot Maoris for his bit of land.  Mabel had   ideas about farms, but they ran on Scotty’s lines with a small deposit and the           government scheme; and Johnson listened desultorily, having no ambition.[53]

Mabel’s father preaches the morality of land acquired through hard work, but holds his own entitlement through his father, who stole the land from the Maori through murder, and from nature through bush burning and tree felling.  Gurnah argues that no civilised, rational argument can be put forward for dispossessing the native of land and freedom in such a manner, ‘... but since the native can be represented as a metonymy of the wilderness - therefore in need or ordering and “taming” - then to that extent he can be made subject to colonial understanding.’[54]  If we accept this we can argue that the Maori, like the African ‘is both part of the landscape, one and the same with it, eternally signifying that which Western discourse has banished through progress, and is also dangerous and disturbing, preferably represented as absent.’[55]

This is evidenced by Man Alone; banished by Mabel’s grandfather, the Maori are indeed absent from Blakeway’s land, apart from as the pejorative ‘... little Maori car driver.’[56]  This is an established, profitable farm run on a European farming model with modern equipment where milking ‘was as much like working in a factory as anything else’ and where the farm hands are white.[57]  It is a different environment to Stenning’s farm in the King Country, where, having confiscated Maori land later than in other parts of New Zealand after resistance from the Kingite movement of Tamihana Te Rauparaha, the white settlers further exploit the dispossessed Maori as workers on unprofitable, inhospitable land that, by the end of the 1930‘s, was left desolate and abandoned.[58]  This further evidences Gurnah’s argument that:

            If we accept Harold Bloom’s suggestion that a trope is a defence against literal meaning in discourse, then it is possible to conceive the exotic as at once        irretrievable essence and alien other.  So the landscape and what it signifies are        simultaneously an exiled self whose spirit modernity crushes and a nameless ‘other’ that must be controlled or expelled.[59]

Both these elements are evidenced by the representation of land in Man Alone, where working on the mechanised Waikato farm is a dehumanising experience that leaves Johnson ‘desultorily,’ while at Stenning’s farm, the Maori are the nameless ‘other’ excluded from their entitlement and exploited for profit by the white man.  To some extent this is a subversion of the traditional notion of the pastoral; the ‘simple’ farmer who leads a ‘worthy’ life in tune with nature, far away from the ‘immorality’ of the city or civilisation.  However, it continues to demonstrate the colonial view of land as there to be ‘taken’ by the adventurer; wrested from both nature and native and converted into a pastoral pastiche of Europe, in this case into New Zealand as ‘the Empire’s Dairy.’[60] 

This process demonstrates what Huggan and Tiffin define as ‘... the legitimation of highly codified relations between socially differentiated peoples: relations mediated, but also mystified, by supposedly universal cultural attitudes towards land.’[61]  These pastoral ideologies work towards the stabilization of land by the dominant order, through both land management’ and the exclusion or ‘silencing’ of less privileged social groups.[62]  To complete the process, familiar colonial buildings are erected, native fauna is burnt back and non-indigenous pines and grasses planted to create a Utopian Arcadia:

            Going down to the farm by service car was seeing a new country open out... It had          a green, rich, unfinished look.  The road ran out into loose metal and ruts through            low hills half cleared, and farm houses, wooden, unpainted.  Where the land was           cleared as it was for miles at a time with fences and no hedges, the grass grew      springing with life.
‘Top-dressing,’ said Sam, the little Maori car-driver, smoking green Three Castle and driving with one hand.
            ‘They spread it like butter hereabouts.’
            Johnson got to the farm in the slack period after lunch.  It was a large farm with a            great iron milking shed as big as a village hall, the farm-house half a mile in from   the road surrounded by dark pines.  They dairy flats ran in from the banks of the    dark Waikato.  They stretched for miles with only cows and odd sheds and pine     trees to break them, as flat and dull as the back of your hand.[63]

