Monday, February 20, 2012

Reloading the canon

After acquiring an ultra-modern printing press from the Peoples Republic of China last year, Brett Cross, the proprietor of Titus Books, announced his desire to complement the books of contemporary poetry and prose he has published since 2005 with some reissues of neglected classics from New Zealand's distant literary past.

Brett is a long-time advocate of the early twentieth century historian and journalist James Cowan, whose biography of Kimble Bent he regards with awe. Bent was an American who somehow ended up wearing a British uniform during the Taranaki Wars of the 1860s. One day in 1865 Bent slipped off his uniform, slipped across the forested frontline, and joined the forces of Titokowaru, the famous Taranaki commander. After Titokowaru's army disintegrated in 1869 Bent hid out in the upper Whanganui River region for thirty-four years, until Cowan discovered him and wrote down the story of his life. Brett Cross regards the fact that The Adventures of Kimble Bent: a story of wild life in the New Zealand Bush is out of print as something of a national disgrace, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the book rolling off his press at some stage.

Over the past few weeks I've been pestering Brett with ideas about books which might be worth fitting into his programme of reissues. Some of the book projects I've suggested have sprung fully formed from my troubled mind, but others develop ideas coined by Brett, or some other Kiwi lover of literature. Brett's admiration for James Cowan, for instance, got me diving into the great man's writing for the New Zealand Railways Magazine, and discovering that he was a fine travel writer, as well as a fastidious historian. News that Jack Ross was at work on a study of New Zealand science fiction got me fossicking around in Papers Past, and learning that nineteenth century Pakeha liked to fantasise about flying to Venus and Mars. And Bill Direen's revelation of James Joyce's connections with New Zealand seemed to open up the possibility of a book about the way foreign writers have used this country as an inspiration.

Here are a few of the books I've been fantasising about seeing roll off Brett's printing press. Most of them would need funding from Creative New Zealand to become a reality, and all of them would need to be properly edited and introduced by some scholarly authority or other (you can guess who'd do a good job with the sci fi anthology). The summaries of these fantasy-books are rather brief, but I've garnished them with hyperlinks to some of the extraordinary texts they would collect.

A Young Country from Space: science fiction writing in nineteenth century New Zealand

The genre of writing we now call science fiction was surprisingly popular amongst Pakeha in nineteenth century New Zealand. Escapist fantasies of journeys into space, visions of utopias on planets like Venus and Mars, pseudo-scientific speculations about the possibility of travel into the distant past, or to distant parts of the universe: all appeared in local newspapers and magazines. Even when their subjects are otherworldly, the science fiction texts collected in A Young Country from Space throw light on the concerns and conflicts of the young and unstable society which produced them. A Sea of Stories: nineteenth century New Zealand writing about the Pacific

In the later decades of the nineteenth century New Zealanders were preoccupied with the Pacific Island societies to their north. Pakeha politicians believed that their country's destiny lay in the north, and attempted to build an empire there; many European immigrants who had found it hard to make a living in New Zealand set up in 'the islands' as traders and planters and, sometimes, as blackbirders; children listened to stories of brigands and treasure hunters, and dreamed of sailing away to the South Seas; Maori sought allies in their struggle against colonialism amongst peoples like the Hawaiians and the Tongans; young men arrived from Melanesia to labour in Auckland's flax mills; and ships from ports like Apia and Nuku'alofa and Honolulu turned up frequently in Auckland and Wellington and Lyttleton.

New Zealand's complex relationship with the Pacific bred a massive and, today, largely neglected literature, which includes romantic stories and poems about island paradises, accounts of the cruelties of blackbirding produced by outraged missionaries and remorseful ex-slavers, the logbooks, letters, and books of adventurers, and the reports on New Zealand life published by Tongans and other Pacific Islanders who had visited these shores. A Sea of Stories selects and annotates some of this literature, and shows its importance in an era when New Zealand has increasingly close economic and cultural ties to its island neighbours.

War on the Wires: the fight for the Waikato in print

The Waikato War was one of the first conflicts to be fought using modern communications and mass media as well as guns and bombs. As they prepared to launch the war, the British and colonial forces controlled by Governor Grey constructed a telegraph line from Auckland south to the border of the Waikato Kingdom. The new-fangled technology enabled troops fighting on the front to offer speedy reports and make urgent requests to Grey and colonial politicians in Auckland. The telegraph wires also allowed journalists to send news swiftly from the field to Auckland-based newspapers like the Daily Southern Cross and the New Zealand Herald. After Pakeha forces crossed the Mangatawhiri Stream and entered the Waikato Kingdom on the 12th of July 1863, readers in Auckland received daily reports of troop and ship movements, skirmishes, artillery bombardments, and the journeys of refugees.

