59 / James K. Baxter

(1926–1972)

James K. Baxter was born in Dunedin and became one of New Zealand’s best-known poets. He published his first collection of poems in 1944 when he was only 18, and was soon regarded as the leading poet of his generation. In 1951 he argued that a poet should be a prophet in society, an idea that led to his forming a spiritual community at Jerusalem, on the Whanganui River, in 1969. Then heavily bearded and a strong critic of society’s materialistic values, he became something of a national celebrity. But his unconventional lifestyle seriously affected his health and he died in Auckland in 1972, aged 46. He had been a prolific poet and one of the defining voices of the era. The brainchild of Charlotte Yates, the stage show and album Baxter (released in 2000), is a selection of the poet’s works set to music by 12 New Zealand recording artists.


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