Friday, July 8, 2016

Tuesday Poem - 'Agnus Dei' by Marty Smith

Agnus Dei

I carried the lamb in a sack on my horse
It's buggered, said Dad, throw it in the creek.
The creek leaped, dimpled. Small bubbles
whirled, it rumpled where I was looking
the water shadowed half-blue-black

deep just there with duckweed floating out
the yards behind all noise, the cattle swirling
up air swelled with dust and bellowing.
Flies lighted on and off the rails.
I took the lamb and kneeled in the pudgy mud
both hands under it, under the water,

laid it carefully into the shocked cold.
It hardly struggled, there was so little left.
Put the bloody thing out of its misery
I heard in my head as I pushed it under
and the water shuddered.
Get the hell out of that he yelled at my back

you macabre little bastard!
It might have been ghoulish, he was good with words.
The yards were sweating hot
Dad wiped his hatband, the sack smelling
of dry stiff flax, I wiped my nose
my hand all mud and numb.

The birds hummed. In rain, in wind
I go out all hours on my lambing beat
he's the shadow of me, always riding beside me.
Let it go he said, quietly. I let it go floating
it bobbed and the sun caught the eye, closing.
Shush, shush, said the creek.

Marty Smith

I heard Marty Smith read at the NZ Poetry Conference and she was an astonishment. She was on last, and everything had been pretty tip top – but my goodness me she blew me away. And one of the nicest people you could hope to meet in a month of Sundays. She posted me her book Horse With Hat (Victoria University Press) which had won Best First Book at the NZ Post Book Awards, and that was an astonishment too. I won't go on and on. Get your hands on the book and read it for yourself. (And also look at it, because the illustrations in the book are another astonishment.)

Marty will be in Melbourne for one week and it would be a shame to miss out on the chance to hear her read and have a bit of a chat. (But in case you do here is the link to her poem 'Hat' in Best NZ Poems with a recording of her reading.)

But don't. Don't miss out. Three chances so your chances are good.

Passionate Tongues
Monday July 11
Brunswick Hotel 140 Sydney Road

Tago Mago
744 High Street Thornbury
Wednesday 13th July
8pm – 10-30 pm

Dan O'Connell
225 Canning Street Carlton
Saturday 16th July
2 - 5 pm

Monday, June 6, 2016

Tuesday Poem - 'The Violence of Work' by Geoff Goodfellow

The Violence of Work

I work in a factory
Monday to Friday
       punch on    punch off

i work a rotating roster
Monday to Friday
       punch on    punch off

i wear earmuffs & gloves
Monday to Friday
       punch on    punch off

i stamp on a press
Monday to Friday
       punch on    punch off

i still had my fingers last
Monday to Friday
       punch on    punch off

i work on a tally
Monday to Friday
       punch on    punch off

i'm told to work faster
Monday to Friday
        punch on    punch off

i have smoko with Billy
Monday to Friday
       punch on    punch off

i play euchre at lunchtime
Monday to Friday
       punch on    punch off

i just do my best
Monday to Friday
       punch on    punch off

i'm paid the award for
Monday to Friday
       punch on    punch off

i don't complain to the boss
Monday to Friday
       punch on    punch off

but complain to my partner
Monday to Sunday
       want to punch on
                   punch on.

Geoff Goodfellow

Punch On Punch Off was published by The Vulgar Press in 2004, so it must be kind of hard to come upon now. It was one of the books being chucked by Frankston Library, so that's how I got my hands on it. My father worked in a factory. A wooden box factory. Yes, he and his brother owned the factory, but they both worked on the floor. And yes, they both lost fingers. Law of averages. One careless moment. So I was very moved by this book. And very taken, also, with the musical intensity, and the compassionate simplicity. Simple is never easy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tuesday Poem - 'Green' by Tracy Ryan


It began with marigolds
that never showed
alongside the bungalow
when I was twelve

I learned you could tend
and tend without
recompense — you either
had it or not.

Perhaps it was earlier
those broad beans we all
cajoled on damp cotton-
wool in primary school,

soil-less, dislocated
as an idea without
context, one blunt end
marked with a sly smile

or was it a lid? the blind eye
of a coconut where
they told us the milk
came out, though it looked shut

like the secret aperture
our baby sister
must have come by
that I tried to picture

somewhere near
the upper thigh
thinking it must seal over
when out of use.