Described as such, the Waikato is denuded to resemble the post-enclosure English countryside, while the traditionally idealised life of the herder is subtly undermined through the use of ‘flat and dull’ at the end of the passage.  Huggan and Tiffin, however, argue that the pastoral is ‘... predominantly European in sensibility and form.  The stylistic conventions of pastoral are not easily mapped onto non-European landscapes that often appear to be in direct opposition with them, and their value-system likewise.’[64]  This is also evidenced by Glover’s The Magpies where his protagonists live a simple life, but are ultimately broken by the value systems of the ‘Mortgage corporations’ that do not match their pastoral vision of ownership through effort.  Throughout, the distinctive caw of the Australian magpie signals consistency in a nature unchanged by colonial effort or corporate greed.

            When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm
            The bracken made their bed,
            And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
            The magpies said.

            Tom’s hand was strong to the plough
            Elizabeth’s lips were red,
            And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
            The magpies said.

            Year in year out they worked
            While the pines grew overhead,
            And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
            The magpies said.

            But all the beautiful crops went
            To the mortgage-man instead,
            And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
            The magpies said.

            Elizabeth is dead now (it’s years ago);
            Old Tom went light in the head;
            And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
            The magpies said.

            The farm’s still there.  Mortgage corporations
            Couldn’t give it away.
            And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
            The magpies say.[65]

The opening line here which states how Tom and Elizabeth ‘took’ the farm epitomises the ‘use it or lose it’ mantra which the colonial settlers used to confiscate land from the Maori under the pretence that it wasn’t being farmed effectively.[66] Mulgan evidences this in Man Alone with Bill Crawley, who was employed ‘riding the fences’ of a farm to protect it from encroachment by the Maori.[67] The positive portrayal of Bill therefore tacitly approves such colonial conduct, and to the archetypes of colonial life in nineteenth century New Zealand. Likewise in the Sings Harry poem Once the Days, Harry calls himself a fool for ‘leaving/Good land to moulder, Leaving the fences sagging’[68] and in I Remember recollects:

            ... paddocks opening green
            On mountains tussock-brown,
            And the rim of fire on the hills,
            And the river running down;

            And the smoke of the burning scrub,
            And my two uncles tall,
            And the smell of earth new-ploughed,
            And the antlers in the hall,
                        Sings Harry
            My father held to the land
            Running good cattle there[69]

For both Tom and Elizabeth, and Harry’s father and uncles, their land acquisition brings capitalism and western ‘civilisation’ to the land, and therefore strife and greed.  Tom and Elizabeth lose their farm to the banks with disastrous personal consequences, while Harry’s Uncle Jim dies in the Boer War and Uncle Simon rides off after a row.  Like Johnson, despite their ‘simple’ pastoral life, they are destroyed not by nature, but by a social system that encourages debt and confrontation, and exploits the working man.  This demonstrates Duggan and Tiffin’s argument that the pastoral is ‘... heavily dependent on the very class system it claims temporarily to suspend; but while it generally appeals to fictions of contentment and social harmony through its pleasingly domesticated images of working farm and fruitful garden, it conveniently forgets the division of labour that makes such productivity possible.’[70] 

While Johnson and Glover both have a political agenda to promote socialism and do recognise the dehumanising social divide of working class rural exploitation, they both adhere to this pastoral cliche by representing as moral the supposedly ‘simple’ life.  In his study of the pastoral, Empson points to the deployment of ironic humility in the affectionate representation of this supposedly ‘simple’ way of life to a much more ‘complex’ people.  Such representations are ‘... primarily designed to reassure patrician or bourgeois audiences that these ‘simple’ lives contain truths and insights which, being universally applicable, are relevant to themselves.’[71]  This is evidenced in Arawata Bill where the old prospector’s shovel, while described in violent terms as a weapon, is to be used against a ‘wicked country.’  Bill is a simple, honest man with a heart ‘as big as his boots’ and dressed in simple, country garb of ‘blue dungarees and a sunset hat.’[72]  It is not he who is immoral in his prospecting, but the land who hides her gold from him.  This is alluded to again in The Search where Bill seeks;

