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Lindsay, Graham
Writer's File

Graham Lindsay

Canterbury - Waitaha
Lindsay, Graham
In brief
Graham Lindsay is a poet. His writing has been published in a range of journals and magazines, and he has also released several collections of poetry. Reviewers are in agreement about the ‘meditative’, ‘probing’ nature of his thought, and the flexibility of his voice. Lazy Wind Poems (2003), his seventh collection, is referred to in the Listener Best Books of 2003: ‘Christchurch poet Graham Lindsay confirms that he is a poet of exceptional skill. He's able to depict beauty, and evoke the transcendent with a reflex smoothness'.


Lindsay, Graham (1952 –), published his first book of poetry, Thousand-Eyed Eel (1976), with Alan Loney’s Hawk Press, and has retained the scrupulous care that implies for the typographic as well as aural structures of his verse.

His subsequent volumes are Public (1980), Big Boy (1986), Return to Earth (1991) and The Subject (1994); their poems range from the meticulously controlled forms of Public to the expansive, conversational, longer lines of Big Boy.

Though usually seen as avant-garde, Lindsay has been published in journals or anthologies ranging from the esoteric (Parallax; Edge, Tokyo) to the populist (Metro; 100 New Zealand Poems), including mainstream recognition in Landfall and NZ Listener.He edited Morepork 1979–80.

Reviewers have concurred on the ‘meditative’, ‘probing’ nature of his thought, the flexibility of his voice and his commitment to the endlessly renewable resources of language. ‘He knows how to put a spin on a phrase searches for the magic in the mundane’ (David Eggleton). Lindsay’s essential and most frequent subject is thus poetry itself, from an early narrative of James K. Baxter (‘The Embrace’) to many meditations on language, such as ‘Life in the Queen’s English’: ‘ The way words / like images lift / pull back peel / from their referents, leave us / longing for the intimacy / that preceded their birth.’

Though born in Wellington and brought up in Porirua and Havelock North, Lindsay has spent his adult life in Dunedin and, since 1988, Christchurch, both cities featuring in his verse; Big Boy, especially, is a strongly Dunedin book. He is thus included in the South Island collection From the Mainland as well as several anthologies of contemporary verse.


Graham Lindsay is available for school visits as part of the Book Council's Writers in Schools programme.

Kapai: Kids Authors’ Pictures and Information

Where do you live?
I live in Selwyn Street in Christchurch. The other day, when I was riding my bike to my part time job, I realised why I’ve never liked the name of my street– it’s because of the homonyms ‘sell’ and ‘win’.

What books do you read?
I read lots of different kinds but mostly novels, poetry, and religious books – especially Zen Buddhism. I also read short stories, children’s books, biographies, plays, history, gardening, books about space, philosophy, and literary criticism.

Who is your favourite author?
I try to read something by as many different well-known writers as I can. Here are some who I might have said at one time or another were my favourite authors: Virginia Woolf, Joseph Conrad, John Mulgan, Jack Kerouac, Herman Hesse, Dylan Thomas, Ian Wedde, Katherine Mansfield, Stendhal, Knut Hamson, Alice Munro, Leo Tolstoy, George Steiner, James K. Baxter, Janet Frame, Jane Austen, Shunryu Suzuki, Carol Shields, George Oppen…

How do you think up your ideas?
When I was writing mostly poetry I noted down my ideas as soon as they arose but now that I’m writing prose I’m more trustful of my recall and I don’t want to interrupt the absorption of recalling. I think writing is as much a matter of developing ideas and trying them out, letting others join them or take their place. I think being attentive to what you’re doing, to what’s happening around you, and having ideas probably go hand in hand. I think of ideas as rushing in to fill gaps you create.

What is the best thing about being an author?
Writing is the best thing about being an author.

What sort of pets do you have?
We have a little scrapbucket dog with a huge personality called Wigor and a cat called Persia. Wigor’s grandparents came from Tibet but when I was asked what language Wigor was I was tempted to say Wigorese. In fact, it’s a made up name, he just looks like a Wigor, and you could probably draw him just from knowing his name. The cat belongs to my mother-in-law who has Alzheimer’s and lives with us and we think Persia got her name as a pun on “purr”.

