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Kendrick Smithyman literary papers.

Identifier: MSS-Archives-2009/3

Scope and Contents

At the time of acquisition, the papers of Kendrick Smithyman, which cover five decades, were already well arranged, with indexing, into three recognisable series by Smithyman and Margaret Edgcumbe. A fourth series was created to accommodate items that were drafts of two posthumous publications.

Correspondence, in alphabetical order, largely inwards, and pertaining to Smithyman’s literary world, comprises Series 1. The largest group of letters from an individual to Smithyman was that of poet and Capricorn Press publisher Louis Johnson. Johnson’s letters contain much comment on and criticism of his and Smithyman’s peers. Reference is made to the Wellington Group of poets, instigated by Johnson. In a similar vein, but fewer in quantity, are the letters from the multi-faceted academic, Bob Chapman. They are often long and lively, sometimes illustrated with small sketches, and rich in comments on contemporary literary figures. Other significant names among the many noteworthy letter writers are J.K. Baxter, Charles Brasch, Allen Curnow, Dan Davin, Maurice Duggan, Lauris Edmond, A.R.D. Fairburn, Denis Glover, Pat Lawlor, Frank Sargeson, Maurice Shadbolt, C.K. Stead, Keith Sinclair, and Ian Wedde. As might be expected, a number of poems, such as six from J.K. Baxter in Item 2, appear in the correspondence, and there is also a pencil sketch of Smithyman by C.K. Stead in Item 28.

Although literature is the common thread with most, if not, all of the correspondence, personal messages are also evident as Smithyman had known many of the correspondents for decades. Many expressed their sadness and concern at various times throughout Mary Stanley’s long illness and eventual death, and the death of their son, Christopher, in 1984. Even more poignant are letters from those to whom Smithyman had written in late 1995 informing them of his terminal cancer. Though wordsmiths themselves, many clearly struggled to find appropriate expressions in this situation.

The remainder of Kendrick Smithyman’s papers are manuscripts and typescripts of his poems, in three Series. Those in Series 2 were housed in ten hardcover bindings termed folios and arranged in sets A, B, and C. The outer and inner folio covers were discarded with the exception of the inner cover of folio A1, which was annotated by Mary Stanley during prior use. Sets A and B include alphabetical indexes and page numbering. Set B has no date indications at all but a note on the index sheets state that it is the second run, which suggests Set A may have been a first run. A broad date range has been ascribed to Set B. Set C has no indexes or page numbering but there are several annotations on the coversheet. X=copy taken off to go to Press was crossed out as was a label Collected Poems. However, it seems appropriate to retain this name for Series 2. Other notes on the sheet, not crossed out, were the alterations in this set need to be checked back to alphabetical file. These are later and for M. Aside from the date ranges, as given below, very few of the poems in Series 2 are ascribed specific dates.

In addition to the folios of collected poems, thirteen file boxes contained what Smithyman termed the alphabetical file, because it was ordered alphabetically by first lines. This group appears as Series 3 and 4 in this inventory. Series 3 comprises drafts and revisions, mostly typescript, of each poem, and are often arranged in reverse chronological order. Many are annotated with dates, titles of publications to which copies were sent for publication, and sometimes declined, and markings indicating additions, deletions and other changes to the texts over a period of time. As a result, this Series is valuable for demonstrating the process of writing and composition in this genre of literature.

Of note in Series 3 is the uncertain authorship of a poem that appears in Item 189 as The blackbird sings, the plane branch bends, dated 1946, and annotated in Smithyman’s hand. With minor differences, the same poem is also found in Item 197, undated and entitled The starling sings, the plane branch bends, in Mary Stanley’s handwriting. It is unclear which precedes the other.

Because of the nature of the draft and revision process in these poems, what constitutes a first-line, verse, or entire poem is sometimes unclear. As a result, some first-lines in this inventory may differ from those in the accompanying index. Dates ascribed to each poem in this inventory include those of apparent originals and later drafts. Poems obviously crossed out, or marked cancelled or delete remain included in this inventory as they are legible and a valid part of this collection

Over time, Kendrick Smithyman’s poetry developed to encompass wide ranging themes. Two of these, vastly different, and destined for publication as books, are exemplified in Series 4. Items 238-239 are drafts contains typescripts for Imperial vistas family fictions, which dealt with people, places and events from his own family history and Items 240-242 comprise typescripts for Campana to Montale : versions from Italian, both of which were published posthumously.

Kendrick Smithyman provided indexes for part of Series 2, which remain with the poems. Margaret Edgcumbe provided those for the correspondence in Series 1 and for the poems that have been arranged into Series 3 and 4. These indexes are held in the administration file. Where the papers did not follow the clearly intended order, this has been corrected.


  • 1940s - 1990s


Conditions Governing Access

Not restricted.

Biographical / Historical

Kendrick Smithyman (1922-1995) was a highly productive poet over six decades. This collection contains several thousand pages of his poetry in manuscript and typescript forms, and a large amount of correspondence. Much of the poetry has been published, some posthumously. Biographical information about Smithyman is readily accessible, as are literary reviews and critiques of him, and of others, by him.

