Joanna Margaret Paul's Poetry, Reconsidered
At Jacket2, Cy Mathews reconsiders New Zealand visual poet Joanna Margaret Paul (1945–2003) and her diverse oeuvre. Although her book of poems, Imogen (1978), won the Pen Best First Book of Poetry award, Matthews seeks to address its historic lack of critical attention. He writes, "Only one brief review appeared in Landfall written by the then rising-star poet Brian Turner. Turner, while impressed with the book’s typographical layout—Paul was already an established visual artist—wrote of how he was 'left drained' by its emotional intensity. The book, he concluded, was more of 'an experience than a poem': there just wasn’t 'enough poetry' in it." We'll pick up there:
At a time when the literary revolutions of modernism were already being disrupted by postmodernism, it seems strange to encounter such a narrow definition of poetry. New Zealand literature has become more diverse in the decades since (while retaining a strong core of conservatism: Turner has gone on to win a string of prestigious prizes, including the Poet Laureateship in 2003), yet Paul still occupies a marginal position. The issue is not that her work lacks “poetry,” but rather that until recently there has been a lack of easy access to her work. During her lifetime she published outside of the university publishing houses, releasing chapbooks or limited print-runs from small presses. In 2006, however, her poetry was introduced to a wider audience when Victoria published a selected works, Like Love Poems edited by her close friend and fellow poet Bernadette Hall.
Paul left behind a diverse body of material: she wrote poetry and prose, painted pictures, took photographs, took part in art installations, made films. Imogen may have been her first book, but she had been writing poetry for years prior to it. While her visual art was underappreciated for much of her life, it is art for which she is most remembered in broader New Zealand culture: newspapers reporting on her sudden death described her simply as an “artist.”
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