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Kendrick Smithyman


about Kendrick Smithyman

 

The Smithyman Papers: A Preliminary Description

Peter Simpson

Originally published in brief 26 (January 2003): 11-18

 

In 1997, a couple of years after Kendrick Smithyman’s death, his widow Margaret Edgcumbe, like Kendrick formerly a Senior Tutor in the English Department at the University of Auckland, deposited a large quantity of his papers in the Special Collections section of the University of Auckland Library. While Margaret still retains some of Kendrick’s books, journals, papers and manuscripts—notably the large Collected Poems (CPD) he put together in his last few years that I discuss below—the Library deposit is extensive and contains material of great significance for anyone with an interest in Smithyman’s work or in other aspects of New Zealand literature that the papers relate to.

I have had the opportunity so far to spend limited time with the papers, but long enough to be able to undertake here a preliminary description of their contents and to suggest some of the kinds of interest they may have to students and scholars.

There are three kinds of material in the deposit:

A. Collected Poems of various sorts and dates

B. Manuscripts and typescripts of poems by Smithyman, including multiple variant versions

C. Inwards Correspondence: letters to Smithyman from friends, colleagues and fellow writers

I will offer here a brief account of each category in turn.

A. Collected Poems

Kendrick Smithyman [KS] published thirteen books of verse in his lifetime, from Seven Sonnets (Pelorus Press, 1946) to Auto/biographies (AUP, 1993), and four more have been published since his death: Tomarata (Holloway Press, 1996), Atua Wera (AUP, 1997), Last Poems (Holloway Press, 2002) and Imperial Vistas Family Fictions (AUP, 2002). He never published a Collected Poems; indeed the only book in which any of his work was reprinted (apart from anthologies) was Selected Poems, ed. Peter Simpson (AUP, 1989). Nevertheless, the evidence of the Smithyman Papers is that KS first worked on compiling a Collected Poems around 1960 and that he returned to the task on several other occasions during the last three decades of his life. For ease of reference I will refer to these compilations as CPA, CPB, CPC and CPD.

Collected Poems A (CPA)

CPA consists of 606 pages of poetry, held in three folios to be referred to as A1, A2 and A3, and includes poems (according to a note by KS in A3) written up to 25 October 1959. It may be of relevance to note that Smithyman apparently wrote no new poetry between 1960 and 1965. In Selected Poems (1989), the contents were divided by Smithyman into five chronological sections, namely 1943 - 50, 1951 - 59, 1966 - 70, 1971- 80, 1981- 86. Note that there is a gap between 1960 and 1965. It is probable, then, that assembling CPA was a task performed during these fallow years; fallow for poetry, that is, for it was during these years that KS wrote A Way of Saying: A Study of New Zealand Poetry (1965). It was also during this period that he changed jobs (in 1963) from primary school teacher to Senior Tutor at the University of Auckland.

Folio A1 (a brown Brampton’s Patent Instantaneous Binder) contains 250 numbered pages (390 poems, including multiples for longer poems in sections) preceded by an alphabetical list of first lines. The first entry reads:

A begging sonnet smouldering on a hand 15

indicating that the poem in question is found on page 15. Most of the first lines (including this one) have a penciled line ruled through them, clearly some form of cataloguing device. The few first lines which aren’t ruled through in this manner generally have the word delete written in pencil beside them, and are usually so marked also in the body of the folio. Clearly, having assembled the collection at some later date KS went through it again marking some poems for deletion, while ‘ruling in’ the majority of poems. It should be noted that none of KS’s putative ‘Collected’ Poems were ‘Complete’; he wrote far more than he wished to preserve permanently, and the evidence is that he often changed his mind between one version of his Collected Poems and the next as to which poems to include and exclude.

Folio A2 is green in colour and again consists of precisely 250 pages (339 poems) numbered from pp. 251-500. As with A1 the poems are preceded with an alphabetical list of first lines plus a page number, and are marked with ruled lines and ‘delete’ suggestions.

Folio A3 is also green and is headed ‘Index to third folio to 25 October 1959’. Like the others it has an alphabetical list of first lines, plus the texts of poems on pages numbered 501 to 606 (120 poems). Again, inclusions and deletions are marked as above.

Since the folios are organised in identical fashion it is possible to generalise about the contents of all three. One curious feature is that the poems are arranged in no discernible order. 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 any other principle that can be discerned. The order appears to be entirely random. Of course it is easy enough to find any individual poem through the indexes of first lines and associated page numbers. Note that the index of first lines in each of the three folios runs from A to Z; that is, there are three separate A-Z indexes. Precisely what this signifies is unclear. Perhaps it indicates that A1 represented KS’s ‘first cut’, A2 his ‘second cut’ and A3 his ‘third cut’. The total number of poems in CPA is 849.

