The publication of C K Stead’s Collected Poems 1951–2006 by Auckland University Press is a literary landmark, not only in New Zealand but across the world.
This achievement deserves to be seen as an important contribution to the literature of the English-speaking world, says founding editor of the London Review of Books Karl Miller.
Stead’s “talent is more than ambidextrous. To excel as a poet, novelist and critic is rarer than we tend to think, and Karl Stead has managed it.”
For the first time, this compendium volume gathers together Stead’s published poems from fourteen collections as well as early uncollected works 1951–1961, over half a century of brilliant work from one of the greats.
It follows the order of Stead’s published books of poems from earliest to latest, except in a few cases where there have been overlaps and repetitions.
“I have tried, on the whole,” he says, “to represent my own history as it occurred, and not make it look better, or myself wiser, more mature, more adroit, than I was at the time.”
These are “New Zealand poems”, by a New Zealander whose family connections here go back to the early 1830s, and whose poems tend very often to reflect their background, scene, physical setting.
But Stead has also travelled a great deal, and the scenes, and the poems, have moved with him. He is unashamedly a writer – novelist, poet, essayist, critic – who occupies literature like a second landscape, his poetry nourished by the classical, European and contemporary American literary traditions.
Describing himself as “an ear person”, for whom poetry is closely related to music, Stead has been concerned throughout his career with (possibly even, he says, obsessed by) poetic form. Guiding the reader from Stead’s earliest work through an ever-deepening mastery of his craft over 55 years, Collected Poems clearly reveals the scope of Stead’s poetic accomplishment.
“For the past half century I have been a huge admirer of Karl Stead’s poetry: topographical, amatory, lyrical and satirical,” says Barry Humphries.
“Here at last between the covers of one book is the essential Stead, in all its richness and variety.”
C[hristian] K[arlson] Stead was born in Auckland in 1932, where he still lives for 9 to 10 months of the year, spending the remaining months in France and England. (Pic left by Brendan O 'Hagan for the Sydney Morning Herald)
He has published fourteen collections of poems and two of short stories, eleven novels, six books of literary criticism, and edited a number of texts. Stead’s novels are published in New Zealand and the UK, and have been translated into a dozen European languages. His best known critical work is The New Poetic, and he was Professor of English at the University of Auckland for 20 years, before taking early retirement in 1986 to write full time. His novel Smith’s Dream became Roger Donaldson’s first movie, Sleeping Dogs, and Sam Neill’s first movie role.
He has won a number of literary prizes, including the Katherine Mansfield prize for the short story, the Jessie McKay Award for poetry, the New Zealand Book Award for both poetry and fiction, and the King’s Lynn Poetry Prize. He was awarded a CBE in 1985 for services to New Zealand literature, elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1995, and Senior Visiting Fellow at St John’s College, Oxford in 1997. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Letters by the University of Bristol in 2001.
His latest novel, My Name was Judas, was published in 2006, his latest collection of poems, The Black River (Auckland University Press), in 2007, and his latest critical collection, Book Self (Auckland University Press), in 2008. In 2007 he received this country’s highest award, the Order of New Zealand (limited to 20 holders), an honour he and Margaret Mahy are currently the only writers to hold.
Collected Poems 1951–2006 by C K Stead
Published by Auckland University Press
November 2008; HB; 564p; $59.99
A review of this major work will apear on my blog at a later date.