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This article is taken from PN Review 105, Volume 22 Number 1, September - October 1995.

Allen Curnow as Post-Modern Metaphysical Chris Miller

'A man who collects his poems screws together the boards of his coffin. Those outside will have all the fun, but he is entitled to his last confession.'' On this account, Allen Curnow has been enjoying a sprightly posthumous career. His last confessions now extend to six volumes, which are among his finest and most enduring achievements. His Collected Poems3 behind him, Curnow has begun a new poetic era, in which the technical mastery of a lifetime is combined with an identity now stabilised into an almost dispersonal detachment. Yet Bunting's dictum is not irrelevant. Each of those volumes concerns itself not least with Curnow's own death, and each is an incorrigibly lively performance. Curnow, before becoming a poet, had planned ordination; he changed his mind 'in the middle of Cook Strait,'3 as good a place as any to dump the transcendental signified. When he comes to consider his own death, he finds a subject on which he 'can only be witty,'4 but it is a deeply metaphysical wit. How does it consist with Curnow's awareness of a post-modem relation to language? How can a poetry be metaphysical when its author has given up the divine Word for a physical universe in which 'The sun comes up with a word of worlds all spinning/in a world of words?'5 In this essay, I examine various of Curnow's poems in the attempt not only to elucidate his ideas about transcendence, truth, language and text, but to see how and why the ...


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