Monday, December 28, 2015

Tuesday Poem - 'Dancing time and space' by Jenny Blackford

Dancing time and space


Men are not forbidden here,
but seldom risk this hall
packed full with women of a certain age.
Mindful attention to the knees.

Poor Emma Bovary was just a needy child,
sad Anna K not thirty
when they died so painfully.

Eyes softly focussed.

It's safe to say that most us
are twice their age or more, well past
hope or fear of tragic passion.

Mindful attention to the hips.

We do our best to undulate our stiffened bones
like yogic cats, like swaying trees,
like steadfast Sanskrit-speaking warriors.

Soft face, easy breath.

We are an antique navy of creaking ships
afloat on the parquet floor
in boat pose, the navasana.

Mindful attention to the back.

We pull our navels gently to our spines,
breathe in, breathe out,
breathe in.

Slow breath, steady mind.

We breathe.


Standing, we are Shiva, dancing time
and space into being, perhaps a little wobbly
over rusty ankles on our rainbow mats.

Still, poised with one knee just-bent,
braced, strong, the other hip swung open
like the gate to a new multiverse,

its thigh and foot high-tilted, balanced
by ballerina hands held sideways-lifted
in a frozen moment from creation's dance,

we touch the electricity
of space and time.

I was well pleased to have the chance to catch up with Jenny Blackford here in Melbourne when this tip top poem was highly commended in the Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Prize. Jenny and her husband Russell live in Newcastle, with their well-beloved cat, and they happened to have planned a trip to Melbourne, and then Jenny heard her poem was short listed, and the dates co-incided. Fate. Or something very like that. We had a calming drink at Young & Jackson's and then headed on up to Collected Works for the shindig. And how well Jenny read the poem when her turn came. I was very taken with it. I am picking that it will be a foundation poem for Jenny's next book. Her first book, The Duties of a Cat (Pitt Street Poetry) is still available I think.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Tuesday Poem - 'A walk on the moor' by Harvey Molloy

A walk on the moor

The steep ascent
tugs my calf muscles

my camera eyes
survey the moorscape

as I approach
the soft arc of the ridge

I pitch then yaw
arms extended

to avoid a small pool
in the bracken

the wind bites against
the thermal insulation

of my Parka suit
but telemetry tells ground control

we are still go
& confirms a green light

somewhere beneath the peat
the graves of the children

Brady & Hindley murdered —
what were their names?

& why did she name her dog Puppet?
& what happened to Puppet

after she was sentenced to life?
I moonwalk hop

bounce from left foot to right
pretending to be light

to be free of the earth
my gloved hands collect

samples of heather
for detailed analysis later

in the bedroom laboratory
should I make it home.

I am trying to be sanguine and upbeat about the loss of the Tuesday Poem community – kicked off about 5 years ago by Mary McCallum and Claire Beynon. Things fall apart. But I am not ready to fall apart yet. I like having point and purpose to my reading. So I shall carry on until the wobble in my orbit becomes too plangent. And it is very fitting that my first pick for the new regime is Harvey Molloy, who was a valued member of that community. I bumped into Harvey at the poetry conference in Wellington, and we did the book swap thing, the thing that poets do. So I got to read Moonshot (Steele Roberts 2008) and I can see quite clearly why Mary McCallum has selected him for next year's 3 poet Hoopla series at Mākaro Press. The man has skillz. I particularly took to this poem, because it summons up such an ominous sense of place, as it celebrates the natural elevation of childhood.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Tuesday Poem - Two Short Poems by Janis Freegard

The sound of dropped silverware is, like, really loud.
I think I'll do that gamelan course
next semester. When there's no crowd,
the sound of dropped silverware is, like, really loud.
I've uploaded all my tunes to the cloud.
Did I tell you my parents are getting divorced?
The sound of dropped silverware is, like, really loud.
I think I'll do that gamelan course.

