Allen Curnow

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Allen Curnow

Allen Curnow.jpg
Thomas Allen Munro Curnow

(1911-06-17)17 June 1911
Timaru, New Zealand
Died23 September 2001(2001-09-23) (aged 90)
NationalityNew Zealander
EducationChristchurch Boys' High School
Alma materCanterbury University
Auckland University
OccupationJournalist, poet
Years active1929–2001
EmployerChristchurch Sun (1929–1930)
St John's Theological College (1931–1933)
The Press (1937–1988)
New Zealand Herald (1951–1988)
Notable work
Continuum: New and Later Poems 1972-1988
Spouse(s)Betty LeCrean, Jennifer Tole
AwardsSee awards.

Thomas Allen Munro Curnow ONZ CBE (17 June 1911 – 23 September 2001) was a New Zealand poet and journalist.


Curnow was born in Timaru, New Zealand, the son of a fourth generation New Zealander, an Anglican clergyman, and he grew up in a religious family. The family was of Cornish origin.[1] During his early childhood they often moved, living in Canterbury, Belfast, Malvern, Lyttelton and New Brighton. He was educated at Christchurch Boys' High School, Canterbury University, and Auckland University.

After completing his education he worked from 1929 to 1930 at the Christchurch Sun, before moving once again to Auckland to prepare for the Anglican ministry at St John's Theological College (1931–1933). In this period Curnow also published his first poems in University periodicals, such as Kiwi and Phoenix.

From 1934 he returned to the South Island, where he started a correspondence with Iris Wilkinson and Alan Mulgan, as well as finding a job at The Press, the Christchurch morning daily newspaper, having decided against a career in the Anglican ministry. At the same time, he also started a lifelong friendship with Denis Glover and contributed to the Caxton Press, submitting some of his poems.

He then taught English at Auckland University from 1950 to 1976.

Personal life[edit]

Curnow's first marriage, to Elizabeth "Betty" Le Cren, was dissolved in 1965; they had a daughter and two sons, one of whom is New Zealand poet and art critic Wystan Curnow. His second marriage was to Jennifer Tole.[2]


Curnow wrote a long-running weekly satirical poetry column under the pen-name of Whim Wham for The Press from 1937, and then the New Zealand Herald from 1951, finishing in 1988 - a far-reaching period in which he turned his keen wit to many world issues,[3] from Franco, Hitler, Vietnam, Apartheid, and the White Australia policy, to the internal politics of Walter Nash and the eras of Rob Muldoon and David Lange, all interspersed with humorous commentary on New Zealand's obsession with rugby and other light-hearted subjects.

His publication Book of New Zealand Verse (1945) is seen as a landmark in New Zealand literature.

He is, however, more celebrated as poet than as a satirist. His poetic works are heavily influenced by his training for the Anglican ministry, and subsequent rejection of that calling, with Christian imagery, myth and symbolism being included frequently, particularly in his early works (such as 'Valley of Decision'). He draws consistently on his experiences in childhood to shape a number of his poems, reflecting perhaps a childlike engagement with the environment in which he grew up, these poems bringing the hopeful, curious, questioning voice that a childlike view entails. Curnow's work of course is not all so innocently reflective. The satirist in Curnow is certainly not pushed aside in his poetic works, but is explored instead with a greater degree of emotional connectivity and self-reflection. His works concerning the New Zealand Landscape and the sense of isolation experienced by one who lives in an island colony are perhaps his most moving and most deeply pertinent works regarding the New Zealand condition. His landscape/isolation centered poetry reflects varying degrees of engaged fear, guilt, accusation, rage and possessiveness, creating an important but, both previously and still, much neglected dialog with the New Zealand landscape. He positions himself as an outside critic (he was far less religiously and politically involved than contemporaries like James K. Baxter, and far more conventional in his lifestyle also) and though perhaps less impassioned in his writing than his contemporaries, his poetic works are both prophetic and intelligent.



