5 Dec 2013

Untitled (And the days are not full enough…) – Ezra Pound

[1885–1972, American]

And the days are not full enough 
And the nights are not full enough 
And life slips by like a field mouse 
Not shaking the grass 

Source: Pound, E 1926, Personae, New Directions Press. 

Funeral Blues – WH Auden

[1907–1973, born England, migrated to America]

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crépe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,
I thought that love would last forever: ‘I was wrong’

The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Source: Auden, WH 1940, Another Time, New York Press.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night – Dylan Thomas

[1914–1953, Welsh]

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse; bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Source: Thomas, D 1952, The Poems of Dylan Thomas, New Directions Publishing Corporation.

D’Ya Ever Have One of Those Days Tommy? – Paul Summers

[1967–current, English]

When even sticking on 
the telly for lunchtime 
neighbours is a bit of an 

When you guzzle milk
instead of tea ‘cos
you can’t be arsed 
to wait for the 

d’y’ever just sit 
in an armchair for a whole 
afternoon and think
how it felt to be cast in 

or count up the 
      speckles on a 
woodchipped wall?

sometimes after
casualty I think I’ve got 

I think that I’m dying
when I’m really just 

Source: Summers, P 1998, The Last Bus, Iron Press.

Cryptographs – Philip Salom

[1950–current, Australian]

The air moves on you like a naked woman.
The night’s made the shape of a shop.
You’ve been offered one and stolen from the other 
and glad it was that way about.

Avoid people who bore you,
nothing’s so dull as your wrists
when your blood beats like some rock and roll
you couldn’t even stand as a kid.

A risk’s not a short-cut but a new way 
home, as home’s not the same river twice.
Swim in the art like a lover comes, or 
risk to – the windows lift up like a gasp.

Sunk into language you can swim 
without moving. The currents sway you 
as much as the sharks.

Or sit there in its armchair
as it stares coolly from the fireplace 
and you go up in flames. 

Looking for a title
then seeing what the hunger is 
and what all art is: 
feeding the ghost. 

And having fed it I 
in choosing words for what
did not at the time exist
make it our illusion.

The poem pretends to exist 
like a fact before the title
but all the emptiness is 
named by this. Paradigm.

The wall remembers everything,
staying on when you should have left, 
saying yes when you really meant no
and all such shameful vacuums.

Source: Salom, P 1993, Feeding the ghost, Penguin Books London.

3. Arrival of a 75 per center to the Burns Unit – Heather Cam

[1955current, born Canada, migrated to Australia in 1977]

They wheeled him in
just before the dinner trolley
wrapped like Lazarus,
but howling
howling so you’d know he was alive.

Source: Cam, H 1990, ‘The Moon’s Hook’, Poetry Australia 125, South Head Press, Sydney.

2. Burns Unit – Heather Cam

[1955current, born Canada, migrated to Australia in 1977]

Twice daily the Nurse of the Salt Baths
worships and washes my devastation.
Then she wraps my precious body in a turban
of gauzy dressings drenched in unguents
and wheels me
like a sultan on a litter
back to the Bubble in the Burns Unit.

In the antechamber my visitors are waiting,
receiving strict instructions
to maintain the proper distance.
They shuffle in:
feet bandaged, heads covered, masked and mittened,
draped in starched hospital gowns,
shamefully aware of the burden of bacteria,
and the risk they pose to this Sterilized Zone
and to my recovery.

They hold up offerings:
cards I may not open,
flowers I may not smell,
hands I may not hold.
They hold in check the desire to see my hurt,
my singed skin.

Like desert melons after a freakish rain,
bubbles are bursting out under the bandages,
oozing sap, crusting into scabs, itching like mad,
like sand in the eyes, like sand flies –
for I must not forget, must not forget,
even I must not touch, must not rub, must not scratch.
Tense and urgent, I listen
for the rattle of the drugs trolley;
sweating for the pills that numb this healing itch.

