Eighteen ‘fugitive poems’, with notes by the author.
These poems are so old you probably weren’t even born when they were written.
- On Reading an Electrical Meter…
- The People
- Lives of the Poets
- Small Animal Poem
- The White Hole Paradox
- After Reading ‘Four Quartets’
- The Winds
- Two Haikus
- Two Short Poems, after Li Po
- A Big Country
- An Australian Sends a Postcard Home
- Two Poems for Mr Stevens
- Found Poem — The Stabiliser
The Latin poet Horace was reflective rather than passionate. His poem on the theme of remorseless time, that passes and devours everything, is known not by its title — Latin poems generally didn’t have titles — but by its first words, Eheu fugaces — ‘Alas, fleeting’.
i keep nothing from her
i share with her all i have
she will leave me
others will harbour her
on her long flight to victory
and hide her by night
— H.M.Enzensberger, ‘Joy’
These eighteen poems of mine are ‘fugitive’; that is, they have appeared in magazines or newspapers at various times over the thirty-odd years since I published my first poem, but they were passed over, along with many others, when I came to gather material for my various books, and are thus hard to find.
Some of them simply didn’t fit the mood or tone of a particular collection; or they were in prose when I wanted verse, or they were too slight and sentimental to sit comfortably alongside stronger work; some are simply occasional pieces. Time passed — alas, fleeting — and they faded from view. Most of my early poems can best be left in that twilight; but I should like to allow these few a glimpse of the sun again.
Thanks are due to Erica Travers for bringing some of these poems into the light after their long hibernation, and also to Lyn Tranter, Joanne Burns and Martin Duwell for their helpful advice.
— John Tranter, Sydney, 1997
The boat sprawls on the vast waste of heat.
He drops into the water, slow and heavy.
It is easy, he thinks, as though falling
from a sky brimming with rain, high above
a dark landscape. The wreck
crusts across the yellow floor
under the hollow gong of the sea.
A fish drifts up to a window, pauses,
decides to turn back into the room full of boredom.
His head is locked in a glass cage.
He can hear the lonely chatter of crockery
through the pipe. A smile breaks into his face,
he is floating like a burning angel
across the cold, glowing valley of sand.
(Poetry Australia, No 17, August 1967)
Note : I had done a lot of skin-diving during my late teenage years, though this diver has a helmet and an air-hose, which links the image to an illustration from a book from my childhood.
she wakes into the peach-glow bedroom
like a jet / the orange lips
writhing on the taste of bitter light
the flood-green eyes / exploding hair
(the avalanche of morning from the curtains
sluices white across the sheets)
and, gathering the strength of brightness like a shroud
the burning body rises, limbs depart,
the golden flesh / savaged in the dark / assaults the air!
(Poetry Magazine, No 6, December 1968)
Note: Late sixties motor-driven imagism — I can hear the soundtrack of a movie by, say, Antonioni, or perhaps Minelli’s film ‘Two Weeks in Another Town’; thin models with excessive European makeup, and synaesthesia out of the Symbolist Movement (‘the taste of bitter light’).
Arthur Rimbaud’s poem ‘Being Beauteous’ (he titled it in English, meaning ‘Beauteous Being’) is where the image comes from, and his ghost works hard in the cockpit, cranking the motors, trying to lift the thing off the ground before we run out of tarmac! As he says in another of his poems, ‘What can I have been drinking?’
On Reading an Electrical Meter
at the House of the Rising Son
In the twenty-fifth year of my age
I find myself a Ford at Bomaderry
the tank dry, starved between
one collision and the next garage.
Adelaide flames and howls under the horizon
lighting up a petty testament of waste.
Apart from the moment of accidental vision
the dull grey trees stand about
inclined to olive, drab, cold, gathering in trembling clumps
under the lowering field of cloud.
You are not alone in this Southern desert;
love, like a wounded elephant, terrible and pathetic
storms the deadly streets to hunt us down.
