Saturday, July 05, 2008

Leicester style

Now pursuing truth
I make new moves
and am more business-like …

I must learn more

I’ll take to interstices

I’ll live in the wall that divides

I’ll watch with my bespectacled unblinking eye

I’ll see all sides

It's two years since the death of Leicester Kyle, who found time to be a botanist, environmental activist, Marx scholar, air force chaplain, family man, missionary, poet and editor during his three score years and ten. I dedicated an issue of the literary journal brief to Leicester's memory, and prefaced it with this account of the man's life and work. At the beginning of the piece, I tried to convey Leicester's originality:

When I met Leicester Kyle for the first time he was wearing a leather jacket and a broad-brimmed leather hat, and stroking a long white beard. He looked like a cross between a religious prophet and a genteel bikie, and neither religious types nor bikies were common sights at the Dead Poets Bookshop's Friday night poetry readings. Leicester soon became a fixture of the late '90s Auckland literary scene, turning up at readings, book launches and conferences, and invariably drawing respectful but bemused attention from Bohemian hipsters and literary politicians alike.

It's not difficult to appreciate the reason for the attention Leicester attracted. Kiwi writers are, by and large, a dull lot...But Leicester Kyle wasn't dull like us: he was emphatically and effortlessly different. He had come to writing late, by a circuitous and sometimes bizarre path...

For me, and I expect for very many other people, Leicester seemed to have stepped out of some alternate New Zealand, a place where many of the dichotomies of our society - the splits between the city and the country, between Maori and Pakeha, between intellectuals and an anti-intellectual majority, between liberals and conservatives - did not exist. Leicester moved effortlessly between worlds that were normally hermetically sealed from one another, and the poems he poured out during the last decade of his life are simultaneously scholarly and populist, vernacular and allusive.

Leicester's poems were eagerly received by Alistair Paterson, Jack Ross and other editors of prestigious literary journals based in New Zealand's big cities, but they were also popular in his adopted homeland of the West Coast. Leicester must be the only poet ever to have had a book part-financed by the Buller District Council. Heteropholis, his bizarre, book-length portrait of late '90s Auckland, has achieved a cult reputation, despite its almost complete unavailability.

Are there any publishers reading this? I can't think of anyone who deserves a posthumous Collected Poems more than Leicester Kyle.


Blogger Richard said...

Thanks for this Maps - I put Leicester as one of NZ's major poets - almost as much as Baxter, Curnow, Smithyman et al (although he really wasn't of their "generation" in his writing), and I feel he "transgressed" into areas no other writer went - as you say he moved in many circles.

He sent me manuscripts or copies of virtually everything he wrote -I would be glad to help get a collected of his work - since he came to my Poetry Club in Panmure we became very close friends.

His work needs, ideally, to be seen as whole - Heteropholis was brilliant but his Anzac Liturgies is about NZ - very much - but also about the world... his poems about or based on the writings of Colenso (Koreneho) are awesome also. He also wrote many short poems - he was widely published in magazines around NZ.

He utilised (mostly gentle and nudging) satire but he was also very deeply a man of religious or mystical faith but open to ideas and had much compassion.

6:18 pm  

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