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My last poem


Selected poems


My father's signature

As I sort unwanted books,
'Arthur C. Richards —
Awakino, 1933' —
his elegant penmanship
on the fly-leaves of old texts,
renews an old pang.

Newly-wed and years before my birth
he taught in the bush, enrolled
extramurally for a B.A ...
Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Spenser:
here they are with glosses in his hand:
'chiasmus', 'extended metaphor' ...

He threw it in. Poetry
he never mentioned to me.
That same year he became
Awakino tennis champ, jumped
the fence to the bowling green
and also won that competition.
This was much mentioned.

Meanwhile his father, Arthur S.,
opposition backbencher,
read Left Book Club books
on Fascism and the other isms,
angers, hatreds, armies.
Labour waited its turn. When
it came they made New Zealanders
'secure from the cradle to the grave'
without isms. Helped fight 'the Axis'.
(In Christchurch, unbeknownst to all,
young Karl Popper quietly
laboured over his 'Open Society'.)

Just for the signature
I'll keep the books, and go on
looking for his 'Tale of a Tub'
and 'Battle of the Books' (Swift).
They'd made no impact on him,
but he kept them as if they deserved
his signature on their fly-leaves.


The idea of order at Kew West, Vic.

He sang the genius of the suburb.
The traffic never ceased but nights it dimmed
like the far hubbub from an ocean beach.

The sea in the mind was like disorder,
dark, limitless, postponed destination.
The drains of all the suburbs combining

to a cloacal subterranean
broad expressway to fragrant Werribee
and its bayside ponds, debouched all in good

fulfilling time into the wide Bay and
wider Strait and widest Ocean. Beyond,
beyond, it called and mostly was ignored.

For we preferred the hygiene of Kew West,
where homicide was rare or not revealed.
The dogs of Kew were kept confined indoors

or kennelled in safe back gardens, silent.
Even the cats were kept from Kew West's birds
which warbled genteel melodies all day.

The young attended costly private schools,
whose uniforms bespoke good discipline,
bound by tradition, examinations,

team sports, discreetly-clothed swimming lessons.
Young men did Engineering, young women
went into Medicine at appropriate

levels, coupled in orderly fashion
and reproduced themselves. Kew Cemetery
and Columbarium awaited them.

The wild ocean could not be more remote,
yet summering down at Portsea, some paused
at times from fun to gaze far out to sea.



In the park this winter morning
tall saplings are waiting in pots.
Two gardeners digging holes.

I congratulate the young one -
'Good to see a machine isn't
doing this work for you.'

He grins, leans on his shovel,
or is it a spade? How many?
'Fifteen we are planting.'

I read the label -
tilia cordata -
'new to me', I say.

Then the fine print -
flowers in spring -
of the Linden family.

Linden I claim to know,
at least know of.
How tall does it grow?

'Seven metres', I read out.
'Ah, I shan't live
to see them that tall.'

He grins — 'you never know,
you never know.'
Spring flowerings?

a few maybe.


My last poem

will range back to times in my past
when I paused as things happened

unearned but beyond valuing — gifts
from some invisible bestower

usually outdoors — the sun rose
presenting its familiar surprise

or later the sky changed from overcast
to clear — maybe the clouds were resting

above the east land in a curve like the bay's
so the westering sun made gold over

the green slopes behind us and made
of the sea itself gold-tipped waves

nudging one another our way.
You'd be on the beach with me,

dearest, and your favourite birds
nearby as if making gifts

of themselves to you.
Sharing was what we were doing,

and there seemed no end to it,
though there would be, darkness

coming on, no knowing when
but not yet, not quite yet.


Max RichardsMax Richards (1937-2016) was a New Zealander who taught English Literature at La Trobe University. He wrote poetry throughout his life, much of which he circulated among friends and colleagues. He died after sustaining head injuries in a car accident in Seattle on 21 September.

Topic tags: Max Richards, poetry



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Existing comments

Great to hear Max's voice again, and those wry, tender poems. The Idea of Order at Kew West shows his humour at large with that wonderful last line that reminds me of Larkin. Thanks for sharing the poems, we need to read them all again.

Brendan | 10 October 2016  

Gold-tipped waves and the setting of the westering sun. Thanks Max Richards, a consistently great pauser as things happened, bothering to marshall images and events into pleasing verse rambles.

Bill Wootton | 10 October 2016  

Grace, beauty, truth and humour... Max Richards must have left a sizeable hole in the lives of his loved ones and colleagues.

Barry G | 11 October 2016  

Good to see these here. I'll miss Max, a gentle and thoughtful friend and former colleague.

Chris Watson | 11 October 2016  

Like <3

Marilyn Black | 12 October 2016  
Show Responses

I am related to Max and would love to have contact with anyone who knew him well. Love the poems.

Rosalind | 15 November 2021  

So shocked to hear of his sudden death, but glad we have his wonderful, precise observations and humour in these poems and others he published/shared.

Earl Livings | 14 October 2016  

Vale Max. I enjoyed his American Lit classes so much back in the seventies.

Michele Bence | 14 October 2016  

How beautiful 'My last poem' is and how appropriate to see it published now. I hope and imagine it was exactly how Max Richards wanted his final words to speak to us.

Maureen O'Brien | 18 October 2016  

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