Tag Archives: CK Stead

Reading CK Stead’s That Derrida Whom I Derided Died: Poems 2013 – 2017

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CK Stead, That Derrida Whom I Derided Died  Auckland University Press  2018

 

 

Frank and Allen, Robin, Ron and Rex

rode the North Shore ferries, while Rangitoto

pictured itself sunk in a stone composure.

Eeven the Golden Weather would have to end

where a small room with large windows disclosed

geraniums wild in the wet and a gannet impacting.

 

from ‘That summer cento sonnet, 1950s’

 

In September I listened uncomfortably as Steve Braunias questioned CK Stead and Charlotte Grimshaw about the truth of happy childhoods in the Stead family. Steve insisted but Karl and Charlotte sidestepped with tact and grace. I have since read and loved Charlotte’s novel Mazarine – I was caught up in both the momentum of a thriller and entranced by the interior struggles of the main character. I savoured the novel for the novel’s sake rather than muse upon autobiographical tracings. In this world on edge the novel felt vulnerable, driven, humane. It was writing I felt as much as I thought.

Here I am writing about the daughter when I have just read the father (his novel waits me).

When I first picked up Karl’s new poetry collection, That Derrida Whom I Derided Died, the title catapulted me back into the gated community of literary theory.  I wanted to open the book and travel lightly but I was carrying the Going West session into the collection; that tension between what you write and what you live. I can’t think of a New Zealand literary figure who has courted greater controversy, maintained lifelong enemies along with lifelong friendships, and who has irked so many writing peers. I scarcely know the details of these relations or want to but I have had a long history of reading and admiring Karl’s poetry and fiction. Really I wanted to banish all this external hubbub from my reading and engage with the poetry on its own terms.

 

In the dark

of the 15th floor

Bill Manhire woke

thinking the building

had turned over in sleep

and groaned

or ground its teeth

 

from ‘Apprehension’ in ‘Christchurch Word Festival, 2016’

 

Karl’s collection is deeply personal; the poetry is a meeting ground for dream, memory, retrieval, old age. It is a book of friendships with the living, with ghosts of the past and with writers that attract such as Catallus. He obliquely and briefly returns to arguments and enmities that persisted but for me it is the love of poetry that is the greatest fuel.

The poetry is deftly crafted – like honey at perfect consumption – with shifting forms, syllabics, subject matter. You move from the exquisite opening poem ‘An Horatian ode to Fleur Adcock at eighty’ to the challenge of writing war poems to the final poem written at ‘ten to midnight’.

The 80 plus poems almost match Karl’s age (86) – and maybe that changes things for me as a reader. I am brought closer to death as I am reading, not because death is a protagonist, but because the long-ago past is returned to the frame. And I have had close shaves. What do we want to bring close and find poetic ways to make present? I am asking myself this as I read. Mysterious, dreamlike, moving; yet there is an intensity about these replayed moments. Perhaps luminosity is a better word for these poems that make things utterly present.

 

She was, she tells me

the one without a partner

until I came

with a bottle of bubbly and two plastic cups

and a small box of rose petals.

‘You realise my age?’ I ask

(uncertain what it is).

‘Of course,’ she says.

‘This was half a century ago.’

So we danced and danced

until just before midnight

when I walked out

into the Bavarian dark.

‘I’ve never forgiven you,’she says.

‘Where did you go? Where have you been?’

 

from ‘Ten minutes to midnight’

 

In one poem, ‘By the back door’, Karl responds to Damien Wilkin’s review that suggests Karl’s writing suffers from a glut of lucidity and that his novels yearn to be poems. I can’t say I have ever felt that but Karl suggests in his endnote he wrote this as a semi farewell to fiction. Ah the way we get thrown off kilter. This is what I mean by deeply personal. We are being brought in close to the man writing, the man living, the man and his little and larger anxieties, the man and his little and larger fascinations. And how this might shift and resettle at ten to midnight. In a footnote Karl tells us that he ended up writing at least one novel (The Necessary Angel – it’s on my pile) but maybe two (Risk) after writing the poem.

As I move through the book, lingering over poems with admiration and feeling uncomfortable at others, the outside stories come clamouring. But I hold them at arm’s length. Even when Karl is doing the signposting. Instead I relish the dreamlike moment that the writer, on this occasion, in this instant of almost urgent return, renders lucid, gleaming. This is a book to be celebrated.