The Auckland press made no secret of its pro-Crown bias, but the Waikato Kingdom used its own media to convey a different message. In 1862 Waikato visitors to Vienna had been given a printing press by the Austro-Hungarian emperor; on their return to their rohe, they used the machine to produce a nationalist newspaper called Te Hokioi, or The Eagle, which denounced the Pakeha government in Auckland and called for an end to the sale of Maori land. At Te Awamutu, deep in the Waikato Kingdom, diplomatic representatives of the Auckland government produced a Maori-language paper of their own called Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke, or The Lark that Sits Alone on the Roof, until their printing press was smashed up and thrown into the Waipa River by angry locals.

As the Waikato War dragged on into 1864, scores of correspondents reported on its progress for papers in Britain and Australia as well as New Zealand. Even after the war ended in 1865, poems and memoirs perpetuating its memory appeared in newspapers and other periodicals. In the early decades of the twentieth century the journalist and historian James Cowan travelled through the North Island visiting battlefields from the war and interviewing its Maori and Pakeha veterans.

War on the Wires creates a multi-perspectival narrative of the Waikato War by sampling some of the thousands of reports on the conflict produced by Pakeha and Maori writers. Major battles as well as lesser known parts of the war like refugee flows, the sacking of towns, and religious ferment are depicted from the points of views of imperialist Britons, land-hungry settlers, liberal clergy, pro-British Maori, Maori nationalists, and rebellious Irish and Yorkshire soldiers. With the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the invasion of the Waikato approaching, War on the Wires is a timely book.

Distance Looks Our Way: New Zealand through the eyes of Kipling, Joyce and other famous overseas writers

Some of New Zealand's most famous writers, like Katherine Mansfield, Janet Frame, and Dan Davin, have spent long periods abroad. Few Kiwis realise, though, that their country has attracted its fair share of literary tourists over the past century and a half. Many important writers have visited these shores, and others have travelled here imaginatively, taking inspiration from our culture and settings from our landscapes. Distance Looks Our Way collects writing about New Zealand by Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, Jules Verne, Henry Lawson, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, HP Lovecraft, and James Joyce. Travels at Home: New Zealand writers get to know their country, 1900-1960

Before the 1960s and '70s, when the rise of commercial airlines made international travel much less expensive, New Zealanders were accustomed to holidaying inside their own country. The construction of a national railways system at the end of the nineteenth century and the popularisation of the car a few decades later both encouraged the domestic tourism industry.

In the first half of the twentieth century a genre of travel writing aimed at the local holiday-maker flourished, as writers inspired by their jaunts around the country published articles and essays in places like The New Zealand Railways Magazine, The Listener, and the weekend editions of major newspapers like the Evening Post. This homegrown travel literature was very diverse: it included James Cowan's beautifully melancholy accounts of his trips to old battlefields, Robin Hyde's high-spirited reports of her adventures in relatively obscure parts of the North Island like Kawhia and Whangaroa, John Pascoe's poetic celebrations of his ascents of 'virgin' peaks in the South Island, and the descriptions of small town and rural deprivation and desperation produced by roaming left-wing polemicists like Elsie Locke and John Mulgan. Today, when domestic tourism is once again on the increase and protests over mining and development are making New Zealanders more aware of some of their remoter regions, the adventures and revelations of writers like Cowan and Hyde have a new relevance.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

26 Comments:

Blogger Jake said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:05 pm  
Blogger Jake said...

I don't think you can have Distance Looks Our Way, as it was used by Sinclair as the title for the University of Auckland Winter Lectures, published in 1961.

War on the Wires sounds wonderful.

5:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds like the sort of shit the country DOESN'T need...

but roll on basterds

10:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'The dead weight of the past may crush us. NZ as a young country is relatively free from history. Long may we continue in our blessed ignorance.'

- King Dick

9:21 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

read one of those “Soviet tanks pouring through the Fulda Gap” airplane riding books years ago the premise of which intrigued me. The reality was that the M-1, the Leopard, and, especially, the A-10 and Apache, all those evil Reagan-era weapons, were more than a match for the Soviet quantitative superiorty and the Soviets were stopped dead in their tracks. But, the Soviets had so thoroughly infiltrated Western media that the West’s citizenry, espcially the West Germans saw a crushing defeat of Western arms and massive civilian losses. In response to the outcry, the West German government sued for peace and evicted the US military from German soil. A lies better than the truth if you have the media repeating it over and over for you.

