Poetry Shelf Favourite Poems: Jack Ross’s ‘A Clearer View of the Hinterland’

A Clearer View of the Hinterland

Leicester at Millerton
Absence of rapids on Ngakawau stream.
Big Ditch and Little Ditch Creek – impious hand bisects the ‘D.’
Cobweb of raindrops in dragon sun.
“Down, down, down from the high Sierras …”
Electrical storms: intensity of affect.
Fund-raising at the Fire Depot.
Grey & white kitten, black robin, and black fantail.
Huffing into an Atlas stove.
“If you can see the hills, it’s going to rain.”
Jack said: “A succession of inner landscapes.”
Kiwi peck through sphagnum moss.
Leicester said: “A community devoted to male play.”
Millerton speaks – A Cannabis Landslide.
Nature tips – gorse is choked by bush.
Other landrovers get one wave.
Proud grey donkey; manure in a sack.
Quarrelling over the Fire Service.
“Rain has a persistency of grades, much noted by the locals.”
Siren: “I’m always free on Wednesday nights.”
Twin side-logs set for smoke-alarms.
Utopia St, Calliope Rd.
Village hall stained with camouflage paint.
White-packaged videos, too frank a stare.
X of three rocks marks one rare tussock.
“You have to say: Great! Awesome! Choice!”
668 – Neighbour of the Beast.

Jack Ross (10.7.98)

Note on poem

As a kid, I spent a good deal of time poring over the works of Edward Lear. I did like the limericks, but it was his illustrated alphabet poems that really tickled my fancy. This was my first – and to date only – attempt to compose one myself.

It records a visit I made in 1998, some 25 years ago now, to my friend the Rev. Leicester Kyle, who was living at the time in Millerton, a small bush-clad town on the West Coast of the South Island. Millerton is quite a mysterious place (or it was then) –very much off the grid. It was, however, the rather deadpan commentary on its inhabitants and traditions delivered by Leicester as we navigated its narrow roads in his bright red Land Rover which was the real prize for me.

I found myself jotting down some of his more quotable comments and thoughts, along with a few of my own observations, and ended up grouping them in this way to reduce the information overload I felt overtaking me at times.

Leicester himself was a fascinating character. He started off as a botanist, was then ordained as an Anglican priest, only to convert in his late fifties to a new faith: poetry. After his death in 2006, my friend David Howard and I collaborated on an online edition of his collected works which can still be consulted here.

The poem first appeared in a small magazine called Spin [#36 (2000): 51], which I was co-editing at the time. It was described in a review of the issue as “languid and oddly themed,” a tag I’ve always relished. I’ve often thought it could stand as an epitaph for most of my work.

Some ten years ago I used it as the title poem for my collection A Clearer View of the Hinterland: Poems & Sequences 1981-2014 (Wellington: HeadworX, 2014). The publisher, Mark Pirie, was kind enough to include it on his website as an incitement to purchase the book.

I still have a soft spot for it, I must admit. It brings back many memories of those times: of Leicester himself, of the wild West Coast, and the kindness of the people I met there. It makes me feel like jumping in the car right now and heading straight down to Buller and Karamea to try to locate some of the overgrown industrial sites and hidden green havens my friend revealed to me then.

I fear that it might have to be a journey through time as well as space, though. Much of the Buller Plateau has been devastated since then by strip mining.

Jack Ross (14.4.23)

Jack Ross’s most recent book is The Oceanic Feeling (2021).  Last year he retired from his job teaching creative writing at Massey University to pursue his own writing fulltime. He lives with his wife, crafter and art-writer Bronwyn Lloyd, in sunny Mairangi Bay, and blogs here

Favourite Poems is a series where a poet picks a poem from their own backlist and writes a short note to accompany it.

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