(Transit magazine No 1, September 1968)
Note: I have always regarded ‘Ern Malley’, the hoax poet concocted in Melbourne (Australia) by the young James McAuley and Harold Stewart in 1943, as an early master, along with Kenneth Slessor and Francis Webb, and the appearance of his complete oeuvre in the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry was long overdue. [The book is available in the UK and the US as the Bloodaxe Book of Modern Australian Poetry.] The ambiguous beauty of his poems may now enchant schoolchildren as it once did me.
This piece, published pseudonymously in Transit magazine in the annus mirabilis 1968, argues with Malley’s ‘Petit Testament’, copying the first line exactly, parodying the first quatrain rhyme for rhyme and almost word for word, then branching off into a loose criticism of Australian literary life in the forties in a way that reminds me of A.D.Hope’s jeremiad ‘Australia’, with an elephantine image in the style of Jacques Prevert (the Rod KcKuen of French Surrealism) thrown in at the end. Malley’s opening line, by the way, is taken from Pound, who took it from François Villon. Here’s Pound’s poem ‘E.P. Ode pour l’Election de son Sepulcre’, Part I, last stanza:
Unaffected by ‘the march of events’
He passed from men’s memory in l’an trentiesme
De son eage; the case presents
No adjunct to the Muses’ diadem.
The people come down from the hills
in the evening. We greet them.
Woodsmoke follows the valley,
it is the quiet time of the year.
We walk with them a short way
for we shall not see them again.
They will pass over the ocean
hoping for nothing, receiving the sky
and we shall continue in the valley
from spring to autumn, planting
and reaping, and in the blue winter night
dreaming of the gentle people who departed.
(Poetry Australia, August 1969)
Note: I think my favourite line in all my writing occurs in this poem: ‘Woodsmoke follows the valley’ — though the poem as a whole fails to live up to it.
The farmhouse I grew up in looked over an unpopulated valley miles long; in the summer evenings flying foxes flapped past our verandah, two hundred feet above the valley floor, on their clumsy aerial trek toward the sunset. In my mid-teenage years I had taken a liking to science fiction. Hence the peculiar mood of the piece — unlike most of my other poems, this poem avoids the particular and attempts a general watercolour effect.
Lives of the Poets (prose poem)
Poets are very much the same, thought they differ greatly. The same in their craft though they differ in that too, being not at all alike in their approach to their image of themselves and what they think they are capable of, handling this craft, and even carrying parts of it into the future for the use of new generations. It’s like developing the diesel engine, I guess, and discovering years later that all that sweat and toil found its way not into beautiful limousines but into dirty trucks, and to realise that the drivers are mostly dirty too must be quite a blow; so in that aspect it’s like being an automotive engineer working his way up a blind alley full of diesel fumes.
There are, no doubt, young poets who start out as old men ready to do ‘a good day’s work’ and who are prepared to rest content with that little amount of primitive satisfaction; thus they are seen always as old men who would be wise and brimming with kissy certainties.
They fall into a ‘stance’ early, and seldom become any less rigid; these we can do without, though they do have their uses on a cold winter’s evening by the fireside when we are a little tired of life and all its niggling puzzles, and want to find the cat old and comfortable as much as the occasional book of ‘verse’ which we are kind enough to read, and happy enough to receive, frosty evenings being what they are and old men often being warm and friendly, and thus they are also like doormats full of well-known and comfortable dust.
Then there are young poets on the make, and often they do indeed make things, being little more than a blend of stage impresario and greedy kid, and they need to find something to sell, and they do get it or make it or imitate something like it, and because of the wheeling and dealing they are so good at they often end up in politics which is where they should have begun, except they leave the sky of poetry tainted with their smudge, and that takes a lot to wipe it clean again, and sometimes the atmosphere is never clean. We should leave these fish alone, but we cannot ignore them as thoroughly as we should, for it is part of their nature to be ubiquitous and coming up at you in all directions.
And further, components of these fellows creep to the surface in other types of poets; perhaps this is the most important reason not to ignore them altogether.
