Author photo by Peter's son, Walter Bakowski

Monday, December 21, 2009

Where words take us

(for Adam Ford and Dennis Wild)

I write poetry—

because it puts windows where there were walls


because today is a mountain

I’d like to reduce to a few stanzas


because now is the time to write it.


I write poetry, hoping to astound myself.


I write poetry because I enjoy

coaxing words

out of the corral of my ribs,

letting them graze

upon the blank page

under the shade of an adverb.


I try to write poetry clearly, use words sparingly,

each word, a small cog or spring needed

to make the poem tick.


Don’t want to fog or flood

any readers proceeding to the end of my poem,

where they may rest

in the quiet clearing

just beyond

the last full stop.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A second open letter to Kathy Charles and other writers/poets

Dear Kathy,
I've recently read some of your blog posts. Here are some literary tennis balls I'm hitting over the net to you and other writers/poets:-
TITLING YOUR BOOK
From twenty years of working in record stores, bookshops and CD stores and visiting public libraries around the world, I believe/know it in my bones that it's very important for an author to really think about the title of their book. You want to make that title one that will make the browser take it down from the shelf - make that title "a grabber".
As my track record shows I take a minimum of three years to realize a book of poems. When I've broken the ice and written the first poem of the next book, I'm already thinking of a title. Before I nailed BENEATH OUR ARMOUR as the title of my latest book, I wrestled for over two years with several working titles - "Inner Weather", "The Weather Inside" and "The Weather Inside A Person" - I did a Google search and found out an American poet has written a collection titled "Inner Weather" and an American recording artist has released a CD titled "The Weather Inside"
I encourage you to really to walk around, rub your chin and indian-wrestle with the title of your next book. Make it original. Make it yours.
I consider titles to be very important - part of their attraction and shelf-life.
Realize your next book, but while you are writing it, think about its title night and day.
WRITING ABOUT DARK SUBJECT MATTER
In the twenty-first century, serial killers, hit-men, war, acts driven by revenge, prejudice and greed exist and continue. Writing is about illuminating and exploring in order to understand,
to understand oneself/one's selves and others.
The media presents us with the shocking headlines and deeds. It will be the fiction writer, the investigative journalist, the poet, who delves deeper, and in doing so must try to enter the head space of perpetrator/assassin and victim.
A writer/poet/painter/photographer goes with their obsessions. That is their arena, their mine, the territory they are impelled to enter/re-enter. They must convey their honest responses of intrigue, repulsion, guilt, moral see-sawing/reckoning, shame.
For example of an honest responder go to the books of Primo Levi.
My Dad, once said "Why can't you write a nice poem about how the bees make honey?". I never have but I've written a poem about my father taking me to my first public library (a giant honey jar).
CONCENTRATING ON THE POEM/THE BOOK YOU'RE WRITING NOW
Forget that you've written a published book. Concentrate on the book you're writing now. I encourage you not to allow or listen to voices saying "Is this next book going to be as good as my last one?"
Roger Federer concentrates on the ball in front of him. He's not thinking of past sets/past victories and defeats. He's concentrating solely on the ball in front of him right now.
Robert Frost did say "Make your next poem different from your last"
By this he means don't rest on your laurels, don't fall back on phrases/scenes/outlooks/symbols you've used before.
Forget about your past book, it have left the 'hood, have taken on a life of its own.
WRITING ABOUT REAL AND IMAGINED PEOPLE
I reckon the autobiographical is the indisputable diving board for most fiction.
Having written poems about real people, my parents, in BENEATH OUR ARMOUR and DAYS THAT WE COULDN'T REHEARSE I have resisted diluting and cosmetically altering them.
I would encourage you to write about real people. Certainly you can change their names or have them without name '"the couple who lived next door..."
One can get powerful 'knock your socks off" writing out of writing about real people. Certainly use your intuition and maybe give a certain character one, two or three attributes, mannerisms and philosophies that the real person mightn't have, to throw them the curve ball of a smelly herring.
Writing about imaginary people in a poem/novel is addictive. Giving them a back story, unpacking their suitcases to the reader's eye, giving them an obsession/tic, a world-weary/wacko film noir outlook is exciting for the writer - if your character excites/repulses/intrigues you and you can reveal them empathetically, then you're on to a winner.
CLARITY
If someone chisels on my tombstone, "He wrote clearly" I'll be a happy corpse.
Writing clearly is the lighthouse by which I steer my craft. I want to write as clearly as possible. Charles Bukowski said "Writing is painting". Those three words are written on the inside of my lower front teeth. I'm trying to be visual in my writing without over-describing. Over-describing is the sleeping pill of writing.
Hope the above is useful.
Every good wish,
Peter Bakowski




Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An open letter to Kathy Charles and other writers/poets

Dear Kathy, I read HOLLYWOOD ENDING in two sittings. Reading it has made me order as an inter-library loan, DAY OF THE LOCUST to re-read. It also made me think about the welfare hotel where I lived (not on welfare) in downtown LA in the 1980's, catching LA buses, admiring the labels of NIGHT TRAIN (white wine) more than the contents and lining up at downtown soup kitchens. Looking at your blog has also reminded me of a weekend in London where I read three John Fante novels in one sitting, 14 hours straight and a weekend in Paris where I read three Earle Stanley Gardner novels in one sitting. I've been writing poetry exclusively for 26 years and it's still a case of facing the blank page non-anxiously - non-anxious about time and non-anxious about one's capabilities - to remind yourself "I've written before, I'll write again, I've been published, I've received praise for my writing". Charles Bukowski said "A writer should be writing". Also on his gravestone the epitaph is "Don't try" - by this I reckon he meant "When writing a novel, don't make a big deal about it and say "I'm writing a Novel" I reckon facing the blank page is a admixture of focus and calm. In the physical, emotional act of writing, you learn. Personally I've got to toil and discard, toil and discard, before I realize the engine, the guts of the piece of writing, the writing "steered" by the burning reason for that piece and in that writing I'm always checking the rear view mirror, asking "What am I trying to say in this piece of writing about people and life and have I said it clearly and strongly?" When facing the blank page I have my three P's - positivity, practice, perseverance. Often I see each line/each stanza as a hurdle. I stay at the writing desk until I hurdle that line, that paragraph/that stanza. A piece of writing has to have a beginning, a middle and an end - any section can be sparse but not skeletal, not uninteresting scaffolding through which a cold wind yawns - there has to be a world/a tableau created and the reader at best succumbs, is right there in that world for the whole revelatory, symphonic ride. Writing is about devotion, devoting protected time to writing for the whole of your life. It is anchor, flying carpet, mirror, diving board, coal miner's shovel. I encourage you to not lose one minute's sleep about similes. For close to a decade I've refrained from using the word "like" - "x" was like a picnic table etc" because I find the majority of similes are not plausible/believable/they don't work. Flannery O'Connor talked about "a reader" looking over her shoulder whenever she wrote lazily/inaccurately, saying/screeching "I don't buy it" You can write a lifetime's worth of books without using one simile. When you are feeling despondent or have the "difficult follow-up book" syndrome remember those three P's - positivity, practice, perseverance. US President, Harry S. Truman said "If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen" - When writing is extra-difficult/daunting I say "I want to stay in the kitchen of writing" Every good wish to you and yours, Peter Bakowski

Monday, November 16, 2009

What writing poetry requires

It requires regular (preferably weekly) practice. Facing the blank page regularly. What to leave behind? Negative or excusing inner voices saying, repeating “I can’t write today”, “I’ve no ideas”, I’ve got a backlog of other things to do”.

The poet is threatened by time, the telephone, the internet inbox, the lure of sunshine and walking outside away from bullring of the blank page.

The blank page is daunting but not writing induces guilt, despondency, erosion of our compass and rudder.

Facing the blank page is where we learn…and what is knowledge? –an attempt to pierce fog, murk, swamp, darkness, to reveal, to illuminate and by doing so we set an example.

The poets we admire, they have written their poems. Look at their poems, the choice and order of their words, but the narrator in your poems should be you, or one of your selves that has key, amusing or thought-provoking things to show or convey.

Writing a poem involves focus and calm simultaneously, even if the subject matter may be difficult and costly.

