Allen Curnow

1911–2001; New Zealand’s leading poet and literary critic.

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Photo credit: Nigel Gardiner

Born in Timaru in 1911, Allen Curnow OBE, ONZ, is a fifth-generation New Zealander. He was long thought of as our foremost New Zealand poet and at the time of his death was regarded as one of the greatest of all poets writing in English.

Curnow first began publishing poetry in the 1930s and is the author of many collections and the editor of two major anthologies of New Zealand poetry. He was also an important critic and editor – his critical writings, manifestos, essays, reviews, dialogues, prefaces, lectures, tributes, letters were gathered together in Look Back Harder (AUP, 1987). His poetry reached an audience outside New Zealand too – his then-collected poems, Early Days Yet, was published in 1997 by Auckland University Press and Carcanet; and his late collection The Bells of St Babel’s: Poems 1997–2001 went on towin theMontana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry.

This was just one of many awards and honours Curnow won for his poetry: the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry a total of six times, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize and the Queen’s Medal for Poetry. Curnow was awarded the A. W. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. He died in 2001.