In the Spirit of Rumi (2011)

Jack Ross:
Published Essays, Interviews,
Introductions & Reviews



Date of Publication - Title - Publication Details

    2017 [17]

  1. (September 26) “Starting (and Stopping) a Poem.” Pilot 2018: A Diary for Writers (Melbourne & South Gippsland: Pilot Press, 2018): 12.

  2. (February 21) “Enactments of Identity in the New Zealand Short Story.” Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences (FDHS). ISSN 1674-0750. DOI 10.1007/s40647-017-0170-2 (2017): 1-19.

  3. (January 28) “How Many Miles to Babylon? Three Faces of Mike Johnson’s Lear.” brief 55 (Summer 2016-17): 113-31.

  4. (January 15) “The Time of Achamoth: M. K. Joseph and the Rise of New Zealand Speculative Fiction.” Journal of New Zealand Literature 34.2: New Writing 1975-2000. Guest Editor John Geraets (2016): 61-80.

  5. (January 13) (Ed.) Poetry NZ Yearbook 2017 [Issue #51]: 14-19, 48-51, 293-302 & 318-23:
    • Editorial – Hands across the Tasman
    • An Interview with Elizabeth Morton
    • Reviews:
    • Review of Nicholas Williamson, The Blue Outboard: New and Selected Poems (Port Chalmers: Black Doris Press, 2016)
    • Review of Antonios Papaspiropoulos, Poems from the George Wilder Cottage: A Poetry Cycle (Southbank, Victoria, Australia: St. Antoni Publishing, 2015)
    • Review of Cilla McQueen, In a Slant Light: A Poet’s Memoir (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2016)
    • Review of Jen Crawford, Koel (Melbourne: Cordite Books, 2016)
    • Books & Magazines in brief:
    • Review of brief 54: Love, ed. Olivia Macassey (Pokeno, Auckland: The Writers Group, 2016)
    • Review of John Dickson, Mister Hamilton (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2016)
    • Review of Michael Harlow, Nothing for it but to Sing (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2016)
    • Review of IKA 4: Journal of Literature and Art, ed. Anne Kennedy (Manukau: MIT, 2016)
    • Review of JAAM 33: Small Departures, ed. Kiri Piahana-Wong and Rosetta Allan (Wellington: JAAM Collective, 2015)
    • Review of Polina Kouzminova, An echo where you lie (Wellington: Mākaro Press, 2016)
    • Review of Frankie McMillan, My Mother and the Hungarians and Other Small Fictions (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2016)

  6. 2016 [6]

  7. (December 25) “Issue 55 Supplement: How Many Miles To Babylon.” The brief blog (25/12/16).

  8. (December 4) “Poetry Shelf, Poet's Choice.” Contribution to Paula Green. NZ Poetry Shelf: a poetry page with reviews, interviews, and other things (4/12/16).

  9. (November 22) Blurb for Keith Nunes, catching a ride on a paradox: poetry and short fiction (Rotorua, 2016).

  10. (July 8) "On the Road to Nowhere: Revisiting Samuel Butler’s Erewhon." Extraordinary Anywhere: Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand. Ed. Ingrid Horrocks & Cherie Lacey. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2016. 135-49.

  11. (May 19) “The Psychopathic God: Review of R.H.I., by Tim Corballis (Victoria University Press, 2015).” Landfall 231 (April 2015): 182-85.

  12. (May 5) “I am ‘modern’ but want to go back’: Review of Aurelia, by John Hawke (Cordite Press, 2015).” TEXT: Journal of Writing and Writing Courses, vol 20, no. 1 (April 2016).

  13. 2015 [19]

  14. (December 11) “Poetry Shelf, Poet's Choice.” Contribution to Paula Green. NZ Poetry Shelf: a poetry page with reviews, interviews, and other things (11/12/15).

  15. (November 27) (Ed.) Poetry NZ Yearbook 2 [Issue #50] (2015): 7-10, 23-38, 255-63 & 269-73:
    • Editorial – What is New Zealand Poetry?
    • An Interview with Robert Sullivan
    • Reviews:
    • Review of Mary Cresswell, Fish Stories (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2015)
    • Review of David Eggleton, The Conch Trumpet (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2015)
    • Review of A Place To Go On From: The Collected Poems of Iain Lonie, ed. David Howard (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2015)
    • Review of Jane Summer, Erebus (Little Rock, Arkansas: Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014)
    • Books & Magazines in brief:
    • Review of Diane Brown, Taking My Mother to the Opera (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2015)
    • Review of Catalyst 11: My Republic, ed. Doc Drumheller (Christchurch: The Republic of Oma Rāpeti Press, 2014)
    • Review of Martin Edmond & Maggie Hall, Histories of the Future (North Hobart, Tasmania: Walleah Press, 2015)
    • Review of JAAM 32: Shorelines, ed. Sue Wootton (Wellington: JAAM Collective, 2014)
    • Review of Julie Leibrich, A Little Book of Sonnets (Wellington: Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2013)
    • Review of Emma Neale, Tender Machines (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2015)
    • Review of Richard Reeve, Generation Kitchen (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2015)
    • Review of Pat White, Fracking & Hawk (Aotearoa New Zealand: Frontiers Press, 2015)

  16. (August 29) “'We' Society: Editor's Note.” 'We' Society Poetry Anthology. Edited with a Preface by Jack Ross. Stage2Page Titles, 4 (Bethells / Te Henga, Auckland: Poetry/Spoken Word Art NZ Trust, 2015): 1-3.

  17. (July 29) Blurb for Martin Edmond & Maggie Hall, Histories of the Future (North Hobart, Tasmania: Walleah Press, 2015).

  18. (May 11) “Miss Herbert, by Adam Thirlwell [2007].” Verbivoracious Festschrift Vol. 3: The Syllabus. Ed. G.N. Forester and M.J. Nicholls. ISBN 978-981-09-3593-1 (Singapore: Verbivoracious Press, 2015): 209-10.

  19. (May 1) “Is MiStory YourStory? Review of MiStory, by Philip Temple (Dunedin: Scribe Publishing, 2014).” Landfall Review Online (2015).

  20. 2014 [36]

  21. (November 1) “An Interview with Gabriel White.” Tongdo Fantasia. Gabriel White on Vimeo (26/10/14).

  22. (October 28) (Ed.) Poetry NZ Yearbook 1 [Issue #49] (2014): 7-10, 41-48, 224-37:
    • Editorial – From Dagmara to Lisa
    • An Interview with Lisa Samuels
    • Books & Magazines in brief:
    • Review of Alan Brunton, Beyond the Ohlala Mountains: Poems 1968-2002. Ed. Michele Leggott & Martin Edmond (Auckland: Titus Books, 2013)
    • Review of Kay McKenzie Cooke, Born to a Red-Headed Woman (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2014)
    • Review of Craig Cotter, After Lunch with Frank O’Hara. Introduction by Felice Picano (New York: Chelsea Station Editions, 2014)
    • Review of Alison Denham, Raspberry Money (Christchurch: Sudden Valley Press, 2013)
    • Review of Doc Drumheller, 10 x (10 + -10) = 0: A ten year, ten book project, 20/02/2002-21/02/2012 (Christchurch: The Republic of Oma Rāpeti Press, 2014)
    • Review of Eugene Dubnov, The Thousand-Year Minutes. Translated by Anne Stevenson & the author (UK: Shoestring Press, 2013)
    • Review of Sue Fitchett, On the Wing (Wellington: Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2014)
    • Review of Alexandra Fraser, Conversation by Owl-Light (Wellington: Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2014)
    • Review of John Gibb, The Thin Boy & Other Poems (Lyttelton: Cold Hub Press, 2014)
    • Review of Rogelio Guedea, Si no te hubieras ido / If only you hadn’t gone. With translations by Roger Hickin. Introduction by Vincent O’Sullivan (Lyttelton: Cold Hub Press, 2014)
    • Review of Sweeping the Courtyard: The Selected Poems of Michael Harlow (Lyttelton: Cold Hub Press, 2014)
    • Review of Michael Harlow, Heart absolutely I can. Hoopla Series (Wellington: Mākaro Press, 2014)
    • Review of Chloe Honum, The Tulip-Flame (Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2014)
    • Review of David Howard, The Speak House: A Poem in Fifty-Seven Pentastichs on the Final Hours in the Life of Robert Louis Stevenson (Lyttelton: Cold Hub Press, 2014)
    • Review of Leonard Lambert, Remnants: Poems (Wellington: Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2013)
    • Review of Stephanie Lash, Bird murder. Hoopla Series (Wellington: Mākaro Press, 2014)
    • Review of Cilla McQueen (in association with the Alexander Turnbull Library), Edwin’s Egg & Other Poetic Novellas (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2014)
    • Review of John O’Connor, Whistling in the Dark (Wellington: HeadworX, 2014)
    • Review of Outloud Too. Ed. Vaughan Rapatahana, Kate Rogers, Madeleine Slavick (Hong Kong: MCCM Creations, 2014)
    • Review of Lee Posna, Arboretum (Auckland: Compound Press, 2014)
    • Review of Helen Rickerby, Cinema. Hoopla Series (Wellington: Mākaro Press, 2014)
    • Review of Marie Slaight, The Antigone Poems. Drawings by Terrence Tasker (Potts Point NSW: Altaire Production and Publication, 2013)
    • Review of Elizabeth Smither, Ruby Duby Du (Lyttelton: Cold Hub Press, 2014)
    • Review of MaryJane Thomson, Fallen Grace (Wellington: HeadworX / The Night Press, 2014)
    • Review of Steven Toussaint, Fiddlehead (Auckland: Compound Press, 2014)

  23. (August 5) “August on the Shelf.” Contribution to Paula Green. NZ Poetry Shelf: a poetry page with reviews, interviews, and other things (5/8/14).

  24. (May 16) “Green Movement: Review of Phillip Mann, The Disestablishment of Paradise: A Novel in Five Parts plus Documents (London: Gollancz, 2013).” Landfall 227 – Vital Signs (2014): 183-85.

  25. (April 14) “Paul Celan & Leicester Kyle: The Zone & the Plateau.” Ka Mate Ka Ora 13 (2014): 54-71.

  26. (March 12) (Ed.) brief 50 – the projects issue (2014): 3-5, 152-53, 154-56:
    • Editorial – Misha's Project
    • Review of Lisa Samuels, Wild Dialectics (Bristol: Shearsman Books Ltd., 2012)
    • Review of Richard von Sturmer, Book of Equanimity Verses (Auckland: Puriri Press, 2013)

  27. (February 6) Leicester Kyle. The Millerton Sequences. Edited by Jack Ross. Poem by David Howard. ISBN 978-0-473-18880-1. Pokeno, Auckland: Atuanui Press, 2014. 8-29:

  28. (February 1) “Carnage in Cuba Street: Review of The Wind City, by Summer Wigmore (Steam Press, 2013).” Landfall Review Online (2014).

  29. 2013 [6]

  30. (December 9) “Here are the poetry books that hooked us in 2013.” Contribution to Paula Green. NZ Poetry Shelf: a poetry page with reviews, interviews, and other things (9/12/13).

  31. (September 27) “Confessions of an Unrepentant Anthologist: Review of The AUP Anthology of NZ Literature, ed. Jane Stafford & Mark Williams (Auckland: AUP, 2013).” brief 49 (2013): 129-45.

  32. (September 7) “Wearing their ethics on their sleeves: Review of Elizabeth Knox, Mortal Fire (Wellington: Gecko Press, 2013) & Mandy Hager, Dear Vincent (Auckland: Random House New Zealand, 2013).” NZ Books: A Quarterly Review vol. 23, no. 3, issue 103 (Spring 2013): 16-17.

  33. (August 31) “Trouble in River City: How I learned to stop worrying and trust poetics.” Poetry NZ 47 (2013): 93-103.

  34. (June 25) “Obituary – Dreamtigers: i.m. Sarah Broom.” Poetry Notes 14 (vol. 4, issue 2). ISSN 1179-7681 (Winter 2013): 6-8.

  35. (May 14) “Never Get Taken to the Second Location: Review of The Second Location. Stories by Bronwyn Lloyd (Auckland: Titus Books, 2011). RRP $NZ 30.00.” Landfall 225 – My Auckland (2013): 186-89.

  36. 2012 [25]

  37. (November 23) “Interpreting Paul Celan.” brief 46 – The Survival Issue (2012): 85-101.

  38. (November 5) Celanie: Poems & Drawings after Paul Celan. Poems by Jack Ross, Drawings by Emma Smith, with an Afterword by Bronwyn Lloyd. ISBN 978-0-473-22484-4. Pania Samplers, 3. Auckland: Pania Press, 2012. 168 pp. 11-16:

  39. (September 24) “Channeling Paul Celan.” Rabbit 5: The RARE Issue (Winter 2012): 118-31.

  40. (September 1) “Review of The Little Enemy, by Nicholas Reid (Wellington: Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2011).” Poetry NZ 45 (2012): 103-4.

  41. (July 1) “Closedown, hibernate, restart: Review of The Comforter, by Helen Lehndorf (Seraph Press, 2011) & Birds of Clay, by Aleksandra Lane (VUP, 2012).” Landfall Review Online (2012).

  42. (June 19) Fallen Empire: Maui in the Underworld, Kupe & the Fountain of Youth, Hatupatu & the Nile-monster: Three Play-Fragments from the Literary Remains of The Society of Inner Light. Attributed to Bertolt Wegener. Edited with an introduction by Jack Ross. Museum of True History in Collaboration with Karl Chitham and Jack Ross (20 June – 21 July 2012). Dunedin: Blue Oyster Art Project Space, 2012:

  43. (May 8) “Old Shore.” Trout 17: Home Spaces (2012).

  44. (May 6) brief 44 / 45 – Oceania (2012): 56-76 & 206-7:

  45. (March 31-July 3) JACK ROSS: Notes on NZ Poetry (April-June 2012). Jacket2: Commentaries.
    1. [31/3/12]: Begin anywhere
    2. [6/4/12]: The persistence of memory
    3. [13/4/12]: Experiments with sound
    4. [18/4/12]: Dancing on ropes with fetter’d legs
    5. [27/4/12]: In small press land
    6. [6/5/12]: State-of-the-Nation poems: Allen Curnow
    7. [11/5/12]: State-of-the-Nation poems (2): James K. Baxter
    8. [17/5/12]: State-of-the-Nation poems (3): Cilla McQueen
    9. [26/5/12]: Work yet for the living: Hone Tuwhare
    10. [1/6/12]: What's in the mags? brief 44/45
    11. [8/6/12]: State-of-the-Nation poems (4): Ian Wedde
    12. [15/6/12]: State-of-the-Nation poems (5): Kendrick Smithyman
    13. [25/6/12]: State-of-the-Nation poems (6): Michele Leggott
    14. [3/7/12]: Coda

  46. (March 30) “Marie de France: ‘Laüstic’ (c.1180).” Ka Mate Ka Ora 11 (2012): 75-88.

  47. (March 13) “The book that got me started ...” Contribution to Celebrating NZ Book Month. Auckland University Press (13/3/12).

  48. 2011 [7]

  49. ((November 29) “Look and look again: Twelve New Zealand poets.” Jacket2 NZ Poetry Feature: with poets John Adams, Raewyn Alexander, Jen Crawford, Scott Hamilton, Leicester Kyle, Aleksandra Lane, Thérèse Lloyd, Richard Reeve, Michael Steven, Apirana Taylor, Richard Taylor, Richard von Sturmer. Edited by Jack Ross. Images by Emma Smith.

  50. (November 3) Leicester Kyle, Koroneho: Joyful News Out Of The New Found World. Edited with an Introduction by Jack Ross. Preface by Ian St George. ISBN 978-0-9876604-0-4. Auckland: The Leicester Kyle Literary Estate / Wellington: The Colenso Society, 2011. 7-9:

  51. (November 1) Blurb for Keith Westwater, Tongues of Ash (Brisbane: Interactive Press, October 2011).

  52. (August 25) “Foreword.” Lugosi’s Children, Curated by Bronwyn Lloyd (27 August – 1 October 2011). Auckland: Objectspace, 2011: 2-3. [PDF available at:].

  53. (May 25) “Johnsons or Shits: Review of Mike Johnson, Travesty (Auckland: Titus Books, 2010).” brief 42 (2011): 40-44.

  54. (May 17) “Questions of Structure: Review of John Newton, Lives of the Poets; Cilla McQueen, The Radio Room; David Eggleton, Time of the Icebergs.” Landfall 221 – Outside In (2011): 184-87.