Writing poetry involves control and sometimes letting go of the steering wheel .

Writing poetry involves gathering what people say, how they look, what they do or refrain from doing.

Writing poetry involves noticing the shape and veins on a leaf, what the sea, night-time, and waking today, holds and means.

Writing poetry involves sifting, selecting, deciding which paints and brushstrokes to try,

which to retain.

Writing poetry involves thinking about people and life, thinking about important questions.

Reading and writing go together. Reading contemporary poetry, history, crime fiction and biographies, have given and continue to give me nourishment. Images, facts, pictures, characters, personalities from this pleasurable reading have given me many seeds for poems.

Much writing is a mix of personal/historical fact and the imagination. Both careful and vigorous mixing of fact and imagination has given and continues to give us engaging pieces of writing.

Literature survives due to our writers utilizing image and story. To ignore image and story is to have a hulk of words without windows, an engine or a colourful driver.

Tell the reader, the listener, the truth of your life, how you have perceived yourself, those around you, your neighbourhood and country, this spinning and phenomenal earth.

Writing involves courage, crossing the tundra of the blank page, but you can turn that blank page into a dancehall, a boudoir, the Amazon river, a mirror.

Writing is about the reality of putting words on paper or on a computer screen. I’ve written this today. Now I can move on to the next piece of writing, my next appointment with putting one word foot in front of the other, something that toddlers, pilgrims, explorers and sages do.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

October in the railroad earth of Melbourne 2009

Reading Jack Kerouac at the age of eighteen, made me want to hit the road. In the early 1980's I hit the road for seven years. October in the northern hemisphere remains a cherished month. October 15 is my birthdate and also my mother's birthdate.
As a poet I remain enthralled by the duality of the world - between work focus and the equally necessary times when we take a nap, sit on a park bench or "goof off".
Time is part of that duality - when time is a prison guard and we cower under his truncheon or on the other side of the day's mirror when we sit in a green field and are made quiet in watching the wind chess move the clouds.
The way we spend time can not always be called wise. Offering our love to someone who can't reciprocate it is a "waste" of time but only if we don't learn, move out of the dust and our begging clothes.
Earlier this month I sold a copy of my latest volume of poems, "Beneath Our Armour" to Elvis Costello. Have found myself re-listening to his recording "Painted From Memory" and also re-hearing in my head his song "Alison" I think the heightened knockout singing performances are when the singer isn't acting, singing from a persona. Two examples of the singer revealing himself are Bob Dylan's "I Threw It All Away" and his "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go." Please note that Elvis Costello has been known to sing "I Threw It All Away" live.
Let's go for the song and the poem that we have to write because our heart has had a match lit underneath it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Why I haven't suicided

To me being suicidal is when a person cannot see any ladder up/a life preserver they can grasp. I didn't suicide when extremely lonely in London in the 1980's because I considered to do so would be a slap in the face to surgeons that saved my life via heart surgery. To a degree I feel that suicide is "unnatural" - to the best of my knowledge animals don't suicide. To a degree I consider suicide a middle class "indulgence" - most people who suicide aren't without food, shelter, warm clothing. Continuing, striving, having "hope" is certainly a hard and thorny road. The extremely difficult parts of our lives, in surviving them, we learn and knowledge is an anchor. My poem, "Self-portrait with beliefs, 19 October 1997" contains the lines "In fact, I'd say/that curiosity/is my best friend..." Falling in love with the map of the world at the age of six has given me a reason to continue. Reading books in rooms throughout the world saved my life. A suicide is a warning, an event to stop you in your tracks to grieve and think. Sometimes we must stop our rushing and see and absorb again how miraculous is a bird poised on roof guttering beyond our kitchen window.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Writing a parent poem

There is the immediate moment and there is the past, which in literature has been compared to an ocean, a hall of mirrors, another country. Whatever it is, it is worthy of exploration. In remembering, let’s remember the heightened moment – our first reading of a certain book, a reoccurring childhood nightmare, seeing a parent cry, the trouncing of a bully.

