Posts Tagged ‘Baxter’


Ok, I FAIL….I missed yesterday but today I’ll post twice to make up for it!

I have been reading with interest the Tuesday Poem thing that has sprung up and was hoping to find some great poem about visual art. I didn’t. There was “Ode on a Grecian Urn”  which I hate so….anyway I ran out of time and gave up pretty quickly. Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

I did think about the associations between Colin McCahon and Jim Baxter and John Caselberg and his own poetry, some of which can be found in Rita: Seven poems and I like these two little quotes:

McCahon said that “words were necessary to get his message across”. He wrote in a letter to painter friend Patricia France that “poetry, before painting, is my friend. The one without the other can’t exist”.

“I WILL NEED WORDS… Words can be terrible but a solution can be given. In spite of a message which can burn I intend a painting in no way Expressionistic but with a slowly emerging order…” Colin McCahon to John Caselberg A Survey Exhibition – Auckland City Art Gallery 1972

Also McCahon’s scrolls – this based on Peter Hooper’s “Poetry is for Peasants”

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I am still working away on something BIG (well for me anyway) It’s all been quite laborious but nearly there. I have been thinking about the blog and just wanted to post about a few bits and pieces.

Last night I managed to get the launch of Vanda Symon’s latest crime novel. It’s a great book and I tell you Vanda’s frock was really superb too :-) Some funny moments to be had as well.

I was talking to someone about the intersection between art and my life. I ended up best summarising it by the day I attended Jim Barr and Mary Barr’s floor talk on ‘Kind of Blue’ at DPAG (entertaining and informative as always) with my handbag stuffed with the catalogue to the Tom Kreisler exhibition and a Farmers bag of Strawberry Shortcake training pants I’d just bought.

As always I have been thinking about the cultural heritage of this place. I’ve written something about it (hoping for publication some time some where) but in my research I found this wonderful website. I particularly liked the photo of the Robbie Burns Hotel.

Homage to Baxter – Resonance XXV – Robert Burns Hotel – (2000) Lloyd Goodman

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Today is Montana Poetry Day. I’ve been thinking for a while what I’d pick to post here on this occasion. Had to be a NZ poem for a start and apt somehow. I wanted to post Dryads by Martin Edmond but maybe a little too x-rated :-).

So I reached for “Under Flagstaff” an anthology of Dunedin poetry and found this, which sums up where I am at (maybe)

Dunedin by CK Stead
(Remembering James K. Baxter, 1966)

Evening where Taieri moved
between dark McCahon hills

fog threatened. You were back
in your aquarium town

wearing your flesh and blood
as if it belonged to you.

Would I get out? Would
it close on Momona?

In the womb we were all
fish. Once was enough.

Any bad-coloured sky
I’d have risked climbing

scaled any barnacled chain –
yet there you went, at home,

submariner for God
telling the squid and the skate

‘Open your gills, my brothers.
Enjoy the life of the deep.”

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My dear friend Helen H posted today about lessons from her garden and letting things lie fallow. Here in the COLD south we got in to double digit temperatures for the first time in weeks. People let their gardens lie fallow or plant a crop just to be dug in, in the spring. From this I am taking that maybe its ok to hibernate a bit in the winter months. Maybe even necessary.

Another poet friend Helen L put it beautifully here.

“I am a bottle of olive oil when you put it in the fridge – my usual sleek green goes solid, cloudy. I won’t pour. I am stuck in the vessel.”

But as you can read – she can pour, as the prose/poems on her blog show. And of course here, who needs a fridge? The olive oil in the pantry has been clouding for months.

I have made efforts to find meaning in my location (I keeping thinking ‘exile’) and have been delving into Baxter and McCahon’s Dunedin works. Yesterday I went to Peggy’s Hill but it was foggy and I couldn’t get photos. I read Baxter’s poems and in particular, the Pig Island letters. Not a good thing for a suburban housewife to do, as Baxter is harsh on us, although maybe things have moved along a little from 1966 (you’d hope…). The book “James K. Baxter: A Portrait” by W.H.Oliver has a photo on the cover. Its the view from JKB’s childhood room at Brighton, looking out at Scroggs Hill. I see this hill from the western side but I don’t feel poetic.

Sometimes I feel I am tracing steps, someone talks of a sketch McCahon made after seeing the ancestor portraits of the Settlers Museum. I was there yesterday. I look for St Matthews to see if the view is the same. Mostly I feel I am bumbling in the darkness. I have empathy for that relationship between Baxter and McCahon. I am looking for my candle.

..the painting [A Candle in a Dark Room] demonstrates McCahon’s high esteem for Baxter. This regard was reciprocated. The poet wrote to McCahon in November 1947 ‘I think you put onto canvas something I know about N.Z., but have not learned to say. The raw vitality and brutal simplification.’

A candle in a dark room (1943) Colin McCahon

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I am having a difficult time adapting to southern small town living. Firstly the weather, I never seem to get warm, ever! Also the people are quite different and I am having to learn a whole lot of social nuances which I’ve never been very adept at. The kids are slow to settle in at school and kindy. My oldest who used to LOVE going off to school now hates it. It all makes writing /blogging difficult.

I really am trying to adapt but really its a constant struggle. My short weekend trips into Dunedin are the saving grace. There is the rush to fit everything in before scooting home and straight back into domestica, but there is always so much to do.

This weekend I stopped by the awesome University Book Store (UBS) and splashed out on some great sale books. The Glass Houseby JC Sturm, New Dreamland: Writing NZ Architecture, edited by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Jane Ussher portraits. I could spend hours in that shop really I could.

