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Collected Poems 1943 -1995 by Kendrick Smithyman

a n   i n t r o d u c t i o n   b y 
P e t e r   S i m p s o n


Authorised version 

Kendrick Smithyman (1922-95) was one of New Zealand’s most prolific and accomplished poets with an active career extending over more than 50 years. The Collected Poems published here was prepared by the poet himself in the last years of his life. He made a definitive selection of the poems, both published and unpublished, that he wished to preserve, dated and subjected each poem to a final revision, and left the poems in thirteen manila folders which amount altogether to 1500 poems. There are many other poems, possibly numbering several hundreds, some previously published others not, which Smithyman decided not to preserve; this Collected Poems is not, therefore, a Complete Poems. Of the 1500 poems 1011 had been previously published, in either books or journals, 546 of them during his lifetime, and a further 465 in three posthumously published volumes: Atua Wera (1997), Imperial Vistas Family Fictions (2002) and Last Poems (2002). A further 548 poems have never been published in journal or book, either during his lifetime or after his death. The sheer bulk of the material made normal publication in hard copy impracticable, at least at this time in a country the size of New Zealand. Hence The Holloway Press’s decision to establish a website for the on-line publication of Smithyman’s Collected Poems in the form that he wished. This would not have been possible without the generous support of Auckland University Press—and in particular Elizabeth Caffin, Smithyman’s publisher—and Margaret Edgcumbe, the poet’s widow and literary executor.


Half a century of poem making

Smithyman’s first published poems appeared in the Auckland Teachers Training College journal Manuka in 1941 before his 20th birthday, but these are among the poems not included in the Collected Poems. The first poems that he wished to preserve date from 1943 when he was 21 and, at the time, a private in the New Zealand army. From that time on there was seldom a year (with one significant exception discussed below) when he wrote fewer than 20 poems that he wished to preserve, and often many more than 20. In 1951, for example, there are more than 60 poems in the Collected Poems (if named subsections of poems in multiple parts like ‘Pahia Revisited’ are included as separate poems).  The 1980s were another prolific period; in that decade he wrote at least 475 poems that he wished to preserve (much of the book-length Atua Wera—which contains nearly 300 separate parts—was also written during this decade), an average of nearly 50 poems per year. There was only one extended exception to his seemingly endless productivity. Between 1960 and 1965 Smithyman wrote no poems that he wished to preserve; this gap in production during his late thirties and early forties may have been partly occasioned by a change of job from school teaching to university teaching (which happened in 1963) or partly from intensive involvement in critical writing, for it was during these years that he wrote his book length study of New Zealand poetry, A Way of Saying (1965).


Journal publication

From 1944 when his first poems (apart from those in Manuka mentioned above) were published in the war-time journal New Zealand New Writing, Smithyman published regularly in journals both in New Zealand and overseas. In 1948, for example, he published 21 poems in periodicals, including Arena, Yearbook of the Arts in New Zealand, Landfall and Kiwi (all New Zealand publications), Circle (U.S.A.) and  Poetry Quarterly (U.K.). To offer some further randomly chosen examples from different stages of his career: in 1960 he had poems published in Landfall, New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, New Zealand Monthly Review, Mate, Image, and Arena (all New Zealand publications); in 1971 he had poems in Arena, Poetry Australia, Edge, Tuatara (Canada), Newsletter of the Scottish Literary Association, Southern Review (Australia), and Poetry New Zealand; in 1986 he published poems in The Dinosaur Review (Canada), Span, Rambling Jack, Untold, and Landfall. There were few New Zealand poetry publishing periodicals to which he did not contribute during his career, often with the generous impulse of helping out struggling or newly-established publications. He was anything but exclusive in his publishing practice. Smithyman was also one of the most frequently published New Zealand poets in overseas journals having work published in Australia, U.K., U.S.A., Canada, and India. He was especially diligent in sending his poems to overseas publications early in his career. Among the periodicals he contributed to in the 1940s, for example, were: Angry Penguins, Meanjin Papers, Southerly (Australia), Briarcliff Quarterly, Matrix, Circle, University of Kansas Quarterly (U.S.), and Poetry Quarterly, Commonwealth Poetry and Outposts (U.K.). In the 1950s he seemed to tire of this practice and concentrated on publishing in New Zealand, though from the 1970s he again published frequently in Australia, and occasionally in Canada, Scotland, the U.S. and India.


