Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Teapot Tuesday

Is it possible to have too many teapots?

old teapots never die, they slip away to the V & A

A Teapot is a Palace

A teapot is a palace where djinns and angels dwell

where wings of chamelia sinensis charm

the feathers out of ladies’ hats:

in sunny parlours the polished silver

beeswaxed wood and worn upholstery

(antimacassared for the Vicar)

gather round to pay respects at 3 o’clock

on Tuesdays

Smoke-filled dens of mahjongg tiles

where jade men with heavy bets watch

steam rising over eggshell cups

while fortunes and lives are lost and won

on gaming Tuesdays

Tuan tuan squat on their heels

before turning west to pray

taking their muddy  teh tarikh –

tea pulled through time like the

laterite Selangor roads to

Tuesday afternoon

Corduroy hills have aching backs

bend, pluck, toss and heave

bend again in endless row

No angels these who taste the crop

each Tuesday with their pay

But still, a teapot is a palace

corduroy hills in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Also linked to Magpie Tales Mag 94, where there are plenty more tea drinkers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

So Far

Image by Christine Donnier-Valentin
via Magpie Tales

So Far

I know where the cushions are buried,

stolen after one of those nights,

deep in between and underneath and hidden –

the wall is also my tombstone.

It was me: snuck them off to enlarge a posterior view

brocade red and plump:

now lying denuded, a mere frame of her former comfort.

Exposed to the wind and the rain and the scorn of passersby

hard up against the wall

(convict built, brick by hand-formed brick

frog-marked and irregular).

A kind of beauty

unseen and shunned

like my naked lap.

Thanks to Tess for hosting Magpie Tales and providing the prompt.  Many more in the showroom.

Sunday Trees

fallen 'banksia-man'

High on his Limb

high on his limb the banksia man stood in

for windmills

tilting target of a Quixotic Honeyeater

slain by age and storm


Thursday, November 24, 2011

What is writing?

Imagine you are a miner, deep underground. The air is heavy and the light dim.  The miner has few tools – a pick, a shovel, a flickering lamp, and if he is lucky, a canary in a cage.

This miner doesn’t actually know what he’s after.  He knows there is a valuable vein in that hole which might be gold, or it might have diamonds;  then again, it might be fool’s gold.

And the canary, well, she’s a lifesaver.  She sings and tweets and flaps her wings as long as that miner is at work.

But look!  He’s thrown away his tools and is looking at his emails, or doing the ironing, or menu-planning or heaven forfend, shopping.

The canary has fallen off her swing and is lying motionless on the bottom of her cage.

That’s me – the chap in the filthy clothes who has chucked aside his kit and is busy doing anything, anything at all, rather than his work.   I think the canary was my Muse.  Not dead yet, but swiftly flying away.

I was a miner.  Now, even a quarry wouldn’t employ me to pick over rubble.


Monday, November 21, 2011

240 Cupid Raging at the Heavens (Poems of Exile)

      Cupid  Raging at the Heavens 

What? Struck by my own arrows?

What sort of trick to play on the son of a goddess?

I never asked to be immortal.

I was safe in my tower, snickering – well maybe sniggering –

at the agony of my targets

Those afflicted by my darts, the vehemence of their moans!

Now I am wounded

My mind knows not these sighs

This fire – I never spared Man nor Woman – now the madness overcomes me

A divine wave, such as when the earth trembles,

sweeps me breathless and staggering

There is no bridge for this raging sea, no firm axis to stand on

The sky is alive with plagues and mists,

storms and tempests roar at Neptune’s behest

Jupiter laughs across the earth – it was Pluto who conspired against me

They all did, all the gods

Now they watch me suffer this chaos of dreams

The punishment of the world’s love

Bella, come to bed

Only your diamond heart’s kingdom can release me

I am vanquished, staggering under this burden

Only your savage love can heal my wounds and

Draw the arrow from my side

You deny me?  This treachery – too much.

I die of love.

Image courtesy of Magpie Tales where more love awaits ...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Short Pieces on Short Stories -- Plot

Conflict is the engine of plot.  Without a conflict there is no plot.  You could argue, without conflict there is no character – we are all of us the products of tension and misunderstanding, challenge and achievement:  plot.

Some stories are cunning masterpieces of plot, each step crafted and manipulated like a chess game, while others seem to drift along, aimlessly picking up feeling and meaning like a snowball.  These subtle insubstantial plots need to be handled with care to entice a reader, to maintain the reader’s emotional investment in the story.  The steam-powered plot grips the reader and sweeps them along in the excitement of what next?

