Tuesday, September 15, 2015

History: the Horse, by C. K. Stead

Recall those wartime
draught horses pulling
carts around our suburb -

milk, bread, firewood – like
the record of something

lost, the way for example the
beast would stand, one
rear leg resting

poised on a hoof-point
like a ballerina -
or, square-foot, head-down,

nose in a chaff-bag,
or in the roadside trough
blowing through nostrils

before drinking, as if
to test the ripples
that this really

was water – tail swishing
between shafts; the regretful
blinkered eyes

and lashes; the mane
like human hair but
coarser; the rakish tilt

of the cart, its iron
wheels grinding on the roadway;
the clop-clop

clop-clop and the carter's
cry; and those great dropped
muffins my mother

sent me with spade
to scoop from the street for her
vegetable garden.

It's as if to return
reporting, 'I've seen the past
and it worked.'

Patience, inwardness,
strength, a body warm to touch,
that smelled good, this

was 'horsepower'.
Nothing with an engine
would ever so engage

feeling and thought,
the pleasure and pain of
planetary kinship.

© C. K. Stead

from The Red Tram, Auckland University Press, 2004
Reproduced on The Tuesday Poem with permission

Editor: Jennifer Compton

I came upon Karl's novel Risk in Frankston Library, which was a pleasant surprise. And I enjoyed it so much I went looking for more of his work. And blow me, they had a copy of The Red Tram in their miniscule poetry section. A New Zealand poet in Frankston Library! Words fail me. What can I say about this book? Words fail me yet again. Put to it, to have to write something ( and this is the time to write something if ever it was) the something I would write is that this book reminded me of the time I lucked out, and got the second-to-last ticket in Florence at the Pergola, for the penultimate recital Alfred Brendel gave. This book has that same ease and sense of occasion. 
I picked this poem out of all the others that I could have chosen, because I am old enough to remember the milk horse. And its muffins. My brother was given a bucket and a coal shovel one time I recollect, and was sent out to gather the good muck, and he made a song and dance about it. I was too little to be trusted on the road, but by the time my turn had come the horses had gone.  

And now Karl has two years breadth to celebrate poetry as our incumbent Poet Laureate. More power to his tokotoko.

- Jennifer Compton

C. K. Stead was born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1932. From the late 1950s he began to earn an international reputation as a poet and literary critic – his book The New Poetic (1964) has sold over 100,000 copies – and, later, as a novelist. He has published over 40 books and received numerous honours recognising his contribution to literature, including a CBE (1974), an Honorary DLitt from the University of Bristol (2001), the CNZ Michael King Fellowship (2005), the Order of New Zealand (2007) and, in 2009, the $60,000 Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction and the Montana New Zealand Book Award (Reference and Anthology) for his Collected Poems. In 2010 he won the world’s richest short story award, the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award worth £25,000, and his poem ‘Ischaemia’ won the Hippocrates Prize (open section), worth £5000. Just recently he took up the mantle and the tokotoko of New Zealand Poet Laureate.
Jennifer Compton was born in New Zealand in 1949 and now lives in Melbourne. She has won several Australian awards for poetry and This City won New Zealand's Kathleen Grattan Award in 2010. Her poem, Now You Shall Know, won the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2013, and the collection of the same name was published last year in Australia (Five Islands Press), while her verse novella Mr Clean & The Junkie was published this year in New Zealand as part of the Hoopla series 2015 (Mākaro Press).

In addition to today's feature be sure to check out the wonderful poems featured by the other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting. 


Helen Lowe said...

I enjoyed reading this: it really does capture the ghost of history past.

Catherine said...

Lovely - it conjures up a vivid picture, even though I was just too young to remember the milk horses, although we did have a greengrocer who came in a van once a week (and bought our two year old hens to feed his large family, when we replaced them with young, better-laying birds).

Rhea said...

Nothing with an engine
would ever so engage

feeling and thought,
the pleasure and pain of
planetary kinship.

These lines are simply a piece of art. Beauty.