William Kendrick Smithyman (
October 9, 1922– December 28, 1995) was an award-winning New Zealandpoet and one of the most prolific of that nation's poets in the 20th century.
Family and early life
Smithyman was born in
Te Kopuru, a milling and logging town on the Wairoa Rivernear Dargaville, in the Northland Regionin the far north of New Zealand. He was the only child of William "Bill" Kendrick Smithyman, an immigrant from England and a former soldier who had fought both in the Boer Warand World War Iand who had radical political sympathies.Simpson, Peter, [http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/dnzb/default.asp?Find_Quick.asp?PersonEssay=5S31 "Smithyman, William Kendrick 1922–1995 / Poet, teacher, literary critic, university tutor"] , article in the "Dictionary of New Zealand Biography" ("This site includes the collected biographies originally published in the printed "Dictionary of New Zealand Biography" series between 1990 and 2000, and in the parallel Maori-language series, "Nga Tangata Taumata Rau"), website accessed April 27, 2008] [http://www.smithymanonline.auckland.ac.nz/chronology.php Web page titled "Kendrick Smithyman (1922 - 1995 ) / a chronology"] at the "Smithyman Online" website, accessed April 27, 2008] Simpson, Peter, [http://www.victoria.ac.nz/modernletters/bnzp/2002/smithymannote.htm Web page titled "Kendrick Smithyman"] at the "Best New Zealand Poems 2002" website, accessed April 27, 2008] Before World War I, he had worked in sugar plantations in Fiji. [ [http://www.victoria.ac.nz/modernletters/bnzp/2004/smithyman-note.htm Web page titled "Kendrick Smithyman"] at the "Best of New Zealand Poems 2004" website, accessed April 28, 2008] The poets father had also been a sailor and waterside worker but fell on hard times during the Depression when the poet was growing up. The father at some points had to work on relief gangs to earn money. His wife, Annie Lavinia Evans, was born in Christchurch. His parents managed a home for elderly men in Te Kopuru before moving to Auckland in the early 1930s. Some of Smithyman's poems, especially in "Imperial Vistas Family Fictions" (written in 1983-1984 and posthumously published in 2002) are about his father and other relatives from previous generations whom Smithyman had never met, including his grandfather, also named William Kendrick, born in 1829, who became a sailor, fought for the British Royal Navy in the Crimean War, traveled to Australia and India, then became harbourmaster at Ramsgate on the southeast coast of England.
The family moved to several communities in and around Auckland before settling on Boscawen Avenue in Point Chevalier, where the lonely boy read voraciously and attended Point Chevalier Primary School. There he became a lifelong friend of future poet and historian
Keith Sinclair. Smithyman also attended Seddon Memorial Technical College(1935–1939) and Auckland Teachers Training College(1940–1941), from which he earned a teacher's certificate. There his first stories and poems were published in the college magazine, "Manuka", edited by Robert Lowry, who later became Smithyman’s first publisher.
World War II, Smithyman served in the New Zealand Army artillery as bombardier (1941–1942), then as a quartermaster in the Royal New Zealand Air Force from 1942 to 1945. His service in the armed services was spent in New Zealand except for a short period in 1945 when he was stationed on Norfolk Island, resulting "Considerations", a sequence of poems later published in "Landfall" and after that in the 1951 edition of Allen Curnow's "Book of New Zealand Verse 1923–1950".
By 1944, his poetry started appearing regularly in journals in New Zealand, Australia, Britain and the United States, quickly establishing his reputation in New Zealand as one of the leading poets of the nation's post-war generation. This status was confirmed by his inclusion in "A Book of New Zealand Verse, 1923–50" (1951), edited by
Allen Curnow. Thereafter, Smithyman's poetry made it into all significant anthologies of New Zealand poetry.
Smithyman was closely associated with other writers in Auckland, such as
Robert Chapman, Maurice Dugganand Keith Sinclair.
In August 1946, at Auckland, Smithyman married the poet Mary Isobel Neal (née Stanley; 1919–1980), whose first husband had been killed in the war. The couple had three sons. He dedicated his first books, "Seven Sonnets" (1946) and "The Blind Mountain & Other Poems" (1950) to her. From 1946 to 1963 he was a primary and intermediate teacher at various schools in the Auckland area, where he specialised in teaching children with learning difficulties. In lectures and articles he promoted special needs education for psychologically impaired and high-achieving children, and the training of special-education teachers. Smithyman also attended
Auckland University Collegesporadically, as a part-time student, but did not stay to get a degree. When the Education Department refused to allow him a leave of absence to work on a book of literary criticism, he resigned his position in 1963 and that year took up a teaching position as a tutor of English at the University of Auckland. From 1964 to 1965 he also edited and presented a radio programme, "Perspective: A Programme of Critical Writing"
Intellectually curious and widely read, Smithyman assimilated a wide range of poetic influences, especially post-war Anglo-American modernism. The English poets
T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomasand Americans John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Lowelland Marianne Moorewere all influences. He initially avoided some of the preoccupations of earlier New Zealand poets with landscape and colonial history. He was also fascinated by 17th century poets, especially John Donne. At this time Smithyman wrote ironic, anti-Romantic love poetry thick with syntactical complexity, dense argument, and many references. " [H] is poetry, above all, was academic in style. Smithyman's verse was notorious for its knotty language and allusive obscurity."Richards, Ian, [http://nofrillsnzlit.angelfire.com/Smithyman.html "'they flower/ in an air of being suspended': Kendrick Smithyman's 'Flying to Palmerston'"] , article at the "No Frills New Zealand Literature" website (Richards cites "Simpson, Peter. "'Sinfonia Domestica': Mary Stanley & Kendrick Smithyman" in "Between the Lives: Partners in Art" (ed. Shepard, Deborah). Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2005: 80"), accessed April 27, 2008] Many of the poems from this period were eventually collected in "Inheritance" (1962) and "Flying to Palmerston" (1968).
