‘Oh Lord make me pure-but not yet’ Let’s celebrate…

…the  release of this new pamphlet from the Picaro Poets series.

Songs of the Godforsaken
by Geelong poet
John Bartlett.

I found myself moved, amused and affected by the poems in this marvellous collection. You will be taken to that fiery night in Mallacoota, to the eye of a heron in a blackened landscape, to a back garden in London where a migrant’s life comes to a tragic end and to the Bourke Street Lotto. You will go to private sensual places.

John’s poems are sinewy and beautiful on the page. They have the sensuousness of the Baroque in form and style. Each poem skilfully crafted, the works artfully curated and confident.

There are confessional poems and poems that question, Will I surrender to the drug of memory, Is that how I will find my way home? and in the title ‘What would I say ‘ to the father for ‘not loving him enough’.

Some lines are arresting, God will always demand the sacrifice of small children. John’s experience with the church in a past life has made a lasting impression on him and infuses his work. It’s given him an evocative mastery of language. It may have given him a dry sense of humour. It’s certainly given him an ability to note injustice, joy, beauty in destruction, ugliness in ignorance, the power of transformation, and a yearning for what is denied— innumerable lovers. And in the last lines of the collection the question of his unfinished life makes for a dramatic finale.

Schubert’s symphony, his seventh,
Unfinished too.

Can its single, final note
surf the years, proclaiming

-‘who do you think you are
to escape unscathed?’

It is with loud clashing cymbals and a bottle of expensive champagne I smash the bow of this book and bless all who get lost in enchantment and awe between her lines!

 

Survival

She’s back again this year
in heels and nuptial plumes,
coquettish
in pale eye liner
-the white-faced heron
selecting twigs,
thinking of survival
What rush of rapture
bursts
-these birds
designed from
templates of dinosaurs
with songs that shiver
in the deep wells of the soul
So, despite
the cracking ice
in Greenland, the rift,
the cleft, the split,
the speld

Despite the smell,
the stench, the stink
of burning forest,
I see you still,
framed
by cross-thatched  leaves,
your changing of the guard
with stilt-stepped stealth,
this private pact
between you,
this brooding hope
triumphant.

Shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize, 2020

A Year of Masks

Spring/Hong Kong
            Anonymous, yet uniform
            in our disguises, we
wear our false faces
crafted in the basements
of our outrage               against
tear gas & elimination

Summer/Mallacoota
On days the sun refused
rise, we
huddled on the edges
of our nightmares,
lives burning, gasping    in
smoke & suffocation

Autumn/Wuhan
White-robed, masked Archangels
engrossed in ceremonies of ablution, we
ration out each breath
from hostile air, as if
breathing less might save us
from extinction

Winter / the world
In that other room without pretences,
we mock our other selves
happy to dwell under the dark clouds
that herald every rain
surviving in some eternal
expectation

                                The disobedience of the Genitals
                                (“Oh Lord make me pure – but not yet.”)

In 400 AD, or thereabouts, Saint Augustine prayed
for a thirty year delay on his ejaculations, waxed
eloquent (&endlessly) on the “disobedience
of the genitals”, their unexpected ability,
their agility to leap into alacrity at
short notice, fig leaves, he knew
were not a short-term solution,
absolution a necessity,
suppression a
better option, so
henceforth flesh &
spirit, like a firewood
log split in two,
a smashed
egg’s yolk a
broken heart
irreconcilable,
irredeemable
irreversible
irreparable
irretrieve
-able

Bio

John Bartlett is the author of three novels, collections of his short stories and published non-fiction. His poetry has been published in a number of Australian and overseas journals.  In June 2019 Melbourne Poets Union published his Chapbook The Arms of Men. Ginninderra Press has just published Songs of the Godforsaken as part of its Picaro Poets’ Chapbook series and will publish his full collection Awake at 3am later in the year. He was recently shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize.

Links

Songs Of The Godforsaken


https://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/chapbooks.html

 

Ada Limón’s visionary poems and a New World Order just around the corner.

 

A New National Anthem    Ada Limón 

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets’
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps
the truth is that every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the shortgrass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?

The Leash

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry, to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say: Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don’t know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe,
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.
Ada Limón, “The Leash” from The Carrying.  Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón.  Reprinted by permission of Milkweed Editions.

Old neighbour memoir from Preston, Vic. Locked in.xxx

 Bosnian boy sends postcard home

In this place I’m gagged
by the desert grit that gets
shaved off the salt lake.
I’m monster and shadow
sculpted by a mean north wind

Where is my castle?

Walking out on the flat
(what else?) I trip
over the bleached ribcage
of a dragon, it traps tumbleweed
and the skin of a brown snake.

Where is my horse?

After dark we sit in the yard,
our legs stick to the chairs.
We drink lemonade from
glass bottles and duck fruit bats
hanging from the trees like traitors.

You talk, mama,
about the last time you went to
the snow on the hills outside Sarajevo.

Six of you piled onto an old ladder,
swooshing down the icy road,
dervishes fighting the crusade.

I was sub-zero years old,
scrunched inside your belly with
my eyes shut.

If I’d known you were
there that day I’d have cut you
you open with my sword,
climbed over your parapet
and disappeared into the
mountains, at home in the cold,
with tata and the warlords.

