From SOMETHING ELSE: Bernadette Hall, David Howard & Graham Lindsay.
David Howard was born in Christchurch (1959). He has been a freelance writer since his eighteenth birthday, supporting this remorseless habit with part-time positions as baker’s labourer, library assistant, nanny and bookseller. He is a past winner of the Gordon & Gotch Poetry Award and the Poetry Society Competition. He has never won any money. Divorced (with one son), he does not find celibacy an inspirational aid. He is also bored by the third person and is about to forgo it.
I’ll ride your smile
take the nails
under this collar
my body: pick
as a cradle
As a child I played dominoes alongside a bookcase filled with the collected impertinence of Reader’s Digest condensed books. In the formica kitchen I listened to my father listening to local radio’s racing commentaries. I was introduced to the vernacular.
Some Sundays we took the bus to my grandparents’ house. When the weather was fine I climbed fences – there were no trees on their property; when it rained I played dominoes alongside a bookcase which contained Burns’ Poetical Works. I was introduced to the vernacular.
Without understanding the implications, I was on my way to becoming a poet – a New Zealand poet. Now ‘New Zealand literature’ is a difficult intellectual construct. Writers are international by virtue of their eclecticism; they assimilate influences irrespective of national borders. Every writer reads to isolate precursors from the mass of world literature who can inform his (or her) work. This personal tradition is distinct from received literary opinion. It takes no account of academic fashion. As a first generation New Zealander of British descent I naturally looked to the Northern Hemisphere for my personal tradition; if it started with Robert Burns then it continued with Arthur Rimbaud, Fernando Pessoa, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Andrew Marvell, Henry David Thoreau, Denton Welch, Guido Gozzano and Vicente Aleixandre.
I hold you as my lips hold
blue. You lure flowers
it’s not a name you forgot
as the moon collides
Dying is the silence after
(from ‘The Voices That Get Up’)
I first read local poets in my early twenties, while living in sheep-shearers’ quarters (yes!) near Wellington. This belated discovery of Allen Curnow, Owen Leeming, C.K. Stead, Michael Jackson, Ian Wedde and Tony Beyer was paralleled by a developing rapport with the physical landscape. I had to place my self.
in the beginning was the Word
(from ‘The Last Word’)
In particular Wedde’s espousal of the demotic proved stimulating given my general preference for work of a more hieratic nature. Although eschewing his manner I view him as a significant influence: my apprehension of man’s fallen state is greater and, consequently, so is my nostalgia for the mythical Golden Age.
This vitiates an interest in the literary vanguard – as Man Ray noted: ‘There is no progress in art, any more than there is progress in making love. There are simply different ways of doing it.’ With a fundamental distrust of ‘the fast lane’ as no more than a marketing ploy, I have worked to make my home in language without regard for the signpost. I hope to go the distance in my own good time.
Moreporks pick at robbers’ corpses
while a Maori dyes flax
When mackerel cloud swims
A heron’s leg measures
(‘A Darker Purpose’)