C.K. Stead is your new Poet Laureate

The National Library is thrilled to announce our selection of the New Zealand Poet Laureate for 2015-2017: C. K. Stead.

Photo by Marti Friedlander.

Christian Karlson Stead was born in Auckland in 1932. He began writing poetry while still at school, and publishing as a student. His awards for poetry have included the Jessie Mackay award, the New Zealand Book Award for poetry, the King’s Lynn Poetry prize, the Hippocrates Prize for poetry and Medicine, and the Sarah Broom prize. His Collected Poems 1951-2006 received a Montana Prize in 2009.

Thinking about the nature of poetry in the foreword to his Collected Poems, Stead wrote: ‘Language is what distinguishes us on our planet, and poetry pushes that everyday currency out into new territories of sense – sensory and semantic. I think of writing a poem as putting oneself in the moment at the moment.’

Nic Ascroft writing in Landfall concluded his review of Stead’s The Yellow Buoy, published in 2014, with this consideration of the poem "Why poetry?": ‘This lists all of the ways Stead uses poetry: to capture the beauty of a moment as perfectly as he can; to be honest; to find the truth in dreams; to allow a little lyricism; to probe the human condition and to consider suffering and death.’

Why poetry?

To catch the cat’s
studied indifference,
her yawn and stretch in the sun.

To take what once was thought
and twice rejected
and refine it
until it is not what it was.

To recover the realm
between waking and sleep
where a dragon guards
the golden hoard
and a word marks the lizard’s dart
between is and

Casual, effortless, elegant
to be the heron
climbing the air.

To give to the human order
a kinder face
a better shape.

To be and not
to be Hamlet beset
by slings and arrows.

To find a way back
to the bush stream
where small fish used to hang
in shafts of sunlight.

To get ahead of yourself
and accept the silence.

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