Jackson, Michael (Derek)

views updated

JACKSON, Michael (Derek)

Nationality: New Zealander. Born: Nelson in 1940. Education: University of Auckland, M.A. (honors) in anthropology; Cambridge University, Ph.D. Family: Married Pauline Harris (died 1983); one daughter. Career: Since 1973 senior lecturer, department of social anthropology and Maori studies, Massey University, Palmerston North. Professor of social anthropology and English studies, Indian University, Bloomington. Awards: Commonwealth poetry prize, 1976; New Zealand Book award, 1981; Katherine Mansfield writing fellowship, 1982. Address: Massey University, Department of Social Anthropology, Palmerston North, New Zealand.



Latitudes of Exile: Poems 1965–1975. Dunedin, McIndoe, 1976.

Wall. Dunedin, McIndoe, 1980.

Going On. Dunedin, McIndoe, 1985.

Rainshadow. Dunedin, McIndoe, 1987.

Duty Free: Selected Poems 1965–1988. Dunedin, McIndoe, 1989.

Antipodes. Auckland, Auckland University Press, 1996.


Barawa and the Ways Birds Fly in the Sky. Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1986.

Rainshadow. Dunedin. McIndoe. 1987.

Short Stories

Pieces of Music. Auckland, Vintage, 1994.


The Kuranko: Dimensions of Social Reality in a West African Society. London, Hurst, 1977.

Allegories of the Wilderness: Ethics and Ambiguity in Kuranko Narratives. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1982.

Paths Towards a Clearing: Radical Empiricism and Ethnographic Inquiry. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1989.

At Home in the World. Durham, Duke University Press, 1995.

The Blind Impress. Palmerston North, Dunmore, 1997.

Minima Ethnographica: Intersubjectivity and the Anthropological Project. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Editor, with Ivan Karp, Personhood and Agency: The Experience of Self and Other in African Cultures. Uppsala, Uppsala University Press, 1990; Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990.

Editor, Things As They Are: New Directions in Phenomenological Anthropology. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1996.

*  *  *

Michael Jackson's poetic reputation among his New Zealand contemporaries was secured when Vincent O'Sullivan included three of the poems from Jackson's experience in Africa in the first (1970) edition of the Oxford University Press's Anthology of Twentieth-Century New Zealand Verse. At the time Jackson, unlike most of the older contributors to the anthology, had not published a collection of poems. But it was his first book, Latitudes of Exile, that brought him to a wider audience, and the book's acclaim was enhanced by its winning the 1976 Commonwealth poetry prize. With this accolade Jackson became the first of three New Zealanders to win the prize, the others being Lauris Edmond in 1985 and Allen Curnow in 1989.

Latitudes of Exile is a selection of work from 1965 to 1975, and the acknowledgments show that most of the poems that had previously been published had their first printing in New Zealand periodicals. Jackson organized his first volume, as he did his fourth book, more by theme and subject than by chronology. The first ten of the thirty pieces are drawn from African experiences, the worlds the young poet observed first in the Congo (later Zaire and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and later in Sierra Leone. The subjects of the remaining score range from the recollection and celebration of Jackson's childhood and ancestral associations with Taranaki-a rural province of New Zealand, even now slightly remote from the metropolitan centers, that is dominated by its great mountain and by the coastline of the Tasman Sea—to scenes and situations in Auckland and metropolitan Europe.

Although the poems seem almost invariably personal, with the "I" of the poem being a character, narrator, or persona close to the poet himself, they are, nevertheless, not simply leaves in a verse diary or autobiography. The title poem, dedicated to Jackson's friend and fellow poet O'Sullivan, is less about any physical exile the poet might have described or celebrated in the first ten poems and more about the alienation of spirit that comes to the poet through a recognition of the commonplaces of inhumanity and the way in which these dislocate what we would wish to regard as natural human relationships.

