Category Archives: Poetry turnstile

I like poetry. Sometimes I write it. Often I read it. Oft times I post it ‘ere.

Field notebook excerpt: a day of particular import




The image above is from one of my field notebooks. It’s a poem I scrawled on a Frida Kahlo sticky-note while flying in a little Cessna, from camp to a nearby mining town, on the day Kevin Rudd said “sorry.” That was five years ago today. I still have very mixed feelings on the subject. (Aboriginal children are still being taken from their families at an alarming rate – still – in Australia, today.)



‘The plane turns on a wing,

aroun’ to the east,

over and away

from the mangroves.


The sound of the engine straining

(we’re still climbing),

and today

there is mist below,

above the open green plain,

between rivers.


I can see neither buffalo

nor crocodile.

But I search,

and feel

excitedly sad.


This is


“sorry” day.








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But then I found myself describing them with words they would not use, and could not tell the way the drummers held the line




I have always enjoyed Michael Jackson‘s ethnography. Paths toward a clearing: Radical empiricism and ethnographic enquiry (1989) is perhaps his best known work. This week I finally found time to borrow some of his poetry from the library. It is beautiful, and really quite brilliant.

I have chosen to share the following poem for obvious reasons. It is taken from Jackson’s 1989 collection, Duty Free: Selected poems 1965–1988, John McIndoe, New Zealand, pp. 14 – 15.  If I could share the whole volume I would – it is a really beautiful collection.




Even now they file at first light

through the elephant grass, along

the red path to their farms, leaving

me behind. I used to follow them

and ask if I could hoe or weed,

stack unburned branches beyond

the outer fence. They used to

laugh outright, though some said I

could try my hand, knowing it would

provide for more amusement later

when I tried to keep in line.

At last I gave up going. I passed

the day learning new words from

women. At dusk the men returned

and granted me an hour or two of

conversation. ‘Ask what you want

and we will tell you what we know,’

they said. And so I queried them

on this and that, and learned about

their farms that way, and what they did

among the trees along the ridge

at harvesting (a sacrifice to keep

the spirits off), and for a year

my work went well. But then I found

myself describing them with words

they would not use, and could not tell

the way the drummers held the line

that moved, hoeing and chanting,

down the further slope, or how

the pitch of women’s voices flowed

across the valley as they closed

the earth. These gestures are

like rain. The crops will grow

out of these acts. There is no

book in it, no facts, no line

that leads to some result;

but it holds good like any truth

and I have learned to write as

they might sow, scything the grain

against the downhill wind. We

do not make it grow, we point the way.

In this I go along with them.






Aye, it’s beautiful.








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Prisons and poetry: Merry Christmas everybody, all the bodies.




Happy season of spending time with our loved ones. And thoughts with those incarcerated, who cannot. Last year about this time I wrote a similar-such post about Indigenous incarceration rates in the Northern Territory. This is a post of poetry.


The poems below are taken from, Poems from Prison (1973).[1] The editor of the volume, Rodney Hall, was invited to comment on some manuscripts by prisoners at Parramatta Gaol. He declined to comment on the manuscripts but asked, rather, to speak directly with the men who had written them. His visit turned into many, and many into a series of fortnightly workshops.


‘Our meetings were described in the gaol magazine (CONtact) as: “highly informal and usually irreverent,” and leading to “a rapid maturing of the poetry being written here at Parramatta Gaol.” Highly informal indeed – most sessions are spent in a brilliant crossfire of wit and anecdote – and altogether irreverent. As to the maturing of the poetry, perhaps it has been simply the stimulus of finding an audience, but whatever the reason we’ve managed to get through a lot of work and the development has been remarkable. This book is the result’ (1973: x).


For what it is worth to know, all of the writers represented in the collection had been convicted of crimes of violence. The following poems were written by one Jack Murray.  Jack’s biographical note reads: ‘Born in Sydney 1940. Left school at twelve, started off on the wrong path, never really left it. Married with two sons. Realises poetry has opened a new world. Ambitions: to lead a completely uninvolved life’ (1973, p. 3).


Sometimes homesick


Snow taps at

the window

and sends me

into panic


I may fly

down to spain

to steal something


or shoplift

a parrot from



to send you

in a letter


Did you  know

the snow killed

Napoleons white horse?

(how could you

I just made it up)




I bought a

stick-on face

for the hustle


the trick was

in the performance

they threw more

than fruit


Wrote some poems

from prison

read them over later

found I’d blundered


there is no more

room in my world

I’ve been here



the walls drip waste

its been too long

too much



(1973, pp. 3-4)


And the following, which is particularly fitting. Also by Jack.


Second year’s end


Reality is immovable as

a statue

rust-welded to a horse

fetlocks trapped

in stone,

the revealing of finality

so many miles

from home.


