Jerusalem Sonnets 1

That Baxter couldn’t finish the sequence 
is surely because he saw that the 
way to finish a work where the subject was 
so much his shortcomings would be to not 
be able to: this especially when the 
fictional weakness enabled him to 
signal the principal real one, his 
vanity – at least, a 39 sonnet sequence 
is hardly the demons of writer’s block 
for most poets; or, indeed, Baxter didn’t 
need to be smitten with his own genius 
to know he’d hit the ball out of the 
park, and was regretting only being 
able to manage a 39 poem masterpiece. 

Jerusalem Sonnets 2

The Lord doesn’t expect lice-infested beards 
to be put up with, and a good start is 
to shave off the beard. But Baxter not even 
considering losing the beard is the least 
of the self-satire. If the lice aren’t pearls 
of God, don’t they, and their cloudiness, 
invite some other reading? Baxter, one 
must think, is taking as his metaphor that 
the beard equals mind, with the lice what’s 
ailing the mind. He’s virtually pronouncing 
himself a whited sepulchre; the shaggy, 
barefooted, early morning piety a 
sham; his blindness not just error but a 
matter of being eaten up by error. 

Jerusalem Sonnets 3

The ‘brass rings’ sonnet features a Baxter 
(the more so when the tribulations of 
his World War One pacifist father are 
recalled) ludicrously holier-than-thou: but 
the lash of presenting himself like that 
can’t be faulted: the whole sequence, in 
fact, can be viewed as Baxter giving himself 
a thrashing – ‘Twenty strokes are more than 
enough’ finding an echo in ‘I had 
hoped for fifty sonnets’; with the sequence 
stopping at 39 likely an allusion 
to Christ’s forty lashes, Baxter darkly 
showing pride asserting itself even 
in the attempt to be a scourge to it. 

Jerusalem Sonnets 4

When, for example, Baxter is irked by 
a request to warn the local kids off 
drugs, but needs to occupy the moral 
high ground, so utters some blather against 
contemporary society, he has to be 
sending himself up. Or one can’t quite 
tell. Baxter’s critique of himself hits so 
forcefully because he achieves such a 
guileless, impromptu tone it’s hard to believe 
the sonnets are a critique. His verse 
epistle may be as much a device 
as any letter in a Restoration 
comedy, but has an effect simply of 
‘Behold the man’, Baxter being Baxter. 


David Beach lives in Wellington. His third sonnet collection, Scenery and Agriculture, is scheduled for publication by VUP early in 2012.