C. K. Stead

ANZL Fellow

C. K. Stead in London

 

Iain Sharp on C. K. Stead:

I was part of the judging panel that chose C.K. Stead for the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction in 2009. The rules of the PM’s Awards for Literary Achievement insist on just one prize per writer –  ever. Once you’ve nabbed the fiction prize you can’t return in a year or so to seize the poetry trophy too. During the prize-giving ceremony at Premier House, various acquaintances sidled up to tell me I had given Karl the wrong award.

This was awkward. Part of me wanted to stick to my guns, for Stead’s fiction is a large and fascinatingly diverse body of work, under-celebrated at home, though admired abroad. Subjects tackled include an imaginary totalitarian government, several real totalitarian governments, engineless flight, the birth of Modernism, the birth of modern New Zealand, Sufi sects, the Last Supper, musket warfare in the Waikato and the invasion of Iraq. Voices successfully mimicked include Barry Humphries, Janet Frame, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Katherine Mansfield, Jesus Christ and Tony Blair.

But another part of me wanted to retract and present Karl with the poetry prize instead. In 2009, his Complete Poems, more than 500 pages long, was still new in the shops, reminding me of his wit, felicitous phrasing and mastery of different forms. Moreover, I’d just read his memoir, South-west of Eden, which eloquently reveals how central poetry has been to his life since he was first stirred, at age 14, by – of all things! – a volume of Rupert Brooke, acquired from his sister’s English penfriend.

Of course, yet another part of me wanted to renege in the opposite direction and hand Stead the non-fiction prize. You don’t have to agree with everything he’s ever said to recognise that he’s the most potent and incisive critic that this country has so far spawned. He’s also the only New Zealand author who can boast of a non-fiction book that has been an international hit for more half a century. The New Poetic remains an illuminating read not just as a history of century-old changes in literary technique but as an explanation of how we arrived at the kinds of verse being written in the 21st century.

It’s worth pointing out, as proof of Stead’s courage and by way of putting his later literary spats into perspective, that when, in 1964, young Karl suggested Eliot’s self-definition as a ‘classicist’ was ‘remote from the realities of his poetry, which was full of mysteriousness, obliquity, surprise and accident’, Eliot was dauntingly alive, powerful and able to strike back. Ah, the man who believes himself to be wholly rational but whose plans are continually overturned by circumstances (and emotional responses) beyond his control! Isn’t that also the theme of Stead’s most recent novel, Risk – and, indeed, of all his novels. The question posed in his first poetry book – Whether the Will is Free – seems relevant to this discussion too. Then, pretty soon, all of Stead’s poems come flooding in.

The time is overdue for us to stop splitting Karl up into categories. The connections in his work are more important than the sub-divisions. It’s time to stop peering at the toenails, take a few steps back and try to view the giant as a whole.

 

Accolades

New Zealand Poet Laureate (2015–2017)

Sarah Broom Poetry Prize (2014)

Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction (2011)

The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award (2010)

The Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine (2010)

Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement (2009)

Montana New Zealand Book Award (2009)

Member of the Order of New Zealand (2007 & 2009)

CNZ Michael King Fellowship (2005)

Honorary DLitt from the University of Bristol (2001)

Fellow Royal Society of Literature (1996)

New Zealand Book Award for Fiction (1995)

Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (1995)

Queen’s Medal (1990)

New Zealand Book Award for Fiction (1986)

CBE for services to New Zealand literature (1984)

D Litt: University of Auckland (1981)

New Zealand Book Award for Poetry (1976)

Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award (1972)

Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship (1972)

New Zealand Arts Council Scholarship (1987 & 1992)

Jessie Mackay Poetry Award (1973)

Nuffield Traveling Fellowship (1965)

Readers’ Award (Landfall) (1959)

US Poetry Awards Incorporated Prize (1955)

 

Links

New Zealand Book Council profile page

Wikipedia

Penguin Books author page

Otago University Press author page

Carcanet Press author page

NZ Herald interview (Sept, 2015)

Radio NZ broadcast following 2015 Poet Laureate Award (Aug, 2015)

