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James K. Baxter (1926 - 1972)

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Books by this author: Selected Poems
  • About
  • James K. Baxter was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1926. He attended Quaker schools in New Zealand and England, and in 1944 enrolled at the University of Otago. He published his first collection of poetry, Beyond the Palisades, in the same year. He abandoned his course a year later, struggling with alcoholism, and from 1945 to 1947 took a series of manual jobs. He was baptised as an Anglican, and in 1948 married Jacqueline Sturm and published a further collection of poetry, Blow, Wind of Fruitfulness, which confirmed his reputation as the pre-eminent poet of his generation. He published his third major collection, The Fallen House in 1953, and began to study at Victoria University in Wellington in the same year. After a brief period as a schoolteacher, Baxter worked on educational publications. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1954, and was greatly influenced by its principles; he was also increasingly drawn to Roman Catholicism, and in 1958 was received into the Church. His collection In Fires of No Return (1958), brought him international recognition. A UNESCO Fellowship enabled him to travel to Japan and India, and led to an increasingly critical attitude to New Zealand society, responses he explored in the poetry and plays of the 1960s. In 1966 Baxter was awarded a Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago. He wrote poetry, plays and works of criticism prolifically, but in 1968 he left his university post, and his family, to establish a drop-in centre for drug addicts in Auckland. A year later, he began to create a commune at Jerusalem, a former mission station. His poetry collections Jerusalem Daybook (1971) and Autumn Testament (1972), explore his spiritual and practical experience of this period. Baxter died in Auckland in 1972 and was buried at Jerusalem in a funeral incorporating Catholic and Māori rites.
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