Kendrick Smithyman was regarded as one of New Zealand’s most important poets. For decades, though, the uncompromisingly intellectual, relentlessly experimental Smithyman had to endure marginalisation and even ridicule at the hands of conservative editors and critics. Some of Smithyman’s work was so far ahead of its time that it can only now hope to find a wide audience. Private Bestiary consists of poems discovered by Scott Hamilton during his exploration of the massive collection of private papers Smithyman bequeathed to the University of Auckland library. These previously-unseen pieces illuminate aspects of Smithyman’s life and work that were hitherto obscure, and help us appreciate the extent of his achievement as a writer and a man.
The editor of the book Dr Scott Hamilton, who is himself a widely-published scholar and poet, has complemented the poems with an introduction and extensive notes. “These poems are taonga”, Hamilton says. “They show us that Smithyman was a poet not just for the twentieth but for the twenty-first century. The rest of us are in some ways still trying to catch up with him.” Associate Professor Peter Simpson of The University of Auckland, who knew Smithyman as a friend and colleague and edited his Selected and Collected Poems, praises the new book for adding to our understanding of Smithyman. “Smithyman is the Walt Whitman of New Zealand” Simpson says. “He contains multitudes, because his interests were so vast. In many ways he is a mountain we have yet to climb. I hope this book helps find him a new generation of readers, and delights established Smithymaniacs."