Feb 27, 2014

Wild Geese – Mary Oliver

(1935–Current, American)

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Oliver, M 1986. ‘Wild Geese’, Dream Work, Atlantic Monthly Press (Boston, MA)

Jan 22, 2014

Against Coupling – Fleur Adcock

[1934–current, born New Zealand, but spent most of life in England]

I write in praise of the solitary act: 
of not feeling a trespassing tongue 
forced into one’s mouth, one’s breath 
smothered, nipples crushed against the 
ribcage, and that metallic tingling 
in the chin set off by a certain odd nerve:

unpleasure. Just to avoid those eyes would help – 
such eyes as a young girl draws life from, 
listening to the vegetal 
rustle within her, as his gaze 
stirs polypal fronds in the obscure 
sea-bed of her body, and her own eyes blur.

There is much to be said for abandoning 
this no longer novel exercise –
for not ‘participating in 
a total experience’ – when 
one feels like the lady in Leeds who 
had seen The Sound of Music eighty-six times;

or more, perhaps, like the school drama mistress 
producing A Midsummer Night’s Dream 
for the seventh year running, with 
yet another cast from 5B. 
Pyramus and Thisbe are dead, 
but the hole in the wall can still be troublesome.

I advise you, then, to embrace it without 
encumbrance. No need to set the scene, 
dress up (or undress), make speeches. 
Five minutes of solitude are 
enough – in the bath, or to fill 
that gap between the Sunday papers and lunch.

Source:   Goodwin, D 2002, 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life: An Anthology of Emotional First Aid, Harper.

Dec 5, 2013

Untitled (And the days are not full enough…) – Ezra Pound

[1885–1972, American]

And the days are not full enough 
And the nights are not full enough 
And life slips by like a field mouse 
Not shaking the grass 

Source: Pound, E 1926, Personae, New Directions Press. 

Funeral Blues – WH Auden

[1907–1973, born England, migrated to America]

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crépe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,
I thought that love would last forever: ‘I was wrong’

The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Source: Auden, WH 1940, Another Time, New York Press.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night – Dylan Thomas

[1914–1953, Welsh]

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse; bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Source: Thomas, D 1952, The Poems of Dylan Thomas, New Directions Publishing Corporation.

D’Ya Ever Have One of Those Days Tommy? – Paul Summers

[1967–current, English]

When even sticking on 
the telly for lunchtime 
neighbours is a bit of an 
      effort?

When you guzzle milk
instead of tea ‘cos
you can’t be arsed 
to wait for the 
      kettle?

d’y’ever just sit 
in an armchair for a whole 
afternoon and think
how it felt to be cast in 
      ironside?

or count up the 
      speckles on a 
woodchipped wall?

sometimes after
casualty I think I’ve got 
      cancer,

I think that I’m dying
when I’m really just 
      bored.

Source: Summers, P 1998, The Last Bus, Iron Press.

Cryptographs – Philip Salom

[1950–current, Australian]

The air moves on you like a naked woman.
The night’s made the shape of a shop.
You’ve been offered one and stolen from the other 
and glad it was that way about.

Avoid people who bore you,
nothing’s so dull as your wrists
when your blood beats like some rock and roll
you couldn’t even stand as a kid.

A risk’s not a short-cut but a new way 
home, as home’s not the same river twice.
Swim in the art like a lover comes, or 
risk to – the windows lift up like a gasp.

Sunk into language you can swim 
without moving. The currents sway you 
as much as the sharks.

Or sit there in its armchair
as it stares coolly from the fireplace 
and you go up in flames. 

Looking for a title
then seeing what the hunger is 
and what all art is: 
feeding the ghost. 

And having fed it I 
in choosing words for what
did not at the time exist
make it our illusion.

The poem pretends to exist 
like a fact before the title
but all the emptiness is 
named by this. Paradigm.

The wall remembers everything,
staying on when you should have left, 
saying yes when you really meant no
and all such shameful vacuums.

Source: Salom, P 1993, Feeding the ghost, Penguin Books London.

3. Arrival of a 75 per center to the Burns Unit – Heather Cam

[1955current, born Canada, migrated to Australia in 1977]

They wheeled him in
just before the dinner trolley
wrapped like Lazarus,
but howling
howling so you’d know he was alive.


Source: Cam, H 1990, ‘The Moon’s Hook’, Poetry Australia 125, South Head Press, Sydney.

2. Burns Unit – Heather Cam

[1955current, born Canada, migrated to Australia in 1977]

Twice daily the Nurse of the Salt Baths
worships and washes my devastation.
Then she wraps my precious body in a turban
of gauzy dressings drenched in unguents
and wheels me
like a sultan on a litter
back to the Bubble in the Burns Unit.

