Leicester Kyle: Koroneho (2012)

Scott Hamilton, ed.: brief 44/45 - Oceania (2012)

Leicester Kyle’s Koroneho

Leicester Kyle. Koroneho: Joyful News Out Of The New Found World. Edited with a 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. ii + 110 pp.

Leicester Kyle: Koroneho (2011)

Why pink, you ask? It does seem rather a garish shade for the cover of this first posthumous publication by my old friend Leicester Kyle.

Actually the whole thing came about rather serendipitously as the result of a request to republish some of Leicester's (many) poems about orchids by Ian St George, editor of the New Zealand Native Orchid Journal.

David Howard and I told him that, as Leicester's literary executors, we'd be happy to cooperate with such a scheme, but I also mentioned in my reply that - while there were certainly a number of short lyrics describing orchids he'd encountered in the hills around Millerton - his major contribution to the subject was a vast epic poem called Koroneho, an account of the life and work of pioneering printer, missionary and naturalist William Colenso (1811-1899), written in the form of a series of descriptions of 14 native orchids found by the latter in his wanderings around the North Island of New Zealand.

The significance of these orchids, for Leicester, appears to have been that, while Colenso's description of each of them been duly published in the scientific literature at the time, they hadn't been confirmed as separate species by subsequent classifiers.

They were, then, real specimens of phantom plants - a pretty appealing notion to any poet, given that our business is supposed to be the depiction of "imaginary gardens with real toads in them" (Marianne Moore, "Poetry").

In his reply, Ian mentioned:

Perchance I am also editor of eColenso, the newsletter of the Colenso Society. November 17 is the bicentennial of Colenso's birth, and we are having a Colenso Conference in Napier. It would be brilliant to have a few copies of Kyle's Koroneho available at the conference - perhaps a limited edition of 50 copies? I would be happy to arrange the printing.... are you interested?

Was I interested! Just about any plan that could help spread interest in the life and works of Leicester Kyle would interest me, especially one like this, which seemed just to have dropped into my lap out of nowhere.

So anyway, to make a long story short, having just laboriously transcribed the poem from the one surviving typescript, a mass of crumbling yellow pages given by Leicester to his great friend and poetic ally Richard Taylor in the late 1990s, I sent it off as a file-attachment to Ian.

He had a number of interesting comments to make about it:

I think it's an important (at least in NZ) modernist collage long poem in cantos, and I wondered if he had been influenced by William Carlos Williams' Paterson, as well as Ezra Pound.

(This was in response to my comparing it with The Cantos - not to mention Smithyman's Atua Wera - in the introduction I'd written to the poem.)

I had thought to make it a simple paperback in much the style of Colenso's Paihia press publications - even to the pink paper! Thus it would be all monochrome. An alternative would be to have a colour illustration of an orchid - or one of his orchid drawings (mine actually!) from the original, but in a way that detracts from the theme of insubstantial unreality.

Hence the pink cover, you see - hence too the rather offhand style of the production: Ian's encyclopedic knowledge of Colenso enabled him to find a form which seemed to fit so eccentric a piece of Colenso-iana, in a way which would make sense to the other enthusiasts attending the conference.

Another interesting point about the pink came up in a subsequent email, where he mentioned that it matched "the pink blotting paper that Colenso was forced to use when the CMS forgot to send out any printing paper." That was enough for me. Pink it must be.

Ian also mentioned that Leicester had been a bit premature in thinking that all of these particular orchid identifications by Colenso had been rejected. Apparently some of them have been reinstated in the latest listings. In his foreword to the book he enlarges on his belief that "in imagination Kyle WAS Colenso ...

(I suppose all biographers "become" their subjects) - both were botanists, priests, writers - had similar names - and Colenso stands as the kind of kafkaesque figure, sensitive and intelligent, but beset by machiavellian insensitive authority, that we all find it easy to identify with. There are a number of minor inaccuracies in Kyle's biographical bits about Colenso, but they don't matter: as he suggests, "if you want the facts, go to the biographies - this is about the truth".

[William Colenso (c.1880)]


brief 44-45 (2012): 206-7.
[Reprinted from: The Imaginary Museum (4/11/11)].

[811 wds]

brief 44/45 (2012)

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