Ode on the Mammoth Cheese
Weighing over seven thousand pounds
We have seen the Queen of cheese,
Laying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze –
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.
All gaily dressed soon you’ll go
To the great Provincial Show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.
Cows numerous as a swarm of bees –
Or as the leaves upon the trees –
It did require to make thee please,
And stand unrivalled Queen of Cheese.
May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to send you off as far as
The great World’s show at Paris.
Of the youth — beware of these –
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek; then songs or glees
We could not sing o’ Queen of Cheese.
We’rt thou suspended from baloon,
You’d cast a shade, even at noon;
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.
Two weeks ago, Helen McKinlay posted a subtle, surprising and interesting poem by Judy Brown called ‘The Cheese Room’. In her editorial notes, however, she mentioned James McIntyre, ‘Canada’s worst poet’, who wrote a lot about cheese. Now, as someone who recently published a poem by the Great McGonagall himself, the invitation to explore was impossible to resist. And this led me to this Homage to Fromage.
Now, the poem scans, unlike most of McGonagall, but the rhymes are dreadful. I particularly like ‘Beau’ and ‘Toronto’ which makes for a pronunciation of the Canadian city that one will surely never hear in real life. Most satisfying. Far less annoying to me than the GPS on my phone, which has an American accent and pronounces Canberra with the emphasis on the last syllable. (By the way, a University of ToronTOE site gives the spelling baloon, so who am I to argue?)
I must point out that McIntyre was born in Scotland, seemingly in 1827 (possibly 1828), making him a near contemporary of McGonagall (the latter’s dates are also somewhat murky, but 1825 seems to be generally accepted as the true birth year). ‘Oh Scotland, Scotland!’ as Macduff says. There must have been something in the air in the mid to late 1820s, when these two were conceived. If one reads the Ode, one can still catch a whiff.
I promise to be serious next time. Press this feather to see if any other Tuesday Poets have been scraping the bottom of the barrel, or if I’m the only one to go that whey.
June 18, 2012
Perhaps I shouldn’t have Googled myself. But who can honestly say they haven’t looked into that electronic mirror? If Jesus were around today, he’d probably be the only person on Earth not to even want to explore his computer self, those little masturbatory keystrokes revealing one’s achievements. Or lack of them. Me, I mean, not Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong. I only Google myself occasionally. I’d just had a poem published in Andromeda Street. I knew that of course, I’d checked out the site, but I needed to see the evidence reflected back to me, the great mathematical Google God presenting me to me on an airy platter. It’s deeply satisfying to see yourself emerge, like a woman in a bikini from an over-size sponge cake. Then the eye always travels to the crumbs, the other ‘me’s, the doppelgängers of name.
There aren’t too many Sebastian T. Smails in the world. It’s an unusual name. But there was a crumb this time, another me. Seems he was a writer too, but of short stories, not poetry. In Wyoming, U.S.A.. There was exactly one story by him, published in an American literary journal of the sort I dub Smart and Serious. Where genre is a very dirty word, and the readership sometimes reaches seven. But I’m a poet, so seven seems a fairly decent number. There was yet another Sebastian T. Smails with a trucking business in Queensland, called DeepNorthQwik. Only three in the whole electronic world, a tripod of Me, limping along. Better than being a John Smith, though, a centipede’s leg, lost in a moving forest of abundance.
I did some work, finishing a sonnet about trees and age, in which the word ‘autumnal’ did not make a single appearance. It was taut. It was elegant. It was good enough to send off to Wombat, the right wing journal which has Australia’s most brilliant poet as the literary editor. So far I’d only scored form rejections, not even personal ones from the great man.
But this time he liked it, and eventually my fourteen lines appeared wedged between an article about how the existence of the Stolen Generations was a myth, and another about how being stolen was good for Aborigines anyway, because they learnt so many useful things. Like logic, presumably. I only had eyes for my poem, though. In real black print, not that electronic pixelated muck. And then, a fortnight later, I Googled myself…
…and found that Sebastian T. Smails of Wyoming, now had a personal web-site, and my poem ‘Transpiration’ was listed under ‘Recent Publications.’ I sat, staring at the fat-faced American. He was wearing a dark beret, and had his head on an angle, as if he were just too intelligent to view things straight on, too totally quirky and poetic. He looked like a French cockatoo who’d been hitting the crackers and absinthe a bit too hard.
