Friday, October 15, 2010

J H E Schroder’s NZ cricket poems

J H E Schroder (1895-1980), New Zealand poet, journalist, educator and broadcaster, was best known as a mentor and editor to younger writers. As literary editor of The Sun and The Press newspapers, he published and encouraged writers like Robin Hyde, Eileen Duggan, A R D Fairburn and R A K Mason. Little known, however, is his role as a New Zealand cricket poet, mostly in comic rhyming forms. Schroder played cricket from high school days to senior level representing Canterbury College and West Coast.
His second collection of verse, Yet Once More (Pegasus Press, 1969), includes half a dozen cricket poems. It was written in the 1960s (after the publication of Leslie Frewin’s influential The Poetry of Cricket anthology in 1964) and after retirement from his position as director of the New Zealand Broadcasting Service. Four of these poems (‘Operator’, ‘Pitch Please’, ‘Echoes from Lancaster Park’ and excerpts from ‘Basin of Words’) feature in A Tingling Catch. They seem to stem from Schroder’s extensive cricket listening. ‘Echoes from Lancaster Park’, referring to the Christchurch cricket ground, mimics radio commentator Jim Reid’s thick Scottish burr, while ‘Basin of Words’ contains snippets of radio commentary from Plunket Shield matches in the 1964/65 First Class cricket season at the Basin Reserve, Wellington. Other cricket poems not included in A Tingling Catch are ‘Commentary’ (which references Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch) and ‘Erstralia Fair’, his Ashes poem. Again these poems draw on Schroder’s commentary listening and criticism of cricket commentary broadcast on radio at the time. It is possible there are more uncollected Schroder cricket poems published in The Press in the 1970s. It’d be nice to gather them all some time in the future. In the meantime, I’d like to share with you the two further poems not included in A Tingling Catch:


Erstralia Fair

Third Test, 1963

Oh to be there,
In Erstralia fair,
With Johnny Moyes,
Michael Charlton, Bob Rich-
   ardson, Brian Johnston, old
   Uncle Ray Lindwall, and all!

Then I’d smell on the air,
The native air
Of Erstralia fair,
Each delicate flower
From the broadcasting bower,
Unfiltered through our
Transmitting tower.

How much sweeter there
In Erstralia fair
The accents sweet
Of the four Erstralians,
To a single alien’s
English notes.

Oh joy of joys,
To be there, to-day…
To be, as I say,
With Johnny Moyes,
Michael Charlton, Bob Rich-
   ardson, Brian Johnston, old
   Uncle Ray Lindwall, and all
All on the air
Of Erstralia fair.

Note: Australia vs England, Ashes series, Third Test, 11-15 January 1963, won by Australia.


Long years ago a journalist,
Reporting that a batsman missed,
Sought to avoid the obvious word,
And not in vain; for there occurred
To him the “elegant variation” –
As Quiller-Couch called the device
Of saying instead of rats and mice
(Such common words!) rodents or vermin
To bring a classier sort of term in –
The “elegant variation”, namely,
“Failed to connect,” and used it gamely.

The journalist in jubilation
Reflected that his happy thought
Success unthought-of, too, had brought.
Not only had he reached his aim,
In writing of this tedious game,
To find in prose, that obdurate medium,
Some way to alleviate the tedium
By substituting in his story
New words for old ones, stale and hoary;
But he had freaked a touch of wit –
“Failed to connect”! the barb of it! –
And, more, his phrase had just the right
Near-technical flavour to delight.

Oh yes! I sympathize. This young
Reporter, hitherto unsung,
Had cause to jubilate. But I
Would hang him, hang him high.
For what to him was just a trick,
Trick of the moment, now is slick
Compulsive formula; and sick
And tired I am of commentators,
Filled with this undivine afflatus,
Who never, never say “He missed” –
No, won’t, can’t any time desist
From following my innovator,
That toiling hack, that tired narrator
Of hits and misses, catches, drops,
Boundaries, snicks, and lucky stops,
In “failed to connect.” But now it’s not
“Elegant variation.” What
Wearies the air? “Failed to connect.”
Sometimes, at least, we might expect
In commentary dialect
Short, simple “missed.” It’s never heard:
“Failed to connect,” the unfailing word!
Its use is merely automatic,
Sanctified, unpointed, dull,
Stupid, monotonous, and null.

Now touchy, idiosyncratic
As may be my reaction, that
Is hostile and relentless. What
Can explain why men of sense reject,
In favour of this “failed to connect,”
A brisk and sturdy monosyllable,
Its place by naught so lively fillable?
I groan, I snort, I generate
Against my friends the commentators
Such positively murderous hate,
I’d toss them to the alligators.
“Failed to connect”: its little joke
Is joke no more but iron yoke.
“Reid took a swing at that one, but
Failed to connect ...” “Motz tried a cut,
A sort of chop, failed to connect,
And . . .” On and on! And who object?
None that I’ve heard of; only me,
A singular minority.

But I am in a dangerous mood
And give fair warning, harsh and crude.
Let me get at a commentator,
No matter which. I may not rate a
Bradman or a Cowdrey, no,
But still can deal a lusty blow.
Spirit I have; I have a bat,
I have a pair of ears; and at
The first use of that phrase; I strike
Fiercely, together, man and mike.
And, may I add, I don’t expect
To hear him comment, “Failed to connect.”

Note: Sir Arthur Quiller- Couch’s famous cricket poem extract was ‘Not Out’: ‘I see the rapport of the wicket-keeper and umpire; / I cannot see that I am out. / Oh! You umpires.’ 'Motz' in the poem is New Zealand player Dick Motz.

Schroder also published collections of his newspaper essays: Remembering Things (1938) and Second Appearances (1959) as well as a book of his radio talks on language, The Ways of Words (1969). His first collection of poems, The Street and Other Verses (Pegasus Press, 1962), contains his most well known poem, ‘The Street’ (anthologised in Quentin Pope’s anthology Kowhai Gold) as well as an interesting introduction by poet and critic Niel Wright placing his work in a mainly Georgian literary context. Wright refers to this Georgian influence as distinctly belonging to the Schroder-Marris school of poets (that also includes Wright’s own poetry and Ruth Gilbert’s poetry) in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Article © Mark Pirie, 2010

Sources: Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature, eds. Robinson/Wattie (OUP, Auckland, 1998); The Street and Other Verses by J H E Schroder (Pegasus Press, Christchurch, 1962); Yet Once More: A Collection of Light Verse by J H E Schroder (Pegasus Press, Christchurch, 1969); The Poetry of Cricket ed. Leslie Frewin (Macdonald, London, 1964) and Theories of Style in the Schroder-Marris School of Poets in Aotearoa by F W N (Nielsen) Wright (Cultural and Political Booklets, Wellington, 2001).

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