To write a poem about a parent or both parents is a vital challenge. It requires honesty, that the writer remembers correctly, that the writer rigorously refrains from diluting/defusing events and words spoken. A parent poem requires exposure, to put family members on the stage.

The parent poem is invaluable to both the writer and the reader. By revealing the personal, frankly and vividly, the writer holds high a lantern, illuminates human lives, be they exemplary, imperfect or scarred. The best autobiographical writing finds the riveted reader saying out loud “Yes, yes, I’ve felt exactly like that!”

The parent poem is needed. Whether it’s a homage or a leap through fire you’ll only learn through writing it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

When your parents are divorcing

At parties in the Eastern surburbs of Melbourne in the late 1960's/early 1970's my Polish father, flirted compulsively, fueled by Polish and Russian vodka. At these parties, my mother sat on a sofa studying the hem of a lampshade. In the family car on the way home my mother's valid accusations would start. My Dad claimed/shouted that he should be allowed to be himself, that he was gregarious by nature, loved friends, drinking and dancing. 
My father felt tethered, that Mum was a less than warm-blooded German anchored to the three "C"s - children, cooking and church. At these parties my mother felt humiliated, ashamed, by her husband's close dancing and laughter with the wives and girlfriends of others. She felt neglected, unnoticed, unconsidered, wringing her hands on that sofa.
Back at the family home, often at 1 or 2 a.m. the fighting continued in the kitchen to the sounds of Dad throwing a bowl or plate against the wall. Mum shouted at Dad to "go to hell, go to the devil" in German. Sometimes he hit/slapped Mum and then, slamming the front door of the house, drove off in the family car, returning at dawn or later.
I was 17/18 at the time and the known universe had a huge crack in it. There was no-one for my younger brother or I to turn to for counsel. Both parents were stunned and exhausted combatants in the tawdry boxing ring of their marriage.
Their temperaments were different and ultimately a ruinous match. My Dad's flirting which he rationalized as "harmless flirting" further eroded my mother's self-esteem, which has never been high or healthy. I see them now as victims. My father, not having a proper role model, because his father died young, beaten to death in a WWII concentration camp. My mother, immediately after WWII, urged by her parents to leave Poland, escaped to the West, which she did at the immeasurable cost of never of seeing either of them again.
I've written two poems about my parents' divorce - The Children of Divorce which appears in my third collection Days That We Couldn't Rehearse and At 10 Rosebank Terrace, Lower Templestowe which appears in my fourth collection, Beneath Our Armour.
Besides victims there are survivors, some who may learn/glean something from trauma - poems andautobiographies in print and film.  
 

Monday, July 27, 2009

Beneath Our Armour

Beneath Our Armour is comprised entirely of portrait poems of real and imagined people. Poems are set in Macau, Hong Kong, Suzhou, London, Ireland, Siberia, rural Australia. Includes portraits of prisoners of war, criminals, visual artists, teenagers and children. $21 a copy, includes postage within Australia 

Crime fiction poetry 1

I've been writing crime fiction poems off and on for more than a decade. It's part of my ongoing investigation in portrait poems of what's destructive in an individual. I've read several hundred crime fiction novels. What fascinates me in them is the difficult history of an individual, the circumstances, forces and pressures which have made them wounded, warped, murderous.
The past decade has seen the rise of Scandinavian crime fiction. In the 1970's many non-Scandinavians saw Scandinavia as the liberal dream, a benevolent society taking care of its populace.
Anyone reading contemporary Scandinavian crime fiction will quickly be made aware that things are rotten in Denmark and further north. Those long winters, bored teenagers gathering in the mall or downtown shopping precinct, loners living in run-down apartment blocks, car and drug-smuggling between Eastern Europe and Scandinavia have shown us that Scandinavian crime fiction writers are asking hard questions about their society.
This is to be applauded. Also to be applauded are the driven, obsessive detectives and police officers who go without sleep, drink bad coffee, are poets of the clue, not resting until the nagging, niggling thought leads to a revelation/a case breakthrough. These are the knights, overdue for retirement, who cannot rest until the monster criminal is ambushed, handcuffed, tried and sentenced. Allow these detectives and police officers their pleasures - a generous nightcap, some musing time in an armchair listening to Coltrane or Callas, their fantasy of a long holiday in far warmer Spain. 
The crime fiction torch has been passed from the Californian likes of Chandler, Hammett and Macdonald to the Scandinavians. Go figure. 


