You can find many remarkable examples of New Zealand poetry throughout the country’s young history. These poets are widely revered locally for their important contributions to the local literary scene, from their sharp criticism of the socio political contexts that shaped their narratives to the historic depictions of the world they lived in. Let’s exploce The New Zealand’s Most Important Poets below.
New Zealand’s Most Important Poets
Janet Frame was probably one of if not the greatest writers that New Zealand has ever produced. More than that, she was one of the most thought provoking and powerful writers of recent times. So much so that she was frequently spoken of as a Nobel Prize candidate for literature. She was more prolifically a writer of fiction and that was what she will be chiefly remembered for but she also published a single book of poetry.
If you’ve never read Frame’s work then you really should. She spent about a decade in mental hospitals after being incorrectly diagnosed with schizophrenia. Of this time she wrote: “I inhabited a territory of loneliness which, resembles the place where the dying spend their time before death, and from where those who do return, living, to the world bring, inevitably, a unique point of view that is a nightmare, a treasure, and a lifelong possession …” Her poetry collection is called The Pocket Mirror.
James K. Baxter
James K. Baxter is one of New Zealand’s most celebrated poets of all time. To give you some idea of the skills of the man, he was critically acclaimed at the age of 17 with his 1944 work Beyond the Palisade. His first internationally published collection of poems, In Fires of No Return: Poems (1957), was influenced by his personal revival through Catholicism.
Alongside reflecting this new-found religious perspective, his writing became more critical of New Zealand society. He was a very interesting man and actually lived the last years of his life in the Maori settlement called Jerusalem, after being told in a dream that he should move there.
The work of Adcock regularly deals with matters of identity and belonging: individual poems cover topics such as ancestry, geography and displacement, plus the natural worlds of England and New Zealand. This is of no surprise as she was born in Auckland, but raised in England before coming back to New Zealand as a young woman. She then went back to England again.
Adcock’s numerous honors and awards include the New Zealand National Book Award, the Cholmondeley Award, the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. In 2008, she was awarded the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Thomas Bracken (1841-1898)
Irish born poet, journalist and politician Thomas Bracken is famous for writing the English version of New Zealand’s national anthem (God Defend New Zealand) as well as being the first person to use the phrase ‘God’s own country’ to describe the nation. Bracken migrated to Dunedin in 1869, where he worked for the Otago Guardian, among other local newspapers, before becoming a prolific poet.
His work quickly became widely acclaimed in New Zealand and Australia; some of his best known collections include Musings in Maoriland and Lays and Lyrics: God’s Own Country and Other Poems (1893) and Flowers of the Freeland, Behind the Tomb and Other Poems (1871).
Allen Curnow (1911-2001)
Allen Curnow was a poet and journalist who was as celebrated for his own poetry as he was for his wider contributions to New Zealand literature. His two most important poetry anthologies, A Book of New Zealand Verse 1923-1945 (1960) and The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1960) sum up the country’s poetic endeavours while also providing some sharp criticism of the literary scene at large.
These two books are considered landmarks in New Zealand literature the 1960 publication in particular was the first significant literary piece from these shores to be published by Penguin. This is once of New Zealand’s Most Important Poets.
Hone Tuwhare (1922-2008)
Hone Tuwhare was one of New Zealand’s most distinguished Maori writers, as well as being the first poet of Maori heritage to have his works published in English. His first collection, No Ordinary Sun (1964), was widely acclaimed upon release and has been reprinted 10 times over the following 30 years in fact, it is one of the most widely read individual collections in the country’s literary history. Along with his influential writings, Tuwhare was also a key figure in Maori cultural and political activism in the 1970s, famously organising the first Maori Writers and Artists Conference in 1973 and participating in the historic Maori Land March of 1975, which was led by Dame Whina Cooper.