James K. Baxter: New Zealand's greatest poet

James K. Baxter

James K. Baxter

I've just written a new biography for PoetSeers.org on James K. Baxter (1926-72), my favourite New Zealand poet and also the most critically acclaimed.

James K. Baxter is unusual among the great modern poets in that he was also a God-lover; his life-long wrestling with religion and self-identity the cause of his enduring popularity and ongoing controversy.

Baxter struggled his entire life he to find his true calling, experimenting with academia, Jungian psychology, Anglicanism, native Maori spirituality, Buddhism and Catholicism before producing his own unique amalgamation; instructed in a dream to form a spiritual community in the small Maori settlement of Jerusalem, the down and out, poor, destitute and helpless came to join him upon the banks of the Wanganui River, where he also wrote some of his best poetry.

No discussion of James K. Baxter would be complete without mentioning his best known poem, written when he was only eighteen:

High Country Weather

Alone we are born
And die alone:
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
Over snow-mountain shine.
Upon the upland road
Ride easy stranger:
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger.

Read the bio: James K. Baxter: New Zealand's Greatest Poet

Note: for those who notice such things, the ‘cross-hairs’ on his photograph are actually crop marks—in the good old days before computers, a sub-editor or typesetter would manually draw crop marks on the part of a photograph they wished to publish. I'm guessing they were deliberately cutting off his fashionably messy haircut.