BRING THAT BOOK BACK!

8:57 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Sounds just what we need. Some interesting projects. I saw that book of different writers about NZ, I have to say I didn't read much of it.

I think Wells or was it Shaw came here? I recall one wasn't very impressed.

Robyn Hyde (Iris Wilkinson), as well as being a major novelist was one of the first NZ women journalists and her work for newspapers etc was always very good, lively, and intelligent.

Her novels are extraordinary. Not all her poetry is so good. Her book about her visit to China (the Japanese had occupied much of China at the time) is quite strange. Tumultuous. Her long prose poem is worth reading. Wednesday's Children [this is an absolute must to read] and others of her novels place her perhaps potentially a greater writer than Frame, but she committed suicide in 1938 at a young age.

And it seems Cowan is a kind of balance to more recent historians of the NZ Wars (such as Belich and indeed Sinclair.)

9:55 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Jake,

I actually thought I could pinch Distance Looks Our Way from the 1959 Winter Lecture series and subsequent book: after all, the folks behind those events pinched the phrase from Allen Curnow! Ted Jenner tells me that Michael Morrissey tried to produce an anthology of writing by foreign writers about New Zealand back in the '80s, but couldn't get funding. Perhaps Titus would be luckier today. And the likes of Joyce and Kipling are safely in the public domain!

Hi Richard,

it would be interesting to know who gets to decide what is in 'the country's interest', wouldn't it? It's extraordinary how much Robin Hyde wrote in her lifetime, and how little-known her 'Adventures of a Train Tramp' series remains. Her reports from Kawhia and from Whangaroa are fascinating, both for what they tell us about the deep history of those places and for the way they communicate, in a very sophisticated and sensitive way, the weltanschaung of early modern Pakeha society.

10:52 pm  
Anonymous Johan said...

I discovered John Whiteside Parsons and was fascinated by this Aleister Crowley disciple and occultist who was also one of the fathers of space travel. In the 1930´s he invented the first truly successful rocket fuel, although he was basically a self-taught maverick, usually at odds with the government institutions in which he worked.

He researched rocket fuel for the government during the day and conducted pagan rituals at night, as head of a Pasedena, California lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis. The image of Parsons chanting Crowley´s “Ode to Pan” during rocket test flights is the inspiration for this track. Parsons died in an explosion in his garage under mysterious circumstances.

2:14 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to discuss Christianity in print, email me at yahoo.com.

2:52 am  
Anonymous Johnny Twosheds said...

"the folks behind those events pinched the phrase from Allen Curnow!"

Nope - Charles Brasch.

7:59 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

'Nope - Charles Brasch.'

Ach! Sorry! It's the 'Always in these islands...' poem, isn't it? It's lucky you corrected me, because I was going to attribute the poem to Curnow in the editorial to the Oceania issue of brief...

8:06 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

'If you want to discuss Christianity in print, email me at yahoo.com.'

Just 'yahoo.com'? That address sounds a bit hopeful, even for a partisan of the Lord...

8:09 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 19th century has always been full of conflict and I for one am not surprised that killing is still going on there. And I don't think the peoples of the 19th century will ever throw off the yoke of imperialism. Don't count on seeing the Zulus best the British. Don't count on seeing the Boxer Rebellion come to a better ending. Much as I wish not to be a fatalist, I can't see the 19th century changing drastically. It is a barbarous backwater where pre-modern feudal and tribal forces confront gauche imperialism. Even in Europe, where the peoples of the 19th century have at least established a crude form of democracy, trade unions often lack legal status, and male chauvinism is rampant, with women being unable to vote. Let all these historic peoples oppres each
other (or not, as they wish), while 21st leaders attend to
the task of formulating and defending the serious that face their more enlightened peoples. The rest of us must abandon teenage morality and mind our own business.

8:26 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From what I remember, HP Lovecraft has only mentioned New Zealand once in "The Call of Cthulhu" and even then only briefly. It would be interesting to see if anyone could find anything to say about it. But then perhaps I am underestimating the ability of academics to wank on about nothing.

4:00 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

I can wank on with the best of them, anon, but I note that Lovecraft not only makes Dunedin part of the backdrop to 'Call of Cthulu' but makes the mysterious Tabor Island, a part of New Zealand which also fascinated Jules Verne, into the lair of the story's monster...