La Fée Verte

I drank all the absinthe
my mind is now a milky jade

I must inform you that I've driven
to the outskirts of Paris

to discuss An Ideal Husband
with Estonian lapdancers

later I intend to watch Catherine Millet
taking in the pleasure of the crowd

I've gone where you'll never find me:
beyond louche

Well, The Glass Rooster (Auckland University Press) is quite a book, and Janis Freegard is quite a poet. What a pleasure to pay attention to this book and this poet. Janis and I met up again at the NZ Poetry Conference recently and did a book swap as we said our goodbyes. So often this is how one comes upon the best books. The best books are revenue neutral LOL.

Re the poems, the first quirky deliciousness is the banner poem for the Cityscape section. And for those of you who don't know, La Fée Verte, the title of the second, means the green fairy, and is the old time nickname for absinthe. And louche is a French word mean cross-eyed or squinting. There is a ceremony involved with watering down your absinthe, called La Louche. Apparently it involves a lot more than, as I thought, watching the colour cloud.

And louche is a word I often use to describe people I know and like. It means - disreputable or sordid in a rakish or appealing way. It does seem as if I know a lot of louche people. But me, I don't like absinthe much. I do like the mystique it has gathered around it.

Oh, and yes, I had to google Catherine Millet – not that it mattered in my apprehension of the poem. And yes, I had heard of her. Quite a louche person, IMHO.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tuesday Poem - 'Ada - Dies Natalis' by Geoffrey Lehmann

Ada – Dies Natalis

As rare as rockinghorse shit” -
one in 15,000 the internet says.
Standing in the corridor
of the children's cardiac unit
I'm surrounded by coloured diagrams,
the blue veins and red arteries
of wrong connections.
Each map is wild and unique
as a snowflake,
but they're all actuarial possibilities,
and each is a life.
Ada's is the supracardiac version.
The veins from her lungs join
in a single vein that seeks
and almost touches her left ventricle,
and loses its way and veers
in an improbable backwards loop
to her right ventricle.
Ada is simple to fix
if five hours under surgical lights are simple.

Isn't she beautiful! Isn't she beautiful!”
the young aunt, ardent, repeats.
Feeding from aureoles like brown dinner plates,
Ada (pronounced 'Ardour”
after Nabokov's heroine)
breathes heavily, gulps air,
turns blue as she starts to cry.

Tomorrow the veins from her lungs
will be cut
and joined to her left ventricle.
The grandmothers wash and scrub the house,
a grandfather (that's me) standing on a stool,
instructed by the grandmothers,
ties a clothesline to an iron spike
set in nineteenth century brickwork.
Eight days from now Ada
will be carried through a narrow dim house.
Her eyes will open like dark butterflies
and lungs inhale
this nectarine tree, ripening muscatels
and staked tomatoes in the summer heat.

On any day 300,000 are born
of dust from exploded supernovae.
There was no witness when a point
became the universe
and the first stars started to burn,
billions of galaxies lighting up.
The 300,000 all have witnesses,
the nurse who spotted Ada's laboured breathing -
There's something wrong with that baby.”

Hibiscus” - one of her first words.
It's night and the passerby
can look over a gate past pink and red roses through a clear glass door
and see a shadowy figure in a hallway
gyrating and shaking a maraca and tambourine
to inaudible music,
who's wondering if neighbours think he's mad,
but he has a daughter to entertain -
she's hidden in a cot -
Ada, two years and a bit.

In the dark of early morning
I hear a muffled voice talking to a child,
and a solitary cry.
The child's translation:
Daddy's wings have gone and he's lost his fairy dust.”

Her father has been dead for three weeks.
She's restless in the restaurant.
Hoisting her on my hip
we go out in the street -
as my veal parmigiana arrives.
I identify flowers in gardens lit by street lamps.
'That's a strelitzia,” I say,
a relative of the banana.”
We head towards an illuminated shop front,
with cut flowers in buckets on the footpath
and shadows standing in doorways.
I saw Daddy,” she says.
At the house where's she's staying, she chooses
Sonia and the Flying Babies.
Read it again.”
I do, but Sonia has a father.
In a private voice, as I'm leaving, she says:
I want you to stay.”

A month later, at two years and nine months
she's still finding questions and answers:
How did your Daddy die?”
He was quite old and had a heart attack,” I reply.
He was in a room by himself
and ran out into the street and died.”