            ...between mountain and sea
            In country crumpled like an unmade bed
            Whose crumbs may be nuggets as big as your head
            Wet or dry, low or high,
            Somewhere in a blanketfold of the land
            Lies the golden strand.[73]

Arawata Bill doesn’t shave but ‘let his whiskers grow’[74] like old Bill Crawley in Man Alone who ‘... had long white hair... and a white beard stained yellow round his mouth.’[75]  While the language used in both Glover’s poetry and Mulgan’s novel emphasize the direct and ‘manly’, these old prospectors who live in the mountains are portrayed as Arcadian peasants while Harry is a romanticised rural labourer.  They are old timers that speak truths and can be relied upon to exhibit manly virtues such as lack of vanity and a craftsman’s care for their tools.  Arawata Bill’s rusting shovel in the ground, although it has been there long, has a handle ‘good and strong’[76] while Bill Crawley knows how to survive in the wilderness as ‘there’s a lot of living in the bush if you care to look for it.’[77]  Their simple lives hold idealistic truths, as Harry sings philosophically in The Flowers of the Sea; ‘For the tide comes/And the tide goes/And the wind blows.’[78]  They live fulfilling lives of contentment and humour; Bill Crawley chuckles to himself and reminisces on his past, while Arawata Bill talks to his horse and jokes about ‘cutting a dash’ in town in his old boots.[79]  As highly idealised gold panning pioneers, what they both seek is in their own hearts, as Glover states in The End:

            RIP where no gold lies
            But in your own questing soul
            Rich in faith and a wild surmise.

            You should have been told
            Only in you was the gold.[80]

In contrast, Stenning in Man Alone does not lead a simple life, but one characterised by boredom and poverty, or what During refers to as ‘the labour and isolation of settlement,’ where his mortgage on both land and stock is the defining feature of the farm.[81]  A sombre Gallipoli veteran who married to have extra help with the work, he is motivated by cupidity and ultimately jealousy:

            The economics of Stenning’s farm were simple.
            ‘You see, Johnson,’ he said, ‘in a good year I used to make three or four hundred           from wool and lambs.  I didn’t use to keep cows except one or two running around near the house.  Then I married Rua and she came and could help milk, and so I       got the cows in to keep the house going.  Used to drink condensed milk in the tea   before then - by God, I’m not sure it wasn’t a better life.’  He laughed at his joke.  He             didn’t often laugh.[82]

His chief aim is not the pursuit of gold, but to ‘own this bloody piece of land before I die.’[83]  In this respect he evidences what Meeker describes as ‘... the founding fiction of colonial possession’[84] where the ownership of land is the primary purpose of life. 

Meeker further argues that the garden farm is the midpoint, ‘... a place of mediation between nature and civilisation’ but also the point where the two worlds make contact and create conflict.[85]  Stenning evidences this argument through his inability to settle; this is the third farm he has attempted to own and failed.  His response to his environment is framed by his goal of ownership so that ‘while he can leave behind the fearsome environment of civilisation and its cities, yet the psyche of civilisation remains to guide his responses to nature.’[86]  Meeker’s proposition is that man cannot reject the confines of civilisation without rejecting his own humanness, ‘... so he seeks a compromise in the halfway house of a pastoral Arcadia, somewhere midway between the horrors of wilderness and the horrors of the city.’[87]

But Stenning destroys his own Arcadia through his insistence on ownership and, in turn, destroys the Arcadia Johnson seeks through the conditions of servitude and poverty imposed by ‘civilisation’ on the farm.  Johnson runs to the wilderness for refuge, but can no more survive the ravages of the wilderness than he can the city, and becomes gradually dehumanised to the point of madness:

            Johnson lost all real count of time there in the dark loneliness of the bush.  There           was sound all the time, of the river running, and birds from early morning to the owls           calling at night, but he felt within himself a great solitude, a feeling which had never        troubled him before in the long periods of his life that he had spent alone.  There       was a heaviness of the bush that pressed upon him and weighed him down, until          the sound of his own voice was startling to him.[88]

