Allen Curnow’s works concerning “the New Zealand Landscape and the sense of isolation experienced by one who lives in an island colony are perhaps his most moving and most deeply pertinent works regarding the New Zealand condition. His poetry specially concerns landscape/isolation.”
The poem “Continuum” is a poem on the continuity of poetic inspiration. The poetic source of stimulation of great poets since ages has been the landscape. The moon has been a persistent metaphor for poetic inspiration in celebrated poems like Samuel Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode.” The poet’s quality of being a satirist is prominent here. He first asserts that the moon rolls over the roof, and falls back. This is to imply that his poetic capabilities are sinking. Subsequently, he goes on to substantiate that the moon does neither of these things, he is talking about himself. When poets do generally stumble in poetic output or due to lack of inspiration, they tend to blame the external circumstances. However, Here Allen Curnow asserts that the poet himself is to be blamed; for, Poetic inspiration comes from within and not from outside.
Being sleepless is not an excuse for writing a poem. Sleeplessness does not necessarily allow one to ruminate over a subject, or subjective thoughts. The condition of insomnia can also be dodged conveniently by walking barefoot on the front. The speaker is then visualized as an onlooker of nature. As he stands at the porch he beholds an objective view of himself, as he discerns “across the privets/and the palms a ”washed out creation.” This portion is a dark space. The poet moves to his satiric tone yet again. This dark space contains two particular clouds, one was supposed to be a source of inspiration for the poet, and the other for his adversary-the other fellow poet.
Bright clouds dusted(query) by the moon, one’s mine
The other’s an adversary, which may depend
on the wind or something.
The clouds seem to dust the moon for the poet in his quest/query for poetic stimulation. Nevertheless as one cloud functions in his favour, the other (cloud) poses as an adversary that may shadow the cloud, accompanied by the wind. Poetic brainwave or competence must not mar the other’s inspiration, for each poet has his individualistic insight that springs from within and does depend on external features.
The poet gets the feeling that he has overcome his writer’s block. As creativity begins in impulses, there are gaps. The next gap is a long one, and obviously the next poetic impulse is not on time. Corresponding to the inner lack of productivity, the feet outside lack warmth as the chill of the planking underfoot rises.
As the poet cringes for poetic output based on external inspiration, the night sky seems to empty all it contents down, as in an action of excreting or vomiting. The speaker then turns on his bare heel and closes the door signaling the end of his creative endeavour. This is He, the objective Author, feeding on this litter of the scenic sky and employing his poetic tools in the process. Therefore, he is aptly the cringing demiurge.
“The demiurge is a concept from the Platonic, Middle Platonic, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy for an artisan-like figure responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe. Although a fashioner, the demiurge is not quite the creator figure in the familiar monistic sense; both the demiurge itself and the material from which the demiurge fashions the universe are the product of some other being.”
The poet Allen Curnow asserts that he neither is he original, nor his poetic source of insight. This is because the motivating stimuli did not spring from Him. It is objective, when it should be rather subjective.
©Rukhaya MK 2010
The content is the copyright of Rukhaya MK. Any line reproduced from the article has to be appropriately documented by the reader. ©Rukhaya MK. All rights reserved.
Thomas Allen Munro CurnowONZCBE (17 June 1911 – 23 September 2001) was a New Zealand poet and journalist. Curnow was born in Timaru, New Zealand and educated at Christchurch Boys' High School, Canterbury University, and Auckland University. He then taught English at Auckland University from 1950 to 1976.
Curnow was the son of a fourth generation New Zealander, an Anglican clergyman, and he grew up in a religious family. The family was of Cornish origin. During his early childhood they often moved, living in Canterbury, Belfast, Malvern, Lyttelton and New Brighton. He was later educated at Christchurch BHS as well as at the universities of Canterbury and Auckland. After completing his education he worked from 1929 to 1930 at the Christchurch Sun, before moving once again to Auckland to prepare for the Anglican ministry at St John's Theological College (1931–1933). In this period Curnow also published his first poems in University periodicals, such as Kiwi and Phoenix.
