This year’s National Poetry Day is being held on Friday, 23 August 2019.
PANZA has chosen a rare poem in memory of the New Zealand poet, typographer, publisher and wit Denis Glover (1912-1980).
The poem, ‘Farewell to a Poet’ is by the UK-born American poet and Professor Michael Duffett, who himself passed away on 9 July this year. Two months prior to Duffett’s death, his book The Presence of Love: Poems Selected and New had been released in New Zealand by my publishing company HeadworX. It’s nice to remember both of these poets on National Poetry Day in New Zealand, and recall their friendship.
Duffett once wrote: “[New Zealand] remains unique in my memory as the one land in my travels about which I have exclusively positive memories.” New Zealand turns up in Michael Duffett’s most well-known book of poetry, Forever Avenue, published in California in 1987.
Duffett visited New Zealand in 1979 and spent some time with Denis Glover in the final year of his life. Duffett visited him again a few weeks before his death in 1980.

On my return from the South Island, I spent time in Wellington with Denis Glover, to whom I instantly warmed. He was a force of nature, a booming laugh, a great bright alcoholically-reddened nose like Mr. Punch and an irresistible cheerful manner. I recall a visit to the bank with him and, on being asked by a timid young lady bank clerk how he would like his cash, he boomed in reply, “Any way at all, my dear. It all goes down the drain.” I have come to see that as an absolutely accurate assessment of the meaning of money.
On another occasion when Denis had cajoled my services to drive him to the Alexander Turnbull Library, I drove to his home. Denis lived in a curiously-designed house that had a bathroom on one side of the living room and a bedroom on the other. As I arrived (early, or maybe Denis was late) his wife Lyn hurried into the garden to meet me. I later realised it was to forestall me from bumping into a semi-clad poet on the way from bathroom to bedroom. Denis, to whom embarrassment was unknown, knew what Lyn was up to and bellowed from inside the house, “Let the bloody man come in if he’s here!”
Moments later, I sat with a cup of tea in the living room, the bathroom door opened and there was the great poet in his skivvies, giving me the naval salute to his Russian Commander’s hat (a gift from the Soviets). I wish I had had a camera!

Michael Duffett’s poem is of interest because it explores (with empathy) Glover’s decline. His official biographer Gordon Ogilvie, in Denis Glover: His Life (1999), recounts that Glover had fallen down steps during his shift to Breaker Bay Road from Strathmore, which led to his eventual death (four days later), with his wife Lyn by his bedside on Saturday, 9 August 1980. Yet Michael Duffett presents the further view of a Glover in decline, slipping in his bath. Duffett too acknowledges closely the coroner’s official view that Glover’s death was ‘bronchopneumonia’ from the effects of liver disease brought on by his drinking. Duffett appears to be a person or friend in the know.
The image of Glover being “innocent and free” in his death sums up perfectly the complexity of Glover’s persona and life, and is a profound image of Denis Glover, the man and myth.
It’s remarkable that an outside voice from overseas could come away with such an apt description of Glover, after only knowing him a short while. Michael Duffett shows the value of overseas commentators on New Zealand literature.

FAREWELL TO A POET

Once back in Wellington I rendezvous’d
With Glover, took him snoring home one day
Squeezed in the back. “Is that Denis Glover
You’ve got in there?” (as if I’d kidnapped
A national figure) the petrol-pump
Attendant asked, amazed. I took him home,
Arranged to take him into town next day.
I did and as we parted, fierce yet fond
And fondling yellow eyes gleamed at me,
Knowing they were seeing me forever.
We never met again; he must have known it.
Dear Denis, human man, fell in his bath
A few weeks later, and never rose again,
Went back to his Maker at that moment
As he came, as innocent and free
As naked, striding, new-born babe.

Poem © Michael Duffett, 2019

Article © Mark Pirie

Portrait of Denis Glover, 1973. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 1/4-021052-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22828773

 

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