BookNotes Unbound article following 2014 Sarah Broome Prize (May, 2014)

Cultural Icons interview (Episode 47)

Bibliography: C.K. Stead

 

Poetry

The Yellow Buoy: Poems 2007–2012 (Auckland UP, 2013)

Collected Poems, 1951–2006 (Auckland UP, 2008)

The Black River (Auckland UP, 2007)

The Red Tram (Auckland UP, 2004)

Dog (Auckland UP, 2002)

The Right Thing (Arc Publications, 2000)

Straw into Gold: Poems New and Selected (Arc Publications, 1997)

Voices (GPO, 1990)

Between (Auckland UP, 1988)

Paris: A Poem (Auckland UP; Oxford UP, 1984)

Poems of a Decade (Pilgrims South Press, 1983)

Geographies (Auckland UP; Oxford UP, 1982)

Walking Westward (The Shed, 1979)

Quesada: Poems 1972–74 (The Shed, 1975)

Crossing the Bar (Auckland UP, 1972)

Whether the Will is Free: Poems 1954-62 (Paul’s Book Arcade, 1964)

 

Fiction

The name on the door is not mine (Short stories: Allen & Unwin, 2017)

Risk (MacLehose Press, 2012)

My Name Was Judas (Vintage; Harvill, 2006)

Mansfield: A Novel (Vintage; Harvill, 2004)

The Secret History of Modernism (Harvill, 2001)

Talking About O’Dwyer (Random House, 1999)

The Blind Blonde with Candles in Her Hair (Short stories: Penguin, 1998)

Villa Vittoria (Penguin, 1997)

The Singing Whakapapa (Penguin, 1994)

The End of the Century at the End of the World (Harvill, 1992)

Sister Hollywood (Collins, 1989)

The Death of the Body (Collins, 1986)

All Visitors Ashore (Collins; Harvill Press, 1984)

Five for the Symbol (Short stories: Longman Paul, 1981)

Smith’s Dream (Longman Paul, 1971)

 

Creative Nonfiction 

Shelf Life: Review, Replies and Reminiscences (Auckland UP, 2016)

South-West of Eden: A Memoir, 1932–1956 (Auckland UP, 2010)

Book Self: The Reader as Writer and the Writer as Critic (Auckland UP, 2008)

The Writer at Work: Essays (Otago UP, 2000)

Kin of Place: Essays on 20 New Zealand Writers (Auckland UP, 2002)

The New Poetic: Yeats to Eliot (A&C Black, 1998)

Answering to the Language: Essays on Modern Writers (Auckland UP, 1989)

Pound, Yeats, Eliot and the Modernist Movement  (Macmillan, 1989)

In the Glass Case: Essays on New Zealand Literature (Auckland UP, 1981)

 

Anthology

Essential New Zealand Short Stories (Random House, 2009)

Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets: An Anthology (Victoria UP, 2009)

A Good Handful: Great New Zealand Poems About Sex (Auckland UP, 2008)

Painted Poems: One Artist, 20 poems (Longacre Press, 2007)

The Best New Zealand Fiction: Volume 4 (Vintage, 2007)

The Cat’s Whiskers: New Zealand Writers on Cats (Vintage, 2005)

Auckland: The City in Literature (Exisle Publishing, 2003)

What I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Twenty-two New Zealanders (GP Publications, 1993)

Short Stories 1 (New Authors, 1963)

 

Editor

The Faber Book of Contemporary South Pacific Stories (Faber & Faber, 1994)

The New Gramophone Room: Poetry and Fiction (with Elizabeth Smither & Kendrick Smithyman: University of Auckland, 1985)

Collected Stories, by Maurice Duggan (Auckland UP; Oxford University Press, 1981)

The Letters and Journals of Katherine Mansfield: A Selection (Allen Lane, 1977)

Measure for Measure: A Casebook (Macmillan, 1971)

New Zealand Short Stories: Second Series (Oxford UP, 1966)

'...poetry makes intimate everything that it touches.' - Michael Harlow

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