Book publication

Smithyman’s record of book publication was more irregular especially in the first half of his career. His first publication was the pamphlet-sized Seven Sonnets (Pelorus Press, 1946). His first large collection was The Blind Mountain (Caxton, 1950), though the poems included had all been written by early 1948. During the 1950s several proposed publications failed to eventuate (one was to have been called Men in Winter) and he published only a brief pamphlet, The Gay Trapeze (1955), and a quarter of a joint publication (with James K. Baxter, Louis Johnson and Charles Doyle), The Night Shift (1957). Inheritance (1962) was his next substantial collection; about half the contents were poems written in the early 1940s (prior to those in The Blind Mountain) while the other half consisted of poems written in the 1950s; the gap in time between the two halves of the book was not revealed at the time (a similar pattern occurred in some of Dylan Thomas’s books).

Smithyman’s next publication Flying to Palmerson (1968)—his first to be published by Auckland University Press who remained his publisher for the rest of his life—also had a complicated provenance. Readers who assumed the contents had been written since his last book in 1962 were mistaken, for between 1960 and 1965 Smithyman had written no verse (poems published during these years were invariably revisions of earlier pieces). He  resumed writing verse in 1966 but only a handful of poems in the 1968 book were recent compositions; the remainder were poems originally written in the 1950s.

From Earthquake Weather (1972) onwards Smithyman’s publication record became much more orderly, mainly due, one infers, from his having a reliable publisher who regularly accepted new proposals from him. Also the contents of books from this time on were mostly poems written since his previous book, though there were occasional instances of poems from much earlier being revised and revived.  In his three books published in the 1970s—Earthquake Weather was followed by The Seal in the Dolphin Pool (1974) and Dwarf With a Billiard Cue (1978)—there were many poems which related to his first extensive overseas travel in 1969 to the United Kingdom (he spent several months on sabbatical leave at the University of Leeds), Canada and the United States. There were also three books published in the 1980s, his most prolific decade as a writer: Stories About Wooden Keyboards (1985, which won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry), Are You Going to the Pictures? (1987) and Selected Poems, edited by Peter Simpson (1989). The last named book drew poems from all his previous publications and included a few previously unpublished pieces. Many of the poems included were substantially revised revealing an aspect of Smithyman’s practice which had not previously been apparent. As it turns out, revision was for Smithyman a continuous practice (he quoted with approval Valéry’s well-known statement—also cited by one of his 'mentors' W.H. Auden—that ‘a poem is never finished; it is only abandoned’), a circumstance demonstrated by the fact that poems included in Selected Poems (1989) were further revised in the 1990s for inclusion in the last version of his Collected Poems. Smithyman’s archives reveal that some of his poems—especially the earlier ones—were revised on numerous occasions over a period of some decades. Assumptions based on the chronological ordering of the poems in Collected Poems need to take cognisance of this fact.


Posthumous books

The last book Smithyman published in his lifetime was Auto/biographies (1993). After his death several complete manuscripts were found among his papers. Three of these have since been published, as mentioned above: the book-length poem Atua Wera (1997); a collection of family poems written in the early 1980s, Imperial Vistas, Family Fictions (2002), and Last Poems (2002) consisting of poems written between 1992 and 1995. Two further complete manuscripts included among his Collected Poems  are published here for the first time and break with the strict chronological ordering of the rest of the collection: these are Part V, Journal 69, which brings together all the poems relating to his overseas trip of that year, and Part VIII,  Festives People Places Pictures Book, the poetic record of a visit to Canada in 1982.

As discussed in some detail in my article ‘The Smithyman Papers: a Preliminary Description’ (originally published in brief and now available on the website of the new zealand electronic poetry centre: www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz), the Smithyman archives in The University of Auckland library reveal that Smithyman first contemplated a Collected Poems in about 1960 and typescripts of three versions prior to the present Collected Poems survive among his papers. For ease of reference I have designated these as CPA, CPB, CPC and CPD.


