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This report is taken from PN Review 154, Volume 30 Number 2, November - December 2003.

Auckland Letter Peter Bland

Les Murray has been visiting Auckland recently, reading at the Auckland Writers Festival. A full house, a relaxed, surprisingly fast delivery, and some interesting asides (much practised I would guess) on the nature of the poetic trance and its relationship to other spiritual insights. The man rests so securely, so comfortably, on the huge body of his work, ambling his way through his Carcanet Selected and choosing what he'll read as he goes. It was a pleasure tuning in to that laconic no-nonsense vernacular, earthed so strongly in a deep sense of place. The poems are intimate but mysterious. At their best they stretch out to a huge beyond, just as the red-earthed Australian desert stretches out to its enormous nightly horizons.

Auckland isn't without its own elemental qualities, plunging sunsets, its little coves and estuaries in the inner-harbour, where you can swim and fish within ten minutes of the city. The latter has come alive over the last few years, with thousands of Asian students living centrally and casually behaving as though they're back in Shanghai or Hong Kong. The city's Pacific atmosphere has been augmented by the buzz of a Korean or Vietnamese lifestyle, with dozens of streetstalls and good cheap Asian restaurants. A low-key grumbling racism occasionally makes itself felt among the more elderly locals, but most people have responded well to this sudden increase of inner-city energy and excitement.

I've always thought of Auckland as a frontier town, a hotch-potch city ...


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