James K. Baxter (June 29, 1926 – October 22, 1972) was one of New Zealand’s best known and best loved poets.
In his short life he produced a huge number of poems, as well as plays, literary criticism, and social and religious commentary. A hugely influential figure, Baxter was as well known for his life as for his writing.
Speaking at a writers’ conference in 1951, Baxter had argued that it was ‘reasonable and necessary that poetry should contain moral truth, and that every poet should be a prophet according to his lights’. His bearded and shabby appearance, and outspoken attitudes towards the authorities, earned him a dubious national celebrity.
James K. Baxter
Hard, heavy, slow, dark
Or so I find them, the hands of Te Whaea
Teaching me to die. Some lightness will come later
When the heart has lost its unjust hope
For special treatment. Today I go with a bucket
Over the paddocks of young grass
So delicate like the fronds of maidenhair,
Looking for mushrooms. I find twelve of them,
Most of them little, and some eaten by maggots,
But they’ll do to add to the soup. It’s a long time now
Since the great ikons fell down, God, Mary, home, sex, poetry,
Whatever one uses as a bridge
To cross the river that only has one beach,
And even one’s name is a way of saying –
‘This gap inside a coat’ – the darkness I call God,
The darkness I call Te Whaea, how can they translate
The blue calm evening sky that a plane tunnels through
Like a wasp, or the bucket in my hand,
Into something else? I go on looking
For mushrooms in the field, and the fist of longing
Punches my heart, until it is too dark to see.