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This article is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

on Allen Curnow
‘You Will Know When You Get There’
Chris Miller
Allen Curnow, Collected Poems, ed. Elizabeth Caffin and Terry Sturm (AUP) £53.95, 388pp;
Terry Sturm (ed. Linda Cassels), Allen Curnow. Simply by Sailing in a New Direction. A Biography (AUP) £62.95, 717pp

A SEVEN HUNDRED-PAGE biography of Allen Curnow? For many Anglophone readers, the first question is: who he? And the Collected Poems that accompanies Sturm’s life, though it answers this question, is partly supererogatory. The simple answer to the question is that Curnow (1911–2001) was one of the great poets of the twentieth century. But that assertion can be made only about his later work, which barely overlaps with the publication of his first Collected in 1974. Curnow’s emergence as a poet of international stature began with the publication in 1972 of Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects (TEMO). Before this date, he had earned a central place in New Zealand poetry as poet, critic and anthologist; his two anthologies of NZ poetry constituted that poetry as literature. His longevity and the poetry of his old age cemented that place so thoroughly that he became a bugbear and inspiration to successive younger generations and his disputatious nature did nothing to pacify the mutineers. Patrick Evans, author of a history of NZ literature, gives a sort of reductio of this state of mind. He had criticised Curnow the critic (he is not obviously joking): ‘I recall a dream not long after in which I was dragged before him in shackles to explain myself as he sat above me on a massive throne; I remember particularly the slavish quality of my ...


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