Sunday, November 11, 2012

Poignant story in Willow's poetry

CATHERINE HEALY - East & Bays Courier - Auckland Now -02/11/2012

Willow Macky
A book of poems by the late Willow Macky has just been published. The former Kohimarama resident was one of New Zealand’s great folk singers.

"Not on a snowy night, by star or candlelight, nor by an angel band, there came to our dear land..."

So begins Te Harinui (Great joy), a Christmas carol widely sung in New Zealand schools, written by Willow Macky.
In the book Faces in the Firelight, New Zealand Folksong & Story, Phil Garland describes her as "one of our leading composers of folk-style songs about Kiwi towns, history and heroes."

Born in 1921 she was christened Katherine Faith Macky, but later decided Willow suited her better.
She attended St Cuthbert's College and lived in Kohimarama for many years. She received the Queen's Service Medal in 2006 and died in December of that year, aged 85, at Caughey Preston Hospital in Remuera.

Since Willow never had children it was up to her friends to promote her work. She left her friend Peggy Haworth some money for that purpose.
The women first met in 1975: "I was a music student at the university. Willow asked a professor there if a student could help her with some of her songs.
"She wanted help with notation. She'd sit with the guitar and sing and play. I'd dictate the melodies onto manuscript for her."
After her death, Ms Haworth gathered Willow's work into an archive for the Turnbull Library and discovered a binder of poetry.

Willow had been writing poems since she was a child. Setting aside Willow's music, Ms Haworth chose to bring her poems into the public eye. Harp in the Wind is a book of poems which chronicle Willow's love affair with an American soldier.

In the early 1940s she helped out at the General Army Hospital in Cornwall Park and fell in love with a young medic from the US Army Medical Corps. He was Jewish and the pair never married because of family opposition to their religious differences.
The poems are very personal and it would have been difficult for Willow to publish them in her lifetime. Yet at some point she wrote this introduction:
"This is a true story of a star-crossed love in a modern world - at a time when warring nations ruled our lives and ancient loyalties still claimed our souls.
"Our story is told in the following poems. Written in secret over many years, they record memories too poignant to hold, too precious to lose. Though never intended for publication, it seems the only way to save them from oblivion.
"Reader, I spread these verses at your feet - like leaves in Autumn. Tread softly ..."

It seems Willow longed for her soldier and the life they could have had for the rest of her life.
"She did date other men but she never forgot that relationship. I believe she may have been engaged at one time but called it off.
"It was not easy for a woman to be single when the done thing was to be married, in the 50s and 60s," Ms Haworth says.
Willow comments on having to attend a flurry of post-war weddings in one of her poems:

"Bride and groom depart on their honeymoon.
(Thank God! I can go home, and be alone -
And think of how we lingered by the lake
While all the stars were singing for our sake.)"

To buy a copy of Harp in the Wind contact pegworth@

Publisher - Steele Roberts - rrp $25

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