Monday, May 30, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Lies by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

"Telling lies to the young is wrong."

This poem was given to my class at school when I was about 16. It had a most profound and powerful effect upon the whole class. Perhaps more than the poem I remember the galvanised electricty that ran through the room. The power of a poem was made manifest. I have to offer the above link because the translation I first read is hard to find. Other translations seem to have superseded it somewhat.

In 2006 I went to the Genoa Poetry Festival mostly because Yevtushenko was a guest. While I was waiting at the Palazzo Ducale for his gig, I walked outside for a cigarette, and a man and a woman dressed in very garish clothes walked swiftly past me up the steps. A phrase rose up in my mind unbidden. "End of the pier." They were for all the world like two ageing but unrepetent cabaret artists who were third on the bill at a concert at the end of the pier in Blackpool or somewhere like that. It was old world yet gallant.

I wondered who they were. It didn't occur to me that they were Yevtushenko plus companion. But of course they were.

He read some recent work, in Italian, which was admirable, and had his show down pat. It was a crowd pleasing performance. It pleased the Italian crowd.

But still I had loved that poem. So at an informal gathering in a bar I approached him and told him what it had meant to me. He was agreeable and told me it was because of Geoffrey Dutton the poem had reached Australia. I didn't confuse things by saying I had read the poem in New Zealand. And then he said something about Stalin. But my mind had seized up the way a fan's mind does sometimes when they are face to face with a childhood hero. I didn't take in the point he was making. I asked if I could take a photo of him. He consented.  

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Two Kinds of Stubbornness by Sarah Holland - Batt

Two Kinds of Stubbornness

On his seventieth birthday, my father eats an egg for breakfast;
soft-boiled, with triangles of rye. The eggcup was mine as a child.
Half a man, it stands on ceramic boots, trouser-legs lacquered red,
its belly hollowed out. I always botched my egg; I crashed its head
straight off, and a swell of yolk bled sluggishly down the side.
My father is using a butter-knife. He taps delicately around the
skull as if ringing a spoon against crystal. Tap, tap. His face works
silently, a grave moon the egg is orbiting. He twists the knife-tip
in, levering away a neat helmet of shell. Inside, the orange dome
curves up: bright, intact, surgical. I can't tell you why he keeps his
yolks whole. I break mine, as a matter of principle.

This poem comes from Sarah's book Aria which won the 2007 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and was published by University of Queensland Press.

I find this poem very attractive in its exactness and precision. And I really like the surgical/principle rhyme.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tuesday Poem - The Landfall Desk by Janet Frame

I have to post a link to this fascinating poem by Janet Frame because I don't have permission to use it.

All sorts of other interesting stuff you can find via the link. The photo is my own. I made a pilgrimage to where it now lives when I was in Wellington. The poem is in The Goose Bath which is one of my favourite books.
This poem etc came into my mind because we are shifting in July to a much smaller place and my oldest and my favourite writing desk has to find a new home. I puffed it on facebook and I think it is going to a wonderful poet who lives just up the road a ways from me called Emilie Zoey Baker (Easy Bee) who won the Berlin International Literature Festival Poetry Slam last year!!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Soulmates by Laura Smith


I bought silverbeet
and refused a bag
and as I stepped away from the checkout
it occurred to me
that I was holding it
like a bunch of flowers. But casually,
as those who are often given flowers do.

And for a moment
I walked with a jaunty step,
as those who are often given flowers do.

And I realised
I had chosen it with care,
as do those
who sometimes buy flowers,
pushing some aside to find the best,
unbruised bouquet,
the coldest one,
the one with the deepest green,
the deepest folds,
the juiciest scattering of spray-on dew.

And as I sauntered
through the autodoors
into the night
a man
stepped into my pathway
and I thought
he is going to ask for money

but instead he said
"Are those for me?"

and I couldn't help but smile,
because he thought the way I did,
and for a moment I wanted,
more than anything,
to loosen a stem
and give it to him,
like some Shakespearean hero
would give a single rose,
like people who never give flowers

But even though he'd made me smile, and
because I'd expected him to ask for money, and
because the words were already on my tongue
and the movements in my legs, I said
"No, sorry."
skirted him,
walked away.

© Laura Smith 2008
I heard Laura read this poem at a heat of Poetry Idol at Box Hill Library, and was very taken with the freshness of it. Then Laura started running these excellent readings at Cafe Sospeso which were very inclusive and yet full of surprises and so I got to know her a little. Then she stopped running them and I just never seem to see her around anymore.
By the by I loved Cafe Sospeso because they have this scheme that if you are feeling flush you pay for an extra coffee and it is put on the board, then someone who is a bit short can ask for it. It is a suspended coffee. Last time I was there there were 9 on the board and someone in front of me asked for one and no problem. The girl wiped the board and re wrote 8 and dished a coffee up to the temporarily embarrassed person. 
Laura Smith has edited poetry anthologies and short play collections, and is seeking publication for her first book of poems. In 2010 she was resident Café Poet at BookTalk Cafe, was shortlisted for the Whitmore Prize, and competed in the Poetry Idol Final. An evolving archive of her past works is available on her blog at