  55. (January 6) Kendrick Smithyman, Campana to Montale: Versions from Italian. 2004. Edited by Jack Ross & Marco Sonzogni. ISBN-13: 978-88-7536-264-5. Transference Series. Ed. Erminia Passannanti. Novi Ligure: Edizioni Joker, 2010. 23-39:
    • Essay – The Poem Within: Kendrick Smithyman the Poet-Translator

  56. 2010 [6]

  57. (December 16) 11 Views of Auckland. Edited by Jack Ross & Grant Duncan. Preface by Jack Ross. Social and Cultural Studies, 10. ISSN 1175-7132. Auckland: Massey University, 2010. ii + 210 pp. [100 copies]. 5-8; 155-76:

  58. (November 19) “Hearts on the Run: Poetry Panels in Sydney.” All Together Now: A Digital Bridge for Auckland and Sydney / Kia Kotahi Rā: He Arawhata Ipurangi mō Tamaki Makau Rau me Poihākena (March-September 2010). (23/11/10).

  59. (November 18) “A Short History of Fairytales.” One Brown Box: A Storybook Exhibition for Children, by Bronwyn Lloyd & Karl Chitham (6 November – 18 December 2010). ISBN-13: 978-0-9582811-8-8. Auckland: Objectspace, 2010: 27-37.

  60. (September 17) “Discussion of 'Disorder and Early Sorrow'.” In 99 Ways into NZ Poetry, by Paula Green & Harry Ricketts. ISBN 978-1-86979-178-0. Auckland: Random House, 2010. 364-65.

  61. (May 27) “The Sleep of Reason: Review of Jessica Le Bas, Walking to Africa; David Lyndon Brown, Skin Hunger; Bernadette Hall, The Lustre Jug; Kevin Ireland, Table Talk: New Poems; Frankie McMillan, Dressing for the Cannibals; Brian Turner, Just This: Poems; Richard von Sturmer, On the Eve of Never Departing.” Landfall 219 – On Music (2010): 185-89.

  62. 2009 [14]

  63. (December 7) “Scroll, Codex, Hypertext …” Contribution to the Flying Blind Symposium (3/12/09). Floating Cinemas Website (7/12/09).

  64. (November 3) “Troubling Our Sleep: Ted Jenner’s Postmodern Classicism.” Ka Mate Ka Ora 8 (2009): 46-66.

  65. (September 25) “Travelling to the Edge of Oneself: Review of Martin Edmond, The Supply Party.” brief 38 (2009): 89-93.

  66. (June 16) “The Tolkien Industry.” Scoop Review of Books (16/6/09).

  67. (May 29) “Is there a future for the poetry blog?” Colloquium: “1,000 words or a picture: Could Poetry be a Contemporary Art?” Ka Mate Ka Ora 7 (2009): 26-29.

  68. (May 6) “In Love with the Chinese Novel: A Voyage around the Hung Lou Meng.” brief 37 (2009): 10-28. [Available at: Titus Books website (June 15, 2010)].

  69. (March 1) (Ed.) Poetry NZ 38 (2009): 9, 10 & 107-8.:
    • Editorial [Available at: Poetry NZ Website (12/3/09)]
    • Jen Crawford
    • Books & Magazines in brief: Review of Coral Atkinson & David Gregory, ed. Land very Fertile: Banks Peninsula in Poetry & Prose (Christchurch: CUP, 2008)
    • Review of Stu Bagby, ed. Just Another Fantastic Anthology: Auckland in Poetry (Auckland: Antediluvian Press, 2008)
    • Review of Helen Bascand, into the vanishing point (Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2007)
    • Review of Michael Harlow, The Tram Conductor’s Blue Cap (Auckland: AUP, 2009)
    • Review of John O’Connor, Parts of the Moon: Selected Haiku & Senryu, 1988-2007 (Teneriffe, Queensland: Post Pressed, 2007)
    • Review of Takahe 64 (Winter 2008)

  70. 2008 [5]

  71. (September 23) “Climbing off the Barricades: Review of Tony Beyer, Dream Boat: Selected Poems & Stu Bagby, ed. A Good Handful: Great NZ Poems about Sex." brief #36 (2008) – The NZ Music Issue: 114-18.

  72. (August 30) “Ex Africa semper aliquid novi ... Review of Alistair Paterson, Africa: //Kabbo, Mantis and the Porcupine’s Daughter.” Poetry NZ 37 (2008): 101-08.

  73. (July 30) Review of Martin Edmond, The Evolution of Mirrors. Queensland: Otoliths, 2008. Lulu Marketplace.

  74. (June 15) “Recipe: Hot rolls.” In The Word for Food: Recipes and Anecdotes from members of the International Writers’ Workshop, and others. Ed. Joyce Irving. Palmerston North: Heritage Press Ltd., 2008. 98-99.

  75. (June 6) New New Zealand Poets in Performance. Edited by Jack Ross. Poems Selected by Jack Ross and Jan Kemp. ISBN 978 1 86940 4093. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2008. xiv + 146 pp. ix-xii:

  76. 2007 [7]

  77. (November 13) (Ed.) Landfall 214 – Open House (2007): 5-6, 175-79 & 187-90:

  78. (September 1) “Irony and After: New Bearings in NZ Poetry.” Poetry NZ 35 (2007): 95-103.

  79. (June 6) To Terezín. Travelogue by Jack Ross, with an Afterword by Martin Edmond. Social and Cultural Studies, 8. ISSN 1175-7132 (Auckland: Massey University, 2007). ii + 90 pp. 5-6:

  80. (March 29) “Pound’s Fascist Cantos Revisited.” Ka Mate Ka Ora #3 (2007): 41-57.
    • (September) "Correspondence: Pound’s Italian Cantos." Ka Mate Ka Ora #4 (2007): 154-57.

  81. 2006 [9]

  82. (December 13) “Gabriel’s Groundhog Day: Launch speech for Gabriel White's Aucklantis.” Window Online (13/12/06).

  83. (December 6) “for Leicester Hugo Kyle (b. 1937).” brief #34 (2006) – war: 6-11. [Available at:].

  84. (September 9) “Death of the Old Gang: Review of Sarah Broom, Contemporary British and Irish Poetry.” Poetry NZ 33 (2006): 80 & 96-101. [Available at: The Imaginary Museum (12/9/06)].

  85. (August 30) Myth of the 21st Century: An Anthology of New Fiction. Edited by Tina Shaw & Jack Ross. ISBN 0-7900-1098-4. 137 pp. Auckland: Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, 2006. 7-9:

  86. (May 12) Classic New Zealand Poets in Performance. Edited by Jack Ross. Poems selected by Jack Ross and Jan Kemp. ISBN 1-86940-367-3. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2006. xiv + 146 pp. ix-xi:

  87. (March 24) brief #33 (2006) – exile and home: 35-37, 60-62, 106-8:

  88. (March 4) “In the Shop of Wah Lee: Denys Trussell – poet, musician, ecologist.” Poetry NZ 32 (2006): 85-94.

  89. 2005 [12]

  90. (October 22) “Is Melville's poetry really worth reading? (22/10/05).

  91. (October 3) (Ed.) Where Will Massey Take You? Life Writing 2. ISBN 0-473-09551-3. Massey University: School of Social and Cultural Studies, 2005. viii + 155 pp. [100 copies]. v-vi:

  92. (August 19) “A few thoughts on sampling.” Titus Books website (19/8/05).

  93. (July 18) (Ed.) brief 32 – Joanna Margaret Paul (2005): 3-4, 103-7:
    • Editorial – i.m. Joanna Margaret Paul (1946-2003)
    • Review of The Brian Bell Reader
    • Review of Alan Brunton, Grooves of Glory: Three Performance Texts
    • Review of Sue Fitchett, Palaver Lava Queen
    • Review of Michael Harlow, Cassandra’s Daughter
    • Review of Anne Kennedy, The Time of the Giants
    • Review of Michele Leggott, Milk & Honey
    • Review of C. K. Stead, The Red Tram

  94. (July 2) “Review of ‘Asclepius’. Poet Triumphant: The Life and Writings of R. A. K. Mason (1905-1971) & Lawrence Jones. Picking up the Traces: The Making of a New Zealand Literary Culture 12932-1945.” WLWE: World Literature Written in English 40 (2) (2005): 144-47.

