Here's a virtual movie of the celebrated New Zealand poet James K Baxter reading poem "To a print of Queen Victoria" The poem is a rejection of New Zealands British Colonial origins..
James Keir Baxter (29 June 1926 -- 22 October 1972) was a poet, and is a celebrated figure in New Zealand society.
Baxter was born in Dunedin to Archibald Baxter and Millicent Brown and grew up near Brighton. He was named after James Keir Hardie, a founder of the British Labour Party. His father had been a conscientious objector during the First World War. His mother had studied at the Presbyterian Ladies' College, Sydney, the University of Sydney and Newnham College.
By 1955 he had garnered a substantial legacy and could afford a comfortable house in Ngaio, Wellington. He left Epuni School early in 1956 to write and edit primary school bulletins for the Department of Education's School Publications Branch. This period is likely to have influenced his writing providing material for numerous attacks on bureaucracy. In 1957 Baxter took a course in Roman Catholicism, and his collection of poems In Fires of No Return, published in 1958, was influenced by his new faith. This was his first work to be published internationally, though English critics were largely nonplussed. His wife, a committed Anglican, was dismayed by his Catholicism, and they divorced in 1957. Through the late 50s and 60s Baxter visited the Southern Star Abbey a Cistercian monastery at Kopua near Central Hawke's Bay. He was received into the Catholic church in 1958.
In the same year, Baxter received a UNESCO stipend and began an extended journey through Asia, and especially India, where Rabindranath Tagore's university Shantiniketan was one of the inspirations for Baxter's later community at Jerusalem. Here he was reconciled with his wife and contracted dysentery. His writing after returning from India was more overtly critical of New Zealand society. In the 1960s he became a powerful and prolific writer of both poems and drama, and it was through his radio play Jack Winter's dream that he became internationally known.
The first half of the 1960s saw Baxter struggling to make ends meet on his postman's wage, having refused to take work as a schoolmaster. However, it was at this time that the collection of poems Pig Island Letters was published in which his writing found a new level of clarity. In 1966, Baxter took up the Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago.
In 1968 Baxter claimed that he had been instructed in a dream to 'Go to Jerusalem'. Jerusalem, New Zealand was a small Māori settlement (known by its Māori transliteration, Hiruharama) on the Whanganui River. He left his University position and a job composing catechetical material for the Catholic Education Board, with nothing but a bible. This was the culmination of a short period in which he struggled with family life and his vocation as a poet.
Baxter spent some time in Grafton, Auckland where he set up a centre for drug addicts, acting on the same principles as Alcoholics Anonymous. In 1969 he adopted the Māori version of his name, Hemi, and moved to Jerusalem. He lived a sparse existence and made frequent trips to the nearby cities where he worked with the poor and spoke out against what he perceived as a social order that sanctions poverty. His poems of this time have a conversational style but speak strongly of his social and political convictions.
The harsh deprivations Baxter adopted at this time took their toll on his health. By 1972 he was too ill to continue living at Jerusalem and moved to a commune near Auckland. On 22 October 1972 he suffered a coronary thrombosis in the street and died in a nearby house, aged 46. He was buried at Jerusalem on Māori land in front of "the Top House" where he had lived, in a ceremony combining Māori and Catholic traditions.
All rights are reserved on this video recording copyright Jim Clark 2013
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