Thomas Allen Munro Curnow (1911-2001)

Allen Curnow was a poet and journalist born in Timaru who lived and worked in Christchurch for many years. He became one of New Zealand's best known poets. This page is a brief guide to his life and work, with links to further reading.

Early career

Allen Curnow was born and raised in Canterbury. His father was an Anglican minister and Curnow spent his childhood years moving from one Canterbury vicarage to another.

Curnow was educated at Christchurch Boys’ High School and at Canterbury and Auckland Universities. He worked as a journalist on The Sun in Christchurch, 1929-30, and turned briefly to the church but did not complete his theological studies.

From 1935 to 1948 he was a reporter, sub-editor and reviewer with The Press. He established an early and lifelong friendship and collaboration with Denis Glover and began contributing to Caxton Press publications as well as the radical journal Tomorrow.

Poetry and academic writing

Slender volumes during the thirties and the war period demonstrated his growing technical mastery and widening of thematic scope; but it was his Book of New Zealand Verse, 1923 - 45, with his striking introductory analysis, that was to make him an influential national figure. He spent 1949 with the News Chronicle in London and then, for a quarter of a century combined the careers of academic and poet at the University of Auckland. His distinguished career continued in his official retirement.

'All poems are rash acts', he wrote in an account of his work. His best poetry he defined as 'little of the little I know of myself and the world.'

His work as a literary theorist helped shape the texts of many poets and writers of fiction and his satirical verse, under the pen name of 'Whim-Wham', delighted newspaper readers every Saturday for half a century.


Allen Curnow was awarded numerous literary honours, including an honourary D. Litt from the University of Canterbury, the New Zealand Book Award for poetry on six occasions, a fellowship at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Washington, the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, a CBE and membership of the Order of New Zealand.


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