Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Mythology of the Gap in the Work of James K. Baxter

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posted on 2021-11-13, 11:16 authored by Martin, Gregory J

In 1967, New Zealand poet James K. Baxter reflected on his beginning as a poet with the statement that 'what happens is either meaningless to me, or else it is mythology' and that in his personal mythology 'first there was the gap, the void'. While the first of these comments has been frequently cited in connection to Baxter‘s work, few critics have taken its extreme implications seriously. This thesis also takes the second statement as crucial to understanding Baxter‘s creative process and the links his poetry makes between otherwise disparate experiences. These statements are a starting point for a study which maps out the consistencies and continuities underlying Baxter's vast literar output throughout his career as a poet. It considers Baxter's poetry alongside his published prose and unpublished papers in order to demonstrate the underlying patterns which characterise Baxter‘s output throughout his diverse career. The thesis first develops a framework for identifying the presence of gaps in Baxter‘s writing, tracing a network of symbolic and mythic relationships that comprise his evolving personal mythology of the gap. Having established this framework, I show how Baxter's engagement with 'the gap' evolves throughout his work. The thesis demonstrates the significance of gaps not only as central motifs in Baxter‘s work, but as a crucial part of the poet‘s creative process. Baxter‘s purposeful approach to poetic mythologising relies on notions of absence, division and descent: the 'gaps' out of which poems emerge. These gaps simultaneously create and are created by the temporary 'mythologising self' at the centre of the creative process. This is the poet as creator, shaping 'chaos' into 'cosmos' through the use of ordering tools. In Baxter's case these include the consistent use of three main mythic paradigms which address the imperatives of desire created by these gaps. As well as this parallel with the pattern of creation myth, Baxter's creative process is suggestive of the mythic 'journey to the centre' which is in turn recurrent throughout his poetry. In applying the 'chaos-ordering-cosmos' framework to Baxter's mythology, I reveal the consistent elements of his work on the underlying level of myth, symbol, origins and method, thus opening up new possibilities in the critical response to his work.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

New Zealand Literature

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Whiteford, Peter; Miles, Geoff