September 19, 2016
You can’t stand outside
Those small hems of grass at the edge
of the pavement, skirting road and house —
nature strips, we call them.
As if nature were a thin green line
of easy demarcation,
a quaint decoration for real estate.
Long home to droops of grass,
and limp advertising leaflets,
spat from bored letterboxes
like soggy swear words,
promising a paradise of credit.
But now backs swell,
bums are fleshy pumpkins,
bending over to tend
your actual pumpkins.
Vegetable patches add a swatch
of nature to the nature strips,
cultivated as they may be.
They’re small, these crops; pea small.
Peas placed under the mattress
of the market — hardly enough
to wake it from slumber.
That lazy princess dozes on,
dreaming the unseemly lives we live in.
And yet, as my neighbour said,
mulching with soggy leaflets —
if you can’t stand outside things,
at least you can get outside
and grow a few things.
She turned her strong back,
tending to tumescent zucchinis,
and the impatient tomatoes
she will decant into twenty hungry jars.
She’ll give some jars away,
or swap them for flowers or beans
in a cool, vegetable anarchy.
(Her recipe? Well, I would attach it,
but that’s one thing she just won’t share.)
The Princess shifts in her sleep.
The pumpkins are replete with seed.
This poem comes from a proposal to allow people to grow vegetables and other smallish plants on the nature strips outside their houses in Canberra, which are now meant to remain as purely grass and government street trees. A great idea to allow a bit of cultivation of the nature strips, as every bit of produce grown at home reduces the need for buying goods shipped in carbon emitting vehicles. Plus, it’s fun. And it gives capitalism a wee tickle, a bit like a green fairy armed with a budgie’s feather.
The proposal was going to be formalised in Saptember, but has been put off to next year. I do hope the ACT government allows this change, and has not been dissuaded by whinging about the possibility of someone impaling themselves on asparagus spears or knocking themselves on the head by slipping onto a pumpkin. Of course, ensuring that footpaths are accessible to all is important; but some other people just whinge about any change, however minor. You know you live in a fairly safe city when people get worked up about beans possibly detracting from the ambience.
The poem above is therefore an imaginary creation of the Vegetable Patches of The Future.
🍅🍆🍅🍆🍅🍆🍅🍆🍅🍆🍅🍆🍅🍆🍅🍆🍅🍆🍅🍆🍅🍆🍅🍆🍅(I am getting bored)🍐
In my immediate future (Friday) is a reading at The Salt Room. Here are the details:
FRI 23 SEPTEMBER
The Salt Room
Main Hall, Gorman Arts Centre
7.30pm to 10.30pm
Presented by Ainslie and Gorman and BAD!SLAM!NO!BISCUIT!, The Salt Room is a showcase of the finest ACT, interstate and international writers and performers around. Featuring Miranda Lello, P.S Cottier, and Scott Wings. 7.30pm.
Cost: $10 full, $5 concession available at the door.
There is a bar. And hopefully I will have received my new chapbook of fantasy poems to sell by then! As crunchy as a carrot and as magical as an eggplant. (A vegetable that divides opinion like an avocado, I find. And good luck growing those green lovelinesses in Canberra!)
UPDATE: Just heard that a poem I wrote has been shortlisted in the Poetry at Sawmillers prize, part of the Sculpture at Sawmillers event at McMahons Point in Sydney, so I’ll be popping up to read it on Saturday afternoon. Should be fun, once I get there.
July 16, 2014
Continuing the slightly whingey tone that my usually vibrant and witty blog has exhibited lately, I had a week at the beach and I was too sick to swim! I am still sick and on actual medicine! I have not been able to go to the gym for ages! You can’t keep good Aussie germs down, it seems. They are positively marsupial in their popping up when least expected.
I dragged my benighted carcass into town on Sunday, and ran into photographer and person about town Geoffrey Dunn, who asked me to open an exhibition he is having at The Front Gallery here in Canberra. Intriguingly entitled ‘Two Tens and a Tomato’, it includes work by Geoffrey and visual artist and poet Marina Talevski. They have mixed poetry, photography, sculpture and installation into works exploring the written word and visualisations of poetic elements.
I am popping down to the Gallery tonight to check it out, so that I can hopefully say something coherent tomorrow at 7pm.
Hanging out in town with a sign saying ‘Will launch for drink’ has finally paid off…
Here is a photograph of me taken by Mr Dunn. Unfortunately my magic parasol did not keep the germs at bay. Must ask for a refund. From the makers of parasols, not from the photographer.
