Auckland Writers and Their Region (1)

[Auckland Railway Station (1930s)]

Massey University:

Lecture 1:


Anthology texts to read:

  • Charles Brasch: 'A View of Rangitoto'
  • A. R. D. Fairburn: 'Back Street' (from Dominion)
  • A. R. D. Fairburn: 'Elements' (from Dominion)
  • A. R. D. Fairburn: 'The Cave'
  • A. R. D. Fairburn: 'The Estuary'
  • A. R. D. Fairburn: 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci'
  • A. R. D. Fairburn: 'Empty House'
  • R. A. K. Mason: 'Old Memories of Earth'
  • R. A. K. Mason: 'Wayfarers'


  1. Brasch
  2. Fairburn
  3. Mason
  4. Curnow

[Photograph: Jack Ross]

from Indirections

… It was nine months before I returned to England [in 1931]. All that time I lived half in the waiting future, and yet no less fully in the present. First I went to stay with James [Bertram] and his family in Auckland. They were living in a new street in Devonport, looking across the channel to the long symmetrical lines of Rangitoto. Pohutukawas grew at the water’s edge beneath the low cliff of yellow clay; when we sat by the fire on still nights we could hear the sea among the rocks. On sunny mornings we swam briefly, although it was the end of May; we walked along the rocks and beaches to Takapuna, seeing as far away as the Hen and Chickens when it was clear, and blue Coromandel, smoke turned to stone.

Blue of sea and sky and distance, and white vaporous cloud. Light in Auckland dominates, penetrates, suffuses, as nowhere else in New Zealand; it envelops earth and trees, buildings, people, in a liquid air which at any moment might dissolve them into itself. Land and its solids are there only a condition, changing all the time, of water, air, light. …

- Charles Brasch

from An Angel at My Table

... That afternoon, instead of resting and reading in the hut, following the example of Mr Sargeson’s routine, I wandered the streets of Takapuna. I sat on the beach looking out to Rangitoto, the island everyone in Auckland claimed as theirs, speaking of its perfect shape viewed from all directions as if they had helped to design and form it. ‘See, there’s Rangitoto,’ they said. I thought, so this is the island in Charles Brasch’s poem,

Harshness of gorse darkens the yellow cliff-edge,
And scarlet-flowered trees lean out to drop
Their shadows on the bay below.

I had little experience of many people; I knew them only in my heart; I found endearing this eagerness of Aucklanders to claim Rangitoto.

- Janet Frame

[Photograph: NZ Book Council]

Charles Brasch


Born into a wealthy mercantile family in Dunedin, Charles Brasch was educated at Waitaki Boys High, then New Zealand’s best-known public school, and subsequently went on to study (and pursue his own writing) at Oxford. On his return to New Zealand in 1931, he continued to publish poetry, and was an important contributor to Phoenix, Auckland University’s new literary quarterly. After a confrontation with his father over his refusal to work in the family business, he returned to live in Europe, where he stayed till the end of the Second World War (with brief visits home).

His first book of poems, The Land and the People, was published in 1939 by the Caxton Press. The alliances he had formed with Denis Glover, Allen Curnow and other members of the New Zealand literary avant-garde bore fruit when he founded Landfall, still New Zealand’s foremost literary periodical, on his return to New Zealand in 1945.

It is as Landfall’s founding editor that he made his greatest mark. He ran the magazine for twenty years, 1947-1966, bringing a new seriousness and professionalism to New Zealand letters.

He continued to work as a poet, however, publishing new collections every few years. A memoir, Indirections, was published posthumously in 1980, and his Collected Poems in 1984.

Selected Bibliography


  • The Land and the People, and Other Poems. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1939.
  • Disputed Ground: Poems 1939-45. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1948.
  • The Estate, and Other Poems. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1957.
  • Ambulando: Poems. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1964.
  • Not Far Off: Poems. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1969.
  • Home Ground: Poems. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1974.
  • Collected Poems. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1984.


  • Amrita Pritam. Black Rose. New Delhi: Nagmani, 1967.
  • Poems by Esenin. Translated by Charles Brasch and Peter Soskice. Wellington: Wai-te-ata Press, 1970.


  • The Quest: Words for a Mime Play. London: The Compass Players, 1946.


