A Clearer View of the Hinterland (2014)

[Cover design: Ellen Portch & Brett Cross /
Cover image: Graham Fletcher]

A Clearer View of the Hinterland: Poems & Sequences 1981-2014. ISBN: 978-0-473-29640-7. Wellington: HeadworX, 2014. ii + 190 pp.

  1. Tanera Beag (1981)[p.9]

  2. Antipodes (1998)[pp.10-11]
    Midsummer Xmas
    Strange Meeting
    Morning Swim

  3. Except Once (1998)[p.12]

  4. from Travel Sonnets (1998)[pp.13-16]
    Reading U. K. Le Guin
    After Supervielle & Apollinaire

  5. A Clearer View of the Hinterland (1998)[p.17]

  6. God’s Spy (1998)[pp.18-22]
    1 – Cover
    2 – Code
    3 – Stories
    4 – Safe House
    5 – Signs
    6 – The Opposition
    7 – Inside
    8 – Blown

  7. Withdrawal Symptoms (1999)[p.23]

  8. Out Being Alienated (1999)[pp.24-28]
    1 – Came here the other night for a sticky
    2 – The perfect mixer for the perfect city
    i – Viaduct Basin
    ii – Whiplash
    iii – The Street-Vendor
    3 – Be honest
    4 – Give me a reason to boogie down
    5 – The perpetual time of never coming back

  9. Auckland Girl (1999)[p.29]

  10. The Britney Suite (2000)[pp.30-47]
    Paul Celan, SCHNEEPART
    Wendy Nu , keith partridge y yo
    Paul Celan, ERZFLITTER
    Nouvelle vague
    Paul Celan, KALK-KROKUS
    Wendy Nu, mr darling writes to penthouse forum
    Paul Celan, DAS GEDUNKELTE
    It’s always too late …
    Paul Celan, BEIDHÄNDIGE

  11. After Apollinaire (1999)[p.48]

  12. from Tiger Country (2001)[pp.49-54]
    Tiger Country
    Civil War
    Disorder and Early Sorrow
    [your name here]

  13. Quasimodo’s Last Poem (2000)[p.55]

  14. Seven Levels of the Waterfall (2002)[pp.56-70]
    Letter (to Lien Stevens)
    I – Hill Country
    In the Opium Museum
    II – Golden Triangle
    On the Frontier
    III – Air-con Bus
    The Débâcle
    IV – Ayutthaya
    To the River Kwai
    V – Rafthouse
    VI – Erewhon
    The Massage Parlour
    VII – Bangkok

  15. Stone Pine Lavender (2002)[pp.71-72]

  16. The Return of the Vanishing New Zealander (2003)[pp.73-86]
    I ♥ NZ
    NZ Golf (and English) Academy
    Boi-Boi on Karaoke
    Language School Picnic
    Journey to the West
    Mysteries: A Christmas Poem
    In the Days of The Lord of the Rings
    A Question of Faith
    Bonfire Gothic

  17. Samsara – Breaking through (2003)[p.87]

  18. Love in Wartime (2003)[pp.88-98]
    Carl sniffed
    1 – Porphyry skyline
    2 – Rhinoceros
    3 – Entering the world again
    SEX is natural
    4 – Bright Flowers
    5 – You just don’t have the sympathy
    6 – Stops when you watch it

  19. The Miracle (2006)[p.99]

  20. Three Sisters (after René Char) (2004)[pp.100-103]
    blue pharos love
    1 – in the urn of the second
    2 – twosies
    3 – shoulder your children

  21. Zen and the Art of America’s Next Top Model (2006)[pp.104-6]

  22. from Roadworks: Auckland Geography (2006)[pp.107-18]
    O Canada!
    Tentacles of Destruction
    Asbestos Hands of Dr. J.
    A Sunday Walk
    This DVD contains everything you ever wanted to know …
    Unsuccessful Applicant for Neighbourhood Watch

  23. Zero at the Bone (2008)[p.119]

  24. Papyri (2007)[pp.120-34]
    When you walked in …
    The Villa of the Papyri
    Sappho to Anaktoria
    Recipe for Making a Dadaist Poem
    Ode to Aphrodite
    Life among the Surrealists
    Fragments (1-7)
    To a girl who doesn’t care for poetry
    Juicy Root
    Sappho’s Epithalamion

  25. Eel (after Montale) (2008)[pp.135-36]

  26. from 31 Days (2009)[pp.137-53]
    April Fool’s Day
    Hiding the Lunch
    “The archaeologist of the present day”
    Three fits
    New Zealand’s Next Top Model Speaks
    Substitutes only need apply
    The Assassination Weapon
    The Darkness
    Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