Smithyman was born at Te Kopuru, Northland, and later moved with his family to Auckland. After primary schooling, he attended Seddon Memorial Technical College and then trained at Auckland Teachers’ Training College in 1940-1941. For the remainder of 1941 until 1945, he served in the Second World War with the New Zealand Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force. Although based in New Zealand, he spent some time in Norfolk Island in 1945. Evidence of this is seen in poems penned on the reverse of RNZAF store vouchers and drafts annotated ‘Norfolk Island’ in Series 3. After the war, he taught at primary and intermediate schools around Auckland, and was particularly interested in children with learning difficulties. He also pursued some study at Auckland University College which did not result in a degree, but led, in 1963, to a senior tutor position in the English Department. He retired in 1987.

In 1946, Kendrick Smithyman married schoolteacher and poet, Mary Isobel Stanley, whose first husband, Brian Neal, was killed in 1944 in the Second World War. Smithyman and Stanley had three sons, Christopher, Stephen and Gerard. After the birth of their first son, Stanley developed rheumatoid arthritis which increased in severity until her death in 1980. Margaret Edgcumbe, a colleague of Smithyman’s in the English Department at the University of Auckland, became his second wife in 1981.

The Auckland Teachers’ Training College periodical Manuka was the first platform for Smithyman’s compositions and, in the 1941 edition, three of his poems and two short stories appeared. In the same year, he was a member of the Manuka editorial committee and received Commended results for his poetry and prose entries in the journal’s annual competition. During 1944-45 his poems appeared in New Zealand new writing and, in 1946, his first collection, Seven Sonnets was published, followed in 1950 by The blind mountain & other poems. During the 1940s-1960s, he contributed poems to the Auckland University College’s literary periodical, Kiwi, and the student magazine Craccum. Smithyman went on to have numerous collections of his poems published in following decades, including Selected poems in 1989. Five collections have been produced posthumously and one, Collected poems, is an electronic collection. In addition, a great many of Kendrick Smithyman’s individual poems were successfully published in well over 100 periodicals and anthologies in New Zealand and overseas, as indicated by annotations on poem drafts in Series 3.

Various forms are evident among Kendrick Smithyman’s poetic compositions, from limericks and sonnets to the epic poem, Atua Wera. A portion of his work, described as difficult poetry by McCann (2004), has attracted negative criticism for its unconventional syntax and, therefore, obscure meaning. In other quarters, however, it was seen as a welcome challenge for thinking readers.

Diverging from his usual original work, Smithyman spent several years collecting and translating into English selected poems of Italian modernists, even though he did not know the Italian language. The typescripts, which were published posthumously in 2004, are found in Series 4.

Literary criticism was another branch of Smithyman’s writing. It developed when providing reviews as literary editor of Here and now during 1949-1957. Then, in the 1960s, articles he contributed to Mate became the basis for expansion into a book, A Way of Saying that analysed characteristics of, and developments in, New Zealand writing.

Highlights of Kendrick Smithyman’s career were time spent as a Visiting Fellow in Commonwealth Literature at the University of Leeds in 1969, and receiving the awards of Doctor of Literature in 1986 from the University of Auckland and the Order of the British Empire in 1990.


3 metres (19 boxes.)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Collection donated by Margaret Edgcumbe in 1999.

Related Materials

The papers of Smithyman’s first wife, Mary Stanley, are located at MSS & Archives 2002/1. They include messages of condolence to Kendrick Smithyman after her death in 1980. Other related archival collections held by the University of Auckland Library include: An informal occasion in the English Department for Peter Dane, Bill Pearson, Karl Stead, MSS & Archives B-32; Calling the roll, MSS & Archives B-31; a small amount of correspondence in the papers of A.R.D. Fairburn, MSS & Archives A-125; and poems from Smithyman and Stanley in the papers of Robert McDonald Chapman, MSS & Archives 2008/2.


  • Craccum
  • Kiwi : official organ of the Auckland University College.
  • Manuka : occasional magazine of the Auckland College of Education, School of Primary and Early Childhood Education.
  • McCann, Heather. Syntax and theme in the poetry of Kendrick Smithyman. Unpublished MA thesis. University of Auckland. 2004.
  • Simpson, Peter. Smithyman, William Kendrick 1922-1995. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007.
  • Simpson, Peter. The Smithyman Papers: A Preliminary Description. published in brief 26 (January 2003): 11-18
  • Smithyman, Kendrick. Campana to Montale : versions from Italian / Kendrick Smithyman ; edited with an introduction by Jack Ross. Auckland [N.Z.] : The Writers Group, 2004.
  • Smithyman, Kendrick. Collected poems, 1943-1995 [electronic resource] / by Kendrick Smithyman ; edited & with notes by Margaret Edcumbe & Peter Simpson. Auckland [N.Z.] : Mudflats Webworks, 2004.
  • Smithyman, Kendrick.Imperial vistas family fictions / Kendrick Smithyman. Auckland [N.Z.] : Auckland University Press, 2002.
  • Smithyman, Kendrick. Atua Wera / Kendrick Smithyman. Auckland [N.Z.] : Auckland University Press, 1997.
  • Smithyman, Kendrick. Selected poems / Kendrick Smithyman; chosen and introduced by Peter Simpson. Auckland [N.Z.] : Auckland University Press, 1989.
  • Smithyman, Kendrick. A way of saying : a study of New Zealand poetry. Auckland : Collins, 1965.
Inventory of the literary papers of Kendrick Smithyman, 1940s-1990s.
Yvonne Sutherland and Stephen Innes
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections, University of Auckland Repository

5 Alfred Street
Private Bag 92019
Auckland 1142 New Zealand