  • Present Company: Reflections on the Arts. Auckland: Blackwood and Janet Paul for the Auckland Gallery Associates, 1966.
  • (with C.R. Nicholson) Hallensteins: the First Century, 1873-1973. Dunedin: Hallenstein Bros., 1973.
  • Such Separate Creatures: Stories. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1973.
  • Indirections: A Memoir, 1909-1947. Wellington; New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
  • The Universal Dance: a Selection from the Critical Prose Writings of Charles Brasch. Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1981.


  • Landfall Country. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1962.


Sea Cave, Tawharanui
[Photograph: Seamoor (2009)]

from The Cave

There should be the shapes of leaves and flowers
printed on the rock, and a blackening of the walls
from the flame on your mouth,
to be found by the lovers straying
from the picnic two worlds hence, to be found and known,
because the form of the dream is always the same,
and whatever dies or changes this will persist and recur,
will compel the means and the end, find consummation,
whether it be
silent in swansdown and darkness, or in grass moonshadow-mottled,
or in a murmuring cave of the sea. ...

- A. R. D Fairburn

Eric Lee-Johnson: Fairburn at Baker Farm (1951)]

from On Rex Fairburn (1957)

Now if I appear to be fairly sure on some of these points, I must remind you that we were friends for 38 years. Even now I can hardly believe he’s dead. We were such old friends and he was such a symbol of vitality.

At the beginning of 1919 we were both shuffled into the same fifth form at the Auckland Grammar School. The far-famed J.W Tibbs was the headmaster. Mr James Drummond was the master in French and Latin, Mr H.J.D. Mahon in English. And very good teachers they were too. I had previously been aware of a tall good-looking lad with the curly hair and prominent nose. I still remember he often used to associate with two tall and fine-looking members of leading Auckland Jewish families. In fact, for long, one way and another, I thought Rex was also a Jew. I remembered that, years later when one afternoon during the Second World War I was struck by the picture of him that still sticks in my memory, talking with that noble old Jewish refugee poet, Karl Wolfskehl. I remember it was on a lawn under trees and Wolfskehl also was a giant with a great mass of curly hair and a leonine head. To return to the First World War, and Form VA at the Grammar School,. I was a skinny (this was some time ago Mr Chairman) I repeat, skinny, lonely, ill-fitting little wretch and I well remember my pride and joy when this friendly giant took me under his wing. From our first association we had seemed to sense a community of interests, even though we were still silly schoolboys. After meeting, we used to sit together and waste each other’s time particularly in the mathematics class. It was a matriculation form but at the end of the year, of course, both of us failed. Rex left and took a clerical job with the New Zealand Insurance Company. I went on at school for another three years. Before the end of that time I was able to stagger Ken Dellow when, during an examination, I turned an ode of Horace into a proper English sonnet, but I still didn’t get matric. Rex was five and a half years with the insurance company. He didn’t make much advancement. It wasn’t that he failed to take an interest in the company. Indeed, his interest was phenomenal. But it was all on the very highest levels. Matters of annual balance sheets, distribution of profits, questions of reserves, inter-locking directorates and so on. The company was known not only for its vast insurance activities but also for being a sort of clearance house for the Kelly gang. With his many friends, Rex soon became a sort of walking encyclopaedia on the whole city’s financial ramifications. But the company’s management never seemed really to appreciate the broad and high interests of their new junior clerk. It wasn’t that anyone felt that he was really aiming high to get their job. I don’t know what they did think, I think probably he had them completely baffled. At any rate when he left I never heard that it broke the company’s heart.

With the staff it was different. At first they tended to treat this most unorthodox arrival as a bit of a butt. Little did they realise what a risk they ran. Only once did I ever know Rex to hit a man and he was one who had given provocation and received warnings for a very, very long time. He also spent a very long time lying on the ground and also a long time after that spitting blood and teeth. ...

- R. A. K. Mason

[Photograph: Denys Trussell, Fairburn]

A. R. D. Fairburn


Arthur Rex Dugard Fairburn was born in Auckland in 1904, a descendant of the missionary W. T. Fairburn, who came to New Zealand with Marsden in 1819. He attended Auckland Grammar School, where he met R. A. K. Mason, but did not matriculate due to the compulsory mathematics requirement. After leaving school he worked as an insurance clerk, resigning in 1926 to pursue his writing. He left New Zealand in 1930 to travel to England. His first volume of poetry, He Shall Not Rise, was also published in that year.

While in England, he met and married a fellow New Zealander, art student Jocelyn Mays. At the end of 1932 they left depression-ridden England to return to New Zealand, where he joined the thousands of unemployed working on the roads. His long poem Dominion, published in 1938, is a portrayal of New Zealand at that time.

