Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
James Keir Baxter
James was born in Dunedin to Archibald Baxter and Millicent Brown. His father was a farmer and had been a conscientious objector during the First World War. His mother was an intellectual who had studied at Newham College .
After burning his hand on a stove on his first day at school and used this to represent the failure of institutional education. As a child he contrasted the social order represented by his maternal grandfather with the clan mentality of his Scottish father. He drew analogies between the Highland clan and the Maori Tribes.
He began writing poetry at the age of seven, he continued to write throughout his life however he became increasing involved in New Zealand politics. His early works show a sensitive and melancholy child, and described his adolescence as a "testing time".
In 1944, at age seventeen he joined the University of Otago and that year he published his first collection of poetry Beyond the Palisade which was well received critically and established him as a poet. His work at this time was influenced by his interest in Jungian psychology and by the works of Dylan Thomas. He was a member of the Wellington Group of writers with Louis Johnson, W.H. Oliver and Alistair Campbell. .
He failed to complete his course at Otago, and did various odd jobs including working as a postman and at an abattoir. In 1948 he married Jacqueline Sturm, and at about the same time his interest in religion culminated in his joining the Anglican church. He later enrolled at teachers' college and received a BA in 1956.
While at Otago university he began drinking heavily but in 1954 he joined Alcoholics Anonymous. By 1955 he had received a substantial legacy and could afford a comfortable house and in 1957 he took a course in Roman Catholicism. He collection of poems In Fires No Return published in 1958 was influenced by his new faith. This was his first collection to be published internationally, though English critics were generally unimpressed. He wife, a committed Anglican, was dismayed by his Catholicism, and they separated in 1957.
In 1958 he received a UNESCO stipend and began extended journey through Asia, and especially India. Here he was reconciled with his wife, but 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.
In the first half of the he was broke and dependent on a 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. This year (1966) he was offered and accepted the Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago.
In 1968 he recalled being told in a dream 'Go to Jerusalem'. 'Jerusalem' was a small Maori settlement known as Hiruharama on the Wanganui 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.
He spent some time in Auckland where he set up a centre for drug addicts acting on the same principals as Alcoholics Anonymous, however in 1969 he had adopted a Maori name (Hema) and taken residence in Jerusalem. He lived without property and made frequent trips to the nearby cities where he worked with the involuntarily poor and spoke against a social order that allows poverty. His poems of this time have a conversational style but speak strongly of his social and political convictions.
The harsh deprivations he forced on himself at this time took their toll on his health. By 1972 he was took ill to continue at Jerusalem. He moved to a commune near Auckland. On October 22, 1972 he suffered a coronary thrombosis and died aged 46.
He was buried on Maori land in a ceremony combining Maori and Catholic traditions.
His work has inspired, among others, Stephen Oliver .
- Beyond the Palisade, 1944
- Blow, Wind of Fruitfulness, 1948
- Hart Crane; a poem, 1948
- Recent Trends in New Zealand Poetry, 1951
- Poems Unpleasant, 1952 (with Louis Johnson and Anton Vogt)
- Rapunzel: a Fantasia for Six Voices, 1953
- The Fallen House, 1953
- The Fire and the Anvil, 1955
- Traveller’s Litany, 1955
- The Iron Breadboard: Studies in New Zealand Writing, 1957
- The Night Shift: Poems on Aspects of Love, 1957 (with Charles Doyle, Louis Johnson and Kendrick Smithyman)
- In Fires of No Return, 1958
- Chosen Poems, 1958
- Two Plays: The Wide Open Cage and Jack Winter's Dream, 1959
- Howrah Bridge and Other Poems, 1961
- Three Women and the Sea, 1961
- The Spots of the Leopard, 1962
- The Ballad of the Soap Powder Lock-Out, 1963
- A Selection of Poetry, 1964
- Pig Island Letters, 1966
- Aspects of Poetry in New Zealand, 1967
- The Lion Skin, 1967.
- The Man on the Horse, 1967
- The Bureaucrat, 1968 (prod.)
- The Rock Woman: Selected Poems, 1969
- Jerusalem Sonnets: Poems for Colin Durning, 1970
- The Flowering Cross, 1970
- The Devil and Mr Mulcahy, and The Band Rotunda, 1971 (plays)
- Jerusalem Daybook, 1971
- The Sore-Footed Man, and The Temptations of Oedipus, 1971 (plays)
- Ode to Auckland and Other Poems, 1972
- Autumn Testament, 1972 (edited by Paul Millar)
- Four God Songs, 1972
- Letter to Peter Olds, 1972
- Runes, 1973.
- Two Obscene Poems, 1974
- Barney Flanagan and Other Poems, read by James K. Baxter, 1973 (record)
- The Labyrinth: Some Uncollected Poems 1944-72, 1974.
- The Tree House and Other Poems for Children, 1974.
- The Bone Chanter, 1976 (ed. and introd. by J.E. Weir)
- The Holy Life and Death of Concrete Grady, 1976 (ed. and introd. by J.E. Weir)
- Baxter Basics, 1979
- Collected Poems, 1979 (edited by John Weir, reissued in 1995)
- Collected Plays, 1982.
- Selected Poems, 1982.
- Horse: a Novel, 1985.
- The Essential Baxter / selected and introduced by John Weir, 1993
- Cold Spring: Baxter's Unpublished Early Collection, 1996 (edited by Paul Millar)
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