To mark National Poetry Day today, here is a historic radio broadcast from 1939 by politician and novelist John A. Lee – paying tribute to the New Zealand poet Iris Wilkinson, better known as Robin Hyde.
Today we might call John A. Lee a social justice activist. He grew up in poverty in Dunedin at the end of the 19th century, was a vagrant and then imprisoned as a young man for petty crime – where he discovered socialism. He fought in WWI, where he was decorated for bravery and lost an arm. Eventually, on his return to New Zealand during the Depression of the 1930s, he got into politics and wrote his first novel, Children of the Poor.
While in Parliament he met young Iris Wilkinson, who was working in the Press Gallery at the age of just 17. She is best known today as a novelist, for her World War I novel Passport to Hell and the autobiographical The Godwits Fly, but in the 1920s and early 1930s she was best known as a poet. She was plagued by ill health, mental illness and drug addiction and after a very adventurous but tragically short life, she committed suicide in 1939 in London. John A. Lee had maintained a long correspondence with her throughout her life, and in he took to the airwaves to give this moving tribute:
Tribute to Robin Hyde by John A. Lee (1939). Full information about this recording is available here.
Audio from the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Radio Collection, all rights reserved. To enquire about re-use of this item please contact firstname.lastname@example.org