The sweet pink pills will lie on my tongue
like a blessing
promising relief, release from my beleaguered body.
Swallowed, they will soon smudge me out;
mercifully smear me into a blur like sleep.
Where I dream

a lonely desert crossing,
a caravan in camel-slow procession,
through sand-storms and torturous dreams of houris
and the occasional oasis,
but mostly to another day of sun,
cantankerous camels,
and endless desert sands,
over which I, Suntan of the Bedouin,
ride to my healing.

Source:   Cam, H 1990, ‘The Moon’s Hook’, Poetry Australia 125, South Head Press, Sydney.

 *   Houris definition from thefreedictionary.com (5 Oct 2012): 1. A voluptuous, alluring woman. 2. One of the beautiful virgins of the Koranic paradise.

1. Tarot Reading – Heather Cam

[1955current, born Canada, migrated to Australia in 1977]

Touching the back of every card
in the tight-lipped pack
I shuffled, cut and drew
The Tower of Destruction
scene of disaster and disarray
in vivid suspension:
turrets about to crumble;
guardsmen in a headlong tumble;
petals of hard hot rain,
hanging heavy as portents in the thickening air.

Two days later
the hard hot rain fell down, fell down,
not arrows, spears nor cannon balls,
but precise pellets of pain
spilling from a height –
boiling water
across my bare bare back,
burning burning
into my mind the Tarot pack.

Source: Cam, H 1990, ‘The Moon’s Hook’, Poetry Australia 125, South Head Press, Sydney.

4 Dec 2013

Age looking back at its youth – John M Ridland

We had so little, yet we had so much:
Thunder and lightning at the lightest touch.

Source: Ridland, JM 2011 (February), 'Age looking back at its youth', Poetry magazine. 

18 Nov 2013

A Poison Tree – William Blake

[1757–1827, English]

I was angry with my friend: 
I told my wrath, my wrath did end. 
I was angry with my foe: 
I told it not, my wrath did grow. 

And I watered it in fears 
Night and morning with my tears, 
And I sunned it with smiles 
And with soft deceitful wiles. 

And it grew both day and night, 
Till it bore an apple bright, 
And my foe beheld it shine, 
And he knew that it was mine,– 

And into my garden stole 
When the night had veiled the pole; 
In the morning, glad, I see 
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Source: Blake, W 1794, Songs of Experience.

Proverbs 17:1 – David Curzon

[Born Australia, migrated to America]

Better is a dry morsel with quiet

and a key turning in a front lock,
a door that opens onto empty rooms,
a lonely mouth watering at the thought
of a kiss as it reads a trashy romance,
and a death undiscovered for several days,
and a funeral to which few come,

than a house full of feasting with strife

Source: Curson, D 1998, The view from Jacob’s Ladder, Jewish Publ., USA.

A Statistician to His Love – Peter Goldsworthy

[1951–current, Australian]

Men kill women in bedrooms, usually 
by hand, or gun. Women kill men, 
less often, in kitchens, with knives. 
Don’t be alarmed, there is understanding 
to be sucked from all such hard 
and bony facts, or at least a sense 
of symmetry. Drowned men – an 
instance – float face down, women up. 
But women, ignited, burn more fiercely. 
The death camp pyres were therefore, 
sensibly, women and children first, 
an oily kind of kindling. The men 
were stacked in rows on top. Yes, 
there is always logic in this world. 
And neatness. And the comfort 
of fact. Did I mention that suicides 
outnumber homicides? The figures 
are reliable. So stay awhile yet 
with me: the person to avoid, alone,
is mostly you yourself.

Source: Goldsworthy, P 1992, After the Ball, National Library of Australia, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.

21 Oct 2013

Excerpt from ‘Little Gidding’ – TS Eliot

[1888–1965, Born in Britain, migrated to America]

We shall not cease from exploration.
And the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.

Source: Eliot, TS 1943, ‘Little Gidding’, Four Quartets, Harcourt (US).

Blind Date. Bees – Philip Salom

[1950–current, Australian]

When he mentions the Right Names
she begins to think of bees.