Unable to fend for himself any longer, Johnson is saved by Bill Crawley, the colonial pioneer who has been in the bush since the ‘Great War’ against the Maori in the 1850’s. He gradually regains his mental composure as he is nursed back to a health by a man who doesn’t judge him for killing another man, but calls him instead ‘... a bloody interesting fellow.’[89] 

The work of both Glover and Mulgan therefore evidences an idealisation of the settler myth and dependence on archetypes of the colonial age as ‘better men’ than the current.  They are adventurers, prospectors, pioneers, sailors and rural labourers who represent a pastoral idyll in frontier New Zealand.  As such they demonstrate a continuation of tropes used in the earlier literature of authors such as Alan Mulgan, which display a romantic and sentimental view of colonial endeavor.  A postcolonial reading of these characters further identifies their cupidity for land, appetite for exploitation, dispossession of the Maori and rejection of women.

Mein Smith argues that in this Arcadian myth ‘... scholars have detected the individualism in nineteenth century Pakeha culture that reoccured [in the 20th century] as a political emphasis on self reliance.’[90]  The colonial paladins Glover and Mulgan venerate are therefore ennobled for their independence, manliness, self sufficiency, and in Mulgan’s case, for the selflessness and compassion they show Johnson.  This community between men, Sargeson argues, is ‘a mark of colonial literature; a typical pattern of masculine escape from an oppressive society to a remote and idyllic hollow.[91] 

This masculine community, Jensen suggests, is the key feature of the ‘man alone’ in New Zealand literature, where regardless of whether this man was a ‘solitary man, two men in a friendly relationship, or a large group of men’ the motif reflects the writer’s interest in  masculine contexts.[92]  But Mulgan’s interpretation of manhood in Man Alone is complex and suggests that ‘there’s an element of deception, of play acting, to masculinity.’[93]  For example, Johnson hears other passengers on a train talking excitedly about the unemployed riots in Auckland.

            They talked as if they were going into a war area.  Listening, he considered the    necessity which all men have of dramatising themselves.[94]

Jensen concludes that ‘such passages suggest that our past male writers were at least aware that masculinity was more than a straightforward correlation of image and private self.’[95]  Likewise, for all his earlier misogyny, Glover in his later years resorted to writing volumes of highly sophisticated, romantic love poetry for a woman who spurned his advances, and came to regard New Zealand’s socially progressive poets and writers in the generations that followed him as ‘talentless,’ as Thomson notes; ‘he ha[d] little time for the verse of younger writers in whom he [could] discern no technical competence at all.’[96]

In a last attempt to express his experience of the sea, he wrote Off Akaroa - Winter in 1962, aping the ‘half-line prosody, and even the mood, of the Old English poem The Seafarer.’[97] The ‘new’ poetic voice of New Zealand was waning and by 1960, Jensen notes, ‘... John Mulgan’s and Frank Sargeson’s ‘man alone’ mode of fiction had developed from fresh excitement to a rather faded institution.’[98] 

It was, what Moffat terms, a ‘deeply ingrained myth’[99] of masculine literary identity that had been enforced, rather than embraced, and had been enshrined through repetition rather than agreement.  As Hilliard argues, the ‘hard judgements’ of Glover and Allen Curnow were far from universally accepted by the new poets of the 1940s and 50s, ‘... but it was Curnow’s judgements... that new writers had to reckon with.’[100]

Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.
Bunkle, Phillida, Hardy, Linda, and Matthews, Jacqueline. Nor the Years Condem. Auckland: New Women's Press, 1986.
Curnow, Allen. The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1960.
Denis, Glover. The Arraignment of Paris. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1937.
During, Simon. "Remembering, Resisting, Repeating." Journal of New Zealand Literature 26 (2008): 7.
Empson, William. Some Versions of Pastoral. London: Hogarth, 1986.
Glover, Denis. Enter without Knocking; Selected Poems, by Denis Glover. [Enl. ed. ed: Christchurch] Pegasus Press [1971].
———. Selected Poems. (Enter without Knocking.): pp. 143. Pegasus Press: Christchurch.
Gurnah, Abdulrazak. "Settler Writing in Kenya: 'Nomenclature Is an Uncertain Science in These Wild Parts'." In Modernism and Empire, edited by Howard J. and Rigby Booth, N. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000.
Hilliard, Christopher. The Bookmen's Dominion : Cultural Life in New Zealand, 1920-1950. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2006.
Huggan, Graham, and Helen Tiffin. Postcolonial Ecocriticism : Literature, Animals, Environment. London: Routledge, 2010.
Jensen, Kai. Whole Men. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1996.
Meeker, Joseph W. The Comedy of Survival; Studies in Literary Ecology, by Joseph W. Meeker: New York, Scribner [1974].
Mein Smith, Philippa. A Concise History of New Zealand. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Moffat, Kirstine. "Fashioning a Past and Constructing a Present in Maoriland." Journal of New Zealand Literature 24, no. 1 (2006): 8.
Mulgan, John. Man Alone. Auckland: Longman Paul Ltd, 1985.
Mulgan, John Alan Edward, and Jack Arthur Walter Bennett. "Report on Experience. [an Autobiography. Edited by Jack Bennett. With a Portrait and a Map.]." 8º.: pp. xi. 150. Oxford University Press: London, 1947.
Murray, Stuart. Never a Soul at Home : New Zealand Literary Nationalism and the 1930's. Wellington [N.Z.]: Victoria University Press, 1998.
O’Sullivan, Vincent. Long Journey to the Border: A Life of John Mulgan. Auckland: Penguin, 2003.
Ogilvie, Gordon. Denis Glover : His Life. Auckland, N.Z.: Godwit, 1999.
Sargeson, Frank. Conversation in a Train and Other Critical Writing. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1983.
Thomson, J. E. P. Denis Glover. Wellington [N.Z.] ; London: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Williams, Patrick. "Theorising Modernism and Empire." In Modernism and Empire, edited by Howard Booth and Nigel Rigby. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000.