5:49 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"Hi Richard,

it would be interesting to know who gets to decide what is in 'the country's interest', wouldn't it? It's extraordinary how much Robin Hyde wrote in her lifetime, and how little-known her 'Adventures of a Train Tramp' series remains. Her reports from Kawhia and from Whangaroa are fascinating, both for what they tell us about the deep history of those places and for the way they communicate, in a very sophisticated and sensitive way, the weltanschaung of early modern Pakeha society"

Yes. She was a genius. Ahead of her time. I haven't seen much of her journalistic writing but I read a book with contributions by number of women writers (and one man!) about Hyde. (Iris Wilkinson). In there there are some examples of her Journo writing it was very good. She was a battler for sure (she was lame, lost child in child birth, had much depression, attempted suicide(se wanted to die, in fact like Plath after her she seemed fascinated by the idea of killing herself)) I read quite some of her Dragon Rampart which is about China in about 1937-38 (just after or near when the Japanese invaded.) I had to have 2 goes at Wednesday's Children but the second time I got into it. It is brilliant (as Bronwyn knows). Her long prose poem The Book of Nadath is interesting (in a similar way that Helen by HD is). 'Nor the years Condemn was also great to read...You can learn a lot via her novels.

I see some of that journalism is in the library. She was the most genuinely humane and "radical"of those contemporaries of Fairburn etc She protested the situation of an injustice to Maori especially at the marae on Bastian Point.

But she died so young at only 33.

6:34 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Here is some info on her for everyone:

"In her fiction and poetry Hyde had turned to Maori and Pakeha history and stories to find a distinctive New Zealand voice. The result was quite different from the style of contemporary male writers, especially in the attempt she made to articulate the experience of Maori and women. At its best Hyde’s writing achieved a compelling vividness and insight. While she regarded herself as a poet first, during her lifetime she made more impact as a novelist.
Hyde ran away from Grey Lodge early in 1937 after Dr Tothill transferred to Tokanui Mental Hospital. For a year she lived on ‘bread and butter, tea and the tin opener’ in various baches in the Waitakeres, Whangaroa and Milford. The manuscript that became A home in this world, published in 1984 by her son, was written at this time. So were her passionate articles in the Observer and her letters to John A. Lee on the planned expulsion of Maori from their land at Orakei (Bastion Point), in which she observed similarities between the ravages of colonialism and war. She began studying Maori, and became more assertively feminist and socialist, writing for Tomorrow and Woman To-day.
Against all advice Hyde resolved to travel to England to seek experience and recognition and to meet her publishers. She wrote, ‘New Zealand papers, and I want to live in New Zealand, don’t either take or pay much. I haven’t a penny, and I have Derry.’ In January 1938 she sailed for Sydney, where she boarded the Changte. However, a brief stop-over in Hong Kong disclosed another world: China. Undeterred by Japanese bombing, she visited Shanghai and Canton (Guangzhou), met Chinese generals and the writers Agnes Smedley and Edgar Snow. Fellow New Zealanders Rewi Alley and James Bertram helped her and she was able to obtain a pass for the front signed by Chiang Kai-shek. Some of her finest poems, the travel book Dragon rampant, and many articles emerged from her extraordinary journey into the war zone. After Hsuchow was bombed and captured, she limped 50 miles along the railway track towards Tsingtao and safety. Assaulted by Japanese soldiers, she sustained a painful eye injury, which was treated by a Japanese doctor."

6:36 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Kere's the link to that on Hyde:

http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4h41/1

6:37 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Richard,

I must admit that I don't like her poems much! They read as though modernism never happened! I'd go for the travel writing over the poems - and perhaps over the novels, too. I don't know if I'm just perverse, but I find myself liking the shorter, more occasional work of many writers - I like Kafka's notebooks rather than his novels, for instance, and I'd choose CK Stead's book reviews over his novels...

7:35 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"
I must admit that I don't like her poems much! They read as though modernism never happened! "

Her poems I agree. I haven't seen much of her journalism and I didn't really like her Dragon Rampart which is a 'factual' if rather unusual account of her travels to and in China...but maybe I will have another go.

But you can often learn more from a novel than so called factual history. In fact history is as subject to "falsifications" as anything. Her novels have insight. 'Wednesday's Children' is amazing. "

I don't read a lot of travel writing but I do like a mix of factual stuff and fiction. I cant read Kafka or books about war as such things give me terrible (I used to read a lot about war, eb fanatic for watching boxing, and watch docus but no more!) nightmares... but I did read Kafkas shorter works. I donrealywont to read his journals but I have Gides very large journal which Schuyler loved... so must tackle that. Also wish could get (time or energy?) to read Proust's great work...