When his Conquests get an airing
she feels like being elsewhere.

By the time he gets around to the First Million
her head is a swarm.

Shocked he thinks her face is Distressed
but closer, it is a complete intensity.

And then the queen streaks into the sky
and her face takes flight, is gone.

A few last workers trailing off
where once had been her arms.

Her clothes collapse, empty as his mouth
about to say: ‘Honey?’

Source: Salom, P 1993, Feeding the ghost, Penguin Books, London.

Having Stood On the Ledge – Lynn Hard

[1938–current, born America, migrated to Australia in 1977]

Having stood on the ledge
and watched the crowd gather:
a country fair painting
of sprayed acrylics:
an anticipation
of splatter,
I know the indifference to height,
that the ledge
is an improvement
on the hotel room with its special channel
which endlessly rolls the time,
the weather,
and the wind direction by,
and I know the indifference to the street,
just another cord in the net.

Having taken the step
and felt my intestines
uncoiled by gravity
I have dropped
like a fluttering x,
a dark cross of St Andrew,
watching the crowd
make a place for me.
The awnings flash by:
blurs of test patterns,
lodgers gouached by the tube
do not look up
from loving Lucy,
they go past like credits
scrolling up.
I drop,
my clothes make an annoying buffet
and worse,

the street gets no nearer.

Source: Hard, L 1993, Dancing on the Drainboard, Angus & Robertson, Australia, pp. 65–66.

2 Sep 2013

Making a Fist – Naomi Shihab Nye

[1952-current, American] 

   We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.
                                                                  —Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

Source: Nye, NS 1988, 'Making a Fist', Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab American Poetry, University of Utah Press. 
Retrieved 2 September 2013, www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/241028

Night Watch – Mark Smith-Soto


Chico whines, no reason why. Just now walked,
dinner gobbled, head and ears well scratched.
And yet he whines, looking up at me as if confused
at my just sitting here, typing away, while darkness
is stalking the back yard. How can I be so blind,
he wants to know, how sad, how tragic, how I
won’t listen before it is too late. His whines are
refugees from a brain where time and loss have
small dominion, but where the tyranny of now
is absolute. I get up and throw open the kitchen door,
and he disappears down the cement steps, barking
deeper and darker than I remember. I follow
to find him perfectly still in the empty yard—
the two of us in the twilight, standing guard.

Source: Smith-Soto, M 2009, 'Night Watch', Poetry East, no. 64 & 65, Spring.
Retrieved 2 September 2013, www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/240366

Unmediated experience – Bob Hicok

[1960–current, American]

She does this thing. Our seventeen-
year-old dog. Our mostly deaf dog.
Our mostly dead dog, statistically
speaking. When I crouch.
When I put my mouth to her ear
and shout her name. She walks away.
Walks toward the nothing of speech.
She even trots down the drive, ears up,
as if my voice is coming home.
It’s like watching a child
believe in Christmas, right
before you burn the tree down.
Every time I do it, I think, this time
she’ll turn to me. This time
she’ll put voice to face. This time,
I’ll be absolved of decay.
Which is like being a child
who believes in Christmas
as the tree burns, as the drapes catch,
as Santa lights a smoke
with his blowtorch and asks, want one?

Source: This poem originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Poetry magazine.
Retrieved 2 September 2013, www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/240224

If Feeling Isn't In It – John Brehm

[1955-current, American]

You can take it away, as far as I'm concerned—I'd rather spend the afternoon with a nice dog. I'm not kidding. Dogs have what a lot of poems lack: excitements and responses, a sense of play the ability to impart warmth, elation . . . .  
                                                                                   Howard Moss