So to paint a fuller picture of this seedy alley it is best to abandon the approach of using ‘categories’, and their gluey labels, because one fish will jump out of his bag into another’s and eat all the bait. The advertising agencies will quote Confucius to you, and we had better listen: a picture is more effective than a thousand words, for example, when trying to get across the idea of the non-slip climbers’ knot.
Here, then, is the picture of the perfect Poet.
He is young, though not for long. He writes all day and most of the night, but only for a couple of weeks at a time, as the effort tires his inspiration and he soon falls into alcoholism. Later, just before the fashion is about to get off the ground, he tries other drugs, but only because they may be of use to him. They are not of use to him nor to his poetry, which has begun to grow by now, numbering somewhere in the hundreds.
This is where he has to grapple with several problems other than his own ability to write, for he has achieved that quite well, and there is much more to be done with his new equipment. So the Poet begins to worry about lots of things and that is where we must leave him.
That was not much of a Lives of the Poets, but never mind, there are plenty of others, though their disadvantage in this context is that they very much resemble the story you have just heard, so there is little use repeating them. The Beautiful Children, after all, never existed; and it is a waste of good salt water to weep for them and their impossible Love.
(Meanjin, Vol 35 No 3, September 1976)
Note: I became intrigued by prose poems when I first read Rimbaud in 1959; building on Judith Gautier’s prose translations of Japanese poetry into French, and on Baudelaire and other writers, he reinvented the form as a vehicle for the destruction and renovation of modern verse.
In English, in the wrong hands, the prose poem can sound like sloppily-translated Mallarmé mixed with a packet of Proust and a pint of purple paste in a blender, and I didn’t feel comfortable with it as a contemporary experimental device until I’d seen Ashbery’s book ‘Three Poems’ — not three poems at all, but three marble bluffs of unparagraphed prose. The trick was to use discursive prose, not poetic descriptive prose.
Somewhere between Blaise Cendrars and the Goon Show, a new poetic awaits its avatars.
Small Animal Poem
Okay, there’s room for one
more small animal in my life,
behind the bad future, as long as he
doesn’t complain. His fate will be secret;
I am not to blame.
If you imagine you are not so
lucky today, rehearses the other,
the guilty animal, look at tomorrow —
the good days are gone, in future everything
you do goes wrong,
you will be broken down. But
the new arrival, the blameless
animal, I warn him, is not to know
that his future’s just begun, nor how soon
the damage will be done.
(Overland, No 74, 1979)
Note: The stanzas are not quite sapphics, but they’re more like sapphics than most of what I was doing in the late seventies. And I almost manage to avoid full rhyme (complain/blame, gone/wrong, begun/done). Milton railed at the ‘troublesome and modern bondage of Rhyming,’ and I know just how he felt.
Around the time I wrote that poem my wife Lyn had just bought a Basenji dog and a bitch. I’m a country boy, and I don’t like dogs in the city. Our two children loved them, but our two Abyssinian cats hated the Basenjis — a breed originally from the Congo — and vice versa. Why so many African half-wild animals? I guess the poem’s as much about rhyme and mirrors, about couples and twins, about guilt and obligation, as about anything else. (Photo, above left: Cleo, our basenji bitch, Stanmore, Sydney, c.1988. Isn’t she lovely?)
The White Hole Paradox
— for Martin Johnston
Like Chuang Tzu’s logic lepidoptery the problem jumps
through the Black Hole and persuades us to think of it:
drifting up over the coffee horizon the poet wonders
‘Would it be a worthwhile problem to write a poem
containing the words psychopannychy and wayzgoose?’
Writhing in a fit of sortes virgilianae
I open Proust for the first time in my life
and stumble on a phrase that skewers Doctor Leavis
and leaves him crushed, thin, flat and oblong,
a Doctor of Letters achieving the proper apotheosis of
turning into a bookmark nobody notices. The neighbors
act suburban, as they should; hammer blows on tin
rain down on the sun-struck acres of brick:
‘The whole bloody wall’s full of books!’ and ‘Look,
how’s this — a hippy printer on a picnic drops acid
and gets hit by a truck! See? Psychopannychy!’
