Tag Archives: poetry

Self-promotion

3tlIt’s all very well reading stuff online, but for my money you can’t beat the feel of a dead-tree book in your hand. Likewise, I enjoy putting my verses up on the blog, but it’s not the same as having them in an actual book. So in December last year, for the third time I collected verses written during the previous 12 months and got a book together thanks to lulu.com, again with a cover by the Emerging Artist, this time one of her fabulous ceramics. It’s now available from Lulu and Amazon.

Apart from pure vanity, my main motive for this and previous self-publishing ventures is to make a small gift to give friends the end of the year. If you’re a friend who hasn’t got a copy, then it’s an oversight on my part. Tell me in the comments or by email and I’ll send you one.

 

Jennifer Maiden’s Fox Petition

Jennifer Maiden, The Fox Petition (Giramondo 2015)

The-Fox-Petition Like all Jennifer Maiden’s books for several years now The Fox Petition has a huge cast of historical and fictional characters, as well as some living politicians and a couple of non-human entities.

Most of these appear in Maiden’s dialogue poems. Julie Bishop makes her debut, and so do father and son act Keith and Rupert Murdoch. Making return appearances are Kevin Rudd and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who seem to be forever on an aeroplane; Tony Abbott and Queen Victoria, whose relationship is becoming even more tense; George Jeffreys and Clare Collins continuing their adventures, this time in the Greek financial crisis and with refugees from Syria; Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt, still flirtatious and remonstrative in pretty equal measure.

I think the Hon. Carina Monckton, created by the inhabitants of the Carina Galaxy, has appeared in an earlier book, but I’m positive that the Harvard School of Business has not been seen before his chat here with Julie Bishop.

Then there are the Diary Poems, so called because they seem to ramble like diary jottings, though those appearances are hugely misleading. Many other characters get a guernsey in them, including Tanya Plibersek, Gillian Triggs, Penny Wong, Joan Baez, Labor politician Melissa Parke (Maiden’s ‘favourite politician / now’) and eighteenth century Whig Charles Fox (her ‘favourite politician / of all time’).

Heavily populated though the book is, it has an extraordinary coherence. The title refers to a recent protest against measures in New South Wales making it illegal to keep a ‘newly acquired fox’, even if neutered and vaccinated, and also to Charles Fox’s defence of habeas corpus during the Napoleonic Wars. What links the two, apart from the word play (of which there is a lot) is Maiden’s passionate dislike of the single-minded self-righteousness she has previously called ‘ethical security’, which here is represented literally and metaphorically by Biosecurity: the goal of being safe from germs, feral animals, refugees, and moral complexity of any kind.

As my regular readers know, I’m a fan. I love the voice of these poems. A Maiden poem characterically feels as accessible and even as interactive as a chat with a friend about the TV news, making you laugh and perhaps confirming your prejudices.Then extraordinary lines emerge, such as:

it is vital to be Australian, which
seems to mean rat poison and a flag.

Something else has been going on behind the chat. It is, after all, poetry made from the stuff of the nightly news, that pushes the reader to think and feel in new places. Did I also mention that it’s fun?

aww-badge-2015 The Fox Petition is the twenty-first and last book I read for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

November rhyme # 14

Better late than never. At least the event that inspired this happened in November:

Rhyme #14: Dinner 
From canapes to mango cheesecake
conversation didn’t flag.
(Two teenage boys sat mute – like, please make
this weird food go. It makes me gag.)
A window shows the inner working
of lab mice. There’s no one smirking
that a boyfriend in North Bay
was hit by two cars. Who can stray
down George Street in a hypo stupor
or drop unconscious in a pool
while holding baby? The Art School
exhibition’s still on – super!
Records from ASIO. Oh my!
Too much man sex in London Spy.

And so ends my task of 14 rhymes for November for 2015. I told the emerging Artist (formerly the Art Student) that I was thinking of keeping the doggerel  up, if at a slower rate, as a regular thing in the blog. Tactfully, she said people really like my prose. So normal functioning will resume shortly.

