The Collected Poems of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell wonderfully captures the breadth of Campbell’s literary career. The collection is based on a spiral-bound manuscript titled “Complete Poems 1947-2007” that was found after Campbell’s death. The volume is divided into six categories that track the development of Campbell’s writing.
Of Wild Places encapsulates the early poems of Campbell’s career. These pieces are connected to the rough exterior of the land. The first poem, The Return, is one that finds its power in the ferocity of the landscape. Humans are reduced to small figures on the beach as Campbell revels in the image of “fires going out on the thundering sand… the mist, the mist moving over the land”.
Tongareva to Aotearoa serves a nice contrast to the previous chapter, by expanding further into the interior of the land, and exploring Polynesian imagery as well as Campbell’s own Polynesian identity. Campbell moves from his own personal meaning in poems such as A Childhood in the Islands, to grander figures such as old chiefs “meaner even than Te Rauparaha”.
Love Poems is a special chapter full of beautiful and light poetry. Many of these pieces are dedicated to Campbell’s wife, Meg. My favourite poem in this section is Love Song for Meg. The piece describes the sun as “points of light” that come in through the branches. It feels like a summer dream where everything in nature feels fresh and a little magical.
War Poems explore the experience of Campbell’s father in Gallipoli as well as the story of the 28 (Maori) Battalion. The poems in this section detail the struggle of these wars through first person narration. The way Campbell moves through different points creates a flow from one action to another. Even though there are so many names, some forgotten, Campbell does his best to portray the steely exterior of these men whose minds are now filled with death and “darkness, the sound of roaring, / and emptiness”.
I enjoyed the section titled Poets in Our Youth the most, where Campbell writes autobiographical letters to his contemporaries in verse. I loved how this gave an outlook into Campbell during his years at university. In exploring his own life, Campbell also sheds light on figures like James K. Baxter, who is lauded as a sort of “Kiwi superstar”. However, in Campbell’s letter, it is evident that Baxter is someone who has his vices and adversaries like all of us.
The collection ends with Looking at Kapiti, a blissful and beautiful picture of the everyday. Against the tumultuous tone of some of the previous sections, this one takes its time describing the world of Pukerua Bay, a familiar and domestic world that Campbell is used to. In About the House, Campbell draws on aspects of his home like his dog and the nature around him through bad days as well as good days.
The Collected Poems of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, by covering the many different topics that Campbell has written on throughout his life, portrays how his words and writing has changed with time. However, at the core of all these pieces is a writer with an authentic and strong voice. This extensive volume truly does a wonderful job of showing this and emphasising the inspiration that his poetry still brings.
Reviewed by Emma Shi
The Collected Poems of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell
Published by VUP