But the coffee grounds settle on the silted glaze,
the monk’s bicycle moons and glitters in the hallway.
The problem waits around for its heroes; e.g. Li Po
would dash it off before his breakfast shot of booze,
then tear it up! Or, better still, Tu Fu thinks about
a complex structural form that would allow the entry
of both words, in Chinese, written by his friend Li Po
before breakfast on a napkin then folded into a
paper boat (‘frail butterfly’, don’t forget Rimbaud)
and launched onto an Autumn pond… like peach blossoms,
human hopes, et cetera… but the problem eludes us,
it seems further away than the Perfect Carburettor
(John Forbes) and though we think desperately we know,
in this poem at least, that it can’t be done.
(New Poetry, May 1980)
Note: Chuang Tzu’s logic lepidoptery — Chuang Tzu (or Chuang Chou) (365?–290? BC) was a Chinese philosopher noted for the following paradox. After having awoken from a sleep in which he dreamed he was a butterfly, he wondered whether, in the terms of Chinese Solipsism, he was a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who was now dreaming that he was a man; a man, furthermore, who was engaged in a problem in Chinese Solipsism originating in the butterfly’s mind.
psychopannychy — the sleeping state of the soul after death and before resurrection.
wayzgoose — printing houses’ annual festivity.
stumble on a phrase… — The phrase, or rather passage, is from Proust’s Swann’s Way (Part One) and goes as follows: ‘Unfortunately I was not able to set at rest, by further talks with Bloch, in which I might have insisted upon an explanation, the doubts he had engendered in me when he told me that fine lines of poetry (from which I, if you please, expected nothing less than the revelation of truth itself) were all the finer if they meant absolutely nothing.’
The poem was written in March, 1979. Martin Johnston, a dear friend, died in June 1990. I’ll let him provide the background to this one:- from Martin’s notes, some months after the poem was written:…
“Going back to the wayzgoose poems. Foreword. One evening at dinner — or rather at the bibulous postprandial stage — the two authors fell to discussing dictionaries — the joys of ploughing through.
MJ: Yes, I got ‘psychopannychy’ — in [the poem] ‘To the Innate Island’ — while looking for something else altogether.
JT: Same here with ‘Wayzgoose’.
MJ: I wonder what a (short?) poem would be like that — validly — contained both words.
A few days later… JT: I’ve written it;
… next day… MJ: I’ve written a reply.
Stiff formal conditions. (1) each poem had to be thirty lines long, simply because, having got through 100 sonnets, JT was now writing only at that length (MJ was just moving into a series of sonnets!) but as it was JT who actually started, the length was up to him. The rest of the conditions became imposed as the series progressed (and, occasionally, removed when they became too rigorous.)”
‘The White Hole Paradox’ was the first poem. The ‘rest of the conditions’ involved using alternate lines from one poem in the next, using the line-endings from one poem as the line-beginnings and (reversed) as the line-endings of the next, and so forth. Seven poems from the series have survived, together with some rococo and not-too-serious notes.
After Reading ‘Four Quartets’
— for John A.Scott
After reading ‘Four Quartets’ again
for the ninth (?) time, I worry a lot,
get drowsy, then switch on the typewriter,
but the Avon Lady doorbell rings and Alan
Gould drops in.
‘What’s this you’ve been reading? Philosophy?
A horror movie? What is this crap?’
Revisionism, that’s what I call it, and
pour the tea. Gould says he was forced to, um,
sack the Senior Accountant —
an interruption: Leonie Kramer phones from Perisher…
‘Shit, it’s cold down here!’ — that’s all she gets out
before the Senior Accountant stumbles in,
blubbering, and Alan hires him again, awkwardly —
they sure look good,
the kids waving through the kitchen window —
all this happens as a coda to the dream about
Kim Novak, and I suddenly understand the difference
between Apollo and Dionysus, between beauty and the
Beast of the Reading Room.
