Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tuesday Poem - An instance of the genre by Vincent O'Sullivan

An instance of the genre

You can't help liking this grey-haired
never-quite-pretty woman who tells
you, 'Frankly,' as she says, aware
the word is fondling a hedgehog
should you trust it too deeply, 'Frankly,
I love being middle-class. I vote
of course we all do, I've only to see
a flood halfway up a village wall
and I'm phoning with a donation. I
have the local bookshop automatically
deliver the three best books
of the month according to the list
they get – good bookshops do.' I
like the way she tells you, straight
out, how well the children prosper.
She uses expressions like 'A-team'
and 'B-team' without a hint of either
swank or rancour, and assumes you
understand the praise her husband
gleans on the back of quite justified
glamour some years back is only as
it should be. She smiles, she knows
there's a dash of irony with any
success, she says, 'Luck? Of course
luck's crucial.' I know if I wrote
this out as accurately as I can
to the way I heard it, the reader
as likely as not may imagine
there's a slinking figure somewhere
not being quite straight on what
the story is. I appreciate why
you'd think so, geared as we've
been for decades on the lookout
for subversion. In even the most neutral
phrase say, 'You can't help liking...'

This poem is from Vincent's latest book – The movie may be slightly different - published by Victoria University Press 2011. It is such a strong, rich book, from cover to cover, it is jolly hard to pick just one. All the poems seem to work together and ring each other's bells. Not that they don't stand alone. One of the best books I have read for yonks. Almost carelessly generous.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tuesday Poem - The Toppled Head by Les Murray

The Toppled Head

The big bald head is asleep
like Lenin on a pavement.
Tipping backward, it starts
a great mouth-breathing snore
throttling as stormwater.
loud as a hangar door
      running on rails
but his companion gently
reshapes his pillow, till his
postion's once more foetal,
breathing towards his feet.
His timbre goes silent, and
the glottal dies in a gulp.

This poem is from Les Murray's book Taller When Prone published by Black Inc. I went off to Adelaide Writer's Week this year to have some fun on the excuse that my book Barefoot had been short listed for the John Bray Award, and I promised myself that I would ask the winner if I could have a poem for my blog. I knew it couldn't be me because they tell you if you have won. But not if you have lost. You just have to infer that. And Les won. He is a mate and a fine poet so I was well pleased. It is a strong shortlist, perhaps because it has been, up until now, awarded every second year, so it draws on two years of poetry. But that changes from now on in, it will be a yearly thing.

John Bray poetry award
Jennifer Compton, Barefoot (Picaro Press)
Diane Fahey, The Wing Collection: New & Selected Poems (Puncher & Wattmann Poetry)
Les Murray, Taller When Prone (Black Inc.)
David Musgrave, Phantom Limb (John Leonard Press)
Tracy Ryan, The Argument (Fremantle Press)
Petra White, The Simplified World (John Leonard Press)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tuesday Poem - The Portuguese Fish Basket by Connie Barber


Surprised to meet an intriguing light
in woven whitewood: fine strapping like corded silk,
half boat, half sideways egg, I bought it
in an avant-garde, up front, high-tone boutique:
an impulse to engage with its beauty,
its total practicality.

It carried fish for the family from the market,
                  heads resting against the woven wood,
eyes smiling and comfortable. It held to
the deep sun-splashed window sill
like a throne, like a ritual boat. Straked sides, a curving base
bound to a wattled rim, the whole shell woven as one
to strong gunwales with sleaved wood like bands of silk,
held fruit for the children: apples, bananas,
                  and one small bowl for small unthought-of  things.

In another hemisphere, it played a role as crib
for a small saviour, tried out parts in school plays —
                  unsuitable for poisoned apples the director said.
It could hold a pumpkin on its side,
until fetched on command, without capsizing. 

After the children left it lived on above the sink
cradling ginger and garlic and a few strange fruit:
avocado, custard apple, purple figs. In time
it collected dust. A hulk, it lost
its half-shining creamy glow, its silky touch,
                  held corks and candle ends in the small bowl,
garlic and ginger, until it had to move.

Still holding the air of continents and the strength
of trees it moved to a narrow room,
still remembering fish, and the hands that wove
forest into a coracle. Dirty and dull,
washed with care, scrubbed a little, dust
rinsed away, its weft and woof exchanging light,
its silky woven flesh shone again — satin.
An old vessel, ready for fish, fruit, or dreams,
whatever you need to take into the next room

The basket dripped water propped against a red geranium
in the return corner of a ramp linking cottages;
a ramp that allowed the frail and weak to walk
to ground level — look, no steps —  a rail, a web of wire.
a corner to hold the geranium.

The potted flower, steel wire, careful ramp,
shrunk rooms, all intimations of time
that has passed and memory.  A frail evening wind
blew into the basket’s hull. The Portuguese
fish basket fell across the boards, open, vulnerable.

And kicked. It would not slide below the wires,
would not fly, bounced back from a kicking foot,
kicked and kicked and kicked. It lay sideways,
half strangled by the wire below my window
above the ramp, the wire and the red geranium.
I brought the basket in. My neighbour of the ramp
has not seen me. She has stopped kicking, retired.
We share the ramp. We need to reach the ground.

Now the basket lies in the shelter of a fridge,
holds a knob of ginger, garlic and tomatoes
still remembering the fish it used to hold smiling,
coming from the bustling  market in the square,
and forests of woven light in another continent.

I heard Connie read this poem at the Wheeler Centre at a MPU reading – Celebrating the Celebrated, and I was so taken with it I just had to have it for my blog. And Connie was most kind and gave me permission. This poem was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2010 and published in the anthology, Time With The Sky.

If you want to read more Tuesday Poems please click on the quill icon above.