Poetry Shelf Winter Season: C. K. Stead off-piste


Ten to midnight


She was, she tells me

the one without a partner

until I came

with a bottle of bubbly and two plastic cups

and a small box of rose petals.


‘You realize my age?’ I ask

(uncertain what it is).

‘Of course,’ she says.

‘This was half a century ago.’


So we danced and danced

until just before midnight

when I walked out

into the Bavarian dark.

‘I’ve never forgiven you,’ she says.

‘Where did you go? Where have you been?’


And here I am again

dinner jacket, bow tie

with the bottle, the plastic cups,

the rose petals.


Where is the dark side to this,

its sinister underbelly?


I cannot find it, am blind

and happy as we dance

in the town square,

surprised we move so freely

so gracefully over the cobbles

under a Munich moon

and a town hall clock telling me

it is ten to midnight.


© C. K. Stead


Author’s note: There are a number of points where my poems have taken a new turn but by now each one has become part of my armoury (so to speak) so it wouldn’t look as new or surprising as it felt at the time. But there’s a group of poems written recently which have a new feel about them – maybe a change of direction without being an about-face. I’m calling them collectively Nocturnes.

C. K. Stead is New Zealand’s current Poet Laureate. His most recent books include The Name on the Door is Not Mine, a collection of revised and previously unpublished short stories, and Shelf Life. His latest collection of poems, In the mirror, and dancing, will be published in August as a limited edition hand-printed by Brendan O’Brien.


To celebrate his new collection, Stead will participate in a reading/ conversation at the National Library:

A reading/conversation to mark the conclusion of C. K. Stead’s tenure as New Zealand Poet Laureate and to celebrate the publication of his In the mirror, and dancing, with illustrations by Douglas MacDiarmid.

Karl will read from the new book and discuss poetry, art, youth, the creative life and related matters with Douglas MacDiarmid’s niece and biographer Anna Cahill. They will be joined by hand-press printer Brendan O’Brien, who produced the book, with poet Gregory O’Brien in the chair.

National Library of New Zealand
Molesworth Street, Wellington
Ground floor, 12.10-1.10pm
Wednesday 9 August 2017

Free admission,
No RSVP’s so be seated early.



From Paula: For Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season, I invited 12 poets to pick one of their own poems that marks a shift in direction, that is outside the usual tracks of their poetry, that moves out of character, that nudges comfort zones of writing. It might be subject matter, style, form, approach, tone, effect, motivation, borrowings, revelation, invention, experimentation, exclusions, inclusions, melody …. anything!

With our current Poet Laureate, this is a winter-season wrap.

Thanks poets, and thanks readers.


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