  27. Last Conference before Passchendaele (2009)[p.154]

  28. The Jay Poems (2012)[pp.155-69]
    Jay & the Mail-Order Bride
    Jay as Line-Manager
    Jay & the Great Storm
    Jay Addresses the Troops
    Jay & The Economics of Happiness
    Jay on a Friday Night
    Jay’s Fear of Retirement
    Jay at the Pataphysics Conference
    Jay Finds a ’40s Photograph
    Jay on Fate
    Jay at the Glowworm Caves
    Jay Checks His Father into a Home
    Jay Gets His Hair Cut at the Mall

  29. Lounge Room Tribalism (2011)[p.170]

  30. from Jueju (2013)[pp.171-77]
    Transcultural Imaginaries
    On City Streets
    40 Bogan Anthems
    Inferno 13
    Thinking of My Father

  31. 12-12-12 (after Dante, Inferno 1: ll. 1-30) (2012)[pp.178-79]

  32. The Other Side (2013)[pp.180-82]
    1914 – The Elberfeld Horses
    1966 – The Unknown Guest
    2013 – Rare and Obscure

  33. Howard (2014)[pp.183-84]

Leaving Town

or coming home
either I suppose

pausing to look
down the hill

at the bay
and the houses

boats moored not
too far out

from the shore
the road is

the centre though
those foreshortened cribs

have lost their
meanings the shadow

and weight
of their everyday

the wide grey
road a weathered

fence to stop
you falling off

into the dark
plantation of trees

Jack Ross’s publications include four full-length collections of poetry, three novels, and three volumes of short fiction. He has also edited numerous books and literary magazines, including – with Jan Kemp – the trilogy of audio / text anthologies Classic, Contemporary and New NZ Poets in Performance (AUP, 2006-8).

The first of the 33 poems and sequences reprinted here was written in 1981, the latest in 2014. As Paula Green put it in 99 Ways into NZ Poetry (2010): “Jack Ross writes poetry like an inquisitive magpie, a scholar, a linguist and a hot-air balloonist … The end result, in contrast to some experimental work, promotes heart as much as it does cerebral talk.”



Graham Fletcher: "The New Order"
[from King of the Wood (2002)]


The earliest poem in this book was written in 1981 – and published in a large soft-backed anthology called Tango, “a literary rage.” Auckland University Literary Handbook 1982, compiled by David Eggleton, who now edits Landfall. The latest was written in 2014. That’s thirty-three years I’ve been trying to write poetry – longer, actually, since it was quite some time before I succeeded in getting any into print.

I’d like to thank a number of people for their help with this book:

My wife, Bronwyn Lloyd, always my best and most astute critic; the Bookshop (later Eye Street) Poets, Raewyn Alexander, Rosetta Allan, Stu Bagby, Lee Dowrick, Alice Hooton, Leicester Kyle, Jacqueline Crompton Ottaway, Gwenyth Perry, Ila Selwyn, Michael Steven, and Wensley Willcox, who’ve had to listen to most of them in our workshops over the years; Graham Fletcher, for his generous gift of a cover image; Scott Hamilton and those other Salt alumni, Michael Arnold, Hamish Dewe and Richard Taylor, for general aiding and abetting; the inimitable David Howard, for his permission to include his part in our joint translation of René Char (pp. 100-03); my brother K. M. Ross, who’s helped out so much early and late; my mother and father, Drs June and John Ross, for figuring in and inspiring so many of them; Gabriel White, for the neverending stimulation of his work and talk; and all the various editors and publishers who’ve shown faith in my work at one time or another:

Bill Ayton at Narcissus Press; Elizabeth Caffin at AUP; Christine Cole Catley at Cape Catley; Brett Cross and Ellen Portch at Titus Books; John Geraets and his successors at brief; Paula Green and Harry Ricketts for 99 Ways into NZ Poetry; Dean Harvard at Kilmog Press; Jan Riemenschneider-Kemp at the AoNZPSA (Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive) [http://aonzpsa.blogspot.co.nz/]; Jenny Lawn at the SSCS Monograph Series (Massey University); Michele Leggott and Brian Flaherty at the nzepc (New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre) [http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/]; Theresia Liemlienio Marshall at Pohutukawa Press; Alistair Paterson at Poetry NZ; and – last but not least – Mark Pirie at HeadworX, who agreed to take on this project out of the kindness of his heart (as well as his pure disinterested zeal for poetry); and too many other people at too many journals and websites for me to list them all here.

