Campbell, Alistair 1925-

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CAMPBELL, Alistair 1925-

(Alistair Te Ariki Campbell)

PERSONAL: Born June 25, 1925, in Rarotonga, Cook Islands; son of Jock (a trader) and Teu Campbell; married Fleur Adcock (a poet), 1952 (divorced, 1957); married Meg Andersen, 1958; children: (first marriage) two sons; (second marriage) one son, two daughters. Education: Attended University of Otago; Victoria University of Wellington (Wellington, New Zealand), B.A., 1953; Wellington Teachers College, Teaching Diploma, 1954.

ADDRESSES: Home—4B Rawhiti Rd., Pukerua Bay, Wellington, New Zealand. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Wai-te-ata Press, Victoria University of Wellington, P.O. Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand.

CAREER: Poet, novelist, and playwright. Health Department Records Office, Wellington, New Zealand, staff member, 1944; Red Cross Hospital, Wellington, gardener, 1948–49; Department of Education, School Publications, Wellington, editor, 1955–72; New Zealand Council for Educational Research, Wellington, senior editor, 1972–87. Writer's workshop poetry consultant, University of South Pacific, Suva, Fiji, 1974, and Lautoka, Fiji, 1980; guest writer, Adelaide International Festival of the Arts, Adelaide, Australia, 1978.

MEMBER: PEN International, New Zealand Centre (president and president of honour), New Zealand Poetry Society (patron).

AWARDS, HONORS: Gold Medal, La Spezia International Film Festival, 1974, for television documentary Island of the Spirits; New Zealand Book Award for Poetry, 1982, for Collected Poems 1947–1981; regional finalist, Commonwealth Writers Prize, 1990, for The Frigate Bird; Arts Council scholarship in letters, 1990; writer's fellow, Victoria University, 1992; Pacific Islands Artist Award, 1999; honorary D.Litt., Victoria University of Wellington, 1999.



Mine Eyes Dazzle: Poems 1947–49, Pegasus Press (Christchurch, New Zealand), 1950, second revised edition, 1956.

Wild Honey, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1964.

Blue Rain, Wai-te-ata Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1967.

Drinking Horn, Bottle Press (Paremata, New Zealand), 1970.

Walk the Black Path, Bottle Press (Paremata, New Zealand), 1971.

Kapiti: Selected Poems 1947–71, Pegasus Press (Christchurch, New Zealand), 1972.

Dreams, Yellow Lions, Alister Taylor (Martinborough, New Zealand), 1975.

The Dark Lord of Savaiki, Te Kotare Press (Pukerua Bay, New Zealand), 1980.

Collected Poems 1947–1981, Alister Taylor (Martinborough, New Zealand), 1981.

Soul Traps: A Lyric Sequence, Te Kotare Press (Pukerua Bay, New Zealand), 1985.

Stone Rain: The Polynesian Strain, Hazard Press (Christchurch, New Zealand), 1992.

Death and the Tagua, Wai-te-ata Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1995.

Pocket Collected Poems, Hazard Press (Christchurch, New Zealand), 1996.

Gallipoli and Other Poems. Wai-te-ata Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1999.

Maori Battalion: A Poetic Sequence, Wai-te-ata Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 2001.

Poets in Our Youth: Four Letters in Verse, Pemmican Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 2002.


The Frigate Bird, Heinemann Reed (Auckland, New Zealand), 1989.

Sidewinder, Reed Books (Auckland, New Zealand), 1991.

Tia, Reed Books (Auckland, New Zealand), 1993.

Fantasy with Witches, Hazard Press (Christchurch, New Zealand), 1998.


Sanctuary of Spirits, Victoria University/Wai-te-ata Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1963.

When the Bough Breaks (produced in Wellington, New Zealand, 1970), published in Contemporary New Zealand Plays, edited by Howard McNaughton, Oxford University Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1974.

Anansi, Stanley Thornes (Cheltenham, England), 1999.

Also author of play The Suicide, published in Landfall 112 (Wellington, New Zealand), 1974.


The Fruit Farm (for children), School Publications Branch (Wellington, New Zealand), 1953.

The Happy Summer (for children), Whitecomb and Tombs (Christchurch, New Zealand), 1961.

New Zealand: A Book for Children, School Publications Branch (Wellington, New Zealand), 1967.

Maori Legends, Seven Seas (Wellington, New Zealand), 1969.

Island to Island (memoirs), Whitcoulls (Christchurch, New Zealand), 1984.

Also author of radio plays, including Sanctuary of Spirits, broadcast 1963; The Homecoming, broadcast 1964; The Proprietor, broadcast 1964; The Suicide, broadcast 1965; Death of the Colonel, broadcast 1966; and The Wairau Incident, broadcast 1967. Author of television documentaries Island of the Spirits, broadcast 1973; and Like You I'm Trapped, broadcast 1975. Campbell's verse has also been recorded on the album The Return and Elegy, Kiwi.

