James K Baxter was one of New Zealand most accomplished poetry writers. Baxter has tended to show his life emotions through his writing. Baxter’s life has changed dramatically. And with this his poetry content has changed dramatically. Many things have helped to change his life including, His parents, Pacifism, Schooling, University, Alcohol, Religion, Work environments, Marriage, United Nations Commitments, Operating a Auckland Safe House and Having a number of occupations. James K Baxter describes his poems as "part of a large subconscious corpus of personal myth, like an island above the sea, but joined underwater to other islands".
James K Baxter was born in Otago to a farming family. His parent’s labour voting influenced Baxter a lot as well as his parents contrasting backgrounds. Also his father being a pacifist made Baxter teenage years solitary. During 1942 and 1946 he drafted up to 600 poems. This helped his poetry mind to develop and grow and helped him to release feelings that he had never been able to, about life in general.
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James K Baxter always had strong views about the world, which has come out in his poetry. His views on systematic schooling were showed when on the first day of school he burnt his hand. He was a very unmotivated student who focused his time on reading poetry. He read a lot of poetry from Aude, Spencer, Macniece and Day Lewis , which inspired Baxter to write poetry on the problems with society. By his late teens he was developing a very strong inner voice to the views of the world and of New Zealand. In 1944 he started what Baxter called "a long and unsuccessful with the higher learning" at the time when he started with Otago University. With the start of University, alcoholism started to become a problem as well. In 1944 Baxter won the Macmillan Brown literary prize, and also published his first collection "Behind the Pallisade".
After Baxter left university in 1945, he started to work in farms and factories. This period of time was reflected in a novel called Horse. He also had his very first love affair at which failed because of his battle with alcohol. He became a more of a alcoholic after the break. His ex-girlfriend still had a lasting affect on Baxter as he wrote three poems about her. "Songs of the desert", "Cressida", "Words to lay a strong ghost." Also in this period he met another girl called Jacqueline Sturm.
In 1947 he went back to university in Christchurch. In Christchurch he saw a Jungian Psychologists, he started to put this into his poetry. Also in Christchurch, his battle with the bottle all as Baxter described it "irrigating river of alcohol" made him only occasionally attend lectures. In this time he also started associating with poets and Glover and he also he kept reading a lot. He had great interest in the Anglican religion. And he got married to Jacqueline Sturm in Napier at the St Johns Cathedral Napier in 1948, despite Baxter parents not agreeing to the wedding.
Over the next few years Baxter attended Teachers college and became assistant master at Lower Hutt’s Epuni School. Just one of many occupations that he will have done. Also he attended Alcoholics Anonymous. To also help his problems with alcohol he visited and helped people in prisons. This continued till the day he died. In 1956 he left Epuni School, to go to work for school publications. This is when he provided numerous attacks on the bureaucracy..
In 1957 Baxter converted from Anglican to Roman Catholic. From this move Jacqueline Sturm and Baxter got divorced. In 1958 he was accepted into the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1958 Baxter travelled to Japan and India for an educational study. During this time overseas Jacqueline Sturm came over and reconciled with Baxter. Baxter was also shocked at the amount of poverty around India. This influenced his poetry, as his next collection was known as the "Asian collection". It was about the situations in less developed countries other than New Zealand like China and India.
His move back to New Zealand was a not a pleasant one as he had dysentery. This changed Baxter mind about New Zealand society. He started writing about this criticism in poetry and plays. Most of the criticism that he wrote about was about the amount of guilt, and the lack of love in relationships of New Zealand Families. Through the popularity of his play, "The Wide Open Cage" he kept writing about these thoughts through the next two or three years.
In 1963 he became a postman, another of his many professions that he has been through his life. Again he wrote a wee bit more of a light-hearted poem. But he wrote about what he still strongly believed in, about his times being a postman and how the posties refused to deliver heavy soap powder samples. Later that year he started writing in protest to the Vietnam War. He used the same themes as his father did when he refused to go to the First World War. He also used his teenager voice, to show how he felt as a teenager about the war. In 1966 he wrote one of his major collections. "Pig Island Letters".
As he travelled back to Otago, he became an active member in the Otago University, with helping with protests for the Vietnam War. During this time he also started to relive family memories, and started to write about them.
In 1968 he went to a marae and found a revelation. He found a group of Pakeha and Maori people who tries to live with out money and books, and live off the land and also worships god. This changed his beliefs a lot. Later that year Baxter left Wellington and travelled to Auckland where he had a job at the Chelsea Sugar refinery. He failed to keep it for too long. Then from there he set up a Drug Addicts centre. Baxter also was now known as Hemi, a Maori translation of James. The drug Addicts centre was set up like Alcoholics Anonymous. He also went round with bare feet, and scraggy clothes, and so got the attention of the media and the police.
At the start of the year 1969, Baxter went to Jerusalem. From there he wanted a Maori communal style of living, to make up for the loss of values by the New Zealand Pakeha.
After that he returned to Wellington, from there he was drained emotionally and physically. He died on the 22nd of October of a coronary thrombosis. He recorded his last collection of poems in 1972.
This essay has shown that James K Baxter had a lot of things that influenced his life, and as they influenced his life, they would normally influence his poetry, which is still regarded as some of New Zealand’s greatest pieces of literature.
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