David Howard: in Christchurch Public Library (10/6/19)]

Online Textual Notes:






4C/19 Cottleville Tce
Wellington 6011
New Zealand

RRP: $NZ30.00

Reviews & Comments:

  1. Graham Beattie, "New poetry release by Jack Ross, Auckland." Beattie's Book Blog (September 30, 2014):

    The first of the 33 poems and sequences reprinted here was written in 1981, the latest in 2014 – a time-lapse of thirty-three years. As Paula Green put it in 99 Ways into NZ Poetry: “Jack Ross writes poetry like an inquisitive magpie, a scholar, a linguist and a hot-air balloonist … The end result, in contrast to some experimental work, promotes heart as much as it does cerebral talk.”

    A Clearer View of the Hinterland is Jack Ross’s fifth full-length poetry collection, and his most substantial to date. It reprints four complete poetry chapbooks, as well as including extracts from numerous others. The poems on offer here include love lyrics, experimental texts, and translations from a variety of languages.

  2. Mark Pirie, "HeadworX Releases New Books By Jack Ross And John O'Connor." Mark Pirie Blog (October 23, 2014):

    In September, my publishing company HeadworX released two new poetry books by John O’Connor, of Christchurch, and Jack Ross, of Auckland.

    O’Connor’s book is a nifty collection of his poems and prose poems called Whistling in the Dark with a neat cover by renowned Canterbury artist Eion Stevens.

    Ross’s book, A Clearer View of the Hinterland: Poems & Sequences 1981-2014, is essentially a major retrospective of his work, and something of much anticipation in New Zealand poetry circles.

    I’m very pleased to be publishing both of these well established New Zealand poets.

    For more details on each book, please visit the HeadworX website:

    Jack Ross, A Clearer View of the Hinterland

    John O’Connor, Whistling in the Dark

  3. Tracey Slaughter, Launch speech for A Clearer View of the Hinterland (May 25, 2015):

    ... If there’s one thing I constantly stress to my students it’s that Art is About Paying Attention – there’s no better illustration of that truth than the poems of Jack Ross. He is “an archaeologist of the present day.” Jack notices everything – the sleepless watcher of his poems is God’s Spy, always Baudelaire-style “out being alienated”, restlessly drifting the streets “photographing things, trying to trace patterns in the gaps.” He’s a sly postmodern neighbourhood watch, playing with the splinters of image that filter through the city, a place of atrocities, cheap thrills, kitsch, all the grace we’ve got. No one’s awake to the hinterland like Jack Ross, or can give you a clearer more haunting view. I’ve called him the King of Alt before, and no one can threaten his title - he’s a shape-shifter and a codeswitcher ... no one can jump cut from the sublime to the sub-pop in an electric instant like Jack. Tender, dirty, clever, lonely, wry, he’ll lead you from the existential longing of Celan to the “plastic voices” of NZ’s top models, from peepshows to pilgrimages, ancient scrolls to ads for lubricant. ...

  4. Mark Anthony Houlahan, "When Jack Ross came to town ..." (May 28, 2015):

    When Jack Ross came to town the sky split open raining ice and fire.
    A blizzard of small press books scattered by the lake &
    greedy reader seagulls fell upon them.
    When Jack Ross came to town a boy with wild red hair and a boy with towery
    black hair played mad guitar and looked happy in their work.
    When Jack Ross came to town a concrete bunker filed with pastries,
    wine and paintings was lit with joy.
    When Jack Ross came to town there was fond recall of mythical scenes
    from Hamilton early in its holocene era:
    landlines, faxes, test cricket and another uncaring government in power.
    When Jack Ross came to town people bought little pieces of Slaughter & Ross
    with $50 notes showing faith in the future of cash and the printed word.
    When Jack Ross came to town Joel spun round & round & round
    & round & round & round & round & round and round & round
    listening to the happy squawk of grownups mingling
    and we wondered what will he speak & sing?

  5. Robert McLean, "A Wind Through the Stays of Syntax." Landfall Review Online (August 1, 2015):

    So far as voice goes, in its shiftiness and gamesmanship, and how it relates to authorial identity, from the bulk of the poems in A Clearer View of the Hinterland one could make a case that Ross is Dr Jekyll to Manhire’s Mr Hyde. Manhire deals in whimsy and nostalgia, his compassionate tongue in his cheek; Ross ups the ante with kitsch and the ever-erstwhile contemporary, his incisive fangs bared. His modus operandi mash-ups are ‘like’ ideograms, which instead of humming in discordant harmony, shatter into each other, resulting in a spiky co-mixture of shards from shop-front windows and cathedrals’ stained glass alike. ...

