Allen Curnow

Allen Curnow, a poet often published and much admired by the LRB, died in September 2001. Early Days Yet: New and Collected Poems, 1941-97 is available from Carcanet. The Bells of Saint Babel’s has just been published in paperback.

At nine fifteen a.m. on the first day of his eighty- first year. Why don’t I

first-person myself? I was hoping nobody would ask me that question

yet. The strong smell of chlorine for one thing, one thing at a time, please.

For instance, there’s always this file of exercyclists riding the gallery

over the pool. Bums on saddles, pommelled crotches. The feet rotate, the

hands grip,...

Poem: ‘A Nice Place on the Riviera’

Allen Curnow, 22 February 2001

The last act is bloody, however fine the rest of the play. They throw earth over your head and it is finished for ever.

Pascal, Pensées

1 Refuge in San Remo won’t work out. Local health officialdom rulesLa signora èmalata. Not welcome this side of the frontier. France is not far: why don’t I try cousin Connie Beauchamp? Nice place they say they’ve got in...


Engaged too long too chastely. Was

that it? Anyway, she broke it off,

my father wrote ‘Pan’, earliest verse

of his, to make it into print

over his name, the god revealed

as Tremayne M., Syrinx as Maud.

Twenty-odd pages further on, more

forgotten poems between his lines

and hers (called ‘Song’), both plaintively

lovelorn, obscurely set down between

Oceanian winds and...

Poem: ‘The Cake Uncut’

Allen Curnow, 17 February 2000


Not him – he’s where no fears can find

nor torments touch him – it’s his Mum

has the details, who told the head-

master, who talked to the press.

           Dad only just gone

for the takeaways at KFC,

when he says – quiet, sort of sudden,

you’d hardly know it was him speaking –



Three Degrees

10 June 1999

A friend who writes from Germany evidently likes my poem ‘The Bells of Saint Babel’s’ (LRB, 10 June) but points out the navigational impossibility of ‘West/Longitude one-/eighty-three’. I wouldn’t excuse myself to her, or to any other reader similarly troubled, by arguing that a poem which submerges Mt Everest in the Pacific may be allowed a small liberty in fixing the Kermadec Trench:...

Hugging the cats

John Bayley, 14 June 1990

Good writing, in prose or verse, can seem a sort of visible distillation, brandy-like, of the anima vagula blandula, the tenuous and transparent daily self that produced it. Another kind of good...

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Second Wind

C.K. Stead, 16 February 1989

Much of the best poetry in English at least since the Romantics, is, in a controversial phrase used by Allen Curnow in the introduction to one of his two anthologies of New Zealand poetry,...

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