 

I was the one who believed in poetry –

that it could capture the gull in flight

and the opening flower

and in the blink of an eye

a knock on the door of death.

I believed with Shakespeare

there was a trick that unlocked

the mystery of

the named stars.

 

from ‘I was the one …’

 

 

Auckland University Press page

CK Stead is an award-winning poet, literary critic, novelist, essayist and Emeritus Professor at The University of Auckland. He was the New Zealand Poet Laureate (2015 -2017), has received the Prime Minster’s Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction and is a member of the Order of New Zealand, the highest possible honour in New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

Reading The Friday Poems in a book

 

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Luncheon Sausage Books, 2018

 

A new poem. Wow just wow

A new poem that no one will forget any time soon.

A new poem. I think it’s important.

I wrote a new poem. You’ll be amazed at what happened next.

 

Bill Manhire from ‘Thread’

 

Steve Braunias kickstarted his Friday poem at the Spinoff four years ago – which prompted me to shift my Friday poems to Mondays! Decided to begin the week  with a poem in the ear and have since started an ongoing season of Thursday readings (I really like hearing other poets read, especially those I have never met). More importantly I also like the fact we have more than one online space dedicated to local poems. Steve tends to pick from new books which is great publicity for the poet. I tend to pick poems that have not yet been published in book form and find other ways to feature the new arrivals (interviews, reviews, popup poems on other days).

Steve’s anthology of picks from the Friday-Poem posts underlines our current passion for poetry. I don’t see him belonging to any one club (like a hub around a particular press or city) – unless he is inventing his own: Steve’s poetry club. And there is a big welcome mat out. You will find mainstream presses and boutique presses, established poets and hot-off-the-press brand new poets, a strong showing of Pasifika voices, outsiders, insiders. He is fired up by the charismatic lines of Hera Lindsay Bird and Tayi Tibble but he is equally swayed by the tones of Brian Turner, CK Stead, Elizabeth Smither, Fiona Kidman.

 

She cried wolf but she was the wolf

so she slit sad’s bellyskin

and stones of want rolled out.

 

Emma Neale from ‘Big Bad’

 

Who would he feature at a festival reading? At Unity Books on November 12th in Wellington he has picked: Dame Fiona Kidman, Bill Manhire, James Brown, Joy Holley, Tayi Tibble.

The anthology is worth buying for the introduction alone – expect someone writing over hot coals with an astute eye for what is happening now but also what has happened in the past (especially to women poets). And by hot coals I mean a mix of passionate and polemical. This person loves poetry and that is hot.

 

Where there’s a gate there’s a gatekeeper, I suppose, but I think of the past few years as an exercise in welcoming rather than turning away. Publishing works of art every week these past four years has been one of the most intoxicating pastimes of my writing life. But I came to a decision while I was writing the Introduction, and commenting on the work of women writers, and adding up the number of women writers: it’s time to step aside. An ageing white male just doesn’t seem the ideal person right now to act as the bouncer at this particular doorway to New Zealand poetry. Women are where the action is: the poetry editor at the Spinoff in 2019 will be Ashleigh Young.

Steve Braunias, from ‘Introduction’

 

I felt kind of sad reading that. I will miss Steve as our idiosyncratic poetry gate keeper.  Of course this book and the posts are unashamedly Steve’s taste, and there are a truckload of other excellent poets out there with new books, but his taste keeps you reading in multiple directions.

That said it’s a warm welcome to the exciting prospect of Ashleigh Young!

 

On most drives I like quiet because my mother

had a habit of appraising every passing scene, calling ordinary

things, especially any animal standing in a field, lovely

 

and this instilled in me a strong dislike for the world lovely

and for associated words of praise like wonderful and superb

but on our drive home tonight the sky is categorically lovely

 

Ashleigh Young from ‘Words of praise’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final episode of Poem on a Madrid Terrace

‘It appears the cold weather has finally arrived in Madrid after an extended summer… Anna Borrie and I read ‘You’ by C.K. Stead in the final episode of ‘Poem on the Terrace – New Zealand Poets’, where we introduce kiwi poets to a Spanish-speaking audience.’

Charles Olsen

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Listen here

C K Stead in conversation with Lynn Freeman is a delight @RNZNational

I love the new Christchurch poems that punctuated the interview. They are from the gorgeous book, In the Mirror and Dancing, that the National Library produced to mark the end of Karl’s Laureateship.

Listen here.

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Poetry Shelf Postcard: Landfall 231

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We are well served by literary journals at the moment. Each delivers slightly different treats, biases, focuses but all offer high quality writing that resist any singular NZ model.

The latest Landfall (as you can see) has a stunning cover with its Peter Peryer photograph.

Inside: poetry (37 poets!), fiction, non-fiction, art and book reviews (including an excellent review of Anna Smaill’s The Chimes, one of my top fiction reads of the past year).

The poets range from the very familiar, whether young or old, to those new to me. And that is as it should be. David Eggleton is keeping the magazine fresh whilst giving vital space to our literary elders and maintaining a strong and welcome Pacific flavour.

 

A tasting plate of lines that got me (I seem to have been struck by mothers, fathers, surprising images, little twists):

 

from Brian Turner’s ‘Weekends’:

think of what a place could be

when it’s not what we possess

that counts most

but what we are possessed by

 

from CK Stead’s ‘One: Like a bird’ (for Kay):

You were beautiful, and I

sang, as I could in those days

all the way home—like a bird.

 

from Leilani Tamu’s ‘Researching Ali’i’:

I searched for you in boxes

the archivist muttered poison

 

from Rata Gordon’s ‘A Baby’:

I want to make a baby out of one peach and one prickle.

I want to use the kitchen sponge, sticky rice and a rubber band.

I want to use the coffee grinder.

 

from Siobhan Harvey’s ‘Spaceboy and the White Hole’:

he pictures matter barely visible, the light

of white holes as they transmit their secret

messages, sharp elegies, about letting go.

 

from Ruth Arnison’s ‘The Visit’:

Even from the road her house gave us the creeps.

Pale, communion wafer thin, and disapproving,

its severe windows three-quarter blinded.

 

from Heather McQuillan’s ‘In which I defend my father’s right to solitude’:

our father has a fine tooth way

of finding vulnerabilities

on the outward flanks

the wolf is always at his door

 

from Doc Drumheller’s ‘My Father’s Fingers’:

Days after my father died I felt a sense

of urgency to take care of his hot-house.

 

from Koenraad Kuiper’s ‘from Benedictine Sonnets’:

Mother always knitted particularly socks.

Knitting socks is a fine skill under the lamplight.

 

from Elizabeth Smither’s ‘Three “Willow” Pattern Bowls’:

My father thought I meant the plate

and wrapped one from the china cabinet

I carried it close to my heart

all the way back for a second reprimand.

 

from Bob Orr’s ‘Seven Haiku’:

I don’t care about

frogs

basho’s dead

 

from Will Leadbetter’s ‘Three Variations on “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams’:

Nothing depends upon

the green wheelbarrow

 

Great winter reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations #AWF16 – It’s a bouquet of roses

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Once again the AWF have delivered a gift to readers and writers. I applaud the fact they showcase NZ writers as much as they do those from overseas. I applaud the free sessions (ok I got used to sitting on the floor with my recovering fractured foot rebelling with all that queuing). I applaud the fact they cater for children. I applaud a programme that is so very diverse and that offers moments that shake you apart — that reminds us what is so very important about sustaining a book culture from birth to 100. Books do matter. Conversations about books matter, whether you are reader or writer. I applaud all the writers who were so very generous with their self/ideas/issues/stories/poetry exposures.

Thank you so very much Anne O’Brien and your fabulous team.

 

Saturday (I booked ended a full day at the festival with short stories and a feminist icon)

The short-story session was a standout event – the exact reason I am prepared to face parking issues, hordes of people, endless queues.

Sue Orr in conversation with Damien Wilkins and Elizabeth McCracken was such a treat. Genius idea to read a short story by another author and explore the craft. Elizabeth read Lucia Berlin’s ‘The Jockey,’ while Damien read Janet Frame’s ‘This Is My Last Story.’  Elizabeth responded to the potential workshop criticism that Lucia’s story gave the protagonist no biographical details. Elizabeth: ‘Her voice is so full of life you know that character.’ Damien even suggested the ending (‘This is so marvelous.’) might not survive a workshop – but that it works.

In the review I did with Bill he suggested he wasn’t straitjacketed by rules. Both stories read were perfect examples of this.

Damien said he goes to Janet’s collection of stories when he feels language can’t be fresh any more and is rejuvenated. Hearing him read her story so beautifully, with such verve, made me want to scoot back home, pick up her book and get reading.

Loved hearing their own stories too, and the fact Damien had to start rewriting his!

 

Second standout event of the day – Tusiata Avia in scintillating conversation with Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Both writers bemoaned the way they get pigeon holed as being writers of colour. The empathy between them was infectious, the poems read utterly vital.

Tusiata talked about the way the job of the writer is to bring the unseen into the world, bringing it out of the dark places, even it is painful, even if it’s not attractive.

Maxine added that the drive to pick up the pen is affected by the need to change something and that one might not write in a utopian world.

This session was polemical, uplifting, moving – and a reminder of the power and beauty of poetry.

 

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Third standout moments were hearing Cilla McQueen and Lynn Jenner read in the Excavations session.

Having read both books, these two readings lifted me out of festival fatigue. Highly recommend Lost and Gone way and In Slanted Light. Lynn’s refreshing approach to nonfiction, Cilla’s refreshing approach to memoir.

 

 

Fourth stand out moment

Gloria Steinem.

 

I will do a separate post on The Sarah Broom Poetry Award.

 

Sunday

Absolute standout moment of the festival Jeanette Winterson doing Shakespeare

Standing solo on the stage Jeanette delivered an impressive monologue on Shakespeare, on why she chose The Winter’s Tale to do her cover version (The Gap of Time).

I never thought-drifted off. Nor when she read two sections from the book. Read is hardly the right word to describe her electric-electifying performance.

I walked out gobsmacked. Speechless. It was like she was feeling Shakespeare with every twitch, every lift and rush of word, every pore of skin. She felt it, so I felt it.

She said we live in such a complicated world, you can’t reduce it with the karate chop of syntax. We want to expand us/the world. It is like the way, in another language, thought shrinks to the language available.

Book quote: ‘What is memory anyway but a painful dispute from the past.’

She referred to Dante’s idea that writers are putting into words things difficult to think. Jeanette adds: ‘and feelings.’

I kept bumping into people who were as blubberingly euphoric as me after this session.

 

Second standout session of the day Michel Faber in conversation with Paula Morris

The most poignant  moment of the festival was seeing Michel’s wife Eva’s little red boots on the stage, standing in for her, this huge absence he carries on his travels.

I looked at this unbearable emptiness as he read poems from his forthcoming collection, poems that navigate her illness and death, his loss and grief.

Astonishing. And his declaration, well known, that he has written his last novel. ‘I only had this many novels in me,’ he says.

Again the tricky question of whether fiction and poetry make a difference to us came up. Michel didn’t used to think so. Now he says, ‘if a decent human being can feel something for an hour reading poetry or fiction regarding the evils of those who rule us, then it is a value, even though it doesn’t affect how things turn out. Maybe that’s enough.’

 

 

And bravo CK Stead stepping into Bill Manhire’s shoes to converse with Paul Muldoon.

A fascinating session. Hearing the poems with that Irish lilt again means reading the new collection with just the right musical inflections. The pauses were memorable. Best poetic pauses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My two poetry readings to launch my new book feature some of my favourite poets

Like so many poets, I loathe people making speeches about me or my work. Much better to stage a poetry reading and celebrate the pull of cities.

My new poetry collection comes out of ten exceptional days I spent in New York with my family awhile ago. So I have invited a bunch of poets I love to read city poems by themselves and others. Big line-ups but it will free flow and leave time for wine and nibbles.

Once I got to fifteen I realised what poetry wealth we have in these places. I could have hosted another 15  in each place easily. That was so reassuring.

If I had time and money, I would have staged similar events in Christchurch and Dunedin where there bundles of poets I love too.

Please share if you have the inclination.

And you are ALL warmly invited!

Auckland:

 

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Wellington:

 

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