Edmond, Murray (Donald)

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EDMOND, Murray (Donald)

Nationality: New Zealander. Born: 1949. Career: Writer, actor, and director, Town and Country Players, Wellington. Since 1991 lecturer in drama, University of Auckland. Editor, Freed, 1970–71. Address: English Department, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand.



Entering the Eye. Dunedin, Caveman Press, 1973.

Patchwork. Days Bay, Hawk Press, 1978.

End Wall. Auckland, Oxford University Press, 1981.

Selected Poems. Auckland, Oxford University Press, 1984.

Letters and Paragraphs. Christchurch, Caxton Press, 1987.

From the Word Go: Poems. Auckland, Auckland University Press, 1992.

The Switch: A Long Poem. Auckland, Auckland University Press, 1994.


Editor, with Mary Paul, The New Poets of the 80's: Initiatives in New Zealand Poetry. Wellington, Allen and Unwin, 1987.


Critical Study: By Chris Price, in Landfall, 46(4), December 1992.

*  *  *

Murray Edmond's poetry began its rise to prominence in New Zealand in the early 1970s, after a decade in which the choices open to New Zealand poets had been defined by Allen Curnow's traditionalist The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse and Donald Allen's innovative anthology The New American Poetry, both of which appeared in 1960. In his association with and editorship of the little magazine The Word Is Freed (known locally as Freed), Edmond helped keep open the doors to the American influence that conspicuously revitalized the New Zealand poetry scene at the end of the 1960s. Whereas Curnow had stressed the poem as a well-made object, Edmond and a number of his contemporaries sought in their verse to remain open to the shifting identities of their situation.

In his early poetry Edmond accepted the technical opportunities made available by Williams, O'Hara, Duncan, Creeley, and Olson—the variable foot, the unpredictable length of the line, rhythms that are deliberately uncertain, and the use of the ampersand and of the oblique. The strength his poetry shares with Curnow's is an attention to the local and specific, but whereas Curnow's sense of the local and specific is derived from a Yeatsian understanding of national destiny (instead of Ireland's reality, there is New Zealand's), Edmond eschews such grandiose notions. He has developed an interest in oriental culture, yet his poetry often deals with situations that are domestic and familiar.

Edmond's language itself is domestic, familiar, lightly empowered, and used with a care born of nervous caution. He attempts to maintain a familiar regard without becoming merely blasé and contemptuous. "Night-Shift 1" is a good example:

   I get up at 4.00 p.m.
   & buy a cheese
   3 tomatoes, an orange, & a tin of fruit juice
   as usual:
   also a paper.
   I return to the kitchen
   & put 2 tomatoes in the fridge for midnight,
   cut off a piece of cheese
   & put the rest in the fridge,
   also for midnight …

Here the varied lengths of the lines register an erratic attention, while the tone is kept balanced and stable by its forward movement through the list of small accomplished deeds.

Edmond's poetry also departs from more traditional New Zealand verse by frequently referring to an urban or suburban environment:

   2 men in blue jeans
   & strawhats
   shovelling hay
   into a great trench
   transversing the new
   lay of the motorway

Images drawn from the farmyard and paddock shift into a world of cars, engines, and asphalt. This is "transversing" indeed.

What makes Edmond's verse more remarkable still is the degree to which he has worked to achieve a dissolution of the egocentric self, even in ostensibly personal poetry. His sense of the familial has counter pointed his sense of the international, and he understands how both structures are as fragile as they are powerful. "My Return to Czechoslovakia" begins,

   Twice in my life I have felt utterly
   foreign, staying in a place.
   The first was in Prague.

The second, it turns out, was in Christchurch, where, having "thought of all the people who went into my making," he "looked right through the window of the moon / —right through into Czechoslovakia." The two moments, which pinpoint an isolated personal identity, are thereby brought together by different sets of geographical, political, and national identities and histories and through the mixed blessings of his Scottish forebears.

The precarious balance thus set up may be provisional, but it appears to give pleasure. "In inflationary times," the poet says, "it would be good to live in a shack," for a shack "hardly exists. / You are out the exit / before you are in the entrance … Let us be done with concrete and steel …" Even in a slightly less impermanent dwelling, as in "House," the tentative nature of the structure of reality is described in long lines, the strength of which is concurrent with their tenuousness:

   Here I live on a cliff in a tiny house at the end of the
   island …
   and you are there asleep in the bed curled to the end wall of the
   house …
   your dreaming holding up the whole fabric of paint and wood and
   tin …
   Tonight I embrace you and trust the roof will hold up till

This has the tone of a prayer, and Edmond's statement that the "end wall" is "a structure which allows the rest of the world to begin" balances an acknowledged grandness against a convincing humility. The simplicity of his language leads away from the magniloquent assertions flung off the superstructures of selfhood and toward a more cautious appreciation of experience that is tempered by the pressures of hard work, profit and loss, lack of pretension, piety, and, in his own words, "investment, worry … ownership, exploitation, and the nervous longing for family …" Edmond has carried these concerns through to the "family" poems and the playfully philosophical and linguistically self-conscious poems in Letters and Paragraphs.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Edmond's academic career as a university teacher and his career as a dramatist and actor (taking theatrical productions on tour in New Zealand, out of the conventional theatrical venues) went hand in hand with his poetic accomplishment. He has also edited (with Mary Paul) a timely anthology of contemporary New Zealand verse, The New Poets of the 80's: Initiatives in New Zealand Poetry, whose project was to be "anti-absolute, anti-hierarchical" and to stress "the energy, the commitment, the intensity, and, above all, the variety of the emerging scene." Edmond's own response to what he describes as "the breakdown of consensus, the loss of literary homogeneity and traditional control of literary genealogy" in New Zealand poetry has been, like that of most of the poets represented in the anthology, one of welcoming enthusiasm.

—Alan Riach

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