The early 1960s he spent less effort on poetry and more on literary criticism, notably "A Way of Saying: A Study of New Zealand Poetry" (1965). The book's description of the aesthetics and practice of Auckland poets, whose work he dubbed "academic" (including
M. K. Joseph, Keith Sinclair, Mary Stanley, C. K. Stead, and the later work of Allen Curnow), also provided insights into his own outlook and poems. "This idiosyncratic book — the first full-length study of the subject — analysed the Romantic affiliations of earlier New Zealand poets, and pointed to subtle regional differences (especially between Auckland and Wellington poets) in his own generation," according to Peter Simpson.
A change in style
From 1960 to 1965, Smithyman stopped writing poetry. Smithyman's poetry changed in style at some point or points in the 1960s or very early 1970s, although critics differ as to when the new style started appearing, and they can't pin down the cause. According to Ian Richards, the poem "Flying to Palmerston", which Smithyman wrote in an airport lounge in 1966 and which later became the title piece for the 1968 book, "signalled a new start in a new manner" in the poet's verse. "There is critical consensus that between this poem and his next collection, "Earthquake Weather", in 1972, Smithyman's mature style emerged."
Smithyman was promoted to senior tutor at the
University of Aucklandin 1966, and he held the post until 1987. A six-month stay in 1969 at the University of Leedsas a visiting fellow in Commonwealth literature resulted in travel in Britain and North America, which stimulated many poems. On returning home in 1970, his poetry engaged the landscapes, history and people of his native Northland, as seen in "Earthquake Weather", as well as "The Seal in the Dolphin Pool" (1974), and "Dwarf With a Billiard Cue" (1978). "Whatever the biographical reasons (travel, maturity, a grown-up family) the next book, "Earthquake Weather" (1972) is a different kind of book, more like the four volumes that have followed than anything previous", Murray Edmund wrote in 1988. [Edmund, Murray, [http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/authors/smithyman/divagations.asp "Divagations: Kendrick Smithyman's Poetry"] , article in "Landfall" 168, December 1988, accessed April 27, 2008] Some of these works became his most admired verse and are his most anthologized poems, including "An Ordinary Day Beyond Kaitaia", "Tomarata", and "Reading the Maps: an Academic Exercise".
Although Smithyman initially seemed to shy away from writing poems about the landscape, he did write some even in his earliest years ("The Bay 1942", "Bream Bay"), and he turned to that subject in some of his later poems. He wrote about his 1969 travels in North America and Britain in 1969 and about his trip to Canada in 1981. Concerning New Zealand, he wrote about Coromandel ("Colville" and "Where Waikawau Stream Comes Out"), Auckland ("About Setting a Jar on a Hill"), the coast around Pirongia ("Bird Bay", "Below Karioi"), and other areas in the Central North Island ("In the Sticks", "Tokaanu"). The Northland came up in his writing quite a bit, with verses about
Puhoi, Waipu, Kaitaia, and the area around Dargaville where he grew up. The Bay of Islandsand Hokiangasites were mentioned in his posthumous book, " Atua Wera". [Ross, Jack, [http://www.thepander.co.nz/literature/articles/jross1.php "Kendrick Smithyman’s Northland"] "pander OS 2.0" website of "pander", New Zealand cultural magazine (undated article), accessed April 28, 2008]
In 1980 Smithyman’s wife died after a long illness, and in January 1981 at Auckland he married Margaret Ann Edgcumbe, like himself a university tutor. Participation that year in the Harbourfront Literary Festival in
Toronto, Canadawas fruitful in generating many poems.
In 1986 he was awarded an honorary LittD by Auckland University, and he won the
New Zealand Book Awardfor poetry for "Stories About Wooden Keyboards" (1985). The poems in that volume were more accessible to the general reader than his previous books and tended to use more narrative, anecdote and comedy. This vein in his poetry continued with "Are You Going to the Pictures?" (1987) and "Auto/biographies" (1992). He revised many earlier poems in significant ways for his "Selected Poems" (1989).
Smithyman's other writing in his final years included essays on New Zealand philology and critical editions of novels by
William Satchelland the stories of Greville Texidor. He was made an OBE in 1990. He died in December 1995 at North Shore Hospitalin Auckland, after falling ill at his home in Northcote.