I e-mailed him saying that unless he removed the reference to my poem immediately, I would sue. This was a sad joke. Copyright lawyers aren’t cheap, and my total earnings from poetry totalled $672, including the $50 cheque I expected from Wombat. The wages from my day job, as a library assistant, were squandered on rent and food and other luxuries.
I waited a month for that cheque, fuming at the American Sebastian, sending him more and more irate e-mails. Eventually I rang Wombat, and the office administrator reminded me that I’d requested an electronic payment so I wouldn’t have to pay for depositing a cheque made out in a foreign currency. I was too stunned to argue. How had the other Smails known to ask for the electronic payment before the poem had appeared? Or had he rung afterwards, just in case payment had not been made? Who’d go to that much trouble for $50, anyway? Our plucky Aussie dollar may be worth almost as much as a real God-trusting dollar these days, but still, it seemed a little desperate.
I forced myself to do a little work on the manuscript I was about to submit to a publisher. No identity-stealing American was going to stop me seeing it in print, turning the pages, feeling its slender beauty. I fell asleep, dreaming of Lord Byron, who awoke one morning to find himself famous…
…and awoke to discover that the American Smails had a poetry collection called Leaving about to be published by Castanets, in London. Need I tell you the name of my intended book? I think not, attentive reader. I think not. The manuscript sat on my desk, next to the cubist Cyclops eye of the computer, ready to go. I would never have sent it to Castanets though. That was a bold move on behalf of the Septic Smails. I was thinking much smaller. Local, in fact. I opened my e-mails.
There were twelve urgent messages, from me, sent to someone of my name, each more desperate than the preceding one. I found a copy of a contract sent by Castanets, signed with a familiar signature. My electronic transfer account had new funds, too. I reached for a mirror. I’d obviously been working too hard. I’d put on weight, and my hair was thinning. I groped for my coffee, and my hand caressed a piece of cloth. A beret. It was black. It fitted perfectly.
Obviously, I was being consumed by that other me, like a 1950s film where a big red cloud of Communist rubber sucks people in and eats them. Only, I had to ask, was it really so bad? American me was doing better than I was. Better than I could reasonably have hoped to do. I could attend readings, continue writing, and it seemed some money was finally trickling in. If my identity was being subsumed, I didn’t really care. Eat away, Google blob, I thought. Suck me up. I’m yours.
Then I heard the trucks, a dozen of them, rumbling outside my window. A man in a blue singlet was knocking at my door, yelling ‘Boss’, holding a clip-board. I felt the beret morph into a cap, my beer-gut spill over my suddenly short shorts. I’d been Bloogled again. I grabbed my manifest, and headed for the door.
‘Bloogled’ won third prize in the 2009 ‘Best of Times’ humorous short story competition and was published on the competition web-site, November 2009. Judged by Chris Broadribb, who also organises these competitions.
I was going to write something new in honour of National Flash Fiction Day (the 22nd June) in New Zealand, but my mind is simply not working in prose at the moment, so I recycled this one. (The attentive reader will note that the hero-loser of my story is a poet. At least most of the time.) At just over 1000 words, it’s arguably too long to be flash. It falls into the dead realm between flash and what is regarded as a ‘proper’ short story. Many narratives go wandering in that desert, and few are ever seen again.
Unusually for anything I write, there is the tiniest inkling of plot detectable here. Most ultra-shorts I enter in flash competitions are in fact prose poems. Please don’t tell anyone, though.
I look forward to seeing if any eligible Tuesday poets win prizes in the national flash fiction competition being finalised now in New Zealand. There’s at least one title on the shortlist that could possibly belong to a Tuesday poet, methinks. But I won’t provide clues as to who I think that may be. Because I’m probably wrong.
June 15, 2012
Perhaps that should be lines. The Cricket Poetry Award closes on 31st August, so if you have an idea for a poem about playing or watching cricket, it’s time to pad up.
