John Pule article/ Art Asia Pacific

One night at a poetry reading in the early 1980s, John Pule—then a poet in his early 20s—stunned Auckland’s literary and bohemian crowd with a reading. “To that group of poets,” he says, “I would have been the last person—and a brown one at that—who after months of just listening, would suddenly burst out with the entire Ode.” The ode in question, in which John Keats relates his intoxication by the nightingale’s eternal song, which in turn throws his own mortality into bittersweet relief, was Ode to a Nightingale. That the poem remains one of Pule’s favorites says something about the humanist character of his paintings. Keats, he explains, taught him sensitivity and how to “use language to create deep feelings.” 

These days, in addition to having become one of New Zealand’s most renowned artists, Pule continues to write novels and poems. What began as a formal correspondence between us in March 2009 soon wandered off track, with our e-mails passing back and forth between New Zealand and Australia over several months. “We laughed that night,” Pule says. “When I finished, these friends just raised their glasses as drinkers do, and from then on I felt I was surely part of that group; more than just as a poet.”

 

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March 24, 2016