Crete 1941 (Paperback)
Australia has 'The Great South Land', South Africa has 'Shaka Zulu', Argentina has the gaucho epic 'Martin Fierro', and Chile has 'La Araucana' as its national poem. Now New Zealand has Crete 1941, an epic poem about the New Zealand-led defence of Crete during the Battle of Crete between 20 May and 1 June 1941.
Crete 1941 is the only epic long poem in English since Derek Walcott's 'Omeros', with the entry of the 28th (Māori) Battalion as an active combat force providing the culmination of the poem. As geopolitical tensions rise in the Pacific today, it's timely to look back to when New Zealand last went to war and defended another small nation - Greece - on its last redoubt, in a battle that ended in a Dunkirk-style evacuation.
More than just a war story, Crete 1941 brings women back into the historic struggle for Crete. The poem is a life-changing reflection on the virtue of good small nations, on the contribution of indigenous peoples such as Māori and Cretans to international developments, and on the fragility that both peace and its disruptors share.
'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.'