Peter Olds, a distinguished poet hailing from Dunedin, New Zealand, left an indelible mark on the literary world with his impactful work and contributions. He was not only celebrated for his poetic talents but also for his influence on younger poets during the 1970s.
Early Life and Career
Born in 1944, Peter Olds embarked on his literary journey in Dunedin during the mid-1960s. He displayed his creative prowess by writing his first one-act play while working on stage sets at the Globe Theatre. However, in 1968, he faced a personal crisis, leading to a stay in a mental hospital.
Intriguingly, Olds joined the renowned poet James K. Baxter at the Jerusalem commune, a unique community experience that left an indelible impact on him. He returned to Dunedin in 1971, inspired to craft his inaugural volume of poetry, titled “Lady Moss Revived” (1972).
Throughout his career, Olds produced an array of poetry collections that reflected his distinct style and diverse themes. Some of his early works include “V-8 Poems” (1972), “The Snow and the Glass Window” (1973), “Freeway” (1974), and “Doctor’s Rock” (1976). His poetic journey continued with titles like “Beethoven’s Guitar and After Looking for Broadway” (1980).
Olds also published several broadsheets, such as “Exit: 2 Poems” (1971), “Schizophrenic Highway” (1971), and “The Habits You Left Behind: Poem” (1972). Notably, he responded to a poem by his friend James K. Baxter with his own work, “Doctor’s Rock” (1972).
In the later stages of his career, Olds continued to share his literary gifts. Notable publications included “Poetry Reading at Kaka Point” (2006) and “In the Dragon Cafe” (2007), featuring “Letter to Hone Tuwhare.” His work also expanded beyond New Zealand, as evidenced by “Taking my Jacket for a Walk”, which was translated into Spanish in 2020 by Dr. Rogelio Guedea, an academic who admired Olds’ work.
“Sheep Truck and Other Poems” (2022) marked another significant addition to his body of work, with 29 new poems capturing various aspects of life, from flying and dental treatment to encounters with literary figures like Charles Bukowski.
Impact on New Zealand Literature
Peter Olds played a pivotal role in shaping New Zealand’s literary landscape, especially during the 1970s. His ability to seamlessly blend contemporary experiences with themes like music, drugs, and street culture made him a central figure in the eyes of younger poets.
Influences on His Work
Olds drew inspiration from various sources, including American rock ‘n’ roll, beat poetry of the 1950s by Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and the counter-culture of the era. Themes of drugs, sex, and depression were recurring motifs in his early poetry. His friendship with James K. Baxter also played a significant role in shaping his poetic narrative.
Peter Olds’ artistic vision extended beyond poetry. He ventured into photography, and his images were featured in the book “A Town Trod by Poets” (2020), celebrating Dunedin’s UNESCO Creative City of Literature designation. His contributions to local literature earned him a place on the Dunedin Writers’ Walk, a testament to his impact as the city’s “unofficial poet laureate.”
Legacy and Passing
Peter Olds left an enduring legacy in the world of poetry and literature. His name will forever be associated with his contributions to New Zealand’s cultural landscape. Sadly, Peter Olds passed away on August 31, 2023.
Awards and Honors
Peter Olds received recognition for his exceptional work, including the prestigious University of Otago Robert Burns Fellowship in 1978 and the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award for Poetry in 2005. His work, “Disjointed on Wellington Railway Station,” was selected for Best New Zealand Poems 2001.