What premonitions go unheeded,

smiles the moon,

constant crown witness

against me


a thousand miles

round a stone room

where no swans swim.


It’s raining in the park


artificial tears fall

from the statue’s face,


chalk-white by sweet shit.

Truth of another




(1973, p. 14).




Merry Christmas and to all a good night. And day. And year. Truly.

Warmliest of kindly regards,


Bree. x




[1] Edited by Rodney Hall, published by University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, QLD.



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Vladimir Nabokov: not prose


Vladimir. And a hat.

Vladimir and a hat.




For his father’s death


I see a radiant cloud, I see a rooftop glisten

like a mirror, far away . . . I listen

to breathing shade, light’s stillicide . . .

You’re absent – why? You’re dead, and on a day

the humid world is bluish. God’s sacred spring is on her way,

swelling, calling . . . And you’ve died.


And yet, if every stream anew the wonder sings,

and yet, if every falling golden thaw-drop rings –

if these are not bedazzling lies,

but quivering, dulcet convocations: ‘Rise again’ –

a mighty ‘Blossom!’, then you are in this refrain,

you’re in this splendor, you’re alive! . . .



From Vladimir Nabokov: collected poems, newly translated by Dmitri Nabokov, edited with a new Introduction by Thomas Karshan. Published by Penguin Classics, London & New York.





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Poetry turnstyle: Rimbaud and his Vowels


Rimbaud, by Pedro Covo


I was gifted this poem many years ago, by a friend. It is a poem not easily forgotten.




A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,

I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins:

A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies

which buzz around cruel smells,


Gulfs of shadow; E, whiteness of vapours and of tents,

lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of cow-parsley;

I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips

in anger or in the raptures of penitence;


U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas,

the peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows

which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;


O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds,

silences crossed by [Worlds and by Angels]:

-O the Omega! the violet ray of  [His] Eyes!




I should note that this poem reads very differently, depending on the translator. To read more about Arthur Rimbaud, follow this link to the relevant wiki-entry.





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Pablo Neruda’s saddest poem



Just because. It is beautiful. This is Neruda’s, Saddest Poem.


I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.


Write, for instance: “The night is full of stars,

and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance.”


The night wind whirls in the sky and sings.

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.

I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.


On nights like this, I held her in my arms.

I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.


She loved me, sometimes I loved her.

How could I not have loved her large, still eyes?


I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.

To think I don’t have her. To feel that I’ve lost her.


To hear the immense night, more immense without her.

And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.


What does it matter that my love couldn’t keep her.

The night is full of stars and she is not with me.


That’s all. Far away, someone sings. Far away.

My soul is lost without her.


As if to bring her near, my eyes search for her.

My heart searches for her and she is not with me.


The same night that whitens the same trees.

We, we who were, we are the same no longer.


I no longer love her, true, but how much I loved her.

My voice searched the wind to touch her ear.


Someone else’s. She will be someone else’s. As she once

belonged to my kisses.

Her voice, her light body. Her infinite eyes.


I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.

Love is so short and oblivion so long.


Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,

my soul is lost without her.


Although this may be the last pain she causes me,

and this may be the last poem I write for her.





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A lover’ly little poem by Maria Wine


Artur & Maria, second and third from the left (c. 1947)


I am re-posting this poem from some time ago. I thought of it this morning, and I think it’s beautiful. I found it in a second-hand collection of poetry entitled, The Penguin Book of Women Poets (1978).

The following little poem was written by the late Maria Wine (1912 – 2003), a Swedish writer and poet of Danish origin. She was married to the late Swedish writer and literary critic, Artur Lundkvist. From the little I have read it seems that the two shared a rich and dynamic life together until Artur’s death in 1991. It is also apparent that they enjoyed a rather unconventional relationship, which is reflected, however subtly, in the little poem below.



Love Me


Love me

but do not come too near

leave room for love

to laugh at its happiness

always let some of my blond hair

be free.




Translated from Swedish by Nadia Christensen.


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Poetry Turnstile: Frank O’Hara



Frank O’Hara and Grace Hartigan†


Frank O’Hara (1926 – 1966) was an American poet and writer, who I discovered only recently. I couldn’t decide which of his poems to share, so after a series of meetings and an excruciating conflict-resolution process, I decided to share three.

To The Harbormaster, is the first poem in the collection entitled, Meditations in an Emergency (1957). I’m not sure that I would have fallen in love with this poem as I did, had it not reminded me so much – in a ‘like-unlike’ sense – of Invictus, which I’ve posted hereon before.



To the Harbormaster


I wanted to be sure to reach you;

though my ship was on the way it got caught

in some moorings. I am always tying up

and then deciding to depart. In storms and

at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide

around my fathomless arms, I am unable

to understand the forms of my vanity

or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder

in my hand and the sun sinking. To

you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage

of my will. The terrible channels where

the wind drives me against the brown lips

of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet

I trust the sanity of my vessel; and

if it sinks it may well be in answer

to the reasoning of the eternal voices,

the waves which have kept me from reaching you.



