Monday, August 17, 2009

Alistair Te Ariki Campbell dies

Author pic by Maarten Holl/Dominion Post

The noted New Zealand poet, novelist and playwright Alistair Te Ariki Campbell has died, it has been reported.
He died after a short illness, Radio New Zealand reported.
Campbell was 84.

Campbell, who wrote alongside James K Baxter in the Wellington Group, was former Writer's Fellow at Victoria University and editor of the School Journal. He also headed the writers' organisation PEN for five years.
From Dunedin-based poet David Howard,


1 Meg

Our children collect pomegranates.
We are far
ahead of them, yet

hungrier. We have arrows
but no hearts to pierce; instead
we raise a glass –

the bottle’s empty.

2 Alistair

Put seeds in your mouth
so you can speak
sweetly. Take your time.

Forget ‘I never meant to’ –
intent has no place
come summer in the under-

world, the non
sequitur where you belong
beyond saying.

And from Auckland poet/author/librarian Iain Sharp:

I'm so sorry to hear about Alistair's death, even though I knew he had been very ill in recent weeks. It's the passing of a giant.
I treasure the fact that Alistair, although already not good in health, came to the launch of my Heaphy book in Petone last year. He bought a copy and, touchingly, asked me to sign it for Meg (who died in November 2007) as well as himself.
Although I feel privileged to have known Alistair and Meg a little, it's really my partner, Joy MacKenzie, who knew them well. Joy did her MA thesis on Meg's poetry and wrote the chapter on Alistair and Meg that appears in the 2005 AUP book Between the Lives.

And from author Tania Roxborogh:

My brush with the exceptional Alistair C

In 1986, I was a keen but somewhat talentless poet and I sent Alistair some of my poems. He wrote back with this response:
You have a lot to learn – but you probably knew that. If you don’t, you haven’t a chance….This is not to say that you have no talent. Something comes through that I find attractive, but you need to work much harder…

Two weeks later, another letter arrived. It seems Meg had told him he was ‘unnecessarily hard on [my] poems’ though he wasn’t ‘convinced [he] was.’ Still, he offered to look at my work and ‘try to be more positive and helpful.’

Twenty years on, while I was Children’s Writer in Residence at the Dunedin College of Education, I came across his two letters in my papers. Immediately, I wrote to him and told him that I was now a writer (but not poetry) and outlined some of my successes.

He wrote me a lovely response (on the same type of letter pad as well) including this: I congratulate you in being wise to realise your future didn’t lie in poetry but in prose and you have done very well as a writer, and it seems, a teacher too.

So touched have I been by these letters, I got them framed and they sit in pride of place in my living room so that I can be reminded of the generous spirit of a great poet who was not too high and mighty nor too busy to send messages to a young writer.

Rest in peace, dear man.

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