" How can language contain the world that spills
From its torn rinds, how can my ode hold
On to language that ejects itself like birdsong
From pine trees still shady with dawn . . .
‘To Mount Victoria’, The Commonplace Odes "
Ian Wedde has been a major presence in New Zealand poetry since his work began appearing in journals in the late 1960s. His first book of poetry appeared in 1971; his sixth book won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry in 1978; his sixteenth and most recent was a finalist in 2014. By the mid-1980s, as well as shaping his own verse, he had become an influential critic and shaper of larger trends in poetry as one of the co-editors of The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1985) and The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry – Ngā Kupu Tītohu o Aotearoa (1989). After a quiet spell in the mid- to late 1990s came the much celebrated The Commonplace Odes in 2001, in which Wedde offered the Horatian/Keatsian ode as transformative a moment as Baxter had given the sonnet back in 1970. Three excellent books followed, most recently The Lifeguard: Poems 2008–2013, published at the end of his tenure as New Zealand Poet Laureate.
While Wedde has constantly experimented with and pushed boundaries of form and influence in his poetry, his work returns often to key themes and ideas, preoccupations and effects that this book throws into brilliant relief: a politics of language, social and ecological relationships, how memory works, the perceptual world. The son Carlos of Earthly: Sonnets for Carlos (1975) is now a father himself; Ian Wedde’s poems are now more likely to feature grandchildren. But the ranging, tenacious, conceptual-romantic poet, with his linguistically rich but intellectually rigorous voice, is the same, and tracing that voice through nearly five decades will be one of the many pleasures readers take from this book.