Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tuesday Poem - The General by Siegfried Sassoon

The General

‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said

When we met him last week on our way to the line.

Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,

And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.

‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack

As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

                  *          *          *  

But he did for them both by his plan of attack. 

I have just read Pat Barker's Regeneration, which imagines the 'strange meeting' between Sassoon and Owen at the shell shock hospital in Scotland during WW1.  And I remembered how much I had liked this poem when I read it first many many moons ago.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tuesday Poem - Death Rant by Coral Carter

Death Rant


You really think about death at fifty six because your friends and rellies start
popping off like pop corn in a hot pan.
One morning your eyes open suddenly you hear ringing 
It is too early and your head doesn’t function
and the voice and name association bit of your brain hasn’t kicked in
and the disembodied voice is saying Uncle Mick is dead in hospital or Geoff
has been found in bed cold 
and then there is an explosion as all the senses kick in together 
and he told no one he had cancer 
and it is a shock 
and the next thing you know you are wishing you had told people you loved
 them last time you saw them but they were asleep or you felt embarrassed 
and now they are dead and its too late and nothing can be done 
and you spend days crying 
and you are wondering why you bought a box of tissues at the supermarket a
week ago because you never do that 
and was it just the design on the box or did you know subconsciously 
or have some sort of premonition 
that you would need something to mop up 
your grief for your dead relative or friend 
and you burst into tears as you unpack the dishwasher 
or load up the washing machine 
with laundry you wore a week ago while they were still alive 
you cry because you were wearing this shirt 
or that skirt when you saw them last 
and your grown up children are disturbed when they find you against the sink
 in a slumped sort of way with floods on your cheeks 
sodden tissues clenched in both fists 
and it hurts all the longing and crying 
and it goes on for days . 
You wake with wet eyes and go to bed sobbing. 
Your diary is a splatter of ink and you can’t read it anyway 
you stop writing and become numb 
and the tears dry up 
and now you are in a daze 
and cold sorrow turns into hot anger 
against the person who is dead from the secret cancer, heart attack or crash.
You start yelling questions like
Why did you do it? 
Shouldn’t you have told us? 
You should have driven carefully. 
You selfish old man! You stupid boy! 
Don’t you know how you have hurt us?
At last you go to the funeral 
and it might be your uncle but it is someone else’s father, 
and it might have been your friend but it is someone else’s aunt 
and it might have been your sister but it is someone else’s lover 
and the dead are in a coffin in the ground in a beautiful box with gold handles
and a crucifix
or hand painted with pastels by artistic sisters 
or being turned to ash in a furnace. 
It doesn’t really matter they are dead 
and you are not 
and the sun really hurts 
and the sky is a mess 
and the stars are all blurred
and although someone says the dead are in heaven 
or being reincarnated into a butterfly 
you don’t know how that works 
and you are finding it hard to believe in anything anyway. 
after all this the ceremony is over 
and you have read a poem you have written you don’t know how 
and it made other people start crying 
and when it is time to shovel in dirt you cry out in a loud voice 
“Fill it in boys!” 
and “Dance on dear Thelma!” 
or “Love goes with you baby James!”. 
and you are glad it is all over but of course it is not 
and you go on with it all still inside you 
and so it will be until you die 
and you think about death at fifty six because it is real 
and it you know the voice 
and you and death are practically pals. 
and the more life goes on the more death seems to pop around like a visitor
for afternoon tea 
and you think about death at fifty six because you can’t change the default
as there are no other options on the drop down dead menu.

I met up with Coral at the WA Poetry Festival and was very taken with her work. She is a wonderful performer, and a stalwart poetry supporter. She runs Mulla Mulla Press, but hadn’t thought of publishing a book of her own. Huh?? Why run a dance hall if you never dance?
So I suggested she publish my little chapbook – Ungainly – and at the same time throw together her first book. For a while we were calling it Bigger Than Ben Hur LOL, but now it is entitled – Descended From Thieves.
And we are going to have a joint launch in Melbourne in late October, probably, officiated at by Steve Smart. So that will be a bit of fun, wot! More on the launch anon. Just pulling it together.

PS Coral is also an amazing photographer.   

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tuesday Poem - Gottfried Benn

Der einsame Backzahn einer Dirne, / die unbekannt verstorben war, / trug eine Goldplombe. / Die übrigen waren wie auf stille Verabredung / ausgegangen. / Den schlug der Leichendiener sich heraus, / versetzte ihn und ging für tanzen. / Denn, sagte er, / nur Erde solle zur Erde werden.
                                                                                                                              Gottfried Benn

The lonesome molar of a love-maid, / who had died unknown, / wore a gold filling. / As if by silent agreement the leftovers / had gone out. / The mortician knocked out the filling, / pawned it and went dancing for. / Because, he said, / only earth should return to earth.


The solitary molar of a whore
who had died without a name
wore a gold filling.
The other teeth, as if by silent agreement,
had already left.
The mortician smacked the filling loose,
removed it, and left to go dancing.
‘Only earth,’ he said,
‘should return to earth.’

I came by chance recently upon the German poet Gottfried Benn 1886-1956.  I read a translation of this little poem which appeared in his five poem chapbook Morgue und andere Gedichte [Morgue and other Poems] (Berlin, 1912).
I had no idea of its provenance but out of curiosity, because I have a little German, I went onto google to see if I could find the original and check it out at the source. I must say I was fascinated by the poet's life, and by the shock and revulsion this little book caused. You see I didn't find the poem shocking at all. It seemed, if anything, quite like a lot of other poems I have read.
Times have changed. I wonder how much these little poems were instrumental in that change.