Campbell's manuscripts are collected at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library, Wellington, New Zealand, and Victoria University of Wellington library.

SIDELIGHTS: Award-winning New Zealand poet, playwright, and novelist Alistair Campbell is, according to a contributor for Contemporary Poets, "a Polynesian poet, and he was in fact the first to gain a major reputation in English." In poetry collections from Mine Eyes Dazzle: Poems 1947–49, Kapiti: Selected Poems 1947–71, The Dark Lord of Savaiki, Collected Poems 1947–1981, The Pocket Collected Poems, Gallipoli and Other Poems, Maori Battalion: A Poetic Sequence, and Poets in Our Youth: Four Letters in Verse, Campbell has demonstrated the proclivities of a writer with feet in two worlds. His poetry shows the influence of Western poets such as W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound as well as a connection to his Maori roots and Polynesian history and myth. Also evident in his poetry is his concern for the dynamics of family and the effects of his own traumatic childhood on his adult life.

Some of these same concerns are evident in Campbell's plays, many of which have been broadcast on radio. Such works include Sanctuary of Spirits, The Suicide, When the Bough Breaks, and The Wairau Incident. Campbell has also written a trilogy of novels comprised of The Frigate Bird, Sidewinder, and Tia, as well as the modern fairy tale, Fantasy with Witches.

Campbell's early childhood was a definitive influence on his later work. Born to a New Zealander father and a Polynesian mother, he inherited a mixture of cultures. After his mother died of cancer in 1932, Campbell's father lost the will to live and died months later. Campbell and his younger brother were then sent from their native Cook Islands to New Zealand to be brought up in an orphanage. These years were difficult ones for Campbell, who spoke little English, Penrhyn Maori being his first language. He soon overcame these obstacles, however, and rose to the top of his class at school and became a soccer player of merit.

After attending Otago Boys' High School in Dunedin, Campbell went on to college at the University of Otago. The strain of living in two worlds now told on Campbell, and he experienced a minor nervous breakdown before transferring to Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. By this time he had also begun publishing poetry in small journals, including Spike, Hilltop, and Arachne. Studying Latin and English, Campbell concentrated on the European tradition in his early poetry, much of it collected in his first book-length publication, Mine Eyes Dazzle. This collection is, according to a critic in Contemporary Poets, a success for its "musical, formal, richly textured, and sometimes mystical lyrics." Included in the book are two resonant poems, "Elegy," about the death in a climbing accident of Campbell's friend Roy Dickson, and "The Return," which has found its way into the New Zealand canon.

In "Elegy," according to critic David Gunby writing in Landfall, "we find Campbell's animistic vision most powerfully embodied." Gunby went on to note that in "The Return" Campbell's "sense of the life informing the New Zealand landscape is deepened and reinforced by a further dimension, the mythological." In this poem Campbell first explores the clash of the two cultures that form the core of his own life—those of Polynesia and Europe. Such thematic content attracted readers to Campbell's work; his debut poetry collection was successful enough to go through several editions. Reviewing the second revised edition of Mine Eyes Dazzle in Landfall, C. K. Stead concluded "that to the average educated reader interested in local poetry, this bright array is such stuff as poems are made on." For Gunby the success of the volume "rests on broader and more substantial foundations." In Gunby's estimation Campbell is, "in the best sense, a romantic. He writes from the heart, expressing his feelings with an honesty which is, at times, almost embarrassing" and he "produces poetry as impressive as any yet written in New Zealand."

Campbell married for the first time in 1952 and went on to complete his bachelor's degree at Victoria University and later earn his teaching credentials at Wellington Teachers College. For the next thirty years, he made a living as an editor while continuing to publish poetry, plays, and novels.

Campbell's next publication came well over a decade after his first volume of poetry, and with Sanctuary of Spirits he turned to the hybrid form of verse play. Though its title page called these works poems, the nine sections are clearly meant to come from different speakers in dramatic form. This blending of styles is, according to Howard McNaughton writing in World Literature Written in English, "consistent with the clearly transitional phase that Campbell's writing was entering: in the late 1960s, his poetry became starkly surrealistic and his overtly dramatic works used absurdist and expressionist techniques." Here, the sanctuary of the title is Kapiti Island off the New Zealand coast, now a bird sanctuary but once the homeland of a Maori chief. McNaughton concluded that Sanctuary of Spirits "is thus essentially a dramatic composition in which the solipsistic sanctuary of the poet is invaded by the anarchic archetypes of his ethnic and local heritage."

Campbell continued writing both plays and poetry throughout the 1960s. In the former category, he wrote The Homecoming, dealing with marital pressures leading to a wife becoming mentally disturbed and of a Maori writer resentful of his outsider status. Indeed, Campbell was writing from life here, for his second wife, Meg Andersen, who became a poet in her own right, suffered from a prolonged mental illness, and in 1960 Campbell himself also experienced a nervous collapse and spent time in a mental hospital. By the mid-1960s, Campbell had left behind all semblance of writing like a European poet; he had found his own voice, and increasingly it was Polynesian in strain. More radio plays followed, including When the Bough Breaks and The Suicide, dealing with schizophrenia.

