A fatal heart attack in 1972 meant one of our most powerful and beloved poets never got to blow out more than 46 candles on his birthday cake. But on the 90th anniversary of his birth on 29 June, it seems appropriate to remember an utterly original New Zealand voice.
His poems have never been out of print. Many are known by heart. And now Phantom Billstickers is celebrating the life and achievements of James K Baxter by taking his words to the street.
Five of Baxter’s poems have been printed on 1000 Max format posters and placed in Phantom’s premium frames the length and breadth of Aotearoa. Look out for A Pair of Sandals, Tomcat, Ferry from Lyttelton, The Fear of Change and To Any Young Man Who Hears My Words In A Lecture Room appearing soon on a wall near you.
Phantom general manager Jamey Holloway says the company is passionate about celebrating New Zealand creativity in both commercial and non-commercial forms.
“We believe the street is a place where anyone can find inspiration,” he said. “Celebrating the poetry of James K Baxter is just one way we can show this.
“Plus, we really love his works. He had serious chops!”
It seems appropriate to let Baxter have the final say. Here’s Ferry from Lyttelton in full:
These bare hills have their own non-human beauty,
A country made for angels, not for men.
And the slow bow wash of the ferry
Covers and uncovers the rocks
At the bottom of the cliffs. Always the feeling comes
That one might leap over the side
And sink in the cold water. Not, I think
A desire to kill oneself
But a longing to go back and rest
In the waters of the womb. So, brother,
Button up your coat against the night breeze
Or come and have some toast and coffee
At the curved bar in swivel chairs
Where the waiter is a friend of a friend of a friend
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