Doyle, Charles (Desmond)

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DOYLE, Charles (Desmond)

Verse published after 1970 as Mike Doyle. Nationality: British and Canadian. Born: Birmingham, Warwickshire, 18 October 1928. Education: Wellington Teachers College, New Zealand, Dip. Teach. 1955; Victoria University College, University of New Zealand (Macmillan Brown prize, 1956), B.A. 1956, M.A. 1958; University of Auckland, Ph.D. 1968. Military Service: Royal Navy. Family: Married 1) Helen Merlyn Lopdell in 1952 (died); 2) Doran Ross Smithells in 1959 (divorced); three sons and one daughter; 3) Rita Jean Brown in 1992. Career: Lecturer, 1961–66, and senior lecturer in English and American literature, 1966–68, University of Auckland; visiting fellow, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut (American Council of Learned Societies fellowship), 1967–68. Associate professor, 1968–76, professor of English, 1976–93, and since 1993 professor emeritus, University of Victoria, British Columbia. Editor, Tuatara magazine. Awards: Jessie Mackay memorial prize, 1955; Unesco Creative Artists fellowship, 1958; Canada Council grant, 1971, 1972, fellowship, 1975, 1982, 1986. Address: 641 Oliver Street, Victoria, British Columbia V8S 4W2, Canada.



A Splinter of Glass Poems 1951–55. Christchurch, Pegasus Press, 1956.

The Night Shift: Poems on Aspects of Love, with others. Wellington, Capricorn Press, 1957.

Distances: Poems 1956–61. Auckland, Paul's Book Arcade, 1963.

Messages for Herod. Auckland, Collins, 1965.

A Sense of Place. Wellington, Wai-te-ata Press, 1965.

Earth Meditations: 2. Auckland, Aldritt, 1968.

Noah, with Quorum, by Robert Sward. Vancouver, Soft Press, 1970.

Earth Meditations. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1971.

Abandoned Sofa. Victoria, British Columbia, Soft Press, 1971.

Earthshot. Exeter, Exeter Books, 1972.

Preparing for the Ark. Toronto, Weed/Flower Press, 1973.

Planes. Toronto, Seripress, 1975.

Stonedancer. Auckland, Auckland University Press/Oxford University Press, 1976.

A Month Away from Home. Victoria, British Columbia, Tuatara, 1980.

A Steady Hand. Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1982.

The Urge to Raise Hats. Victoria, British Columbia, Tuatara, 1989.

Separate Fidelities. Victoria, British Columbia, Hawthorne Society, 1991.

Intimate Absences, Selected Poems 1954–1992. Victoria, British Columbia, Beach Holme Publishing, 1993.

Trout Spawning at Lardeau River: Poems. Victoria, British Columbia, Ekstasis Editions, 1997.


Small Prophets and Quick Returns: Reflections on New Zealand Poetry. Auckland, New Zealand Publishing Society, 1966.

R.A.K. Mason. New York, Twayne, 1970.

James K. Baxter. Boston, Twayne, 1976.

William Carlos Williams and the American Poem. London, Macmillan, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1982.

Richard Aldington: A Biography. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, and London, Macmillan, 1989.

Editor, Recent Poetry in New Zealand. Auckland, Collins, 1965.

Editor, William Carlos Williams: The Critical Heritage. London, Routledge, 1980.

Editor, with Warren Magnusson and others, The New Reality: The Politics of Restraint in British Columbia. Vancouver, New Star, 1984.

Editor, Wallace Stevens: The Critical Heritage. London, Routledge, 1985.

Editor, with Warren Magnusson and others, After Bennett: A New Politics for British Columbia. Vancouver, New Star, 1986.

Editor, Richard Aldington: Reappraisals. Victoria, British Columbia, University of Victoria, ELS Monographs, 1990.


Manuscript Collection: Hocken Library, Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Critical Studies: Aspects of New Zealand Poetry by James K. Baxter, Christchurch, Caxton Press, 1967; "Earth Meditations One to Five" in Quarry (Kingston, Ontario), summer 1972; "Le Longue Voyage de Mike Doyle" by John Greene, in Ellipse (Quebec), 1977; "Quiet Islands," in Anthos (Ottawa), winter 1978; "Poetic Journeys," in Canadian Literature 79 (Vancouver), 1979; "Mike Doyle and the Poet's Progress" by David Dowling, in West Coast Review (Vancouver), winter 1981; "Reality's Outer Limit" by Charles Jillard, in Reference West (Victoria, British Columbia), 1989.

