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.