I was clueless
as the broad beans, isolate,
generic, never given
a real chance

feeding no one.
Each lonely monad
aligned on the sill
worshipped in term-time

as if that would boost them,
then on the holidays
forgotten and gone
to mould.

Tracy Ryan

Frankston Library decided it had too much poetry on the shelves, so it dumped a swag of it onto the sales table amongst the other rejects. 50 cents a pop or a bag for 5 bucks.
So I was trotters in the trough, elbows out, fending off the other foragers — until I twigged that no one else was after what I was after. So I calmed down and just scooped up the lot.
(Except the self-published book of bush poetry by an old contender, because, after all, one must draw the line somewhere.)
I came home with Kelen (S.K. and Chris), Salom, Hewett. I came home with Watson, Caesar, Komninos, Croggon and Maiden.  And Yasbincek, Lenore, Kerdijk Nicholson, Tsaloumas, Wynne, Goodfellow, Skovron — and Ryan.
What a handsome book Hothouse (Fremantle Arts Centre Press 2002) is. And what a pleasure to catch up with it after all these years. I don't know how I missed it back in the day. I do remember hearing of it, I think it won a prize, but somehow or other, you know how it goes.
And as to the experience of reading the book, well — 'Hothouse comes off as a precise and lucid aggregation of effects. Without wasting a word, with quiet authority and integrity, the poet makes it plain.'

PS The cheeky things at Frankston Library were throwing out my play The Big Picture so I put that in my bag for 5 bucks and took it home.

PPS On my next visit I fell upon Weeping For Lost Babylon by Beach which somehow I had missed. I don't know how I missed it. But I had.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tuesday Poem - 'Round' by Ouyang Yu


One student stood up and said,
'the subtle factor that makes live endurable' is not right
as the word 'endurable' is not a correct
translation of the Chinese characters yuanhua

'What do you think?' the teacher asked
Cai, a broad-faced man-boy. 'What words
Would you use: “smooth”, perhaps?'
Chen, the man-boy, with a constant hat, offered.

'Because it's more like “skillful” I'd say'
an instant knitting of her brows appeared on the fresh-faced
girl sitting in the middle that did not escape the teacher
who said 'What about you?'

She said, 'I'd use sophisticatedly', when the hat boy said,
'No, it's more than just that.' The girl went silent
the teacher, instead of giving his translation, asked if any knew what
'long soup' and 'short soup' meant

seeing no one did he went online in search
of the pictures but they were not right at
and were not available on Google or Yahoo
so he revealed that long soup stood for noodles

and short for huntun or what is known as 'swallowing clouds'
'Now,' he said to the class. 'You tell me what tangyuan
is in English.' One girl said, 'dumplings', and before the teacher finished
saying 'no' the hat-boy said, gropingly, 'round soup'

he won an 'Excellent' from the teacher
who claimed that that was exactly what he had coined
and said that if there was fangtang, it would have to be
square soup before he turned to the yuanhua again

saying how much delighted he would be if there was
an equivalent in English, a language still too primitive
for the yuanhuaness of the Chinese
a two-character combination that literally meant

round-slippery, not eel-slippery
not oil-slippery
not even unctuous-slippery
but round-slippery or round and slippery

on his way home, the teacher was defeated again
when he thought of the impossibility of match
making the two languages in this single expression
that describes a person's unctuousness, like oil or an eel

or that denotes life's smoothness
in a round manner
as round
as a ball

Ouyang Yu

This salty, transgressive book is such a delight. It is so tasty. With a big dollop of larrikin spirit on the side. I am not a bit surprised it is shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize For Poetry this year, alongside some other very toothsome books.

I do prefer to type up the poems for my blog, even if they are very long, because I get the feel of how they are put together. It is like unpicking a dress to find the ins and outs of it. Any secret gussets? How are the sleeves set in? Is the lining skimped? Etc etc. And I didn't notice, until I was typing Round, how very eccentric the punctuation and capitalisation are. And then I got the rhyme and reason for it. It signals the arbitrary and laborious effort of match making two languages. Amongst other things.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tuesday Poem - 'Making a Rat' by Kevin Hart

Making a Rat

I forget everything, and make a rat.
With little ambition at first, an amateur,
I try a roof rat – grey, long tail, sharp ears -

But with a will that staggers the human mind.
For months I labour on those teeth, that jaw
With strength enough to gnaw through beams of wood;

For years on end I fiddle with those ears
That make the lowest noises stand erect.
I give up dinners, seminars and sex

To breed the things it carries in its mouth -
Those strains of typhus, rabies, fever, plague.
I give up sleep for weeks to make its eyes

That pierce the darkness as I slowly work.
All day the mind will multiply itself
Just dreaming of a whisker hanging right,

A foreleg muscle tensing for a leap.
My mother dies, my father turns to drink,
And churchbells grow threadbare warning me;

And then one day the postman brings a book
Wrapped in brown paper, without card or note:
One Hundred Reasons Not to Make a Rat.

I put in longer hours, buy classy tools,
But still the rat won't work. I'll try again -
This time a Norway rat, eight inches long,

And from today I'll get it right from scratch.
I have my knives, my books, a practised hand.
Don't worry about that, I'll get it right.

Kevin Hart

How remiss of me to not have made an effort at Kevin Hart's work. I knew 'The Members of the Orchestra' (and love it) but had hardly come upon his work at all. Or if I had I suppose I promised myself that one day I would get around to it. And then op shopping recently I came upon Flame Tree: Selected Poems (Paper Bark Press 2002) and that day had come. (Inside is written 'For Gayle with all good wishes, Kevin Hart July 2002.') (Who is Gayle and why did she off load such a splendid book?) A Selected is an excellent way to feel as if you have truly delved into the span of a poet's work. Kevin tells me it was reissued (revised and with more work) in 2015 as Wild Track: New and Selected Poems (Notre Dame UP) so available for your delving needs, without haunting op shops in the hope Gayle had taken a job in Brussels and dumped all her books before heading off.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Tuesday poem - 'First ... then ... ' by Melinda Smith

First ... then ...

First change nappy
Then Thomas the Tank Engine

First clothes on
Then sandpit

First wash hair
Then chocolate frog

First the only baby crying all night in the hospital
       Then the only baby wailing for the whole of mothers’ group
First the only mother convinced her child was permanently angry
       Then the only one holding him in her arms and doing deep knee bends to
       calm him down
First thinking it was normal to scream until throwing up whenever we changed
       Then shocked when I realised other families didn’t have to live like that
First astonished he could read at eighteen months
       Then astonished at his shrieks every time his baby brother cried
First proud of every fact he could recite about the planet Jupiter
       Then wondering why he needed twelve weeks of physio to learn how to jump

First hair cut
Then play with spray bottle

First stop biting Mummy
Then play with sliding door

First poo *in toilet*
Then flush 

First letting his father talk me out of it
       Then talking myself out of it
First knowing those therapists just didn’t get my child
       Then googling autism with a chill in my heart
First joking about ‘our little Rain Man’
       Then realising the joke was on me

First paralysis
       Then fear
First incomprehension
       Then overload

First Music Therapy
       Then Homeopathy
First Triple-P Parenting for Parents of Children with Disabilities
       Then Encouraging the Reluctant Eater
First Occupational Therapy
       Then the social worker
First trusting the system
       Then realising the system didn’t care enough or have enough money 

First sit at table to eat
Then spinning with Mummy

First swallow medicine
Then build washing machine from cardboard boxes

First reading lots of parent testimonials
       Then feeling like scum for not doing six hours of therapy with him every day
First wonderfully affirmed by Welcome to Holland
       Then convinced Welcome to Holland left a lot of shit out
First talking to happy well-adjusted mums of older kids on the spectrum
       Then terrified our family would disintegrate before our kids ever got to that
First poring over Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome for those who love and care
       for three-to-seven- year-olds
       Then realising the only book I needed to read was The Curious Incident of
       the Dog in the Night Time

First joining support groups
       Then walking out of meetings because the horror stories people told at them
       could not possibly be true
First counselling
       Then drugs
First sobbing to my friends
       Then avoiding my friends and hating their normal uncomplicated children
First hearing that carers of autistic children are as stressed as soldiers in combat
       Then bawling my eyes out 

First thread beads on string
Then letterbox-counting walk

First stay at special needs soccer for ten minutes
Then computer time

First nearly destroying my marriage
       Then clinging to my marriage
First regretting the second child
       Then realising the second child would probably save us all
First wanting my husband to see things my way
       Then grateful he didn’t
First mourning my old life
       Then understanding you never really get it back anyway
First obsessed with getting the whole family to accept the diagnosis
       Then learning to take what help I could get and live with the elephant in the