  95. 2004 [27]

  96. (December 2) “Takahe 2004 Poetry Competition Report.” Takahe 53 (2004): 2.

  97. (November 30) (Ed.) brief 30 / 31 – Kunst / Kultur (2004): 3-4, 88-91, 109-11, 115 / 3 & 5-6:
    • EditorialWARUM die KUNST
    • Review of Murray Edmond, Fool Moon
    • Review of Basim Furat, Here and There
    • Review of Harvey McQueen, Recessional
    • Review of Guyon Neutze, Dark out of Darkness
    • Review of Mark Pirie, Bullet Poems: In Four Rounds, ed. “Recent New Zealand Poetry: 50 Poems by 50 Poets,” & ed. Tupelo Hotel: Winter Readings at Tupelo
    • Review of Niel Wright, Only a Bullet will stop me now
    • Review of William Direen, Jules
    • Editorialbrief goes political

  98. (November 21) Magazine 2 (2004) [aroha, love, l’amour]: 7-18, 86-87:

  99. (October 18) Kendrick Smithyman. Campana to Montale: Versions from Italian. Edited by Jack Ross. ISBN 0-476-00382-2. [ii] + 190 pp. Auckland: The Writers Group, 2004. 10-17:

  100. (September 28) “Going West Five Years On.” Pander Online. [Available at: (28/9/04)].

  101. (September 17) Golden Weather: North Shore Writers Past and Present. Poems edited by Jack Ross / Prose edited by Graeme Lay. ISBN 0-908561-96-2. 244 pp. Auckland: Cape Catley, 2004. 12-16:

  102. (August 31) “Review of James McNeish, Dance of the Peacocks: New Zealanders in Exile in the Time of Hitler and Mao Tse-Tung & Vincent O’Sullivan, Long Journey to the Border: a Life of John Mulgan.” WLWE: World Literature Written in English 39 (2) (2004): 143-46.

  103. (July 12) “'I dreamed your book was written ...' Review of Young Knowledge: the Poems of Robin Hyde, ed. Michele Leggott.” JNZL: Journal of New Zealand Literature 22 (2004): 180-90.

  104. (April 2) (Ed.) brief 29 – more fun than you’ve ever seen (2004): 3-4, 23, 62-65, 81-84, 87-88:
    • Editorial – The Secrets behind my Smile
    • Review of Paul Hardacre, The Year Nothing
    • Review of David Howard & Fiona Pardington, How to Occupy Our Selves
    • Review of Anne Kennedy, Sing-Song
    • Review of Graham Lindsay, Lazy Wind Poems
    • Review of John O’Connor & Eric Mould, Working Voices
    • Review of Alistair Paterson, Summer on the Côte d’Azur
    • Review of Mark Pirie, Dumber
    • Review of John Pule, Tagata Kapakiloi: Restless People
    • Review of R. A. K. Mason, Four Short Stories & Maurice Duggan, A Voice for the Minotaur

  105. 2003 [20]

  106. (November 14) “Review of Jill Chan, The Smell of Oranges.” Magazine 1 (2003) [loaded with arts, fire and boodle]: 76.

  107. (October 28) (Ed.) brief 28 – Alan Brunton (2003): 3-4, 116-22:

  108. (July 10) (Ed.) brief 27 – Season of the Remakes (2003): 3-4, 98, 99-100:
    • Editorial
    • Review of Leicester Kyle, Five Anzac Liturgies
    • Review of Sugu Pillay, The Chandrasekhar Limit

  109. (May 7) “Review of Kendrick Smithyman, Imperial Vistas Family Fictions.” JAAM 19 (2003): 246-49.

  110. (April 22) “Smithyman / Quasimodo: Introduction to the Translations of Kendrick Smithyman.” Glottis: New Writing 8 (2003): 91-96.

  111. (April 16) (Ed.) Spin 45 (2003): 3, 59-63:
    • Editorial
    • Review of dreu harrison, dreaming of flight
    • Review of Michal Ma’u, Taste of Fiji
    • Review of Mark Pirie, Swing and Other Stories
    • Review of Sarah Quigley, Love in a Bookshop or Your Money Back
    • Review of Bill Sewell, The Ballad of Fifty-One

  112. (February 26) (Ed.) A brief index: A breakdown by issue & author of 7 years / 26 issues of brief, the magazine formerly known as: A Brief Description of the Whole World / ABDOTWW / description / ABdotWW / Ab.ww / brief. &c., December 1995 – January 2003. ISSN 1175-9313. 48 pp. Auckland: The Writers Group, 2003. 3:

  113. (February 25) (Ed.) brief 26 – Smithymania (2003): 3-4, 5-8, 9, 19-50, 56, 92, 103-09, 115-116:

  114. 2002 [16]

  115. (December 6) “Alan Brunton, my publisher.” New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (6/12/02).

  116. (October 7) (Ed.) brief 25 – trains at a glance (2002): 3-6, 13-16:

  117. (September 17) “What is Auckland Poetry?Five Bells vol. 9 (3) (2002): 14-15.

  118. (August 29) Poetry NZ 25 (2002): 100-06:

  119. (July 12) (Ed.) brief 24 – less formal than bull (2002): 3, 41-44, 78-79:

  120. (March 25) (Ed.) Spin 42 (2002): 3-4, 60-63:
    • Editorial
    • Review of Jeanne Bernhardt, The Snow Poems / Your Self of Lost Ground
    • Review of T. Anders Carson, A Different Shred of Skin
    • Review of Leicester Kyle, The Great Buller Coal Plateaux: A Sequence of Poems
    • Review of Mark Pirie, Reading the Will
    • Review of Wensley Willcox, A Woman in Green
    • Review of Helen Rickerby, Abstract Internal Furniture

  121. 2001 [20]

  122. (December) “Alan Loney / John O’Connor / John Geraets.” brief 22 (2001): 63-73.

  123. (November 17) Review of Shebang: Collected Poems 1980-2000 by David Howard. JAAM 16 (2001): 171-75.

  124. (October 30) “Imaginary Toads in Real Gardens: Poets in Christchurch.” In Complete with Instructions. Edited by David Howard. ISBN 0-473-07646-2. Christchurch: Firebrand, 2001. 33-61:

  125. (September 4) “Translating Poetry.” Poetry NZ 23 (2001): 125-34.

  126. (July 5) “Case Studies.” brief 20 (2001): 23-29.

  127. (March 21) (Ed.) Spin 39 (2001): 3, 64-66:
    • Editorial
    • Review of All Together Now: A Celebration of New Zealand Culture by 100 Poets, ed. Tony Chad
    • Review of T. Anders Carson, Stain
    • Review of John Geraets, ? X
    • Review of David Howard, Shebang: Collected Poems 1980-2000
    • Review of Leicester Kyle, Five Anzac Liturgies

  128. 2000 [12]

  129. (November 13) Review of Laminations by Murray Edmond and Charts & Soundings by Sue Fitchett & Jane Zusters. JAAM 14 (2000): 99-103.

  130. (September 30) “An Inside Narrative: Recent Works by Alan Loney.” A Brief Description of the Whole World 17 (2000): 70-79.

  131. (September 2) “Necessary Oppositions? Avant-garde versus Traditional Poetry in New Zealand.” Poetry NZ 21 (2000): 80-83.

  132. (August 26-September 1) Review of Big Smoke, ed. Alan Brunton, Murray Edmond, and Michele Leggott. New Zealand Listener vol. 175 (3146) (2000): 40-41.

  133. (March 27) Review of As far as I can see, by Michele Leggott. JAAM 13 (2000): 158-60.

  134. (March 14) (Ed.) Spin 36 (2000): 3-4, 61-63:
    • Editorial
    • Review of Here After: Living with Bereavement, ed. Stu Bagby
    • Review of Jeffrey Paparoa Holman: Flood Damage
    • Review of Leicester Kyle: A Safe House for a Man
    • Review of When The Sea Goes Mad at Night, ed. Theresia Marshall
    • Review of Tongue in Your Ear 4 (1999)

  135. (February 13) “Jack.” In Here After. Living with Bereavement: Personal Experiences and Poetry. Edited by Stu Bagby. ISBN 0-473-06399-9. 9 Daphne Harden Lane, Albany, Auckland: Antediluvian Press, 2000. 35-40.

