Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bernard Gadd (1935-2007)

Yes, I'm afraid it's another obituary. Bernard Gadd died on December 11th last year, but I only heard about it earlier this month (See the Poetry Society's memorial page here).

Siobhan Harvey and some others are organising a reading in his honour, which I unfortunately won't be able to attend, but here are the details if you'd like to go along:

Where: Manukau Research Library, 15 A Ronwood Avenue, Manukau City

When: Wednesday 20th February at 5.30 pm

For myself, I thought I'd just write a few memories down here.

I first met Bernie in 1998, at the Tauranga Poetry Festival, where he was launching a book of Haibun with Catherine Mair and Patricia Prime. I offered to commission a review of it in the pander, of which I was then one of the editors. The pander's basic schtick (at the time) was anonymous reviews -- like the oldtime Times Literary Supplement -- and the notice, when it came, was pretty scathing.

I got an indignant letter from Bernie, which I printed in its entirety in the next issue, and so peace was restored.

We didn't meet often, but that was the basic pattern of our literary relations. We were both editors of the literary magazine Spin at the same time, and agreed on little, but I think we always respected each other's integrity and right to a contrary opinion: "Opposition is true friendship," etc.

I printed poems by him in Spin, in brief (which actually led to a falling-out with previous editor Alan Loney), and was happy to find myself on the same poetry list as Bernie at HeadworX. Something about his maverick, bull-at-a-gate attitude obviously appealed to Mark Pirie (and to John Dolan too -- I found a most intriguing review of Debating Stones (2002) at the Glottis website).

His name seemed to crop up everywhere! On cross-cultural anthologies of stories and plays for schools, on old articles about Te Kooti in the Polynesian Journal, in poetry magazines ... When Michele Leggott, Murray Edmond and Alan Brunton released their anthology of sixties and seventies poetry, Big Smoke, in 2000, Bernie came back at them with a counter-anthology of all the poets he considered unjustly excluded: Real Fire (Hallard Press, 2002).

He was feisty and irrepressible. I'm glad that he achieved some of the things he really wanted towards the end of his life. Alistair Paterson featured him on the cover of Poetry NZ 34, and his work was increasingly being feted and recognised.

For my own part, when I look back over old reviews and notices, I feel he treated me with a great deal of forbearance and understanding. He must have thought me an awfully jumped-up young cub at times ... But here he is on When the Sea Goes Mad at Night(Pohutukawa Press, 1999/2000), a millennial anthology edited by Theresia Liemlienio Marshall:

Ross’s poems have the effect of the post-modern. Places evoke crisp images, memories, fragments of thought, literary recollections which, set side by side, successfully create imaginative poems crammed with surprises and interest.
and on Chantal's Book (2002):

This is a book of love poetry for Chantal, but very much of the 21st century, with a keen sense of the ambiguities and contraries of love, a questioning of its permanence and capacity to change the lovers, an almost edgy ambivalence. Here too is humour, satire, irony but not the jokey embarrassment at love and lust of, say, a Glover. A variety of poetic techniques are employed, often giving the page the appearance of a layered modernity. But the poetry is essentially accessible and direct.
You can't say much better than that, can you? I wish I had a similar sheaf of notices of his own books I could flourish, but I always shied away from reviewing him somehow. I wasn't sure that I really understood what he personally was getting at with his interest in haiku and haibun, and his revisionist views on New Zealand history seemed to demand a more informed commentator than myself.

I am glad I printed so many of his poems at various times, though. He was a tireless contributor to magazines and anthologies, and they give off an increasing lustre now that there won't be any more of them. There was one in the special "Smithymania" issue of brief [26 (2003) 86, and this one in a later issue [29 (2004) 45], which now sounds rather sad, in retrospect:


your sketch
comes from three days
of typhoon

you stand in a clear white space
your shorts show no hip nub
nor squinted navel

above a shoulder
is hatched shadow
or a hint of stanza
or window slats

our lines lie drifting
on table glass


Richard said...

I did one of those reviews - I would have said so - I would have preferred them signed (but done is done) - I never met Bernard Gadd - (I spoke to him briefly when I invited him to read poetry once when I was organising readers at one stage) I didn't entirely dismiss his poetry -my point was that he had great talent but in the review I say he needed to compress - this done he had a great poem as there were lines and much of the text that was powerful

And the poem here is a very good one.

His forte may have been the short poem (now one thing I (think) I know is that where one shortens etc the more essential it is to compress - a paradox perhaps - but I think it is true)

He did turn up everywhere - once I saw a letter to the( Herald or Listener) - on a non poetry subject and someone referred to him (cruelly I thought) as a "minor poet"...but he breasted it well I believe...

Sad there are so many deaths lately.

Anonymous said...

Jack Ross:

what stance do you take on the shameless traducing of Bernard by your 'friends' 'Maps' and 'Richard Taylor' on the 'Readingthemaps' blog? That pair go beyond criticism to flagrant abuse, and thereby demand a response from the literary community at large.

Mick Devlin
South Dunedin

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Mick,

I don't really like the tone of your comment -- it sounds bullying and aggressive, and is obviously designed to shut down anything resembling free discussion. If you have anything to add to the debate about Bernard Gadd's ideas, by all means do so, but don't try and peddle this stuff about "the literary community's" need to close ranks and present a common doctrine. I don't like party lines, and I especially don't like having them forced on me. I certainly don't agree with all the criticisms that have been made of Gadd, but at least they have the virtue of taking him seriously as a writer and a thinker, rather than this de mortuis nil nisi bonum crap. I think "the literary community at large" -- in NZ, at any rate -- could do with a good deal more open debate, not less.

Anonymous said...

Jack Ross:

I've given myself a week or so to calm down in the face of your wild threats and desperate denunciations. I'm now in a space where I can respond to you, without taking the bait wehich you've so obviously left out for me.

Quite frankly, Jack, you disgust me. You pose as a champion of literature, but at a time when the guiding light of our literature is subjected to utterly unacceptable attacks you refain from entering the field of battle! You and your friends at Bravado claim to be motoring down 'the fast lane of literatiure' - well, let me tell YOU, 'Jack', there are a lot of broken-down supermarket trolleys in the fast lane!

I hope you'll look carefully at publication options overseas, because your access to New Zealand journals and imprints is about to be drastically curtailed. I say that out of pity, not malice. I genuinely hope you can help yourself.

Mick Devlin
South Dunedin

Dr Jack Ross said...

I really don't want add fuel to the flames here, but I have to admit that you're beginning to sound a bit fictional to me, Mick ... Do you, in fact, exist? There's something a little disproportionate and over-the-top about your response which makes me wonder. Anyway, pax vobiscum ...