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The Bells of Saint Babel’s

Allen Curnow, 10 June 1999

... After those months at sea, we stank worse than the Ark. Faeces of all species, God’s first creation, cooped human and brute, between wind and water, bound for this pegged-out plain in the land called Shinar, or some- thing. Give or take some chiliads, I’ll have been born there. Saint Babel’s tower with spire (sundry versions of that) stuck not far short of a top (Wait for it!) gilded to catch first light or last flame flung by the torched snows farthest west ...

Pacific 1945-1995

Allen Curnow, 19 October 1995

... A Pantoum if th’assassination could trammel up the consequence, and catch, with his surcease, success; that but this blow might be the be-all and the end-all ... here, but here, upon this bank and shoal of time we’ld jump the life to come Macbeth Quantifiable griefs. The daily kill. One bullet, with his name on, his surcease. ‘The casualties were few, the damage nil’ – The scale was blown up, early in the piece ...

Second Wind

C.K. Stead, 16 February 1989

Continuum: New and Later Poems 1972-1988 
by Allen Curnow.
Auckland, 227 pp., £16.50, February 1989, 1 86940 025 9
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... of the best poetry in English at least since the Romantics, is, in a controversial phrase used by Allen Curnow in the introduction to one of his two anthologies of New Zealand poetry, ‘local and special at the point where we pick up the traces’. The phrase typically says what Curnow wants it to say – that the ...


C.K. Stead: New Zealand Writers, 21 November 1991

... what I think V.S. Naipaul has called the client cultures. In my last year at school I discovered Allen Curnow’s poetry and his 1945 anthology, A Book of New Zealand Verse, which historians often use as a marker in the establishment of a distinct and self-reliant New Zealand literature. In 1951, the year Curnow, then ...

Hugging the cats

John Bayley, 14 June 1990

by Gay Clifford.
188 pp., £14.99, May 1990, 0 241 12976 1
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Selected Poems 1940 – 1989 
by Allen Curnow.
Viking, 209 pp., £15.99, May 1990, 0 670 83007 0
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Collected Poems and Selected Translations 
by Norman Cameron, edited by Warren Hope and Jonathan Barker.
Anvil, 160 pp., £14.95, May 1990, 0 85646 202 0
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Collected Poems 
by Enoch Powell.
Bellew, 198 pp., £9.95, April 1990, 0 947792 36 8
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... collective enjoyment. The rarity is to find something not like a ‘poem’, more like a person. Allen Curnow, like the later Auden, has the gift of making a contraption with a guy inside it, someone whose interest is not that of being a poet. Nor of coming from New Zealand. He has his own country, caught in a transparent gleam by such poems as ‘A ...

At Tate Modern

Peter Campbell: Bruce Nauman’s Raw Materials, 4 November 2004

... Cretaceous coprolite in the Natural History Museum. Wild country was all mapped long ago. Once, as Allen Curnow has it, ‘simply by sailing in a new direction/We could enlarge the world.’ Now neither art nor the planet offers much virgin territory. Nauman’s excursion does not take us places we have never been before. We may admire the way he finds ...

Ancient Orthodoxies

C.K. Stead, 23 May 1991

by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 64 pp., £6.95, March 1991, 0 85635 908 4
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Dog Fox Field 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 103 pp., £6.95, February 1991, 0 85635 950 5
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True Colours 
by Neil Powell.
Carcanet, 102 pp., £6.95, March 1991, 0 85635 910 6
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Eating strawberries in the Necropolis 
by Michael Hulse.
Harvill, 63 pp., £5.95, March 1991, 0 00 272076 0
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... When Les Murray writes, ‘the white-faced heron hides in the drain with her spear,’ or when Allen Curnow writes, ‘the small wind instruments in the herons’ throats / play an incorrigible music,’ there is in each case the shock of something quite particular, and of language forced to find a way of matching it. Someone is forgetting himself and ...

Standing up to the city slickers

C.K. Stead, 18 February 1988

Selected Poems 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 151 pp., £3.95, April 1986, 0 85635 667 0
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The Daylight Moon 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 86 pp., £6.95, February 1988, 0 85635 779 0
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... by fine shades and subtleties. Pondering on what it is that makes the difference between him and Allen Curnow, two poets remarkable for the multiple pressures they impose on the language of their poems, it occurred to me that Murray’s skill is that of a natural linguist: Curnow’s is that of a genuinegly ...

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