At his death, Smithyman left five volumes of unpublished poems, including a number intended for an eventual "Collected Works" edition and more than 500 other poems he didn't intend to publish. [http://www.smithymanonline.auckland.ac.nz/intro.php Web page titled "Collected Poems 1943 -1995 by Kendrick Smithyman / an introduction by Peter Simpson"] "Smithyman Online" website, accessed
April 28, 2008] Shortly before his death, he completed "Atua Wera", a long poem of almost 300 parts largely about Penetana Papahurihia (also known as Te Atua Wera), an early 19th century Nga Puhireligious leader. The poem appeared posthumously as a book in 1997 and "was immediately recognised as perhaps his finest work and one of the major New Zealand poems", according to Peter Simpson. In 2006, "Mudflat Works", the online division of Holloway Press, published online Smithyman's 1,500-poem "Collected Works", which Smithyman had selected, made final revisions for and put aside in 13 manila folders.
* 1946: "Seven Sonnets", Auckland: Pelorus Press [http://www.library.auckland.ac.nz/subjects/nzp/nzlit2/smithymn.htm Web page titled, "Kendrick Smithyman / New Zealand Literature File"] at the New Zealand Literature File website of the University of Auckland Library, accessed
April 27, 2008]
* 1950: "The Blind Mountain & Other Poems", Christchurch: Caxton Press
* 1955: "The Gay Trapeze", Wellington: Handcraft Press
* 1957: "The Night Shift: Poems on Aspects of Love", by
James K. Baxter, Charles Doyle, Louis Johnsonand Kendrick Smithyman, Wellington: Capricorn Press
* 1962: "Inheritance: Poems", Hamilton: Paul's Book Arcade
* 1968: "Flying to Palmerston", Auckland: Published for the University of Auckland by the Oxford University Press
* 1972: "Earthquake Weather", Auckland: Auckland University Press
* 1974: "The Seal in the Dolphin Pool", Auckland: Auckland University Press
* 1978: "Dwarf with a Billiard Cue", Auckland : Auckland University Press and Oxford University Press
* 1979: "Menu, Departmental Dinner in Honour of Professor S. Musgrove and Professor M.K. Joseph, the Senior Common Room, 30 November, 1979 / [Poetry by W.K. Smithyman] ", Auckland: s.n.
* 1983: "Centennial Poets", Auckland: Printed for the Centenary Celebrations by the Mt Pleasant Press, University of Auckland; Poems by Kendrick Smithyman, Riemke Ensing, Terry Locke, Mervyn Thompson, Wystan Curnow, Peter Dane
* 1985: "Stories about Wooden Keyboards", Auckland: Auckland University Press and Oxford University Press
* 1986: "An Informal Occasion in the English Department for Peter Dane, Bill Pearson, Karl Stead, 5 December 1986: Three Poems", Auckland: Department of English, University of Auckland
* 1987: "Are You Going to the Pictures", Auckland: Auckland University Press
* 1989: "Kendrick Smithyman: Selected Poems", "Chosen and introduced by Peter Simpson", Auckland: Auckland University Press
* 1992: "Auto/Biographies: Poems 1987-89", Auckland: Auckland University Press
* 1997: "Tomarata", afterword by Peter Simpson, Auckland: Holloway Press; First published in: The Seal in the Dolphin Pool. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1974.
* 1997: "Atua Wera", Auckland: Auckland University Press (short-listed for
Montana Book Awardsin 1998)
* 2002: "Last Poems", "With notes by Peter Simpson"; Auckland: Holloway Press
* 2002: "Imperial Vistas Family Fictions", Auckland: Auckland University PressA total of 134 poems written in 1983–1984, but none of them published in his lifetime. Smithyman said he wrote them largely to inform his sons about aspects of their family history.
* 2004: " Campana to Montale: Versions from Italian", Auckland: Writers Group
* 2004: "Collected Poems, 1943-1995", edited & with notes by Margaret Edgcumbe and Peter Simpson, Auckland: Mudflat Webworks, ("Electronic book offered as part of the Smithyman Online website compiled by the University of Auckland and published by the online facility of the University of Auckland's Holloway Press, Mudflat Webworks," according to the University of Auckland Library website.)
* 1965: "A Way of Saying: a Study of New Zealand Poetry", Auckland: Collins
Edited by Smithyman
* 1971: William Satchell, "The Land of the Lost", edited and introduced by Kendrick Smithyman, Auckland: Auckland University Press
* 1985: "The New Gramophone Room: Poetry & Fiction", selected by
C.K. Stead, Elizabeth Smither, Kendrick Smithyman, Auckland: Department of English, University of Auckland
* 1985: William Satchell, "The Toll of the Bush", Edited and introduced by Kendrick Smithyman, Auckland: Auckland University Press, Oxford University Press
* 1987: Greville Texidor, "In Fifteen Minutes You Can Say a Lot: Selected Fiction", edited and with an introduction by Kendrick Smithyman, Wellington: Victoria University Press
* [http://www.smithymanonline.auckland.ac.nz/ Smithyman Online] website
* [http://www.smithymanonline.auckland.ac.nz/ New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre] web page on Smithyman
* [http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/writers/smithyman.html New Zealand Book Council] web page on Smithyman
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