From 1934 he returned to the South Island, where he started a correspondence with Iris Wilkinson and Alan Mulgan, as well as finding a job at The Press the Christchurch morning daily newspaper, having decided against a career in the Anglican ministry. At the same time, he also started a lifelong friendship with Denis Glover and contributed to the Caxton Press, submitting some of his poems.
Curnow's first marriage, to Betty LeCrean, was dissolved in 1965; they had a daughter and two sons, one of whom is New Zealand poet and art critic Wystan Curnow. His second marriage was to Jennifer Tole.
Curnow wrote a long-running weekly satirical poetry column under the pen-name of Whim Wham for The Press from 1937, and then the New Zealand Herald from 1951, finishing in 1988 - a far-reaching period in which he turned his keen wit to many world issues. From Franco, Hitler, Vietnam, Apartheid, and the White Australia policy, to the internal politics of Walter Nash and the eras of Rob Muldoon and David Lange, all interspersed with humorous commentary on New Zealand's obsession with rugby and other light-hearted subjects.
His publication, Book of New Zealand Verse (1945), is seen as a landmark in New Zealand literature.
He is however, more celebrated as poet than as a satirist. His poetic works are heavily influenced by his training for the Anglican ministry, and subsequent rejection of that calling, with Christian imagery, myth and symbolism being included frequently, particularly in his early works (such as 'Valley of Decision'). He draws consistently on his experiences in childhood to shape a number of his poems, reflecting perhaps a childlike engagement with the environment in which he grew up, these poems bringing the hopeful, curious, questioning voice that a childlike view entails. Curnow's work of course is not all so innocently reflective. The satirist in Curnow is certainly not pushed aside in his poetic works, but is explored instead with a greater degree of emotional connectivity and self-reflection. His works concerning the New Zealand Landscape and the sense of isolation experienced by one who lives in an island colony are perhaps his most moving and most deeply pertinent works regarding the New Zealand condition. His landscape/isolation centered poetry reflects varying degrees of engaged fear, guilt, accusation, rage and possessiveness, creating an important but, both previously and still, much neglected dialog with the New Zealand landscape. He positions himself as an outside critic (he was far less religiously and politically involved than contemporaries like James K. Baxter, and far more conventional in his lifestyle also) and though perhaps less impassioned in his writing than his contemporaries, his poetic works are both prophetic and intelligent.
- In the Queen's Birthday Honours 1986 Curnow was appointed Commander of The Order of the British Empire (CBE)for services to literature.
- Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, 1989
- On 6 February 1990, Curnow was the fourteenth appointee to The Order of New Zealand.
- New Zealand Book Award for Poetry; 1958, 1963, 1975, 1980, 1983, 1987, 2001
- Commonwealth Poetry Prize 1988 (for Continuum)
- Cholmondeley Award, 1992 (other winners that year: Donald Davie, Carol Ann Duffy, and Roger Woddis)
- A W Reed Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000
- 1933: Valley of Decision : Poems. Auckland : Auckland University College Students' Association Press
- 1933: Another Argo: three poems from the Caxton Club Press (including "Doom at sunrise"), Christchurch: Caxton Club Press
- 1935: Three poems: Aspect of Monism, Restraint, The Wilderness, Christchurch: Caxton Club Press
- 1935: Poetry and Language, Christchurch: Caxton Club Press
- 1937: Enemies : Poems 1934-36, Christchurch: Caxton Press,1937
- 1939: Not in Narrow Seas : Poems with Prose, Christchurch: Caxton Press
