Friday, October 19, 2007

we want Wystan

We are hoping to bring Wystan Curnow to Penn in the fall of '08: poet, art critic, curator, maker of beautiful exhibit catalogues, editor of the most important anthology of essays on New Zealand literature.

Wystan Curnow was born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1939, the son of the noted New Zealand poet, Allen Curnow. Wystan studied English and History at the University of Auckland, and took his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Back in the USA, Cancer Daybook, Castor Bay, and, most recently, Modern Colours.

Of Cancer Daybook he wrote: "I should say the first of these poems had at the time of their composition a peculiar purpose: that of distracting a disease. On a day to day basis, it seemed best to delay their publication as a volume until such time as that purpose had been well and truly served."

In 1998 Curnow brought out a stunningly beautiful retrospective catalogue of the life and work of Imants Tillers, the Australian visual artist, curator and writer. Tillers has exhibited widely since the late 1960s, and has represented Australia at important international exhbitions such as the Sao Paulo Bienal in 1975, Documenta 7 in 1982, and the 42nd Venice Biennale in 1986. Since 1981 Tillers has used his signature canvasboards to explore themes relevant to contemporary culture, from the centre/periphery debates of the 1980s, to the effects of migration, displacement and diaspora. Most recently, his paintings have been concerned with place, locality and evocations of the landscape. For his catalogue of Tillers' work, Curnow wrote substantive new art-critical prose, focusing on Tillers' great work, The Book of Power.

Curnow is also a writer of short stories, and in 1971 won the Katherine Mansfield Award for fiction.

At the time Essays on New Zealand Literature was published (1973), as we learned from the dustjacket: "Dr. Curnow is married with four children. He lives in Birkenhead and has a good view of the sea."

If we are able to bring him to Penn during the fall term of '08, Curnow would be given workspace at and use as a home base the Kelly Writers House. Students in Al Filreis' and Charles Bernstein's courses on modern and contemporary poetic and poetics would study Curnow's work, meet with him both in and out of the classroom. Students in poetry writing workshops (through the Creative Writing Program) would receive from Dr. Curnow commentary and guidance on their own poems. The students in Kenneth Goldsmith's experimental writing workshop, called "UnCreative Writing," would work closely with Curnow on their projects. All the while, events - a grand public reading, informal lunchtime workshop, recordings of Curnow's poems for PennSound (in front of a live audience) - would be on the Writers House events schedule. Students in Fine Arts and Art History will participate in any and all of these events, as woudl faculty, staff and students associated with the ICA. Finally, Curnow would be featured on two episodes of the ongoing poetry podcast, "PoemTalk," which is a collaboration of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing and the Poetry Foundation of Chicago.

[] Wystan Curnow PennSound page
[] review of 2001 Venice Biennale
[] Writing History on the Margins: New Zealand
[] three poems in Jacket 2006
[] bibliography
[] "Matisee Asleep"
[] "High Culture Now! A Manifesto
[] Best New Zealand Poems
[] "Max"
[] review of Curnow's Imants Tillers and the Book of Power