[1] John Alan Edward Mulgan and Jack Arthur Walter Bennett, "Report on Experience. [an Autobiography. Edited by Jack Bennett. With a Portrait and a Map.]," (pp. xi. 150. Oxford University Press: London, 1947), 165.
[2] Phillida Bunkle, Hardy, Linda, and Matthews, Jacqueline, Nor the Years Condem (Auckland: New Women's Press, 1986), wwiii.
[3] Philippa Mein Smith, A Concise History of New Zealand (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
[4] Christopher Hilliard, The Bookmen's Dominion : Cultural Life in New Zealand, 1920-1950 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2006).
[5]Vincent O’Sullivan, Long Journey to the Border: A Life of John Mulgan (Auckland: Penguin, 2003), 96.
[6] Stuart Murray, Never a Soul at Home : New Zealand Literary Nationalism and the 1930's (Wellington [N.Z.]: Victoria University Press, 1998), 48.
[7] Gordon Ogilvie, Denis Glover : His Life (Auckland, N.Z.: Godwit, 1999), 94.
[8] Glover Denis, The Arraignment of Paris (Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1937).
[9] Kai Jensen, Whole Men (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1996), 65.
[10] Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973).
[11] Ibid.
[12] Bunkle, Nor the Years Condem, xxiii.
[13] Ogilvie, Denis Glover : His Life, 50.
[14] Ibid., 148.
[15] Jensen, Whole Men, 59.
[16] Hilliard, The Bookmen's Dominion : Cultural Life in New Zealand, 1920-1950, 97.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid., 116.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ogilvie, Denis Glover : His Life, 64.
[21] Hilliard, The Bookmen's Dominion : Cultural Life in New Zealand, 1920-1950, 98.
[22] Ibid., 99.
[23] Patrick Williams, "Theorising Modernism and Empire," in Modernism and Empire, ed. Howard Booth and Nigel Rigby (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 22.
[24] Jensen, Whole Men, 22.
[25] Mulgan and Bennett, "Report on Experience. [an Autobiography. Edited by Jack Bennett. With a Portrait and a Map.]," 33.
[26] Allen Curnow, The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1960), 173.
[27] New Zealand slang for cow or farm hand
[28] John Mulgan, Man Alone (Auckland: Longman Paul Ltd, 1985), 124.
[29] Jensen, Whole Men, 65.
[30] Hilliard, The Bookmen's Dominion : Cultural Life in New Zealand, 1920-1950, 100.
[31] J. E. P. Thomson, Denis Glover (Wellington [N.Z.] ; London: Oxford University Press, 1977), 29.
[32] Ibid., 30.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Denis Glover, Enter without Knocking; Selected Poems, by Denis Glover, [Enl. ed. ed. (Christchurch] Pegasus Press [1971]), 51.
[35] Ibid., 57.
[36] Ibid., 66.
[37] Thomson, Denis Glover, 36.
[38] Denis Glover, Selected Poems. (Enter without Knocking.) (pp. 143. Pegasus Press: Christchurch), 55.
[39] Ibid., 83.
[40] Denis Glover to John Pascoe, 16 February 1953, Thomson, Denis Glover, 36.
[41] Glover, Enter without Knocking; Selected Poems, by Denis Glover, 92.
[42] Ibid., 84.
[43] Thomson, Denis Glover, 39.
[44] Ibid., 42.
[45] Mulgan, Man Alone, 34.
[46] Ibid.
[47] Ibid., 38.
[48] Ibid., 43.
[49] Ibid., 176.
[50] Ibid., 172.
[51] Thomson, Denis Glover, 31.
[52] Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin, Postcolonial Ecocriticism : Literature, Animals, Environment (London: Routledge, 2010), 82.
[53] Mulgan, Man Alone, 22.
[54] Abdulrazak Gurnah, "Settler Writing in Kenya: 'Nomenclature Is an Uncertain Science in These Wild Parts'," in Modernism and Empire, ed. Howard J. and Rigby Booth, N (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 284.
[55] Ibid., 285.
[56] Mulgan, Man Alone, 18.
[57] Ibid., 19.
[58] Mein Smith, A Concise History of New Zealand.
[59] Gurnah, "Settler Writing in Kenya: 'Nomenclature Is an Uncertain Science in These Wild Parts'," 285.
[60] Mein Smith, A Concise History of New Zealand, 143.
[61] Huggan and Tiffin, Postcolonial Ecocriticism : Literature, Animals, Environment, 84.
[62] Ibid.
[63] Mulgan, Man Alone, 18.
[64] Huggan and Tiffin, Postcolonial Ecocriticism : Literature, Animals, Environment, 84.
[65] Glover, Enter without Knocking; Selected Poems, by Denis Glover, 30.
[66] Mein Smith, A Concise History of New Zealand, 54.
[67] Mulgan, Man Alone, 154.
[68] Glover, Enter without Knocking; Selected Poems, by Denis Glover, 54.
[69] Ibid., 53.
[70] Huggan and Tiffin, Postcolonial Ecocriticism : Literature, Animals, Environment, 83.
[71] William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (London: Hogarth, 1986), 159.
[72] Glover, Enter without Knocking; Selected Poems, by Denis Glover, 82.
[73] Ibid., 83.
[74] Ibid., 82.
[75] Mulgan, Man Alone, 150.
[76] Glover, Enter without Knocking; Selected Poems, by Denis Glover, 82.
[77] Mulgan, Man Alone, 156.
[78] Glover, Enter without Knocking; Selected Poems, by Denis Glover, 58.
[79] Ibid., 94.
[80] Ibid., 98.
[81] Simon During, "Remembering, Resisting, Repeating," Journal of New Zealand Literature 26(2008): 172.
[82] Mulgan, Man Alone, 84.
[83] Ibid., 86.
[84] Joseph W. Meeker, The Comedy of Survival; Studies in Literary Ecology, by Joseph W. Meeker (New York, Scribner [1974]), 91.
[85] Ibid., 92. Huggan and Tiffin, Postcolonial Ecocriticism : Literature, Animals, Environment, 92.
[86] Meeker, The Comedy of Survival; Studies in Literary Ecology, by Joseph W. Meeker, 91.
[87] Ibid.
[88] Mulgan, Man Alone, 141.
[89] Ibid., 154.
[90] Mein Smith, A Concise History of New Zealand, 59.
[91] Frank Sargeson, Conversation in a Train and Other Critical Writing (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1983), 43.
[92] Ibid., 65.
[93] Jensen, Whole Men, 12.
[94] Mulgan, Man Alone, 72.
[95] Jensen, Whole Men, 12.
[96] Thomson, Denis Glover, 47.
[97] Ibid., 43.
[98] Sargeson, Conversation in a Train and Other Critical Writing, 17.
[99] Kirstine Moffat, "Fashioning a Past and Constructing a Present in Maoriland," Journal of New Zealand Literature 24, no. 1 (2006): 148.
[100] Hilliard, The Bookmen's Dominion : Cultural Life in New Zealand, 1920-1950, 105.


