|Name:||James K. Baxter|
|Birth Day:||June 29, 1926|
|Death Date:||Oct 22, 1972 (age 46)|
As per our current Database, James K. Baxter died on Oct 22, 1972 (age 46).
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He started writing poetry when he was seven years old and published his first collection, Beyond the Palisades, when he was only seventeen.
In 1936, when Baxter was ten, the family moved to Wanganui where he and his brother attended St Johns Hill School, and the following year they moved to England and attended Sibford School in the Cotswolds. Both schools were Quaker schools and boarding schools. In 1938 the family returned to New Zealand. Baxter said of his early life that he felt a gap between himself and other people, "increased considerably by the fact that I was born in New Zealand, and grew up there till I was nine, and then attended an English boarding school for a couple of years, and came back to New Zealand at thirteen, in the first flush of puberty, quite out of touch with my childhood companions and uncertain whether I was an Englishman or a New Zealander".
In 1940, Baxter began attending King's High School, Dunedin, where he was bullied, because of his differences to other students (in personality, voice and background), his lack of interest in team sports and his family's pacifism. His older brother, Terence, was a conscientious objector like their father and was detained in military camps between 1941 and 1945 for his refusal to fight in World War II. Between 1942 and 1946, Baxter drafted around 600 poems, saying later in life that his experiences as a teenager were painful but "created a gap in which the poems were able to grow".
In 1943, Baxter's final year of high school, he wrote to a friend that he was considering becoming a lawyer, but was "not decided on it": "If I should find it possible to live by writing I would gladly do so. Yet many men have thought they could, and found it an illusion."
In March 1944, at age seventeen, Baxter enrolled at the University of Otago. That same year, he published his first collection of poetry, Beyond the Palisade, to much critical acclaim. Allen Curnow selected six poems from the collection for 1945 collection A Book of New Zealand Verse 1923–1945, and described Baxter's poems as "a new occurrence in New Zealand: strong in impulse and confident in invention, with qualities of youth in verse which we have lacked". In this year, Baxter also won the Macmillan Brown Prize for his poem "Convoys". The prize was coincidentally named after his Scottish maternal grandfather, John Macmillan Brown.
After his eighteenth birthday on 29 June 1944, like his father and brother, Baxter registered as a conscientious objector, citing "religious and humanitarian" grounds. The authorities did not pursue him however due to the late stage of the war.
In late 1947, Baxter moved to Christchurch where he continued working odd jobs. Although he did not enrol at the University of Canterbury he became the literary editor of its student magazine, Canta, and attended some lectures. His behaviour could be erratic due to his alcoholism. His second collection, Blow, Wind of Fruitfulness was published in 1948, and its themes included the New Zealand landscape and solitude. Curnow, in a review, described Baxter as "the most original of New Zealand poets now living".
In 1948 Baxter married Jacquie Sturm at St John's Cathedral, Napier, and his developing interest in Christianity culminated in his joining the Anglican church and being baptised during that same year. They moved to Wellington and in February 1951 Baxter enrolled at Wellington Teachers' College. In 1952 Baxter's poems were published in a collaborative volume, Poems Unpleasant, alongside poems from Louis Johnson and Anton Vogt. He completed his teaching course in December 1952, and subsequently published his third major collection of poems, The Fallen House. In 1954 he was appointed assistant master at Epuni School, Lower Hutt, and it was here that he wrote a series of children's poems published later as The Tree House, and Other Poems for Children (1974).
Baxter and his wife had a daughter, Hilary, in 1949, and a son, John, in 1952.
In late 1954, Baxter joined Alcoholics Anonymous, successfully achieving sobriety, and in 1955, he finally graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Victoria University College. He had also received a substantial inheritance from a great-aunt in 1955 and was able to purchase a house for the family in Ngaio, Wellington. He left Epuni School early in 1956 to write and edit primary school bulletins for the Department of Education's School Publications Branch. This period is likely to have influenced his later writing which criticised bureaucracy.
In 1957 Baxter took a course in Roman Catholicism and his collection of poems In Fires of No Return, published in 1958 by Oxford University Press, was influenced by his new faith. This was his first work to be published internationally, though it was not critically well-received. Baxter's wife, a committed Anglican, was dismayed by his conversion to Catholicism, and it was partly because of his conversion that they separated in 1957. Baxter admitted however in a letter to a friend that his conversion was "just one more event in a series of injuries, alcoholism, and gross mistakes". Through the late 50s and 60s Baxter visited the Southern Star Abbey, a Cistercian monastery at Kopua near Central Hawke's Bay. He was baptised into the Catholic church in 1958.
Later in 1958, Baxter received a UNESCO stipend to study educational publishing and began an extended journey through Asia, and especially India, where Rabindranath Tagore's university Shantiniketan was one of the inspirations for Baxter's later community at Jerusalem, New Zealand. In India he was reconciled with his wife and contracted dysentery. His writing after returning from India was more overtly critical of New Zealand society, evident in the collection Howrah Bridge and Other Poems (1961). He was particularly concerned about the displacement of Māori within the country.
The first half of the 1960s also saw, however, Baxter struggling to make ends meet on a postman's wage, having resigned from the Department of Education in 1963 and refused to take work as a schoolmaster. He also controversially criticised The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, an anthology published by his former champion Allen Curnow, for under-representing younger New Zealand poets. However, in 1966 Baxter's critically acclaimed collection of poems Pig Island Letters was published in which his writing found a new level of clarity. In 1966, Baxter took up the Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago, which eased the money worries for a time. He held the fellowship for two years during which time he participated in protests against the Vietnam War.
