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Robert Burns Lives!
Journal of New Zealand Literature 30 Special Issue: Baxter and Burns


Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA
Email: jurascot@earthlink.net

In October of last year, I received the above-referenced journal (JNZL 30) from Liam McIlvanney, author of the highly acclaimed and often read Burns the Radical Poetry and Politics in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland. When the journal arrived, it was accompanied by a short note that read:

Dear Frank,

               As promised/threatened!

Very Best,

Liam

And more recently you can find Liam’s work in The Cambridge Companion to Scottish Literature which he co-edited with Gerard Carruthers.

The journal deals with the relationship of a New Zealander by the name of James Baxter and our own Robert Burns which I found to be an exciting read. I must confess I had never heard of James Baxter, but now I will never forget him. Like Burns, he died too young, Burns at 37 and Baxter at 46. Baxter cast a big net and is one of New Zealand’s best poets, if not the best. He blazed a trail that few men in the world dared face and came out on top. He went through tribulation after tribulation and somehow emerged a better and stronger man. Whereas Burns was a Deist, Baxter was an Anglican and then a Catholic. Burns wrote only one book while Baxter wrote several. Both men battled with alcohol. Baxter was an alcoholic and Burns was a heavy drinker like most men in Scotland. Yet, both men were celebrated by their own people in their own country.

For a good taste of one of the journal’s chapters see the Robert Burns Lives! index page, Chapter 175, entitled Poems Like Hand Grenades: Baxter, Burns, and Bawdry written by Liam. It will make you want to purchase a copy of this publication.

Another zinger of an article is the Editorial: Watching a Dead Man’s Ember Glow by McIlvanney and Dougal McNeil. Alan Riach lights up his chapter on James K. Baxter and Robert Burns: The Form of Address. Geoffrey Miles points out in Ramfeezled Hizzies and Arachnoid Hags: Baxter, Burns, and the Muse that “Baxter’s references to the Muse are oddly and inextricably intertwined with references to Burns” and “the how and why they wrote poetry.” Miles points out “the very young Baxter, (was) brought up by Archie (Baxter’s father) on a diet of Burns and the Romantic poets…” In ‘Old Masters and Violent Moderns’: Baxter, Burns, and T. S. Eliot are discussed with Burns becoming “the old master” and T. S. Eliot “the violent modern.” Excellent writing and reading here! Dougal McNeill gives us a good read in his chapter on A Game of Torn Halves: Baxter, Burns, and Biculturalism.

Paul Millar does not spare the rod of reasoning when dealing with Poems to Statues: Robert Burns, Henry Lawson, James K. Baxter, and the Matter of Memorials. Is the “face of Robert Burns...undeniably the first and greatest of all Baxter’s influences?” It must be since his “passion for Burns was learned at the knee of his father” and the poet Henry Lawson is fleshed out for us to examine just as the others are in stone where Burns in stone once again out numbers all other poets including Willie Shakespeare! Then comes John Stenhouse’s ‘Like Strychnine in Its Bones’? Puritanism, Literary Culture, and New Zealand History, so hold on as it is quite a ride, including the 59 footnotes! Concluding the JNZL 30, Special Issue, Baxter and Burns is Jefferey Paparoa Holman’s excellent Heemi Tutua and Me: A Whakapapa of Influence.  Whakapapa is “the telling of it” and Holman says, “I am here, however, to expound not Baxter and Burns but, rather, Baxter and me.” Wow!

I have reviewed only a few journals in Robert Burns Lives! and I hope this one will lead to many more. (FRS: 2.28.14)


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