Book Review: First Things

First Things
By Harry Ricketts
Review by Claudia

I was enrolled in several of Harry Rickett’s English Literature and Creative Writing classes at Victoria University of Wellington. My peers and I used to debate whether his real name was “Harrison” or “Harold.” I suspected he was cool when at the end of Noah and the Great Flood, as performed by the English faculty during the medieval literature module, he raised his arms towards the hundreds of students in the lecture theatre and shouted, “Go forth and multiply!”

First Things is a memoir in which personal firsts are the tent poles, Rickett’s schooling and early academic career is the multi-coloured fly and references to art and sport keep it all pegged down into something solid. Aided by the journals he has shown an envious amount of commitment to keeping, this memoir escorts the reader between English boarding schools, childhood memories of Hong Kong, Oxford University in the early 1970s and then Hong Kong again. The sections of the book are punctuated by Rickett’s poems and a few photographs, one of which confirms by the inclusion of a certain belt buckle and chain that, yes, in 1969 Professor Ricketts was very cool. Cool and honest, as indicated in this recollection of the size of a crowd at a poetry reading he took part in: “There was an audience of what is always called thirty, including the eleven poets.”

Fans of Bob Dylan, cricket and E. M. Forster might enjoy the lengthy but not indulgent passages on these topics, and readers who love a bit of relationship drama and the return of an old-fashioned idiom will appreciate the number of times the author finds himself “having a scene.” The dramatis personae is a little tricky to keep tabs on but such is the way when one has lived in many places and has many friends. Come for the candid discussions of sexuality, edibles in the academic environment and what makes for good songwriting – stay for the snapshot of Hong Kong in the 1970s, and the universal fear of selling out.

For fans of Ashleigh Young’s Can You Tolerate This? and Selected Poems by Harry Ricketts.