May 13, 2013
chewing soft cud of sky krill
The best thing to happen during Canberra’s Centenary Celebrations (there are a lot of capitals around at the moment in the nations’s capital) took to the air outside the National Gallery on Saturday.
Skywhale, a balloon sculpture designed by Patricia Piccinini, is not exactly your typical whale. She has a bit of the turtle about her, and wings made of breasts. Is she an angel? I don’t know, but her presence is peaceful and wonderful; confusing those who like straight lines and easy classifications.
The money, some people are shouting! The outrageousness of producing a whale that isn’t even a proper whale for the centenary of an inland city! The threat to mental law and order! Read some of the comments here on RiotACT, where the haiku was posted by me as a comment. I didn’t want to argue the case, as Skywhale seemed so strangely perfect in her ambiguity. A poem seemed more appropriate.
There should be more of this sort of perplexing beauty, confounding those who think that art should be confined to easily recognisable portraits and lovely landscapes punctuated with useful sheep:
Moustaches and merinos
made Australia what she is today.
No fleecy clouds of maybe here!
No blubbering queens of perhaps,
with flowing boas of breast to tease
certainty into mere sniffle;
our capital’s castaway.
Through all the controversy, Skywhale maintains her dignity, moving gently through the sky with her wings of breasts, a kindly and whimsical presence, powered by hot air but quite serene. Skywhale is certainly the Queen of the Centenary. She will soon be touring the country, looking down on her subjects with that benign and somewhat Mona Lisa smile.
Long may she swish through the skies, delighting those who prefer their art to have a little whimsy, and to pose a few questions, at the same time that it delights and sets us free.
Transferred to head office
They slip into green spaces curved
to double-headed infinity’s
dizzying, snaking, roundabout sign.
Young chameleons adapt,
quite emerald in their ambition.
Friends at home write and write;
and then the letters cease.
The transferred are erased,
slowly disappear by degrees.
Colours leach from former lives,
transfused into memory.
Letters after their names
brought them to the suburban
Babel of BAs, this civil, know-all
vacant town. Transparent,
buried in clean clear air,
they float up into cloudless nothing.
Ghosts rustle like dead glass leaves.
When I first arrived in Canberra about twenty years ago (!) I hated it. I was desperately unhappy in my job, and after inner city Melbourne, it seemed peculiarly barren. This is reflected in my poem, first published in a chapbook produced by the ACT Writers Centre. When I find my copy I’ll add the date.
Now I find there are more arts and writing related things to do than I can possibly manage, and the beauty of the place strikes me every day. Cockatoos in inner city streets. Kangaroos in inner city nature parks. Little pollution, although, with the spread of hideous new suburbs, we are working on this.
I no longer care about the ignorant slurs of people from other States or countries about Canberra. Slurs to which I once added my own sneers. I have fallen in love. Which is not to say I am enamoured with every aspect of the current Centenary Celebrations in this city, some of which are so beyond daggy that they would make a sheep blush.
But as I rode my bike through inner city Canberra yesterday on purpose made bike-paths, under a very clear and blue sky, I thought that this is, indeed, peculiarly pretty. I came across a tree decorated with fly-swats. No explanation as to who or why. It is that quiet quirkiness that I love about Canberra.
There are no flies on Canberra, I thought, trying to put myself into the mind of the person who had decorated the casuarina tree in this way. Although that is an exaggeration, for every city has its problems. But there are relatively few in this little metropolis, which is partially explained by its being the capital of a wealthy, developed country intent on selling its minerals overseas like the world was ending tomorrow…
And perhaps we’re all just slightly mad here, caught between the great normality of suburbia and the ritualistic weirdness of the bureaucracy. There are a surprising number of artists and poets and musicians in Canberra, holding up the creative weirdness end of the seesaw against the very beige lumpenmiddleclass. Or do we hold the seesaw down?
Today, Tuesday 12th March, is Canberra’s 100th birthday. Of course, there were people here long before that date; long before Europeans. But 100 years ago, the city of Canberra was officially founded, and given its name. I think it is the only major city in Australia that has a non-Anglo name, let alone one that refers to Indigenous people. (No offence, Wagga Wagga.) All those years the name of the capital was whispering of previous ownership, even before we admitted that the country had been previously occupied!
Happy birthday, Canberra. You are now my home. Once all the celebrations die down, I’ll post a loving poem about you.
Next week I’m posting the poem for the hub position at that link, and it’s a poem you really should read, by another poet who lives in Canberra.
January 10, 2013
Having just returned to Canberra from the beach, I can say that it is much harder to locate poetry on the south coast of New South Wales than it is in Canberra. Not at all in terms of inspiration drawn from scenic beauty, if your own poetry tends to focus on that sort of thing:
… and mine doesn’t, usually, but just in terms of finding actual poetry in printed books.
The local bookstores might have a volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets, but little else. The local library had a better selection, but I did most of my reading of poetry (and only poetry, with a little poetic essay thrown in) on-line. Resources such as the Australian Poetry Library and its American equivalent allow for large chunks of poesie to be swallowed, like a gull with the key to a fish and chip shop, when one is in the village that poetry forgot. Or that forgot poetry.
We really are spoilt in Canberra with a number of independent bookstores that carry poetry. How long will they remain though?
I realise that my sticking to a diet of poetry and only poetry has had the bizarre effect of making me not post any poetry on my blog for a while…I promise a poem next time.