Then off to the museum across the road. I wanted to check out the last days of Andris Apse’s Antarcticaphotos. I’d seen some in the Sinfonia Antarctica exhibition at the Dowse but altogether they made more of an impact. I love the Otago Museum and an illustration of why, was that there was a small step under a photo of penguins so that kids could step up to get a better look.

I was going to write a post a while ago comparing Otago Museumto Te Papa but that wasn’t really fair (comparing apples with oranges). A few observations though, my kids like this museum better even though its not directly aimed at kids or “theme parked”. OK maybe the butterfly area is a crowd pleaser but the associated stuff is educational and seems to please many age groups. Personally I like the traditional feel, in that you can look at tattoos and hair garments from the Marquesas and ancient greek pottery as well as the New Zealand and local Otago displays. I have two favourite parts – the Victorian “Animal Attic” and the People of the Worldgallery which has a current focus on collecting, collections and collectors including a display on Charles Brasch and his grandfather Willi Fels.

This is NOT a critique of Te Papa which is a different kettle of fish, but just how good the Otago Museum is at getting the details just right.

In my attempts at assimilation here I looked up some of Baxter’s Dunedin poems and with some help found this from Pig Island Letters (2) supposedly written with the Scroggs Hill area in mind (between Brighton and Mosgiel). Somehow it fits.

Her son is moodier, has seen
and angel with a sword
standing above the clump of old man manuka
Just waiting for the word


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I am reading the book by John Newton “The Double Rainbow” about Baxter and the Jerusalem Community on the Whanganui river and right now am listening to the “Playing Favourites” author interview with Kim Hill (audio found here). Its a dense book and not a very easy read. For me this is because it requires concentration not a zillion minute-by-minute interruptions. So far its rather wonderful though.

So earlier today I went to my still disorganised bookshelves to look for my copy of Jerusalem Daybook and found all my Baxter and related books had been conveniently shelved together (not by me). I have had quite a trying and stressful and day and was unhappy to find JC Sturm beside Mike Minehan. I was just about to “have a go” at the shelver when I realised that a) I needed to get some perspective – they are just books and b) if we move again (which is what I desperately want to do – to a bigger house) that they’d just get messed up again and I should really be thankful they are shelved at all, and that I have a house, and books, and shelves etc etc.

Then again sometimes recently it feels has felt tempting to leave all my worldly goods (incl the tux in the wardrobe) and take-off up river.

Its just winter I imagine, and slight cabin fever.


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This moment will resonate

Saturday morning, sleet coming down outside, 3 kids running about, squealing, bickering. Up since 6am, by 10:30 I am ready to do a Captain Oates and escape out into the snow – “I may be some time”.

I head into Dunedin to “All Our Days”, the new Nigel Brown exhibition at Milford Galleries. I was wanting to come at 2:30pm for the artists talk but this is desperation. I am deadly afraid of dealer galleries and I scurry past Brett McDowell’s even though I’d love to have a good look at the Hotere’s I see through the window.

At least no one is around in the gallery and mostly I am left to look at the pictures in peace. An assistant appears and advises I’ve just missed the artist (rats) but to come back for the talk. I don’t bother to explain that because of my early departure, I have promised to take my kids to the Taieri Poultry & Pigeon show* this afternoon instead.

I know some don’t care for Brown and consider him a bit “samey”. I don’t share this view and enjoy what I think of as exploration of ideas and themes, which I guess others consider repeditive. I like the iconography. The first painting I see is “Hadley Octant” with the words “With my Hadley octant my Colin McCahon my mana my place worked out“, a McCahon lamp and a sample of the play on the McCahon “I AM” in ‘where are we“. I haven’t seen much of Brown’s recent work but I am intrigued by this wordplay.

Very recently I had a discussion regarding “I AM” ,which I was writing about at the time as a personal guiding phrase, in comparison to “WE ARE” which has such a different weight and meaning. Personally I think you have to be fairly assured in “I AM”, before you can become fully a part of “WE ARE”.

So it was really interesting to me to see in a very large title painting (an image you can’t ignore) “All Our Days”, the “WE ARE” as part of a collection of who we are – or perhaps who Brown is. Oddly (to me) this painting also includes Ned Kelly. I would have liked to hear more about that reference, which also appears spliced with Cook in “Who’s Who”. Glenn Colquhoun, in the catalogue (available on line, or on CD) writes that this painting shows “a wider New Zealand society…holding court in our consciousness along with all that has shaped our landscape, our arts and our culture.” which is a fairly ambitious statement. I like it, but then I am partial to Brown’s Baxter paintings. I also identify with the woman with broom, kids hanging off her.

I don’t know if there was a pick of the bunch, but funnily a painting called “Resonate”, resonated. “Even in two hundred years (if this building still stands) I’ll be gone, You’ll be gone, but this moment will resonate“. I’ve been writing about home, and sense of place so this keys into my current thoughts.

Its really worth seeing this exhibition or downloading the .pdf catalogue. I found something in almost every image that I liked. I am not so sure of inclusion of metallic paints (the gold/bronze on “All Our Days”) and paua shell eyes (although a reference to Maori carvings), but I did love the cast bronze Cook tiki. In an article in the latest Listener Malcolm Burgess questions whether too many “Cooks” spoil the broth. Like him, I agree that they don’t. 

Again as Colquhoun puts it “In lots of ways though they are not really images – they are a language. Really they are words. Nigel Brown places them in relation to each other as if he was writing a poem…Brown’s paintings think aloud

NIGEL BROWN All Our Days (2007/08) (from Milford Galleries website)

*which was pretty good too actually

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