Jackson's second volume, Wall, appeared in 1980 and won the poetry section of the New Zealand Book awards in 1981. Compared with the previous volume, Wall shows the poet's stylistic evolution toward a more terse imagery, with short lines and staccato phrases giving emphasis to an idiomatic style and vernacular rhythms. Many of the poems speak of a lyrical response to the rural landscape of North Island:

   Mountains by day blue
   and clouds like stone
   sinking into the ridge …
      all night and far away
   the yelping of farm dogs
   strangled on the wind.

Like their predecessors, these poems are always personal. Jackson seldom fabricates a poetic situation, nor does he often create fictitious characters or dramatic tableaux within his verse. The chief exception to this can be found in those poems that themselves speak of the poet's craft and in those that tell again stories the poet as traveler or anthropologist has heard. Sometimes these two themes blend together as the poet speaks of the mystery of language, describing it through metaphor rather than through analysis, as in the African poems "Mask-Maker" and "Her."

More and more in these poems Jackson seems to be seeking to mythologize the landscape, not only in obvious examples like "The Old Gods" but also more subtly in three poems—"The Skinning," "The Moths," and "Macrocarpas"—that are strong evocations of a now passing New Zealand farming scene:

   They claw the north west gales.
   In macrocarpas there is no delight,
   only the blown fleece
   on a broken fence
   magpies scatter

With the publication and success of Wall, Jackson had established himself as a wholly confident poet, breaking new ground for himself in both form and imagery in a way that was seldom truly experimental but always ongoing.

Jackson's third volume, Going On, was published in 1985 and is certainly the most directly autobiographical work in his oeuvre. In 1982 the poet and his family lived in Menton in the south of France while Jackson held the Katherine Mansfield writing fellowship (awarded to a New Zealand writer) at the Villa Isola Bella. Soon after the family returned to New Zealand, Pauline Jackson died. The prefatory note speaks of the poems of Going On as making up "a kind of logbook kept during the year before and six months after" her death. The volume records events and memories as a diary or logbook would, but the poems are seldom conventional acts of grieving, remembering, or exorcising, although grief is always immanent. The poems are intensely personal but often cryptic in their private references. Unlike many of Jackson's earlier love poems, these pieces do not readily include the reader in their discourse but rather allude to places and events that are part of a private memory. Perhaps they can be called minor, both in key and in stature, yet they have moments of intense poignancy that the reader is permitted to intrude upon. Their sense of grief is sustained by an expression of animism that declares the poet's awareness of the continuing presence of his lost wife. The volume concludes with the prizewinning poem "Stone," which is composed of renderings of three myths familiar to the poet. It is as substantial a piece as anything else in the book, its lines sparse but lyrical:

   The scored bark of pines
   bleeds resin
   for wine
   A mason's mallet echoing
   Rain water collects
   in a stone bowl.

"Stone" is a strongly made and original poem, movingly and appropriately described in the dedication and providing an image of a source of strength for the poet as he seeks to go on.

It is becoming a practice increasingly common among New Zealand poets of Jackson's generation to present a retrospective collection in midcareer. Duty Free: Selected Poems 1965–1988 draws from the previous three volumes and adds eleven new poems. The poems are grouped "according to subject and theme, not chronology." Three of the new poems augment the grouping that speaks of the African experiences. The second group of nineteen poems is with one exception taken from Jackson's first two books. The third group selects from Going On, and the fourth group contains the other eight new poems.

The last of these new poems are a mixture of pieces that recall events in a personal past, a staple of Jackson's poetry, and a mythologizing of that past, culminating in the long emblematical poem "Magdalene of the Black Rose." Jackson is a poet of places and of the recollection of loves and affections. In speaking of these essentially private things, he affects a language that is simultaneously austere and musical.

Since leaving New Zealand in 1983 Jackson has focused on prose fiction and has continued to publish extensively in his academic field of ethnography. His two novels of the late 1980s were followed by a collection of fourteen short stories, evidently semiautobiographical, entitled Pieces of Music, which was published in New Zealand in 1994.

—W.S. Broughton

About this article

Jackson, Michael (Derek)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article