Live the questions now

Rilke quote.


“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, #4)


In 1903, Rilke replied in a series of 10 letters to a student who had submitted some verses to the well-known Austrian poet for an assessment. Written during an important stage in Rilke’s artistic development, these letters contain many of the themes that later appeared in his best works. Essential reading for scholars, poetry lovers (Book Depository).

But wait … there’s myrrh!

But wait ... there's myrrh

But wait … there’s myrrh

The Christian holy day known as Epiphany “[commemorates] (at least in western tradition) the visit of the Magi and Jesus being revealed to the Gentiles” (from Finding a New Way Home) is celebrated on 6 January. According to, “It commemorates the first two occasions on which Jesus’ divinity, according to Christian belief, was manifested: when the three kings visited infant Jesus in Bethlehem, and when John the Baptist baptized him in the River Jordan. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches emphasize the visit of the Magi when they celebrate the Epiphany. The Eastern Orthodox churches focus on Jesus’ baptism.”

All history is redaction – ie, it re-frames and retells our “old, old story” in such a way as to please the current audience. The past is perpetually being re-examined and reinterpreted.

Recent memes appearing on Facebook – but not including this one from – have commented on what three wise women would have done. One version asserts that they would have “asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, brought practical gifts, cleaned the stable, made a casserole … and there would be peace on earth.” (From

I don’t think so! (Especially that last bit.)

Another version of the meme adds that “Three Wise Feminist Women would have … lobbied King Herod for gender equality.” In its lower right corner, the image carries the wording: Destroy the Joint. But, according to Helen Razer, “Destroy the Joint misses the point”.

My back is up, my hackles on end. If there is to be anything more than talk of gender equality, then it is blatantly obvious that the faults, shortcomings, and weaknesses of humankind will be owned (and owned up to) by all.

Reading between the lines

words on face (20 May 2013)

words on face (20 May 2013)




In the public library.

Browsing the latest issue of ArtForum (May 2013), leafing rapidly through page after page of advertisements.

There’s always a pen and paper handy: poems often happen when I’m reading.

I’d gone past, but needed to go back and find it again: words were beginning to form …


There are words
written all over my face

I see words
in the mirror

If you bother to read me
……… take the time to read me

I doubt you’d have understood
even if you’d read carefully



The image shown here is a detail of my re-photographing of the magazine advertisement referred to above.

Further information:

Beyond the palisade

James K Baxter : selected poems

James K Baxter : selected poems




Wall, fence, enclosure, stockade, barrier, curtain, screen, bulwark, Bastille, moat, railing, rampart, trench, ditch, barricade. What are walls for? To keep things in and keep things out. (Kathy Steinsberger, in her blog, Paper Buttons



It had begun with disgruntlement –
a half-defeated hunt for some good New Zealand poetry.

And then a book of Baxter’s met my eye;
I hadn’t looked at him in many years …

The book – James K Baxter : New Selected Poems, edited by Paul Millar – was in the Reference Section of the Wellington City Library, so I was obliged to return to it on several consecutive days.

And how avidly I gorged myself on these poems, until the sound of the poet’s voice rang in my ears. Until I felt I was at last beginning to know them – and, with the help of Paul Millar’s Introduction, to know more about the man.

Millar quotes Baxter: “I know only a little about the world; and most of it is somewhere in the poems I have written” [p xiv].

The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature characterises this as Baxter’s “tendency to mythologise his life in verse”.

“Baxter … once described each of his poems as ‘part of a large subconscious corpus of personal myth, like an island above the sea, but joined underwater to other islands’, and elsewhere commented that what ‘happens is either meaningless to me, or else it is mythology’.” (Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature – see Note 6 below)

Millar elucidates the source of Baxter’s poetry: “The ‘family man, teetotal, moderately pious, not offensive to sight or smell, able to say the right thing in a drawing room’, was ever at odds with the clannish, anarchic other self, ‘my collaborator, my schizophrenic twin, who has always provided me with poems’ ” [p xv].

Again (Millar citing Baxter): “Wahi Ngaro: the void out of which all things come. That is my point of beginning. That is where I find my peace” [p xvi].



1/ Compare my quote with Kathy Steinsberger’s original on Paper Buttons and you will find a couple of ’emendations’.

2/ Baxter’s remarkable debut volume, Beyond the Palisade (originally published in 1944 by Caxton Press, when he was 18), immediately attracted critical acclaim. A selection of thirty-four poems, from some 500 written by him between the ages of 15 and 18, these early poems display a variety of poetic forms and feature the sharp, bold imagery so indicative of his later works. They introduce the recurring themes of regret and loneliness, which were to become the hallmark of Baxter’s later work. (Adapted from text by annie_kiwi – TradeMe, July 2012 – with additions from Oxford Reference.)

3/ The photograph used here is my own. The shot of the young Baxter on the cover of New Selected Poems came from the Hocken Library, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. 

4/ Baxter, James Keir; Millar, Paul (editor). 2001. James K Baxter : New Selected Poems. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.

5/ About the author (from Google Books): Considered New Zealand’s most significant poet, James K. Baxter has also been called one of the most remarkable English-language poets of the mid-twentieth century. Born into an educated family in New Zealand, he spent most of his life there and became a much-loved and respected figure in his homeland. Starting out as something of a boy prodigy in the field of poetry, Baxter went on to face alcoholism, then to convert to Catholicism. In his last years, some considered him a saint as he wandered around New Zealand “barefoot, long-bearded, patched and baggy.” Baxter published his first poetry in 1944. He also wrote about 20 plays – many of them produced successfully – four books of literary commentary and criticism, numerous religious essays, and fiction. His Collected Poems is still available, but most of his work in other genres is out of print. Believing strongly in the poet’s vocation, in the poet as a prophet, Baxter was also a skilled artist. His work, which is characterized by a technical conservatism and an adherence to formality, reflects his familiarity with a wide range of poets, including the English romantics, Greek and Latin poets, and modernists, such as Yeats, Hopkins, and Hardy.

6/ The New Zealand Book Council’s website includes a useful biographical summary from The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature.