Tuesday Poem: Global Farms

December 2, 2014

Global farms

Stock cubes
are sent to sea, flavoursome squares
of mutton flesh and bone, seasoning,
woolly sardines.

Between pasture and knife
the blue stretches, and the yellow,
as rivers soak downwards,
contained in time.

No truck of guilt to turn from,
met on sudden road. Squalor
bleats over dollar’s equator,
safely unseen.

P.S. Cottier

That poem (published once before on this blog, in 2011, and written in 2008) about the horrors of the live export trade is a way of working through the feeling of surprise I had recently in re-reading something that I wrote twenty or so years ago.

I stumbled across an article by me that is seemingly in favour of fur coats. I am now tending more towards the vegan with every passing year.  (Not there yet, because….cheese.)  I wrote the article back in the early 90s to provoke the sort of person who decries self-expression through clothes. To quell any left over Old-Style Communist or inflexibly Green tendencies that renounced fancy endeavours such as hair dye and high heels. I recount some experiences with some fairly ugly types. (The article was published in the Australian Left Review, probably the last organ of the Communist Party of Australia. I used to have a column in it, mostly about food.)

Re-reading the article, I am struck by how far the central tenet seems to far be from what I think now, and, indeed, thought at all earlier times in my life. I first became vegetarian when I was eleven or twelve, although I have lapsed, sometimes just for days, sometimes for much longer. I can remember one of the first stickers I ever displayed was in favour of a ban on ivory.

Here’s the link to where you can go to read the article. The writing is quite good, in a few parts at least.  The article seems to have been a little unusual at the time in linking feminism and questions of personal appearance in this way. That has become far more familiar, now that it is fuelled by social media. (In the days I am talking about, we had the occasional etching and miniatures in lockets, which gave a little more time to think.  I think.)

But the fur thing? The article reeks of me being sarcastic, and I have never thought that fur was a desirable or ethical choice. Perhaps I should have included a sarcasm alert? Or a reminder, that would have unfolded twenty years in the future?  (‘Penelope, you always liked tickling a little too much.’)

On a trip to New Zealand last year, a Maori woman who was a guide at Te Papa (the museum in Wellington) explained that the use of the introduced possum to produce fur products was a positive development, in her opinion. The possum, introduced from Australia, causes damage in New Zealand, just as the fox, rabbit and cane toad do in Australia.  She obviously knew more about the environmental issues that I did. (It is also relevant to mention that Indigenous people have been utilising the meat and fur of Australian animals for tens of thousands of years did so in a way that caused no damage to the land.)

But can I see myself wearing a cane toad cape, to return to the feral? No, not really. Although I haven’t totally weaned myself from cow leather, so my position is totally hypocritical. And, if I had to choose a garment made from an invasive species, it seems hard to place a toad on the same level as a fox; the latter being only a leap from a pet dog. Farming animals for fur, is of course, a revolting practice.

So strange not to recognise oneself fully in a piece of one’s own writing. There are a couple of other things in the article that my position differs from now, but I remember the changes in my thinking for those.

Cutting wit has its limitations…I hope I remember that I was being sarcastic about one or two little stanzas that I wrote this year if I last another twenty years!  At least one attentive reader will know what I am talking about there.

Just as that person, and indeed other readers, will recognise that poetry knows no borders.  Here is a link to the poetic output of other Tuesday Poets.

Roll up! Leap through!

Outside, beyond the neon tights, the paisley
sequinned flares of the artistes, tracing
such rococo knots in the canvas sky,
waits a lion called Frank, the last of his kind.
Tastes have changed, and lion-taming,
with such clear-cut rules of whip and chair,
has become passé, so yesterday.
The sententious prescripts of the pure —
that modern hygiene of the mind —
sweep scuddy sawdust aside like lice,
and draw a line through bear and lion.
So Frank, mane beige and moulting, lives
a most solitary life, a stuck record repeating
the rank smells of piss and popcorn,
the hooplah! and the swish of knives,
carving the air like a Sunday roast
around the tasty ribs of Madam Frisson.
She is just as bored and trapped as he
as she awaits her husband’s swinging arm,
as sensitive as a brass metronome.
Soon Frank will be too shabby, even for this
ring of superannuated fantasy.
No scrubby savannah of reconciliation,
no release for a circus-bred beast,
into a sudden pride of compliance.
Just the screams from the audience
at the trapeze and the squirt-flowery gambit
of painted clown. His dreams are smeared
with a thin imagined relish of gazelle,
as he bobs and bobs that shameful mane.
Soon, though, the final bob; the final doze.
He’ll leap, ungoaded, through the hoop of death
onto who knows what plains, what deer-rich grass?

P.S. Cottier

This is another poem written in response to a prompt, or in this case, ten prompts. The Canadian journal Contemporary Verse 2 has a yearly competition where they post a list of ten words, and the poets (who must have enrolled previously) have 48 hours to create a poem which must contain each of those words. Loads of fun, and some of the successful works are terrific. Hop over to Canada for a look. I just noticed that they used a little snippet of my poem on the introductory page for the competition. Which is nice to see.

I didn’t win however; hence the posting, but I quite like the poem.

(I had a slightly bigger cat in mind than the overly cute thing in the photo, by the way…)

Click this feather and fly to New Zealand, after your return from Canada, to read more poetry:
Tuesday Poem

Incidentally, Janis Freegard is featuring another poem by me about a creature that sometimes bites: the smiley emoticon. Here’s the link. Thanks Janis!