  136. 1999 [23]

  137. (October 16) (Co-ed.) The Pander 9 (1999): 14-16, 18-19, 39, 39-40, 40-41, 43:
    • A Brief Description of the Whole World: From Multiple Angles [with Hamish Dewe, John Geraets, Leicester Kyle & Richard Taylor]
    • Theatre: Review of Foreskin’s Lament, by Greg McGee
    • Review of Salt, by Elisabeth Easther
    • Books: Review of AUP New Poets 1, by Raewyn Alexander, Anna Jackson & Sarah Quigley
    • Review of Rapunzel Rapunzel, by Janet Charman

  138. (October 13) “A Conversation with Mike Minehan.” Monthly Profile Series 1. Zoetropes: New Zealand Literature / Nga Pukapuka o Aotearoa online. [Available at: (13/10/99)].

  139. (July 14) (Co-ed.) The Pander 8 (1999): 32, 34, 35-36, 38-39, 39, 40:
    • Books: Review of Hone Tuwhare: A Biography, by Janet Hunt & My Life as A Miracle, by The Wizard
    • Review of A Particular Context, by John O’Connor
    • Review of on what is not, by Kenneth Fea & Legend of the Cool Secret, by Graham Lindsay
    • Theatre: Review of The Royal NZ Ballet’s Shell Season of Peter Pan
    • Auckland Theatre Company’s Culture of Desire: Review of Closer, by Patrick Marber
    • Review of The Cripple of Inishmaan, by Martin MacDonagh

  140. (May) Salt 6 (2) (1999): 8, 12 & 16 & 61 & 65:

  141. (May) “Kendrick Smithyman in Italian.” Landfall 197 (1999): 70-73.

  142. (April) “Review of Going West Literary Festival.” Pander online edition 6/7 (1999).

  143. (March 30) (Co-ed.) The Pander 6/7 (1999): 21 & 23, 41-43 & 34-35, 53-54:

  144. (March 18) (Ed.) Spin 33 (1999): 2, 58-59, 63:

  145. 1998 [14]

  146. (October 18) “It’s Standing Room Only for the Rekindling of Live Lines.” Sunday Star-Times (18/10/98): F4.

  147. (September) (Co-ed.) The Pander 5 (1998): 26-27, 32-33 & 34-35:
    • Kathy Goes to Mexico: In Memoriam Kathy Acker, d. 30/11/97
    • Exhibition: Review of Ralph Hotere: Out the Black Window
    • Film: Review of Guy Maddin: Waiting for Twilight & Tranceformer: A portrait of Lars von Trier

  148. (August) Salt 6 (1998): 24-26, 27-36:

  149. (August 2) “A Mutual Respect: Ralph Hotere and Hone Tuwhare.” Sunday Star-Times (2/8/98): F7.

  150. (June) (Co-ed.) The Pander 4 (1998): 10, 14 & 16:
    • Film: Review of Titanic
    • Review of Fairy Tale: A True Story
    • Books: Review of As It Is, by John O’Connor, Pools over Stone, by Helen Jacobs & Always Arriving, by David Gregory
    • Exhibitions: Review of Orientalism

  151. (March) (Co-ed.) The Pander 3 (1998): 20-22:

  152. 1997 [3]

  153. (August)“Kendrick Smithyman’s Northland.” The Pander 1 (1997): x-xiii.

  154. (July 12) “Genji Monogatari is the first psychological novel.” (12/7/97).

  155. (May) Ezra Pound’s Fascist Cantos (72 & 73) together with Rimbaud’s “Poets at Seven Years Old.” Trans. Jack Ross. Auckland: Perdrix Press, 1997. [ii] + 42 pp. 37-46:

  156. 1993 [1]

  157. (February) “Cunninghame Graham’s Brazil: Differing Interpretations of the Canudos Campaign, 1896-97.” Australasian Victorian Studies Association: Conference Papers 1993. Ed. Joanne Wilkes. Auckland: University Press, 1993. 27-38.

  158. 1992 [2]

  159. (December) “Wilson Harris, Joseph Conrad, and the South American ‘Quest’ Novel.” Landfall: A New Zealand Quarterly 184 (1992): 455-68.

  160. (March) Review of Singer in a Songless Land: A Life of Edward Tregear, 1846-1931, by K. R. Howe, & The Verse of Edward Tregear, ed. K. R. Howe. Landfall: A New Zealand Quarterly 181 (1992): 122-25.

  161. 1989 [1]

  162. (August) Review of Tell Me Lies About Vietnam: Cultural Battles for the Meaning of the War, ed. Alf Louvre and Jeffrey Walsh. Inter-Arts: A Quarterly Journal of Cultural Connections 9 (1989): 31.

  163. 1988 [2]

  164. (October) Inter-Arts: A Quarterly Journal of Cultural Connections 7 (1988): 14-16, 27:

  165. 1987 [1]

  166. (July) Review of The North American Sketches of R. B. Cunninghame Graham, ed. John Walker. University of Edinburgh Journal 33 (1987): 54.


Pilot 2018: A Guide for Writers (2017)

Karen Bateman, ed.: Pilot 2018: A Guide for Writers (2017)

Starting (and Stopping) a Poem

I find it almost impossible to start writing a poem. Some of my friends tell me that they sit down and begin doodling on a piece of paper until a few words start to hang together, and then, before they know it, they have a poem!

It doesn’t work like that for me at all. I have to hear a phrase sounding over and over again in my head. When it really begins to nag at me, I try to write it down.

I once went to a poetry workshop by the South Island poet Brian Turner, where he told us always to try and pursue the poem for a few lines past where we thought it should end, just in case. This advice has served me well.

On the other hand, it’s equally hard to stop writing a poem. Paul Valéry once said, “a poem is never finished; it is only abandoned.” There’s a lot in that. It’s tempting to think that your piece is good to go after you’ve read through it and tweaked it a few times, but I find that it’s best to do so again and again, at intervals of days and weeks and even months, before you can feel reasonably certain it’s giving all it’s got to give.

Above all, be gentle with yourself. If your first draft sounds like illiterate dreck – as mine almost always do – so what? You have to start somewhere, but that somewhere can be a long country mile from the finished product, some hours (or days, or years) down the track. But isn’t that the fun of the thing?


Karen Bateman et al., ed. Pilot 2018: A Diary for Writers. Melbourne & South Gippsland: Pilot Press, 2018. 12 [available at:].

[275 wds]


How Many Miles to Babylon? (2017)

Olivia Macassey, ed.: brief 55 (2017)

How Many Miles to Babylon?
Three Faces of Mike Johnson’s Lear

Mike Johnson: Lear (1986)

What a huge stage! Spread in all directions and lost in an infinity of indigo and steel. The sky. The sky? What whirling things are these? Are stars a myth? We look backwards into time, don’t we Mainchance, when we look at the stars? … We ride, bare-back, the photon wave; it’s for gamblers, the law of probability. Blind chance.
– Mike Johnson, Lear (1986): 164-65.

The mantric moan of the dying

The locally created book is a measure of
the culture of the country that produced it.

– Mervyn Cull 5/7/86 [Blurb for Lear]

I remember hearing a story on the six o’clock news about a young Russian couple who built themselves a not-very-seaworthy yacht to sail across the Pacific. Their long strange odyssey culminated in a night-time wreck on a rocky shoreline in New Zealand.

As soon as the locals saw something was wrong, they were down there with ropes and blankets and cups of hot cocoa. Little could be done for the boat, which was smashed to pieces, but the couple were soon tucked up warm and safe in bed in one of the neighbouring houses.

That is, until a knock came on the door.

You see, while one group of neighbours was down playing good Samaritan – fighting the waves and saving the lives of the hapless daredevils – someone in one of the other houses was placing a call to the Immigration Services.

Who were these boat-people, after all?

Illegal immigrants, that’s who!

The two young Russians finished off their night in a jail cell.

I’ve always felt that story says something fundamental about the New Zealand character.

On the one hand, there’s the desire to help your fellow man: to be friendly and helpful and go the extra mile for people you don’t know and whom you’ll probably never see again.

On the other hand, there’s a miserable substratum of suspicion and meanness: a genuine wish to make other people as miserable as you are yourself: perhaps with an anonymous phone call, or a poison-pen letter, or just a late night visit to spray-paint their door.

I guess one of the many reasons I so admire Mike Johnson’s marvellous, mythic first novel Lear is the deadpan honesty with which he examines this dichotomy within us.

