Understanding Mark Pirie's Literary Talent

I have been in contact with Mark Pirie since 1995.

In the notes to my book of poems Inferences Don't Hold Water a Day's poems 233 from my epic poem The Alexandrians I reproduce and discuss certain letters of 1996 between myself and Mark Pirie in which he states a most flattering view of my poetry, an astonishing piece of critical insight from a man of 22 regarding a 63 year old contemporary.

I have wondered particularly since 2006 in the light of these letters how to account for Mark Pirie's literary and critical brilliance. It is a question I have raised with him many times but perhaps I never waited for an answer until today 25 March 2012. The question I put to him was What was your earliest encounter with poetry?

Only today did Mark Pirie give me the full and explicit answer I was seeking.

I knew Mark Pirie had his earliest education from kindergarten in the USA where his parents were residents at a diplomatic post for New Zealand.

What Mark Pirie specifically has now told me is this.

Mark Pirie was born in 1974. In his possession today he still has the following book, published in the USA originally in 1974 though Mark Pirie says his copy is dated 1976. It is the production of three midwestern American professors.

The Lyric Potential: arrangements and techniques in poetry by James E Miller, Robert Hayden, Robert O'Neal publisher Glenview 1974 so listed in WorldCat.

There is no evidence that there is a copy anywhere in New Zealand except for Mark Pirie's copy. As my wife says, as a result there is only one Mark Pirie.

When Mark Pirie and his parents returned to New Zealand in 1981, he aged 7, this book was in their possession as well as a second copy they still have also.

Mark Pirie tells me that he used the book from his earliest stage of education [Town School in San Francisco] when he was 5 years old, so in 1980, and he continued to make use of this book in New Zealand in his educational studies to university level as he found it superior to anything offered to students here.

As a match how young people can pick up on significant poets even though the public as a whole has dropped the ball, my own granddaughter aged 5 in 2007 used a school made brochure including a poem by Louis Johnson.

When Mark Pirie went though the book with me over the phone he reported The Lyric Potential contained poems by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Swinburne, and it may be others, which looks to me as a reasonable condensation of Palgraves's Golden Treasury series 1 (1861), series 2 (1897). The Lyric Potential continued with 20th century poets down to the beat generation and 1970s. These poets included Rupert Brooke, Edna St Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, Dorothy Parker, also three Australians including A D Hope, but no New Zealanders.

A few weeks ago Mark Pirie brought up Dorothy Parker. I asked him when he first read her. He didn't say, but today he noticed there she was in The Lyric Potential, so read since he was 5 years old.

As Mark Pirie said to me in reviewing that book again he can now understand where a New Zealand poet like Maurice Reginald (Rex) Hunter (1889-1960, living in USA for 25 years till 1949) was coming from.

I can also see how a person with grounding in such a book in his 5th to 20th years of age would possess the literary and critical insight and talent that Mark Pirie displays from his earliest written poetry published since 1992.

Dr Niel Wright

(Reproduced from Niel Wright's Thersites' Run, Wellington, Cultural and Political Booklets, 2012)