Ada has become herself,
the miniature parts,
all in working order, are complete.
Aged three she mounts a platform
to wash her hands,
looks down and sighs -
the cares of adulthood.
The rectangular box-basin
of sparkling white porcelain
(an aesthetic manifesto of her architect-mother)
has a reddish-brown smear of water,
tannin-stained rivulets.
She flicks on a tap
and her small plump hand
decisively sluices out the discoloured water,
face averted, absorbed in her task.

Thanks to Geoff for allowing me to post this tender, luminous poem. And thanks also for the wonderful book which I have just now put on the pile to be shelved. Poems 1957 – 2013 contains the long sweep of a writing life. This is what he has written and wants to save. It was quite a journey. Of particular interest to me on this first reading, was Spring Forest, which I had not read in its entirety before. I'll be posting a couple of poems from that section in the new year. And as a bonus, apart from bravura and adept poetics displayed within, Poems 1957 – 2013 must be one of the handsomest books I have ever had in my hands. The cover drawing by Charles Blackman of the young Lehmann is almost edible.

Meanwhile this year, (better late than never) this high-water mark of a book is up for one of the big prizes, The Prime Minister's Literary Awards, to be announced in Sydney on 14th December.



  • Devadatta's Poems by Judith Beveridge (Giramondo Publishing)
  • Earth Hour by David Malouf (University of Queensland Press)
  • Exhibits of the Sun by Stephen Edgar (Black Pepper Publishing)
  • Poems 1957–2013 by Geoffrey Lehmann (UWA Publishing)
  • Towards the Equator: New & Selected Poems by Alex Skovron (Puncher & Wattmann)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tuesday Poem - 'On Looking: In The Lost And Found' by Michael Harlow


On this mouse-coloured street where
everyone is trying to look like each
other, they are looking to undress the
world with such a fine cosmological

eye, you might think they are trying
to see into the heart of a star itself.
Whole families out in their glads snapping
pictures of each other’s mums and dads,

and you and me. They have such a gaze
for all of it. That seeking dream: looking
for a black cat in a dark room. But if you’ve
come this far and end up in the lost and

found, you know that old story, where no
one becomes someone one day; you pray
for one thing and you get another. You know
that looking for a black cat in a dark room
where there is none – you find one anyway.

I bumped into Michael Harlow at the poetry conference and Litcrawl recently in Wellington. I first bumped into him in Christchurch in 1980! He is in fine fettle – just scored the Kathleen Grattan and the Lauris Edmond! So good to chew the fat again, and when I got home to Australia I returned to his book, The Tram Conductor's Blue Cap. After my first reading of it I had asked Michael if I might post a poem – but Michael is sometimes not so great at answering emails. I thought maybe he had changed his email address. People often do. But no, it was just one of those things. So, as I say, when I got back to Oz I pulled the book off the shelf and gave it another read. Because I had forgotten which poem I had asked for the first time, and supposed, as I read, my first pick would jump out at me. But do you know, it didn’t. The book had shifted on me. It was quite a perilous and slippery feeling, to think you have read something, and, as you read it again, to find out you have not. I was quite at a loss.
I don’t know where this poem is set, but it irresistibly reminds me of Lecce in Puglia, of going out in the evening into the full flood of the passegiata.
I very much like the astute line endings, the precision of the punctuation, the vernacular ‘glads’ (for glad rags, and also of course for so much else).
And I also like the winding helix of a line – ‘where no / one becomes someone one day;’.
I think the whole poem swings on that line. It is really using the curse/blessing blessing/curse of the archetypical fairy tale.
And I just adore the way the poem opens with a mouse-coloured street (a rough translation of a vernacular term I opined to myself) and looms up to the big finish with the black cat. (I had to go back and rejig my initial apprehension.) So what exactly was going on? Never mind, I loved it.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Tuesday Poem - 'New undergraduates tour the psychology clinic' by Melinda Smith

New undergraduates tour
the psychology clinic

This is the room where the troubled come to be untroubled
This is the room for the opening of mouths in pain

This is the room for picking lightly at the scab on the deep wound

This is the room of dignified gibbering
This is the room of the short fuse

This is the room for the vomiting of memory;
for the smearing of consequences, the flinging of blame

