Launching ‘Beyond The Ohlala Mountains: Alan Brunton Poems 1968-2002’

Beyond The Ohlala Mountains: Alan Brunton Poems 1968 – 2002. Edited by Michelle Leggott and Martin Edmond Titus Books 2013

alan BruntonAround 200 people gathered at the Wharekai at the University of Auckland’s Waipapa Marae on Thursday 27th to launch Beyond the Ohlala Mountains. The launch consisted of “bands, performances and readings from the Beyond the Ohlala Mountains.

Alan Brunton was an endlessly fertile and eclectic poet, scriptwriter and performer. Born in Christchurch New Zealand, Brunton also worked as an editor, director, performance tutor, literary critic and community arts worker. He was the founding editor of Freed and co-edited the tabloid-format arts magazine Spleen. With his partner Sally Rodwell, he also established the important experimental theatre group Red Mole. Brunton was the University of Canterbury’s Writer in Residence in 1998. He died suddenly in Amsterdam in 2002.


From the Introduction to Beyond The Ohlala Mountains by the editors Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond

In the middle of the island are the mountains called the Ohlala Mountains, high above the roads of exile and the valleys of distress. Wild cows and other animals live in those mountains. The cows give a milk that is the colour of the sun. (Alan Brunton, ‘Being Here’ #5)

launch speech by editors Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond
Editors Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond speaking at the launch.

We set out one fine day in April 2007 to photograph the Red Mole masks in storage at Ohope. Google maps took us flawlessly to Andrew Rodwell’s house above the cliffs. Whakaari (White Island) smoked lazily on the horizon. By early afternoon we were in a big basement opening boxes and lifting out masks, puppets and painted figurines. Caterina de Nave laid them on a table and kept a list; Tim Page photographed each one; Michele Leggott repacked. Most but not all of the pieces were from recent years. The house in Island Bay, Wellington, nearly always had masks in progress drying in the sun on the windowseat. It was also full of masks from older shows and from travels in Asia, Europe and North America. As the unpacking continued we recalled the walls of the house, the shows and who made a particular puppet or wore a certain mask. There were many gaps and the people who might have told us what we didn’t know were not there. The talk turned again to the death of Sally Rodwell six months earlier. It was this painful event that terminated the mask-making in Island Bay and put Red Mole’s journeying on hold. After the sudden death of poet and beloved partner Alan Brunton in 2002, Sally kept herself and daughter Ruby busy with new shows and publishing Alan’s work. But she could not beat the despair that took hold in Alan’s absence and her suicide 15 October 2006 was a moment of disintegration all the more shocking because it seemed to fulfill a pattern imagined so often by Alan and played out many times in his poetry and scripts. Against the hot energy of love and its multiple projects comes inevitable fission, an explosion followed by icy darkness and inertia where a survivor might sleepwalk but not exist in any meaningful sense of the word.

We listed and photographed, not sure how any of it would help Ruby, then far away in New York. The mass of Alan and Sally’s papers had gone to the University of Auckland library for safekeeping; the house was rented out and Sally’s brothers were looking after the books and masks until they were needed again. At Ohope we unwrapped almost a hundred pieces, and then there was a plaster of Paris face, familiar features moulded in white, eyes closed, mouth set. It was Alan, a mask or the mould for a mask. None of us had seen it before.

** ** **

This recording of Lana Brunton reading ‘Waves’ was played at the launch.


so you want to know
lend undestructed ears,
I’ll do this haha just once more …

in a shingle shack lit by candles
way out back among the muters,
the town was Brightwater,
a kaka went in flight between the window
and the golden moon,
the Earthly Guest was born,
his mother ‘beautiful as a wreck of paradise’
dreamed him in her skirt of dust,
dreamed him beneath the open sky,
dreamed her little anomaly on a mallow eating fire,
dreamed him as geometry, as I over I, what always
dreamed the Unremembered Dream
where One
in a black cloud
comes upon the unrepresented world
beginning as a ‘grainy glow’,

Mask-Mark Roberts with material provided by Brett Cross


Beyond The Ohlala Mountains: Alan Brunton Poems 1968 – 200is available from:

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