Author(s): Geoffrey Miles & John Davidson & Paul Millar
The Greek myths and legends are never out-of-date since they form that mythical stratum in the mind of modern man which enables him . . . to make a pattern out of the chaos of his experience. —James K. Baxter
James K. Baxter’s use of Greek myth has often been treated as a critical embarrassment, a tedious and anachronistic burden of classical baggage. Geoffrey Miles, John Davidson and Paul Millar argue that it is in fact close to the heart of his poetic vision.
Drawing on Baxter’s whole career, and mounting the first ever sustained investigation of his vast corpus of unpublished poems, they explore the mythic figures and ambiguous symbols to which he repeatedly returned in his attempts to ‘make a pattern out of the chaos of his experience’. Among the figures discussed in detail are the seaborn Venus; Dionysus the liberating and destructive god of alcohol; the alienated voyager Odysseus; Theseus in his political Labyrinth; and the hideous Gorgon who also functions as the poet’s dangerous Muse. An alphabetical Who’s Who catalogues the full range of Baxter’s classical allusions.
Illuminating the complexity, adventurousness, imaginative energy, and unexpected wit of Baxter’s dealings with classical mythology, The Snake-Haired Muse sheds a new light on New Zealand’s most iconic poet.