Tag Archives: Poetry

Brian Turner: Elegy for Peter Hooper

17 Dec

ELEGY FOR PETER HOOPER

(novelist, poet, teacher, environmentalist)

 

A grey day in Greymouth and a gathering of people

most of whom I’ve never met and won’t again.

There’s scripture, hymns, eulogies and that undeniable

finality that never fails to reduce me to tears.

 

Time alone will fill the spaces your going’s opened up

like evening shadows stealing into the valleys

of the Grey and the Arahura that you knew and loved.

I’d like to think Westland’s laureate will one day

 

receive his due but doubt it, for writing that conveyed

a love of place, respect for people and other creatures,

and an unwavering faith in the force of patient instruction

has never been sexy in a land where cultural cringing’s

 

enduring. Add to that work which celebrated natural beauty,

advocated continuance and expressed a desire for peace,

and you were always going to be swimming against the tide.

Peter, with your calming goodwill, you were that rare

 

sort of man we call decent if not saintly. At your service

I was awash with memories and regrets

while up and down the Coast and over the mountains

a raw wind blew, and bells tolled wherever I turned.

 

Shingle ground on the shore like pebbles in a crop

and the wind off the Tasman badgered the flax

at the top of the beach where you gathered wood often.

Offshore, pickets of rain were driving into a slowly

 

heaving grey sea. I know you hoped for a longer life

in your green-painted wooden house

on the edge of the forest a kilometre or more

inland at Paroa, a stream talking constantly

 

within metres of your backdoor. Instead a friend

found you dead several days on the floor

under your bed, and it all seemed tragic and unfair,

the stingy absence of dignity or justice that fate

 

decreed for you. Now, asking Where to go from here?

and What more could I have done? – the one a puzzle,

the other futile – I think of the people who admired and maybe

even loved you, too, and never told you so because we seldom do.

 

  • from Taking Off (2001)
Aside

Poetas Portugueses de Macau

26 May

A selection of poems from Poetas Portugueses de Macau or Portuguese Poets of Macau, ed. Christopher Kelen and Lili Han (Macau: ASM, 2009).

 

Beatriz Basto da Silva: Miniature

The poet signed with the old Chinese chop

and the child gazed

attracted

by the pretty sign

and the matrix

that made the stamp

No one could say

where the poetry vibrated more

on the rice paper

or in the delighted eyes

of the little child (74)

 

José Maria Rodrigues: Memoir of Paradise

If I could I would invent another sky

Still more uselessly blue

 

Or I would invent the word

Still more useless when spoken

 

If I could I would invent another time

Still more useless for being brief

 

And I would raise you by the arm

Still more uselessly strong. (326)

 

The Old Men

They sit on park benches

Watching life go by

They look furtively

At the young women

 

Staring at them is forbidden

For young women are sacred

And the eyes of old men are impure.

 

What hurts them is not growing older

But that existence is no longer belonging. (328)

 

Point of view

In the eyes of the woman

The illusion of loving,

For God or against God

The illusion of being

And going on

And staying.

 

Trap of a convict

Flirting with luck,

Miracle of existence

Postponing death. (336)

 

Margarida Ribeiro: The rickshaw man

But, as I don’t know how to speak

I don’t know how to ask.

He laughs…I also laugh.

He laughed…until finally,

I saw in the newspaper

That the old man had died of cold.

 

He wasn’t happy –

no money,

no family,

died unmarried,

had a house where he lived.

The house was the cart

Though well sealed

Still it let the cold kill him…. (396)

Shirley Geok-lin Lim

8 Nov

I’m presently in Singapore, and actually happened to visit the Edwin Thumboo exhibition at the National Library (more on that to come). Today I thought it might be good to introduce a poem written by an author with close Singapore connections. This is “My Father’s Sadness” by Shirley Geok-lin Lim.

“My Father’s Sadness”

My father’s sadness appears in my dreams.
His young body is dying of responsibility.
So many men and women march out of his mouth
each time he opens his heart for fullness,
he is shot down; so many men and women
like dragons’ teeth rising in the instance
of his lifetime. He is an oriental. He claims
paternity. But in his dreams he is a young body
with only his life before him.

My father’s sadness masks my face. It is hard
to see through his tears, his desires drum in my chest.
I tense like a young man with a full moon
and no woman in sight. My father broke
with each child, finer and finer, the clay
of his body crumbling to a drizzle of silicone
in the hour-glass. How hard it is
to be a father, a bull under the axle,
the mangrove netted by lianas, the host
perishing of its lavishness.

Dennis Haskell

31 Oct

I first met Dennis Haskell in a creative writing class at the University of West Australia, where he was very kind to some fiction I submitted. Many of his more popular poems embody an aesthetic that begins, as his own poem “For Thomas Hardy” begins,

Start with simple things

Grass, the earth, the roots of grass

Perhaps meaning is found

Only in the minute perception

Of old and familiar objects.

