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
Only today did Mark Pirie give me the full and explicit answer I
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
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
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)