Campbell's poetry also became increasingly involved with Polynesian themes, as in his collections Kapiti: Selected Poems 1947–71 and The Dark Lord of Savaiki. The latter volume in particular is a celebration of his own Polynesian heritage and ancestors. These themes are expanded upon and given more depth in subsequent collections, such as Stone Rain: The Polynesian Strain, Death and the Tagua, and Pocket Collected Poems. The last-named volume gathers poems from Campbell's early period, such as "Homage to Swinburne," with more recent work dealing with Polynesian forms and themes.

In 1989 Campbell published the first volume in his "Sidewinder" trilogy, composed of novels that also deal with the author's Polynesian heritage but in a mythic and comic form. Reviewing the first title in the trilogy, The Frigate Bird, in the Times Literary Supplement, Freddie Baveystock stated that the book "reads too much like a journal and is too obsessive with its narrator's psychiatric problems to be much more than thinly disguised autobiography." Awards committees, however, did not agree with this evaluation. Campbell's first novel was a regional finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1990. The trilogy also includes Sidewinder and Tia.

Campbell returned to fiction with Fantasy with Witches, set on a fictional Pacific Island where a mother-daughter witch duo have the power to make things happen. With the power to tame a hurricane, these witches are held in awe by the islanders. Kimi, the young protagonist of the novel, falls in love with the daughter, not realizing who she really is. She leads him on a merry dance until he finally discovers her true identity.

In 1999 Campbell also published a volume of poetry, Gallipoli and Other Poems two poetic sequences that examine war and peace. His father fought in this World War I campaign, and Campbell includes him in the poetry. World War II comes under the lens in Maori Battalion, a poetic sequence about the Maori battalion that fought in Italy in 1945. One of Campbell's brothers was killed in this conflict. Approaching eighty years of age, Campbell brought out a further small collection of verse, Poets in Our Youth.

Evolving as a stylist over a half-century of writing, Campbell has become one of the foremost poets of New Zealand, and his unique blending of the European with Polynesian tradition has created a distinctly New Zealand voice in poetry, drama, and novels.

Campbell told CA: "As a child, I loved the magic of fairy tales and folk tales and the drama and passion of the Bible (which was read to me night and morning). Later, in my teenage years and at high school, the magic carried over to the poets I studied—the Romantic poets, such as John Keats, and the great moderns, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and Wilfred Owen, to mention a few.

"It was Owen actually whose poems gave me the urge to try my hand at writing poems. From Owen I went on to W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, and younger American poets, such as James Wright and Robert Bly. Another early influence was the Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca. I can't read Spanish, but I could feel the power of his poems even in translation.

"When an idea for a poem takes hold of me, I can write anywhere—in a car, a train, a plane, or even at home surrounded by me grandchildren. I write in longhand sitting in my favourite chair, and only when I am satisfied that I have the poem right will I type it out on my battered old portable typewriter. I should have mentioned that more recently, my fascination with Maori and ancestral Tongarevan mythology has been driving my poems.

"The most surprising thing I have discovered is the sheer power of words, and how words can charge one as a poet and powerfully affect one's readers.

"My favourite book is my first book of poems, Mine Eyes Dazzle. Though not necessarily my best book, writing the poems it contains (such as 'Elegy' and 'The Return,' among others) and seeing the collection acclaimed changed my life. Thereafter all I really wanted to do was to write poems. I tended to write fiction and drama as an extension of my work in poetry."



Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English, Oxford University Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 1998.

Robinson, Roger, and Nelson Wattie, editors, Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature, Oxford University Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 1998.

Smart, Peter, Introducing Alistair Campbell, Longman Paul (Auckland, New Zealand), 1982.


Landfall, December, 1956, C.K. Stead, review of Mine Eyes Dazzle: Poems 1947–49, pp. 351-356; March, 1969, David Gunby, "Alistair Campbell's Mine Eyes Dazzle: An Anatomy of Success," pp. 34-50; June, 1978, F.M. McKay, "Alistair Campbell's Sanctuary of Spirits: The Historical and Cultural Context."

Magpies, March, 1999, review of Fantasy with Witches, p. 8.

Times Literary Supplement, February 2, 1990, Freddie Baveystock, "Lost Worlds and Travellers' Tales," review of The Frigate Bird, p. 122.

World Literature Written in English, autumn, 1980, Howard McNaughton, "Traversing Genres: Alistair Campbell's Sanctuary of Spirits," pp. 232-239.


New Zealand Book Council Web site, (June 4, 2005), "Campbell, Alistair Te Ariki."

New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre Web site, (June 4, 2005), "Alistair Te Ariki Campbell."

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Campbell, Alistair 1925-

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