    It’s lean and mean, no doubt about it – flesh is cleanly flensed from bone, from the marrow is then sucked. My time in the Hinterland has left me more with feeling than thought, which I hope excuses this clinching review-by-analogy: picture yourself on a Gold Coast beach, the wind idly leafing through the pages of a much-annotated copy of Benjamin’s Arcades Project on your lap; as ‘Baudelaire’ flashes by in your peripheral vision, you disinterestedly observe a sleek conferential shark feeding – though far from frenziedly – on a smorgasbord of swimmers, whose names end with unstressed vowels and whose togs are at least a size too small. The water is the colour of an $8 bottle of rosé. I find reading Ross – to borrow his victims’ parlance – kind of like that.

  6. Peter Dornauf, "Arts: Dark and Stormy." Nexus (August 4, 2015):

    The poetry of Jack Ross’s, Clearer View of the Hinterland, coming in at a hefty 190 pages, is difficult to summarize since it is multifarious in every respect. Experimentally eclectic, sometimes allusive, at other times didactically direct, there’s a lot going on in this volume, from Dadaesque, to ad posters, to lists, assorted prose, italics and double entry bookkeeping: a cornucopia from the last 30 years. The best are ones with a wicked sense of humour.
    Unsuccessful Applicant for Neighbourhood Watch

    I like to see
    What people do
    In private
    In secret
    In the dark.
    It was a dark and stormy night.

  7. Dr Matthew Harris, "The Places Behind the Place." Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2 (October, 2015): 244-47.

    Call me a lazy reader, but I tend to most enjoy Ross's later, more self-contained, narrative poems such as "The Darkness", "Asbestos hands of Dr. J", and "Howard". The first of these, which tells the story of his father's journey down the Waikato river on an air-mattress, deftly shifts perspective to give the reader a sense of the dread his mother must have felt, and makes the point that being caught up in the main action can sometimes be less memorable than by-standing. The ending of "Asbestos hands of Dr. J" is both touching and funny as it scorches the writer’s devotion to his craft, and sums up his desire to condense words into something combustible - the poem as a coal nugget, perhaps. The last poem of the collection tells the story of a noisy neighbour who grieves his mother’s death by playing Led Zeppelin through the early hours of the morning ...

Complete Essay:

Matthew Harris. "The Places Behind the Place." Poetry NZ Yearbook 1 (2015): 244-47:

Jack Ross. A Clearer View of the Hinterland: Poems & Sequences 1981-2014. ISBN 978-0-473-29640-7. Wellington: HeadworX, 2014. RRP $30. 192 pp.
Walter Benjamin, in his 1936 reflections on Nikolai Leskov, classified two kinds of writers: those who readers imagine as the “trading seaman”, bringing stories from afar, and those “resident tillers” whose craft depends on a thorough knowledge of the local soil. Jack Ross, I think, is first and foremost a writer of the latter tradition. As a writer who has lived most of his life in Mairangi Bay, Auckland, he has done a great deal of graft in promoting writing in the region, from co-editing Golden Weather: North Shore Writers Past and Present in 2004 to initial selection work for what became known as ‘The Trestle Leg Series’ – a sample of North Shore writing which has graced the underside of the Auckland Harbour Bridge since 2012 (not to mention his support of numerous local journals, and nationally significant publications and poetry events).

For those familiar with Ross’s work, this is probably needless to say, but his resident tilling can also be clearly seen in both the subject matter and the form of the poetry collected here – which, I should note, brings together 33 poems and sequences from a time span of 33 years. The North Shore figures in miniature records of place (I like to see the islands in the gulf, driving / down the long hill, ships floating / down the sky [“Except Once,” p.12]); in humorous tweet-sized lines which sum up the changing nature of Auckland (If you can’t park in Birkenhead / where can you park? [“Birkenhead,” p.112]); and in more atmospheric descriptions:

That scent of air-conditioned air
as you pass a door,
cave-cold; fur
of condensation
on a beer:
Auckland midsummer.
[“God’s Spy,” p.18]
And if the subject matter of the poetry is frequently localised, it could be said that the form is too. To raise something of an old chestnut, fans of the North Shore writing might also see something in the way Ross extends a typically Sargesonian interest in the cadences of everyday speech and pushes it to breaking point, by his inclusions of what appear to be verbatim records of conversations. From a poem set at North Head in Devonport:
– I’ll scrub them when I get home
– Have you had an inspiration?
– Uh
– Get up and stop being stupid
– to a fallen child –
[“A Sunday Walk,” p.113]
While there are plenty of Easter eggs for North Shore readers (one might want to play spot-the-reference-to-Sargeson’s-bach?) I should note that any suggestion Ross’s use of the local might result in a kind of inward-looking parochialism wouldn’t stand up. He is also one of the most well-read poets in the country, conversant in several languages (translations are another feature of the collection), so his body of knowledge means he also writes, in Benjamin’s terms, “from afar” – or, at least, from a perspective which includes – occasionally to a reader’s frustration – reference to diverse and sometimes obscure sources. His allusions to figures such as Celan, Thomas Mann and Britney Spears – not to mention lesser-knowns like Bishop James A. Pike and Alexandra David-Néel – provide a colourful, and occasionally disorienting, juxtaposition to local subjects.

