Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Tuesday Poem - 'Reclining Nude' by Sarah Holland-Batt

Reclining Nude
after Lucien Freud's Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995)

So we reach the end of our argument with beauty -
the pink nude sails like a conch out of her girlhood,
exiled from its whorled walls and tiger shell,
a refugee in her soft new body.
It happens swiftly, while she sleeps – one day she is monstrous.
She loafs like a cloud that has drifted indoors
and no longer knows what to do with itself.
In his studio, drop cloths slather the windows like lard,
apricot roses fray, olive upholstery fattens
into the great abstraction of her body -
flesh squidged over the couch in a thick salve,
hillocks trowelled with creamy putty.
She has outlived sex. As she poses she dreams
of long walks down Job Centre's fluorescent halls,
the monotony of standing-room queues. Her eyes roll in sleep
the way a bar of light rolls under photocopier glass,
smooth as charity. The artist tells her to crawl, spread
her legs, grind her arse like a pig.
In the scrunched paint rag of her face
there is a crease, as if to say here intelligence lives,
here the rational, the sceptical, but also
something that rebels, says you are rump, hog, beast.
He swaddles her hips and boulderstone breasts, grouts
her moon-drum stomach in blue oil,
winnows a hog's hair brush down her caesarean scar.
She has kernelled another body in her body there,
perhaps one of his, it doesn't matter, he can't
remember if he has had her, the point is
she understands largesse, he can see from the way
she dangles the hock of her arm casually
as he paints between her legs -
there is nothing to which she will not submit
like a nihilist Cimabue madonna
who lifts the son of god on one hip
but shrugs her other shoulder
as if to dismiss the weight of her gift.

Sarah Holland-Batt

I don't usually take to ekphrasis, but on this occasion I make an exception. I didn't know Freud's painting when I first read it, and I am glad I didn't. Because I have since viewed Benefits Supervisor Sleeping via google, and now I can't unsee it. And my first view of it was through the poet's eyes. And that was just wonderful. Not that the painting isn't wonderful. It is. Which comes first? The painting or the ekphrasis? It would be kind of interesting, eh, to write an ekphrasis about a work of art that (so far) doesn't exist. I kind of almost thought that that was what Sarah had done. I don't know why I thought that, with such a clear signpost under the title. Perhaps I was a bit stunned by The Hazards (UQP) which is a stunning book. I was under her spell.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Tuesday Poem - Two Poems from 'Spring Forest' by Geoffrey Lehmann

Hunger and Fear

My laboratory
is the dust where I stand,
the sulphur smells of the farmyard.

Your tests show fear
is stronger than hunger.
Maybe true of a laboratory animal,
bred so he's easy to handle.
But try the same trick with farm pigs -
too big and difficult for white-coated technicians.

When their own grass is shrinking,
and the next door paddock is green,
pigs will gather
away from the electric fence, and scream -
in their minds they are already burning.
Then they charge.
Small ones slip under, and big ones,
tangled in wire,
wriggle through – screaming as it crackles.

We are like farm pigs, half feral,
and the fences can't cope
with our numbers.

George Grogan

George Grogan's universe
had no numbers.
Droving, he would arrive
minus one or two beasts,
uncorrupted by knowledge of his loss.
Apologetic for a life spent under the stars
George had never seen
the inside of a schoolhouse,
his only forte
the habits of sheep and cattle at night.
Some of his peers had no letters,
but they all knew the numbers of their mob.
The simplest of the simple
was a man who could not count.

Geoffrey Lehmann

As I suspected, Geoffrey Lehmann's Poems 1957 – 2013 (UWA Publishing) did win the 2015 Prime Minister's Award for Poetry. And from a strong field, of course. But what a book it is. I am especially taken with the Spring Forest (1970 – 2010) section. There is a dedication.


A way of life entire, now vanquished and vanished, is summoned up with the cumulative effect of yarns, snapshots, vignettes, musings, potted histories. It is oral history transformed into … well, I don't know exactly. Nothing I have read is quite like it. Maybe it has a slight overtone of Spoon River Anthology, but it is entirely in our vernacular, set in familiar landscape. I find it to be a very valuable and endearing work. It feels completely authentic.