Book Review: Poetry

By Paula Green

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'The Yellow Buoy: Poems 2007-2012' by C.K. Stead. Photo / Supplied
'The Yellow Buoy: Poems 2007-2012' by C.K. Stead. Photo / Supplied

C.K. Stead's remarkable new collection of poems, The Yellow Buoy: Poems 2007-2012, was completed in his 80th year. This is a collection to savour on every level. You move from scholarliness to reflection to anecdote to confession. Every poem stalled me. I embraced the economy along with the sumptuousness. On my notepad I gathered a list of words to signal the various strengths of the poems as I read: fluid, elegant, witty, sensual, moving, challenging, intelligent. So many poems stood out for me, but I loved the "salutes" (celebratory but not blinkered) to writers such as Allen Curnow, Kevin Ireland, Frank Sargeson, James K. Baxter and Catallus. Such a collection can only emerge from experience, craft and heart. As Stead responds to age and death, the white page remains his powerful beginning.

For those of us who love Central Otago, Gilbert van Reenan's photographs and Brian Turner's poems are a match made in heaven. No one catches the mountains and tussocked plains with the same luminous pen as this poet. Turner has an eye for vivid detail from clouds to sheep, from ridgelines to willows, from honey to abandoned homesteads.

He has an ear for words that capture the stillness, startle you, draw you deeper into his own contemplation and make music of the land. Beautifully produced, this bestselling collection (it has been on the New Zealand Top 10 adult fiction list for months) includes a substantial selection of previously published poems plus more than 50 new ones. Elemental: Central Otago Poems is stunning on every level.

When James K. Baxter was a university student he wrote a series of love poems that attempted to fill the gaps of his broken heart. In a note to a friend he said they "express the self-consciousness, the touch of hysteria, yet the very real desolation of adolescent love". They are also self-conscious in the way they strive to be poetic. Baxter's right in saying they are more about his own agony than a physical person. "She" is missing beyond the youthful shadow for which he mourns. John Weir, who edited the sequence, provides an excellent essay that offers an autobiographical context for the poems. Never previously published, Poems To A Glass Woman is a fascinating step back into the past.

Sam Hunt's bestselling Knucklebones: Poems 1962-2012 was published around the time of his 66th birthday. The poems are drawn from all bar one of his collections and include a handful of new ones at the end. Reading through from start to finish, I got a bit nostalgic (prompted by old poems), but I was reminded again why we love Hunt so much.

He makes poetry-music that is not just in the gravelly voice that swings through your head, but in his pitch-perfect economy. Hunt writes with bare bones and a bare heart. I loved the addition of the poem he wrote aged seven at the start. This is a beautifully produced edition.

Peter Bland's Collected Poems: 1956-2011 is a substantial and long-awaited anthology.

The collection is organised in chronological clusters as Bland moves between England and New Zealand. One of the delights is in observing the way he filters this place through the lens of elsewhere. But this is just a minor thread. Bland's poems open up to the world - they embrace family, locations, people, art, other writers, politics, ideas and events with such canny detail.

The collection is like a poetic album of a life to date in that he writes with such generosity of autobiographical spirit. The poems that chart his deep love for his wife, Beryl, and those that see him navigating her loss are tremendous.

Paula Green is an Auckland poet and children's author.

- NZ Herald

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