Leicester Kyle: Koroneho, ed. Jack Ross (2011)
: Leicester Kyle (2000)
Koroneho: Joyful News out of the New Found World, the Rev. Leicester Kyle’s book-length poem about the life and work of missionary, printer, and pioneering Botanist William Colenso (1811-1899) was written in the mid-1990s – after Leicester’s retirement from the church, but before his move to Millerton, on the West Coast of the South Island, where most of his best-known poetry was written.
The poem was therefore composed at a comparatively early stage of his poetic development, when he was still under the spell of American Modernist poets such as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Louis Zukofksy, the latter of whose austere 80 Flowers (1978) clearly had a strong influence on it.
Leicester was also encouraged in his work by Auckland poet Richard Taylor, whose interest in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E School poetics was also a potent part of the mix (the only surviving typescript of the whole poem comes, in fact, from Richard Taylor’s private collection).
The third significant influence on the progress of Koroneho was the decision of poet and printer Alan Loney to start printing its various parts as a running serial in his avant-garde poetry journal A Brief Description of the Whole World between 1997 and 1998. Unfortunately Loney was only able to include 4 of its eventual 14 parts in his magazine before it went into a temporary sabbatical on his departure from Auckland for Melbourne in 1999. When A Brief Description was revived a year later by John Geraets, Leicester (and Leicester’s poetry) had moved on, and he seems to have no longer wanted to publish the rest of the poem in this way.
Alan Loney made a further proposal to print the poem as a whole sometime in 2001, but this arrangement seems to have fallen through shortly afterwards.
There matters remained until Leicester’s death in 2006. He’d written a great deal in his last seven years on the West Coast, and the last thing on his mind (as he remarked to me at the time) was this rather strange early poem, quite out of harmony with the more colloquial and accessible style of his later years.
When David Howard and I, as Leicester’s literary executors, decided to try and publish as much as possible of his posthumous work, we came to the conclusion fairly early on that the most practical way to approach the task was through an online edition.
The internet edition of Leicester Kyle’s Collected Poems was accordingly launched on July 4, 2011 , the fifth anniversary of his death.
Though a great deal remains to be done on it at the time of writing, I’m pleased to say that one of the first poems we were able to publish in this form was Koroneho, a complete electronic edition with variants from the typescript and manuscript remains.
David and I had always intended, of course, to supplement this website with further print publications, and I was therefore very pleased to be asked by Ian St George, Convenor of the Colenso Society, for permission to issue a limited edition of this, Leicester’s most extensive botanically inspired poem.
Biographical details of Colenso were supplied by Leicester himself for the foreword to the Brief Description printing of the poem (p.11), and certain reflections on its methodology can be found in his 2001 Afterword (composed for Alan Loney’s proposed book-length version).
In brief, the poem’s 14 sections correspond to 14 orchids identified and described by Colenso in the pages of the Transactions of the N. Z. Institute during the 1880s (as described on p.12). Several of these particular identifications have been confirmed by recent researchers, though none by Colenso’s (or Kyle’s) contemporaries, and it was the “mythic” or non-existent character of these 14 flowers which appears to have fascinated Leicester, and to have provided him with a vehicle for his speculations and recreations of the life and exploits of Colenso (known by the Maori as “Koroneho” or “Koreneho.”).
With a few (slight) exceptions, each section of the poem is in 6 parts: it begins 1/ with a transcription of Colenso’s original description of the orchid, then moves on (with increasing imaginative content) 2/ to Field Notes, thence to 3/ Hab. (Habitat), then 4/ Obs. (Observations), then 5/ Glossary, and then to a poem using the orchid’s full names (both popular and scientific).
This rather clinical arrangement is gradually varied as the poem proceeds, with the addition of more and more narrative and biographical material: quotations from letters alternate with imaginary dialogues with God (not to mention the Bishop of Waiapu …)
Don’t be put off, then, if little in the poem seems familiar to you at first glance. If there’s any precedent for this kind of long “poem containing history” (to quote Ezra Pound’s description of The Cantos) in New Zealand writing, it might lie in Kendrick Smithyman’s posthumous epic Atua Wera (1997), which attempts to reconstruct the world of Maori religious leader Papahurihia in a manner analogous to what Leicester Kyle has tried to do with William Colenso.
Like all good epics, Leicester’s poem tells a story, and perhaps that’s the first thing a reader should expect from it. More than that, though, it sets out to reconstruct the atmosphere of intellectual ferment caused by any “New Found World.” It’s perhaps no accident that Kyle’s Koroneho at times resembles Milton’s Adam (in Paradise Lost) naming the beasts.
In reprinting the poem, I’ve tried to keep as closely as possible to the typographic and spacing conventions adopted by Leicester in his own publication of parts 1, 2, 4 and 6. I’ve resisted the temptation to standardise his use of titles and capitals (though a little rearrangement has been necessitated by the demands of reformatting his poem in a different typeface).
Any readers curious to see how I’ve dealt with the original are welcome, however, to check the original facsimile pages at:
where I’ve adopted a far more exact and literal approach. My intention here, by contrast, has been to provide as convenient and accessible a reading text as possible.
Thanks to my fellow-literary executor David Howard, for encouraging this and other Kylean projects over the past five years of our stewardship; thanks also to Ian St. George, editor of eColenso, the newsletter of the Colenso Society (as well as of the NZ Native Orchid Journal) for his initiative in suggesting this first book publication of one of Leicester Kyle’s major poems.
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.