 

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Instructions to horsemen, Krakow, Poland, 1241

Your journey will be long,

dangers certain.

From clouds snakes will fall.

These can be killed only

by those amongst you

who have eaten wolf.

 

Don’t drink from pond or stream

in which black reeds grow.

One mouthful will turn you to stone.

Sleep with an eagle feather

clasped in your fist.

This keeps away lightning.

 

Find my son,

carried off by Tartars.

He has a crescent-shaped scar

on his left cheek.

By this you will know him.

One hundred fine horses

for his safe return.

 

I’m too old to ride with you.

Be my eyes,                                                                                                           

vigilant in every village and forest.

Put an end to my nightmares

in which two Tartars                                                                                                                                    

whip my blindfolded son

towards the edge of a cliff.  

(from Beneath Our Armour)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Portrait of blood

The thin armour

you give the newborn,

the midwife

washes away.

 

In playgrounds,

when the bullied fall,

you rush

to the hill of a bruise.

 

The shape of your engine room,

lovers carve into tree trunks.

 

In war

you blossom from

every wounded soldier and civilian.

In the field hospital

you glisten on

the gloved hands of surgeons

and each busy scalpel.  

 

You’re not to be trusted,

rummaging in the attic of our skulls,

studying the blueprints of our veins,

deciding where to place

your quick assassins,

clot and haemorrhage.

 

I hold my breath,

check my pulse,

as you make your rounds.


(from Beneath Our Armour)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Portrait of Verna Yan, crime fiction writer

Ten pages a day in longhand,

Verna’s new novel is going well.

 

Verna sits on a park bench overlooking the Pearl River.

There beneath its surface—                                                                                                        

fish, eels, crabs,

perhaps the revolver she dropped into it 

two decades ago.

 

She watches—                                                                                                                                        

a stray dog leave the shade of a tattered palm

to paw at a watermelon rind,

a couple dancing on an apartment terrace.

The tango music is loud,

the woman bends to the man’s lead,

his lips move closer to the lobe of her right ear.

They are kissing, not dancing.

The man is shirtless now.

Both fall to their knees,

roll away from view.

 

Verna returns

to her apartment,

to re-reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

by Raymond Carver,

stories about feelings expressed haltingly, violently or too late.

 

Verna looks at herself in the mirror, sees again—

that upper tooth chipped when she fell down the apartment stairs

on another blurred morning dedicated to drinking gin,                                                                       

a woman who shot her cheating husband

in a Coloane apartment twenty years ago.

Two bullets in his lying face—

a mess for the maid to find

when she came for more than the cleaning

each Wednesday.

 

Verna

moves towards her bedroom,

gets into bed,

thinking about the new character

who will appear in the next chapter.

She’s decided his name

and whom he’ll kill first.


(from Beneath Our Armour) 

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jose Anok, former prisoner of war, Hong Kong

Two Japanese soldiers tied me to the lamppost with rope.

Their commanding officer had a small mole on his right cheek.

He showed me the knife.

When he began I fainted.


Thirst. Dizziness. Buzzing flies.

My hand moved up to my right ear.

A hole. Congealed blood. I fainted again.

 

In the prison camp I begged a fellow prisoner to slash my throat.

“Not for a double ration of rice,” he said.

His name was Wang,

He and I became master rat-catchers,

cooked them on the blade of a shovel,

sucked each bone clean.

 

When the Japanese surrendered,

Wang returned to the mainland,

I remained in Hong Kong,

laboured unloading cargo

down on the waterfront.

 

Bought a gun off a seaman.

Many times I’ve stood in front of the hotel mirror,

the muzzle of the gun in my mouth.

 

Opium allows me

to briefly float free of my ribs.

 

I’ve written to my father,

told him I’ve met a kind woman,

been promoted to foreman.

The crafting of these lies

finds me opening the hotel drawer,

lifting out the gun again.

 

Last week,

I threw a brick through the window

of another Japanese restaurant.