  • 1933: Valley of Decision : Poems. Auckland : Auckland University College Students' Association Press[6]
  • 1933: Another Argo: three poems from the Caxton Club Press (including "Doom at sunrise"), Christchurch: Caxton Club Press[6]
  • 1935: Three poems: Aspect of Monism, Restraint, The Wilderness, Christchurch: Caxton Club Press[6]
  • 1935: Poetry and Language, Christchurch: Caxton Club Press[6]
  • 1937: Enemies : Poems 1934-36, Christchurch: Caxton Press,1937[6]
  • 1939: Not in Narrow Seas : Poems with Prose, Christchurch: Caxton Press[6]
  • 1940: Present for Hitler and Other Verses, Christchurch: Caxton Press[6]
  • 1941: Recent Poems. By Allen Curnow, A. R. D. Fairburn, Denis Glover, R. A. K. Mason, Christchurch: Caxton Press[6]
  • 1941: Island and Time, Christchurch: Caxton Press[6]
  • 1942: Landfall in Unknown Seas, poem with music by Douglas Lilburn[6]
  • 1942: Whim-Wham. Verses, 1941-42, Christchurch: Caxton Press[6]
  • 1943: Whim-Wham. Verses, 1943, Wellington: Progressive Publishing Society[6]
  • Circa 1946 (year uncertain): Sailing or Drowning: Poems, Wellington: Progressive Publishing Society[6]
  • 1946: Jack Without Magic: Poems, Christchurch: Caxton Press[6]
  • 1949: At Dead Low Water, and Sonnets, Christchurch: Caxton Press[6]
  • 1949: The Axe: a Verse Tragedy, Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1949 [i.e. 1950][6]
  • 1957: Poems 1949-57, Wellington: Mermaid Press[6]
  • Circa 1957 (year uncertain): The Hucksters and the University : or, Out of Site, Out of Mind; or Up Queen Street Without a Paddle. A happy little poem for all the family ... read by the author at a public poetry reading in the Auckland City Art Gallery on 24 May 1957, Auckland: Pilgrim Press (broadsheet)[6]
  • 1957: Mr Huckster of 1958 : another and still happier little poem..., Auckland: Pilgrim Press (broadsheet)[6]
  • 1958: Bright Sky, verse play, unpublished, cyclostyled copy held in University of Auckland Library, NZ Glass Case[6]
  • 1959: Best of Whim-Wham, Hamilton: Paul's Book Arcade[6]
  • 1959: Moon Section, unpublished play, performed 1959[6]
  • 1960: On the Tour : Verwoerd Be Our Vaatchwoerd..., Auckland: Pilgrim Press (broadsheet)[6]
  • 1961: The Overseas Expert, unpublished playscript in University of Auckland Library, New Zealand Glass Case[6]
  • 1962: A Small Room With Large Windows, London: Oxford University Press[6]
  • 1967: Whim Wham Land, Auckland: B. & J. Paul[6]
  • 1972: Four Plays, Wellington: A.W. and A.H. Reed, (Contains: The Axe, The Overseas Expert, The Duke's Miracle, Resident of Nowhere)[6]
  • 1972: Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects: a Sequence, Wellington: Catspaw Press[6]
  • 1973: An Abominable Temper, and Other Poems, Wellington: Catspaw Press[6]
  • 1974: Collected Poems 1933-1973, Wellington: A.W. and A.H. Reed[6]
  • 1979: An Incorrigible Music, Dunedin: Auckland University Press[6]
  • 1982: Editor, Allen Curnow Selected Poems, Auckland: Penguin[6]
  • 1982: You Will Know When You Get There: Poems 1979, Auckland: Auckland University Press[6]
  • 1986: The Loop in Lone Kauri Road, Auckland: Auckland University Press[6]
  • 1987: Look Back Harder: Critical Writings 1935-1984, edited with an introduction by Peter Simpson, Auckland: Auckland University Press[6]
  • 1988: Continuum: New and Later Poems 1972-1988, Auckland: Auckland University Press[6]
  • 1990: Selected Poems 1940-1989, London: Viking[6]
  • 1994: Looking West, Late Afternoon, Low Water, Limited edition, designed and made by Alan Loney in collaboration with Elizabeth Serjeant,Auckland: Holloway Press[6]
  • Penguin Modern Poets 7, second series (1996) with Donald Davie and Samuel Menashe
  • 1996: The Scrap-book; limited edition published in conjunction with Writers' and Readers' Week, 12-17 Mar 1996, Wellington: Wai-te-ata Press[6]
  • 1997: Early Days Yet : New and Collected Poems 1941-1997, Auckland: Auckland University Press[6]
  • 2001: The Bells of Saint Babel's: poems 1997-2001, Auckland: Auckland University Press[6]
  • 2005: Whim Wham's New Zealand: The Best of Whim Wham 1937-1988, edited by Terry Sturm


  • 1945: Book of New Zealand Verse 1923-45, Christchurch: Caxton Press[6]
  • 1951: Book of New Zealand Verse 1923-50, Christchurch: Caxton Press[6]
  • 1960: Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books[6]


Curnow was the subject of the 2001 documentary Early Days Yet, directed by Shirley Horrocks. Filmed in the final months of Curnow's life, it records him talking about his life and work, and visiting the setting of some of his important poems.[7]


  1. ^ White, G. Pawley, A Handbook of Cornish Surnames.(Curnow is himself mentioned by Rowse)
  2. ^ "Allen Curnow". The Telegraph. 3 October 2001. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  3. ^ "Curnow, Allen In Brief". New Zealand Book Council.
  4. ^ "No. 50553". The London Gazette (1st supplement). 13 June 1986. p. 32.
  5. ^ "Honours and Awards" (15 February 1990) 23 New Zealand Gazette 445 at 446.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar Web page titled "Allen Curnow: New Zealand Literature File" Archived 14 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine. at the University of Auckland Library website, accessed 26 April 2008
  7. ^ "Early Days Yet". NZonScreen. Retrieved 30 December 2015.

External links[edit]