Dogs will also lick your face if you let them.
Their bodies will shiver with happiness.
A simple walk in the park is just about
the height of contentment for them, followed
by a bowl of food, a bowl of water,
a place to curl up and sleep. Someone
to scratch them where they can't reach
and smooth their foreheads and talk to them.
Dogs also have a natural dislike of mailmen
and other bringers of bad news and will
bite them on your behalf. Dogs can smell
fear and also love with perfect accuracy.
There is no use pretending with them.
Nor do they pretend. If a dog is happy
or sad or nervous or bored or ashamed
or sunk in contemplation, everybody knows it.
They make no secret of themselves.
You can even tell what they're dreaming about
by the way their legs jerk and try to run
on the slippery ground of sleep.
Nor are they given to pretentious self-importance.
They don't try to impress you with how serious
or sensitive they are. They just feel everything
full blast. Everything is off the charts
with them. More than once I've seen a dog
waiting for its owner outside a café
practically implode with worry. “Oh, God,
what if she doesn't come back this time?
What will I do? Who will take care of me?
I loved her so much and now she's gone
and I'm tied to a post surrounded by people
who don't look or smell or sound like her at all.”
And when she does come, what a flurry
of commotion, what a chorus of yelping
and cooing and leaps straight up into the air!
It's almost unbearable, this sudden
fullness after such total loss, to see
the world made whole again by a hand
on the shoulder and a voice like no other.

Source: This poem originally appeared in the August 1999 issue of Poetry magazine.
Retrieved 2 September 2013, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/29842#poem

Self-Employed – David Ignatow

[1914–1997, American]

For Harvey Shapiro

I stand and listen, head bowed,   
to my inner complaint.
Persons passing by think
I am searching for a lost coin.   
You’re fired, I yell inside
after an especially bad episode.   
I’m letting you go without notice   
or terminal pay. You just lost   
another chance to make good.
But then I watch myself standing at the exit,   
depressed and about to leave,   
and wave myself back in wearily,   
for who else could I get in my place   
to do the job in dark, airless conditions?

Source:  Ignatow, D 1993, 'Self-Employed', Against the Evidence: Selected Poems 1934-1994, Wesleyan University Press.

Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview – Gary Soto

[1952–current, American]

Did you sneeze?
Yes, I rid myself of the imposter inside me.

Did you iron your shirt?
Yes, I used the steam of mother's hate.

Did you wash your hands?
Yes, I learned my hygiene from a raccoon.

I prayed on my knees, and my knees answered with pain.
I gargled. I polished my shoes until I saw who I was.
I inflated my résumé by employing my middle name.

I walked to my interview, early,
The sun like a ring on an electric stove.
I patted my hair when I entered the wind of a revolving door.
The guard said, For a guy like you, it's the 19th floor.

The economy was up. Flags whipped in every city plaza
In America. This I saw for myself as I rode the elevator,
Empty because everyone had a job but me.

Did you clean your ears?
Yes, I heard my fate in the drinking fountain's idiotic drivel.

Did you slice a banana into your daily mush?
I added a pinch of salt, two raisins to sweeten my breath.

Did you remember your pen?
I remembered my fingers when the elevator opened.

I shook hands that dripped like a dirty sea.
I found a chair and desk. My name tag said my name.
Through the glass ceiling, I saw the heavy rumps of CEOs.
Outside my window, the sun was a burning stove,
All of us pushing papers
To keep it going.

Source: This poem originally appeared in the July 2001 issue of Poetry magazine.
Retrieved 2 September 2013, www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/30461#poem

Digging – Seamus Heaney

[13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013, Irish (Northern Ireland)]

Between my finger and my thumb   
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Source: Heaney, S (1966), 'Digging', Death of a Naturalist, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC.

23 Aug 2013

Excerpts from ‘Salt’ – Mireille Juchau


“What’s essential about your gentleness is the violence at its borders.”

“No end in sight. No end insight. No end. Insight.”

Source:  Juchau, M 1997, ‘Salt’, in Beth Yahp & Nicholas Jose (eds), Picador New Writing 4, Pan Macmillan: Sydney, p. 103.

