April 30, 2012
In damp mulch, he swallows young like knowledge.
In a quiet vocal sac (now choked from croak)
they flow into commas, hoping to punctuate
the forest’s leafy library of tales. He spits!
Out pops a haiku of wiggle,
a soft finger of amphibian,
pooling into an anthology of puddle.
Seven froglet booklets, sprightly as thoughts,
swim towards their future. Must this language,
this webbed poem, be forever lost?
The mouth brooding frog, of Chile and Argentina, also known as Darwin’s frog, is related to the gastric brooding frogs (I am not making this up) that used to live in Australia but which are now presumed extinct. The female gastric brooder would swallow her young; the male mouth brooder does the same sort of thing, but in a slightly less thorough way. I believe there were two types of gastric brooding frog, both now gone, as recently as the 1980s. I have to check this, but I believe that the cane-toad which continues to munch its way through a lot of our wild-life, may originally have come from Chile, via Hawaii. (Our fault, not Chile’s!) So there’s another terrific amphibian link with that country.
Here’s a link to an Australian site with information about frogs and frog conservation. And an American one. You’ll have to google it yourself for elsewhere.
April 29, 2012
The Canberra based publishers Blemish Books have just announced the line-up for the third edition of their Triptych Poets series. The poets to be published are Joan Kerr, Joshua Inman, and myself. This is terrific news, and I am so pleased to be published by a relatively new Canberra publisher.
I am not very familiar with the work of the other two poets, and intend to do a bit of Googling. One of the strengths of this series is how an unintended conversation between the different poets making up each triptych can sometimes be detected, murmuring away just below the surface. Such strange resonance is a good thing, as is the chance for the reader to explore three poets in some depth.
My suite within the triptych is called Selection Criteria for Death. The book should be out in September.
April 23, 2012
Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ tongues wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain, – but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hand palms
Misery swelters. Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?
- These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these things and hear them,
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,
Carnage incomparable and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men’s extrication.
Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because on their sense
Sunlight seems a bloodsmear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh
- Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
- Thus their hands are plucking at each other;
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.
And on ANZAC day, 25th April, let’s not forget that we still send young men (and women now, too) over to do the dirty work for us all; or at least in our countries’ names. I would like to see Australia’s troops only here for the defence of Australia, and fuck the geopolitics. But it’s usually old men (and the occasional middle aged woman) who make the decisions that cost young men their lives or sanity.
Not to mention the civilians, who have no special day of remembrance. It’s appropriate to remember the dead, but it would make more sense if we didn’t take actions that guarantee that we are making more of them.
Click the black feather to go to the Tuesday poetry hub in the country that contributed the rest of the ANZACs.
April 17, 2012
Yes, we’ve heard their sad repetitions,
the ‘Pieces of eight’, the rote ‘Pretty boys’,
dropped from tired beaks like peanut shells;
birds bored far beyond the thinning bone.
Compulsive as a handwasher who never
satisfies herself against germy armies
(save her hands are gloved in blood,
and cleansed into gauntlets of agony)
the caged bird will repeat this or that,
sigh, then hear that weird word clever,
thrown at his misery like a charity coin,
a beggar at our table of meaning.
But to see them treed, hanging upside-down,
greeting wet wind like a blown umbrella,
yellow winking at sun like a wicked punch-line,
raucous joy a cascade of brassy cunning sax;
this is the true sound of this bossy bright thing.
Why quibble about what they know, or don’t?
A screech floats to ground like a metal bird,
cut with tin-shears by a half-blind drunk,
so gratingly loud that ears are near-shorn.
Cockatoos mar the sky with jagged freedom,
as far from a nightingale’s sweet treacle
as a sudden mouthful of shattered glass.
Take this poem as a kind of apology for my rampant criticism of Canberra’s weather in my post on April 10th. Cockatoos are one of the many beautiful things about this city. There’s been some world-championship Canberra bashing going on lately, and I wanted to post something in response to the mindlessness of some of those criticisms. I’ve posted a link to this poem before, shortly after it appeared on the web-site of Canadian journal Contemporary Verse 2. Now it’s been in the print edition, and I feel free to publish it here. It came from a competition where participants must pre-register and have 48 hours to produce a poem containing all ten words given in a list. I didn’t enter the more recent competition (last weekend) as I knew I would be writing my line for the Tuesday Poem global poem, which has just been completed.
One ‘prompt’ at a time, please. I found the Tuesday Poem process, writing one line in an unfolding poem written by dozens of poets around the world line by line, very challenging. I was actually very scared as the time for writing my line approached. There were tears. There was a slight spat. But perseverance and wine got me through.
I am actually amazed that something readable, nay, even quite lovely, can come out of a process like this. For me, it was useful in that I had to make my line fit in with the previous parts of the poem. I was worried I could never produce something that gentle. But I did! I just played a straight bat and didn’t shy away from the rather joyous tone that threatened to stump me. To drop the inane cricket metaphor, it’s good to be pushed around a little at times, poetically speaking.
April 12, 2012
The very best poetry readings are where you manage to discover something about your own work while in the act of reading; that is, you forget the notion of performance while performing. Happened to me on Tuesday at The Gods, where I found a pun lurking in one poem that I had not previously noticed, and had to swallow an inappropriate laugh. (They do breed like rats just released onto a Pacific island in my work, it must be said. Puns, that is.) I also enjoy the response of the audience. A good turn up it was too, for Melinda Smith, Russell Erwin and myself.
I wore a Vogon poetry shirt, as a little reminder that if it didn’t go well, there are definitely worse poets out there, somewhere in the universe. But it did go well, and some very intelligent questions were asked of the three readers after the readings. You can see Melinda answering one being put to her by Geoff Page in the last photo, while I try and disappear behind the microphone. (Russell was there too, but out of shot. He’s the one in the striped top above.)
Reading one’s work is fun, as is discovering the work of others in their own voices. Melinda’s tart, elegant and poignant poetry, Russell’s dive-in and discover expansive explorations, and whatever it is that I write made for a varied menu. I managed to put in a plug for humorous poetry, too, during the questions. And people were laughing during parts of the reading, and I think in a good way.
Now back to the serious, beret-ed business of writing some more poetry, having scuttled out into a public place for a couple of hours.