If words are the currency both of poetry and of the interface with bureaucracy, is there a role for a poet as a ‘public intellectual’ in New Zealand? What is the relationship between the ‘creative’ and the ‘responsive’ parts of a writer’s mind? Are these parts distinct, or does one somehow inform the other, or does each inform each? Lynn Jenner’s book Peat is the sort of book that keeps thinking inside your head after you have finished reading it. It is at once a record of the effect on community, history and land of the building (between 2013 and 2107) of the Kapiti Expressway, a so-called ‘Road of National Significance’, near Jenner’s home, and a record of Jenner’s tentative and sensitive quest to get to know Dunedin-based poet Charles Brasch (1909-1973) through his poetry, memoir and letters to the editor, through historical residua, by visiting the houses in which he had lived, and by touching his books in the Otago University Library. The first half of the book consists of essays of varying length, concerning one or the other topic, or both (when relating Brasch’s visit to Douglas Lilburn in Kapiti in 1950). The essays generally arrange their contents temporally, as narratives or micronarratives. The second half of the book consists of two alphabetical ‘glossaries’, or archives, on the two subjects, arranging their contents spatially and providing depth and colour to terms and entities referred to in the essays. It is as if these archives are the strata, the histories, the settled ‘facts’ from which the essays — the hesitant and uncertain trials in what Jenner calls “the unshapely present” — arise and into which they feel for meaning. “Stories of the present resist endings,” writes Jenner, and the unifying element of the book is Jenner’s attempt to see whether the enigmatic Brasch can provide some way of aligning or usefully arranging the outward-facing and inward-facing lives of a poet. As soon as the Kapiti Expressway was proposed it began to change the relationship between the local community and the land, and between the various people in that community. Jenner seeks to understand some of this change. “From the moment the project had received consent, the Expressway began to speak with its own voice, and for more than three years, it had not stopped. ... In 2017 I still believed that the Expressway had a character and that I could discern that character from its behaviour, as you might a person.” Once completed, it is the noise of the road that impacts most heavily on the community (“Noise is a short word. Say it slowly and it sounds a little like a dentist’s drill”). Because this noise (eventually) falls within regulatory standards, and because it affects the community unevenly, it becomes a divisive rather than a cohesive element. “The fact that the community at large ‘moves on’ so quickly, and the unpleasant situation still happening to a few becomes invisible, bothers me.” In Charles Brasch’s letters to the editor and other writings about his community, he expresses strong concern about developments that deplete rather than enhance the aesthetic life of Dunedin’s citizens, and shows a keen and almost pained interest in the quality of change. “Brasch was first and always concerned with beauty,” writes Jenner, and he believed that the experience of beauty, be it in art, nature or civic life, was a vital way in which people of all sorts could improve themselves and their lives. Although Brasch was white, male, and wealthy, he was also very much an outsider in the New Zealand of his time: Jewish, sensitive, socially and sexually enigmatic. “Brasch doesn’t fit into any single category,” Jenner observes, and this reflects Brasch’s thoughts about himself, when he speculates that the writing of the ‘outer’ concerns of his life (so to call them) may provide some sort of pivot around which he might swing such ‘inner’ concerns as the writing of poetry: “These sketches, I see now, have a purpose, a use for me: they will remake me, create an image of myself & so give me in my own eyes a reality & a stability that I scarcely possess even yet, & a continuity which I have never achieved. They may offer me a centre to write poetry from, possibly a hint of direction too.” Peat may well be reaching for the same mechanism, a calibration of inner and outer concerns, of the individual with society, of the physical world with time.