The Yellow Buoy: Poems 2007–2012, by C.K. Stead, (Auckland University Press, 2013), 144 pp., $27.99
The poems of C.K. Stead ‘get poetry’. If I could choose any archetype for all budding poets to emulate it would be he who is perhaps the last of the double-initials-and-surname poets. The kind of adjectives one attaches to his style sound unflattering: honest, sturdy, reliable, unembellished, intelligible, sober, unfestooned, humble, un-baroque-or-rococo. Words are used artfully, but not deferred to or privileged above sense. The sound of words is not forgotten, but the poems are never in search of euphony. Images and metaphor abound, but again are precisely observed. Nothing seems exaggerated; nothing tries overtly to be or seem impressive. The subject has been selected because the poet knows it is interesting as is. Avoid ambition, poets. Avoid – ugh – flash. Avoid post-modernism. Embrace discipline. Stead’s durable archetype is of a poet like a plumber, no self-importance attached, just another well-functioning toilet at the end of a day’s work.
But there is no one ‘poetry’ to ‘get’ of course. Instead, it comes in many forms, equally as deserving of the word ‘poem’, and is equally admired – by opposing groups of readers, often. Every attentive reader has a set of poems they have read and admired: a set of ‘poems that get it’. A set of poems they are prepared to promote and defend. To me this is what a critic does, defending as one braying voice in the wilderness, clutching a poem ‘set’ and asserting an opinion. I admire critics that speak to their vision of the truth. I think their judgements, often more sharply drawn and decisive than our own, help us to shape or frame our own thinking. We may vehemently disagree, and perhaps even be hoodwinked by rhetoric to agree when perhaps we shouldn’t, but either way the conversation shapes us. The best critics to my mind are both curmudgeons and creeps: challenging the reader all the way. Accordingly, I have defaced my way through Stead’s latest collection, The Yellow Buoy: Poems 2007–2012, drawing creepy and curmudgeonly faces in the margins. [Read more…]