Are you thinkingabout them
ducking round thisplinth
in Eden Crescent?
Of course one wearsa thong
to pick up kittyStella Maris
Lady of the Seaora pro nobis
As in Th. MannUnordnung
und frühes Leid
cry yourself to sleep
[“Disorder and Early Sorrow”, p.53]
These allusions are more frequent in his earlier work, and over the three-decades of Ross’s writing covered by the collection, it may be possible to detect a drift toward more relational and experiential – rather than pointedly experimental – forms. Certainly, in the latter half of the collection, he isn’t always so determined to complicate his storytelling with external references, and his penchant for literary rarities and the exploration of conceptual archaisms takes up less of the foreground. This, I suppose, will variously please or irk readers who have previously lauded or criticised his leanings toward the avant-garde: Mark Houlahan has called Ross’s writing “slippery” and “quixotic”, Michael Morrissey a “challenge”, Lisa Samuels “uncomfortably interesting, richly literary, and intensely sympathetic”, and Harvey McQueen “a tantalising maze”. But I don’t think one could say Ross’s hyper-connected synapses are any less active in the later poems. The recording of curious text-types, say, in the first half of the collection (the overpass graffiti, bumper sticker, or job recruitment ad) continues to tap into sundry folk-wisdom right until the end of the book (in references to Albert Street signage, t-shirts, and text from a Massey University staff toilet). And the early allusions to Calvin Klein and Miss New Zealand’s head are no more surprising than the later nods to Hosanna Horsfall, Clever Hans, and Slash’s anus. It’s just that the latter are given more context in the poems.
Hosanna is an idiot
I’m going to New York
I’m going to be a star
If they tell me to eat myself
I’ll do it
[“New Zealand’s Next Top Model Speaks”, p.146]
Call me a lazy reader, but I tend to most enjoy Ross’s later, more self-contained, narrative poems such as “The Darkness”, “Asbestos hands of Dr. J”, and “Howard”. The first of these, which tells the story of his father’s journey down the Waikato river on an air-mattress, deftly shifts perspective to give the reader a sense of the dread his mother must have felt, and makes the point that being caught up in the main action can sometimes be less memorable than by-standing. The ending of “Asbestos hands of Dr. J” is both touching and funny as it scorches the writer’s devotion to his craft, and sums up his desire to condense words into something combustible – the poem as a coal nugget, perhaps. The last poem of the collection tells the story of a noisy neighbour who grieves his mother’s death by playing Led Zeppelin through the early hours of the morning:
the fuzz turned up in force
we heard them knocking first

then going round all the doors
finally they broke in
cuffed him

and took him off to jail
(“Howard,” p.183)
It might be said that Ross sacrifices a little attention to form in these more personal narrative poems. For instance, one might query why, in “Howard”, Ross reveals who has called the police so early in the poem, rather than saving that point of tension for the end. Or one might wonder whether the details about his parents’ medical occupation were necessary to the story in “The Darkness”. But these are minor points in otherwise memorable and affecting pieces of verse. If I have any real gripe about the collection, it’s to do with formatting. The Table of Contents is missing page numbers, which makes the book difficult to get around. And the pain of this omission is in no way lightened by the irony of including the poem “Index” which purports to provide contents information on a 1966 edition of The Teachings of Buddha.

All in all though, this retrospective is well and truly worth the effort spent in navigating it. Thirty years seems a good amount of time to draw on for a clear view of Ross’s personal hinterland – and being his fifth collection, it does a thorough job of covering the many of the most important themes and influences behind his large body of work. I would concur with Graham Beattie, in saying that this is Ross’s “most substantial” collection to date. It’s certainly a book I’d recommend to those who haven’t read Ross before. Many pieces will give pleasure in future re-readings, and there are plenty of fascinating allusions to add to one’s reference-chasing wish-list. For those approaching it for the first time, starting at the end, and reading through backwards might be a good idea though: beginning at the place of arrival before moving back to the places behind the place.

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