James Williamson said...

Thanks for posting this, Bob. An interesting viewpoint but without going into it in scholarly detail I would just point out 2 or 3 underlying fallacies. Firstly, the paper fails to distinguish between Mulgan and Curnow as critics and as creators. As critics they had a programme to 'renovate'NZ literature, a programme which can ondeed be criticised and analysed as it is here for its contradictions and shortfalls. But their fictional world is a different question: it is the creator's right to explore the corner of the universe he or she chooses. Henry James did not write a word about the situation of the Afro-American population of the United States. Does that disqualify his novels? Not at all. He was concerned with the social and psychological nuances of a highly cultured minority. So even if their position as critics was partial and incomplete, the creative universe of Mulgan, Curnow and Sargeson works according to its own internal premises and as such remains valid. Secondly, Curnow's protests against the women writers a reaction against overwhelming influence and as such has to be put in persective. The 'Great New Zealand Writer' has always been a woman: Katherine Mansfield in their day o'er strode the world like a titan, and they were desperate to escape her influence. Later we have been blessed with Janet Frame, Keri Hulme, Fluere Adcock et. al., all attracting more international critical acclaim and popularity than any of the male practitioners of the genre. So don't worry, you can keep on enjoying Arawata Bill without compromising your intellectual coherence.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Thanks James, for such an analytically sound summary. I will not only keep enjoying Arawata Bill, but all of Glover's treasures. Thanks a million.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
Having become very immersed in the Maori world over the past number of years, I can well understand the author's point of view. White privilege becomes so prevelant and automatic in our lives we do not even see it, much less the advantages it gives us. We can afford to write from only that point of view. An indigenous poet,or author, Hone Tuwhare for instance is not allowed that luxury. In the biography of Glover I read, Tuwhare is refered to as the Maori poet, no one would ever have written of Glover as being the pakeha poet.
Having written that I most enjoyed Man Alone, and will remain a very big fan of Denis Glover as well. Just makes me think a bit more I guess.

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Susan Kinnear said...

Hi Bob.
Thank you so much for reading my article. Its actually a stub section of my PhD so is a little out of context just on its own.
James is right, I make no distinction here between Mulgan and Glover as critics and writers. Elsewhere in my PhD I state that I am using Barthes' viewpoint that, in a ‘text’ rather than a ‘work’, the novelist becomes an entity of the text itself in that “he is inscribed into the novel like one of its characters, figured in the carpet” so that “his life is no longer the origin of his fiction, but a fiction contributing to his work.”
I wouldn't want you not to enjoy Glover - he is obviously fabulous as a poet. My great sadness is that he and the rest of the Pheonix Caxton group of writers - Fairburn, Sargeson, Curnow, etc, all colluded to exclude non Pakeha or non male viewpoints, and as a result we did not really gain the roots of our own literature in the 1930s, we lost an entire generation of female and maori writers who had a different story to tell and an equally valid, if different, world view.
I will keep following your blog, and would love to read some of your poetry.
Kind regards

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