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 His most recent books include The Name on the Door is Not Mine, a collection of revised and previously unpublished short stories, and Shelf Life.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.

 

Poetry Shelf Winter Season: Louise Wallace off-piste

 

 

Reminders for December

 

 

 

 

 

 

cut

 

 

 

 

 

 

dig

 

 

 

 

 

 

gather

 

 

 

 

 

 

heel in

 

 

 

 

 

 

lift

 

 

 

 

 

 

protect

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author’s note: The words and title of this poem were taken from a tatty book I bought from a second hand fair called The Vegetable Garden Displayed, published in 1949. I like the instructional quality of the words when re-applying them from gardening to something like loss or heartbreak – as though it can be that simple to recover! The off-piste quality for me is the amount of blank space. The poem appears in my new book Bad Things, where each word stands alone on a separate page, which is a little dramatic – I’m grateful to have an understanding publisher who will go along with my vision! I liked how all that space cushioning each word, isolates and intensifies the emotions they may contain.

Louise Wallace‘s third collection of poems, Bad Things, will be published in August by Victoria University Press. In 2015 she was the Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago, Dunedin. In 2016 she represented New Zealand at the Mexico City Poetry Festival. She is the founder and editor of Starling, an online journal publishing the work of young New Zealand writers.

Louise’s new book will be launched on Thursday 10th August. Details here plus details for Writers on Mondays this Monday because Louise is with Hannah Mettner, Maria McMillan & Airini Beautrais. Unmissable!

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louise Wallace launches Bad Things and is at an excellent Writers on Mondays – on Monday!

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Victoria University Press warmly invites you to the launch of

Bad Things
by Louise Wallace

With readings from Lynley Edmeades, Bill Manhire, Tayi Tibble and Chris Tse. All welcome.

6pm–7.30pm on Thursday 10 August,
at Vic Books, Rutherford House, Pipitea
27 Lambton Quay, Wellington

Books by all authors available for purchase on the night, along with prints of the cover illustration by Kimberly Andrews.

 
WRITERS ON MONDAYS

Poetry Quartet: Louise Wallace, Hannah Mettner, Maria McMillan & Airini Beautrais

These poets write works of boldness and acute observation. Louise Wallace’s Bad Things, Hannah Mettner’s Fully Clothed and So Forgetful, Maria McMillan’s The Ski Flier and Flow by Airini Beautrais are diverse and exciting books of poetry. Each writer engages with language in innovative ways to explore and reimagine history, commerce, science, love and the things people do. Come and hear the latest New Zealand poetry in a reading and discussion chaired by poet and novelist Anna Smaill.

DATE: Monday 7 August
TIME: 12.15-1.15pm
VENUE: Te Papa Marae

Poetry Shelf Winter Season: Emma Neale off-piste

 

 

Fourteen Daydreams through Spanish Translation

 

The wind rotates in the sky’s blue socket.

I wish Ryan would love me.

Okay, notice me. Look at me, even.

But not when I’m smiling with my braces showing.

 

‘Turn over your tests. You may start.’

 

Ode to Sunday.

 

Oh yellow sun, lonely armadillo,

cancel your gut’s groans

with a spade

under the sober trucks

a zap of cheese.

 

What? Starving. Skipped breakfast. Want cheekbones though.

My sandwiches cat-nap in my lunch box

all fat white stomachy with family love

big and bricky as awful school shoes.

 

In the cities

the dearness, the world,

agonise us, peg us

in the egg yolks

of the pulverised chicken.

 

That can’t be right

but the clock’s got hysterics, the minutes

are spilling down its face, gotta crack on with it …

 

We are suddenly gulping gold

accusing ourselves

with piety pie

and cactus spines

with hot stones

and the mouth

sulphurates

 

Rotorua. Smelly eggy air. We went there.

Dad was relaxed for once. Funny that it stunk.

 

More than all the gifts:

it has salt, the throat, the teeth,

the lips and the language

 

Ryan hardly speaks, but I’ve seen the soft hairs

on his upper lip and I haven’t minded them at all,

so do I smile too wide? Feelings coated all over me

in oily sheen? Do I clip my hair too tight?

Is it my ugly yellow school bag that cries out, gormless?

I know it is. I’m so ashamed. And of how near my breasts

the gap between my shirt-buttons pouches

on plump skin white as baby scorpions.