September 13, 2012
The first was on the Poets Train from Canberra. Four leisurely hours to take in the scenery, to read, to compose a poem (we read out our efforts every hour). Arrival at the beautiful Central Station where we read to ourselves again, and a couple of punters.
The next day we read at The State Library. Here I am doing just that, in a photograph taken by K.A. Rees. (Note the staring into the middle distance):
And that night we read at the Friend in Hand pub in Glebe, where a cockatoo, George, chats to the customers. I chatted to Martin Langford, whose vocabulary is much greater than George’s. (No offence George!)
And in between, I enjoyed all Glebe has to offer. Interesting food, cheaper than in Canberra. The big vegan breakfast at Badde Manors, for example. Lying on a chaise longue that was used as a prop in the film Moulin Rouge, writing a review. Drinking wine. Longing for the ability to stay in that fair city. Sigh. As usual, I found myself looking at real estate agents’ windows, doing very unpoetic calculations.
Then four hours back, dozing and composing on the Sunday.
And today? (That’ll be yesterday by the time I post this.) Up to Sydney again in 23 minutes by plane. Barely up before you’re down; the landscape something to get over rather than through. State Library again, where I was lucky enough to pick up a third prize in the Society of Women Writers poetry competition, judged by Judith Beveridge, for my poem ‘A brief history of fun’. Judith gave a wonderful seminar focussing on sound in poetry, and although her ideas are quite different from mine, I left feeling inspired. There was a haiku/ haibun/tanka reading. There was Mark Tredinnick, although I had to leave his PowerPoint talk early to catch the flight home. A fire siren test provided the ideal moment for slipping out.
Throwing steel through air
We scorch the sky
Now I’m in pre book-launch mode! Radio interview on Friday on local station ArtSound. But I am haunted by a most beautiful spirit at the moment.
A ghost called Sydney
Lithe warm and lively
Winding me back home
Home that is, to a city I have never lived in. And against whose inducements I must block my ears, and tie myself to the cold mast of common sense.
Also known as Canberra.
I’ll love it again in a few days, but I have to learn to do so again.
July 23, 2012
Just a Captain Cook*
Slick, fertile pages of ever-sunny blooming brochures
slip through her avid fingers. She dreams, charts and plots
trips she can never take. From these drifting mind-spores
she grows a giant ship-mushroom and visits hot-spots;
deep-tanned Fiji, jungly Vanuatu and accented ‘France
of the Pacific’, the model thin, elegant exclamation
of la Nouvelle Calédonie. Oh, the tight clenched dance
she dances, the deep-shelf oceanic love she finds, from
one sun-bathing island to the next! Tough travel agents
recognise addiction, her joyous, fungal procrastination,
and refuse to meet those longing, sea-kissed eyes. Graven
idols, their books are like shiny trinkets flogged at micro-nations.
She knows, they know, she can’t go; only sigh and contemplate
the spiced salad of rain-forest, and the waltz of ideal mate.
*Captain Cook is rhyming slang for look.
Unlike the woman in that poem, I recently returned from a cruise to Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Ah cruising. Where you get to watch people who should be on a diet of water and grapefruit and the occasional bread roll on special occasions scoffing down lunch at one restaurant, so they can waddle almost quickly to the buffet and scoff some more.
Actually, my recent cruise did me much good, as the surrounding atmosphere of rolling obesity led me to rediscover the gym. My husband went twice a day (well, he eats meat, including bacon, so that’s only appropriate). I only managed a few kilometres walk outside each day (and stuck to fruit for breakfast) but I did venture into the gym and remembered what I loved about weights: namely pushing oneself until one almost needs to vomit. And having unacknowledged, one-sided, nonsensical competitions with twenty-five year old men. I must really like losing, at some level.
Upon return to life as a landlubber, I have enrolled in a gym where they ring you up if you don’t show up for a session. I have recently lost weight, so it seems a good time to pick some up. I start tomorrow. It will either kill me or make me indulge in the strong weighty drug of cliché.
Speaking of which, I also rediscovered cocktails on the cruise, which contain absolutely no calories at all. I remembered what I love about them: namely pushing oneself until one almost needs to vomit. No, not really. I love having just the one. (That is so beyond a lie.)
We saw some beautiful places on the trip, including the Isle of Pines, where I went snorkelling on my birthday. I also inflicted my French on the locals, and I’m glad they didn’t declare war on Australia as a result. Here I am later that day, hopping into my one drink for the evening. (If you still believe that, I toss a mixture of pity and contempt in your direction with my soon to be stronger, Glenn McGrathy, arms.)
Yes, occasionally the thought ‘is this a good thing to be doing?’ intruded itself into my head. Particularly when we stopped (sorry, ‘anchored’,) near The Isle of Pines and I realised that there were probably more people on the ship than usually live on the island. So very many mostly happy Australians decamping en masse (seasoned with a bevy of New Zealanders and a few inexplicably svelte Japanese). How does a cruise ship impact upon the local culture and the environment? Is it a better way to travel than flying? (At least we caught the train to Sydney. Not many cruise ships leave from Canberra, for some undeclared but possibly nautical reason.) When these thoughts threatened to break upon the tiny Isle of Cogency, you can probably guess how I dealt with the situation.
Have you ever had an Amaretto Sour?