For comparatively germ free reading, click this feather:
February 25, 2014
Umbrellas cup us
in upside down khaki
we sip browner rain
That photograph is of the view of and from Tilley’s, which is less than a five minute walk from my house. When not trapped in the spider’s web of editing, I fly down and write there.
Here, for example, is a draft of this very poem, written at Tilley’s:
I had never thought before I started writing how the ‘U’ at the beginning of umbrella looks like an umbrella blown inside out. Small step from there to coffee cup, really. (And yes, I realise that those umbrellas are not khaki! Also that ‘in upside down’ is a little clumsy. But it reminds me of a blown umbrella, somehow.)
I am longing to be back with my writing routine, away from the exigencies of editing poets’ biographical notes for The Stars Like Sand. I am not really given to minimalism in poetry, and want the time to sprawl over several stanzas. I am sure the my fellow editor Tim Jones feels the same way in regard to wanting more writing time, although he seems to be involved in a myriad of other activities as well.
For me at the moment it’s edit, gym, drink.
Interspersed with the occasional coffee.
April 10, 2012
light slanting blinded
sun swoons into evening
winter comes to call
winter cold as Karenin
clicking hard knuckles of frost
please take me to your railway
Yes, welcome to the wonderful city of Canberra, cold little capital town in a warm country. It was a balmy four degrees celsius this morning, and the leaves are falling from the trees in an icy wind. Just lovely. People go around in beanies and scarves saying ‘It’s a bit nippy, isn’t it?’ until you want a giant crab to attack them and cut off their blue fingers and red noses. Why, oh why, was Australia’s capital put here, rather than somewhere warm?
‘Autumn is so lovely.’ Thus spake the idiot at the shops this morning. No it’s not. Autumn is a disgusting harbinger of Winter, which lasts about nine months in Canberra, giving birth to a too short Summer after a dwarf Spring. Then comes another blood-red Autumn. And you walk around hallucinating about Queensland. (Ignoring the beauty of the native parrots and the huge flocks of cockatoos, nestled, perversely, in the introduced deciduous trees.)
Now, for a really lovely unfolding global birthday poem, written in a much more generous spirit than my little anti-Canberra rant, please click this feather, which has fallen onto the screen like a black Autumn leaf! Only birdier.
April 3, 2009
How long to wait before assuming a piece has been rejected? When do bad manners or sloppy practices or simple overwork slide over into the world of too long, allowing a conscientious writer or poet to submit her work elsewhere? How do we decide where to send our poetry?
As to the latter, well, I went through a stage of deciding merely by name. I thought that if a journal had an imaginative title, it was probably likely to publish interesting work. Sometimes I did this sight unseen, and have been very pleased. Shakespeare’s Monkey Revue, for example, attracted just because of that title, and the journal didn’t disappoint when I saw it.
I have been advised to take a more sensible approach to where I try and place work. I am grateful for that advice, from a very well-respected and, more importantly, accomplished poet. There is a definite hierarchy of literary journals in my homeland Australia (and elsewhere of course). But I am not a poet because I want to build a career, or because I want a sparkling CV. On the contrary; poetry should be an escape from that type of world. I love the idea of people who like poetry reading my work, rather than worrying about status.
A similar question is: how much time should one put into trying to receive funding for one’s artistic endeavours? Some poets seem to spend as much time writing applications as sonnets. They might as well get ‘a real job’ and write in their spare time, so relentlessly do they work at chasing the Government dollar. And the whingeing! It’s as if they think they’re Shostakovich and the funding body is run directly by Uncle Joe, when they lack both talent and any real cause for grievance. (For my mythical foreign reader, most funding in Oz is public, not philanthropic.)
One would be mad to ignore the possibility of assistance in pursuing one’s art, but equally insane to sacrifice art for the pursuit of money.
But here’s a funny little one about the way poets often work for free:
Will work for print
I can do sarcastic.
I can do elegaic,
but controlled, you know,
no red hearts or roses
I am indeed bereft
of the word bereft.
I’ve dabbled in spiritual.
I do a very good dog:
snuffling, truffling, worshipping
at a scented shrine, one leg cocked.
I can even do decent rhymes
if pushed. And if there were time
I’m sure I could run to a novel
in verse. (But that might be cheating.)
So for all your poetic needs
call the number on the little
paper tags fringing the bottom
of this hula page. And ask for me.
Joy (or at least a certain satisfaction) should be the poet’s main reward. If one is lucky enough to have enough, why complain? People write poetry in jails and where there is virtually no hope of publication. This, surely, is what any art should be about? Something that even the sloppiest journal editor can never steal? (Let’s end where we started, with a bracing question mark.)