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This article is taken from PN Review 46, Volume 12 Number 2, November - December 1985.

Three New Zealand Poets Robyn Marsack

'They are married and gone to New Zealand . . .' wrote Clough, in the days when it seemed like travelling to the ends of the earth; a century later, Bill Manhire takes his non-stop flight home across Asia, with breakfast all the way and 'piped music/as we taxi between the backyard/swimming pools'. And still Elizabeth Smither maintains 'the greatest gift in New Zealand poetry remains the 12,000 miles' (PN Review 41).

The umbilical cord may have been cut, yet the distance is reduced. A distinguished New Zealand historian (and poet), Keith Sinclair, said in 1974 that the post-colonial lack of confidence had pretty well gone, in literature as in other things. (As I write, the new Labour government is holding out for New Zealand's right to refuse entry to its ports to American vessels which may be carrying nuclear weapons.) C. K. Stead remarked that some distinctness had gone along with it, life in New Zealand having become a milder version of life everywhere else in the West. He added, 'Our physical environment still offers the most extraordinary possibilities - but they are possibilities to be taken or left; they don't press upon us as necessities.' (See the essay 'A Poet's View' in his 1981 collection, In the Glass Case, to which I am indebted.)

Such shifts are evident in a comparison of the 1960 Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, edited by Allen Curnow, with the Oxford Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry ...


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