The prize is $2000 AUD, entry is $20, which can be done by Paypal, and the announcement of the winner is made at the SCG members pavilion. The top twenty poems from each year have previously been published in a booklet.
Entry forms and full conditions can be found here. There is a tight word limit of 150, so there is no defensive play allowed. No Boycott. Only Gower. And that has to be a good thing.
June 12, 2012
Whales at the coast
It’s not the acne of barnacles pock-marking flippers;
a bump-headed sculpture garden on triangular flesh,
that phrenology of brainless mounds, indecipherable,
alien’s braille, hinting at a saga of years and fathoms.
It’s not the blimp size, surfers becoming rubber em dashes
as the Miltonic whale justifies them down, wipes them out.
It was the blast that we heard on the shore, as she lay
on her back, performing a solitary circus for her calf,
each heavy grey sail brought down, as if a tent were falling.
The boom arrived two seconds later. I timed it, trying to bring
her epic capers within a scale I knew, of measured ticks
around my watch. She who has Australia’s rock-mouthed coast
as a west-turned comma, against which her life sometimes bobs,
and over which she sends deep explosive barbs of noise
to pierce our bracketed lives. From below, the bass rumble,
as the Right whale cavorts, ecstatic, off shore near Eden.
Eden is an old whaling town on the far south coast of NSW. It has always struck me as amusing that such a horrible industry was carried out in a town with the name of Eden. I have never actually been there, but moved my whale sighting poem further south down the coast of NSW so as to capture the historical and biblical associations of the name.
At least whales can travel our coast now without being slaughtered. Head a little further south again though, and the troubles begin.
This poem appeared in my first poetry collection, The Glass Violin.
I am probably one of the last poets to post a Tuesday poem today. It’s the afternoon in New Zealand, by now. Yesterday was a public holiday for the Queen’s birthday in the ACT (how many does she have, I wonder) and I keep forgetting that it’s in fact Tuesday. Or that’s my excuse, anyway. Click this feather to see all the other Tuesday poems, including a memorable one from Keith Westwater about the details of crime. I’ve already commented on that one, which shows just how pathetic my excuse for being late actually is…Must learn how to lie. Or to relax.
June 4, 2012
The terrace next door
Seven kids and a parrot in a small terrace house.
Where squawking ended and shouting began
I could not say. But one sudden day, they spread wings,
left cage and house empty, my ears ringing on quiet.
Until six stoned students, without a single book,
set up camp. Smiling hammocks in the backyard sun,
contents content. Guitars, flute, piano-accordian,
folding time like an unwritten essay, due last week.
The six sixties clones left, sweet smoke signals blown.
Five rugby boys scrummed in, all frantic barbecues,
discarded runners, toxic socks smelt over fence,
and a screen bigger than the house, to pack in the front line.
Was it the four intense Vietnamese, who came next to next door?
Inexplicably neat, the terrace became clipped hedge suburban.
Or the three goths clothed in darkness who never met my eyes,
papers piling archaeologically on pavement, abandoned?
Better those times than the perfect couple’s renovating din,
as they improve the street out of sight, pave it with expectations.
Each hammer blow smashes the ex-rental like a musty egg,
as they grow golden equity, crack troops of one mortgaged dream.
‘The terrace next door’ won third prize in the NSW Writers’ Centre’s ‘Inner City Life’ contest, December 2007. Published on their web-site, January 2008, and read at award night in Sydney. Also published in Eureka Street, Vol 18, No 3, February 2008, and in my first poetry collection, The Glass Violin. Based on terrace houses I remember in Melbourne.
Now I live in a city without any terraces, of course. My house, built in the 1950s, is quite old for Canberra. Tragic, isn’t it?
I can’t guarantee more fine architectural/economic analysis, but I can guarantee more poesie. Click this feather and go to New Zealand, where I assume that there are more terraces than in Canberra, if not as many as in Melbourne or Sydney:
I must try and be more opinionated, as my blog as shrunk back to one poetic entry a week, on Tuesdays. I promise to try and work up a frenzy about some major issue, or think of a whimsical and touching observation on life (sorry, Life,) perhaps illustrated with a picture of a cat smelling flowers. If I do that, could someone arrange for a contract on my life? Thanks, discerning reader.
Take out the cat too.