My Blog List

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ante Room to Room 5

LEICESTER KYLE (friend, poet, and scientist)

Recently my very dear friend Leicester Kyle a great man and poet died - I was greatly distraught - it still hasn't completely "sunk in" - to utilise that cliche - I feel he is still alive.

(In regard to Leicster and his works etc - see Jack Ross's "The Imaginary Museum" and also my link to that and "Reading the Maps". )

I met Leicester in 1994 when he came to my Poetry Club that I started in Panmure. That was in many ways a very successful Club - I met some interesting people and the publican - Stuart Dodds helped me a lot - he is Maori - and highly educated - he kind of "bridges the worlds" - and like Eddie MacGuire (who was) the compere of "Who Wants to Be a Millionnaire" (my favourite TV show) who can talk about pop singers and rugby and then quote whole sections of Shakespaere - Stuart knew Shakespear and the Gettysburg address and so on - (he is now a very successful businessman) - together - we organised a competition of the best reader of the famous "To be, or not to be" speech from Hamlet - which was well attended (good first prize) - and was won by Robin Kora - who is also Maori BTW.

But Leicester came later: I think his was a quiet but powerful presence. We met up later at the London bar with David Howard - later joined by Jack Ross and perhaps earlier by Scott Hamilton. He also came to the book shop I worked in, and also where I organised Friday nights readings of various Auckland poets for Ron Riddell - my good friend and fellow poet -who at that time owned the Dead Poets Book Store just off Dominion Rd. Later Ron moved his shops to K'Road and also Henderson. Leicester served in the shop once, and once or twice his wife.

Leicester showed me one of his first major works in progress. It was called "Koreneho" - the Maori name for Colenso - who came from England in the 19th Century for the Anglican Church and the Royal (Scientific) Society and translated the Bible into Maori and discovered many new plants and explored much of NZ -Leciester liked the fact that he was out of favour with the Church he was in because of an affair with a local Maori woman and also that sometimes his discoveries were in fact not new plants or that he ocassionally misclassified them - this carries on into Leicester's incredible work 'Koreneho' which uses (and twists or torques) Colenso's scientific texts (Leicester was a member of the Scientifc society and discovered or studied various plants and a new version or sub species of the Giant NZ snail) and then he - on the following page - then pared down the text - and we are left with a very subtle compilation of latinate words which form a very dense matrix of almost pure langauge (but Colenso's ambiguity is in there energising the langauge) - but then comes a small poem with a "pronouncement" - in all Leicester's "direct" pronouncements there is a sutble humour - and a seriousness - he could see that we live and stand in language - he was a man who experienced much tragedy in his own life but maintained a great dignity, a mana. He remained upbeat despite tragedies that would have sent me to the crazy house I'm sure...

Leciester produced many books of poetry. One of his books was dedicated to me.

Here is a section from "Koreneho" (after he has quoted Colenso's scientific report verbatim) ( that work has poetic-scientific intersection) he then transforms it to this -


Ochraceously imbricated in mamillary
gland decurrent in the petiole sub-5
sided with mucro in the perianth tip
distichous striated entire and
twisted yellow margins sessile 2
fimbriate crenules sub linear to
terminal in compound panicle
and calli in declivity tubercular W. C.

NOTE: A description
of some newly-dis-
covered indigenous
plants Trans , vol 23,
pp 381- 91 Vol 24 pp.

This is tough Louis Zukofsky stuff - around this time I lent him my ( my photo-copy of Zukofsky;s "80 Flowers") and he was reading that poet (he read "A" at least twice and also "Bottom" a huge work by Zukofsky apparently vital to "getting into" his later works) ; and also the letters of Lorine Niedecker to Louis Zukofsky. (Lorine Niedeker's poetic influence was very important). Then we get this transform on the next page of "Koreneho"

Hab. E. alba

under beech
where honey drops
black sweetness

lichened cliffs
and scree and moss
small grass

in cracks

root forever
set with rock
for table books
and calendars

when autumn
from the southern ice
is falling over everything

The next page includes the subtitle "Joyful News Out of New Found Land"
(even in the title he simultaneously mixes satire and seriousness - one "take" is that Colenso feels (perhaps subconsciously) that he is God naming a new land - even God or Adam naming his new beings in eden (here is perhaps also the sin of pride) - there are many "takes" on this work however.

Obs. E. alba

sobs in the air
cut into my mind
like butter

or gentian blue

But white
and I'm made joyful

a friend

for a new-found land

for resurrection

at the throat
for glory

for embalmment

in a land
I've made my own

by name for the nameless
and by claim
on order
in a wild world

I used to phone him regularly when he was in Buller and he would make joke of it - "Oh, is that Auckland calling?" ! And he would of interrupt by putting another log on the fire (where he lived -in the South Island it is pretty damn cold in winter) so -when I called him not too long before he died - he turned to his partner and said (I overheard him) - he was very weak - "I have this drunken Auckland poet on the line and he wants me to say: 'Put another log on the fire' " He was enjoying the humour of the situation even when he knew was almost certainly dying. (The drunken part was the old me - I hardly drink lately! But the point was well made and taken! )

Leicester's poetic style was deceptively "laid back" - in fact there was always much more in his poems than a simplistic or casual reading could reveal.

He sent me his long poem "Written from Captivity" - it includes this ending which he told me came to him via a dream - the poem as whole deals with the long and tragic death of his wife Miriiel (who did much writing on the history of the Anglican Church in NZ) and his reactions at that time and to some degree their relationship - but this poem or this last part of the main poem actually deals with death and dying, and is perhaps for all of us - coming from a dream as some (very few) poems do :


Death is a cold wet thing
a slip in the fog
to a sink of sleep

a slip in the fog
a slip a sleep
a slip in the fog
a slip a sleep
a slip

Leicester Kyle

No comments: