A CAVEMAN SPEAKS....
My first collection of poems. Jesus Hobo was published in December 1971 by Trevor Reeves's Caveman Press in Dunedin. With a sage green wrap-around cover and black end papers stapled through the spine. the book contained 20 poems and seven monochrome reproductions of bamboo engravings by Stanley Palmer. Like me. the cover has faded, so I have to turn an end flap inside out to recall the original colour and the excitement of an advance copy's arrival at the small South Auckland flat we lived in then. The biographical note on the front flap reads "TONY BEYER/ Born in Auckland 1948, Lives with his wife and daughter in Otahuhu". These were the things I was proud of: my family and being young.
I had spent that year employed as a butchers' labourer at Westfield Freezing Works, with four winter weeks as a landscape gardener in the off-season and evening lectures or tutorials in Education I at the University of Auckland, many of which I must have slept through. Half of what I earned was being set aside to support us during the completion of my degree full-time the following year. We had to cut thin to win and it still amazes me that the plan succeeded; equally that the book came out.
Fortuitously, with the usual student addenda scrawled on the flyer. Caveman Press advertised for poetry manuscript submissions on one of the many Auckland student union notice boards. I wrote tentatively to Trevor Reeves and got a characteristic "let's see it and we'll see" response. After agreeing to do the book. Trevor saw an exhibition of Stanley Palmer's work in Dunedin, met him, then instructed me to approach the artist in Auckland about illustrations.
In 1971. Stanley Palmer lived and had his studio in that wonderful old pohutukawa shadowed house in Park Avenue, Grafton. soon after taken over to no better purpose by Youthline and now removed to make way for the well-fenced Medical School creche playground. I suppose it's a sign of age to miss gone buildings so much. Stan personified courtesy and generosity in allowing the use of his images - qualities I have come to appreciate in retrospect after attempting to work with other artists and publications,,- and I have always been conscious that the level of reproduction available to us at the time necessarily fell far short of the originals. However, it is a pity in a general sense that with Trevor's own book, Stones, in 1972 the fixed Caveman policy of combining text and visuals began to waver. Though difficult to arrange. they belong together, and no one who saw them will have forgotten superb later Caveman combinations of Tuwhare and Hotere. Tuwhare and Robin White.
First publication is not quite like first love but sometimes comparable and as memorable. Many of the sensations are tactile and visual. I'd had poems in Mate. Strawberry Fields. Craccum. Arena and Argot (some redolent names there) but this first solo excursion. dedicated as promised to my mother who had died in 1970, preserves an emblematic significance beyond the literary. With this in mind. I am incapable of judging the quality of its contents from any sort of objective point of view. To belong between Alan Loney's The Bare Remembrance and Don Long's Borrow Pit in the ranks of the first four Caveman poets remains a distinction. Both are poets I admired fiercely at the time, liked when I met them, and still regard as exemplary figures in my development. Lines from those first books still spring to mind, as does the thrill of seeing my work in the company of theirs. Later I was delighted to meet Lindsay Smith during a teaching stint in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
Disparagers. never in short supply on our bitter archipelago, commented that the Caveman Press sounded like a wrestling hold and in willful ignorance supposed into being a primitivist art movement. But it wasn't like that: the true hallmarks of the press's style were diversity, opportunity and optimism, tempered at times by Trevor's fairly acerbic pragmatism. I remember sending him the address-of the estimable Cooper's Bookshop in Otahuhu as a possible outlet and receiving the answer "your local dairy didn't order one". My file of Caveman Press correspondence did not survive a flooded basement in Wellington circa 1984. I'm sure Trevor, that keeper of tabs, has it all to hand and that perusal would disclose many ampersands and far too much indecent language.
We were all more mobile in those leaner years. Trevor visited Auckland in 1972 and I stayed with him in Dunedin in 1973, making the acquaintance of - among others - the impish Peter Olds, whose books were a Caveman staple in the mid 70s. Somehow one or two Caveman poets managed to gather together for readings in various parts of the country.
Another phase of the press began with Cave in 1972. Few magazines have made as good a start and Trevor's individual touch as an editor, healthily eclectic and opinionated, can now best be seen in the hard copy edition of Southern Ocean Review. Like Don Long's Edge magazine, Cave was useful for introducing me to the work of American poets from outside the heavy artillery of nascent post-modernism: Charles Simic, William Stafford and John Haines; also to Australian names like that of Kris Hemensley. comparably durable small press literary scene. I sometimes reflect on what might have been had I not declined the editorship of Cave when Trevor offered it to me in 1974. As it was, I was starting my first year of teaching, had mouths deprived by earlier stringencies to feed, and needed to find time for my own writing.
