Baxter, James K.

New Zealand, (1926-1972)

Jerusalem Sonnets

  1. If Ngati-Hiruharama turns out to be no more than
  2. A child’s dream in the night – well then,
  3. I have a garden, a bed to lie on,
  4. And various company – some clattering pigeons roost
  5. At my back door, and when I meditate in the paddock
  6. Under the apple tree two healthy dung-smeared pigs
  7. Strike up a conversation, imagining, I think,
  8. I am their benefactor – that should be quite enough
  9. To keep the bowels moving and the mind thankful;
  10. Yet when the sun rises my delusion hears him shout
  11. Above the river fog – ‘This is the hill fort
  12. Of our God; it is called Hiruharama!
  13. ‘The goat and the opossum will find a home
  14. Among the rocks, and the river of joy will flow from it!’

James K. Baxter. Collected Poems. Edited By John Weir. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Beatrice

  1. He who goes up a leafy path
  2. From the abrasive, female town,
  3. Her breadless, black, stepmothering streets,
  4. Her holes and ladders of escape,
  5. Wishes to find the voice of one
  6. Pure waterfall among the boulders
  7. In the high bush, pouring light on him,
  8. Or a woman’s moon-bright, saving face,
  9. But finds the image he has made,
  10. One who holds the judgement prism,
  11. Who sees the swinish bristle sprout
  12. On his rough jowl in Circe’s cage,
  13. And will accuse, and will accuse,
  14. Till he can tear the heart out of his side.
  15.  
  16. 1961-1976

James K. Baxter. Collected Poems. Edited By John Weir. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.

A Little Letter to Auckland Students

  1. O you who dwell in halls of learning,
  2. I think I smell the porridge burning;
  3. The Philistines are at the gate,
  4. The censors of the Welfare State –
  5. With the jawbone of an ass I’ll whack ’em!
  6. The story that I wrote for Craccum
  7. In rhymed octosyllabic verse
  8. Has fallen under the censor’s curse
  9. Because Miss Glubb acquired no knowledge
  10. Of sexual play at Training College,
  11. And I left in to scare the birds,
  12. The mildest of four-letter words.
  13. Though I can’t tell you what goes on
  14. In the holy hutch of Wellington
  15. Where Gordon, Garrett, Blaiklock, each,
  16. Gang-shag the Liberty of Speech
  17. By saying my beatnik verses can’t
  18. Be published with the usual grant,
  19. Yet I can tell you this at least
  20. Now that the wind is in the East:
  21. Three moa-grey professors in a row
  22. Most ably represent the status quo.
  23. I shall not breathe a word of the agenda
  24. Of that Committee of which I am a member;
  25. But let me praise with a high heart
  26. The burgeoning of Moral Art!
  27. Those mighty odes by Holyoake,
  28. That Departmental lightning-stroke
  29. When eighteen poet-bureaucrats
  30. Embroidered sonnets on their spats,
  31. The epics that our lecturers write
  32. With trembling fingers night by night,
  33. The ballads by the League of Housewives
  34. Who, though they lead most moral lives,
  35. Describe with force the groans and yells
  36. Of con men in Mount Crawford cells,
  37. The local songs our wharfies sing
  38. As they load mutton in a sling –
  39. When all Pig Island sparks with song
  40. And all of it is crystal-pure,
  41. What right have I to call it wrong
  42. That my coarse-gutted verse should be
  43. Spaded away like hen-manure?
  44. O wisdom of the bourgeoisie!
  45. Should I get drunk or laugh like mad
  46. When Mrs Grundy buckles on
  47. The armour of her Galahad?
  48. The threat to Moral Art has gone
  49. And I will turn the other cheek;
  50. The students, sensitive but weak,
  51. Hearing a poet speak of sex,
  52. Might buy a tube of Koromex;
  53. Pig Island sows must guard their young
  54. Who have not yet the mind mature
  55. To sift out gold from their own dung;
  56. Like an empty jug, the Varsity stays pure.
  57. To Porirua, Avondale,
  58. I’ll go whene’er my spirits fail,
  59. And looking round those sparkling wards
  60. Bless the sweet accident of birth
  61. That dropped me on Pig Island earth
  62. Which has no cranks or cops or bawds
  63. Or drunks or queers, or any sorrow
  64. Except that we will die tomorrow.
  65. You Varsity maidens, sweet, refined,
  66. Who do not sit on a behind
  67. To answer questions lecturers set
  68. From Romeo and Juliet,
  69. O purest in a world that’s pure!
  70. May you immaculate endure
  71. Studying Milton’s poetry,
  72. And when in Holy Matrimony
  73. To another soul you link your fate,
  74. May he be a servant of the State,
  75. A man who’s led a blameless life
  76. And well trimmed by the gelder’s knife.
  77. May no vile mildew touch at all
  78. The blue Picasso on your wall,
  79. And if at times you wonder why
  80. You wake at night and want to die,
  81. Such little doubts you’ll swiftly cancel
  82. Upon a Marriage Guidance Council.
  83. But as for me, my doom is plain;
  84. Outside the window I’ll remain
  85. With callgirls, jockeys, spades and drunks,
  86. Who read no Milton in their bunks,
  87. Describing in barbaric verse
  88. A non-Platonic universe
  89. In which Pope Paul or I may be
  90. The natural son of Cybele,
  91. Digging in my private dunghill
  92. Outside, outside the culture mill –
  93. But soft! These verses will be read
  94. When the inquisitors are dead.
  95.  
  96. 1964-1976

James K. Baxter. Collected Poems. Edited By John Weir. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.

About the Poet:

James Keir Baxter, New Zealand (1926-1972), was a poet, educator and advocate for social reforms in New Zealand. While he wrote poetry and published throughout his lifetime, his alcoholism and frequent shifts of religion and lifestyle were the center of much controversy and speculation.

Called “one of the most precocious poets of the century” whose neglect outside of New Zealand is baffling. Baxter’s writing was affected by his alcoholism. His work drew upon Dylan Thomas and Yeats; then on MacNeice and Lowell, as well as native Māori atavisms.

Baxter’s later years were mostly spent in Jerusalem, a small Māori settlement (known by its Māori transliteration, Hiruharama) on the Whanganui River. Here Baxter lived a sparse existence and made frequent trips to the nearby cities where he worked with the poor and spoke out against what he perceived as a social order that sanctions poverty. [DES-03/18]

Additional information:

A random image of a pig, hog, boar or swine from the collection at Porkopolis.