What is your favourite colour/food/movie/game?

I like yellow, the colour of the sun.

I live with a terrific cook (who even reads cookery books as bedtime reading) so I get to taste all kinds of foods. Yesterday I had a Ya pear (like a nashi pear) and it had a wonderfully subtle perfume, a bit like smokers. Today I tasted buffalo mozzarella (cheese imported from Italy) and it’s not at all feral tasting but has a mouth feel a bit like black sausage. I’ll never forget the freshly-caught blue cod we had on Stewart Island about six years ago, grilled in a little butter and garlic on a woodstove.

My all-time favourite movie is Stalker by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, and I first saw this in the mid 1980s. It’s based on the science fiction novel, Roadside Picnic, by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. The novel is very different from the film and is an engrossing read in itself.

I used to enjoy playing cricket and rugby but these days I mostly listen or watch. Sometimes the radio and television commentaries are quite extraordinary, like in the current test series between India and New Zealand, one of the commentators said - 'the only thing you achieve in life without effort is dandruff'.

What is the most fun thing about being an author?
It’s when you get the manuscript accepted by the publisher and get the advance copies in the mail and then get invited to literary festivals and meet up with writing friends.

Some questions from Primary School students

How do you make books?
Making books usually involves a lot of people but it is possible to do everything yourself. At the simplest level you could handwrite or use a photocopier.

Where do you go for your holidays?
We go to cities in New Zealand where we used to live, to Havelock North, where I grew up, and to bush and beach places like the West Coast, the Catlins, and Stewart Island.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
I’d rather not say here because it’s a bit embarrassing and, also, I might put it in a story sometime.

Some questions from Secondary School students

How did you get started?
My high school teachers got us to write stories and poems, and encouraged us to submit them to the school magazine, which was where my first two poems were published. It was then I realised how much I liked writing. It was really hard but I saw how it was possible to make a reasonably accurate picture of something quite subtle, like a feeling or a thought. I found I didn’t even mind the scholarly side, looking up wordbooks for the right word.

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
Dylan Thomas, then James K. Baxter.

What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?
I would say keep trying to do a better job and keep trying to get published.

Is it difficult to make a living writing in New Zealand?
Not many writers make a living, there’s maybe only a dozen or so. It can be a tough life but it is possible to scrape by and keep doing what you believe you have to do. I think having to work, as long as it isn’t too many hours, is probably beneficial to writing, particularly if there’s contact with people. There’s flow-on effect that helps keep your language fresh and alive and not too bookish. If you’re kept from your desk you may be rearing to go when you get there and it might make your effort more concentrated. Writing well takes up a lot of time and you really need to do the best possible job in the shortest possible time.

What were you like as a teenager?
I was shy and self-conscious and anti-authority, but I was good at sport and drama.


In 1994 Graham Lindsay published The Subject (1994). Anne French writes in New Zealand Books: 'The Subject is a meditative kind of book; not showy, but cool and thoughtful, worrying away at the big epistemological questions in poem after poem.'

A collection of poetry Legend of the Cool Secret was published in 1999. 'Energetic and dignified poetry, written from a direct desire to impart,' writes Leicester Kyle in Spin. 'Good value, and nothing weak. Some marvels.'

Lazy Wind Poems (2003) is another of Lindsay's poetry books. 'In his seventh collection, Christchurch poet Graham Lindsay confirms that he is a poet of exceptional skill. He's able to depict beauty, and evoke the transcendent with a reflex smoothness.' Listener Best Books of 2003.

Graham Lindsay was the 2004 Ursula Bethell Creative Writing Resident (formerly Canterbury University Writer in Residence). The residency is designed to foster New Zealand writing by providing a full-time opportunity for a writer to work in an academic environment, and is open to writers in the fields of creative writing: fiction, drama, and poetry.