The texts of the poems in the three folios are frequently annotated in various ways:

(i) Publication details are often given by writing the name of the journal or book in which the poem has been published at the bottom of the page. Thus the poem ‘A Thing Remembered’, for example, has Image, Inheritance, Commonwealth Poems of Today, and 20th Century New Zealand Poetry written beneath it, sometimes in ink, sometimes pencil, indicating (in this instance) a first appearance in a journal (Image), subsequent inclusion in a book by KS (Inheritance) and two anthologies in which the poem was published. The variations in these markings indicate that KS kept it updated as poems were published or republished.

(ii) Revisions: many poems have changes in pencil or ink marked on the typescripts, or in some cases completely new versions of stanzas or poems are written out on the verso of the preceding page. For example, line 16 from ‘A Thing Remembered’ appears as:

I hear whistle sharply [as] [where] while [the] these days cram

where the words in square brackets are crossed out and replaced by handwritten changes. In Inheritance this line appears as:

I hear whistle sharply while these days cram…

This is identical to the amended version in CPA, which suggests that in some instances KS used the folio texts to make or record revisions which were subsequently incorporated into published versions.

 

Collected Poems B (CPB)
 

CPB consists of two black folios: Folio B1 contains pages 1-250, while Folio B2 contains pages 251-402.

B1 is headed : ‘Index for 250 sheets, second run, with titles in red’; it contains 362 poems.

B2 is headed: ‘Index, sheets 251-402, second run’; it contains 116 poems

Again as in CPA the indexes are alphabetical by first lines.

If CPB is the ‘second run’, presumably CPA is the ‘first run’. B is considerably shorter than A, presumably as a result of a further culling by the poet of poems he did not wish to keep for a Collected Poems. 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.

Collected Poems C (CPC)

 
CPC consists of five folios: C1 is green, C2 is light green, C3 is green, C4 is red, C5 is green. 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 for M in pencil. Then comes this statement in pencil. ‘The alterations in this set need to be checked back to alphabetical file. These are later’. Elsewhere on the page in red ink is the note: ‘X = copy taken off to go to Press’

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.

C1 includes poems from ‘Song of Acceptance’ to ‘After Sickness’
C2 includes poems from ‘Of Death by Water’ (1952) to ‘No Penny for the Guy’ (1951)
C3 includes poems from ‘A Birthday Garland’ (1953) to ‘Blue Heron’
C4 includes poems from ‘Fifth Month’ (1968) to ‘Tutu: or how the devil came to Kurow’
C5 includes poems from ‘Farmers’ (1972) to ‘Pivoting’ (1985)

Note: Dates in brackets above are of the first publication date of these poems; ‘A Birthday Garland’ is unpublished but is dated 1953 in CPD; the undated poems are not included in CPD.

Collected Poems D (CPD)


For the sake of completeness reference should also be made to Collected Poems D which is not part of the library deposit but which represents KS’s final version of his Collected Poems probably compiled during the early 1990s. The evidence for this dating is that some of the poems incorporate changes made subsequent to the Selected Poems of 1989. CPD consists of 13 manila folders or folios of poems 9 of which are shorter poems from a period of years indicated on the outside of the folder and ranging from 1943-50 (I) to 1990-95 (XII). In addition to these are four complete unpublished manuscripts, namely Journal 69 (the poems written by KS on his visit to the UK and other places in 1969), Festives People Places Pictures Book (poems which record a visit to Canada in 1982), Imperial Vistas Family Fictions (AUP, 2002) and Atua Wera (AUP 1997). The last two have been published posthumously; the others remain unpublished. The immense scale of the enterprise can be indicated by the following table:

Volume
  

Dates

Poems

Published

Unpublished

Total lines

I

1943-50

210

101

109

5546

II

1951-55

143

62

81

5060

III

1956-59

116

71

45

4467

IV

1966-69

58

34

24

2025

V

Journal 69

94

53

41

3457

VI

1970-79

131

78

53

5780

VII

1980-84

66

26

40

2300

VIII

FPPPB 81-2

80

23

57

3003

IX

IVFF 83-84

134

134

0

3194

X

1985-87

103

60

55

4024

XI

1988-89

92

53

39

2494

XII

1990-95

38

37

1

889

XIII

AW

294

294

0

5829

Totals

 

1552

1011

541

48068

Notes:

  1. Poems in multiple parts are counted as 1 poem except where individual sections are separately titled.

  2. Numbers of lines are approximate only and vary according to how half lines, stepped lines and run-overs are counted.

  3. For a detailed chronology, an index of titles and an alphabetical list of first lines for CPD, see the Smithyman author page 

  4. The Holloway Press (University of Auckland) plans to begin publishing a multi-volumed edition of this version of the Collected Poems (the precise number of volumes is still to be established) in 2003.

