I suppose the idea for having a year of reading no prose came to me after listening to someone say ‘nobody reads poetry anymore.’ Apart from being a tad tactless, when the person addressed is a poet, this comment made me think about the comparative weight that the novel gets in society, as opposed to the art form that places language itself at its centre.

Why not see how it would be not to read fiction or non-fiction for a year? Will too much poetry drive me mad? Will that madness be sadly obsessive, or downright Byronic? Or just moronic?

My Year of Living Poetically (thank you Mr Featherstone, novellaist extraordinaire) begins today. Let me clarify; I don’t intend to give up on news or blogs or government forms. I will read articles about poetry.

The Japanese have a form of writing called the haibun, where prose is illuminated by a haiku. I intend to have a year of poetry, illuminated by the occasional book review. Or funding application.

But no novels, no history, no theology for a year. This is my New Year’s Resolution for 2013, amongst more mundane things about haunting the gym and being more tolerant. I’ll be blogging about my efforts and experiences here. In prose, mostly.

We’ll see how this experiment in poetry goes.
bigstock_pen_15740162

Happy New Year!

Cockatoos

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

Pages like football fields

People try to bring home
what is happening in the Amazon
and they reach for metaphors, like tools.
They hope to find the metaphor
to push reluctant minds into consciousness.
A metaphor as useful as a chainsaw
that fells a thousand-year-old tree.

Some people turn to mother
and speak of the earth’s bosom.
Or of a thick green girdle
(Mother is an unfashionable dame)
of wombs and deep forest fecundity.
When they really work themselves up,
they speak of raping the earth,
which must equate to removing a girdle
In such people’s minds.

Still others take a sporting approach,
calculating the number of football fields
lost to the dozer each minute.
Suggesting that if we only blew a magic whistle,
the infringement would cease, fair play break out.
Such people tackle issues head on,
so long as the goals are clear, and the weather fine,
they’ll take a punt at converting you.

And of course the difficulty is that what happens
Is no metaphor at all, nor a smiling simile.
What is lost, can not be substituted.
It is this process of substitution
which allows some to think money
when they see that thousand year tree.
Just as others call starvation, debt.
These things stand in for each other,
support each other.
That is the problem with minting too many metaphors.
They prop up things that should be brought down.

However, let me present one more.

If this page were the rainforest,
the letters its constituent parts:
jaguar, fungus, creeper, human,
then in ten fleet years (or fewer)
the man who borrowed this book from the library
would have ripped it out, jaggedly.
By doing so, he has caused
all the book to unravel.
Slothfully it started,
leaves dropped daily,
the spine collapsed.
Now it is not a book.
punctuation is gone
pages and w rds have g

P.S. Cottier


From my first poetry book, The Glass Violin.

For further poems, please visit the Tuesday Poem site by clicking the feather:
Tuesday Poem

All about, um, me

December 15, 2011

Tim Jones, New Zealand poet and author, who seemingly never sleeps, just interviewed me on his blog.  In the interview we talk about chess boxing, The Cancellation of Clouds, our ignorance of Australian poetry (Tim), our ignorance of New Zealand poetry (Penelope), depression, life choices, poetry, prose, my name and lots of other good stuff.

But not cricket.  Not after what New Zealand just did to Australia in Tasmania. Not cricket at all.

the muse is drowning...

This is the cover of my third book, with a somewhat pensive sheep under a very blank sky.  (It’s a poetry collection.)

Hal Judge launched The Cancellation of Clouds at 6pm, Thursday 20th October 2011 at Smiths Alternative Bookstore, Alinga Street, Civic.  (Civic is another name for Canberra’s ‘city’  centre – a non-existent thing, really – and the name is intended to contrast with political, governmental, national Canberra.)  Hal gave a very thoughtful speech, and I read a few poems, and drank a poetic amount of wine. Senator Nick Xenophon, an independent Senator from South Australia, also read a poem, after he launched the bookstore’s new bar.

Senator Xenophon takes a gamble

(Thanks Lily Mulholland for this photo.)

If you would like to order the book, please go to this page, within the Ginninderra Press site.  The first review of the book, by Professor Peter Pierce in The Canberra Times, describes it as ‘droll, intelligent and varied’, which was a very positive thing to read.  And totally right, too! Another reviewer, Michael Byrne, states that ‘It is…love for (and embracing of) the different that seems to define Cottier as a poet.’

And in the book’s first international recognition, New Zealand poet and man of letters Tim Jones describes The Cancellation of Clouds as an ‘Australian poetry collection with a distinctively wry yet dark tone and very effective use of long stanzas and densely packed lines.’. All very gratifying, especially hearing I’m more dark wry than white bread…
***

Now I return you to the real piece that bears the title given above.  I originally wrote what follows below back on January 22, 2009, and it still seems a good inclusion for my blog, although I notice a recent trend to write a little more often here than I did originally.  For a long time this was the first post the reader saw on my blog, and I only recently allowed it to move away from its ‘sticky’ position on the first page.

Cicadas and tortoises. And poetry?

In my case, cicadas and tortoises seem apt metaphors for the process of writing. My first book, The Glass Violin, a poetry collection, has just been published by Ginninderra Press.  Some of the works in the collection go back twenty years, so the easy option of comparing myself with a tortoise comes to mind. There’s nothing like a good old shell of cliché in which to hide an idea.

Yet I actually write quite quickly. I’ve just been a shocker about trying to have my work published. About a year ago I decided to put an emphasis on seeking publication, and I have been quite fortunate in finding places that liked my work.

Cicadas spend most of their life underground, only emerging after years and years to produce an ear-splitting cacophony. They only live a short while after emergence. As a practising poet, I feel a lot like one of these insects, pushing through editorial mud, but hopefully the process of publication has just begun. I wrote this poem about the vocabulary used for referring to poets as emerging, developing and established:

Emerging poets

White, shovel-shaped finger-nails,
rotten smell, the world’s worst bulbs.
Like durian fruit mushrooming,
zombie poets emerge, pushing
through editorial soil, groaning,
after a decade’s slushy stew.
Perhaps some emerge politely,
quaint chicks toothing oval eggs.
Others make neat papier mâché
cocoons from rejections, wait,
then one day, poof! Harlequin
wings, trembly antennae. Most
are born bogongs, banging on
bright lit windows. Any more sir?

(I like to think that my poetry is a little more melodic than the noise of a cicada, although this example is admittedly a little less than elegiac.  Incidentally, all poems on this site are by me, unless otherwise indicated.)

This will be a very occasional blog, as this cicada prefers to work on her poetry. It’s always a temptation to bury yourself away, once the soil has been so very comfortable for so long…

I was very happy to read this review.  And this one, too.

And since then, a second book, this time a short collection of short stories:

Both can be ordered from Ginninderra Press, under poetry and fiction respectively.