The classic profile of a short story involves a gradual building of plot and momentum until a crisis or climax, followed by a short sharp denouement and resolution.  There are no rules however; today a short story can have multiple crises, or none, a tidy resolution or a cliff-hanging ending.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Before Remembrance Day

November the 11th -- the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month -- when hostilities were formally closed by the signing of the Armistice, ending the First World War, or Great War, or The War to End All Wars, as it was variously known.

Remembrance Day was first observed in 1919, on the first anniversary of the Armistice.  Even then, who believed that it would 'end all wars'?

During the 'First War' (as it is known in my family), some of my great uncles were at school.  Their eldest brother was in battle in France, and the next eldest, my grandfather, was working on the land.  My great uncles attended various village schools in rural Lincolnshire.  My family still has some of their school books, which is where these illustrations originate.  I think they are special and possibly unique.

Hedley , 4th August 1915

All my great uncles and the family before them worked on the land as largely unskilled farm labourers.  None of them had the opportunity for higher education or to develop their artistic skills.

The artisitic endeavours must have been 'set pieces' for school because many of the same subjects appear over the years in these three great uncles' notebooks.  Even so, they are beautiful:

Jack  19th November 1915

I think that Percy's were the most beautiful drawings, and it his notebooks I have the most of.  He was the eldest of the four brothers still at school (I have no notebooks of the youngest Stanely, who would have been barely at primary school when the War broke out).  Percy would have been 12 or 13, a most impressionable age, in the early years of the War.  Here are his doodles:

Percy , from the 1914 notebook, his mark 10/10 and VG (very good?)
Note the patriotic flags.  And airships and fighter planes:

Percy  1914 notebook

I can picture him, squashed into his school desk, licking his pencil stub and agonising over the scale and straight-edge.  Not so different to the doodles I remember school chums doing 50 years later, with the addition perhaps of Batman and rockets.

In the small parish churches of rural Lincolnshire the Honour Rolls of the fallen often show three, four or more men lost on the battlefields in France and Belgium bearing the same family name:  brothers and cousins and uncles and fathers.  It is hard for us here in the bright shiny future to imagine their loss and sacrifice, the denuded farms, the plundered families.  So many names.

Percy, aged 12 years, chalk on paper, 1914


Thursday, November 10, 2011

At Queen Square

At Queen Square

Here people sit
waiting for hard news
replaying bad news

There must be people who pass through on business
ignoring the Square and its weight of emotion
pressing on leaves and squirrels
and pigeons

They come to smoke and gossip –
do they feel the Square’s freight of feeling?

Here people wade through leaves,
pigeons, hearts,
...   waiting

Or is it only me
projecting my fears onto
an innocent Square?


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Imagine Dying

I imagine that, when the time comes, dying might feel inevitable and possibly familiar.  A slow tipping and sliding: here we go again.  ‘We’ because the idea of ‘I’ seems pointless and wrong;  ‘we’ because I cling to the dream that there is some sense of ... personhood, self-ness, or identity that does the sliding.  I wonder if there is a sense of loss:  I had that skill, knowledge, power, family?  I could speak?  Or is it welcoming, a mutual embracing of darkness and heat?

The strong-minded atheist says there is nothing there, which would mean dying is like the mask, the anaesthetist’s annihilation:  black, gone, nothingness.  The poetic-minded faithful say there will be trumpets and angel choirs and the welcoming arms of a paternal god, bearded, sandalled, dressed in white robes.

What if you get the death experience, after-life experience you believe in?  Those who fear the hell fires get combustion, those that dream of 40 virgins get explosions, those that seek enlightenment get illumination?  Or what if we are locked into infinite parallel universe loops and we die only to be reborn in the same events as before, to live the same life, commit the same sins and graces as before, and die a hundred thousand deaths in an endless repetition of our unchanging lives?  To me that image is the height of pessimism, even if it offers the comfort of routine.

It can’t be that hard to do, when it comes to it, to be given the final telegram, the death sentence pronouncement.  Today the grim reaper possibly uses twitter, or a text.  People do go through this experience every day, hear the words, suffer their last, and die.

I remember my surprise at pregnancy:  that each human being walking was the result of some mother enduring for 6 or 8 or 9 months.  Impossible, unbelievable, but there it is.  I am surrounded by living proof.

