Allen Curnow Criticism - Essay

C. K. Stead (essay date March 1963)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Stead, C. K. “Allen Curnow's Poetry: Notes Towards a Criticism.” In Essays on New Zealand Literature, edited by Wystan Curnow, pp. 54-70. Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann Educational Books, 1973.

[In the following essay, first published as a review of Curnow's A Small Room with Large Windows in Landfill 65 (March 1963), the author suggests that Curnow's poems are preoccupied with the conflict between what he calls “Imagination, which comprehends, encompasses, and reconciles,” and “Rational Will, which creates or destroys blindly, and which understands only by exclusion and simplification.”]

A Small Room with Large Windows...

(The entire section is 7278 words.)

Chris Wallace-Crabbe (essay date October 1985)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Wallace-Crabbe, Chris. “That Second Body: An Australian View of Allen Curnow's Progress.” Ariel 16, no. 4 (October 1985): 67-75.

[In the following essay, Wallace-Crabbe provides an overview of Curnow's development as a poet—and of the author as a reader—noting the poetry's “excited intelligence” and “joy in rootedness.”]

It is easy for me to remember when and where I first saw a poem by Allen Curnow. After my father came back from the War, back from his years in Asia early in 1946, he bought several copies of John Lehmann's Penguin New Writing: unusual objects in a household—flat-hold, rather—starved of modern poetry except for the...

(The entire section is 2742 words.)

Trevor James (essay date 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: James, Trevor. “‘Errors and Omissions Excepted’: Allen Curnow's Philosophical Scepticism.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 22, no. 1 (1987): 55-72.

[In the following essay, James evaluates the tension between skepticism and hope in the spiritual themes of Curnow's An Incorrigible Music and You Will Know When You Get There.]


… the question of my country was, for me at that time, an intensely personal one. There is indeed a claptrap of the subject, we have heard enough of ‘national identity’, but this doesn't mean that it will go away.1

This cryptic...

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Stuart Murray (essay date 1995)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Murray, Stuart. “Writing an Island's Story: The 1930s Poetry of Allen Curnow.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 30, no. 2 (1995): 25-43.

[In the following essay, Murray notes that in the 1930s Curnow was primarily interested in definition, and the author explores Curnow's position as a “founding father” of a national literature of New Zealand.]

In 1935 Allen Curnow published a small booklet entitled Poetry and Language, limited to 150 copies and overseen by the Caxton Club Press, the forerunner to the Caxton Press, in Christchurch, New Zealand. The booklet is a collection of eight sections, largely a series of notes, that seeks to outline...

(The entire section is 8408 words.)

Philip Armstrong (essay date 1999)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Armstrong, Philip. “Dis/Coveries: Allen Curnow's Later Poetry.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 34, no. 1 (1999): 7-26.

[In the following essay, Armstrong analyzes Continuum: New and Later Poems, 1972-1988, and considers how in Curnow's later poems, “the ordinary poses an extraordinary threat, the familiar returns in unfamiliar guise and the everyday turns into the last day.”]

“Allen Curnow's Later Poems”—not his last. The incomplete comparative remains necessary, because Curnow himself remains very much with us: last year, 1998, he turned eighty-seven, and published several new poems.

No doubt the protracted...

(The entire section is 7835 words.)

Peter Robinson (essay date spring 2000)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Robinson, Peter. “Allen Curnow Travels.” English: The Journal of the English Association 49 (spring 2000): 39-63.

[In the following essay, Robinson draws mostly on poems from Curnow's Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects, examining the specificity of place and moment in Curnow's poetry.]


‘I'm a stranger here myself’ expresses a solidarity between people from somewhere else who meet on the grounds of a similarity in different foreignnesses. Allen Curnow likes the phrase, employing a variation in ‘Friendship Heights’ from 1972, ‘I am absently walking in another summer / a stranger here myself’ (156),1 and he...

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Michael Faherty (essay date July 2000)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Faherty, Michael. “Knowing Your Katholou from Your Hekasta: The Practical Poetics of Allen Curnow and Ezra Pound.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 31, no. 3 (July 2000): 53-74.

[In the following essay, Faherty explores Ezra Pound's influence on Curnow, focusing on philosophical and poetic affinities between Pound's The Pisan Cantos and Curnow's “Do Not Touch the Exhibits” and “A Fellow Being.”]

Even though Ezra Pound spent a dozen or so of the most energetic years of his life in London trying to slap some sense, and the occasional bit of nonsense, into English poetry, he left Britain almost as if he had never been there....

(The entire section is 6912 words.)

Trevor James (essay date 2001)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: James, Trevor. “‘Pitched at the Farthest Edge’: Religious Presence and the Landscape in Contemporary New Zealand Poetry.” In Mapping the Sacred: Relgion, Geography, and Postcolonial Literatures, edited by Jamie S. Scott and Paul Simpson-Housley, pp. 131-152. Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 2001.

[In the following excerpt, James reflects on the relationship between landscape and spirituality in Curnow's poem “Dialogue With Four Rocks.”]


‘Landscape’ is neither a secure term nor a simple concept. When one uses the word, it is easy to forget that it is a technical term originating in the graphic arts and, as...

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