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Crete 1941 – An Epic Poem For Aotearoa New Zealand In The 21st Century

Crowdfunding now on, ’Crete 1941’ by poet Bernard Cadogan is Aotearoa New Zealand’s epic of nationhood and of Māori citizenship attained by the valour and sacrifices of the 28th (Māori) Battalion. It is also the epic of the Cretan resistance to the German occupation of Crete.

‘In no way glorifying the violence of the Greek campaign and the battle of Crete,’ said poet Bernard Cadogan, ‘this epic places conflict right at the heart of our desire for peace, as well as our capacity to reason, will and love. Unlike other “war stories”, women are central to this poem, never absent.’

Cadogan asks: ‘Why did New Zealanders fight for the oldest site of a European palace state: the site of the myth of the labyrinth and Minotaur? What was the monster in the palace that we fought? What other ways are there of dealing with such a menace?’

‘This is a radical poem, not a fuddy-duddy poem,’ said Cadogan. ‘It is not composed in Spenserian stanzas as a conservative nostalgia trip or whimsy, but as a deliberate act of decolonisation and reparation for Edmund Spenser and our own premier Alfred Domett’s dreadfully racist “Ranolf and Amohia”.’

‘Crete 1941 does this in the spirit of Wu Ming’s New Italian Epic, inverting Ferrara, Cork, colonial Wellington.… Someone has said Crete 1941 has put intellect and heart back into New Zealand verse; in a way this is true.’

‘Canto I is about law, Canto II is about war, Canto III is about love, Canto IV is about resistance, while Canto V is about the 28th (Māori) Battalion. Many famous New Zealanders pass through the poem, as does the experience of ordinary Cretans, Germans and Kiwis as well.’

‘A tone of scepticism, compassion and rigorous judgement fills the poem to the final note,’ said Tuwhiri publisher Ramsey Margolis. ‘It is a contribution to the epic tradition of truth speaking to a powerful state begun by the Epicurean sceptic poets Lucretius, Virgil and Horace.’

‘As geopolitical tensions increase again and great power competition resumes,’ said Bernard Cadogan, ‘this epic poem offers a deep time perspective – five thousand years of the European state and of the emancipations possible from its maze.’

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