The Commonplace Book: A Writer’s Journey through Quotations, by Elizabeth Smither (Auckland University Press, 2011), 192 pp., $34.99
‘Regarde. — Colette’s last word.’
This month’s classic review is from Landfall 47, September 1958.
The cause of the struggle which began in Taranaki in 1860 and which went on for ten years to rack the North Island, cripple the government and nearly split the colony, could never again be so simply defined. The argument broke out as soon as the war itself, and at times raged a good deal more fiercely. It was praised as a war of civilization and condemned as a war of greed. Some thought it a protest against injustice and others a wilful rebellion; the government was alternately attacked for having started it and denounced for not getting on with it. The extremists on both sides hoped it would be a war of extermination. It was all very confusing, and unfortunately the confusion was in no way checked by the end of hostilities. Ever since, the causes and origins of the Maori wars – the greatest disaster in the country’s short lifetime – have been pored over with a morbid fascination; in pamphlet and in newspaper, in a bulky collection of polemic literature which began in 1861 and ended (if indeed it has ended) as recently as 1947. They have been subjected to searching scrutinies by Select Committees, Royal Commissions, judges and journalists, even by an ex-Minister of France. About the only thing this important historical problem had not received, indeed, is investigation by a good historian.
Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English, edited by Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan (Auckland University Press, 2010) 304 pp., $49.99
In Wendt’s 1976 essay ‘Towards a New Oceania’, he wrote the following about Oceania, of which Polynesia is a part: ‘So vast, so fabulously varied a scatter of islands, nations, cultures, mythologies and myths, so dazzling a creature, Oceania deserves more than an attempt at mundane fact; only the imagination in free flight can hope – if not to contain her – to grasp some of her shape, plumage, and pain.’[i] It is hard to believe that this influential essay was written thirty-five years ago because it is just as relevant today as it was then, when a cultural renaissance was beginning to spread throughout Oceania. Wendt was one of the major catalysts for the arts during this time, and his influence in fostering and encouraging poets to create and publish was just as intense then as it is today.
Towards a Promised Land: On the life and art of Colin McCahon, by Gordon H. Brown (Auckland University Press, 2010) hardback, colour plates and illustrations, 216 pp., $79.99
Towards a Promised Land: On the Life and Art of Colin McCahon is of Colin McCahon’s ‘A Painting for Uncle Frank’, a late work (1980) containing (written in white paint over a black background) a quotation from the New English Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes, which includes the words ‘Those who refuse to hear the oracle speaking on earth find no escape.’ McCahon met Uncle Frank a number of times during the late 1930s and early 1940s at Toss Woollaston’s house in Motueka, and was fascinated by Uncle Frank’s ‘teaching aids’: his naïve paintings of simple Christian symbols, part of his itinerant preaching paraphernalia which he insisted on pinning to the walls of Toss Woollaston’s home whenever he was visiting, much to his nephew’s irritation.