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This review is taken from PN Review 194, Volume 36 Number 6, July - August 2010.

A GENEROUS GLEANING JAMES K. BAXTER, Selected Poems, edited and introduction by Paul Millar (Carcanet) £14.95

‘The level of writing in the Colonies and Dominions has never been high,’ began Alan Ross in his 1949 TLS review of James K. Baxter’s first collection of poetry, Blow, Wind of Fruitfulness. A Dominion poet, he maintained, was typically caught between remaining at home to become provincial and exile in London, a move that, ironically, would render his or her poetry undistinctive. In Baxter, Ross found a writer who satisfied the British appetite for distinctive regional literatures from the Commonwealth, a precocious poet who at age twenty wrote poetry of considerable skill and beauty, as in these lines from ‘The Bay’:

The carved cliffs and the great outcrying surf
With currents round the rocks and the birds rising.
A thousand times an hour is torn across
And burned for the sake of going on living.
But I remember the bay that never was
And stand like stone, and cannot turn away.

As far as the predicament of the post-colonial poet went, Ross had Baxter right. The son of a conscientious objector who during the Great War was shipped from New Zealand to the Western Front and there tortured for his refusal to fight, and whose family suffered jingoist prejudice for years afterwards, Baxter was never at risk of becoming a provincial poet. Similarly, while published occasionally in British periodicals and, from 1958 until recently, by Oxford University Press, he never laboured under the delusion that poetry comes ...


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