Sunday, October 3, 2010

John Newton – NZ Poet with a Cricket Connection

John Newton’s first book Tales from Angler’s Eldorado came out in 1985. Then there was a long silence of 25 years. That’s why I was very pleased to see his work back in print this year through Victoria University Press’s edition of his second collection, Lives of the Poets. I bought a copy of it. The book consists of four sections: the first part is the verse novella ‘Lives of the Poets’, the second section returns to more of his muscular, lyrical poetry from the backblocks of rural New Zealand. Newton grew up on a sheep farm in the Marlborough Sounds. He distils that experience very effectively in his poetry. This was the highlight of his first collection for me and again here. Poems like his ‘Opening the book’ are memorable examples of contemporary New Zealand poetry. At the launch of Auckland University Press’s anthology New New Zealand Poets in Performance at the Auckland City Library in 2008, I read John’s poem. It was an honour. The last section of his book returns once more to the lives of the poets in the form of 14 ‘Stations’ concerning biographical information on the lives of Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt, Sylvia Plath, Joni Mitchell and Kenneth Koch among others.
This brings me to John’s cricket connection. Twice in the book are cricket mentions:

The great city hums in the hive of its pleasures,
banjos rattling the Venetian blinds.
Storm clouds mass above the cricket stadium.
(‘Lives of the Poets’, p. 13)

When I got home from the cricket match
Your light was still showing, upstairs in the big house.
(‘Trout-Fishing and Sport in Maoriland’, p. 48)

It’s clear that John is a cricket watcher and has some interest in cricket. Although cricket references don’t necessarily make them cricket poems, he is definitely a New Zealand poet to consider as having a cricket connection. I was unable to include poems with cricket references in A Tingling Catch. Not every poet with an interest in cricket writes about the sport and some may just mention it in passing. One poem by John from his first book Tales from the Angler’s Eldorado came close, however, with its mention of the change of season in New Zealand, ‘the easterly chill, / chopping through the cricket series / into autumn’, a great cricket related image in itself that bears quoting here:



Finally, now that the leaves are turning,
we clean the windows and take them in.
Light pours down through the vanishing glass.
Above our heads, ship under sail,
the willow tree tosses in the easterly chill,
chopping through the cricket series
into autumn,
oyster season, mushroom time.

The two rotting storeys of this rented
suntrap, remodelled farmhouse, pre-date the suburb.
The farmhouse has slipped quietly into the skyline.
Tenants, tramping through year by year,
have lived here
not knowing where they were,
not one of whom ever cleaned a solitary pane:

we answer with paper
and warm water,
proprietary, polishing every view.

Afterwards we take photographs,
photographs which take in the windows,
frames within frames, an iron roof
ablaze with rust and the absence of glass.
Things at hand come back in colour.
Dying leaves
revolve in the spotless light.

Poem © John Newton

(from Tales from the Angler’s Eldorado, Untold Books, Christchurch, 1985)

John’s new book, Lives of the Poets, is widely available, including bookshops like Unity Books in Wellington, where I purchased my copy. His first book may be harder to find now but is well worth having if you do obtain a copy of it.

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