Why poetry? is a poem - not a justification or apology - in C K Stead's new collection. Lyrically imaginatively, emotively, it explicates the tug that pulls the poet to writing verse:
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 comprehend humanity, to speak and simultaneously feign evasion of the truth: from Stead, at 80 and in his 15th poetry book, there's something frank and, in the articulation and shape, perfect about these words. For they encapsulate the poetic drive and rationale Stead has held for 50 years. Putting one in mind of great American poets like Billy Collins, (see his classic Introduction to Poetry) The Yellow Buoy is as richly worded and structured a poetry collection as you'll find globally at present.
The subjects Stead covers are extensive and inventive: jetlag; an accident victim's search for understanding; the dubious merits of the internet cloud phenomenon; dreams, memories and creative recounting of influential Aotearoa writers. Here and elsewhere, it's not just the subject being conveyed, but the style of conveyance that are most unforgettable. Stead's writing is forthright and still pulls no punches.
Amidst this, the collection also offers a voyage not just of the linguistic and expressive but also of the geographical. Croatia, Columbia, Cornwall, Krakow, Liguria, Novi Sad and, closer to home, Karekare are mapped poetically in this collection, taking the word and reader worldwide. Whether it's the
Tropical fruit and thunder in the mountains of Columbia, Liguria's
of the sun
while stones of the villa
are shadows still
or the Waitakeres
nikau and karaka in the half light, Stead's illustration of domestic and global place is picturesque, akin to a vivid travelogue.
This is landscape as character in its own right, a deepening of the poem and entire collection through the use of locations as atmospheric symbols.
Elsewhere, The Yellow Buoy sees Stead branching out from his well-known Catullus persona, as in poems such as Catullus 68 and Catullus receives the ONZ, into some astute translations of the work of other poets - Eugenio Montale, Carlo Vita and Philippe Jaccottet.
Whether measured against Stead's ample poetic oeuvre or against the recent works of esteemed international poets, The Yellow Buoy is a profound, accessible and engaging collection.
Why poetry? Stead asks. Given the stretch of subject, language, location and mind in The Yellow Buoy, why not?