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When Owen Leeming’s first and only New Zealand poetry collection, Venus is Setting, was published by Caxton Press in 1972, the author had, as editor Robert McLean writes in his introduction, “long since quit New Zealand for life, love, and work elsewhere. Although he returned to New Zealand in the early sixties after travel and work as a broadcaster in London, where he participated in The Group alongside fellow expat Peter Porter, Leeming soon left again. Eventually he made his home in France, where he has spent the best part of four decades, latterly working as a translator with OECD after a series of consultancies with UNESCO.”
He continued to write poetry and a handful of poems appeared during the 1970s in Landfall and Islands. In 1986 Leeming made the first of a number of return trips to New Zealand, which led to him write some of the poems included in this selection. In 2014, forty years since his last poems were published in New Zealand, two appeared in Poetry NZ. As McLean puts it: “the intervening decades had not at all lessened the jubilant skepticism and attentive itinerancy that marks this singular voice.”
It is to be hoped that with this new collection Owen Leeming finds at least some measure of the readership his achievements so clearly deserve.
“This book may be a small vessel but it has two masts, the sequences ‘Sirens’ and ‘Khalwat’, that allow it to sail clear from the swell of ‘The Priests of Serrabonne’, a classic that made Landfall in 1962. Leeming has tied himself to his backbone, resisting an immediate yet transitory appeal (‘the hangi/ in the Sheraton Hotel’) to wonder: ‘Can Lacan draw that sky?’ His craft circumnavigates our world in more than words.”
“Mr Leeming’s […] masterly poem, ‘The Priests of Serrabonne’, […] is one of the documents to which I turn for reassurance in my private clumsy labours to undo the harm the Catholic Church does to her young, and to support and initiate a heart-centred Catholic humanism. I respect to the hilt Mr Leeming’s honest atheistic humanism […] with a sense of comradeship among equals.” ––James K. Baxter, Landfall vol. 25 no. 2 (June 1971)
“… a particular scrupulousness has been and is at work, even a finickyness, uncommon among our writers . . . Mr Leeming’s book is unusual, and subtle. His craft is very accomplished.” ––Kendrick Smithyman, review of Venus is Setting, Islands 5, vol. 2 no. 3 (Spring 1973)
Telluric push-ups, rains
inordinate, gouging ice
wrought these tree-robed
to the sea. Thank or curse
the bauxite, politicians
for a potholed road through moss,
jouncing bus, jetty,
turbines in the native rock.
We at least can guess
the virgin’s look, her falls
of tears, before she came a whore.
It had better been for us
and children after to ignore,
to have kept the doubt . . . sound.
© Owen leeming 2018
Publication date: August 6, 2018
THROUGH YOUR EYES
poems early and late
edited with an introduction by Robert McLean
Softcover, 52 pp, 210 x 148mm