James Baxter: Poet, New Zealand 1926-72

Radical, prolific, innovative, brilliant; in his short life James wrote over 2,600 poems. He also founded a commune in Jerusalem after being summoned to do so in a dream. Native peoples, a neighbouring nunnery, people in the cities who struggled with homelessness, drug addiction or shared the poet's ensnarement to alcohol, anyone else who cared to pitch in, all were welcome. This was in 1970, if I had known I would have bust my piggy back and jumped on the plane!

Today he is in a fame dip. We read 'Tomcat' at school, homage to a neighbourhood toughie who sneaked round the back for his afternoon Whiskas. In 'The Hub' he shares an experience of one-ness with the universe as a p*ssed-up teenaged kipping on the town square bench. 'Crossing Cook Strait' he finds

'the poets also at their trade

I see them burning with a wormwood brilliance....

......The ghost of Adam

Gibbering demoniac in drawing-rooms

Will drink down hemlock with his sugared tea.'

He created the Baxter sonnet, 7 pentameter couplets and sequenced them to write letters to friends, describing communal life physically and spiritually. Lice were a problem.

Died too soon; a life fully lived.


If you wish to follow his path study the map first. James' Jerusalem grave is on New Zealand's North island, on the Whanganui river.The land is also named Hiruharama.