Versions of  Collected Poems                                                                                                      

CPA consists of a typescript of a total of 606 pages of poetry, held in three folios written (according to an authorial note) up to 25 October 1959. One curious feature is that the poems are arranged in no discernible order, apart from an alphabetical index of first lines in each of the three folios. The index of first lines is not followed in the ordering of the poems themselves; nor is the order chronological in terms of date of composition, nor is it based on the order of publication, nor on any other principle that can be discerned. The order appears to be entirely random. The total number of poems in CPA is 849. Some of the poems are marked for deletion both in the index and in the main text. Many have been altered by revision within the folios, sometimes substantially. A handwritten indication of where individual poems have been published is also included.

CPB consists of two folios of typescripts of poems containing a total of 402 pages. Titles are typed in red. Again as in CPA the indexes are alphabetical by first lines. The total number of poems in CPB is 478 as compared to 849 for CPA.  However, some poems were included in CPB that were not included in CPA. There is no indication of when CPB was put together. It is described in the typescript as ‘second run’ which suggests that CPA was the ‘first run’. CPB is considerably shorter than CPA, presumably as a result of a further culling by the poet of poems he did not wish to retain for a Collected Poems.

CPC consists of five folios. The order of the folios and the poems within them appears to be roughly chronological: C1 is 1940s, C2 is early 1950s, C3 is later 1950s, C4 is 1960s, C5 is 1970s/80s. Folio C1 begins with the heading Collected Poems in red type, followed by the dedication in pencil for M (presumably Mary Stanley, Smithyman’s first wife). Then comes this statement in pencil. ‘The alterations in this set need to be checked back to alphabetical file. These are later’. The ‘alphabetical file’ is presumably CPA and CPB. There is no index of tiles or first lines in these folios. Most of the poems are typed in blue with titles in red; however other pages are inserted which are typed in black, sometimes with titles in red, sometimes in black. Often these interpolated pages are of a smaller size than the pages in blue and red (A4 as distinct from foolscap). As with CPA and CPB there are frequent emendations in pen or pencil and also handwritten publication details at the bottom of the page. There is no indication of when this collection was put together, but it was probably started in the 1970s and added to progressively over the years.


The definitive Collected Poems

The version of Collected Poems published here (CPD) follows the chronological principle of CPC and each poem has a date appended, often (but not always) specific as to the day, month and year. The poems have been freshly typed though more recent poems are sometimes photocopied from the books in which they were first published. A great many of them (especially the earlier ones) include handwritten emendations, often minor (a word changed here and there) but sometimes quite major, with whole sections or stanzas being deleted. Except in the more dramatic instances we have made no attempt to document all these changes. The text given is the latest that Smithyman typed or amended and no effort is made to document the often complex textual history of individual poems.

A variorum edition of Smithyman’s poems would be a truly enormous undertaking. The intention here is different. It is to print the contents of Smithyman’s Collected Poems in exactly the form and order in which he left them at his death. The division of the corpus of work into separate parts also exactly follows Smithyman’s practice, each part corresponding to one of the dated manila folders he left in his study.

A note is provided for each poem. Primarily these record the publication history of the poems, as regards both journal and book publication, though anthology publication is not recorded except where this was a first publication—as, for example, with  the 1949 poem Waiwera,  first published in Robert Chapman & Jonathan Bennett, An Anthology of New Zealand Verse (Oxford University Press, 1956). First publication of a poem in the present edition is also indicated. Otherwise the Notes refer to historical, geographical, literary, mythological, personal and other references in the poems that readers may find useful.

The purpose of this website is to make available as widely as possible  the life’s work, in the form in which he wished it to be preserved, of one of New Zealand’s most prolific and fascinating poets. We are convinced that, although Smithyman’s work is not widely known beyond New Zealand, he will find many enthusiastic readers wherever good poetry in English is appreciated. The website also includes a chronology of Smithyman’s life and a section for the publication of articles or notes about his work. Readers are warmly invited to submit material to be considered for publication in this section.


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