In the antechamber my visitors are waiting,
receiving strict instructions
to maintain the proper distance.
They shuffle in:
feet bandaged, heads covered, masked and mittened,
draped in starched hospital gowns,
shamefully aware of the burden of bacteria,
and the risk they pose to this Sterilized Zone
and to my recovery.

They hold up offerings:
cards I may not open,
flowers I may not smell,
hands I may not hold.
They hold in check the desire to see my hurt,
my singed skin.

Like desert melons after a freakish rain,
bubbles are bursting out under the bandages,
oozing sap, crusting into scabs, itching like mad,
like sand in the eyes, like sand flies –
for I must not forget, must not forget,
even I must not touch, must not rub, must not scratch.
Tense and urgent, I listen
for the rattle of the drugs trolley;
sweating for the pills that numb this healing itch.

The sweet pink pills will lie on my tongue
like a blessing
promising relief, release from my beleaguered body.
Swallowed, they will soon smudge me out;
mercifully smear me into a blur like sleep.
Where I dream

a lonely desert crossing,
a caravan in camel-slow procession,
through sand-storms and torturous dreams of houris
and the occasional oasis,
but mostly to another day of sun,
cantankerous camels,
and endless desert sands,
over which I, Suntan of the Bedouin,
ride to my healing.

Source:   Cam, H 1990, ‘The Moon’s Hook’, Poetry Australia 125, South Head Press, Sydney.

 *   Houris definition from thefreedictionary.com (5 Oct 2012): 1. A voluptuous, alluring woman. 2. One of the beautiful virgins of the Koranic paradise.

1. Tarot Reading – Heather Cam

[1955current, born Canada, migrated to Australia in 1977]

Touching the back of every card
in the tight-lipped pack
I shuffled, cut and drew
The Tower of Destruction
scene of disaster and disarray
in vivid suspension:
turrets about to crumble;
guardsmen in a headlong tumble;
petals of hard hot rain,
hanging heavy as portents in the thickening air.

Two days later
the hard hot rain fell down, fell down,
not arrows, spears nor cannon balls,
but precise pellets of pain
spilling from a height –
boiling water
across my bare bare back,
burning burning
into my mind the Tarot pack.


Source: Cam, H 1990, ‘The Moon’s Hook’, Poetry Australia 125, South Head Press, Sydney.

Dec 4, 2013

Age looking back at its youth – John M Ridland

We had so little, yet we had so much:
Thunder and lightning at the lightest touch.


Source: Ridland, JM 2011 (February), 'Age looking back at its youth', Poetry magazine. 

Nov 18, 2013

A Poison Tree – William Blake

[1757–1827, English]

I was angry with my friend: 
I told my wrath, my wrath did end. 
I was angry with my foe: 
I told it not, my wrath did grow. 

And I watered it in fears 
Night and morning with my tears, 
And I sunned it with smiles 
And with soft deceitful wiles. 

And it grew both day and night, 
Till it bore an apple bright, 
And my foe beheld it shine, 
And he knew that it was mine,– 

And into my garden stole 
When the night had veiled the pole; 
In the morning, glad, I see 
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Source: Blake, W 1794, Songs of Experience.

Proverbs 17:1 – David Curzon

[Born Australia, migrated to America]

Better is a dry morsel with quiet

and a key turning in a front lock,
a door that opens onto empty rooms,
a lonely mouth watering at the thought
of a kiss as it reads a trashy romance,
and a death undiscovered for several days,
and a funeral to which few come,

than a house full of feasting with strife

Source: Curson, D 1998, The view from Jacob’s Ladder, Jewish Publ., USA.

A Statistician to His Love – Peter Goldsworthy

[1951–current, Australian]

Men kill women in bedrooms, usually 
by hand, or gun. Women kill men, 
less often, in kitchens, with knives. 
Don’t be alarmed, there is understanding 
to be sucked from all such hard 
and bony facts, or at least a sense 
of symmetry. Drowned men – an 
instance – float face down, women up. 
But women, ignited, burn more fiercely. 
The death camp pyres were therefore, 
sensibly, women and children first, 
an oily kind of kindling. The men 
were stacked in rows on top. Yes, 
there is always logic in this world. 
And neatness. And the comfort 
of fact. Did I mention that suicides 
outnumber homicides? The figures 
are reliable. So stay awhile yet 
with me: the person to avoid, alone,
is mostly you yourself.

Source: Goldsworthy, P 1992, After the Ball, National Library of Australia, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.

Oct 21, 2013

Excerpt from ‘Little Gidding’ – TS Eliot

[1888–1965, Born in Britain, migrated to America]

We shall not cease from exploration.
And the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.

Source: Eliot, TS 1943, ‘Little Gidding’, Four Quartets, Harcourt (US).