What is Mike’s book about? Many things, certainly: the innate dependence of a settler culture on pre-set patterns from abroad, cultural blueprints made elsewhere for quite a different purpose, now bent to service in an alien environment; the shifting and unstable identities that result from such mismatched patterns; the role of language in shaping (and inhibiting) individual perception …

Most of all, perhaps, it’s about the need to find a way of talking about a new land on a deep level without resorting to the mere parroting of indigenous names, or slavery to outmoded genres from elsewhere.

The two main influences on the novel are:
  1. Shakespeare (of course): the one-stop shop for any writer composing in English.
  2. Apocalyptic Sci-Fi: in particular the works of Philip K. Dick and (possibly) J. G. Ballard, but really any of the creators of all those end-of-the-world narratives which so dominated the imaginative life of the 1950s and 60s, when Johnson was growing up: The Day of the Triffids, Earth Abides, The Death of Grass, The Drowned World.

There’s something of Joseph Conrad there, too: the upriver journey in Heart of Darkness:
In and out of rivers, streams of death in life, whose banks were rotting into mud, whose waters, thickened with slime, invaded the contorted mangroves, that seemed to writhe at us in the extremity of an impotent despair. (1988, 17)

Compare that to the first sight of the settlement of Babylon beside the similarly unnamed river in Lear:
A huddle of streets by the river. A filthy main street that leads to nowhere. Shacks that lean in on themselves. Low hills covered by a spiny forest overhung by a perpetual raft of dark cloud. A few urchin faces peering from doorways, the blotchy white of the sickness on their limbs. And, low over the river, the mantric moan of the dying. (3)

By the waters of Babylon

Minds come in different degrees of sophistication … Perhaps one could read mentality into a rumbling car engine in somewhat the same way that people read extra meanings into the structures of the Great Pyramid or Stonehenge, the music of Bach, Shakespeare’s plays, and so on – namely, by fabricating far-fetched numerological mapping schemes that can be moulded and flexed whenever needed to fit the desires of the interpreter.
– Douglas R. Hofstadter, The Mind’s I (1981): 382.

“Not our Babylon” is the first sentence of the paragraph I quoted above. This sets up the clear contrast Johnson needs between the visionary oasis of Lear’s imagination and the actual collection of miserable, radioactive shacks his boat has just reached at the beginning of the novel:
Babylon! Not the city of gleaming spires Lear wraps in silk: a black book falling open at endless markets, winding streets, curving arcades with silver and ormolu roofs sailing eternally against blue. A blue so intense it makes the eye shiver. (1)

This ideal / real dichotomy is basic to the story he is telling: the letter of Shakespeare’s play against the garbled parody of it Johnson’s characters are enacting; the actor-manager “Lear” against his original incarnation as the longshoreman-gambler Mainchance; the mock violence of playacting against the horror of the character Edmund’s actual rapes and murders.
Edmund is insane; that’s why he’s such a bad actor. He only plays himself but he’s not as smart as the Edmund in the play. (14)

But is there some deeper reality behind it? Is it from here?

The first time I read Lear, I felt a shadowy intimation of the mighty Whanganui river as the backdrop for his Kiwi version of Apocalypse Now – perhaps because Hiruharama (Jerusalem) is there, and that reminded me of his “Babylon.” Rereading it more recently, though, I was a little shocked to discover no unequivocal local references at all.

As far as settings go, Mike Johnson could be said to have hedged his bets quite cleverly. His river could as easily be the Thames as the Whanganui or the Wairoa. Why, after all, would an aging new world wharfrat sail off in a boat with a troupe of players?

Which set me wondering about Babylon itself.

There’s no doubt that the name has been chosen deliberately for its cultural resonance: on p.29 we are treated to a long quote from Lear’s “large black book” (presumably the Bible) about “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” [Revelation 17: 5].

Nor was the name unknown to Shakespeare: “There dwelt a man in Babylon” sings Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night [Act II, sc. 3], and Mistress Quickly excuses the dying Falstaff from the crime of “handling women” with the observation that “but then he was rheumatic, and talked of the whore of Babylon” [Henry V, Act II, sc. 3].

My own discovery, though, is that there actually is a New Zealand Babylon.

How many miles to Babylon?

How many miles to Babylon?
Three score miles and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Yes, and back again.
If your heels are nimble and light
You may get there by candlelight
– Iona & Peter Opie, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1979): 73.

It’s not that it was that difficult to find. Having searched for it online, I quickly discovered three places of that name in the Czech Republic, two in America, and one in New Zealand (setting aside the original ancient city in Iraq, reconstructed for his own glory by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s).

Further details proved somewhat harder to find. I started off by looking for general information, then switched to a search for images. But the pictures that came up showed nothing but empty farmland. They did give me an approximate location, however: just north of Dargaville, on the Kaipara Coast.

This put it approximately 2 and a half hours (or 184 kilometres) from my front door in Auckland. Which sounded like too good an opportunity to miss.

So I set off one morning to check it out for myself.

I’d already asked a few friends if they knew anything of such a place. Stu Bagby, a fellow-poet born in Te Kopuru, just down the coast from Dargaville, said he’d never actually heard of it, but knew from experience that there were a number of settlements in this old gum-digging region which had simply disappeared both from the map and local memory. His uncle might know more, he thought.

Stu himself grew up in a place called Tangowahine, between Dargaville and Whangarei, which has now shrunk to virtually nothing, although it once had a post office and general store of its own. Perhaps Babylon could be one of these old New Zealand ghost towns?

We both knew, of course, that the best person to have asked would have been Kendrick Smithyman, born – like Stu – in Te Kopuru (albeit 25 years earlier). As well as being one of our greatest poets, Kendrick was a mine of historic lore about Northland: it was, after all, his principal stock in trade.

Sadly, Kendrick died in 1995, and – while there are no fewer than four references to Babylon in his online Collected Poems, edited by Peter Simpson and his widow Margaret Edgcumbe, three of them can be eliminated right away. The first, “Appointment in Samara” (c.1944), is set in a kind of renaissance anywhere, as evidenced in the line “So many miles from Zoom to Babylon.” The second, “Serenade” (3/5/53), references “Buda” as its principal place-name, placing it firmly in Eastern Europe. The third, “Holy Trinity, Goodramgate” [York] (15/5/69), refers to the “waters of Babylon” as one of the places where “we all fall down” – “we” being, in context, understood to be the British: in foreign wars “in France, in Flanders, … on the Peninsula.”

In fact, only the early poem “Northern Story” (6/9/51) makes clear reference to a New Zealand Babylon:
Uncouth, nibbling waters limp to spill their valley channels culling gumlands’ brown chips to serve a river’s appetites where shrill blasts push wire and rush. Air freezes any face each early morning puckered at the shed. Bandied, scarred factory iron at Babylon gusts from its studs. Wind and water sail flailing into perdition. (Smithyman, 2004)

Stu’s other suggestion was equally sound. He mentioned how helpful the people at the Dargaville Museum had been to him on earlier research trips up north. So I decided to call in there first.

Before that, though, I stopped for a piece of greasy bacon and egg pie in the main street of Dargaville. Inside the café, there was a spirited conversation going on concerning the recent revelations about the treatment of young boys in Borstals in Australia’s Northern Territory. There’d been graphic footage of some of them being stripped naked and beaten on the news the night before.

There might have been a racial element involved, opined one of the older men. “I’m sure it has something to do with them being Aborigines.”

“I couldn’t do that to anyone,” said the young Asian woman minding the café. “Not even to an animal. Not beating with iron bars.”

It seemed just a little too uncomfortably reminiscent of the world of Lear.

Suitably sobered, I drove up the hill, past the two salvaged masts of the Rainbow Warrior, to the museum itself. Mid-week, in winter, things were a little quiet. I took the precaution of touring through their collection first, hoping to see some pictures or artefacts from Babylon itself. So far as I could see there was nothing.

So I asked the lady on the desk if she’d heard of a place called Babylon. “Yes, I have,” she replied (somewhat unexpectedly). “It’s on the road going north out of town, route 12.”

“You should have just asked,” she added. “You didn’t have to pay to see the collection.”

“Oh no, it was very interesting,” I lied. My father used to drag us through every pioneer museum he could find on our endless summer camping trips around the two islands. There can hardly be a small town whose photos and artefacts I haven’t had to pore over at one time or another. It has, I fear, left me with a certain allergy for the genus.

