Happy Birthday James K. Baxter!

Hokitika Bill, Hokitika Bill. I remember chanting this poem aloud at Primary School.

Poet James K. Baxter was born in Dunedin on 29 June 1926. His parents were thinkers – his father Archibald was a conscientious objector and Millicent, his mother had been to College in Sydney.

The dichotomy of social order was represented by his family – his maternal grandfather was Māori, his paternal grandfather was Scots. This fed his mind with the differences and similarities between Clans and Tribes.

Baxter began writing poetry from age seven. His work is said to have become technically accomplished by the time he was a teenager.

Beyond the Palisade was published in 1944 – Baxter’s first year of University at Otago, to great acclaim. Influenced by Dylan Thomas, as was Janet Frame at the time, Baxter was part of the Wellington Group of writers. Fellows included W.H. Oliver and Alistair Te Ariki Campbell.

Cover of O Jerusalem: James K. Baxter : An Intimate MemoirIn 1968 Baxter was told in a dream to go to Jerusalem (Hiruharama), a settlement on the Whanganui River. He worked with the poor, and spoke out against a social order that sanctions poverty.

Baxter’s canon of works is astronomical, and well worth a read. We also have his novel – Horse.

Check out our James K. Baxter display in the reference room at Central Library Manchester.

Further reading

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