- 1940: Present for Hitler and Other Verses, Christchurch: Caxton Press
- 1941: Recent Poems. By Allen Curnow, A. R. D. Fairburn, Denis Glover, R. A. K. Mason, Christchurch: Caxton Press
- 1941: Island and Time, Christchurch: Caxton Press
- 1942: Landfall in Unknown Seas, poem with music by Douglas Lilburn
- 1942: Whim-Wham. Verses, 1941-42, Christchurch: Caxton Press
- 1943: Whim-Wham. Verses, 1943, Wellington: Progressive Publishing Society
- Circa 1946 (year uncertain): Sailing or Drowning: Poems, Wellington: Progressive Publishing Society
- 1946: Jack Without Magic: Poems, Christchurch: Caxton Press
- 1949: At Dead Low Water, and Sonnets, Christchurch: Caxton Press
- 1949: The Axe: a Verse Tragedy, Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1949 [i.e. 1950]
- 1957: Poems 1949-57, Wellington: Mermaid Press
- Circa 1957 (year uncertain): The Hucksters and the University : or, Out of Site, Out of Mind; or Up Queen Street Without a Paddle. A happy little poem for all the family ... read by the author at a public poetry reading in the Auckland City Art Gallery on 24 May 1957, Auckland: Pilgrim Press (broadsheet)
- 1957: Mr Huckster of 1958 : another and still happier little poem..., Auckland: Pilgrim Press (broadsheet)
- 1958: Bright Sky, verse play, unpublished, cyclostyled copy held in University of Auckland Library, NZ Glass Case
- 1959: Best of Whim-Wham, Hamilton: Paul's Book Arcade
- 1959: Moon Section, unpublished play, performed 1959
- 1960: On the Tour : Verwoerd Be Our Vaatchwoerd..., Auckland: Pilgrim Press (broadsheet)
- 1961: The Overseas Expert, unpublished playscript in University of Auckland Library, New Zealand Glass Case
- 1962: A Small Room With Large Windows, London: Oxford University Press
- 1967: Whim Wham Land, Auckland: B. & J. Paul
- 1972: Four Plays, Wellington: A.W. and A.H. Reed, (Contains: The Axe, The Overseas Expert, The Duke's Miracle, Resident of Nowhere)
- 1972: Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects: a Sequence, Wellington: Catspaw Press
- 1973: An Abominable Temper, and Other Poems, Wellington: Catspaw Press
- 1974: Collected Poems 1933-1973, Wellington: A.W. and A.H. Reed
- 1979: An Incorrigible Music, Dunedin: Auckland University Press
- 1982: Editor, Allen Curnow Selected Poems, Auckland: Penguin
- 1982: You Will Know When You Get There: Poems 1979, Auckland: Auckland University Press
- 1986: The Loop in Lone Kauri Road, Auckland: Auckland University Press
- 1987: Look Back Harder: Critical Writings 1935-1984, edited with an introduction by Peter Simpson, Auckland: Auckland University Press
- 1988: Continuum: New and Later Poems 1972-1988, Auckland: Auckland University Press
- 1990: Selected Poems 1940-1989, London: Viking
- 1994: Looking West, Late Afternoon, Low Water, Limited edition, designed and made by Alan Loney in collaboration with Elizabeth Serjeant,Auckland: Holloway Press
- Penguin Modern Poets 7, second series (1996) with Donald Davie and Samuel Menashe
- 1996: The Scrap-book; limited edition published in conjunction with Writers' and Readers' Week, 12-17 Mar 1996, Wellington: Wai-te-ata Press
- 1997: Early Days Yet : New and Collected Poems 1941-1997, Auckland: Auckland University Press
- 2001: The Bells of Saint Babel's: poems 1997-2001, Auckland: Auckland University Press
- 2005: Whim Wham's New Zealand: The Best of Whim Wham 1937-1988, edited by Terry Sturm
- 1945: Book of New Zealand Verse 1923-45, Christchurch: Caxton Press
- 1951: Book of New Zealand Verse 1923-50, Christchurch: Caxton Press
- 1960: Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books
Curnow was the subject of the 2001 documentary Early Days Yet, directed by Shirley Horrocks. Filmed in the final months of Curnow's life, it records him talking about his life and work, and visiting the setting of some of his important poems.