Of Rotuman, Tongan and European/Pakeha ancestry, David Eggleton was raised in Auckland and Fiji. As well as his poetry, Eggleton writes extensively on New Zealand art and music, edits New Zealand’s pre-eminent literary journal, Landfall and is an acclaimed literary reviewer, having been awarded the New Zealand Reviewer of the Year title six times.
Eggleton’s Pacific heritage and passion for poetry performance result in poems which have a strong oral and rhythmic quality. Assonance, alliteration, sibilance, repetition and rhyme are packed tightly into his work, as his reading of the opening lines of ‘Grass’ illustrates:
Shoulders up to the hills,
the spirit of great-great-granddad slumps
staring at the sun, his stumps
gnawing fat of the land, side of mutton in hand...
This emphasis upon tempo is often coupled with satirical overtones which Eggleton layers into his work by process and delivery. The process involves what Elizabeth Caffin, writing in the Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English, describes as “a torrent of phrases made up of the savage subversions of the languages imposed upon us” by media, political and corporate powers. When delivered by Eggleton in his deep voiced, strongly musical performance, the humour becomes evident, as the conclusion of ‘Grass’ testifies:
Harrumphing catarrh-rah-rah boom-de-ay,
with the rumpty-tumpty rhythm-track
The manner in which subject-matter and process fuse here is also evident in the other poems on this site. In ‘Place’, ‘Turangawaewae’ (the Maori word for ‘spiritual home’) and ‘Deep South’, the content (landscape and belonging) are inextricably entwined with the manner in which the poet uses written and oral language. Blending vernacular and lyric with a montage of the physical and metaphysical, the rationale, experiential and colonial elements of his subject-matter, Eggleton’s poems create mosaic patterns.
As such, in ‘Place’, belonging is located in everything from a fish and chip shop to a tree (family and flora) to a bellbird, a common, protected New Zealand passerine (known also by its Maori name, korimako, which Eggleton uses in this poem). While in ‘Turangawaewae’, the narrator’s fantasy of escaping homeland only returns him to it. For instance, his dreams of Californian beachfronts metamorphose into Napier, New Zealand’s foremost art deco city. Elsewhere, like the environment in ‘Place’, the protagonist’s present existence is revealed to be a medley – of Aotearoa’s key historical spaces, events, and figures including New Zealand born father of nuclear physics, Ernest Rutherford and Tahupotiki Ratana, founder and spiritual leader of the and political movement, the Ratana Church.
Dramatic, lively, witty and anchored to its author’s landscape and view of history, Eggleton’s work exemplifies the vibrancy of contemporary poetry in Aotearoa New Zealand.
1985 Time Out
(London) Street Performer of the Year
1987 PEN Best First Book of Poetry Award
1990 Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago
2004 Copyright Licensing Ltd Writers Award
1991, 1997, 2003, 2007, 2009 & 2011 Montana New Zealand Reviewer of the Year