Monday, July 04, 2011

Launching Leicester Kyle's Collected Poems

Leicester & his trademark fire-engine-red Land Rover
(Buller, 2000)

It's five years to the day since poet, priest and ecological activist Leicester Kyle (1937-2006) died in Christchurch hospital. I doubt that he'd recognise the city of his childhood if he could see it today. That former Christchurch is now a thing of the past ...

The main purpose of this post, though, is to advertise the Leicester Kyle website which has been set up by his literary executors (David Howard and myself) to make his writings more accessible in the future - both to those already familiar with his poetry, and those who've never heard of him or it. My model was Kendrick Smithyman's online Collected Poems 1943-1995 site, edited by Margaret Edcumbe and Peter Simpson, and designed expertly by Brian Flaherty.

There are eleven books (at present) listed under the name "Leicester Kyle" in the NZ National Library database, together with another earlier prose pamphlet indexed under "L. Kyle". My present intention is to put all of these up on the website. We'll be supplementing them with another eleven or so works which are not presently available in any public collection, though.

I certainly can't rival the snazzy production values and (very useful) search engine facilites on the Smithyman site. This will be another attempt on my part to make free space on the internet work for us as well as the corporate giants. What I've done, then, is to set up two linked websites:

  • The first site - Leicester Kyle - is basically confined to bibliographies and indexes. It aspires to provide complete listings of all primary and secondary material by and about Leicester. It gives details of each of his works, together with notes, and a table of contents hyperlinked to:
  • The second site - Leicester Kyle Texts - which will provide complete texts of each of the major books, together with a selection of the shorter poems.

The first site is as complete as I can make it at present, without further information and research. The second site is more of a foretaste at present, with only a few of his books up in full.

Basically, if you just want to read through one of them, you can go straight to Leicester Kyle Texts, and scroll down reading it page by page (I've also included a jpg illustration of each page, in order not to obscure any details of the original formatting. If you click on these pictures individually, they will enlarge).

If, on the other hand, you want to see the table of contents for a particular book, together with any notes or details from letters about it, you can go to the Leicester Kyle index site and click on the relevant link.

The list below will tell you which works are available already, and which ones will be going up over the next few months. I'll try to keep it continuously updated as each website grows:


[* = listed in the NZ National Library Network]

    Accessible online:

  1. Koroneho: Joyful News Out Of The New Found World (1996-2001) [A4: iv + 96 pp.]
    This work, a kind of Zukofskyan verse epic about the life and times of William Colenso ("Koroneho" in Maori) has never before now been published in full, although four extracts from it appeared in Alan Loney's magazine A Brief Description of the Whole World between 1997 and 1998.

  2. A Christmas Book (2000) [A5: 26 pp.]
    After moving to Millerton, an old mining town on the West Coast of the South Island, in 1998, Leicester developed the habit of producing a small book of poems every Christmas to send to his friends and family. This is the first of them, and one of the most charming and accessible of all of his works.

  3. * The Great Buller Coal Plateaux: A Sequence of Poems (2001) [A5: 31 pp.]
    Despite its unpretentious packaging, this little chapbook is one of Leicester's most important publications. It was an attempt to harness deliberately the propaganda power of poetry and the Arts in general against a large-scale commercial mining company. Of course we're constantly being told by every authority in sight that this is wrong, that Art should not be "political", that it's concerned with "higher things" etc. etc. But are there any higher things than the systematic despoliation of an untouched environment? The destruction of any joy or profit that any of us or our descendants can ever take from it in the future? This is an important book, and I'm glad to be able to make it accessible here to more people than were ever able to read it in Leicester's lifetime.

  4. Dun Huang Aesthetic Dance (2002) [A4: 10 pp.]
    One of Leicester's shorter poetry sequences. This was posted to me by him as a separate pamphlet, or else I might simply have included it in the "Shorter Poems" section of the site. It reflects his strong interest in syncretic religious traditions and in their bizarre and excessive linguistic registers.

  5. * Things to Do with Kerosene (2002) [A5: 34 pp.]
    Another one of his Christmas books, this one compiled from Aunt Daisy's depression-era household hints. One of the most entertaining books he ever put out, its publication was partly funded by the Buller Community Arts Council. It was launched by the Mayor, and got a great reception from the West Coast locals (by all accounts).

  6. * Panic Poems (2003) [A5: 39 pp.]
    Another Christmas book, this one concerned with the mechanics of his life in Millerton. His move there from Auckland was motivated (at least to some extent) by the death of his wife Miriel in 1998, so there must have been a lot of issues for him to work through. Others in similar circumstances may well find this book very helpful.

  7. Living at a Bad Address (2004) [A5: 38 pp.]
    The last of the full-scale Christmas books. This one is an anthology of shorter poems with brief introductions. Some of them are very moving to read, particularly those concerned with his daughter Anna's funeral.

