Houses by the sea

posted by Michele

The Alexander Turnbull Library has announced its acquisition of a major collection of Robin Hyde’s literary papers. To celebrate the occasion there will be a reception and reading at the National Library in Wellington on February 26 as per the invitation above.

'Houses by the Sea' is Hyde’s most famous sequence of poems and the title of the collection of her later poems published posthumously in 1952. The sequence explores her Wellington childhood and adolescence, looking back at the 1900s and 1910s from 1937-39 as Hyde prepared to leave New Zealand, then travelled through war-torn China and on to England where she died in August 1939. 'Houses by the Sea' travelled with her and was worked on in places as diverse as Hankow (now Wuhan) and Charles Brasch's Wiltshire cottage. Hyde was fully aware of the effect geographical distance was exerting on early memory, explaining in a letter to her family from Shanghai 2 May 1938:

N.Z. is my country beyond any possible mistake [. . .] I’d like to be home, in the back-yard among the black-eyed Susans, or in the front garden with the hose sprinkling – it'll be autumn now, and Wilton's Creek soft and smelling of wild mint and burning gorse. By whiles I have tried to write and link up a series of poems about our childhood places – Wellington – and like some of the results, though very fragmentary as yet. But in travelling, peace isn’t deep enough – if at all – for the writing of real poetry. For prose, however, it hasn’t been so bad, and I think the inarticulate blurred mass of Eastern noise, which is just enormous, is easier to stand because I can’t understand it – my mind isn’t hunting a thread here, a word there. (Challis and Rawlinson, The Book of Iris, p.531)

The prose from China became her last book, the travel memoir and anti-war polemic Dragon Rampant (1939). The poems, dazzling collages of image and memory, were already more than fragmentary when she wrote from Shanghai (she was always supercritical of her own work). By the time she was typing in the spring sunshine outside Bishop's Barn in April 1939, they had become the 20-page typescript from which the published sequence derives. That typescript is part of the vast treasury of manuscripts and photographs that has come to the Turnbull as part of the Derek Challis Papers. The collection is now available to researchers and interested readers of Hyde.

Image: RH writing at Bishop's Barn during her first visit as a guest of Charles Brasch, April 1939. From Derek Challis and Gloria Rawlinson, The Book of Iris: A Life of Robin Hyde (Auckland University Press, 2003)

1 comment:

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

I attended this very special celebration and have posted a report on it on Beatties Book Blog.