November Rhyme #13

OK, this is a fridge door poem I made earlier, but since the object it describes is once again being exhibited I’m passing it off as done today

as+for+living+II+web

As for Living III, by Penny Ryan. Photo by Kate Scott

Rhyme # 13: Piece in an exhibition
A broken ribcage from some broken
evolutionary line?
But these  aren’t bones – too glibly spoken!
That’s no knotted ridge of spine.
This work displayed in art school stairway
is not by some apprentice Yahweh,
nor did the wondrous Burgess Shale
a woven life like this unveil.
And yet it speaks of some great sorrow,
something beautiful that’s lost,
A world bereft, left with a ghost.
Perhaps a warning for tomorrow
unless we act, lives we hold dear
will be as if they never were.

Rumi in Strathfield and November Rhyme #12

IMG_1447

On Friday evening at the Australian Catholic University, two Muslim scholars sat with an audience and discussed the great 13th century Persian poet Mevlana Rumi.

Ustadh Feraidoon Mojadedi, an Afghani scholar who now lives in the USA, was in conversation with Imam Afroz Ali, of the Sydney Seekers’ Hub, a place of Islamic learning.

They spoke of Rumi as a great spiritual teacher, not just for Muslims, but for all humanity. Ustadh Feraidoon Mojadedi wears his enormous erudition lightly, and had us laughing even as he explained the complexity and depth of Rumi’s vision. He argued that what non-Persian readers need is more, better commentary rather than translation, because all translation is misleading. There’s much more to Rumi than you would gather from the quotes you see on Facebook.

I went along for a number of reasons, but mainly because a friend gave me a copy of The Essential Rumi decades ago which has remained, literally, a closed book. I’m also aware that my ignorance of Islam can’t be a good thing in the age of Corey Bernardi and Donald Trump.

Well, I know a tiny bit more about Rumi, and I’m planning to go to another event next week. But possibly more significant is how the evening altered my sense of Islam. 

The relaxed, affectionate  relationship of the two scholars was in sharp contrast to images I have from movies. 

In question time, it was women who asked all the questions – so much for the notion that women are silenced in Islam. 

And most interestingly we were all invited to join the sunset prayer part way through the event. I’m not at all religious, but I’d joined in the Our Father at an Anglican ceremony the previous day. I checked with a number of people and joined the prayers. I did a lot wrong: I hadn’t arrived in an abluted state, I didn’t take my shoes off, I joined a line that turned out to be the women’s line, and I’m pretty sure I failed to follow all the standing and kneeling correctly (though my Catholic youth and childhood was some preparation for that). And of course I didn’t understand what was being said by the prayer leader. But there is something profound in joining a group of people who humbly bow repeatedly in the face of the mystery of the universe, and I returned to the lecture with an extraordinary sense of our shared humanity. Which was also the content of much of the talk.

So I went to the event expecting a literary evening, and found something quite different.

I’ve set myself a task of writing a 14-line rhyme with each blog entry in November (originally inspired by those people who write a whole novel in November – not sweating over quality, just getting the words out). Here goes for this one:

Rhyme #12: On joining sunset prayers
I bow, I kneel, I touch my forehead
to the grass. I have no God:
no disrespect, I take these borrowed
gestures (like my childhood’s nod
at Jesus’ name, or genuflection)
not to seek some Power’s protection,
but to say: The world is vast,
my time here comes and goes so fast.
Right now I humbly pay attention
to what is deepest in my heart:
my loves, my challenges, the part
I choose to take past good intention.
We bow, we stand, we’re flesh and bone
and mind. We’re none of us alone.

 

November Rhyme # 11

I’m having to produce a 14-line stanza a day if I’m to meet my quota. This is a true story:

Rhyme #11: Intimations
Between the ATM and Woollies,
death brushed my shoulder, had a word.
The voice was not a schoolyard bully’s,
but soft, you’d almost say it purred:
‘You’ll lose all this, perhaps not tomorrow,
but time runs out – beg, steal or borrow
makes no difference, you’ll be gone
as silent as a babe unborn.’
A baby sucked juice from a bottle.
A tricep showed a red-inked rose.
The checkout chaps had wispy moes.
The air outside was drenched in wattle.
The dog snapped at a passing fly.
One day all this will say goodbye.