First shame
       Then resentment
First desperate for pity
       Then desperate for respite care
First whining
       Then laughing

First crawling through it
       Then writing about it
First today
       Then tomorrow 

Melinda Smith

While I was up in Canberra for the Noted festival, I invested in a copy of First … Then ... (Ginninderra Press) by Melinda Smith. I had heard her read some of them at her La Mama gig here in Melbourne so I was pretty sure I would like the book. Well I did like the book, but I was also incredibly moved - moved to pity, moved to tears - and then, cathartically, moved on to another place. I kind of got it, I glimpsed it. I don't feel as if I want to write too much about the experience of reading these twenty-four poems from Planet Autism. Melinda wrote them. I read them. Enough.

All the poems are available to read on the website below, with some intriguing explication, and there is guidance as to how to source the book, if like me, you prefer to hold a book in your hand.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Tuesday Poem - 'A Romantic Woman' by Michael Farrell

A Romantic Woman

Has sewn a bauble on her dress tonight
She thinks about the relation between
natural and artificial light as
she drives through the evening in a taxi
Doubt becomes her. If she were Catholic she
assumes she would've toyed with bishops …

agnostic it's jackaroos that keep her
reading colonial fiction. Danielle
loves being twenty-nine (the pathos of
it) and dreams of an earlier name like
Muriel or Jean. She smooths the violet
sash her mother would say meant 'die single
The country can be harsh like that. Next year
she might become a novelist, but for
now she's happy with the magazine world
the hair and makeup boys, donuts on Fridays
She met someone online recently who
carves his own chess pieces and has a sandy
fringe, and she'll meet Liam in the flesh tonight
Warm and soft, she says to herself warm …

soft. The night is floating with stuff: maybe
organic, but she thinks wearing a veil's
underrated. I can't wear a taxi
everywhere, she jokes to the driver who
doesn't understand why not. Danielle thinks …

her friends, their brutal ways with men and how
successful such ways are. Men are afraid
she isn't strong: yet she's been known to eat
tuna from a can (to the right music
They don't know what it takes to be her! She
wouldn't be an editor for long …

Magazines were arcades for Danielle, not
stylish training manuals. Cigarettes
or insanity she would quip (before
she quit). Her therapist said she had …

Cinderella complex but Danielle – in
a rare fiery moment – retorted …

you have complexomania! Whereas
she was a deer of the forest …

Harriet Shelley without the river
bit, or the kids. Really, her mind was drifting
into inanity. The Melbourne traffic
wasn't like a forest; she could surely
find better role models if she needed
them. She would never make anything happen
Danielle imagined Liam was probably
one of those soft, toilet-paper roll kinds …

guys with razor blades attached to the last
sheet. They love you until then. I have …

date with a bottle of gin, she thought …

a man on the side: a moment to cherish
cherish, cherish. She noticed the clasp
on her handbag resembled a creature
with an unusual nose. She began
to conceive of a feature …

underrated beauty. She sat in the taxi
outside the foam party, the metre running
scribbling in her notebook while the humming
driver played a samba on the steering-wheel.

Michael Farrell

Cocky's Joy (Giramondo 2015) is my pick of the books I have read this year. Laurie Duggan opines on the back cover – 'You feel there's a language being created here and yet it's your own language.'
It came to my mind that Michael Farrell was a Currency Lad.* One of the first generation of poets to be born in the colony. That isn't strictly true (it can't be true) but it came into my mind.
*(The term 'currency lads and lasses' was used to refer to the first generation of children born in the colony to distinguish them from the free settlers who were born in the British Isles. These people were known as 'sterlings'. )
While I am musing on the old time way of saying things, I just want to iterate how much I like the title. It signals so much doubleness. But I found in a quick vox pop that quite a few people are not aware of what cocky's joy* used to be in all its singleness.
* (Treacle or golden syrup. A cocky is a farmer, originally a small tenant farmer. The word is derived from the earlier term cockatoo farmer, whose origin is the subject of several rival theories.)
Honestly, this book, it is a tour de force. It's a book that has a circus in its pants. It's astounding.
And I am astounded that none of the judges for book awards have, thus far, given it a nod. I can only assume the publisher neglected to submit it. There is no other explanation.