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Ventures Poet: CK Stead

Posted by Arc, 18th September 2013

Continuing our conversations in advance of the Ventures tour, we hear from C. K. Stead who also begins his tour in King's Lynn on 27th September

What is it you're looking forward to about the tour? And what do you hope to gain from the experience?

Seeing places and meeting people far from my usual orbit (since I live in New Zealand). I suppose the UK has become my second home over many years but that has been mainly London - and when I get outside it, this has most often been to France and Italy. I'm looking forward especially to visiting Edinburgh again, where I last read with Peter Porter and Hugo Williams; and King's Lynn where I have been on the menu quite a few times. But the whole circuit looks most inviting - especially the chance to see the English countryside which I last saw a lot of when I was a PhD student on a scholarship from New Zealand in the 1950s.

What do you enjoy about reading to an audience?

Some more than others but most poems, I would say, need to be heard as the poet hears them: so what I especially value is the chance to make the poems heard rather than just have them seen on the page. It's like introducing one's children to strangers and hoping they will behave well and be liked - even admired!

What were the origins of The Yellow Buoy?

The Yellow Buoy as a title comes from a little poem that refers to my habit of swimming out most days during the summer to a yellow buoy at Kohimarama Beach in Auckland. But the book as a collection ranges about widely and includes poems written on visits to many places, including France, Italy, Croatia and Serbia in Europe, and Chile, Colombia and Venezuela in South America. And of course there are poems that belong squarely at home in New Zealand.

What is important about the book for you?

The book is I suppose a record of my life over five or so years since my big Collected Poems was published. It's divided into three sections and the last is possibly the most open and immediate; but I think in general I have left 'obscurity' (fashionable - almost required - when I was young) far behind. I don't feel as if I have much to hide these days. The oblique in poetry (the Ashbery cloud, the smoke-screen, the dust in the readers' eyes) which once appealed, interests me less and less as I get older. The self is pretty much all there, exposed, revealed - at least I think so.

What is it about your work that will benefit from reading live?

Apart from (as above) making the poems audible as they sound to the poet, a reading should also reveal the personality that made them. This is myself I'm wearing, and I have to hope the eyes of the listeners indicate at the very least interest, perhaps a gleam of admiration for a good word or phrase, and certainly a smile at the jokes.

What do you hope your audience will gain from the experience?

If there's some new, or just refreshed, apprehension of what language can be made to do, together with a sharpened sense of what Allen Curnow calls 'the reality prior to the poem', that will leave me feeling the reading has been a success.

Any other thoughts on reading live...

I don't think I am temperamentally an actor, but if you write and publish poems it's part of the job to present them publicly whenever the chance is offered, so one must rise to it.

Karl is also reading in Edinburgh, Hull, Manchester, London, Reading, Warwick, Oxford and Hebden Bridge. More details can be found on our events page