Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Why Don't You Talk To Me? by Alistair Te Ariki Campbell
Why do I post my love letters in a hollow log? Why put my lips to a knothole in a tree and whisper your name?
The spiders spread their nets and catch the sun, and by my foot in the dry grass ants rebuild a broken city. Butterflies pair in the wind, and the yellow bee, his holsters packed with bread, rides the blue air like a drunken cowboy.
More and more I find myself talking to the sea. I am alone with my footsteps. I watch the tide recede and I am left with miles of shining sand.
Why don't you talk to me?
Editor: Tim Jones
Alistair Te Ariki Campbell (1925–2009) is my favourite New Zealand poet. While Allen Curnow and James K Baxter were conventionally regarded, during the high nationalist (and masculinist) period of New Zealand poetry, as the twin titans of New Zealand poetry – or perhaps, for aspiring poets, its Scylla and Charybdis – Alistair Campbell's poetry, rooted in observation and experience rather than poetic ideology, speaks more directly to me.
Kapiti: Selected Poems 1947–71 was, if I recall correctly, the first collection of New Zealand poetry I bought. While some of the early poems in this selection, such as "The Return" (1949), are magnificent, it was the increasing simplicity, freshness and directness of address of the later poems in the book that especially impressed and (I hope) influenced me.
"Why Don't You Talk To Me?", written in 1965, has all these qualities, plus a cunning indirection. For much of the poem, the central question is present only by implication: the natural world makes its customary arrangements all around me, yet I am separate; why don't you talk to me? This poem says all that needs to be said, and no more.
Published in Alistair Campbell, Kapiti: Selected Poems 1947-71, and reprinted in Harvey McQueen, ed., These I Have Loved (Steele Roberts, 2010). Reproduced as a Tuesday Poem by kind permission of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell's literary executor.