Monday, October 17, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Baxter-Curnow Band Live At Hyde Park 1969 by Tim Jones

Nobody smiles on the gatefold sleeve
(though that might be a smirk from the drummer) -

this is art, not pop, from the summer when love
curdled to discontent.

It surely wasn't easy,
playing behind those two:

Curnow always demanding, Baxter
perfecting the prophet's penetrating stare.

Four sides, nine tracks,
no singles and no flash photography.

Over-long, we'd call it nowadays, overblown -
cowbell and mellotron, zither, Hammond organ,

Marshall stacks and London Philharmonic;
odd metres, broken rhythms, two voices

straining for harmony, their differences
as much musical as personal.

Within six months it would all be over,
Allen going solo, Jim

in a different hemisphere, getting his head
together in the country.

Let this stand as their monument,
these two vinyl slabs

of pretension and achievement.
Lift the tone arm. Lower the needle.

Be transported back
to granny glasses, new-mown grass,

two voices high and rising
above the restless crowd.

From Men Briefly Explained (Interactive Press) published with permission.

Tim Jones is a Tuesday Poet who lives in Wellington. His new collection is out and about on the internet and is starting to make its way into NZ bookshops. In fact it's on a national tour with Keith Westwater's Tongues of Ash, or rather the poets are, and the bookshop where I work Fridays - Rona Gallery - is hosting the Hutt Valley leg next Friday at 6 pm. A POETRY tour. How wonderfully rock music. Next thing they'll be playing at the Westpac Stadium.

I'll be at the Rona Gallery gig, not least because I read Tim's manuscript some months ago and provided one of the many glowing recommendations on the cover. It goes like this:
Tim Jones' new collection holds men up to the light with poems that are intimate and playful, smart and satirical. He focuses on the rituals and carapaces of men and the relevance of that gender in the future. Men Briefly Explained is an engaging and provocative read.
I know Tim enough to know he likes music and poetry and has a sharp sense of humour and likes to be playful with facts -- imagining real people in unusual settings, for example. So it seems perfectly fitting that the poem I've posted here has two of the fathers of NZ poetry gigging together in Hyde Park in the year - I think I'm right - Baxter started writing the Jerusalem Sonnets. Which seems more than a little audacious.

It surely wasn't easy,
playing behind those two: 
Curnow always demanding, Baxter
perfecting the prophet's penetrating stare.

I love these two stanzas which seem to refer to both the other NZ poets writing at the time, and those who came after them chronologically, including Tim himself.

I'm sure there are a raft of allusions in the poem that I'm not getting, but the great thing about a poem like this is the way it sends you off to explore. I've read a bit about James K. Baxter in the past but not much about Curnow, and don't know enough about how they got on (or didn't). However, I did meet Curnow once, when he won the Queen's Medal for Poetry. I was a young radio reporter and went to Parliament to report on it.

I was charmed by the tall thin poet with the twinkling eyes who seemed very modest and more than a little emotional about his win. And the poet's poems charmed me too. Before I interviewed Allen Curnow, I bought one of his lovely books and got him to sign it.

There's an interesting piece here in the Britannica online about the time in NZ poetry Tim Jones writes of in Baxter-Curnow Band - an extract below. When I have a minute, I'll go a little further afield. Before you go, remember to visit Tuesday Poem itself, to read a post by Tim Jones himself of another very interesting poet: Majella Cullinane.

Britannica online on NZ poets:
By the end of the 1950s—when his second and more comprehensive anthology, The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1960), was about to appear—Curnow was already a major figure on the literary landscape against whom younger poets felt the need to rebel. The decade of the 1960s, however, was dominated by Baxter’s poetry and charismatic presence. Baxter was a very public and prolific writer whose Collected Poems (1979), which appeared after his death (in 1972 at age 46), contained more than 600 pages; it was said that possibly three times as many additional poems remained in unpublished manuscript. He was effortless and natural in verse—a modern Byron—while Curnow was all conscious skill and contrivance. 
It was in the year of Baxter’s death that Curnow began publishing again, extending his reputation at home and, through the 1980s, establishing a reputation abroad. Curnow received many awards, culminating in the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, a rare honour he shared with such poets as W.H. Auden,Robert Graves, and Ted Hughes.


Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Mary - that's a lovely writeup!

One of my favourite bands from the progressive rock era, King Crimson, came to fame when it played on the undercard of the Rolling Stones' free concert in Hyde Park on 5 July 1969 - an event commemorated in eye-watering fonts here:

Separately, it occurred to me that there was something of the relationship between Lennon and McCartney about the relationship between Baxter and Curnow.

Then all I needed was more cowbell.

Rachel Fenton said...

I'm tickled by the idea of J K Baxter at a rock concert - need to come back and re-read with sense in place...very much looking forward to the Auckland tour date.
Thanks for all the info, Mary.