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Vibrant with Words

4 November 2005

Launched by Vincent O’Sullivan at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University last night, “Vibrant with Words: The Letters of Ursula Bethell” is a rich collection of letters that provides us with much evidence of her ‘writerly’ life and the origins of her poems.

It also tells the moving personal story of an early life of travel and social work followed by happy years in Rise Cottage with her companion Effie Pollen; and of the devastating effect of the younger woman’s sudden death, which left Bethell, as she wrote, ‘a tree struck by lightning—dead’.

Ursula Bethell (1874–1945) stands at the beginning of modern poetry in New Zealand.

Born in England, she grew up in New Zealand but was sent to England and Europe to be educated. Over the next thirty years she returned only briefly to New Zealand, and it was not until the 1920s that she came back, finally, to Christchurch. There she established a garden and began, at the age of fifty, to write poetry. ‘New Zealand wasn’t truly discovered,’ said D’Arcy Cresswell, ‘until Ursula Bethell, “very earnestly digging”, raised her head to look at the mountains.’

Editor Peter Whiteford is Senior Lecturer in Victoria University of Wellington’s English department and among other responsibilities, is a member of the Board of the International Institute of Modern Letters. He has written and edited many books including “Eileen Duggan: Selected Poems”. Victoria University Press, 1994.


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