But Ryan, he’s café au lait calm,

he’s a cool bronze casting

of himself.

 

We want to drink cataracts

the blue night, the poles

and then, crucifying the sky,

the coldest of all the planets,

the round, the supreme,

the heavenly sanity.

 

Oh what? Change the title, quick! ‘Ode to Sanity’?

 

It is the fruit of the tree of salt.

It is the ballerina of green truth.

 

The ballerina of green truth!

Ryan — sanity is the ballerina of green truth.

Do you like that, would you agree?

I’ve heard your mother is very strict

she hasn’t been well, people say she isn’t coping

and I don’t really know what that means.

Could I help, like, somehow? With the dishes?

Is it hard to be so much older than your brother?

You shouldn’t be embarrassed; it makes you seem wiser,

the way you walk him in his carriage, your face so I don’t know,

iron of jawbone, so soccer-practice-serious,

looking like science somehow,

upright, serious science. But your baby brother:

that you have to be another father to him,

and your mother doesn’t like you to be with girls…

 

If I were thinner, if I were a dancer,

would you fall at my feet so I could laugh,

flick back my hair like some Follyfoot filly,

(‘Grow, grow the Lightening tree …’)

then say, Ryan, no! Stand up! Please don’t!

So you could say, ‘You are even worth asphalt scrape-holes

on my school uniform knees…’

 

It is the dry universe

all of a sudden stained

by this fresh heaven

 

Yes, yes, yes, Ryan when I see you,

it is the dry universe

all of a sudden stained

by this fresh heaven

 

Quiet water coffin

queen

of the fruit stall

 

(What? That’s a compliment?

I thought they said this poet was romantic.

If only Ryan would say,

my golden colt, my blazing girl,

my ballerina of the heart, my zap of cheese

it doesn’t matter that you are fat,

you are not fat to me ….)

 

earthly bistro of depth, moon.

Oh pure one

in your abundance

of undressed rubies.

 

Well that’s just rude.

blah, skip, skip, skip.

 

If I could see his soul … pink, glowy,

like when the sun shone through his ears

yesterday at the bus stop

and it wasn’t even geeky somehow, it was ….

 

We divide you in the soft salt

like a mini mountain

of splendid food

 

Oh crap, is this about FOOD?

 

Skip skip skip

blah blah blah

we haven’t even been given half this vocabulary

this test SUCKS.

 

Oh hell, the bell! I can’t revise, that was way too fast.

 

‘Papers to the front. Pack your bags.’

 

Oh my GOD my skirt’s side zip’s undone. Please don’t tell me Ryan saw that today. Shit-shit. He would have. It’s been undone all day. You can see the gap between where my shirt tucks in and — God my school regulation underwear. I hate my parents for buying them. I am going to pass out from shame. That’s why he looked away and hardly spoke. Thinks he’s so superior. I’m giving up boys forever. My big fat watermelon hips. My big fat watermelon belly. I’m skipping lunch. I’m throwing myself into my schoolwork from now on. Oh yellow sun. Oh lonely armadillo.ª

 

ª Fourteen is struggling with ‘Oda a la Sandía’ (‘Ode to the Watermelon’) by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The version set for the test (‘No dictionaries allowed. You have forty-five minutes, starting from now’) is reprinted in The FSG Book of Twentieth Century Latin American Poetry, edited by Ilan Stavans. The translation here is entirely her own.

 

© Emma Neale

 

Author note: I’ve been working and reworking this adolesecent girl’s monologue for a couple of years. I’ve submitted it elsewhere once or twice, immediately sticking my fingers in my ears as if waiting for an explosion (of distaste or mockery, etc.). As the two modes it uses are quite far apart – the teenager speaker’s bad translation, and her internal thoughts – it stretches the container of the poem so far it might split. Perhaps that feeling of excess is okay, though, for an adolescent voice. Young people can be so receptive, sensitive, energetic, inventive, critical, vulnerable, wise and yet also wildly unknowing, there’s a symphonic orchestra of emotions competing on any ordinary day during these years, it seems to me. And each emotion is such an intensely coloured version of itself, what single poem could contain them all, even if it limited itself to one class test, on one day?

 

Emma Neale‘s most recent poetry collection, Tender Machines, was long-listed in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2016 and her latest novel, Billy Bird, was short-listed for the Acorn Prize at the same awards in 2017. She works as a freelance editor.

 

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!