In Memory

Ootepoti Dunedin poet, Rob Allan died last week. It was a sudden death after a short illness. I am dedicating this post to his memory.

His first book, Karitane Postcards, published by Hazard Press, 1991, won the PEN (NZSA) Best First Book of Poetry award in 1992. His second book, Port Manifold (published by katsura) is an amazing work centered on the history of Port Chalmers and written and printed in three parts. It certainly didn’t get the notice it deserved.

A serious reader, I suspect he would be pleased and satisfied to know that he managed to s l o w l y read and enjoy Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past before he died. I wonder what complex and exhausting classic book he had lined up to read next?

Not only a fine poet, Rob was a noted daily perambulator of Dunedin streets and by-ways taking his camera along, capturing images of Dunedin and surrounds and each day; or at least on days when he wasn’t out at his crib in Karitane; faithfully posting these on social media.

Among the pics were many bright & beautiful photos of flowers (along with, sometimes, local cats.) The harbour at Port Chalmers where he lived, also a favourite subject. As well, he’d seek out the odd and quirky. We had a bit of a low-key competition between us to see who was first to capture the first photo of a magnolia in blossom. Characteristically, he courteously (with tongue in cheek I’m sure) avoided the magnolias in the Gardens where he knew I always tried for the first photo. He stated that he had a secret magnolia tree location! I’m happy he ‘wonthis year in what has turned out to be his final Spring.

This post, with its photos of Dunedin street art and scenes that I recently captured-while-walking, is an attempt to honour Rob’s gift of scenic photography (he was famously unapologetic about his photos not containing any people).

He would have been the first to ‘re-post’ and / or ‘retweet’ this post. I feel sad that he’s not here to do that. I’ll miss that acknowledgement. Endearingly, in 2020 he took my poetry book Upturned and my novel Craggan Dhu with him on a trip and proceeded to post online, photos of the books in various locations.

I always appreciated this kind generosity and support, even if it sometimes was a tiny bit embarrassing – however any silly cringe factor about such notice is all on me. It’s just that Rob believed in everyone getting a fair go. He was generous, kind, open to everyone’s opinion and a fair-minded thinker.

In a tribute on Facebook, writer Jenny Powell quoted the following lines from the Prologue Rob wrote for Port Manifold.

‘I look for words
to patch up dreams
reshape past ritual and belief.
A piecework prayer to ply and weave,
the world and all that there is.’

R.I.P. Rob Allan

cloud catcher streeet wall art Dunedin
Dunedin railway bridge
‘metallic scribble’ on decorative metal factory wall, Dunedin
harbour basin, Dunedin
poem on Harbour Basin wall as placed by ‘Step Sisters’ – one of Dunedin poet Ruth Arnison’s many community projects
poem’s attribute
street art, fish art, Dunedin
seahorse made from plastic milk-bottle lids
street art, Dunedin
Donaghy’s ‘rope walk’
farther along Donaghy’s ‘rope walk’
farther along still … Donaghy’s ‘rope walk’
what remains of groyne, St Clair

I wrote a poem about the groyne when it was standing with its pillar-strong, tree-trunk sized stanchions of St Clair beach; markers, reminders … the sea has now claimed it, just as it threatens to claim all in the end. The groyne is now a ghost of itself. (See in Saturday 24th October, in ODT supplement an excellent article by Talia Marshall, which refers to the groyne and much else that is intrinsically ‘St Clair, Dunedin’).

My poem below. First published in Sport way back when poetry was boring, apparently, according to something I read today in Stuff. It states that poetry is not boring any more because (I kid you not) “There are a lot of exciting younger contemporary poets making it cool again.” (Again?) Cough, cough. There is soooo much I could say about that, but shall restrain myself for fear of an ‘Ok, Boomer’ riposte.

groyne, St Clair

Originally designed
to prevent erosion, but now
just good for photographs
or somehwere to walk to.

A hazard to surfers and no doubt
on some councillor’s agenda
for a clean sweep. In ’73
Pam and I came down here

in an orange VW
that always stalled at the lights
and walked along the sand
towards thier stoop; the lean

of them into the grey.
Kind of like yardsticks
measuring … what? Depth of field?
The inevitable brush with life?

Moving against me
the flutter of the baby. It was in July,
about three in the afternoon, a frost
already in the air, the sea
cold and mad.

  • Poem from my first book, Feeding The Dogs’

a card my friend Pam got for her birthday this year – referencing both Pam and the VW in the poem


Also want to remember my brother in law David, who died suddenly of a heart attack a year ago today. We miss him terribly. My sister is amazing the way she has carried on with establishing the dreams they both had for their Lazy Square lifestyle block in the Horowhenua. She has been posting updates on the Lazy Square Facebook page if you’re interested to take a look.


Writer from Dunedin, New Zealand.

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