Who’s “The King of Cuckooz”? Maps and Mapping in Kenneth Slessor’s Poetic Sequence The Atlas, Part I

Adele J Haft

http://dx.doi.org/10.14714/CP71.72

Abstract


“The King of Cuckooz” by the acclaimed Australian poet Kenneth Slessor opensthe five-poem sequence The Atlas as well as Cuckooz Contrey (1932), the collection in which it debuted. Like each of The Atlas poems, “The King of Cuckooz” begins with a quote from a prominent seventeenth-century map-maker; in this case, Robert Norton (d. 1635)—the English engineer, gunner, writer, and surveyor. Slessor not only alludes to Norton’s 1620 plan of Algiers throughout the poem, but imagines his narrator assuming Norton’s (highly fictionalized) persona. This article, part of the first full-scale examination of Slessor’s ambitious but poorly understood sequence, begins by considering what critics have said about “The King of Cuckooz,” traces its development in Slessor’s poetry notebook, and details the complex relationships between his poem, Norton’s map, and a particularly lyrical description of that map in an ephemeral catalogue of atlases and maps. Slessor modeled his King of Cuckooz on Barbarossa/Kheir-ed-din (ca. 1478–1546), Algiers’ most charismatic corsair and pasha. But what Norton meant by “The Kingof Cuckooz Contrey” eluded Slessor. By focusing on Norton’s participation in the British expedition against Algiers (1620–1621), tracking down memoirs of foreign officials and former captives in Ottoman Algiers, scouring old maps for “Cuckooz,”and cobbling together the astonishing exploits of the Berber Kingdom of Koukou/Cucco through Norton’s day and beyond—my paper will make the “unknown” known in its strangely poetic reality.

Keywords


Kenneth Slessor (1901–1971); Cuckooz Contrey (1932); The Atlas sequence (ca. 1930); “The King of Cuckooz”; poetry—twentieth-century; poetry—Australian; poetry and maps; cartography—seventeenth-century; Robert Norton (d. 1635);

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