  8. * Miller Creek (2004) [A5: 22 pp.]
    This is a beautiful gem-like little book of poems and pictures designed to draw attention to the ecological devastation caused by rivers poisoned by runoff from the mines. Joel Bolton's sketches are colourful and deft and the whole production deserves a wider audience, I think.

  9. Pamphlets & Ephemera
    This section includes the first and last of his Christmas letters and pamphlets, sent to various correspondents - principally Richard Taylor - between 1996 and 2005.

  10. Miscellaneous Prose
    A preliminary gathering of Leicester's reviews and critical introductions to the various publications he edited or contributed to in the last ten years of his life.

  11. Secondary Literature
    Articles, poems, reviews and tributes by a variety of people, among them Stu Bagby, Tony Chad, Scott Hamilton, David Howard, James Norcliffe and Richard Taylor. Again, this is a preliminary collection which will undoubtedly grow in the future.

  12. Bibliography
    As complete a listing as I can make at this point of his published works.

    Not yet available:

  1. * Options (1996-1997) [A4: 63 pp.]
    Leicester's first long narrative poem: "This set of four poems examines, with a wickedly satirical eye, a series of religious and mystical vocations. We have Evagrius, the fourth century ascetic; Jeremy Taylor, the seventeenth-century Anglo-Catholic Jeremiah ...; Fran, a thirteenth-century Franciscan mendicant transported to contemporary Northland; and finally Maria, the celebrated nineteenth-century dancing prophetess of Kaikohe." [Jack Ross, "Leicester H. Kyle: Prophet without Honour." Pander 6/7 (1999): 21 & 23.]

    [posted online Monday 19/12/11]

  2. * State Houses (1997) [A4: 43 pp.]
    This is a more personal piece: "interweaving tragic family history with the history of the first state houses in the Christchurch suburb of Riccarton. Leicester's 'dream-like recollection' of childhood 'is set against the ideology of which the state houses were part' (hence the Bauhaus epigraph, and the various diagrams and maps), but that 'progress is provided by a ritual house-blessing, an alternative ideology, which moves the family group from room to room, part to part, of reality'.” [Pander 6/7 (1999)]

    [posted online Monday 12/12/11]

  3. * A Voyge to New Zealand: The Log of Joseph Sowry, Translated and Made Better (1997) [A4: 117 pp.]
    This is an actual nineteenth-century emigrant's journal, which has been "teased ... into strange shapes on the page and in the imagination. It reads as an affectionate tribute to the spirit of our pioneers, a fin-de-siècle version of Curnow’s 'Landfall in Unknown Seas'.” [Pander 6/7 (1999)]

    [posted online Tuesday 20/12/11]

  4. Heteropholis (1998) [A4: 52 pp.]
    Some readers see this as Leicester's masterpiece. "It concerns a fallen angel, who has descended to earth in the form of a small green native gecko (species: Heteropholis gemmeus). This gecko has been caught by an apartment-dwelling Aucklander, and makes observations on his habits, on the weather (a subject of particular concern to angels, who are used to looking down), and on sundry other matters. ... It is, nevertheless, a profoundly serious and, indeed, partially autobiographical work." [Pander 6/7 (1999)]

    [posted online Friday 16/12/11]

  5. * A Machinery for Pain (1999) [A4: 37 pp.]
    This is his first book written entirely at Millerton: "a ... sequence on pain management, prompted by close personal experience" - the death of his wife Miriel, in particular.

    [posted online Monday 14/11/11]

  6. * A Safe House for a Man (2000) [A4: 86 pp.]
    The blurb copy I provided at the time read (in part) as follows: "The landscape of Leicester Kyle's long semi-narrative poem ... will be familiar to most of us: separation, self-analysis, acknowledgment of loss. There's little that's recondite or difficult about this poetry, and yet the craft and subtle intelligence of its author come through in every line. The title poem is accompanied by two others: The Araneidea - an oddly disturbing account of how to 'make good-looking, sightly cabinet objects' from live spiders; and Threnos - a moving elegy for the poet's wife Miriel."

    [posted online Saturday 10/12/11]

  7. * Five Anzac Liturgies (2000) [A4: 45 pp.]
    Calum Gilmour, whose Polygraphia Press published both this and A Safe House for a Man, wrote of it at the time: "This set of poems contains five pieces addressed to the South Island towns of Hawarden, Waikari, Rotherham, Culverden and Waiau respectively. Each poem is based round the theme of Anzac Day and how it affects each place addressed. The focus is on Anzac, on the people involved, on the significance of the remembrance in each place."

    [posted online Tuesday 29/11/11]

  8. King of Bliss (2002) [A4: 46 pp.]
    This book contains Leicester's thoughts on the subject of psychoanalysis, prompted by his experience of various therapies for clinical depression which he underwent while still living in Auckland in the 90s.

