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date: 30 November 2021

Abstract and Keywords

‘Audience and Awkwardness’ explores New Zealand poetry’s attempt to distance itself from the British literary tradition and asks whether it can now, in Allen Curnow’s words, ‘stand upright’ on its own terms. Contemporary New Zealand poetry is characterized by its casual speaking voice, its commitment to ‘code-switching’, and its resistance to aesthetic closure. Often explained via a narrative of aesthetic breakthrough, whereby British literary models were replaced by American, these characteristics speak more of the country’s geographic position and unique demographic, factors that allow New Zealand poets an unusual intimacy of cultural reference. New Zealand and British poets’ respective approach to lyric address offers a useful lens through which to examine their contemporary divergence. Where British poets such as Sujata Bhatt and Carol Ann Duffy present a lyric speaker confident enough in the wider presence of audience to turn away from an intimate addressee, contemporary New Zealand poets typically focus on the provisional and unstable presence of a second person. Typified by the work of Bill Manhire, this poetic stance provides great potential for the exploration of subjective experience while also reflecting ambivalence in its relationship with poetic audience and its response to geographic isolation.

Keywords: poetry, personal poetry, post-colonial, New Zealand, lyric, demotic voice, audience

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