Charles Doyle comments:

My central interest is still in the life of poetry. Contemporary poetry is perplexingly full of riches on the one hand and poetasters on the other, loaded with hype and competition. Having been within viewing distance of the high ground and having lived through avantgarde ambitions into a late quietism, I am indeed fortunate in retaining a live and committed sense of poetry and the poem. It rejoices me that there is so much poetry and the life of poetry to continue to be excited by.

*  *  *

Because of his residence in Britain, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada and his occupation as academic, critic, and editor, Charles Doyle's poetic career might well be described in the words of the acknowledged master W.C. Williams as the attempt to "find a local speech." A sense of geographical displacement in the 1950s was exchanged for a sense of intellectual displacement in the 1960s, while in the 1970s the search for poetic form dominated. His best poetry results when a balance between inventive form, philosophical reflection, and deeply felt personal experience is achieved.

Doyle's earlier lyrics contrast Europe ("our derelict hearts abandoned in distant places") with New Zealand as he wonders why "in a green country / where the cricket sings / there is such heartache / at the heart of things." When he does attempt to verbalize the here and now, the real says, "I am a thing, and that / Defeats you utterly." In Messages for Herod Doyle is vividly capable of evoking the present in dramatic lyrics, as in the poem in which the clear smile of a hitchhiker is glimpsed from a car window. But the title poem shows the poet's dread of the personal as the parochial; Herod slaughters the children because one of them denies that Auckland is the center of the universe.

Doyle seeks a solution in a Yeatsian Byzantium—"To make is to discover." Earth Meditations is a sustained intellectual mosaic, like The Waste Land welding together disparate fragments of form—concrete, imagist, lyric—and aesthetic idea—Magritte ("woid voice us imidge"), Joyce, Spinoza, Butler—in a search for meaning. For all its linguistic inventiveness the sequence affirms the real in theory ("Could you have made / that same daub / without the dame?" the poet asks Magritte) and in practice through autobiography (life in New Zealand as sitting on "a cairn / of sheep currants").

More arid experimentation is found in Earthshot and in Noah, with Quorum, another long sequence that betrays Doyle's occasionally mawkish naïveté ("all that water?" or "Perhaps paradise / is always / what is lost?"). Yet even here there are superb moments in which emotion is crisply captured, as when the speaker laments separation from his love and "arms in my head / grow long three thousand miles" or in Noah, with Quorum in the lines "Even the windowpanes / wept."

All of these volumes may be seen as a long apprenticeship for the flowering of Stonedancer. Written in a remarkable variety of forms, these poems are wedded to occasional as well as more profound mediations with the sculptural simplicity, grace, and rightness of the Gaudier-Brzeska work of the title. A comparison of the title poem of Doyle's first volume—

   I have shed an abstruse skin, and my bone's necrosis
   Leaves Love's uncomplicated land to rediscover
   Simple as still water or a moving tree

—with the last poem of Stonedancer, "The Journey of Meng Chiao"—

   I must leave you here by the pinewoods under the sky.
   I must go now. What do I hope to find when I arrive?
   If I am lucky, the pinewoods under the sky

—shows his advance in philosophy and technique. An oriental simplicity of form and acceptance of emotion pervade the volume, as in "Shen Kua's Specifications for Travel" or the bliss of fulfilled love: "And on the hill slope, look / at the beautiful skiers. / See them go, see them go / over the frozen snow."

Much of the volume achieves Doyle's new ideal of the "poem as breathing" ("I dig those small / thin poems," he says) but also as "Dionysiac ravings." Fortunately Doyle escapes mystic platitudes by retaining the vigorous engagement with the world that has always marked his poetry. For example, there is a superb poem about the torture of an innocent African that ends with the lines "It was nobody's fault / that, as far as life is concerned, by the end of it / he knew everything else there was to know."

This volume suggests that Doyle "may have saved / the fullest wine until / gross appetite's discarded / its first, careless edge." Like a unique bouquet, his speech is local to each poem. Such versatility in thought, feeling, and technique is rare among modern poets. For all his academic fluency Doyle can always be relied upon to give us in each poem Williams's ideal—"a new world that is always 'real.'"

The volume A Steady Hand belies its title in a restless variety of forms and themes. Doyle is best when looking at the "simple history" of the natural world, evoking it through the aesthetic theory of a Klee ("I am possessed by colour") or polishing set pieces like "The Journey of Meng Chiao" or the powerful political protest of "The Inquisitor." But along with this mastery of form and tone go many uninspired lyrics, including a long separation sequence, suggesting a restless talent that is uncommitted, unfulfilled.

—David Dowling