Monday, November 19, 2007

Mason, R. A. K.

[Photograph: Auckland Public Library]

Ronald Allison Kells Mason (1905-1971)


Classic New Zealand Poets In Performance (2006):

The Spark’s Farewell to its Clay
Out from Sea-Bondage
Be Swift O Sun
Stoic Overthrow
Flow at Full Moon
Biography / Selected Bibliography

New Zealand Poets Read Their Work (1974):

LP 2, side 1

The Spark’s Farewell to Its Clay
Out from Sea Bondage
Be Swift O Sun

Waiata Archive (1974):

CD 3

The Spark’s farewell to its Clay
Out from Sea Bondage
Be Swift O Sun
Stoic Overthrow
Flow at Full Moon

Bio /Bibliography:

Ronald Allison Kells Mason was born in Penrose, Auckland on the 10th of January, 1905. He attended Auckland grammar school, where he met the poet A. R. D Fairburn, who remained his staunchest ally in both the literary and personal spheres. Despite very high marks in English and Latin, he was unable to go on to university due to a low score in mathematics, and instead took a job as a Latin crammer. While there, he compiled a privately-printed pamphlet of verse, In the Manner of Men, then went on to publish The Beggar in an edition of 1000 copies in 1924.

It is uncertain whether he really did dump 200 unsold copies of the latter into Auckland Harbour in a fit of despair, but it is undoubtedly true that his work attracted little attention in his own country (though it was acclaimed by Harold Monro, founder of the Poetry Bookshop in London).

In 1933 R. A. K. Mason took over the editorship of Auckland University’s new literary quarterly Phoenix, and rapidly transformed it into a vehicle for the extreme left-wing views he himself held by then (the magazine was suppressed shortly afterwards).

Trade Union politics came to dominate his life more and more in the years that followed, and he wrote very little poetry after the publication of his selected poems, This Dark Will Lighten, in 1941.

In 1962 he received the Burns Fellowship at Otago University, where he tried hard to revive his writing career, completing some new poems, and a verse play in Scots dialect, Strait is the Gate, broadcast by the NZBC in 1969.

Mason died in Takapuna in 1971. Famously hailed by Allen Curnow as New Zealand’s “first wholly original, unmistakably gifted poet,” two biographies of him, by (respectively) Rachel Barrowman and John Caselberg, were published in short successsion in 2003-4.

Selected Bibliography

The Beggar and Other Poems. Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs, n.d.
No New Thing: Poems 1924-1929. Auckland: Spearhead Publishers, 1934.
End of Day. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1936.
This Dark Will Lighten: Selected Poems, 1923-1941. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1941.
Collected Poems. Christchurch: Pegasus, 1962.

Squire Speaks. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1938. (Play for radio)
'To save democracy: play.” In Tomorrow. v.:408-411; April 27, 1938.
China Dances: script by R.A.K. Mason for a dance-drama by Margaret Barr, and other verses. Dunedin: John McIndoe, 1962.

Frontier Forsaken: an Outline History of the Cook Islands. Auckland: Challenge, 1947.
R.A.K. Mason at twenty-five: the text of an extended diary-style letter written in the month of the poet's birthday, January 1930. Christchurch: Nag's Head Press, 1986.
Four Short Stories: 1931-35. Afterword by Rachel Barrowman. 1962. Auckland: The Holloway Press, 2003.

Challenge. Issue 1 no.1 (Aug 1944) -13 no.11 (Dec/Jan 1958).
Congress News. v.1 no.2, Oct 1950; v.1 no.3, Nov 1950. New Zealand Trades Union Council.

Barrowman, Rachel. Mason: The Life of R. A. K. Mason. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2003.
‘Asclepius’ [John Caselberg]. Poet Triumphant: The Life and Writings of R. A. K. Mason (1905-1971). Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2004.


Unknown said...

Hoping to read or hear Mason's "Sonnet of Brotherhood'.

Lost in the Middle East

Dr Jack Ross said...

Alas, what you see is what you get, I'm afraid. We only have these five recordings available, but the good news is that all of them are available in the Classic NZ Poets volume (available for order on or from AUP). I can think of quite a few others of his I'd love to hear him read, but these are the only ones in our archive, at any rate (there are other repositories of recordings in Wellington, at the Stout Centre, and in the Radio NZ vaults).