In 1968 Baxter claimed in a letter to his friend John Weir that he had been instructed in a dream to "Go to Jerusalem". Jerusalem, New Zealand was a small Māori settlement (known by its Māori transliteration, Hiruhārama) on the Wanganui River. He left his university position and a job composing catechetical material for the Catholic Education Board, with nothing but a bible. This was the culmination of a short period in which he struggled with family life and his vocation as a poet.
While planning his move to Jerusalem, in early 1969, Baxter spent some time in Grafton, Auckland where he set up a drop-in centre for drug addicts, acting on the same principles as Alcoholics Anonymous. Around this time, Baxter worked for three weeks as a cleaner at Chelsea Sugar Refinery, which inspired the poem Ballad of the Stonegut Sugar Works. He had been referred to the job by poet Hone Tuwhare. He also adopted the Māori version of his name, Hemi.
The commune's popularity grew, in part due to an article in the Sunday Times newspaper in June 1970, and by mid-1970 around 25 people were living in the community. The population increased to 40 permanent residents by May 1971, mostly aged between 16 and 25, living in three abandoned houses, and the number of visitors was estimated by Baxter at about a thousand over the year. The five goals Baxter devised for the commune were: "To share one's goods; To speak the truth, not hiding one's heart from others; To love one another and show it by the embrace; To take no job where one has to lick the boss's arse; To learn from the Maori side of the fence". He was, however, reluctant to impose any kind of rules or work roster.
The increased numbers of residents and visitors, and the lack of order and regulation, led to growing concern from the Sisters of Compassion and Wanganui District Council, and opposition from local residents, particularly the local Māori iwi, Ngāti Hau. Baxter himself was often absent from the commune participating in protests or other social work. In September 1971, the commune was disbanded under pressure from the Council and local farmers. Baxter returned to live in Wellington, but in February 1972 was permitted to return to Jerusalem provided that only 10 people would be allowed to live on the land at any one time.
The harsh deprivations Baxter adopted at this time took their toll on his health. By 1972 he was too ill to continue living at Jerusalem and moved to another commune near Auckland. On 22 October 1972 he suffered a coronary thrombosis in the street and died in a nearby house, aged 46. He was buried at Jerusalem on Māori land in front of "the Top House" where he had lived, in a ceremony combining Māori and Catholic traditions. A river boulder on the burial site was inscribed with his Māori name Hemi.
Criticism of Baxter's poetry has generally focussed on his incorporation of European myths into his New Zealand poems, his interest in Māori culture and language, and the significance of his religious experiences and conversion to Roman Catholicism. New Zealand poet laureate Vincent O'Sullivan wrote in 1976 that Baxter is an inherently New Zealand poet: "that is the proportion of Baxter's achievement – the most complete delineation yet of a New Zealand mind. The poetic record of its shaping is as original an act as anything we have." A common theme in Baxter's extensive body of writing was strong criticism of New Zealand society. His entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography records: "If, at times, Baxter appears to evaluate New Zealand society harshly, his judgements are always from the perspective of one intimately involved in the social process."
In the late 1950s and 1960s Baxter became a powerful and prolific writer of both poems and drama, and it was through his 1958 radio play Jack Winter's Dream that he became internationally known. The play was produced by the New Zealand Broadcasting Service for radio, and in 1978 was adapted for the screen by New Zealand filmmaker David Sims.
Baxter failed to complete his course work at the University of Otago due to increasing alcoholism, and was forced to take a range of odd jobs from 1945–7. He fictionalised these experiences in his only novel Horse, published posthumously in 1985. It was during this time that he had his first significant relationship, with a young medical student, but the relationship ended due to his alcoholism. He wrote the collection of poems Cold Spring about this early failed relationship, but it was not published until after his death in 1996. In 1947 he met Jacquie Sturm, a young Māori student, who would later become his wife.
A number of Baxter's poems were written in the ballad form, and Baxter has been described by critics as "New Zealand's principal lyricist". A number of Baxter's works have since been translated into music by New Zealand musicians. In 2000, a collection of songs written to Baxter's poems was released, titled Baxter, and featuring some of New Zealand's most well-known musicians: for example Dave Dobbyn, Martin Phillipps, Emma Paki, Greg Johnson, David Downes and Mahinārangi Tocker. It was devised by New Zealand singer-songwriter Charlotte Yates.
In January 2019, the Victoria University Press published a collection of Baxter's personal letters as James K Baxter: Letters of a Poet. The collection was edited by his friend, John Weir. One letter in the collection revealed that Baxter confided to a friend that he raped his wife, Jacquie Sturm, after she expressed low interest in sex. New Zealanders reacted with dismay to the revelations, describing them as "awful", "terrible" and "shocking". In The Spinoff John Newton wrote that it is no longer possible to talk about Baxter without addressing how Baxter thinks and writes about women.
An allegation of attempted rape followed when, in April 2019, the New Zealand news outlet Stuff published an account by Rosalind Lewis (Ros), who had been at the Jerusalem commune in 1970 when she was aged 18 years. Ros described an "attempted rape", which would have succeeded were it not for Baxter's erectile dysfunction. She mentioned a friend of hers, "Angela", who had told Ros that she was permitted to watch him flagellate himself (presumably a variety of religious penance), and that she, Angela, knew of two other women who she claims were sexually abused. No charges were pressed at the time by the women. Lewis said: "This truth needs to sit alongside Baxter's literary achievements. It must be fully acknowledged and never glossed over. This is for the sake of women such as myself and for those who may not be able to find a voice as I have. As ever, in celebrating the genius of Baxter the artist, we cannot overlook the evils of Baxter the human being."
Currently, James K. Baxter is 95 years, 3 months and 23 days old. James K. Baxter will celebrate 96th birthday on a Wednesday 29th of June 2022.
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