What more do you have?

If you wish to discover

The Gods you must look

To things, not into

Your own mind.

And be specific: kikuyu, the dark soil.

Our discordinate minds

Shake at the roots:

Larkin, to construct a religion,

would choose nothing more solid than water.

Because this can be counted on

To move, and to capture

Every angle contained in colour.

(“For Thomas Hardy”)

You can delineate in a poem like this something of what Geoff Page might have had in mind, writing in the Weekend Australian, “Haskell’s temperament is essentially sceptical but it is also a spiritual one: he is someone who finds the numinous in the small things of everyday life rather than on the road to Tarsus”. Haskell himself would probably concur: the prefatory quotations to his collection All the Time in the World include Simone Weil’s remark, “Only spiritual things are of value, but only physical things have a verifiable existence.” Another quotation, from Derek Walcott, is equally telling: “…the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world, in spite of History.”

I’ve chosen to present what I think are two of his best poems here. In both we see how he is capable of negotiating expertly between the mundane and the pantheistic (that invocation of “If you wish to discover/The Gods you must look/To things, not into/Your own mind.”)

“Denials of Choice” and “At Greenwood, a Mediation” are vaguely mystical in tone and reminiscent of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Dante’s La Divina Commedia respectively; the first for its oscillation between the sexual and the inanimate, and the second for shifting from the suburban prowling cat to the thought of “lupin dressed hills” and back again in a way that recalls, at least for me personally, the she-wolf, lion and leopard Dante encounters early on in the Commedia. Interestingly enough, the second was included by John Kinsella in an anthology of Australian poetry that he edited while, I believe, compiling around roughly the same time his own cycle of poems based on the Commedia.

“Denials of Choice”

When we parted, irrevocably, a part of me

stood up and just walked away

towards your smile, simply, your whole face shining,

all sounds eerily cancelled,

as I slid down the unnerving rial

out of shadow, to the track and pattern of sunlight;

and it goes on living somewhere away from me,

this self that is not me, that lies down

beside you, on crisp autumn days

when wind twists the green leaves silver.

I see its surveying hand fly just above

the earth-warming landscape of your thighs

and land gently on the stubbly crop

of hair above your cunt.

Apart, I want to break these thin-boned wishes

and rigid gestures, mere fingersticks of flesh,

have the muscles, and the embers f my blood,

remember our first touching, even the finest

tentative hand hold as we stepped

across the twig and pebble strewn path

that led into what I thought

was determined to be our lives.

I have lost myself. I have grown unshakable

in the syllables of dark sunlight, you smiling,

while the day brightens with shadowy cries

and a scatter of shapes on the path,

at my stick fingers, my silvering hands,

this upright, almost-stone entanglement of bones.

The Dante connection in the next poem, “At Greenwood, a Meditation” is, I suspect, purely personal. It is in the trust sense of the word superficial. It’s probably no more than a personal tendency to connect every appearance of felines in poetry with the appearance of three of them in the Inferno:

I paused to let my weary limbs recover,

and then began to climb the lone hillside,

my fixed foot always lower than the other.

But I had hardly started when I spied

a leopard in my pathway, lithe and fleet,

all covered with a sleek and spotted hide.

And as I faced it, it would not retreat,

but paced before me and so blocked my way

that more than once I had to turn my feet

to retrace my steps. It was the break of day,

the sun was mounting in the morning sky

with the same stars as when that whole array

of lovely things was first given movement by

divine love. The sweet season of the year

and the hour made me think that I might try

to evade that bright-skinned beast as it came near,

but then I felt my good hopes quickly fade

and in an instant I was numbed with fear

to see a lion in my path that made

straight for me, head held high and ravenous,

and seemed to make the very air afraid.

And a she-wolf too, that in its leanness was

laden with every craving. Those who seek

fulfillment there only find wretchedness.

(Inferno trans. Michael Palma, Canto I, 28-51)

Here is Haskell’s poem:

“At Greenwood, a Meditation”

In a humdrum household

occasional cats jackknife over fences,

slink across the path, wide

eyes on guard, whiskers atwitch.

For these dark creatures

my mind wanders

over the other neighbourhood

they sidle silently from

and what water or milk

they hope to lap from

in my head.

Now the hunched and

ricketty figures of houses

slip to one side, in trees

sharply cut blood coloured sap

flows up from each root,

salt scatters from the shaker

over tablecloths lit with stars,

dark, stiff outlines of hills

brood, mysterious, that will

in time become again

suburban, lupin dressed hills…

I never can call to them

nor fix how they come

but when I see a mouth

lick up the dabs of sunlight

celebrate / what has then begun,

the twitch of whiskers,

the startling tongue.

 

Dennis Haskell, November 2012, Nedlands W.A.