The Black River
C. K. Stead
The Black River collects some of C. K. Stead’s poems written over a period where his life was debilitated by a stroke which temporarily affected his ability to read and write. In the book’s final sequence, the brilliant and moving focus of the collection, fragmentary poems poignantly explore frailty and the closeness of death, the challenge of words and language, and the relieved and excited recovery of the power to use them.
The remainder of The Black River, written subsequently, is more sombre in tone than earlier work and shows a constant awareness of the ‘black river’ of mortality; but this is balanced by a joy in the vivid pleasures of the senses and of the physical world seen as all the more precious because of its fragility.
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The Black River, darkened thought it is by the poet’s intimations of death, is an arresting, human, even a buoyant book, full of mortal insight, a maker’s skill, adult-yet-boyish humour, and an unfeigned tenderness. – Michael Hulse, NZ Books