President of Honour – Bernard Brown

Like most of us I would not know what to do if I did not write. “

Bernard Brown was appointed President of Honour 2017 – 2018  by the New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc) AGM Saturday on May 27. This position is awarded to a writer in recognition of their services to the literary community and Bernard Brown has been an active and vibrant member of the Society for 46 years. He joined PEN (NZ) in 1971 as Branch secretary/treasurer (with $7.35 in the kitty). He led “Portnoys Complaints” about contracts, royalties, ran writing competitions for the Auckland Branch et al for 20 years.  Bernard was made an NZSA Taipūrākau in 2017 and received an ONZM in 2000. As President of Honour he will deliver the annual Janet Frame Memorial Lecture in Auckland in the near future.


Bernard Brown

At the age of 6, in 1940, I wanted to paint and sculpt and regularly dived for river-clay for the 18 year old Lucian Freud. My imagination was strongly visual but I found it hard to express that on canvas (eyes of clay, perhaps). So I began writing verse. On the school bus, in Suffolk, I wrote a lewd poem to someone and that had repercussions across the globe 70 years later. Never underestimate the menace of retributivist great-grandchildren!

I studied law at universities in England, Singapore and Australia and taught and researched in those places and in Papua New Guinea (where I wrote Fashion of Law in New Guinea and got shot with an arrow). As Acting Editor of a university law magazine there was a problem when I rejected three Larkin poems!

Too much descriptive stuff is being written about law. My books were analytical but by the time of Shibboleths of Law (1984) I had become an awkward wonk. Hopefully my literary work has helped save my style if not my soul. Since 1972 there have been seven books of verse and stories including Unspeakable Practices, Fearing the Kynge (illustrated by Brian Lovelock) and Sensible Sinning (illus. Male Evans) which Owen Scott edited and broadcast for Radio NZ. Cocktails with Molotov is due early next year. I still long to draw like Lovelock and Evans and to sound like Scott.

Absurdity in law and governance abounds. Lawyers such as Lord Atkin (1930s and 40s), Owen Woodhouse and David Lange puncture the absurd with absurdist wit. We need more heroes of the ilk of Lewis Carroll, Peter Cook, Monty Python, John Clark and Fay Weldon. The only person I know who denied Lange the last word was Lee Kuan Yew, P.M. of Singapore.

After my RAF Flying Officer career in the so-called Malaya Emergency, I settled in to a Singapore friendship with the expat. English poet Dennis Enright. We both felt the P.M.’s wrath. I took flight (again) to Australia, overflew Brisbane and landed in 1962 at Whenuapai international airstrip. Enright had got me writing again by not flying high, or accurately.

My glaring weakness is for book launches. (Do readers remember Denis Edwards’ mischievous Sir Launchelot series in Quote Unquote?). Launches bring together the most antic personalities; David Lange and Christine Cole Catley at one of mine; at another’s Keri Hulme and Keith Holyoake (“Sorry, I’ve got the wrong room”). David and Chris formed a bond. I don’t know about Keri and Keith. A decent whitebait fry-up would have done him a world of good.

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