(Southerly, No 4, 1981)
Note: Well, what does happen to people after reading ‘Four Quartets’? In 1981 I came across a poem in an issue of Southerly magazine titled ‘After Reading ‘Four Quartets’, and was exasperated to find that it was exactly what I expected it to be — respectful, literary, drenched with the kind of values one is supposed to absorb from ‘great poems’. Why so predictable?, was my complaint. So I re-read Eliot’s ‘Quartets’, and then wrote a poem with the same title that was more true to actual life, and less true to earnest literary expectations.
I wrote the first draft while staying from time to time with the poet John Scott in Canberra, and in fact the Canberra poet Alan Gould happened to drop by while I was working on it. I finished the poem at the kitchen table in my Annandale home; my children (Kirsten, then 8, and Leon, 5) did wave through the kitchen window.
Kim Novak has been my ideal of womanhood ever since I saw the film Picnic in 1956.
I should add that as far as I know, Dame Professor Leonie Kramer — who was my tutor when I was at Sydney University in 1971 — has never been to the ski resort at Perisher, not even in my dreams.
(from the Arabic)
At fifty, the Khamsin can ruin your day
and the foul Simoon poison
a week of revelry. When you were young,
your garments loose, with a curved sword
and a town girl in a swirl of perfume
hanging on each arm, you’d laugh at the wind.
Now, rising from the arms of the rosy-fingered
Goddess of the Egg, the Sirocco
reminds you that here under the dusty sun
in the tent of one you despise
you’re missing out on the Föhn.
Oh, that the Bora, Master of Migraine,
might sweep down from the north
and clear the air. The Mistral is the master here
on this bitter coast, and speaks of yachts
as fodder. But when the sky holds its breath
and a French eucalypt drowsing in the heat
decorates the surf with a fringe of scent
a young man, too long expatriate, dreams
of a Southerly Buster and a cold Australian beer.
(Sydney Morning Herald, 2 February, 1985)
Note: I discovered the work of the American poet August Kleinzahler in Scripsi magazine — Thom Gunn, a neighbour of Kleinzahler’s, had suggested to the editors that they ask him for material. I wrote him an admiring letter, and we became friends. This poem is an exercise in his distinctive style.
Anything else? Well, it’s as much a vento-etymological list. Martin Johnston helped me get a part-time job in 1981 as an editor of subtitles at SBS-TV in Sydney. The work involved looking up encyclopaedias; one day I found myself looking up ‘khamsin’, the name of a particular wind (also the name of a European sports car).
How many names of winds are there, I asked myself; and what were they derived from? On Australia’s east coast we have the bluff ‘Southerly Buster’, a gale from the Antarctic Ocean that brings a sudden chill to a hot summer evening, and in the West there’s the hypochondriacal ‘Fremantle Doctor’ from the Indian Ocean, with a similar effect. These names seem to be associated with the Mediterranean:
Khamsin — Arabic, from Khamsun, fiftieth; a hot south wind blowing over Egypt from the Sahara region for about fifty days in the spring from about late March till early May.
Simoon — Arabic semmum, from samm, Arabic for poison; a hot suffocating sand-laden wind of the deserts of Arabia, etc.
Sirocco — Italian, from Arabic sharg, the east; in this case from the direction of the desert. East is related to Easter, from Old English eastre, originally the name of a goddess, and is related to the Latin Aurora, dawn, and the Greek eos. ‘Rosy-fingered’ is the old Homeric epithet for the Dawn. The Greek is rhododactylos (or brododactylos, in the Lesbian dialect that Sappho would have used, as Martin Johnston notes in one of his poems).
Föhn — German, from Romansch favugn, from Latin Favonius; a warm dry wind blowing down into the valleys of a mountain, especially in the Alps.
Bora — Italian, from Latin Boreas, the north wind; a cold dry northeast wind that blows along the Adriatic coasts.
Mistral — French, from Provençal: mistral, literally ‘master wind’, from Maestre, master; a cold dry north wind that blows over the Mediterranean coast of France and nearby regions.
