Climbing Mount Brunton
After being invited to sit on some sort of panel, and listening to slouching academics on his left and right discourse in mild voices about absence and authenticity and other very abstract nouns, the founder and leader of the peripatetic Red Mole theatre troupe and author of long, incantatory poems with names like 'Lost in the Heroin of the Idea' apparently rose suddenly to his feet and launched into a loud impromptu lecture on the decline of the poet in contemporary Western society.
Brandishing the name Percy Bysshe Shelley, Brunton noted that the great Romantic poet had been a skilled horseman, swordsman, athlete and lover, as well as a man of words. How many of today's poets, Brunton implicitly asked his audience, possessed the energy, versatility, and volatility of the author of The Revolt of Islam?
It would not be surprising if Brunton identified with Shelley. Both men were political and aesthetic rebels, who chose exile over complicity in a conformist society. Both wrote sprawling, excited poems that are alternately esoteric, confessional, and pungently polemical. And both sometimes suffered incomprehension from their peers.
interview on this blog, he was referring to the difficulty of accessing the man's texts, as well as the difficulty of the texts themselves.
Tonight, with the help of Creative New Zealand and an array of poets, scholars, actors, and rock musos, Titus Books will launch Beyond the Ohlala Mountains, a collection of poems Brunton wrote between 1968 and 2002. The book has been edited and introduced by Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond, and is adorned with a series of colour photographs of the masks - strange, handcrafted faces that are alternately quizzical, affable, and appalled - once worn by Red Mole's performers.
With the help of this new book, we can at last climb Mount Brunton - if, that is, we have the energy and adventurousness that the poet demanded of us during that impromptu speech back in the late '90s.
Footnote: I have only scrambled about on the foothills of Mount Brunton, but an argument about the man's politics that I contributed to the literary journal brief back in 2004 can be read here.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]