Missing Melbourne

Alleys don’t exist here. Canberra has no use
for backways streets, for furtive lanes.
Lies are a different matter, but those
architectural commas, those cobbled
night-cart ways have no place amongst
paradise refined into
quintessence of tedium.
I love my new home’s cockatoos,
their hats of lairy scorn, their satire;
sound-beakers of heavy metal
poured into pure blue air.
But I dip my memory’s lid
to the Brunswick park
with forty tail-flagged dogs,
smaller than some Canberra backyards.
So much oomph, so much poo,
and bocce, like a kiss thrown
against the deeper green,
speaking of a bigger world
of coincidence and trust.

P.S. Cottier

Not Canberra

Not Canberra

I have changed. I no longer miss Melbourne in the way I did when I wrote that poem, about 10 years ago. When I visit Melbourne now, it does not feel like a return home, but a trip to ‘somewhere else’. Even the maps in my mind of how to find things are fading.

When I first came to Canberra I searched for a centre in vain. Now I am enamoured of the space and sky here; a change just beginning in the poem, I think. If I had stayed in Melbourne, I don’t think I would be writing so much poetry, as I had more Things to Do; more distractions. Of course, I have now become more involved in Canberra’s cultural life, but I think the move from Melbourne drove me into my own head a little more than staying would have.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Poetry can be written in a truly urban environment as much as in Canberra’s semi-whateverness. I get truly sick of the fervent rural trend in much contemporary poetry, what I call the Misty Cow School. And last week I felt a retrospective sense of pride to see how many Melburnians ralled against the Border Force* stopping random people to ‘check their papers’. (If they were carrying The Australian, presumably they’d be acceptable…)

But Canberra is my home now, and I feel glad to get off the plane or bus or train here. Zireaux was kind enough to feature a series of my Canberra poems here, with his commentary.

And for further poetry, get on the Poetry Tram. Read the works of the other Tuesday Poets around the world by pressing here.

*Who designed the black uniforms? Or did they just visit a museum of WWII and copy the Nazi uniforms?

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.

P.S. Cottier

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.

Click this feather and fly away from glorious Canberra, to New Zealand:
Tuesday Poem

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.