The following poem is hard not to love. I especially lub’ it because it reminds me of ee cummings, for obvious reasons.



Les Etiquettes jaunes


I picked up a leaf

today from the sidewalk.

this seems childish.


Leaf! you are so big!

How can you change your

color, then just fall!


As if there were no

such thing as integrity!


You are too relaxed

to answer me. I am too

frightened to insist.


Leaf! don’t be neurotic

like the small chameleon.



Third and finally, For Grace, After A Party. I distinctly remember muttering an audible, “huh . . .” when I first read this poem. While it is not ‘dazzling,’ it did make me sit up and take Frank’s poetry seriously in a small “p” political sense. There is a certain earnest responsibility to this poem, which is something that I still find myself searching for with ee cummings. There is something about the unaesthetic honesty that completely makes this poem. If that makes sense.



For Grace, After A Party


You do not always know what I am feeling.

Last night in the warm spring air while I was

blazing my tirade against someone who doesn’t


me, it was love for you that set me


and isn’t it odd? for in rooms full of

strangers my most tender feelings

writhe and

bear the fruit of screaming. Put out your hand,

isn’t there

an ashtray, suddenly, there? beside

the bed? And someone you love enters the room

and says wouldn’t

you like the eggs a little

different today?

And when they arrive they are

just plain scrambled eggs and the warm weather

is holding.




† I found this photograph on a lovely page, Memories of Frank.




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Why do schools teach young adults to appreciate poetry as they might chew sawdust?

“It looks rather odd to the poet, however, to see whole shoals of students who neither want to write poetry nor to know how it is written, being solemnly taught how to take a poem to pieces, but seldom how to put it together again, or what to do with it in order to enjoy it.”


Poetry has an uncomfortable, ‘estranged-uncle’ kind of place in Australian culture. I remember when I first starting reading poetry, feeling terribly embarrassed whenever anyone ‘caught’ me with a book of poetry ( – poetry!). Even as an undergraduate, I habitually turned poetry books face-down on the table, lest someone see what I was reading. Why is it embarrassing to read poetry? I have no idea.

While poetry is still taught in schools as included in the higher education curriculum, what is taught is anything but the pleasure, value and import of poetry. And while any self-respecting independent bookstore reserves a shelf (or part thereof) for poetry, more often than not one finds the very same books on all the different shelves (or part thereof) – those that are required reading in high-school, and those god-awful collections that come out every year, edited by people like Phillip Adams, with titles like 100 Australian Poems to read before you die. (I believe I may, perhaps, have complained about such collections hereon before. Where am I going with all this? Not very far.

All this is to point out that the following piece of writing is rare among its kind, and therefore particularly special (and exceptionally great) – this is the late Judith Wright, on the place and value of poetry in Australia:



‘ [ . . . ] Who is the poet’s audience today? Very few people now read poetry for pleasure, but some, unfortunately, are forced to read it for the purpose of being examined in their appreciation of it. Poetry, like medicine, is not often taken for its pleasant taste; it is prescribed. This is enough to make it unpopular at the very outset.


Well, he may console himself, sometimes a sympathetic doctor can be found who will recommend a sea voyage, or a mountain holiday or even a glass of wine before dinner. Perhaps, for some readers, his poetry may turn out to  be as enjoyable as any of these things. These days it is about the only hope the poor fellow has.


For perhaps poetry is the least popular of the arts, just now. For one thing, it has no obvious social advantages. An exhibition of paintings is a place at which to meet other people and wear one’s new hat, as well as seeing the paintings; a concert is a social occasion as well as a musical one. Then there is the matter of prestige, which can attach to owning valuable paintings or even to knowing a lot about them, and to being seen at all the important first nights. But poetry is a very a-social pleasure, and no prestige attaches to owning a lot of books of poetry (unless they are all first editions and rare copies, and this has nothing to do with the poetry they contain).


Since poetry has so small an audience, the notion has begun to grow up that is a kind of survival from more primitive times, a form of communication no longer needed by modern man. The fact is, rather, that modern man is something like a survival of poetry, which once shaped and interpreted his world through language and the creative imagination. When poetry withers in us, the greater part of experience and reality wither too; and when this happens, we live in a desolate world of facts, not of truth – a world scarcely worth the trouble of living in.


Walt Whitman put the distinction between fact and truth succinctly, when he said,


“Logic and sermons never convince,

The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul.”


Poetry is concerned with what drives deepest into the soul. However, much we may learn academically about night and dampness, unless we have experienced them we do not know the truth about the. This kind of truth is the business of poetry.