    [posted online Thursday 1/12/11]

  9. A Wedding in Tintown (2002) [A4: 36 pp.]
    This is a portrait of a place, revealed through a blow-by-blow account of a wedding celebration. Leicester wrote to me about it: "The wedding is one I took here in Millerton, and this is a faithful account of its proceeding; I've set it in Tintown, a now vanished mining village on the Plateau ... My aim was to describe the events, with little overt interpretation, and by means of a low tone to - by contrast - heighten and clarify the colours of the day. ... My hope is that the peculiar culture of the occasion just might make it interesting enough to be a good read."

    [posted online Tuesday 15/11/11]

  10. 8 Great O’s (2003) [A4: 46 pp.]
    This is a set of interlinked pieces connected by themes of religion and ritual. Leicester's preface specifies that the main text "is an adaptation of the last page of a pious biography, ‘The Life of St. Mary tbe Harlot’, written by her uncle, Ephraem, deacon of Edessa, around the year 370. ‘The Word' is a family story. 'The Great 0 's' is a term taken from the Advent liturgy."

    [posted online Friday 18/11/11]

  11. Anogramma (2005) [A4: 64 pp.]
    An amusing and lighthearted piece of autobiography, which records Leicester's first job after leaving school: as a "horticultural apprentice at the Christchurch Botanical Gardens ... All apprentices were required to attend monthly meetings of the Christchurch Botanical Gardens Horticultural Apprentices Mutual Improvement Society" and much of the text is devoted to an account of these meetings, together with some details of the 50 year reunion of the apprentices.

    [posted online Saturday 10/12/11]

  12. * Breaker: A Progress of the Sea (2005) [A5: 78 pp.]
    Leicester's last book, and one of his most ambitious, "suggested by the Catalogue of Armed Forces in the second book of the Iliad. I read it in Pope's translation, and was fascinated by the whole idea and the poetry of it. The fascination led to a desire to do something of the kind myself and, casting about for a local battle, I hit on the idea of our self-defence against our eroding coast." says Leicester in his preface. The illustrations, by John Crawford, are very fine.

    [posted online Sunday 20/11/11]

  13. Collected Shorter Poems: 1 (1983-1998) [A4: 428 poems & sequences / 568 pp.]
    This is a list of all the poems and sequences included in the first of the the two large "Collected Poems" fileboxes which David and I inherited from Leicester's estate, and which contained (in approximate chronological order) all of the individual poems (outside published books) he wished to preserve. I'll be putting up a bare selection of these poems to start with - more over time, if demand warrants it.

  14. Selected Shorter Poems: 2 (1998-2006) [A4: 318 poems & sequences / 387 pp.]
    This includes all of the poems written after Leicester's move to the West Coast, mostly contained in the second of the the two large "Collected Poems" fileboxes. I'll be putting up rather more of these poems than the ones in the first box, as befits their superior quality (in my opinion, at any rate).

  15. Five Millerton Sequences [A5: viii + 48 pp.]
    This is a preliminary selection from the Millerton poems, chosen in consultation with David Howard, and intended both as an advertisement for this site and (hopefully) to revive some interest in Leicester in general. Few people have ever had the chance to read any of these poems before, after all. I hope you enjoy them. The book will be launched sometime next year - details to be announced on this blog (and hopefully elsewhere as well).

    [posted online Friday 16/12/11]

  16. Prose Fiction
    • * I Got Me Flowers: Letters to a Psychiatrist [A5: 56 pp.]
    Leicester began as a prose writer, in the 1970s, and had some success with this and some of his other stories before switching to poetry in the early 1990s. This "excessively Jungian" (as Leicester himself described it) novella from the mid-70s is the finest of his extant works of fiction - or at any rate that was my impression when I read through them all while staying with Leicester at Millerton in 1998.

    [posted online Sunday 13/11/11]

  17. Chronology
    As complete a listing as I can make of the known events and dates of Leicester's life.

    [posted online Saturday 12/11/11]

So there you go. I know it's a bit crazy to entrust all this material to the tender mercies of blogspot, but you can be sure that I'll be keeping sedulous backups and printouts of everything as well.

The view from Leicester's verandah at Millerton
[photographs: Jack Ross (2000)]


Richard said...

This is a wonderful thing you have done here Jack. You have so much energy and or good working habits!

I think Leicester did some really interesting and sometimes quite magical poetry and books...

He had a subtle style also. Not "difficult" as one might think of Smithyman but not simplistic at all.

In his own way one of NZ's best poets. Innovative, especially considering he was writing in his 40s to mid 60s etc

Through Michelle Leggott (her poems and a work on LZ's called '80 Flowers') and Zukofsky he came to be fascinated by "Bottom" by Zukofsky. Also the letters between Lorine Neidecker and LZ. Also he came to love Ashbery through me!

In particular he liked 'Spring Day' by John Ashbery in his "The Double Dream of Spring".

Richard said...

And he had a very high opinion of you and David Howard.

He was interested in poetry and poets everywhere..

I will send more to you for the Blog about him...