The Dargaville Museum is, though, to do it justice, an exemplary and very well-arranged collection: geared more for the international than the local tourist trade, with all glitz that that implies.

The Museum Assistant proved very helpful indeed. She drew me a map, told me just where to go to find the Babylon Coast Road (the only relic left of what must once have been a town, but was now, she thought, just a rather ill-defined coastal region), and an estimate of relative distances.

So off I went. And, yes, there it was, on the left, just after Scotty’s Camp Road, a dirt track stretching off into the hinterland.

I’m not especially fond of unsealed roads, after an incident involving a flat tire and a lot of hassle on a not dissimilar quest to Tomarata (setting for the eponymous Smithyman poem) some ten years before. It seemed a bit absurd to come all this way and not even explore the place properly, though, so down it I dutifully drove.

Only to find nothing. Or nothing in particular. There were beautiful pine woods; some crystalline tarns; green, fenced-off fields; even one or two SUVs disputing the way with me from time to time.

It goes on like that for 20-odd kilometres, until it reaches the holiday hamlet of Omamari, from where one can turn down to Baylys Beach. As an alternative to that, though, one can also connect up with the tar-sealed road to Kai-iwi lakes, and thus get back onto the main road.

And so I did. Without incident. After which I turned round and drove back to Auckland.

So, yes, while it is a bit more than three score miles and ten there and back, it’s certainly a round trip which can be accomplished by candlelight – i.e., in less than one day – should one so desire.

Why bother, though? There’s nothing much to see.

Two texts of King Lear

In all but one of Shakespeare’s plays the revisions are local – changes in the wording of individual phrases and lines – or else they are effected by additions and cuts. Essentially, then, the story line is not affected. But in King Lear the differences between the two texts are more radical … the sum total of these differences amounts, in this play, to a substantial shift in the presentation and interpretation of the underlying action.
– Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, “General Introduction.” William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (1986): xxxv.

I well remember the excitement when Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor published their Oxford Shakespeare in 1986. There were a number of innovative features in it: their decision to present a performance rather than a printers’ version of the plays, for a start; the attempt to present the plays in chronological order, rather than in the more familiar categories of Comedies, Histories and Tragedies; the description of many of them as collaborations rather than sole-authored works; the revisions in so many names: “Falstaff” with its (conjectured) original, “Sir John Oldcastle,” for instance; and – last but not least – the inclusion of two separate versions of “King Lear,” one based on the Quarto text of 1608, and the other on the First Folio version of 1623.

Wells and Taylor contended that the first of these versions, which they entitle “The History of King Lear,” was based on Shakespeare’s original manuscript, or “foul papers,” of the play as he “first conceived it, probably before it was performed” (1025). They believe that the many differences between it and the Folio text, which they call “The Tragedy of King Lear,” are due to a substantive revision undertaken by the author for his theatre company’s promptbook “probably two or three years after the first version had been written and performed” (1063). In other words, that rather than simply conflating the 300 or so lines present in the Quarto but not in the Folio with the 100-odd lines in the Folio but not in the Quarto, future directors (and readers) should see the two of them as significantly different imaginings of the play. A follow-up volume on the subject, The Division of the Kingdoms: Shakespeare’s Two Versions of King Lear (1987), co-edited by Gary Taylor, included the essay “Fluctuating Variation: Author, Annotator, or Actor?” by New Zealander MacDonald P. Jackson.

I was taught by Mac Jackson at Auckland University. I don’t remember whether this particular point of the two versions of King Lear came up in his lectures (though it probably did), but I certainly recall the mystique and intensity surrounding Shakespearean studies in the English Department there.

No doubt it was a manifestation of my own unreconstructed cultural cringe to place so much stock in this endorsement of the scholarship of my own little country by the heavyweights at Oxford University when I first started reading the new Shakespeare in the late 1980s. I was, after all, recently arrived in Britain, on a Commonwealth Scholarship, and everything I thought I’d learned up till then seemed suddenly in question.

As time went by, I learned to pay less attention to where people were from, and more to what they were actually saying, but it was still nice to feel that at least some part had been played in this great discovery (if it was a discovery, that is: some would call it a wild conjecture) by our grammarians back home.

What a coincidence, though, that Mike Johnson’s Lear should have come out in Auckland at the very same time – hand-set by Warwick Jordan on his own printing press, which accounts for many of the misprints but also much of the strange beauty of the first edition (if it’s been reprinted since then, I have to say that I’m not aware of it)!

But was it a coincidence? There was something very particular, almost palpable, about that fascination with Shakespeare at Auckland University in the 1980s.

We’d all studied Shakespeare at school, of course: even read King Lear – but I can still call to mind the weird intensity of Professor Ken Larsen as he stood there lecturing on the arcane significance of the Fool in Lear, his status as a prelapsarian being in a play which can be seen to re-enact almost literally the Fall of Man. It was as if these men – Jackson, Larsen, Michael Neill – had a secret, and much of that secret was bound up with Lear.

Did any of that atmosphere rub off on Mike Johnson, as he sat in his shack on Waiheke, letting himself go for the first time as a writer (as he once told me), rejecting all the models of what he should write, and instead letting the deep speak unto his deep?

Who can say? I wasn’t there. It might all be in my head. Certainly the details of my encounters with Shakespeare, and with the mysteries of his text, are my own, and unlikely to be precisely paralleled by others.

What I mean to say is that however particular these Shakespearean, Lear-related associations of mine may be, something like them must have been re-enacted in literally hundreds of small towns, provincial capitals of ex-British colonies, settlements in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Rhodesia, South Africa – or, for that matter, other parts of Africa: Kenya, Nigeria; not to mention Guyana, Jamaica and the myriad islands of the British West Indies.

Plays such as The Tempest arch over many of the great writers who’ve grown up in these places: over Wilson Harris’s Guyana Quartet, over Derek Walcott’s’ “The Schooner Flight.” What we’ve learned to recognise as a Shakespearean exuberance of language rings out in many of these post-colonial (I’m tempted to add post-canonical) sites.

The originality of Mike Johnson is, however, his determination to go directly to the source: to the very text itself, rather than its reverberations and influences (unlike, say, Jane Smiley in A Thousand Acres, her clever re-situating of the play in the American mid-west).

The point of King Lear for Mike Johnson is that it is – on the one hand – a text as ubiquitous and immediately recognisable as the Bible or Homer; on the other, that it can be used to encode a secret, more personal, but no less valid, set of signs.

The “far-fetched numerological mapping schemes that can be moulded and flexed whenever needed to fit the desires of the interpreter,” mentioned in my earlier quote from Hofstadter’s anthology The Mind’s I, can be used not simply to read scriptural history into the measurements of the Great Pyramid, or (for that matter) anagrams of the name of the “true” author of the works of “Shakespeare” into the texts of his plays, but also (it would appear) to deconstruct the underlying texts of an entire culture.

This, at any rate, is the scope of ambition behind Mike Johnson’s first novel.

Ghost Towns of New Zealand

Cordelia organises it all with an authoritative calm; out of heaped boxes of clothing a wardrobe and make-up space appear, two tents arise; out of lumps of timber and cloth the stage takes form; the lanterns are carefully hefted into place; Edgar is despatched to the forest for some branches. Order and purpose spring into being and things gravitate as if by magnetic force to their rightful place.
– Mike Johnson, Lear: 37.

Having made a first attempt to track down New Zealand’s “Babylon” – with a couple of trips back up that way to take photos and confirm certain details – I found references to it beginning to pop up wherever I looked.

For instance, my friend Scott Hamilton’s blog Reading the Maps supplied one in an interview with the daughter of photographer Gordon Ell, author of what Scott refers to a “psychogeographic study” of New Zealand ghost towns:
In between asking me questions about South Auckland and the Waikato, Sarah remembered childhood expeditions down Babylon Coast Road and other routes into the ruins of the gum and goldfields of Northland and the Coromandel.