Poetry deals first of all, that is, with experience – physical experience, or emotional experience, or mental experience – and nothing that the poet learns from book  or from other poets can teach him to make a poem, unless he experiences the things he writes of, and knows them to deeply that they become his personal truth.


So the earliest poems in this book, for instance, come from a times when, returning after years spent in the city to the country where I was born and brought up, I rediscovered that early experience from a new angle of understanding, and so was enabled to write about it. Poems like “Bullocky”, “Country Town”, “South of my Days”, came from this new interpretation of what I had seen and felt years before. Interpretation – because the poet can never be, as the novelist sometimes may , a camera; perhaps he is more like a kind of self-acting  kaleidoscope, arranging and rearranging bright scraps of experience into different shapes and patterns in an attempt to make a new kind of unity and meaning. What occupies him most is not the question, “Why did it happen”, nor “How did it happen?”, but rather, “What does it mean to me that it happened?”


This is far too subjective and interpretive a question for the fact-finding outlook of today, and no method of tabulation can  be produced that will help in finding the answer. Only the mind and the imagination that “looks before and after” can deal with facts on this level.


So modern critical method, on the whole, prefers to leave on one side the question of what poems mean and are, and to concentrate on analyzing their verse-craft and their internal structure, on the same principle as the botanist who disclaims interest in the whole plant and its life-history, and concentrates on its parts and internal organisation. This can be a useful way of getting to know how a poem is written, but it can never inform us how a poem is made.


Moreover, it is useful mainly to those who themselves want to write poetry, or to criticise poetry, and therefore want to know how other poets have manipulated language and rhythm to gain their effects, and in what way they have handled their material. It looks rather odd to the poet, however, to see whole shoals of students who neither want to write poetry nor to know how it is written, being solemnly taught how to take a poem to pieces, but seldom how to put it together again, or what to do with it in order to enjoy it. For after all, poetry is not meant to be an instrument for sharpening knives upon.


So poets, faced as they too often are with reproachful or earnest students as their only audience, can only plead in their defence that they did not write the poems to be studied, but to please people who like poetry. The kind of pleasure they are meant to give is the pleasure of exploration, not of exposition – exploration of the poet’s special insights into experience, into this capacities of perception and feeling; insights conveyed through a certain mode of communication, the mode of symbol and rhythm, which man has used to express his deepest feelings ever since he began to be able to sing.


Poetry ought not to be thought of as a discipline, but as a kind of praise.


Judith Wright.’



Reproduced as included in the introduction to ‘Judith Wright: Selected Poems’ (1963), published by Angus & Robertson. This particular excerpt was taken from pages v – viii.



NB: this post may require further editing . . . I got a bit excited //


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To Min, a poem on your birthday.



To Min (who is like a sister to me),

The following poem said please want I ought gifted be to your singular self so love’ed be. Happy birthday yapa.


Thank Christ you were born.




The Cedars


The dried body of winter is hard to kill.

Frost crumbles the dead bracken, greys the old grass,

and the great hemisphere of air goes flying

barren and cold from desert or polar seas,

tattering fern and leaf. By the sunken pool

the sullen sodom-apple grips his scarlet fruit.


Spring, returner, knocker at the iron gates,

why should you return? None wish to live again.

Locked in our mourning, in our sluggish age,

we stand and think of past springs, of deceits not yet forgotten.

Then we answered you in youth and joy; we threw

open our strongholds, and hung our walls with flowers.

Do not ask us to answer again as then we answered.


For it is anguish to be reborn and reborn:

at every return of the overmastering season

to shed our lives in pain, to waken into the cold,

to become naked, while with unbearable effort

we make way for the new sap that burns along old channels –

while out of our life’s substance, the inmost of our being,

form those brief flowers, those sacrifices, soon falling,

which spring the returner demands, and demands for ever.


Easier, far easier, to stand with downturned eyes

and hands hanging, to let age and mourning cover us

with their dark rest, heavy like death, like the ground

from which we issued and towards which we crumble.

Easier to be one with the impotent body of winter,

and let our old leaves rattle on the wind’s currents –

to stand like the rung trees whose boughs no longer murmur

their foolish answers to spring; whose blossoms now are

the only lasting flowers, the creeping lichens of death.


Spring, impatient, thunderer at the doors of iron,

we have no songs left. Let our boughs be silent.

Hold back your fires that would sear us into flower again,

and your insistent bees, the messengers of generation.

Our bodies are old as winter and would remain in winter.

So the old trees plead, clinging to the edge of darkness.

But round their roots the mint bush makes its buds ready,


and the snake in hiding feels the sunlight’s finger.

The snake, the fang of summer, beauty’s double meaning,

shifts his slow coils and feels his springtime hunger.


– Judith Wright.



Reproduced as appears in ‘Judith Wright: Selected Poems,’ which is part of the Australian Poets series published by Angus & Robertson (1963).



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