November Rhyme #10

This weekend the United Nations Climate Summit begins in Paris. The huge march through the rues and boulevards that had been planned has been cancelled because of the risk of mass murder, but all over the rest of the world people will gather in a massive display of concern about climate change. The Sydney event starts at 1 o’clock, in the Domain.

The ‘People’s Climate March team’ emailed me suggesting I share a post of theirs on social media. The post was fine, but I realised that my real challenge is to say something from my own brain. So, at the risk of seeming to trivialise the issue, Sunday’s March is the subject of today’s little rhyme. It turns out that my own brain is full of fragments of other people’s wisdom.

Rhyme #10: Three days before the People’s Climate March
There’s no such thing as a human being,
there’s only humans and everything else:
stars that pull from beyond our seeing,
myriads living in our cells.
The human race has disunited,
Earth’s love for us gone unrequited,
who favour empire, comfort, gain,
and make the whole world our domain.
Saint Francis called the fire his brother,
water his sister. Was he wrong,
or was there muscle in his song?
This time we have is like no other:
last week is gone, next year’s too late,
what we do now decides our fate.

Bathurst Regional Art Gallery and Rhyme #5

On Saturday we drove to Bathurst to see an exhibition John McDonald had reviewed in the previous weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald. The exhibition’s full name is guwiinyguliya yirgabiyi ngay yuwin.gu gulbalangidyal ngunhi (they made a solitude and called it peace) by Jonathan Jones, in collaboration with the Bathurst Wiradyuri and Aboriginal Community Elders, commissioned  as part of the Bathurst Bicentenary.

Musket_and_spearIt’s  not a vast exhibition, but its powerful. There are stunning video works – a giant screen on which the camera glides endlessly through beautiful bush, and a room with six portraits of Wiradyuri elders looking out at us from significant locations in the Bathurst area. The main room has a musket and a spear on the wall (though the image above, lifted from the BRAG website, is missing the musket’s lethal bayonet), and in front of them on the floor a circular arrangement of flint fragments and grevillea flowers: the catalogue explains that the stone is waste from a Wiradyuri and Aboriginal community stone-tool making workshop. In a second room an elegant shape on the floor, made up of mussel shells cast in bronze mixed with lead musket balls, points at a pile of dusty potatoes – again, the catalogue adds to what’s already a strong image by telling us that the Bathurst wars of the 1820s began when a Wiradyuri family was massacred over some potatoes. There’s a room with surveyors’ maps and traditional parrying shields around the wall, and another with the cadavers of six small trees painted gold. All of it is very beautiful, and all invites the viewer to find out more about the history of the Wiradyuri wars, and to meditate on that history.

If you’re interested you can download a PDF of the catalogue from the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery web site, but I recommend taking the trip to walk through the six small rooms of the exhibition in person. Apart from anything else, it’s a stunning example of work created by a very fine artist collaborating humbly with a community. In the catalogue, the Bathurst Wiradyuri and Aboriginal Community Elders say they have been working with Jonathan, ‘directing him, teaching him and supporting him’. The drive from Sydney isn’t so long. We stayed overnight because the weather was threatening, but we could have done it as a day trip.

There is one room we didn’t see. It features two possumskin cloaks, made by members of the local community and evoking a moment when Windradyne, the great warrior leader, presented a similar cloak to Governor Macquarie. It was our good fortune to visit the gallery while a weaving workshop was happening in that room, so we stayed out. (We did see the gorgeous cloaks in a room that isn’t part of the exhibition but which, on Saturday, was temporarily home to them and an array of objects woven by local people.) This was good fortune for two reasons: first because during our visit the gallery was filled with the sounds of Aboriginal people enjoying each other’s company, in effect proclaiming their resilience; and second because two elders generously absented themselves from the workshop to chat to us whitefellas about the cloaks and the woven objects, about the Wiradyuri dictionary app, about the uses of some woven objects (‘Good for carrying babies, but not much good for water. That’s why we have bottles for beer.’).

And it’s November, so here’s an attempt to say in verse what I can’t figure out how to say in prose:

Rhyme #5: An exhibition in Bathurst, November 2015
Steel v hardwood, stone and blossom,
mussel shells v musket balls,
prim English maps, cloaks of possum.
Unsmiling elders on the walls
Look out from Country. Devastation
here finds mute  commemoration.
The Romans made their solitudes
and called them peace. Such platitudes
prevail now too, the past obscuring.
But lively voices here resound,
Wiradyuri are still around. 
They greet us, chat with us, ensuring
that we whitefellas will own
that solitude, but not alone.

