Tuesday, 12 January 2010

JC Sturm 1927 - 2009

“Now ordinary / Starlight must be enough / To travel by”

(“New Year’s Eve", 1998, Postscripts, 2000)

It was sad to learn - via Pamela Gordon’s moving tribute - that JC Sturm, one of the last of that astonishingly talented generation of New Zealand poets born in the 1920s, has passed away.

The careful and intellectually intense short stories in The House of the Talking Cat were what first drew me in to her work. Read too quickly or too casually these stories won’t offer up much but, if it’s given the attention it deserves, Sturm’s realism can be devastating. “A way of looking, a way of feeling and a way of being” is how she described her re-recreation of particular dilemmas and exclusions in the social world and her strategy for representing the Maori experience of an era dedicated to excluding that representation.

It’s Sturm’s poetry, though, that I keep coming back to and delight in rediscovering. Learning of her passing brought to mind these lines from a verse letter she wrote to her long-time friend Janet Frame:

in the changing
Timbre of your voice…an excited curiosity
As though you had already joined
The queue before the exit sign,
Poised to look back one last time
With raised hand, a traveller’s
Flashing smile, before shuffling
Through the last gate
Eager to learn a new geography
Dwell in a different dimension.

(‘Under Threat, for Janet’ in Dedications, 1996).

Now Sturm is, to borrow the title of another poem from Dedications, “coming home” for good.


“New Year’s Eve, 1998” is from Postscripts, Steele Roberts, 200.
“Under Threat, for Janet” is from Dedications, Steele Roberts, 1996.

Sturm’s quote I took from Paul Millar’s entry on her in the Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature, p. 518.

The image is from the page dedicated to Sturm on the New Zealand Book Council Website . There's a very useful bibliography at the New Zealand literature files site too.

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