Today is National Poetry Day. PANZA would like to celebrate by posting a classic New Zealand poem by Reginald (Rex) Hunter (1889-1960).
Hunter left New Zealand as a young man in 1914. He travelled to Australia and through the Pacific and then worked as a journalist in America, where he met famous American writers like Ben Hecht and Carl Sandburg in Chicago and briefly married the South Carolina poet Gamel Woolsey. They separated, but never divorced. He also lived in Kansas City, San Francisco and New York and was a successful dramatist.
A biographical novel, Henry Whitaker, detailing his experiences with Carl Sandburg remains unpublished along with a prose work The Gull.
Hunter published his poetry in periodicals and several books of poetry appeared in his lifetime and posthumously: And Tomorrow Comes (1924, new edition, 1982), the autobiographical narrative The Saga of Sinclair (1927, new edition 1981) and Call Out of Darkness (1946). A well-received novel Porlock (1940) about a Greenwich Village character and a book of four one-act plays Stuff O’ Dreams (1919, new editions 2010 and 2011) were also published.
In 1949, Hunter returned to New Zealand to settle in Dunedin until his death. An obituary appeared in Arena 53 (1960), and a further biographical piece, Passages in the Life of Reginald Hunter by Kenneth Hopkins (the editor of the new editions of his poetry) was published in the UK in 1985. Harvey McQueen and Roger Robinson also co-wrote an entry on him for the Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature (1998).
PANZA recognises Hunter as a significant and still largely unrecognised New Zealand poet. More of his poems will be in the next PANZA newsletter, Poetry Notes.
THE TWO ROSES
And as the poet walked the wintry streets
In broken shoes, and lacking coins for bread,
A red rose flew its flame within his heart,
A white rose raised its petals in his head.
White rose of the unworldly held star-lifted
The vision of him whose outward steps trod mire.
Though thin his coat he did not feel the cold:
The undying rose of poesy was his fire.
Poem © Reginald Hunter, 1946
(From Call Out of Darkness, The Auburncrest Library, USA, 1946)