Remember that Brett is or I feel he should be primarily looking to get out creative writing.


" I'd go for the travel writing over the poems - and perhaps over the novels, too. I don't know if I'm just perverse, but I find myself liking the shorter, more occasional work of many writers - I like Kafka's notebooks rather than his novels, for instance,..."

Sometimes...I.like books of criticism and essays.

"... and I'd choose CK Stead's book reviews over his novels..."

In his case I do prefer his critical works. And his essays. Great essays.

But I think Hyde's criticism and shorter journalistic stuff will be interesting but her novels are certainly great. Her journalism was written to keep herself in pocket. But a good biography of her (I know there is one but a factional-fictionalized one perhaps might be the ticket0

On that vein I just found a copy of Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald...he waxes (or waxed, sadly) on about Kafka etc but his own style is sombre and ingenious but not insane!

Yes essays are great...in fact you are a major NZ essay writer already yourself! You are way out of the league of all the Anons!! Tell them to all go suck!!

We intellectuals have it all!!

10:43 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Of course there is also Martin Edmond...and Chatwin I like but I most liked his novel set in Wales, and Uitz (a book Sebald liked)...

I like reading plays and prefer it to seeing them! Also I read a lot of art books...but one place in a library I also go to is the children's section.

If anyone wants to learn something quickly a children's or young adult's book will often present facts very well. (think of how many ideas or facts you can retain...especially if you are new to something) I have one out about NZ Scientists and the history thereof from about 1750 or so to the present...

10:55 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Richard,

I haven't read Dragon Rampart: I was very much thinking of Hyde's domestic travel writing, which is accessible at NZETC. How does her China book compare to Auden's Journey to a War?

11:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With respect to both Scott and Richard (above) Robin Hyde's (excellent) novel is titled "Dragon Rampant"

11:01 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes, it's Dragon Rampant but it's not a novel! I cant read much directly off a computer screen in fact I don't like writing on computers I write just about everything freehand on paper... I see there is some of her stuff via Auckland library.

I'd forgotten about Auden going to China. I haven't read it. I like his early poems that I read even before 1970 and such as 'The Sea and the Mirror' or The Orators.

I believe though that Isherwood's books have been underrated.

Hyde met up with Agnes Smedley. I read her large book on Chinese history and about the great leader Chu Teh. I also have a novel by her. But her book on Chu Teh (he became the leader of the PLA) is close to being an epic. A friend had a copy. She also met Edgar Snow.

But I didn't finish Dragon Rampant* (I tend to take out too many library books at once) it is in a way not really about China - it is strangely disconcertingly disconnected. She seems up beat in it but...to be fair I would need to read it a few times. Her writing is quite subtle. She was ahead of her time. Like 'Man Alone' her novel 'Nor hte years condemn' at first it seems to wander all over the place (but I think but then it seizes the reader): or it did me,a dn I had had alot of trouble getting to read Wednesday's Children. But I have come to see that as one of NZ's great novels along with The Bone Poeple.

So I find with many books that they repay re-reading. (So "I will return" - to DR)

* Now I think of it is SOME of the tone and frenetic nature of Thomas Wolfe's autobiographical novels... now Thomas Wolfe I came to be big fan of, after reading your book that included the Smithyman poems referencing him...and you have at least one of his books in your library/study!!

7:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Lovecraft "In less than a month I was in Dunedin; where, however, I found that little was known of the strange cult-members who had lingered in the old sea-taverns. Waterfront scum was far too common for special mention; though there was vague talk about one inland trip these mongrels had made, during which faint drumming and red flame were noted on the distant hills. In Auckland I learned that Johansen had returned with yellow hair turned white after a perfunctory and inconclusive questioning at Sydney, and had thereafter sold his cottage in West Street and sailed with his wife to his old home in Oslo.... After that I went to Sydney" This is pretty much the most that's said about New Zealand in the text. I don't really think you can take much from it.

2:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Lovecraft "In less than a month I was in Dunedin; where, however, I found that little was known of the strange cult-members who had lingered in the old sea-taverns. Waterfront scum was far too common for special mention; though there was vague talk about one inland trip these mongrels had made, during which faint drumming and red flame were noted on the distant hills. In Auckland I learned that Johansen had returned with yellow hair turned white after a perfunctory and inconclusive questioning at Sydney, and had thereafter sold his cottage in West Street and sailed with his wife to his old home in Oslo.... After that I went to Sydney" This is pretty much the most that's said about New Zealand in the text. I don't really think you can take much from it.

2:31 pm  

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