Sunday, December 19, 2010

Alistair Campbell and Pat Wilson's cricket poetry

This week I was pleased to see Robert Sullivan discussing a New Zealand cricket poem on the “Tuesday Poem” blog. The poem is ‘To Stuart’ by one of New Zealand and the Pacific's great poets, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell (1925-2009).
Campbell was a close friend of mine in the last 5 years of his life and I published two of his books, Just Poetry (2007) and It’s Love Isn’t It?: The Love Poems (2008). The latter is a joint collection of love poems by Alistair and his wife Meg Campbell, which continues to sell at Unity Books in Wellington.
Here’s the link to Robert’s discussion on 14 December 2010:
Robert, a well-known New Zealand poet and editor, gives a clear and concise description of the elegy, how it is written, and provides some of the poem’s autobiographical background. Campbell’s brother Stuart served in the Māori Battalion in WWII and died from ‘friendly fire’. It is a moving poem. Campbell’s poem ‘To Stuart’ also appears in A Tingling Catch and was first published by Robert in Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English.
When I visited Alistair we had several discussions on cricket. He used to ask me, How’s the cricket season going? He was interested in the game but I don’t think he was a devoted follower of cricket or a cricket nut. He talked of playing beach cricket with Denis Glover and of his brother Stuart’s cricket interest, which is mentioned in the poem above.
One other story of interest was Campbell’s early cricket listening days as a student with his close friend Pat Wilson. Later in his life Campbell composed a series of letter poems published as a hand-made booklet by Chris Orsman’s Pemmican Press called Poets in Our Youth.
As an autobiographical record of Campbell’s friends and associates, they are important conversations with the dead and the living. They give us a sense of the history of the period, i.e. who were the key figures in Campbell’s generation and provide unique insight into their lives with various snapshots, often humourous. I’ll list some of those discussed: James K. Baxter, Harry Orsman, W H (Bill) Oliver, Douglas Lilburn, John Mansfield Thomson, Pat Wilson, Eric Schwimmer, Fleur Adcock, Anton Vogt, Barry Mitcalfe and Louis Johnson.
In one of these letters, ‘Letter to Pat Wilson’, there is a mention of cricket, so I’ll share it with you here. It’s a rich anecdote about cricket in Alistair’s life:


From Letter to Pat Wilson

In your last letter to me, you paint
a vivid picture of Jim Baxter ‘sitting
on my floor at 3 Oriental Terrace
earnestly telling me which of my latest
batch of poems were good and which weren’t’.
I remember your room with its view,
of the bay and the harbour beyond. You had
strung your room from wall to wall with twine
on which you hung, for easy access, pages
cut from the Nonesuch William Blake, about whom
you were writing a doctoral thesis.
In a draught the pages would rattle like
dry forest leaves. Here we used to sit
drinking beer, talking poetry, listening
to cricket matches, and once to a Joe Louis
fight. They were good times, Pat. Beer played
an important part in them. Remember the weekend
when we helped Eric Schwimmer build his A-Frame
house at Te Marua. All of us pitched in -
Bill Oliver, John Thomson, John’s architect
friend, Frank Stockman, Gordon Orr , Harry
Orsman, and others. That was when you and I
bought a dozen of beer at Upper Hutt
and took turns humping it to Te Marua
several miles away. If we’d had the sense
to stop now and then and crack a bottle,
our burden would have become progressively

I’m always interested to find mentions of cricket watching or listening. A Tingling Catch has a whole section devoted to it: ‘Watchers and Listeners’. It’s an important facet of the game. From it you realize the impact cricket has on people’s lives.
Pat (or Patrick) Wilson, a contemporary of Campbell’s, was a New Zealand poet who died recently. He was born in Tauranga in 1926 and was educated at Nelson College and Victoria University College (PhD in 1953). He published one collection The Bright Sea in 1950 (as part of the Pegasus series of mini books) and later moved to England where he pursued a career in music, teaching and lecturing in philosophy and education. Some of his poems from his London period appeared in the Times Literary Supplement. After retirement in 1985, he returned to poetry and late in his life, Bob Gormack’s Nag’s Head Press, Christchurch, published a second collection of selected poems, At the Window and Other Poems (1997). It contained two cricket poems that I included in A Tingling Catch.
Wilson is a poet I’ve often admired and Vincent O’Sullivan anthologized him in several editions of the Oxford Anthology of Twentieth Century New Zealand Poetry. His two books are well worth seeking out.

Article © Mark Pirie 2010

(Sources: The Dark Lord of Savaiki: Collected Poems by Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Hazard Press, Christchurch, 2005; Poets in Our Youth by Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Pemmican Press, Wellington, 2002; The Bright Sea by Pat Wilson, Pegasus Press, Christchurch, 1950; At the Window and Other Poems by Pat Wilson, Nag's Head Press, Christchurch, 1997; The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature eds. Robinson/Wattie, OUP, Auckland, 1998)

His poetry book Shout Ha! to the Sky was published by Salt Publishing, London

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