Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: CK Stead makes a pick

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On Wednesday at Auckland University Press I launched Anne French’s new collection, The Blue Voyage. Anne has always been a sailor (a ‘yachtie’) and the sea figures somewhere in all her books. The title sequence in this one is based on sailing in the Aegean, south of Turkey. This gives her both seascapes and landscapes/cityscapes, the flora, and even something of the history and changing politics, of the region. There is an amusing set of poems by Anne’s invented local poet, William Butler Smith who has more than an accidental connection with W.B. Yeats; and by contrast, some translations of exquisitely delicate poems by the Korean modernist, Han Yong-un. Anne has always seemed to me a clever poet who tells things as they are, and as they have been, from a woman’s perspective (remember The male as evader, a few years back?)and that is still the case; but there are gentler notes now, and some very touching elegies, including one for Nigel Cox, one to ‘Uncle Max’, and one (in cricketing terms) to ‘Auntie Paddy’ whose

heart ticked on long after

she’d stopped eating, talking, or looking

forward to anything but the walk

back to the pavilion.


I think maybe the central poem of the book for me is one called ‘Ziran’, where after a rough passage sailing they have emerged into calm seas and she’s ‘leaning back against two sail bags / singing Puccini.’

The Chinese word for ‘natural’ is self-so,

John tells me later: true to its own nature

and the way of the world. Self-so then is this joy

that fills every part of me and lifts me into myself.


The thought of being lifted into, rather than out of, oneself is typical of the small surprises she delivers. This is a book full of Self-so.


CK Stead

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