“The poet doesn’t invent,” mused Jean Cocteau. “He listens.” As a poet, listening was Bernie Gadd’s forte. His ability to hear the music of the word enabled him to accrue a substantial literary legacy, whilst his desire to listen to so many of his fellow poets built him a network of friends, comrades and admirers countrywide. He was still listening just a few months before his sudden passing in Auckland on December 11th, 2007. When I telephoned him in September, for instance, eager to talk to him about two projects I wanted to involve him and his work in, I found him far keener to discover how I was and how my work was progressing than to discuss literary business. Not that discussing literary endeavours, particularly poetry-related ones wasn’t important to Bernie; it was. But to meet Bernie was to understand that people and human contact were treasured above all else.
In truth, I suspect Bernie had always been listening ever since he picked up the pen and began writing. He said as much in an introduction to his work which was featured in Poetry New Zealand 34 (1):
‘I see poetry,’ Gadd tells us, ‘as a literary form particularly capable of drawing on the mind’s confusions and intuitions and organising words into patterns that challenge us to think of who and what we are…’ (2).
Certainly, he’d long been listened to by New Zealand writers, critics and publishers. The Poetry New Zealand feature was a testament to that; but so was Gadd’s body of work, which included poetry collections, fiction, plays, anthologies, the handbook for teachers, Cultural Difference in the Classroom (3) and the handbook for students, Journalism: a practical introduction (4). It was all of a consistently high-standard. This can be seen, even as death neared him, in the work he had published in JAAM 25 (5). I was fortunate enough to guest-edit that issue of JAAM, and the three poems by Bernie I chose – Gods in the Botanical Garden, Revisionist and The city’s poet – prove how high the calibre of his poetry remained, so close to his demise. Hearing of Bernie’s passing, I returned to read these poems and found myself focusing again and again on the closing lines of his final contribution in JAAM 25, The city’s poet:
“’there’s the poet,’
I hear, ‘friend of the priestess’
I bow with my esteemed
There’s something utterly ‘Bernie’ about the cadence, meaning and intent of the words here, especially that end-word, ‘humility’. I know that I’ll often be recalling these lines when I remember Bernie, the person and the poet.
(1) Poetry New Zealand 34, Brick Row, 2007.
(2) ibid, page 10.
(3) Cultural Difference in the Classroom, Heinemann, 1976.
(4) Journalism: a practical introduction, Longman Paul, 1989.