About Denis Glover
Denis Glover emerged as a poet in New Zealand in the 1930s, one of the new artistic generation of modernists and nationalists. A product of two of New Zealand’s elite secondary schools — Auckland Grammar School and Christ’s College — he graduated with a degree in English and Greek from Canterbury University College, where he was for a time assistant lecturer in English. In World War Two he was seconded to the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the Normandy invasion.
But Glover was not quite the Establishment figure all this implies. Though he was noted for his sporting prowess — he was a University boxing Blue and a New Zealand welterweight contender, a cricket player, a rugby player and a mountaineer — he was also resolutely literary and bohemian, battling with university authorities to establish a printing press on campus which later published anti-authoritarian and sexually-contentious poetry. He was argumentative — a firebrand, and something of a rakehell — who was sacked from a variety of jobs, including the culturally important Caxton Press which he established in 1936.
Wit, satirist and gadfly, he wrote, in the words of critic CK Stead ‘some of the sharpest scenes and some of the purest songs’ in New Zealand poetry. Purveyor of a quick-witted, nimble line demonstrating technical mastery, Glover moved between sardonic, even excoriating observations, and a rhapsodic lyric mode — though the masculinist understatement of his ‘man alone’ stance sometimes descended to bathos and flatness in his latter years.
His best poems celebrate the outdoors, the open air, with lucid simplicity, drawing partly on the pastoral tradition of ancient Greek poetry — yet he also wrote memorable sequences of love poems to a number of female muses. A paradoxical figure, then, one who boxed clever in what he saw as a provincial society — he wrote about the Presbyterian New Zealand Sunday as an institutionalised Day of Rest that made him restless — he played the role of the salty sea dog, the raffish bard. He hymned the yachtie, the pilot, the mountaineer, the prospector, the explorer, in epigrammatic if sing-song fashion. As poet of sea and sky, he sought clarity by musing on absolutes and essences, extolling the atmospherics of ‘lake, mountain, tree’, though also capable of seeing the mountains as ‘hostile, vicious’. A keen poetry declaimer, he possesses in performance a musical lilt and implicit jauntiness, even at his most gruff-voiced.