Rhyme #3

A rough tribute to the fabulous humans associated with Penzance Prince, winner of this year’s Melbourne Cup

#3: A hundred to one shot
Michelle Payne won one for the bookies,
said the chauvies could get stuffed
and spoke up for all women jockeys.
Latham et al huffed and puffed
and found her lacking in decorum.
Language Latham! Ipse lorem!
Like Cathy Freeman wrapped in flag
she’d won the race – not theirs to bag.
No one huffed at her big brother,
Down syndrome and cheerful as,
a strapper good enough for jazz.
Great to see them love each other:
horse, woman, man. The racing gods
gave each a win against the odds

November Sonnet No 1 for 2015

November in Sydney: Sculpture by the Sea; jacaranda, coral trees and bougainvillea in startling bloom; moustaches; exams; and here on Me Fail? I Fly! a sonnet challenge.

For the last few years I have set myself the task of writing 14 sonnets for the blog in November. It turns out that my favoured sonnet form isn’t actually a sonnet at all, but the Onegin stanza – the 14-line stanza used by Pushkin in his narrative poem Eugene Onegin and by Vikram Seth in The Golden Gate. It took me a couple of years to realise that I wasn’t even doing that form properly. Now I think I’ve got it. Here goes with my first poem for 2015.

Because this stanza was developed for narrative, and because I have unfinished business with Virgil’s great, weighty narrative, the Aeneid (I studied Book Two  in high school more than 50 years ago), I thought I’d see what happened if I tried pouring some of his lines into Pushkin’s nimble form. It was more fun than I expected. This covers Book 1, lines 1–11 (‘refugee’ is a precise translation; ‘detention’ less so):

Sonnet No 1: Aeneid 1:1–11
War and one man, that’s my story.
A refugee from Homer’s Troy
he started something, built Rome’s glory,
but on the way found little joy.
His boats were stopped, and cruel detention
held him. Courage and invention
won through: he built a dynasty,
brought culture and civility.

It’s here I seek for inspiration:
if we’re to make sense of this world,
what harm was done, what grief unfurled
that one of such sound reputation
was made to suffer, struggle so?
Was there some cosmic rage on show?

For anyone wanting to explore further, here is Dryden’s 1697 translation :

Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc’d by fate,
And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate,
Expell’d and exil’d, left the Trojan shore.
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin’d town;
His banish’d gods restor’d to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line,
From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
And the long glories of majestic Rome.

O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate;
What goddess was provok’d, and whence her hate;
For what offence the Queen of Heav’n began
To persecute so brave, so just a man;
Involv’d his anxious life in endless cares,
Expos’d to wants, and hurried into wars!
Can heav’nly minds such high resentment show,
Or exercise their spite in human woe?

And if you’re really serious, here’s Publius Vergilius Maro:

Arma virumque canō, Trōiae quī prīmus ab ōrīs
Ītaliam, fātō profugus, Lāvīniaque vēnit
lītora, multum ille et terrīs iactātus et altō
vī superum saevae memorem Iūnonis ob īram;
multa quoque et bellō passus, dum conderet urbem,
īnferretque deōs Latiō, genus unde Latīnum,
Albānīque patrēs, atque altae moenia Rōmae.
Mūsa, mihī causās memorā, quō nūmine laesō,
quidve dolēns, rēgīna deum tot volvere cāsūs
insignem pietāte virum, tot adīre labōrēs
impulerit. Tantaene animīs caelestibus īrae?

Added later: You notice interesting things when you translate something, even as roughly as this. I took out the references to supernatural beings – gods, the muse etc. But that, plus the largely ungendered nature of English, strips out a key bit of patterning. In Latin, nouns are generally either masculine, feminine or neuter. In these 11 lines, the man (virum), and his descendants (patres) are masculine, and almost everything else is either neuter (war, fate, godhead) or feminine (especially the goddess Juno, but also rage, cities and so on). The effect in the Latin is of a masculine figure in a feminine world, much of which is inexplicably hostile to him.