He was an active member of the literary circle centred around Christchurch printer Denis Glover’s Caxton Press, and wrote for a number of radical journals, including Phoenix, Sirocco, and Tomorrow. In 1934 he took on relief work as assistant secretary of the Auckland branch of the NZ Farmers’ Union and sub-editor of Farming First.

In 1942 he was called up for military service, then, in 1943, the year Caxton published his Poems 1929-1941, was manpowered into broadcasting.

In 1948 he became a tutor in the English Department of Auckland University, and in 1950 a lecturer at Elam, the University’s school of Fine Arts.

He died of cancer in 1957. His Collected Poems, edited by Denis Glover, appeared in 1966, and a volume of Selected Poems, edited and introduced by MacDonald P. Jackson, in 1995. As well as a poet and polemicist, Fairburn was also a broadcaster and fabric designer, an early environmentalist, and loved the outdoors – tramping, swimming, boating and golf.

He remains one of New Zealand’s most popular writers.

Selected Bibliography


  • He Shall Not Rise: Poems. London: Columbia Press, 1930.
  • The County. London: Lahr, 1931.
  • Dominion. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1938
  • [with Allen Curnow, R.A.K. Mason and Denis Glover]. Recent Poems. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1941
  • Poems 1929-41. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1943
  • The Rakehelly Man and Other Verses. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1946.
  • Strange Rendezvous: Poems 1929-41, with additions. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1952
  • Three Poems: Dominion, The Voyage, To a Friend in the Wilderness. Wellington: New Zealand University Press, 1952.
  • The Disadvantages of Being Dead and Other Sharp Verses. Wellington: Mermaid Press, 1958.
  • Poetry Harbinger, introducing A.R.D. Fairburn (6 foot 3) and Denis Glover (11 stone 7). Auckland: Pilgrim Press, 1958.
  • Collected Poems. Christchurch: Pegasus Press, 1966.
  • Selected Poems. Edited by Mac Jackson. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1995.


  • A Discussion on Communism between A.R.D. Fairburn and S.W. Scott. Auckland: Auckland District Party Committee, Communist Party Committee, Communist Party of New Zealand, 1936.
  • Who Said Red Ruin. Auckland: Griffin Press, 1938.
  • The Sky is a Limpet (a Pollytickle Parotty). Devonport: Phillips Press, 1939
  • We New Zealanders. Wellington. Progressive Publishing Society, 1944
  • How to Ride a Bicycle in 17 Lovely Colours. Auckland: A.R.D. Fairburn & the Pelorus Press, 1947
  • The Woman Problem and Other Prose. Edited by Denis Glover and G. Fairburn. Auckland: Blackwood & Janet Paul, 1967.


  • The Letters of A. R. D. Fairburn. Edited by Lauris Edmond. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1981.
  • McNeish, James. Walking on my feet: A. R. D. Fairburn: a kind of biography. Auckland: Collins, 1983.
  • Trussell, Denys. Fairburn. Auckland University Press: Oxford University Press, 1984.


One Tree Hill
[Photograph: Wikimedia Commons (1990s)]

from Old Memories of Earth

And I am positive that yesterday
walking past One Tree Hill and quite alone
to me there came a fellow I have know
in some old times, but when I cannot say:

Though we must have been great friends, I and he,
otherwise I should not remember him
for everything of the old life seems dim
as last year's deed recalled by friends to me.

- R. A. K. Mason

Rachel Barrowman, Mason (2003)]

from On Rex Fairburn (1957)

I’ve even struck examples of ... myth-making regarding myself, even before my death. Contrary to all the canons of the church. I understand, some measure of sanctification appears to have set in. I have once or twice tried to chip a bit of plaster off my own saintly statue, only to be warned off by some vigilant and conscientious custodian. It does seem to me a bit hard that a man can’t even debunk his own myth. In a case I struck fairly recently, Dr – I won’t mention his name – asked me why I had for long given up writing poetry. I answered ‘I suppose I find it so hard to make a living that at the end of it I have no energy left. For instance today I’ve been cutting back someone’s enormous 12 foot tecoma hedge for firewood. I’m just tired out.’ He said, ‘Isn’t it a fact that you became a Marxist and found that Marxism can’t be reconciled with poetry?’ I said, ‘No. I certainly found that a problem and at one time I had it down for the count, I think, if it hadn’t been for the tecoma hedges.’ He scowled and said, ‘Why don’t you tell the truth?’ And moved away with a look that was darkly significant. Unfortunately I still don’t know what it was significant of. I presume that he didn’t doubt my word regarding tecoma hedges. I presume also that if I had been able to follow up the sinister tip, perhaps I could now be waving a magazine with my feature article, entitled ‘I was a Prisoner in Stalin’s Cultural Siberia’ and even on the point of collecting $2000 from the Reader’s Digest [laughter]. My life has been full of such missed opportunities. Now, seriously, I agree that I am an impoverished and infirm old working man, isolated, at war with the world, but I still do feel that I might sometimes be allowed to proffer at least my ha’p’orth of opinion about matters closely concerning myself. That’s by the way.