This is the room which was once in darkness, with a velvet curtain
                                                                    and a wooden grille

This is the room of stripping
of disembowelling
of the scooping out and spreading of glistening innards

This is the room of fear of silence
This is the room of too much truth, and not enough
This is the room of fear, of silence

This is the room of the rushing and botching of reconstructive

This is the room for the impersonation of friendship
and the purchase of listening

This is the room of the drinking of too much water
and of jiggling in the low chair and of the dogged crossing of legs

This is the room for the rewriting of diaries

This is the room of the long clenching
This is the room of rocking without sound

This is the room for the binding of deep wounds with gauze

This is the room for the closing of mouths in pain
This is the room where the unhealable come to be unhealed

I was well contented to have the chance to be at Melinda Smith's La Mama gig in Melbourne recently, and because of Ken Smeaton's excellent filming of poets' project, it exists out on youtube if you care to partake.

Melinda's book Drag Down To Unlock Or Place An Emergency Call (Pitt Street Poetry) is one of those books that you really want to read, and then read again. A true cut and come again book. And the judges of the Prime Minister's Award agree with me because it won last year's prize. (And it is a prize that is worth winning.) Melinda is a poet to watch, and I am already on the qui vive for the next book. What a wonderful poet she is, and a tip top reader, and a hell of a good person to kick around town with.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Tuesday Poem - 'Front Verandah' by Sophie Tarrant


He starts the day by lighting incense in the neck
of her vase. She breathes in a gust of wind until the scent fills her.
His hands, which she has seen break tree branches as thick as his arm,
tappity-patter the bongo drums. The rhythm pulses through her chest
of drawers. She sings along
with wooden wind chime voice, out of time but melodic.

He eats lunch at the table, his leg touching hers.
He pays no attention to the view through her windows
even when she swings and whines with rusty hinges.
He reads a magazine with ads for shampoo, models with dyed
blonde hair. Part of her palm tree comes through the window,
a few fingers brush the open page.
The fringe of her frond is yellow from sunlight.

He leaves her, walks away down the street
comes back with a sprig of frangipani, pink as a blush.
He tucks the stem into her thick fronds
layered across the windowsill. She feels warm inside,
shades him with her maroon veil.
He lies down to rest on her white cushioned forehead.
When the kookaburras laugh on the power line outside,
her ferns rustle, shhhhhh, and the birds fly away.
His snores vibrate through her chest
as vibrantly as bongo beats.

I met Sophie Tarrant up in Brisbane at the Riverbend reading (she runs a reading called Below Deck which I must get to next time I am up that way.) And then she was in Melbourne just as I was putting on a Big Read at Collected Works for NZ Poetry Day, so I invited her along and after dithering over Janet Frame and Chris Price she chose to read Glen Colquhoun, and was a total asset. Later that night she gave me her chapbook Memories of Home and I liked it a lot and chose the verandah poem because of its evocation of Brisbane (such a spirit of place!) and the charm of the personification of the verandah.
Hear her read her poem. 


Monday, October 12, 2015

Tuesday Poem - 'Frankston Train' by Garth Madsen

Frankston Train

Armpit to armpit, everyone sweats in a different
language here. A woman's voice calls out the
name of each station as we arrive, another
scratching in the race of life, she says Mordialloc
as if there can be less dialloc. Four urban
minimalists play euchre, I cannot see if their
cards are real or not. The echo girl sits under the
'no feet on seats' sign, her foot on the seat, the
angle showing the curve of her in-step better than
high heels, she tells her mobile phone that she
was named after a car number plate. The
powdered aeroplane blonde with an imitation
pearl necklace becomes a delta, people pushing
past her on either side. A drunk shouts, “Of
course, I'm smart. I went to school, didn't I?'
A father, a mother scold their son as if they are
trying to make him smile for the camera. The
lowrider with an earring drops a water bottle at a
ninja bitch's feet, there is an empty McDonalds
wrapper under her seat and a browning apple
core. The rainmaker with crickets in his ears
drums the seat between his legs. The bonsai
brunette sheds her black cardigan and flicks her
anklet at the far border of my vision and I ask
myself where her story ends and mine begins.