B. Manuscripts and Typescripts


There are thirteen box files in which Smithyman has gathered manuscripts and typescripts including multiple variant versions of all poems written by him published and unpublished. The material in these box files is arranged alphabetically by order of first lines. The scale of the undertaking is illustrated by the fact that in the first box file, covering poems with first lines beginning from aa to at, there are 178 separate titles, most with multiple versions. Each file (held by a paper clip) consists of several versions of a poem arranged in reverse chronological sequence with the most recent on the top. Margaret Edgcumbe has provided an Index to the contents of each volume. For an example of a typical file see the 5 versions of the poem ‘Brandsutt Stone, Inverurie’ in the ‘Opening the Archive’ section of the Smithyman author page in the new zealand electronic poetry centre:

One way of indicating something of the character of this extraordinary assemblage is to take as an example a single file and to indicate in detail the differences between the various versions.

I have chosen more or less at random the poem ‘The Bay 1942’, first published in Flying to Palmerston (1968) and reprinted (with some changes) in Selected Poems (1989). But, as the material assembled in the file indicates, this poem originally dates from 1943. Here in chronological order are the various versions of the first stanza of the poem. For the sake of comparison I have also included in full the two published versions of the poem (1968, 1989), and the latest version (1990s).

Note: Words in square brackets are crossed out in the typescript and replaced by alterations in pen or pencil.

(i) ‘Meditation on the Bay’

In a pencil note KS writes: ‘This dates from 1943; this page was typed then, at Nelson’. The poem is of three stanzas, each of nine lines:

The first stanza reads:

Across [the] that [dead water] deadwater
distance is not so far.
Voyage [in shallow light] its shallows late
an aspect that is later
permanent and right
like the loveliest twist of lip
year’s emblem that will step
against coercive rule

At the bottom of the page a revised version of the stanza, incorporating the alterations above but going well beyond them, is written out in pencil:

Across that deadwater
distant is not so far.
Ferry its shallows late;
the further shore sets pure
its prospect, simple nature
not dressed up, but right.
Through harbour mouth watch step
by step advancing


(ii) ‘Meditation, the Bay 1942’

Across that deadwater
distant is not so far.
Ferry its shallow flat;
the shore [further] beyond sets pure
a prospect, simple nature
not tricked out, but right
Upharbour I watch step
by step advance a prancing ship
from anti-sub patrol.


(iii) ‘ [Meditation], The Bay 1942’
pencil note: retyped Jan ’59

Across that deadwater
distant is not so far.
Ferry its shallow [late] flat;
the further shore sets pure
[its] a prospect, simple nature
[not dressed up, but right]
not tricked out, but right
[Through harbour mouth watch step]
Upharbour I watch step
by step advance a [dancing] prancing ship
from anti-sub patrol.

 
(iv) ‘The Bay 1942’, Flying to Palmerston, 1968

Across that deadwater
distant is not so far.
Ferry its shallow flat;
the shore beyond sets pure
a prospect, simple nature
not tricked out, but right.
Upharbour I watch step
by step advance a prancing ship
from anti-sub patrol.

One century gone, each island
knows what is meant by fear
is more than agitating
of tired nerves when cruder
cause lies north. I stand
as other men, debating
what has outrun argument.
Violent in his ascendant
Mars, climbing, mocks a fool.

We pay for folly now
in our arms’ ignominy
where few have a vocation,
but do their stint of duty.
The latest highlands glow
in detail; there, expressing
no regret for our condition,
they yield, a murky easing
in time we cannot kill.


(v) Red title, blue text [1970s?]

Across [that] your deadwater
distant is not so far.
Ferry its shallow flat;
one [the] shore beyond [sets pure] makes clear
a prospect, simple nature
not tricked out, but right.
Upharbour I watch step
by step advance a prancing ship
from anti-sub patrol.


(vi) Red title, blue text [1970s?]

Across your deadwater
distant is not so far.
Ferry its shallow flat;
one shore beyond makes clear
a prospect, simple nature
not tricked out, but right.
Upharbour I watch step
by step advance a prancing ship
from anti-sub patrol.


(vii) ‘The Bay 1942’, Selected Poems, 1989

Across your deadwater
distant is not so far.
Ferry its shallow flat;
one shore beyond makes clear
a prospect, simple nature
not tricked out, but right.
Upharbour, I watch step
by step advance a prim taut ship
from anti-sub patrol.

One century gone each island
knows what is meant by fear
is more than agitating
of tired nerves when cruder
cause lies north. I stand
as other men, debating
what has outrun argument.
Violent in his ascendant
Mars, climbing, mocks a fool.

We pay for folly now
in our arms’ ignominy
where few have a vocation,
but do their stint of duty.
The latest highlands glow
in detail; slow, expressing
no regret for our condition
they yield, a murky easing
in time we cannot kill.


