Kevin Ireland

ANZL Fellow

Self Portrait in Oils


Nicholas Reid on Kevin Ireland:

Being old / means making a meal / of death, / we gnaw / the problem / like a bone / as the lean meat / grows cold.

Kevin Ireland wrote this in his poem ‘Intimations of Mortality’ which he chose to include in Anzac Day (1997) – a selection of what he regarded as his best poems up to that date. It states two obvious facts about Kevin Ireland. He’s one of our elder writers and he’s aware of his age. Radio-interviewed on his 80th birthday in 2013, about his long essay On Getting Old, he said it was a ‘shocking moment’ when somebody stood up for him on a bus because of his age. Elsewhere, this ‘son of Sargeson’ noted that he was a bit of a ‘fossil’ in terms of poetic technique and was aware that his poetic roots were still in the age of Glover-Fairburn-Curnow-Baxter.

But his intimation of mortality is quite untrue in another sense. In his writing, Kevin Ireland is not gnawing the problem of death as the flesh grows cold. Quite the opposite. He enjoys his old age and his approach to it is benign, jocular and as self-deprecating as his comments on his own poetry are. How could it be any otherwise when, in his second-to-last collection Feeding the Birds, he has a poem called ‘The Advantage of Losing your Marbles’? Old age is a time for another glass of wine, but also a time for a lot of clear-headed reflection.

I began to catch up with Kevin Ireland’s writing only in the late 1990s when he was over thirty years into his career as a published poet. The first things of his that I read with real attention were Anzac Day, and the first of his two memoirs, Under the Bridge and Over the Moon (1998). Only later did I make my way through much of his prolific output, which now includes 22 collections of poetry and six novels. Of course I loved the Auckland-ness of parts of his memoirs. They point to things a generation or two before my time, but some of the landmarks and cultural markers are still there. More, though, I loved the spare expression of the poems and the certainty that each was making a clear statement about something outside the words themselves.

Ireland’s career has often been chewed over, especially the fact that he spent 25 years out of New Zealand before his return in 1984. For some commentators, this means that he saw the country from outside, with more agonising over New Zealand ‘identity’ than was then fashionable. My own view is that his departure and return enabled him to see, more clearly than some of his contemporaries, how this country had changed, culturally and intellectually. This made him capable of the sharp political satire of Tiberius at the Beehive (1990). Kevin Ireland’s writing has developed in more directions than a very brief appreciation can suggest; but the best of it is his ability to still speak significantly in a direct style that postmodernists, and post-postmodernists, would scorn.



AW Reed Award for Contribution to New Zealand Literature (2006)

Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry (2004)

Honourary DLitt [Massey University] (2000)

OBE for Services to Literature (2000)

Montana New Zealand Book Award for History and Biography (1999)

New Zealand Arts Council Scholarship in Letters (1997)

Commemoration Medal (1990)

Auckland University Literary Fellowship (1989)

Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship (1987)

Writer-in Resdence, Canterbury University (1986)

New Zealand Book Award for Poetry (1979)



Read NZ Te Pou Muramura writer page

NZ Electronic Text Collection writer page


Penguin Books author page

Cape Catley author page

NZSA Oral History Podcast Series: Kevin discusses his writing and time as PEN president (recorded June, 2000, posted Nov, 2018)

ANZL ‘The Interview’ by Iain Sharp (Oct, 2016)

Cultural Icons interview (Episode 10)

New releases by Kevin Ireland

Shape of the Heart (poetry)

Published by Quentin Wilson Publishing on June 2, 2020

Bibliography: Kevin Ireland



Shape of the Heart (Quentin Wilson Publishing, 2020)

Dreamy Days and Nothing Done (Steele Roberts, 2012)

Table Talk: New Poems (Cape Catley, 2009)

How to Survive the Morning: New Poems (Cape Catley, 2008)

Airports and Other Wasted Days (Hazard, 2007)

Walking the Land (Hazard Press, 2003)

Fourteen Reasons for Writing (Hazard Press, 2001)

Anzac Day: Selected Poems (Hazard Press, 1997)

Skinning a Fish (Hazard Press, 1994)

Tiberius at the Beehive (Auckland UP, 1990)

Selected Poems (Oxford UP, 1987)

Year of the Comet: Twentysix 1986 Sonnets (Islands, 1986)

Practice Night in the Drill Hall (Oxford UP, 1984)

Orchids, Hummingbirds and Other Poems (Auckland UP, 1974)

Educating the Body (Caxton Press, 1967)

Face to Face, Twentyfour Poems (Pegasus Press, 1963)



Daisy Chains (David Ling, 2010)

The Jigsaw Chronicles (Cape Catley, 2008)

Getting Away With It (Hazard Press, 2004)

The Craymore Affair (Vintage, 2000)

The Man Who Never Lived (Vintage, 1997)

Blowing My Top (Penguin, 1996)

Sleeping with the Angels (Short stories: Penguin, 1995)


Creative Nonfiction

Backwards to Forwards (Memoir: Vintage, 2002)

Under the Bridge and Over the Moon (Memoir: Vintage, 1998)



Morriesons Motel (Tandem Press, 2000)

Out of Town: Writing from the New Zealand Countryside (Shoal Bay Press, 1999)



The New Zealand Collection: A Celebration of the New Zealand Novel (Random House, 1989)

'Character to some extent is much a construction of the reader as it is of the writer.' - Lloyd Jones

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