Now of the two contrary motives I mentioned a few moments ago, malignity can be left to rot in its native darkness, but I warn you that if anyone sets up a flat, floodlit statue either of Rex Fairburn or myself while I am still alive there is liable to be a pot shot from the outer rim of light and a vagabond scuttling away into the obscurity. That’s the way I want it. That’s the way Fairburn would want it. For all our differences, we were heretics and rebels. He didn’t recant and I hope I don’t. ...

- R. A. K. Mason

[Photograph: Auckland Public Library]

R. A. K. Mason


Ronald Allison Kells Mason was born in Penrose, Auckland on the 10th of January, 1905. He attended Auckland grammar school, where he met the poet A. R. D Fairburn, who remained his staunchest ally in both the literary and personal spheres. Despite very high marks in English and Latin, he was unable to go on to university due to a low score in mathematics, and instead took a job as a Latin crammer. While there, he compiled a privately-printed pamphlet of verse, In the Manner of Men, then went on to publish The Beggar in an edition of 1000 copies in 1924.

It is uncertain whether he really did dump 200 unsold copies of the latter into Auckland Harbour in a fit of despair, but it is undoubtedly true that his work attracted little attention in his own country (though it was acclaimed by Harold Monro, founder of the Poetry Bookshop in London).

In 1933 R. A. K. Mason took over the editorship of Auckland University’s new literary quarterly Phoenix, and rapidly transformed it into a vehicle for the extreme left-wing views he himself held by then (the magazine was suppressed shortly afterwards).

Trade Union politics came to dominate his life more and more in the years that followed, and he wrote very little poetry after the publication of his selected poems, This Dark Will Lighten, in 1941.

In 1962 he received the Burns Fellowship at Otago University, where he tried hard to revive his writing career, completing some new poems, and a verse play in Scots dialect, Strait is the Gate, broadcast by the NZBC in 1969.

Mason died in Takapuna in 1971. Famously hailed by Allen Curnow as New Zealand’s “first wholly original, unmistakably gifted poet,” two biographies of him, by (respectively) Rachel Barrowman and John Caselberg, were published in short succession in 2003-4.

Selected Bibliography


  • The Beggar and Other Poems. Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs, n.d.
  • No New Thing: Poems 1924-1929. Auckland: Spearhead Publishers, 1934.
  • End of Day. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1936.
  • This Dark Will Lighten: Selected Poems, 1923-1941. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1941.
  • Collected Poems. Christchurch: Pegasus, 1962.

  • Squire Speaks. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1938. (Play for radio)
  • 'To save democracy: play.” In Tomorrow. v.:408-411; April 27, 1938.
  • China Dances: script by R.A.K. Mason for a dance-drama by Margaret Barr, and other verses. Dunedin: John McIndoe, 1962.


  • Frontier Forsaken: An Outline History of the Cook Islands. Auckland: Challenge, 1947.
  • R.A.K. Mason at twenty-five: the text of an extended diary-style letter written in the month of the poet's birthday, January 1930. Christchurch: Nag's Head Press, 1986.
  • Four Short Stories: 1931-35. Afterword by Rachel Barrowman. 1962. Auckland: The Holloway Press, 2003.


  • Challenge. Issue 1 no.1 (Aug 1944) -13 no.11 (Dec/Jan 1958).
  • Congress News. v.1 no.2, Oct 1950; v.1 no.3, Nov 1950. New Zealand Trades Union Council.


  • Barrowman, Rachel. Mason: The Life of R. A. K. Mason. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2003.
  • ‘Asclepius’ [John Caselberg]. Poet Triumphant: The Life and Writings of R. A. K. Mason (1905-1971). Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2004.


