Michael Kennedy Joseph (1914-1981) was a poet and novelist of the 1950s-70s. He was born at Chingford, Essex, near London, a month before the outbreak of World War 1, and retained ‘sharp but disconnected memories’ of wartime London, including an incinerating zeppelin, according to an unpublished memoir of his early life.
The family immigrated to New Zealand in 1924, settling at Bethlehem, near Tauranga, where Joseph’s father became a founder of the fruit industry and made close friendships with the Maori community through his fluency in the language.
At Auckland University College from 1931, he studied law for two years before transferring to a BA and MA in English (first class honours 1934). After two years as a junior lecturer under Arthur Sewell at Auckland, he entered Merton College, Oxford, in 1936, financed by a grandmother and grand-uncle now also in New Zealand.
His Oxford graduation coincided with the outbreak of World War 2, and he joined the Royal Field Artillery and later an Air Observation unit, serving in England, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, and reputedly declining promotion above bombardier. This experience recurs in his poetry and fiction and is briefly recounted in his contribution to the ‘Beginnings’ series (*Islands 27, 1979)
Information with thanks to the New Zealand Book Council
The Gunners move like figures in a dance
Harmoniously at their machine that kills
Quite casually beyond the overshadowed hills
Under the blue and echoing air of France.
The passing driver watches them askance:
‘Look at the beggars – pickled to the gills.’
Yet bodies steadied in parade-ground skills
Correct the tottering mind’s intemperance.
Housed under summer leafage at his ease,
Artillery board set up, the captain sees
His rule connect two dots a league apart
And throws destruction at hypotheses,
Wishing that love had ministers like these
To strike its distant enemy to the heart.
Written by M.K. Joseph ~ Normandy, 1944