A Discursive Poem About Poetry and Thought

‘Opinion is not worth a rush’
– W. B. Yeats

Who cares what the poets think?
Shelley said they were ‘unacknowledged
He made paper boats of his thoughts
and set them sailing
on the Thames at Marlow –
much like writing a column for Metro.

Today a blast from the Pole is keeping
Dunedin city indoors.
It makes the Southern Alps
put on that postcard look.
It drives the Aratika
back in to port
demands chains on the Rimutakas
closes the Desert Road
and puts a dusting of snow even on the Kaimais.
It climbs the Bombay Hills and unloads
cold rain on the centre-point of the world
where my Montana Book Award Prize Pen
touches this sheet of paper.

None of this calls for thought
it expels it
like used air from a lung.
When I was young
I needed allegiances
Which needed thought.
There was my country
my political party
the community of writers.
I was weak then, I had no self.
Now I have one and shouldn’t be approached.

One day when the ache in my gut
or the pain in my head
has turned into a slavering lion
and eaten me up
someone will say ‘This is what he thought.
He was right of course
but it’s no longer an issue.’
Then the poems will come into their own.
‘Listen to us,’ they’ll say. ‘The odes of Keats
the cantos of Ezra Pound
Jim Baxter’s sonnets
were our brothers and sisters.’

I still have strong opinions
like to hold forth
but it must be the poet in me says
‘Thinking is what creeps up on me
when I’m not thinking.
It’s the living that matters.’

from Straw Into Gold, Poems New & Selected (Auckland University Press, 1997), © C K Stead 1997, used by permission of the author. Recording from the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 2004.

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