One of my favourite Melbourne poets is Garth Madsen, and he lives out on my train line – the Frankston line. He is very tender and astute about the place where we both live. His 'Frankston For Beginners' is a must-read, as far as I am concerned. I have no idea how you might acquire a copy though. He had a big launch for the book, out at Seaford, (with enough food, including a chocolate fountain, for an invading army whose quartermaster had gone awol so the troops are pretty hungry, about as hungry as hungry troops can get) and then there was a reading at Red Wheelbarrow in Brunswick, and then as far as I know that was the end of it. Anyhow anyhow, when Avril Bradley decided to do an anthology of poems about Frankston, Garth was a must. Those who know Garth truly appreciate him. We had a lovely launch for the anthology in the remoter reaches of the McClelland Sculpture Park in Langwarrin - well done Avril for pulling it all together – and this poem was a stand out for me. And a shout out to Michelle Leber whose stunning photo is on the cover of 'City Of Stars”.

PS Garth often blocks his poems so they are as neat as bricks an expert bricklayer has laid – but no matter how I fiddle I can't make my blog block – so please forgive my my hod, my grout, my towel.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday Poem - 'Waiting' by Tracy Ryan


Waiting for bog
to blossom
with white flame
of bog cotton

is groom not given
to see the dress
before the day

Knowing her only
one long cold season
is love meeting
weekdays only

or sensing no more than
the moon's dark side
thus the moon's
wrong meaning

Yet bog in continual winter
is most bog wearing nothing
but more and more water

her deep nature
bog is what bog does

And yet another launch at Collected Works of a wonderful book! This time Hoard by Tracy Ryan, joint winner of the Whitmore Press Prize. It's a deep, unfathomable book, and a shifty, slippery book. With who knows what within. So like a bog, so like a hoard within a bog. (Tracy's pronunciation of the local way of saying 'hoard' is still resonating with me.) And how much I appreciated the quiet, stringent perfection of the laying down of the words on the page.

Marion May Campbell's trenchant launch speech is published here in Cordite -
- and it pretty well covers anything else I might be moved to say about this book.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday Poem - 'Night Watch' by Robyn Rowland

Night Watch

Time is elastic, its zenith fit to breaking
when you wait for the ambulance – now leaning over him,
now rushing back and forth from house to street straining
for sirens, night so dark and wet and quiet out there.

Listening for breath in a slight boy of fifteen years
is an ancient art requiring silence. Kneeling on your hall floor,
ear right to his lips, beside the frenzied shouts of his father,
whose panic of pacing is the only thing he can offer him.

Your own son watches his friend from the corner,
slumped, slightly beaten, the first fire of alcohol seeming
less necessary than it might have been, not worth the effort now,
while the friend he tried to carry home lies on his side, still.

Slapping his rump to try and wake him feels like assault.
Strange to be able to do things he would never allow,
ice you run across his cheeks a cruelty. Beyond limp,
he will not jerk away, open his mud-brown eyes.

When they finally come, wearied knights of the new wars,
they cannot rouse him, tell us it's not good, open his lids to pupils
so huge, so pitch and utterly void, his mother gasps, sinking,
and you never saw anyone so unconscious who wasn't dead.

You make your son sit and watch. They strap on an oxygen mask,
fail to open his mouth for a tongue block, quietly ask what he took -
vodka yes, but weed? pills? needles? No. Just vodka. Straight.
He was kicked,' your boy says, 'they punched me in the head.' And vomits.

Clipped on a stretcher, they lift him out of the hall. In the long night,
fourteen hours twisted in tubes before he rouses, you remember
they loved pizza by the swimming pool for the last three birthdays, watched
videos, Xbox, played Star Wars with Darth Vader the only enemy -

and when you turned sixteen no-one had parties at all.

Robyn lives in Ireland and Australia so she launched her new book Lines of Drift (Doire Press) both there and here. I caught the Aussie launch by Catherine Bateson at Collected Works here in Melbourne and invested in a book. I must say I liked the epic poem Unbroken Stone In A Stubborn Sea – but just too long for a blog I reckon. Again the scroll scroll scroll problem. But this mini-drama called Night Watch caught my attention. Such a shriek of a poem. Recollected in tranquility, as they say.