French Eucalypt — ‘Mais, Cher, l’Art n’est plus, maintenant, / — C’est la vérité, — de permettre / À l’Eucalyptus étonnant / Des constrictors d’un hexamètre…’ [But, my dear Chap, art does not consist, now — it’s the truth — in allowing the astonishing Eucalyptus boa-constrictors a hexameter long…] Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Ce qu’on dit au poëte à propos de fleurs’, 14 July 1871.
The poem is not in fact from the Arabic.
Yeats at Bondi
Bondi Beach —
that drongo-thronged, that
(Sydney Morning Herald, 1985 and 1991)
Note: These poems are very loose haiku, and metrically incorrect. After Peter Porter’s ‘Gertrude Stein at Snail’s Bay’ the Yeats haiku was irresistible. In the last line of Yeats’s ‘Byzantium’, the famous Irishman contemplates the Mediterranean — ‘That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.’
The word Bondi is pronounced with equal stress on both syllables as ‘bon-dye’ and rhymes with ‘high’.
Hawaii: in April and May 1985 I gave four readings and talks on contemporary Australian poetry at various very hospitable venues in Hawaii, ranging from a school to the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. As far as I could make out, on the island of Oahu there seemed to be three worlds operating alongside and in-between one another in separate space-time dimensions — the workers and managers in agriculture and business, the drafts of tourists stumbling through in a daze, and an academic elite decorating the fringe. Where was the gritty black-and-white twilit zone I had glimpsed through a TV screen in the sixties, the world of Steve McGarrett and his pals, his police automatic, his clumsy criminal enemies, his cameraman, lighting person, hairdresser, and makeup artist?
Steve who? Never heard of him.
Two Short Poems, after Li Po
If you were to ask me why I dwell among green mountains
I should laugh silently. My heart is serene.
The peach blossom follows the moving water.
There is another heaven and earth beyond this world of men.
— Li Po
In a small town in the Southern Hemisphere
a booze-up gets rolling at the R.S.L.
Why do I live here, in the Blue Mountains?
Ho hum, another Valium.
A disc jockey follows the moving waiter.
There is another cocktail bar outside
the liquor limits, and an American actor
asleep in the projection room.
Why do I think of Li Po staring
at the moon’s reflection in the stream?
I’m laughing behind the plate glass,
quite sedated. Look, the shaving lather
follows the moving water.
Here, in Dullsville, New South Wales,
there is a heaven like a movie palace
and an academic asleep in the foyer.
On his lap, What Bird Is That?
(Scripsi, Vol 3 No 1, April 1985)
Note: The great T’ang poet Li Po (sometimes known as Li Bai) was an early favourite of mine, and I think I first read this poem — usually titled ‘Question and Answer in the Mountains’, or ‘Conversation in the Mountains’ — when I was about sixteen.
I have borrowed from the translation given in Robert Payne’s wonderful anthology The White Pony (Mentor, New York, 1960). Payne says of Li Po that his poetry ‘… is full of young girls, flowers, birds, stars, the plum blossoms in spring, and the chrysanthemums in autumn. All that was coloured with life he celebrated, and death never enters his poems.’
He wrote some twenty thousand of them, and threw most of them away; less than a tenth remained after his death at the age of sixty. Legend has it he drowned; he’d been carousing in a boat, and drunkenly tried to embrace the reflection of the moon in the water.
His brilliant fragments from another world are a useful specific against trenditis, theoretico-dyskinesia and the French Pestilence.
‘Shaving lather’ — presumably shaving lather would swirl down the plug-hole anti-clockwise in the Southern hemisphere where this poem is set, whereas Li Po’s peach blossoms would swirl down their mountain stream in a clockwise direction.
A Big Country
— for Mark O’Connor
Our camera spots a young fellow writing about the Reef —
things swarming everywhere, labelled neatly in Latin.
God sees the sharks eating other sharks. Our lad
hunts for bigger game.
He looks for Art, and searches Nature for a Theme.
At Club Baudelaire he dons a yellow aqualung
to scribble underwater with a special pen.
See the Poet write!
The papers turn up months late, here, but
wait — he shouts! He’s won a Major Prize! No —
the lighting’s wrong. Rewind… Makeup… Action!
He wins the Prize again.
