The phenomenon of expatriatism, invariably significant in all colonial societies, as settler writers seek to negotiate their peripheral relationship to the cultural 'centre', could be accommodated within nationalism provided that the writer could be interpreted as 'discovering' his or her nationality through absence. New Zealand's cultural icon of such self-discovery in the earlier part of the century is Katherine Mansfield, but nationalism was also able to read other writers this way — most notably the 1930s poet, Robin Hyde, for whom the final eighteen months of her life, travelling in China and then to London, seemed to crystallize the discovery of a poetic identity which had largely eluded her as long as she stayed in New Zealand. However, there was always a problem of identification: when was an expatriate poet so expatriate as to cease to be a New Zealand poet?
One of the major tests for cultural nationalism's construction of its own pre-history was the turn-of-the-century phenomenon of literary expatriatism to Australia. The issue was of moment because the Sydney Bulletin, to which many New Zealand poets were attracted, was itself the source, in the 1890s and after, of Australian cultural nationalism. The question often asked, 'Was there a Bulletin school of New Zealand poetry?', entailed a more fundamental question, 'Did New Zealand's cultural nationalism begin much earlier than the 1930s (at least a generation earlier, in fact), and was it in fact not "internally generated" but simply an Australian export?' The orthodox answer, that New Zealand contributors to the Bulletin belonged largely to a genteel colonial poetic tradition in decay, needs considerable modification. The Bulletin published a huge amount of New Zealand verse between the later 1890s and 1960 - more than 4,000 items according to a recent estimate - and it was a major outlet for at least a dozen New Zealand poets, three of whom - A. H. Adams, David McKee Wright and Douglas Stewart - were in fact literary editors of the magazine for more than half the period to 1960.
A considerable number of these and other early twentieth-century poets, most of them New Zealand-born and struggling to survive by making professional careers as journalists, are best seen as transitional figures, striving to articulate questions about nation and location a generation before the fully-fledged cultural nationalism of the 1930s and 1940s. Some, like Will Lawson and McKee Wright, attempted a local balladry; Jessie Mackay and Constance Clyde were influenced by the turn-of-the-century women's movement; Adams and Frank Morton attempted a more urban-based poetry, influenced by Decadent and early modernist models in England and Europe. All, in different ways, sought to question the puritanism, materialism and conformism of the new society which was emerging in the wake of colonialism. At its best the poetry also began to draw on the new variety of English that began to be noticed (and deplored by Anglophile educationists) from the 1890s onwards. Blanche Baughan's 'A Bush Section' offered a paradigm of this shift occurring in the language of New Zealand poetry.
In the later twentieth century the increasing mobility of writers across national boundaries remains a phenomenon generating unresolved postcolonial problems of identity, location, and the interpretation of texts. Douglas Stewart disappeared from New Zealand anthologies after the 1950s, as did William Hart-Smith, another distinguished Bulletin contributor. The editors of the 1985 Penguin anthology excluded Hart-Smith and a number of younger New Zealand expatriate poets in Australia ('with regret'), as well as the established poets Peter Bland (living in England) and Charles Doyle (living in Canada). However, they included Alan Brunton, Fleur Adcock and Kevin Ireland because of 'their continued connection' and because they drew 'sustenance from location' (Wedde and McQueen, 1985, p. 45). Quite what principles underlay these differentiations is unclear.
Was this article helpful?