(viii) ‘The Bay, 1942’ [1990s]

Across your deadwater
distant is not so far.
Ferry [its] that shallow flat;
one shore beyond makes clear
a prospect, simple nature
not tricked out, [but] just right.
Upharbour I watch step
by step advance a prim taut ship
from anti-sub patrol.

One century gone each island
[knows] agrees what is meant by fear
is more than agitating
of tired nerves. [when] A cruder
cause lies north. I stand
as other men, debating
what has outrun argument.
Violent in his ascendant
Mars, climbing, mocks a fool.

We pay for folly now
in [our] small arms’ ignominy
where few [have a] find their vocation,
[but do their] sweat out our stint of duty.
The latest highlands glow
in detail; slow, expressing
no regret for [our] your condition
they yield, a murky easing
in time we cannot kill.
                   ….43


In summary, KS returned to this poem on at least 8 occasions. He originally drafted it in 1943 as ‘Meditation on the Bay’; sometime later he changed the title to ‘Meditation, The Bay 1942’ and made other small changes. He retyped the poem in 1959 presumably for inclusion in CPA [it was left out of CPB]. In 1968 it was published for the first time in Flying to Palmerston under the title (which it has since retained) ‘The Bay, 1942’. Subsequent to 1968 he typed it out twice more (presumably for inclusion in CPC) making further minor changes. It was then included in Selected Poems (1989) with still further small changes. Subsequent to 1989, presumably when preparing CPD, he made yet further changes to all three stanzas.

This small example gives an indication of the unimaginable complexity of producing a Variorum edition of Smithyman’s poems, and shows his willingness to work on the text of a poem again and again over a period of up to fifty years. This particular poem was altered in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. It perfectly demonstrates Smithyman’s conviction (quoting Paul Valéry) that ‘poems are never finished; they are only abandoned’.` As KS told Macdonald Jackson after quoting this statement: ‘I hate abandoning anything. Wasn’t it Auden who told someone, "Never throw anything away. It may come in handy’? I keep going back and having another dig at things to see whether they can’t be made more respectable.’

Many other important discoveries will no doubt be made as the inestimable wealth of these box folders is explored.

C. Inwards Correspondence

 
Hundreds of letters written to Smithyman from the 1940s to the 1990s are also part of the library deposit. They are held in several alphabetically arranged folders with an index to each folder giving the date of each letter (where known) by Margaret Edgcumbe. Many of these letters are from friends, colleagues, editors and fellow writers. A selected list of some of the more substantial or significant collections of letters with the number of items given in brackets is as follows:

(i) Writers

James K. Baxter (15), Bruce Beaver (11), Charles Brasch (69), Allen Curnow (5), Robert Chapman (13), Dan Davin (13), Basil Dowling (2), Mike (Charles) Doyle (11), Maurice Duggan (7), Lauris Edmond (4), Timothy Findlay (Canada) (4), Roderick Finlayson (1), Anne French (3), Denis Glover (7), 1), Max Harris (2), Louis Johnson (85), M.K. Joseph (16), Michael King (25), E.H. McCormick (5), R.A.K. Mason (2), Bill Manhire (4), W.H. Oliver (12), W.H. Pearson (6), Frank Sargeson (14), Maurice Shadbolt (3), Helen Shaw (4), Keith Sinclair (38), Elizabeth Smither (30), C.K. Stead (24), Ian Wedde (18), Philip Wilson (84). There are also single letters from Antony Alpers, J.C. Beaglehole, Peter Bland, Alan Brunton, John Caselberg, James Dickey (U.S.) A.R.D. Fairburn, Roderick Finlayson, Russell Haley, Geoffrey Hill (U.K.), M.H.Holcroft and Kevin Ireland.

(ii) Editors

Fergus Barrowman (4), Jonathan Bennett (7), Elizabeth Caffin (8), Robin Dudding (14), Simon Garrett (9), Noel Hoggard (10), Eric Lee-Johnson (4), Dennis McEldowney (10), Frank McKay (11), Robert Thompson (19), Mark Williams (19)

(iii) Friends and colleagues

David Anido (15), Judith Binney (9), Frank Birbalsingh (10), R.W. Burchfield (28), Thomas Crawford (24), Riemke Ensing (7), Roly Frean (7), Greg Gatenby (14), Andrew Gurr (49), A.N. Jeffares (23), Bob Lowry (6), Harry Orsman (17), Gary Waller (15)

The letters from Baxter, Brasch, Davin, Duggan, Johnson, Chapman, Sargeson, Sinclair, Smither, Stead, and Wilson are perhaps of particular interest, but there are many interesting details throughout the correspondence. For instance (to choose but one example), the American poet James Dickey recalls having encountered a double sonnet published by Smithyman in Angry Penguins during the second world war which directly influenced his own practice.

Any consideration of Smithyman’s writing in future will have to take account of the riches embedded in this marvelous deposit of literary papers.


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Last updated 23 March, 2003