Further examination of Ell’s 1988 book New Zealand Ghost Towns and Glimpses of the Past reveals no direct references to Babylon, though he does remark that each of the ephemeral gum-digging camps on the Northern Wairoa (inhabited mostly by “Yugoslav refugees from the dying Austro-Hungarian empire”) had its own name:
Those on North Kaipara head near Dargaville included Scotty’s (200 men), Jerusalem and Welcome, the latter both on the same farm. (26)

Journalist and local historian David McGill’s Ghost Towns of New Zealand (1980) supplies some more concrete details:
The most intensive [Kauri gum] digging was around the Wairoa River. … There were settlements of diggers at Tucker’s Flat near Matakohe and at the Ru Point area close to Raupo, while the short distance from Dargaville to Bayly’s Beach included Scotty’s, Jerusalem, Kennedy’s and Welcome. … poor Babylon above Dargaville is [now] down to eight people officially, despite having once yielded three tonnes of the stuff from one hole, dug out by Dick Matutinovich and Andy Botica. [173]

He also includes, on p.174, a map which “indicates that Flaxmill and Babylon had their own [railway] stations, despite the fact that Flaxmill was eventually absorbed into Babylon.”

What is one to make of all these overlapping fragments of information? Was there some kind of mill or factory at Babylon? Certainly that would seem to match best with those early lines of Smithyman’s: “Bandied, scarred factory iron at Babylon / gusts from its studs.”

If there ever was, it isn’t there now. The Wairoa and its numerous tributaries continue to criss-cross the landscape between Dargaville and Whangarei, however, in a manner distinctly inviting to river-boats such as that belonging to Johnson’s itinerant company of thespians.

Three Faces of Lear

Eve Black: Don't you want to get me one?
Ralph White: Well, I've never seen you take a drink before.
Eve Black: Honey, there are a lot of things you've never seen me do before. That's no sign I don't do 'em.
The Three Faces of Eve, dir. Nunnally Johnson (USA, 1957)

One might object, of course, that going in search of an imaginary town from a Science Fiction novel – with only the most tenuous reasons for suspecting that its author might ever have heard of this presumed “original” – sounds like a rather tenuous research methodology.

Did Mike Johnson know that there had once been a “Babylon” on the Kaipara when he chose that name for his imaginary village? I don’t know. I haven’t asked him.

Even if he had, would it make much difference to the nature of the novel he dreamt up: that strange mixture of courtly erudition and intense, provincial ignorance? Not directly, no. His larger point would, I’m sure, remain valid in either case.

Why bother to go and look for it, then?

I suppose, if I were to be honest, that the impetus for this quest – and the larger study of “Speculative Fictional” landscapes within New Zealand which it forms a part of – is largely supplied by its paradoxical nature. The “reality” of the tiny village called Babylon in Mike Johnson’s novel (what one might call the First Face of Lear), is opposed quite clearly, in context, to the dream-like imaginings of “Lear” himself (Second Face):
“Listen, Mainchance …”
“Don’t call me that.”
“But I …”
“I am not that.”
“But Mainchance, I …”
“Gloucester, I am Lear; petulant, aging monarch to some nameless kingdom.” (111)

But the larger purpose of the novel itself, I would argue, is to present us with a simulacrum of the complex ways in which our imaginations insist on writing us into language (Third Face). Lear is all about levels. As its eponymous hero complains:
“Even at the best of times a player’s existence is a precarious one. The play is our only vehicle; it has been like this back to the time of the Bard himself. The play is our source and sustenance; if you pollute it, Edmund, what will the rest of us eat?” (57)

King Lear has become far more than just another Renaissance play for us far-flung children of Empire. It underlies the paradox of our existence: the deracinated flotsam and jetsam of colonial expansion rubbing shoulders with those we’ve worked so hard to displace. As Edgar puts it, wandering through the nightmarish forest surrounding their temporary stage:
I wonder if the para-beings can hear me. Hear me think. The creatures that take human shape and prefer warm, living flesh to corpses … here in the forest with its shadows falling across his shoulders and the human world receding, it occurs to him that the forest and its creatures are part of a reality lying alongside, but not exactly continuous with, his human reality. Another dimension that interpenetrates the universe he walks and breathes in. (46)

The “automobile wheels” of my Holden Barina, as they compile their psychogeographic map of the barren spaces of Babylon Coast Road, are surely as good a way as any of interrogating the underlying patterns of this strange existence of ours?

But why King Lear? Why that one play in particular? It is, I suppose, about the usurpation of authority, the trampling down of innocence. Those are, to be sure, universal themes – but just as The Tempest seems to speak more directly to Caribbean writers such as Walcott and Naipaul more than the other plays, so the unjust confiscation of authority (for which read sovereignty, or – more simply – land), and the pitiless disregard for such hapless victims as the Fool, or Cordelia (paralleled strangely throughout the play), have a particular meaning for us, I fear. We live in the superficial sunshine of Goneril and Regan’s kingdom: our callousness disguised as order, our ruthlessness as common sense.

Mike Johnson’s Lear sets out to dramatize this wound, this fundamental instability within us, not least in the shifting personal pronouns employed by his narrator / character Curan as she hides from horrors she’d like to blame on Edmund, rather than the rest of the (complicit) cast:
Curan burrows deeper in to the floor of the forest. I am a burrowing creature, a being of fern and moss, a creature of twigs and leaves. Look at me and I vanish before your eyes. I am one with the dirt, and my home is here among the blind burrowing creatures. I can breathe with the trees, send my roots down deep into the warm places of the earth, exhale the mineral breath of rock. (175).

Works cited:

Conrad, Joseph. (1988). Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text; Backgrounds and Sources; Essays in Criticism. 1899. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. 1963. Third Edition. A Norton Critical Edition. New York & London: W. W. Norton & Company.

Ell, Gordon. (1988). New Zealand Ghost Towns and Glimpses of the Past. Auckland: The Bush Press.

Hamilton, Scott. (7/5/16). “The City of Words.” Reading the Maps. [Available at:]

Hofstadter, Douglas R., & Daniel C. Dennett, ed. (1982). The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul. 1981. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Johnson, Mike. (1986). Lear: the Shakespeare Company Plays Lear at Babylon. Auckland: Hard Echo Press.

McGill, David. (1983). Ghost Towns of New Zealand. 1980. Wellington: A. H. & A. W. Reed Ltd.

Opie, Iona & Peter, ed. (1997). The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. 1951. Rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shakespeare, William. (1986). The Complete Works. Ed. Stanley Wells & Gary Taylor. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Smithyman, Kendrick. (2004). “Northern Story.” Smithyman Online: Collected Poems 1943-1995. Ed. Margaret Edgcumbe & Peter Simpson. Auckland: Mudflat Webworks. [Available at:]


brief 55 (Summer 2016-17): 113-31.

[4986 wds]

brief: The other New Zealand literary journal

Issue 55 Supplement: How Many Miles To Babylon:

How Many Miles to Babylon?
Three Faces of Mike Johnson’s Lear

"Did Mike Johnson know that there had once been a “Babylon” on the Kaipara when he chose that name for his imaginary village? I don’t know. I haven’t asked him.

Even if he had, would it make much difference to the nature of the novel he dreamt up: that strange mixture of courtly erudition and intense, provincial ignorance? Not directly, no. His larger point would, I’m sure, remain valid in either case.

Why bother to go and look for it, then?

I suppose, if I were to be honest, that the impetus for this quest – and the larger study of “Speculative Fictional” landscapes within New Zealand which it forms a part of – is largely supplied by its paradoxical nature …

– Jack Ross

The following is a colour supplement for Jack Ross‘ essay, How Many Miles to Babylon? which appears in brief issue 55. All photographs: Bronwyn Lloyd (5/8/16).

Mike Johnson: Lear (1986)

Mike Johnson's dystopian SF novel is set on a waterway described only as "the river," in a tiny settlement called "Babylon."


Scaffolding at Tangiteroria, on SH14 between Whangarei and Dargaville.

Northern Wairoa River

Northern Wairoa River

The upper reaches of "the river" - at Tangiteroria.

The view

The view from Tangiteroria, looking towards the West Coast.


A prototype for Babylon? The tiny settlement of Tangowahine, on the way towards the coast.

Wairoa River (Dargaville)

Funnily enough, the Wairoa River was always referred to simply as “the river” by the inhabitants of the Kapipara. Here it is at its widest, looking over towards Te Kopuru.

Babylon Coast Road

The sign is on SH 12, 6 kms north of Dargaville.

Babylon Coast Road


Babylon Coast Road

Storm clouds coming over the hills from Babylon: the former gum-digging settlement down near Baylys Beach.

The full text of How Many Miles to Babylon? Three Faces of Mike Johnson’s Lear by Jack Ross appears in brief issue 55.


The brief blog: [available at:].

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