Monday, February 4, 2013

Tuesday Poem: Wild Iron by Allen Curnow

Yes, this is us in Wellington at the moment - I am listening now to the foundering shrieks of the gale. Allen Curnow wrote the poem in 1941 and it's a stunning piece of writing - the sounds and the repetition of those sounds (which he delighted in) slowly but surely hammering home the reality of the winds on settler roofs in Canterbury.

I'm rather taken up with Curnow's mate Denis Glover at the moment because, over the summer, I found a terrific first edition (only edition?) copy of his collection Wellington Harbour  - a collection of funny, rude, satirical sort of poems (I think he called them 'funniosities') about the place where I live - many of which were published in the Dominion Post.

Googling around, I found an indepth write-up on Glover here , and included in it is the story behind his most famous poem The Magpies which is, it seems, inextricably linked with Curnow's Wild Iron. Seems they were heading off to a bach together through a dark and stormy night ... which brings me to this post, I guess -- and the poem. Unavoidable, really. 

Here's the full story of Glover and Curnow and the poems they wrote (thanks to Sarah Shieff): 

Glover’s friendship with Curnow played a coincidental but crucial role in the composition of Glover’s most famous poem. One weekend late in 1941 Glover had driven up to visit the Curnow family at a holiday bach at Leithfield, north of Christchurch. 
On the way up, Curnow recalled, ‘Glover… got out of his little tin baby Austin in the middle of a wild nor’wester to have a pee by the roadside. There were magpies squawking everywhere. And when Denis arrived and came to the door of the bach he didn’t say anything at all except “quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle” - just like that.’ (Curnow in the New Zealand Herald, 29 July 1987). Before Glover’s arrival that day, Curnow had begun work on his own poem about the storm, prompted by the sound of a piece of roofing iron blowing in the wind. So as not to disturb him, Glover sat down to write. Curnow’s short, brooding lyric ‘Wild Iron’ has achieved almost the same iconic status, and is almost as frequently anthologised, as Glover’s ‘The Magpies’. 
Both poems frequently find their way into anthologies for children – Curnow’s for its Stevensonian evocation of a storm at night, Glover’s for its ingenuous tone and simple rhyme scheme, and its apparently cheerful chorus: 

When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm 
The bracken made their bed, 
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle 
The magpies said.

(Selected Poems 31)

Please check out the poem at our Tuesday Poem hub - it's by the unmatchable Joan Fleming and posted by Orchid Tierney.


Kathleen Jones said...

Very apt as I've just been awake half the night with a southerly in the iron roof above me on the Canterbury plain!

Helen Rickerby said...

Very topical Mary! And what a lovely story about the interconnectedness of 'Wild Iron' and 'The Magpies'. 'The Magpies' has grown on more and more over the years. There's a lot in that little poem, even though half of it is repetition. 'Wild Iron' has a lovely sound thing going on, but perhaps is lacking the human element I find I'm drawn to now. What a curious and rather odd version you've found of it - it sounds particularly strange in an US accent! :)

Jennifer Compton said...