 

I wait for the knock on the door.

I imagine the one handcuffing me,

a rookie,

the war, pages in a history book

he studied at high school.

 

In the cell,

I’ll look at

the walls,

the initials and dates

scratched there.


(from Beneath Our Armour) 

The Neon Hunger

Crime fiction poems chapbook published in Toronto. Goes for noir feel influenced by reading Block, Thompson, Westlake and Simenon. $7 post-free within Australia.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Macau, city of exiles

Wen stares into the bathroom mirror,

touches lightly his graying hair,                                                                                                          

the black eye patch that covers the hollow

made by a Japanese sniper’s bullet

in the Manchurian winter of 1939.


Blood-stained tufts of grass.                                                                                                               

Strong hands lifting him from the mud,

being strapped to the back of a horse,

how swiftly the ground moved beneath them.

    

The inside of a tent.

A face, a doctor in a bloody gown,

who apologized for the field hospital’s

lack of morphine.  

The doctor looked down at the dirt floor,

then at Wen,

“As well as your right eye,

you lost a finger to frostbite.”

 

After the war

Wen worked his way south.

Cut hair near the railway station in Tianjin,

repaired bicycles in Wuhan,

sold medicinal herbs in Guangzhou,

paid to have himself smuggled into Macau

on a fishing boat.

 

Wen sometimes plays cards with his widow neighbour,

Mrs Cheng.                                                                                                     

 

They talk about

the best place in Macau to sample eel,

their favourite Fado singers,

how strong and sweet they like their coffee.

 

They talk

of the past -

working in the fields alongside a parent or ox,

the first time either of them saw an aeroplane,

the proverbs a grandfather repeated.

 

Mrs Cheng and Wen

talk about

the Shanghai actress, Lotus Chang,

who owed five hundred masks,

her sailor lover who threw himself into the mouth

of a Javanese volcano.

 

The afternoon brings a cooling breeze.

Mrs Cheng offers Wen a second piece of Madeira cake.

He pats his stomach in protest, then accepts.

 

Both are quiet for a while,

each thinking of which card to play next.


(from Beneath Our Armour)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Times for drinking tea in China

When you’ve bargained well at the market

When you’ve cleared stones from a field

When sheltering from rain

When the horse you’ve tethered quietens

When resting by a riverbank

When a stream’s fish resist your baited hook and shining lures

When envious of a neighbour’s larger herd of goats.

When dreaming of leaving your village, never to return.

 

When the landlord visits

When remembering lean years, the selling of family heirlooms to buy food

When the midwife has left, her good work done

When a fox has been amongst your chickens

When a lost sheep is found, bleating in a ditch

When you’ve repaired your bicycle, brushed the dirt from your knees

When you’re the only one awake in the dormitory

When far from home.  

 

When thinking about what your parents taught you

When thinking about what you’re had to learn for yourself

When you’ve paid off a debt

When trying to understand a relative

When you’ve paced the room for too long

When discussing the afterlife

When the fog lifts from the path you’ve taken

When your tea canister is almost empty.


(from Beneath Our Armour)   

 

 

 

At Brunswick Heads, New South Wales, September 2006

The river is brown-hued, wide.

In its shallows small black fish appear,

hyphens of life,

pleasing barefoot children.

The river is pelican-ushered to the sea.                       .

 

The beach curves south to a crop of hills

where a white lighthouse stands,

its spiralling stairs now climbed

by camera-burdened tourists.

In the sky, there’s a small plane, silver-bellied, 

gone when you turned                                                                                                 

to a Ruth Rendell paperback.

 

This coastline asks you to name yourself,

fisherman, beachcomber, surfer, retiree,

to examine whether you’re more than that.

 

A gull,

eases from rock to sky,

becomes a speck and miracle

to a small boy, a sandcastle lord,

standing sandy-kneed, squinting.

 

The wind, the waves, play their games of give and take,

the horizon searches its deep pockets

for the makings of tomorrow’s weather.


(from Beneath Our Armour)

A cup of water, Suzhou, October 1945


The cup of water

accepts

rain

the wind

a leaf leaving its mother.

