new zealand electronic poetry centre

Bill Sewell

 Capital of the minimal  


Bill Sewell (19512003) was born in Athens. His early years were divided between Barcelona, Ankara and Beirut. He attended primary and secondary school in England, completing his secondary schooling in New Zealand after his family returned here in 1966. He gained a BA and an MA (Hons) in German (University of Auckland), then a doctorate on poetry and politics in the poetry of Hans Magnus Enzensberger (University of Otago). He went on to lecture and tutor in German at the University of Otago, where he was awarded the Robert Burns Fellowship for Literature in 1981 and 1982. He also acted as an editor for the University of Otago Press and John McIndoe Ltd. In his later years he lived in Wellington, where he completed a law degree and was a legal researcher for the Law Commission before becoming a self-employed writer and editor. He was President of the New Zealand Poetry Society (1991-93) and, from 1998 until shortly before his death, co-editor (with Harry Ricketts) of New Zealand Books. In May 2002 he drafted the following observations about his work:

          I very often choose unlikely subjects for my poems, looking in particular to New Zealand history for inspiration. My first collection, Solo Flight (1982), includes a sequence on the eccentric early New Zealand aviation pioneer, Richard Pearse; while my fifth and most recent collection, Erebus. A Poem (1999), revolves around the crash of the Air New Zealand DC-10 in the Antarctic in 1979. At present, I am putting the finishing touches to The Ballad of Fifty-one, a collection centring on the 1951 Waterfront Lockout.
          This is largely public poetry, often with a political bite, which laments the mistakes this country has made in the past and tries to draw out lessons for the present and future. However, it also has a personal dimension, recording my own anger, grief and uncertainty at events.
          I aim to make my poems as accessible as possible, using a wide variety of forms, from ballad stanzas to haiku. While I am very conscious of the slipperiness and quirkiness of language, I work hard to achieve a precision of thought, emotion and image. Many of the poems are designed for public performance, though I hope that they will also reward solitary reading. I also like to think that they display a wry humour.

Bill Sewell died from cancer in January 2003, shortly before the official launch of The Ballad of Fifty-one (HeadworX, 2003). His representation in Capital of the Minimal is extensive in an effort to correct the neglect of past anthologists:

the phoenix freshly
forged very slowly
unfolds its wings and
looks to the horizon.
[Starting Over]


NZ Literature File at AU
NZ Book Council Writer Files


(c) Reg Graham


[from WWW]

[from MTFLG]

[from ES]

 [from Theatre Country]

The editor gratefully acknowledges the Estate of Bill Sewell,  his literary executor Amanda Powell, and the University of  Otago Press, for making this work available to /Capital of  the Minimal/. All texts are copyright and may not be used  without written permission.

The Estate of Bill Sewell 2004








Last updated 13 August, 2004