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Allen Curnow Biography

(1911–2001), Not in Narrow Seas, Island & Time, Book of New Zealand Verse 1923–1945

New Zealand poet and critic, born in Timaru, educated at the universities of Canterbury and Auckland. He worked in journalism in New Zealand, London, and the USA before taking up academic posts at Auckland University. Not in Narrow Seas (1939) was a poem sequence with prose ‘commentary’ treading a mythopoeic line on New Zealand history and poetry; Island & Time (1941) included the fine long poem ‘The Unhistoric Story’ which was to prove a lasting landmark in poetic debate. Curnow's editing of the influential, and controversial, Book of New Zealand Verse 1923–1945 (1945), which contained a powerfully argued 35-page Introduction, further developed his ideas of poetry, place, and history at a crucial moment in his nation's consciousness. Committed to the belief that poetry must reflect the specific issues of a time and place for New Zealand, he also held that ‘Local reference ought never to decide our estimate of a poem's worth’. Also controversial was his edition of The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1960); his introductions to these anthologies are central documents for discussion of New Zealand poetry. Other collections include At Dead Low Water (1949), Poems 1949–1957 (1957), A Small Room with Large Windows (1962), Trees, Effigies and Moving Objects (1972), An Abominable Temper (1973), and Collected Poems 1922–1973 (1974). An Incorrigible Music (1979) is a sequence of poems exploring the extremes of human violence, while You Will Know When You Get There: Poems 1979–81 (1982) explored themes relating mostly to old age and mortality. Selected Poems (1982) confirmed the strong sense of sequential development in Curnow's poetic concerns; his strength as a poet is in his enduring engagement with the issues of time, history, and mutability. Later collections include Continuum, New and Later Poems 1972–1988 (1988), and Selected Poems 1940–1989 (1990). Look Back Harder: Critical Writings 1935–1984 (1987) testifies to Curnow's formidable range of interests and to his unflagging energies.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: (Rupert) John Cornford Biography to Cwmaman (pr. Cŏomăˈman) Glamorgan