Research notes: Pig Island Letters

Overhang cover: Poetry Book Society Recommendation: “The publication of In Fires of No Return (1958), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, established James Baxter as the most promising of the younger New Zealand poets. This position he consolidated with Howrah Bridge and Other Poems (1961). Of that Collection, in his own words, ‘the first part was written some time ago by a man who thought he was a New Zealander; the second part lately, in the past two or three years, by a man who had become, almost unawares, a member of a bigger, rougher family. The poems written in India mark this change.’ In Pig Island Letters his concern is again with his experience of his own country, but that experience and that country are now perceived in wider, more symbolic terms. These poems move with a muscular energy and authority only to be seen in the work of a poet who has found his subject and his voice.

Acknowledgements: “The term ‘Pig Island’ is used to refer to the South Island in New Zealand vernacular, very likely on account of the wild pigs found there; but in the title of this book it is used more generally, with a satirical nuance, to refer to the whole country. In the title sequence the following words of Maori derivation are used: ‘kea‘– a mountain parrot; ‘kumara‘–sweet potato; ‘marae‘ — Maori tribal meeting ground; ‘moa”– a giant extinct wingless bird; ‘paua’– a rock shellfish; ‘puha’ — sowthistle, frequently used by Maoris as a vegetable. The ‘fish of Maui’ is the North Island of New Zealand, hooked and hauled up from the sea bottom by the legendary hero of that name. The Hunn Report is a negative and officious statement on Maori social conditions, which some Maori leaders have ironically called their Bible. Remuera, referred to by way of contrast, is a suburb of the city of Auckland, socialite by reputation. A ‘wirinun’ is an Australian tribal magician. The word ‘steam’ used in the ‘The Ballad of Grady’s Dream’ is New Zealand drunks’ slang for methylated spirits: and ‘maimai’ in ‘Prayer for a Duck-shooting Uncle’ is a word of Maori derivation by which New Zealand duck-shooters refer to the shelter of green branches constructed by the hunters for camouflage.


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