new zealand electronic poetry centre


Mary Stanley

about Mary Stanley

Pegasus Poet

James K. Baxter


A review of Mary Stanley, Starveling Year (Pegasus Press, 1953) published in New Zealand Listener, 28, 719, April 24, 1953, p. 12

One must comment again on the suitability of these small and cheaply priced books of verse brought out so attractively by Pegasus Press. The most recent of the New Zealand Poets series is this first book by Mary Stanley, whose verse will be familiar to readers of the Poetry Yearbook and other publications. It is no discourtesy to say that Mary Stanley writes like a woman, and has produced poetry peculiarly her own, and though supported by a considerable intellectual scaffolding, by no means cerebral. Her themes are often domestic (a word much abused); but the anxiety of a mother for her child, or the love of man and wife are related to the wider context of human separateness, mortality and Christian religious belief. It is a sign of this writer’s maturity that she often writes tenderly but is never sentimental:

                                         I wish
by every star, Orion, the Pleiades,
two centaurs guarding the Cross, by all spells,
by incantation, to keep from harm my thief,
my little dancer on the tightrope of time.
And yet I know he will prick his finger, the spindle
fall in the well, the impenetrable hedge grow up
like a wall between him and his desire.

Rarely does one have the luck to review a book in which each poem is so plainly a real event. Mary Stanley’s style is sometimes over-compressed and convoluted; her images are drawn from many quarters, natural and mythological. But it is worth the labour to penetrate to the core of even her most difficult passages. At her best she is triumphantly simple as in the verses beginning, ‘Husband put down Spinoza, Pericles…’ In this and similar pieces the poet’s achievement is complete; and the reader receives, as it were, a blood transfusion.


Last updated 26 September, 2002