About David Eggleton
Of Rotuman, Tongan and European/Pakeha ancestry, David Eggleton was raised in Auckland and Fiji. As well as his poetry, Eggleton writes extensively on New Zealand art and music, edits New Zealand’s pre-eminent literary journal, Landfall and is an acclaimed literary reviewer, having been awarded the New Zealand Reviewer of the Year title six times.
Eggleton’s Pacific heritage and passion for poetry performance result in poems which have a strong oral and rhythmic quality. Assonance, alliteration, sibilance, repetition and rhyme are packed tightly into his work, as his reading of the opening lines of ‘Grass’ illustrates:
Shoulders up to the hills,
the spirit of great-great-granddad slumps
staring at the sun, his stumps
gnawing fat of the land, side of mutton in hand…
This emphasis upon tempo is often coupled with satirical overtones which Eggleton layers into his work by process and delivery. The process involves what Elizabeth Caffin, writing in the Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English, describes as “a torrent of phrases made up of the savage subversions of the languages imposed upon us” by media, political and corporate powers. When delivered by Eggleton in his deep voiced, strongly musical performance, the humour becomes evident, as the conclusion of ‘Grass’ testifies:
Harrumphing catarrh-rah-rah boom-de-ay,
with the rumpty-tumpty rhythm-track
The manner in which subject-matter and process fuse here is also evident in the other poems on this site. In ‘Place’, ‘Turangawaewae’ (the Maori word for ‘spiritual home’) and ‘Deep South’, the content (landscape and belonging) are inextricably entwined with the manner in which the poet uses written and oral language. Blending vernacular and lyric with a montage of the physical and metaphysical, the rationale, experiential and colonial elements of his subject-matter, Eggleton’s poems create mosaic patterns.
As such, in ‘Place’, belonging is located in everything from a fish and chip shop to a tree (family and flora) to a bellbird, a common, protected New Zealand passerine (known also by its Maori name, korimako, which Eggleton uses in this poem). While in ‘Turangawaewae’, the narrator’s fantasy of escaping homeland only returns him to it. For instance, his dreams of Californian beachfronts metamorphose into Napier, New Zealand’s foremost art deco city. Elsewhere, like the environment in ‘Place’, the protagonist’s present existence is revealed to be a medley – of Aotearoa’s key historical spaces, events, and figures including New Zealand born father of nuclear physics, Ernest Rutherford and Tahupotiki Ratana, founder and spiritual leader of the and political movement, the Ratana Church.
Dramatic, lively, witty and anchored to its author’s landscape and view of history, Eggleton’s work exemplifies the vibrancy of contemporary poetry in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Recordings taken from the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 2004.
Books by David Eggleton
Edgeland and Other Poems
Otaga University Press, 2018
The Conch Trumpet
Otaga University Press, 2015
Time of the Icebergs
Otaga University Press, 2010
Auckland University Press, 2006
Steele Roberts, 2001
Auckland University Press, 1995
People of the Land
South Pacific Sunrise
New Zealand Reviewer of the Year
Ockham New Zealand Book Award for The Conch Trumpet
Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (in poetry)Prize website
Janet Frame Literary Trust Award for PoetryPrize website
Robert Burns Fellowship - Universit of OtagoPrize website
London Time Out's Street Poet of the Year