Poet, novelist and writer Kevin Ireland, who was exiled from New Zealand for 25 years, has died aged 89.
He wrote 20 books of poems, six novels, numerous short stories and two memoirs, and was the laureate of several literary prizes.
Born Kevin Jowsey in Auckland in 1933, he was educated at Takapuna Grammar School and attended Auckland University.
His time there coincided with the waterfront controversy of 1951, and when student debate led to a mass vote in favor of government emergency decrees, he was outraged and left without a degree.
His writing career began in the 1950s when he became a protégé of Frank Sargeson, whose old army hut in the Takapuna backyard housed a number of aspiring writers, including Janet Frame.
Like others before and after it, Ireland found refuge in a conformist post-war New Zealand.
“It was an oasis of common sense. It was also an oasis of subversive activity, danger. Here, ideas were thrown around and all assumptions were questioned. It was the most amazing place. Books are really what kept us going,” he once said.
He left New Zealand in 1959, changing his name from Jowsey to Ireland, saying he wanted to be his own creation.
Ireland lived in London for 25 years, working as a reader in a printing house times newspaper. During this time he produced eight volumes of poetry, always considering himself a New Zealand poet in exile and submitting his works for publication.
He described his feeling far from home in his memoirs.
“There are names like Rangitoto, the syllables of which I carried in my head like an echo, even when, in the long years of my exile across the ocean, they are names I recite to myself to find the little territories of the heart where the flags of my memories are never lowered “.
Ireland eventually felt the need to return to New Zealand permanently in order to survive as a writer, and he returned in 1985 with his second wife, Caroline, to work as associate editor. Listener magazine.
After early retirement at the age of 50, he began a career as a writer.
Reviews of Ireland’s poetry tend to mention his understated and witty style, his determined minimalism, his regular use of imagery and extended metaphors, his carefully crafted forms, and his recurring themes of love.
He began publishing prose in 1995 with a collection of short stories, Sleep with angels, described by the Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature as fables written by a narrator. The following year he published his first novel, My top is blowinga satirical take on the waterfront in 1951.
His first memoirs were published in 1998. Under the bridge and over the moon, appeared by winning the Montana Prize for History and Biography. Second, Back to frontwas published in 2002.
We are saddened to announce the passing of award-winning New Zealand poet Kevin Ireland this morning. If you want to read his poetry, you can find it here:https://t.co/YFkMTaYG1d pic.twitter.com/Dr24sNAeFU
— Wellington City Libraries (@wcl_library) May 18, 2023
RIP Kevin Ireland (1933-2023), one of my favorite Aotearoa poets and a wonderful man.
Here is one of his many striking, unique meditations on death. Oh, the twist in the last stanza. pic.twitter.com/MSH5WZwmCC
— Eric Kennedy (@thetearooms) May 19, 2023
He received a number of literary awards.
In 2000, Massey University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters, which he took as a sign that New Zealand literature and writers were being taken seriously.
“You actually have a national literature. It’s what you wear. It is what dresses us, describes us, it is our self-awareness on the page. This is already a tradition, it is no longer exotic. This is the cut of the clothes we wear.”
He was awarded the OBE for services to literature and received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in 2004.
Ireland began painting at the age of 70, successfully exhibiting his works.
In 2013, on his 80th birthday, he spoke to Radio New Zealand’s Noel McCarthy and announced the launch of Selected poemswhich amounted to 50 years of his printed work.
Listen to the full interview: