Of poetry and politics

Last updated 10:49 31/01/2008

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[David] Bernard Gadd, teacher, writer and anthologist: Born Hamilton, October 29, 1935, married 1959 Raewyn Taylor 1 daughter 1 son; died Auckland, December 11, 2007, aged 72.
Bernard Gadd was a teacher who made his name in literature.

He was educated at Auckland University College, Auckland Teachers College and Massey University. Gadd taught at secondary schools in South Auckland for most of his working life, later turning to teaching English as a second language for adults. He was a prolific writer who has been published in a host of literary journals including Landfall and the Listener. He was an anthologist, editor and reviewer, and a publisher with his own imprint, Hallard Press, through which he published many volumes including works by John O'Connor and M K Joseph.

Gadd will be perhaps best known for his pioneering work in the classroom, and this work is reflected in the many books for young readers he has published. Gadd has edited a number of anthologies, many of which were designed for young adults, specifically but not exclusively, for young Maori and Pacific Islands readers, and later writers. Gadd's commitment to multiculturalism is best explained by himself when he wrote in 1999:

"As head of the English department arriving in 1971 at Hillary College in Otara I soon found a need to provide literature for working class – and especially working class Maori and Polynesian families – both school attendees, and school leavers and adults. The stocks of books I inherited at the school included stuff like Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge, Bulldog Drummond etc. I began by looking for stories to collect into an anthology to use as a classroom text, and two collections resulted, My New Zealand One and Two, published by Longman Paul about 1973. But there was little suitable material, and even if anything was by working class writers, it was written for the 'Boss classes'.

"I decided to do two things: write stories myself, and find writers, especially those who could not get published often or at all by commercial publishers, to include in anthologies for school or general use, or to publish collections of their own works".

Gadd kept true to this literary and practical philosophy, and his spirit of independent thought and action often put him off-side with the literary 'establishment', as did his Marxist undercurrent.

Later he became notable as an editor of innovative anthologies like Other Voices and Pacific Voices before global issues and multiculturalism became fashionable. He also edited a riposte to the Big Smoke anthology of 60s poems called Real Fire.

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Gadd's interest in New Zealand history saw him write a number of local histories and two biographies. He also wrote a handbook for teachers, Cultural Difference in the Classroom (Heinemann, 1976), and one for students. Gadd was featured in Poetry NZ 34 and also edited Poetry NZ for an issue before Alistair Paterson was made its long-standing editor.

Poet and publisher Mark Pirie, writing about Gadd's poetry, said: "Poems like Sir George Grey Debates Stones are gems. As good as anything you'll find in our major anthologies." Writer and critic John Dolan wrote that Gadd struck him "as knowing the world a lot better than the poets who fill up the journals with quirk and natter".

His most lively collection was Our Bay of Ensigns & Other Race Relations (HeadworX, 2001), a satirical book on early settler relations with Maori and, later, on other immigrant cultures (Asian/ Pacific) viewed over the 170-year history of the nation.

Pokeno Opposes the Kaiser (2005) was a notable collection of World War I poems based on family letters from the trenches in France that continued his historical vein. His last collection, published in early 2007, End of the Snapshots: New and Selected Poems (Sudden Valley Press), was a "best of" collection but a definitive edition of Gadd's poems is yet to be seen.

One of the last things Gadd achieved was to be selected to represent New Zealand, along with Pirie and myself, in an international anthology to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara.

Being in an anthology that included Ginsberg, Yevtushenko, Lowell, Ferlinghetti, Enzensberger and Neruda to name a few, would have given him a sense of quiet satisfaction and impish delight, bringing together two of his main passions, poetry and left-wing politics. Gadd is survived by his wife and their son and daughter.

- The Dominion Post

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