[Simply Sailing]

Workshop 1:
You Will Know When You Get There

Anthology texts to read:

  • Allen Curnow: 'A Small Room with Large Windows'
  • Allen Curnow: 'Spectacular Blossom'
  • Allen Curnow: Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects, A Sequence. VII: 'A Family Matter'
  • Allen Curnow: Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects, A Sequence. VIII: 'The Kitchen Cupboard'
  • Allen Curnow: Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects, A Sequence. IX: 'A Dead Lamb'
  • Allen Curnow: 'The Parakeets at Karekare'
  • Allen Curnow: 'You Will Know When You Get There'

Mangroves, Little Shoal Bay
[Photograph: Ray Tomes (2009)]

from A Small Room with Large Windows

... Seven ageing pine trees hide
Their heads in air but, planted on bare knees,
Supplicate wind and tide. See if you can
See it (if this is it), half earth, half heaven,
Half land, half water, what you call a view
Strung out between the windows and the tree trunks
Below sills a world moist with new making where
The mangrove race number their cheated floods.
Now in a field azure rapidly folding
Swells a cloud sable, a bad bitching squall
Thrashes the old pines, has them twitching
Root and branch, rumouring a Gotterdãmmerung.
Foreknowledge infects them to the heart

To creak in tune, comfortable to damn
Slime-suckled mangrove for its muddy truckling
With time and tide, knotted to the vein it leeches.

- Allen Curnow

[Photograph: Brad's pictures]

from A Dead Lamb

Never turn your back on the sea.
The mumble of the fall of time is continuous.

A billion billion broken waves deliver
a coloured glass globe at your feet, intact.

You say it is a Japanese fisherman's float.
It is a Japanese fishermans' float.


There is standing room and much to be thankful for
in the present. Look, a dead lamb on the beach.

- Allen Curnow

[Photograph: Marti Friedlander]

Allen Curnow


Allen Curnow, New Zealand’s most celebrated modern poet, was born in Timaru in 1911. He was educated at the Universities of Canterbury and Auckland. After a period of study for the Anglican ministry, he worked for the Press newspaper and the News Chronicle (London) before teaching at the University of Auckland (1951-1976) as lecturer and associate professor of English.

His first book of poems appeared in 1933; it was followed by many others. He edited anthologies, including The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1961), continued to write poems, plays and criticism and travelled widely. He read and recorded his poems for major universities and the Library of Congress, for the BBC and Australian radio, as well as for the Poetry Society (London), the Cambridge Poetry Festival, the Toronto International Festival of Authors, the Voice Box and the International Poetry Festival at Southbank Centre.

He held the Litt.D. degrees from the University of Auckland and (honoris causa) Auckland and Canterbury. He received the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry seven times. He was made a CBE in 1986, was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1989, the ONZ in 1990 and the Cholmondeley Award for Poetry in 1992. He died in 2001.

Selected Bibliography


  • Valley of Decision: Poems. Auckland: Auckland University College Students' Association, 1933.
  • Enemies: Poems 1934-36. Christchurch: Caxton Press,1937.
  • Not in Narrow Seas: Poems with Prose. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1939.
  • Island and Time. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1941
  • Sailing or Drowning: Poems. Wellington: Progressive Publishing Society, [1946?]
  • Jack Without Magic: Poems. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1946.
  • At Dead Low Water, and Sonnets. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1949.
  • Poems 1949-57. Wellington: Mermaid Press, 1957.
  • A Small Room With Large Windows. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.
  • Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects: A Sequence. Wellington: Catspaw Press, 1972.
  • An Abominable Temper, and Other Poems. Wellington: Catspaw Press, 1973.
  • Collected Poems 1933-1973. Wellington: A.W. and A.H. Reed, 1974.
  • An Incorrigible Music. Dunedin: Auckland University Press, 1979.
  • Selected Poems. Auckland: Penguin, 1982.
  • You Will Know When You Get There: Poems 1979. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1982.
  • The Loop in Lone Kauri Road. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1986.
  • Continuum: New and Later Poems 1972-1988. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1988.
  • Selected Poems 1940-1989. London: Viking, 1990.
  • Early Days Yet: New and Collected Poems 1941-1997. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1997.
  • The Bells of Saint Babel’s. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2001.


  • The Axe: a Verse Tragedy. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1949.
  • Four Plays. Wellington: A.W. and A.H. Reed, 1972.


  • Look Back Harder: Critical Writings 1935-1984. Edited by Peter Simpson. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1987.


  • Book of New Zealand Verse 1923-45. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1945. Rev. ed.1951.
  • Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1960.


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