John Caselberg (1927-2004)
Aotearoa NZ Poetry Sound Archive (2004):
2. from The Sound Of The Morning [9,12]
3. The Wake [1-9]
Bio / Bibliography:
John Caselberg was born at Wakefield, a small farming locality near Nelson, in 1927. His father, who had been a rural G.P., left the family for Australia the same year, and Caselberg moved with his mother and sisters to Nelson. He attended Bishop’s School and Nelson College, and had early contact with Nelson’s painting community. (These links were to prove enduring. Caselberg’s wife, the painter Anna Caselberg, was the daughter of Nelson artist Tosswill Wollaston, whom Caselberg had met while still a teenager.) After leaving school, Caselberg enrolled at the University of Otago to study medicine. During his time in Dunedin, he befriended the poet James K. Baxter, and made his first attempts at writing fiction and poetry. In 1948, during a brief stay in Christchurch, Baxter introduced him to the painter Colin McCahon. Caselberg and McCahon became frequent correspondents, and Caselberg was to take photographs of McCahon’s paintings with him to show art dealers in Europe during his O.E. in 19501.
Returning to New Zealand in 1951, Caselberg worked briefly on the state hydroelectric scheme in central Otago before moving to Christchurch in early 1952 to train as a teacher. Now living in the same city, he and McCahon quickly extended their friendship into a working relationship. They co-founded the arts broadsheet Issue, the first number of which (June 1952) contained a sequence of seven poems by Caselberg, accompanied by a McCahon linocut. A second issue appeared in September, but a third - which was to contain a jointly-authored treatise ‘On the Nature of Art’ - was never published.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Caselberg had been writing poetry and submitting it for publication in local journals. In 1954, his first volume of poetry, The Sound of the Morning, appeared under the Pegasus imprint; it contained the seven poems published earlier in Issue 1. The following year, Caselberg shifted to Auckland, where he continued writing - a short story, ‘Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani’, won Landfall’s Prose Award for 1957. That same year, McCahon produced a series of lithographs based on the text of the poem ‘Van Gogh’ (from Sound of the Morning), and Caselberg had published the first of eight critical articles on McCahon’s work.
In 1965, the Nag’s Head Press published Caselberg’s Six Songs and The Wake. ‘The Wake’ was a poetry sequence written on the death of Caselberg’s dog, Thor, the text of which McCahon incorporated into his 16-panel painting, ‘The Wake’ (1958). In 1961, after their marriage, the Caselbergs moved to Dunedin, where Caselberg took a Burns Fellowhip at the University of Otago. During his time there, he wrote the first in a series of verse dramas on nineteenth-century Maori and Pakeha relations, Duaterra, King. Four further plays in the sequence were written over the next two decades. In 1973, Caselberg’s travel writing and art criticism (including extracts from the unpublished ‘On the Nature of Art’) was collected in Chart to My Country. 1989’s Lines contains material from Caselberg’s previously-written verse dramas; Matins & Other Verse followed in 1992. In 2002, Caselberg’s biography of R.A.K. Mason, Poet Triumphant, (completed some years earlier) appeared with Steele Roberts. Peter Simpson’s Answering Hark (Nelson: Craig Potton, 2001) documents the Caselberg/McCahon relationship, and reproduces much unpublished material.
John Caselberg died in Dunedin on April 16, 2004.
Sound of the Morning (Christchurch: Pegasus, 1954)
Six Songs and the Wake (Christchurch: Nag’s Head Press, 1965)
Lines: Scenes and Passages from Verse Dramas (Christchurch: Nag’s Head, 1989)
Matins: & Other Verse (Christchurch: Nag’s Head, 1992)