The Koala Motel Dream – S.K. Kelen

[1956-current, Australian] 

It’s a dog all right the nurse told you 
your wife has just given birth to a beautiful 
bouncing afghan hound you must decide 
either to hand out cigars and carry on 
or tell them at the office fuck something 
burn down your nice house 
starting with the carport so you flew south 
for the winter freer than a dream  
& on the way picked up a hippy girl 
hitching out of Albury if only the 
boys at the office then she feeds 
you blue hallucinogens on the way 
to the Koala Motor Inn at 
Wangaratta, Victoria. 

Source: Kelen, SK 1991, Atomic Ballet, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney. 
Retrieved 26 February 2013 from www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/kelen-s-k/the-koala-motel-dream-0086031 www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/kelen-s-k/ the-koala-motel-dream-0086031

Those Winter Sundays – Robert Hayden

[1913–1980, American]

Sundays too my father got up early 
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, 
then with cracked hands that ached 
from labor in the weekday weather made 
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. 

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. 
When the rooms were warm, he’d call, 
and slowly I would rise and dress, 
fearing the chronic angers of that house, 

Speaking indifferently to him, 
who had driven out the cold 
and polished my good shoes as well. 
What did I know, what did I know 
of love’s austere and lonely offices? 

Source: Hayden, R 1966, ‘Those Winter Sundays’, in Frederick Glaysher (ed.), Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, Liveright Publishing Corporation.

22 Aug 2013

Reflections on 22 August, 1991 – Lynn Hard

[1938–current, born America, migrated to Australia in 1977]

the members of the cast
are thinned

old movies
we haven’t seen in years,

we’ve bought since we can remember
are no longer

and life
is a steady downpour.

in the USSR
where there’s hardly enough room in squares
to stand,
to affirm
that the unknown is half-full
that the people have a right to their space
even if it’s shared with tanks,
that disillusion must be preceded
by illusion
and that is our most foreign and precious substance.

Source: Hard, L 1993, Dancing on the Drainboard, Angus & Robertson, Australia, p. 4.

22 Jul 2013

Grief -- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(England, 1806–1861)

I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;
That only men incredulous of despair,
Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air
Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,
In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare
Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy dead in silence like to death —
Most like a monumental statue set
In everlasting watch and moveless woe
Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.
Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:
If it could weep, it could arise and go.

First published in 1844.
Quiller-Couch, AT (ed), 1919, The Oxford book of English verse, 1250–1900, Oxford: Clarendon.

11 Jul 2013

February – not everywhere – Norman MacCraig

Such days, when trees run downwind,
their arms stretched before them

Such days, when the sun’s in a drawer
and the drawer locked.

When the meadow is dead, is a carpet,
thin and shabby, with no pattern

and at bus stops people retract into collars
their faces like fists.

– And when, in a firelit room, a mother looks
at her four seasons, at her little boy

in the centre of everything, with still pools
of shadows and a fire throwing flowers.

Source: MacCaig, N 1990, Collected poems: A new edition, Polygon.

20 May 2013

Two Fragments – Sappho

[Sappho born around 615 BC.
Poem Translated by Cicely Herbert]

Love holds me captive again
and I tremble with bittersweet longing 

As a gale on the mountainside bends the oak tree
I am rocked by my love 

Source: Chernaik, J 2012, Poems on the Underground: A New Edition, Penguin Hardback Classics.

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII) — Edna St Vincent Millay

[1892–1950, American]
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more. 

Millay, E 1923, ‘What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why’, from Collected Poems, Harper & Brothers Publishers.
Reproduced in Chernaik, J 2012, Poems on the Underground: A New Edition, Penguin Hardback Classics.

8 Apr 2013

Tonight You Being From Me – Aonghas Macneachail


Although the journey of stars 
Were between you and me
The thread of silk will not decay
That bound you to me 
That tied me to you,
and tonight you being from me
I am in darkness
sending words to you
my heart’s cargo
heavy dark words without shape,
vowel and consonant
Multiplying to sense
as the foliage of trees
bends their branches
in darkness
in the breeze
leaves sporting their green
first flicker of dawn.

Source: Macneachail, A 1996, A Proper Schooling, Polygon.