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PN Review 276
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This article is taken from PN Review 25, Volume 8 Number 5, May - June 1982.

Towards Jerusalem (James K. Baxter) Robyn Marsack

IN the winter of 1972, a few months before his death of a heart attack, James K. Baxter filled a large polythene bag with his papers, tied it round the neck, attached a label and stamps and dispatched it, unregistered, to a librarian friend. (1) This casual form of preservation gives us some idea of the work involved in editing a definitive collected poems. Some 620 pages have now been carefully compiled by his friend John Weir. One might question the decision not to include all the poems published in journals, when broadsheets and unpublished material are given room, but Weir's selection is generally sound. He provides useful bibliographical information and a Maori glossary; the book is handsomely printed and bound. Most importantly, by integrating manuscript and posthumously published poems into the corpus, and arranging the book in chronological sections that make biographical sense, Weir reveals the shape of Baxter's remarkable achievement.

New Zealanders of my generation, who recall him as a Christian guru and scourge of suburbia, perhaps will be disconcerted by the conventional diction and imagery of the poetry Baxter wrote in his 'teens. It may remind us that his mother, the daughter of a Professor of Classics and English who helped shape the University of New Zealand, took degrees at Sydney and Cambridge; she must have encouraged his steeping himself in classical mythology. These early poems also witness to his absorption in the work of Burns, Blake and the Romantics, lovingly recited by his ...

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