new zealand electronic poetry centre


A.R.D. Fairburn

about Rex Fairburn

Rememberng Mason Remembering Fairburn

Mac Jackson

I listened to Mason’s talk to the Literary Club in the student common-room (now the Graduate Centre) in 1957. Reading the transcript, I realize that I had largely forgotten how infused it was with Mason’s dry, sardonic humour. The poet of ‘Latter Day Geography Lesson’ is fully there. But there are also times when Mason is almost the genial raconteur. I do recall his anecdote about trying to heckle a visiting evangelist, being manhandled by his supporters, and getting in the line ‘These Christians are strangling me!’; also the oft-repeated story of Fairburn and the bloomers. What I most clearly remember of the talk is the bit at the end, in which Mason recounts how, when he and Fairburn were ‘having a yarn about laughter’, Fairburn remarked that a ‘sense of humour ... might conceal ignorance or weakness or even betrayal’, and how, being sensitive to betrayal in the context of Ramsay MacDonald and the Labour Movement, he was prompted to write ‘Judas Iscariot’. What I also recall - though it is not on the tape - is that Mason mentioned that Fairburn too had been inspired by their chat to write a poem, in his case ‘Laughter’, which gets at the same idea as Mason’s by using an entirely different poetic strategy. Perhaps the tape ran out just before the real end, or perhaps Mason referred to ‘Laughter’ in subsequent question time. I don’t think I have just imagined it. There was a sizable audience (about thirty) for Mason’s talk, and they were very receptive, so it is likely enough that questions were asked at the end, despite Mason’s running well over time. In a letter to Mason dated 24 June 1932, Fairburn made a further connection - between ‘Judas Iscariot’ and Hazlitt’s essay, which Fairburn had read a day or two before, on ‘Good Nature’: it ‘hits the same nail as your poem does’ (Lauris Edmond, ed., The Letters of A.R.D. Fairburn, p. 78).


University of Auckland
June 2002

©Mac Jackson

Last updated 30 June, 2002