 

It has heard

husbands and generals give orders,

grandparents talk of gods and ancestors,

children conversing with a friend or sorcerer

whom no adult can see.

 

Set

on bench or table

 it hears

 the swish of a broom,

 a cat scratching at a closed door,

 the clock complaining

 that it’s only a clock,

 a button torn from a lover’s robe

 roll across a bedroom floor.

 

The cup of water is

 raised to the lips of

 a monk,

 a fisherman,

 a fortune teller,

 an orphan.

 

 The cup of water waits

 to be refilled,

 to be of use

 or forgotten.

 

 It waits for footsteps,

 the nearness of a hand.

 

 * This poem was commissioned by the Victorian Government as part of a gift to Jiangsu Province, China, honouring their sister-state friendship.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Portrait of Diego Rivera, December 1955

I will paint

my eroded mother,

surrounded by tiny coffins,

trying to climb a ladder to heaven,

her feet

made of wet sand.

 

I will paint

my earnest father,

trying to juggle sacks of money and his heart,

his hands on fire.

 

I will paint

the two lovers,

the selves they cannot learn or flee,

the time between kisses growing longer,

the time between lies growing shorter.

 

I will paint

the sky raining blood,

villagers anxious beneath it,

some wiping the blood

from their children’s foreheads

with shreds of the Mexican flag,

others trying to catch every drop in soup bowls.

 

I will paint

what Spain, Paris, Detroit,

California, New York City, Mexico,

each sampled woman, grain and fruit,

have meant to me,

king of gluttony, seated at table,

reaching for knife and fork

as a skeleton waiter whisks away

my unfinished heart.

                                                            (from Beneath Our Armour)                                          

Days that we couldn't rehearse

Third collection.  Contains poems set in Paris, Dunkerque, Sarajevo, Transylvania, Uzbekistan, Russia, outback Australia and the Melbourne suburbs of St.Kilda and Richmond. Contains autobiographical and philosophical poems, poem about Freya Stark, poem about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. $22 post-free within Australia.  

The heart at 3 a.m.

Second collection. Includes poems set in Rome, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Egypt, Sudan and outback Australia. Also contains ultra-short poems. $15 post-free within Australia.  

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sylvia Plath writing in her journal, 23 Fitzroy Road, London, February 1963


7 a.m.

Beyond the bedpost

no mirage of glad husband

moving tall towards me with his English offer

of toast and marmalade,

a cup of tea.

He’s with another.                                                                                                   

 

She has mongrel blood,

a Knightsbridge accent,

can turn a man into

a spinning top,

an arsonist in the house of marriage.

 

One day she’ll become

a book that my husband

has tired of reading.

 

I’ll go soon, far from

Massachusetts, Devon, London,

the zoo where my selves are caged,

venomous snake,

sacrificial lamb,

sleepless monkey examining its fleas.

 

Outside snowflakes fall,

drafts of a poem torn to bits.

 

In the night sky

I see the Zoo-keeper.

From his starlit belt

important keys hang.

 

He moves towards me,

I towards him.

 

We’ll embrace

where it’s black.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

At Brunswick Heads, New South Wales, September 2006

The river is brown-hued, wide.

In its shallows small black fish appear,

hyphens of life,

pleasing barefoot children.

The river is pelican-ushered to the sea.                       

 

The beach curves south to a crop of hills

where a white lighthouse stands,

its spiralling stairs now climbed

by camera-burdened tourists.

In the sky, there’s a small plane, silver-bellied, 

gone when you turned 

to a Ruth Rendell paperback.

 

This coastline asks you to name yourself,

fisherman, beachcomber, surfer, retiree,

to examine whether you’re more than that.


 A gull,

eases from rock to sky,

becomes a speck and miracle

to a small boy, a sandcastle lord,

standing sandy-kneed, squinting.


The wind, the waves, play their games of give and take,

the horizon searches its deep pockets

for the makings of tomorrow’s weather.

 

In the human night

Winner of the Victorian Premiers Award. Represents first 11 years of poetry. Poems set in Melbourne, Berlin and Cairo. Contains Charles Bukowski, Billie Holiday and Janet Frame homage poems. $15 post free within Australia