Dying cannot be all that different to being born.  Note the active versus the passive voice.  Dying is something we do, we act.  Being born is something done to us.  We are only the object.  There is no verb form ‘borning’.  And the construction ‘birthing’ does not apply to the poor soul thus extruded.

Perhaps, as we have forgotten the total absence of choice in being born into the body and situation we are found in, perhaps we have a similar memory lapse as we leave.  We forget our surroundings, our actions, our people and finally ourselves:  we cease to be.

It can’t be that hard, can it?


Monday, November 7, 2011

Prix Hébuterne

image from Commonwealth War Graves

Prix Hébuterne

He won the Prix in 1917

Hébuterne, Belgique

A virgin mound after the mud

Silence after the cannonade

Ploughing a new field

for more magpie tales visit here

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Trees


The PaperBark

You are the poet’s tree, cantos and books, chapters and stanzas

are hidden in your layers;

Secret histories of Earth and Spirit

wind, drought, visiting fire and deluge.

Lovers inscribe their visions in your leaves,

war declared, birth announcements

and the mysteries of Hanging Rock and the Red Hand.

The oldest legends are buried deepest:

the sky arching, land erupting:    tree, blade and fauna;

Water receding and air coalescing from the void;

Brolga, emu, wombat and cockatoo record their genome –

even man, the infant in his chanting, slips amongst

Your pages.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

239 Well, look at Xerxes! (Poems of Exile)

It is far too long since I've posted one of my 'translations' of Seneca.  Remember, if you have been set a translation task, my Latin is much worse than yours.

Well, look at Xerxes!  Everybody is watching his procession!

Why do you hesitate, Greece, to take on your yoke?

Europe – and every land – follows his orders; the arrows of debt cover the sky

New regulations hide the bright web of day

The people are buried in disbelief,  while

The tears of the Aegean carry mercenaries.

Who is the new Master of land, of sea, of every commerce?

Certainly, the old order has lost its way in this world.  

Adapted from Lucius Annaeus Seneca (or pseudo-Seneca) to reflect modern concerns.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Short Pieces on Short Stories -- Conflict

How I run to avoid conflict.  My characters exchange pleasantries – possibly they have life changing announcements to make – but do they yell and swear?  No.  They vomit quietly into bushes or fall out of bed.

Of course conflict doesn’t have to be between characters, as in real life, but usually they aren’t supposed to be reasonable, rational and thoughtful.

How do you show a character struggling with conflict? You can say ‘Joe was tortured by his wife’s infidelity’.  We all know that telling this is never as convincing as showing his torture.

I don’t like the shout-y form of communication popular in films and television.  But I haven’t yet figured out how to convey that earthquake in the lift of an eyebrow.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Autumn Memory

green leaves the tree-sky

at year’s corner remember

the fallen poppies

for Poet's United more Autumn thoughts here

Loy Krathong

Loy Krathong – to the Water Spirit

Thai people fashion rafts of jewels for you:
Aqua Sprite, Neptune-creature, Daughter of the Sea, Siren
Your Names are legend

Thai people send their cares to you with gifts to sweep them out of memory
Offerings of joy garnished with guilt, edged with regret –
no promise of redemption or future goodness – only cast to your mercy

The waters rise, the waters fall
The cares accrue on sandbars and turn to stone
Flotsam fill harbours, streets, parks

Candles and joss smoke waft
Krathong linger to feed bloated fish
Thai people weep

Are you appeased Madame of the Sea?
Appeasement is nothing

Loy or Loi is Thai for 'float' while a 'Krathong' is a raft, usually made of banana leaf.  An explanation of the festival is here


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stray Hearts

Ratty came walking with us tonight

Stepped out the front door and strolled around the corner

A little hesitant, swagger missing

Last glance over the shoulder saw him sitting by the generator house, not on the step


Hope he comes back

Stray hearts


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Old Woman Seen from the Bus

after William Carlos Williams:

To a Poor Old Woman
          They taste
good to her

 You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

Old Woman Seen from the Bus
 eating a ripe plum
from a brown bag in her hand
sucking the flesh

remembering kisses
when her skin was soft and ripe
his firm

they taste good to her
they taste good
to her they taste of lust

she bends her face to
her plum-filled palm
remembering the taste of his tobacco

the juice runs down her wrist
like spent sticky sperm on her thigh

the seed rests in her mouth
smooth   wooden   pointed
ejects to the gutter

the next plum appears in her hand
bruise-red  pregnant

she puts it back in the bag
wipes her mouth with her fingers
he would remember