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 baidu.com
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.