new zealand electronic poetry centre


Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003)

A selection of material from brief 32 Joanna Margaret Paul special issue (Winter 2005), edited and introduced by Jack Ross.

Introduction |  Poems and prose  |  Paintings |  About  |  Links


Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003)

Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003)‘Courage!’ was the last word in the last letter I received from Joanna Margaret Paul. The generosity and support she showed me at that moment meant a great deal. They mean even more now. When I heard of the tragic circumstances of her death, the undignified absurdism of being drowned in broad daylight in the busiest tourist site in Rotorua, the Polynesian Pools, it seemed almost impossible to believe. She was one of our most original (and most unsung) poets, a painter who’d never really received her due, an artist in the fullest sense of the term: one whose life reflected her art in every particular. She combined a voice of compassion with a spirit of misrule. She was an environmental activist, a philosophical anarchist, a natural mystic and a religious extremist.

The idea of a special issue of brief, and (now) an nzepc feature, seemed like a natural one. She was a strong supporter of (though infrequent contributor to) the magazine, and she shared our passion for the rough democracy of the xerox machine. There was, of course, no point in covering the same ground as the various other commemorative projects: the wonderful exhibition beauty, even, assembled jointly by the Wellington City Gallery and the Sarjeant Gallery in Wanganui; the projected Selected Poems edited by one of her literary executors, Bernadette Hall. I thought the most useful thing I could do was to try and contextualise her work a little, provide some critical and biographical framework for the twin meteors of Imogen and Unwrapping the Body – almost the only writings which have been easily accessible hitherto.

The discovery of just how much of a legacy she left behind (the poems alone fill four large boxfiles), has obviously complicated this task. It will all take a long time to assess. In the meantime, thanks to the generosity of the Paul family and her literary executors, I hope the work (both published and unpublished) that we’ve been able to include in the issue – and online – will make it clearer just why this loss is such a tragic and untimely one

Special thanks are due to Joanna Margaret Paul’s family – her husband, sisters and children – also to her literary executors, Bernadette Hall and Charles Bisley, for permission to include portions of her work (published and unpublished) in this feature.

Jack Ross

Mairangi Bay, 5 July 2005


Poems and prose by Joanna Margaret Paul

Paintings by Joanna Margaret Paul

All works from the collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare O Rehua Whanganui, reproduced by kind permission of that institution.

About Joanna Margaret Paul




Last updated 25 August, 2005