Alistair Paterson (ONZM) is one of New Zealand’s leading poets, editors and literary thinkers. He is the author of nine poetry collections, a novel, plays and numerous critical publications including The New Poetry: Considerations Towards Open Form (1981) which laid down over a decade’s worth of his innovative poetic considerations. As a poet, Paterson first came to prominence as a member of the 1950s Wellington School of Poetry (NZ) which included such equally notable associates as Fleur Adcock and James K. Baxter. In 1965, Paterson’s first collection, Caves in the Hills: Selected Poems (Pegasus Press) was released, followed by Birds Flying: Poems (Pegasus Press, 1973). Soon thereafter, Paterson initiated and led the organisation of American poet, Robert Creeley’s 1976 tour of New Zealand.
It is perhaps as an editor that Paterson has left his most enduring stamp upon New Zealand literature. In the past four decades, through his editorship of magazines such as Poetry New Zealand and publications like Fifteen Contemporary New Zealand Poets (1980), he has nurtured the works and critical understandings of generations of local and international poets.
This homage to and engagement with the poetries, profiles and philosophies of international verse-makers is evident in Paterson’s own work, particularly ‘Pas de deux’ and ‘The night before Christmas’. This is manifest not just in the dedications which accompany his poems, but in their linguistic and poetic form. In ‘a cappella’, the influence of semiotics is clear in the structure and language, matters which are enhanced by Paterson’s uncomplicated, fluid reading of the poem.
The themes of ‘a capella’ - human interaction, the enduring capacity of myth and myth-making, the capricious divide between fact and fiction – appear across the author’s oeuvre. This is evident in ‘The man from Porlock’, for example, a poem which Paterson reads with subtle intonation and short pauses which underline his theoretical impulses. The act of crafting poetry; the fauna and flora of Aotearoa New Zealand: here are other areas of poetic concern for Paterson (‘The poem’, ‘Hurricanes/ wild water’). Whatever the focus of Paterson’s output, though, the interest in the liminal spaces between two diametrically opposing standpoints (right and wrong or reality and imagination) is revivified and reconfigured in a manner which allows the last lines of ‘a cappella’ to testify to its author’s poetic raison d’etre: “... that somewhere between myth / & history, illusion & subterfuge / there’s truth & meaning.”
1982 J C Reid Award (joint winner)
1993 Bank of New Zealand Katherine Mansfield Award