Also in 1974, Caveman Press published my second book. The Meat - ten poems fraught. to be honest, with my anguish over Vietnam and our recent unnecessary participation in that American colonial adventure. I would write less symbolically about such matters now. While there are those who have liked nothing of mine since Jesus Hobo, if that, its successor was reasonably reviewed in the Listener and the now defunct NZ Bookworld, then vigorously slammed in Cave! Aside from many reasons to admire the products of Alan Loney's Hawk Press, I was intrigued by his custom of publishing each of his authors only once. I can imagine why, from both sides, and feel relieved to have survived two books with Caveman in the 70s (not the four in the 60s I am preposterously credited with by Peter Alcock in JNZL #5).
These days literary surveys seem incomplete without roll calls of important names. Of the three key small presses focusing on New Zealand poetry in the 1970s. Hawk was the most exclusive. Amphedesma most elusive. and Caveman the most active. Alan Loney. Peter Olds. Lindsay Smith. Don Long. Barry Southam, Hone Tuwhare, Dennis List, Murray Edmond, Rachel McAlpine, Michael Morrissey, Alistair Paterson and Louis Johnson - writers I have met and known to a greater or lesser degree in the course of my life - all owe one book or more to the Caveman Press and the energy Trevor Reeves put into his publishing activities. David Mitchell's Pipe Dreams in Ponsonby, a lasting masterpiece of 70s poetry, had its second printing with Caveman. The concentration on women poets represented by Riemke Ensing's Private Gardens anthology was also timely. Now that roll call looks pretty impressive in the context of the full rather than solely canonical range of New Zealand writing.
Out of print collector's items. copies of Jesus Hobo turn up in second hand bookshops at assorted amusing prices. The daughter featured in that front flap note is about to produce a grandchild. And I find myself involved again with Trevor's publishing, this time his Square One Press imprint. Other books have come and gone, each with its delusion of improvement. My passion is always for the next poem so I'm not good at looking back. In a culture dominated by the injunction to get out there and sell yourself, I seem to have spent a lifetime trying to give myself away.
As an annexe to these reminiscences occasioned by finding myself in print again under Trevor Reeves's management, I want to conclude with a comment on each of my books subsequent to the Caveman Press collections. The intention is to trace one pattern of exposure for a New Zealand writer of my generation. by choice principally through alternative press outlets. It may be of interest and even a source of encouragement to some.
....and Weatherboard.... now available, $12.95.
Dancing Bear. Melaleuca Press. Canberra, 1981 - the result of an invitation from David Hardyg who had seen some of my work in Poetry Australia. This slim book forms something of a crossroads in my development. Nearly half of its only 14 poems have been prominently anthologised one or two with alarming frequency.
Brute Music, Hard Echo Press. Auckland. 1984 the only book of mine most critics seem to have read (or read the review in Landfall). Warwick Jordan, later of Hard-to-Find Books fame and fortune, proposed and printed this volume. The cover by Jane Pountney (then Amos) is still compelling and I have the original on a wall at home.
The Singing Ground. Caxton Press. Christchurch. 1986 prestigious press presentation, low impact reception. Good on Michael Harlow for trying. There followed a long hiatus after I was released from my contract with Caxton to do another book with Hard Echo Press, which didn't happen.
The Male Voice, Dead Poets Books. Auckland. 1998 - a gripping title when corrupted to 'The Male Vice' in one local newspaper. This book was a joint venture with Ron Riddell, one of the abiding eccentrics of small press culture. Earth to Ron: where are half the copies, the disc and the camera-ready proofs?
The Century. HeadworX, Wellington. 1998 - while we have not been able to agree on its later exposure or non-exposure, I will always be grateful to Mark Pirie for soliciting this manuscript and seeing it through into book form. It includes some of my main work of the 1990s.
Weatherboard. Square One Press. Dunedin. 2000 - Trevor Reeves proposed a chapbook after I sent him some work for Southern Ocean Review early in 1999. I've tried to persuade him not to make it look too like The Meat, Enough deja-vu, Here we go again.
Or send order to Square One Press, P. O. Box 2143, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Or fax 064 03 456 1053.