Ian Wedde, poet, fiction writer, critic and art curator, was born in Blenheim in 1946. When he was 7 years old his family went overseas for 8 years, living first in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and then in England. They came back to New Zealand when Ian was 15 and he attended King’s College, Auckland, and then the University of Auckland, where he gained a MA in English.
From 1966 his poems began appearing regularly in journals, including Landfall and Freed, and he has now has published nine collections of poems including The Commonplace Odes, three novels, short stories, essays and criticism. He has edited several anthologies including The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (with Harvey McQueen) and The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry (1989).
Ian Wedde won the 1977 Book Award for Fiction for his first novel, Dick Seddon’s Great Dive and the 1978 NZ Book Award for Poetry for Spells for Coming Out (AUP). He was the Burns Fellow in 1972 and other recognition of his writing includes the Writers’ Bursary 1974, the Scholarship in Letters 1980, 1989 and the Victoria University writing fellowship 1984. He was a member of the Literary Fund Advisory Committee 1977–79 and of the Queen Elizabeth II Visual Arts Panel in 1990.
He has been heavily involved with the visual arts at Te Papa Tongarewa / The Museum of New Zealand since 1994.
from Three regrets and a hymn to beauty
The bottle of oil I was late sending John
This poem will mimic ordinary speech
Even though ordinary speech would never say
Does not know it is ordinary
Is that true? For a start, ‘ordinary speech’
Which we express using speech both ordinary and
Running across the South Island appear achievable.
Appeared above the domestic horizon of rooftops
And then it wasn’t. While it was there
Naturally, and when it was gone I was also not surprised
Speech can do that.
From west to east across the Southern Alps
Can materialise at the southern end of the street
Every day on my way to work, or somewhat earlier
Every day I know I have a choice.
Ordinary speech, even of ordinary speech
Matagauri, lichened rocks, and rabbit bones
Project-managed by human resource clerks,
That dispenses chocolate bars
When I mean no, and when I come home in the evening
Where the dun mountain appeared and
By ordinary speech’s failure to make something
I can choose to be reborn.
To trapeze around the end of a line of poetry
‘I can choose to be reborn’.
To make ordinary speech say things like that?
Every morning, and east every evening,
To be there above the roofline of Wareham House
Venue’ where bridal cars draw up festooned with ribbons,
Singing drunks. Later, the ‘happy couple’
Depart in another car encouraged by boastful cheers
If the brides have, for a moment at least,
Rise up behind the noisy balcony of
They have imagined their newly wedded lover
The high screes and hawks’ nests like bell-jars
Skin the thin papyrus of quasi-Biblical survival, his
In which the happy couple could live comfortably
In the ordinary speech of Discovery Channel.
Changes gears at the end of the street, as
Not yet ready for consummation, like an athlete
Record books, implausible in his own present, isolated,
Towards the bridal suite in
For sunset over the Cook Strait horizon, they may
The way their footprints in the damp sand are
They will feel diminished together by the
Above Mana Island – whose plain, altar-like bulk
Briefly, looming above the
Is good, and the language of ordinary speech
What the young lovers know matters more than anything
Of toitoi aflame as the sun sinks into
The prospect of resurrection fades, the memory of
Of Lazarus’s ‘gentle sister’ fades into the lovers’
When he hands over the keys to the Honeymoon Suite
Fill me with horrible rage and sadness, and a vengeful desire
And choke the life from it? Why, despite what I’ve learned
To drive straight from their love motel into the dark
Wake every morning of their lives with a refusal
Refusing to lie down? The deal was, you’d give me tips
Forgotten Ernest Tuveson, and in return I’d send you
Your part of the bargain, but half way through the
‘technocalypse’ and lost interest in
And I regret to say I forgot
That it’s taken me this long to confront
To refuse the comfort-stops of ordinary
All singing all dancing balcony
© Ian Wedde 2002