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James K. Baxter (James Keir Baxter) Biography

(1926–72), (James Keir Baxter), Beyond the Palisade, Blow, Wind of Fruitfulness

New Zealand poet, born in Dunedin, educated at Quaker schools in England and New Zealand. A major spiritual and literary figure, he blended a passionate concern for everyday New Zealand life with a dedication to basic Christian principles and myths. With the collections Beyond the Palisade (1944) and Blow, Wind of Fruitfulness (1948), Baxter became the leading poet of his generation in New Zealand. In 1957 Baxter's often stormy life underwent a major change when he became both tee-total and a Catholic; In Fires of No Return (1958) reflects this period. Pig Island Letters (1966) demonstrated new assurance and a range of poetic voice which encompassed the extremes of his own experience, from drink and sleeping rough to religious meditation and the torments of the flesh. Aspects of Poetry in New Zealand (1967) gave insights into his critical outlook. He reaffirmed his stature with The Rock Woman (1969), a selection of poems. Baxter was increasingly devoted to an idiosyncratic kind of community work, often amongst young Maori people, and from 1970 he established a commune for ‘hippy drop-outs’ alongside a Maori Catholic community on the Wanganui River; Jerusalem Sonnets (1970) and Jerusalem Daybook (1971) reflect this period. Two volumes of plays were published in 1971, and Baxter was correcting proofs of Autumn Testament (1972) when he died. The posthumous Unpublished Poems 1945–1972 (1976) further enhanced Baxter's standing. James K. Baxter as Critic (1978), edited by Frank McKay, revealed influences as diverse as Hardy, Yeats, MacNeice, Durrell, and Lowell. Collected Poems (1980; corrected 1981) was edited by J. E. Weir, and Collected Plays (1982) was edited by Howard McNaughton. Studies are James K. Baxter by Mike Doyle (1976) and The Life of James K. Baxter by Frank McKay (1990).

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