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PANZA acknowledges the death on 11 April 2016 of one of New Zealand poetry’s major poets, Ruth Gilbert (real name Florence Ruth Mackay).

Ruth Gilbert was awarded the distinction of receiving the ONZM (New Zealand Order of Merit) for “services to poetry” in 2002.

Gilbert was well-known in her writing life and was widely anthologised in major New Zealand anthologies.

She was educated at Hamilton High School and graduated at the Otago School of Physiotherapy in 1938.

Chief among her works is The Luthier sequence first published by Reed in 1966, a remarkable work detailing the musical appreciation in her family between the poet and her father, a maker of violins. The sequence shared the Jessie Mackay Memorial Prize for 1968 with James K Baxter. Three times Gilbert won the award.

Her other works such as her Lazarus sequence from Lazarus and Other Poems (1949) were widely acclaimed in New Zealand poetry circles. She also wrote poetry on her experiences in New York and Western Samoa.

Gilbert’s poetry dates from 1938 and as recently as 2009, 71 years later, was still being featured in PANZA member Mark Pirie’s journal broadsheet, issue no. 4, with a cover drawing of Ruth in Western Samoa by Dr Michael O’Leary (featured below). O’Leary has written vividly of her in his doctoral thesis on New Zealand women’s writing 1945-70.

As a poet, Ruth stayed true to her lyrical and musical impulse for rhyme despite Modernist trends in New Zealand poetry since the 1960s, and was an early feminist poet.

Gilbert published a number of volumes, including her Selected Poems, 1941-1998 from Niel Wright’s Original Books in 2008. Wright did much to publicise and keep in print Gilbert’s work in the past two decades.

Among the positions she held are: President of PEN (the Writers’ Union); President of the New Zealand Women Writer’s Society; and a member of the New Zealand Literary Fund Committee.

Gilbert was 99 at the time of her death.

PANZA extends their deepest sympathy to her family and friends at this time.


Ruth Gilbert in Samoa by Michael O’Leary, 2009