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.

P.S. Cottier

Muse with beak

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.

Click this feather, and you’ll be transported to the blog, where you can read the completed global poem, written to celebrate two years of Tuesday Poem.
Tuesday Poem

I recently competed in an interesting competition run by a Canadian journal, Contemporary Verse 2.  They give a list of ten words, and punters (who must have pre-registered) have two days to create a poem which contains every word.  I sometimes like doing this type of thing as it stops me from falling in a rut, and if the result is less than wonderful, it doesn’t really matter.

I was very pleased to receive an honourable mention, particularly as I found myself writing about cockatoos; hardly something that the average Canadian would see stripping the bark from maple trees on a daily basis, or resting on the antlers of moose.  Actually I know that Canada, like Australia, is overwhelmingly urban, so please excuse my tired and narrow stereotypes. (Is there such a thing as a vibrant and broad stereotype?) Here in Canberra cockatoos are as common as sparrows.  If not commoner, which is remarkable given how many foreign birds have been released in this country over the past 200 years.

I won’t put the poem up here, as I can’t remember if I granted exclusive e-rights for a time to CV2 (probably not) but here is a link to the poem about cockatoos, imaginatively entitled ‘Cockatoos‘.

Muse with beak

Reading the other poems is fascinating; they are so good that I forgot that they had to contain the magic ten words.  And the other poems were mostly urban.

Really urban, not Canberra urban.