It might look like a bludge, but seriously, chaps,
there are millions of worthwhile poems out there! He
scribbles on, ignoring the tourists, sunbaking earnestly:
Biggles on Holiday.
(The Australian, 24–25 August, 1985)
Note: The Australian Broadcasting Corporation television program A Big Country is usually about farmers, national park rangers and hinterland oddballs, but in 1985 it journeyed out onto the previously uncharted seas of verse. The poet Mark O’Connor appeared as a kind of Bardic Bush Guide, wandering around and under the surface of the waters of the Great Barrier Reef.
The frail links between the creatures of phosphorescent protoplasm painted on the inside of the television screen and their living, breathing audience out there in the living room — these links operate in a plane that is difficult to gauge; but I felt that delicate dimension slip, twist and fracture slightly once or twice during this program.
An Australian Sends a Postcard Home
In London the dull bullies bellow their rhymes
And the Craig Raine down doth raine.
O, that I were back on the beach
At Bondi once againe.
(Phoenix Review, No 3, 1986?)
Note: Craig Raine’s emergence as a popular English poet (and eventually a powerful Faber editor) came with the publication of his poem ‘A Martian Sends a Postcard Home’ in 1979, in which kitchen appliances were viewed as through the limited and distorting linguistic apparatus of a visiting alien.
Viktor Shklovsky’s explication of the literary device that involves the ‘estrangement’ of ordinary experience has hardly had a more dogged exemplar. (But if this Martian can think to himself in the glittering English of Raine’s poem, I wondered, why can’t he say ‘gas stove’?) A school of lesser talents bobbed in Raine’s wake, who viewed poetry’s main effect as a thick appliqué crust of displaced metaphors: literature as cake decoration.
The rain? I spent a miserable year in London in 1966 working as a mail-van driver, wondering where the sunshine had gone, and why the English had split themselves into three classes soaked with mutual hatred.
Bondi: see note on ‘Yeats at Bondi’ haiku above.
And of course there’s the anonymous fifteenth-century English lyric that runs:
Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!
Two Poems for Mr Stevens
I was of two minds,
like a hotel room
in which there are two people.
I do not know which I prefer,
the beauty of inflections
or the beauty of innuendoes,
her brief glance through the crowd,
or her looking-away.
(Southerly, No 3, 1986)
Note: Wallace Stevens’s famous poem ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ has always seemed excessive to me; both in its length (though its last poem is deeply beautiful), and in its baroque rigour.
And what of the twentieth century? The Stevens poem could well be set in the eighteenth, a period I dislike. I thought for some time of changing ‘hotel room’ to ‘motel room’ to make that point more firmly, but decided that would be going too far.
Found Poem — The Stabiliser
The stabiliser is a small neat box
containing lots of gleaming wires,
that appear to be miniature cuff links
of various sizes and colours, delicate
blobs of candle wax,
tiny striped candy canes, worm trails, et cetera.
It looks wonderful. There is a wire that goes
from the box to the enlarger light source,
and, looking in at the light, there is an eye,
a little electric eye. It
watches the light.
(P–76 magazine, No 4, 1986?)
Note: ‘Found poems’ are usually cute, quaint or tiresome. This one is simply a poem. Mr Fred Picker is more usually known as a photographer with a brilliant technique. Here, faced with the elegant cybernetics of a self-stabilising voltage regulator for a photographic enlarger, he fell gladly into verse, though his article was typeset as prose, as an article on Stabilised Photographic Enlarger Light Sources, in Darkroom Techniques Vol 5, No 2, p.24.
Which are his best productions: his photographs of Icelandic, European and North American landscapes, in which the cool northern light seems painted on cream silk and shadows speak of ink, or his technical explanations of the virtues of cold-light enlarger heads?
This piece was first published in SALT magazine (John Kinsella, editor) special issue (nos. 5, 6 & 7), 1995. Inquiries to Fremantle Arts Centre Press, PO Box 320, South Fremantle WA 6162, Australia
or Link to the WWW Site for Fremantle Arts Centre Press
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