 

First published in When I Saw Jimi, Indigo Dreams

Bristol memoir from locked down Oz

Sequestering the Feeling of Grass

Once a year I cross oceans of manatee
waterweed, frogbit—the sort of grass that
cowers under the weight of us.
I go to pull weeds from the base
of my father’s tree. He hates weeds.
Weeds squat in cracked paths
like travellers and their big-eyed children,
spread unruly between geraniums,
choke drains carried by the delinquent
pigeon that tips the bird bath for the hell of it.

It never occurred to him or any of us
that the grass he so assiduously mowed
would scream at the sight of roiling blades,
that the divine smell of his tight- clipped lawn,
in lines of a bowling green,
was sending out hormones of fear—
warnings, not memories of afternoons
in September when I’d come home spiked
with hay, damp patches on my jeans.

I wanted to ask if you could see
the wing shadowing our growing up,
if you could bear that we weren’t tidy
or musical, as dark cells seeded
a requiem in the marrow of your glassy bones.

If you could find a kind chaos
playing your flute, arrangements
that sometimes broke rules.

I never got to tell you that somewhere deep,
not green at all, but dry as your throat
on the last night, I feel the pain of grass
cut too short, the dying a slow brown death—
the smell of it.

 

First published in Shearsman, UK.

New York memoir locked down in Oz

Dakota

The first time I saw it
was from the hop-on hop-off bus
glimpsing Strawberry Fields
as we headed for 9/11 & the Soup Nazi

I looked for Yoko carrying a shopping bag
and was disappointed

This time I walked through Central Park
dodging nannies, yummies
doing exercises holding prams

Randoms
taking photos
on a mosaic mandala        shrine
with the title of his song inlaid

In twenty thirteen, early autumn,
winter nowhere on the horizon

it was impossible to imagine a psycho
with a gun taking his wonked brain

for a blood-splattered run,
letting it right off the leash,
making yesterday history.

A John lookalike was playing
his twangy thang

A blackbird flew out of it

 

First appeared in Cordite Review

Kei Miller maps his way to Oz

i. in which the cartographer explains himself

You might say
my job is not
to lose myself exactly
but to imagine
what loss might feel like –
the sudden creeping pace,
the consultation with trees and blue
fences and whatever else
might prove a landmark.
My job is to imagine the widening
of the unfamiliar and also
the widening ache of it;
to anticipate the ironic
question: how did we find
ourselves here? My job is
to untangle the tangled,
to unworry the concerned,
to guide you out from cul-de-sacs
into which you may have wrongly turned.

ii. in which the rastaman disagrees

The rastaman has another reasoning.
He says – now that man’s job is never straight-
forward or easy. Him work is to make thin and crushable
all that is big and as real as ourselves; is to make flat
all that is high and rolling; is to make invisible and wutliss
plenty things that poor people cyaa do without – like board
houses, and the corner shop from which Miss Katie sell
her famous peanut porridge. And then again
the mapmaker’s work is to make visible
all them things that shoulda never exist in the first place
like the conquest of pirates, like borders,
like the viral spread of governments

iii.

The cartographer says
no –
What I do is science. I show
the earth as it is, without bias.
I never fall in love. I never get involved
with the muddy affairs of land.
Too much passion unsteadies the hand.
I aim to show the full
of a place in just a glance.

iv.

The rastaman thinks, draw me a map of what you see
then I will draw a map of what you never see
and guess me whose map will be bigger than whose?
Guess me whose map will tell the larger truth?


Kei Miller

from The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion (Manchester: Carcanet, 2014)

Kei Miller was born in Jamaica in 1978 and has written several books across a range of genres. His 2014 collection, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, won the Forward Prize for Best Collection while his 2017 Novel, Augustown, won the Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the Prix Les Afriques, and the Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe et du Tout-Monde. He is also an award-winning essayist. In 2010, the Institute of Jamaica awarded him the Silver Musgrave medal for his contributions to Literature and in 2018 he was awarded the Anthony Sabga medal for Arts & Letters. Kei has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University and a PhD in English Literature from the University of Glasgow. He has taught at the Universities of Glasgow, Royal Holloway and Exeter. He is the 2019 Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor to the University of Iowa and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.                        Carcanet, UK

Photo from citynews.com

The Dreaming Mind-Les Murray 1938-2019

John Murphy, editor of The Lake, asked me to write a tribute to Les Murray which appeared in the July issue. http://www.thelakepoetry.co.uk/poetry-archive/les-murray/

A poem is the product of the dreaming mind, the rational mind and the dancing mind according to Les Murray whose poetry, controversial philosophies and life values spring from his massive intellect and curiosity, his love of the Australian bush and his early experience of penury and emotional violence. By ‘bush’ I mean countryside, landscape, the place of his formative years in Bunyah, New South Wales.

From a line of Scottish farmer settlers Murray’s attachment to the land and feelings of being an outsider infuse his work. His own story he likens to Greek tragedy. The loss of his mother when he was twelve after complications following an ectopic pregnancy forced him to live with the paralysing grief of his father and to assume the role of carer. There was a lifetime of brawling between his father and grandfather after the death of his uncle when felling a tree. As a bright boy of large stature and reportedly gauche he was ridiculed in school. Murray speaks openly of his torment but it didn’t stop him engaging forcefully with the world. He celebrated life, railed against the avant-garde, social injustice and the exclusion of the vulnerable and non-conformist.

I first heard Murray reading his poetry at an event in Melbourne in 2010. He was supporting Poetry Idol, the stirrings of performance and slam poetry in Australia. By then his poetry was on book lists in schools and he was deemed a ‘National Treasure’ though I’m sure he must have laughed or winced about that. He was certainly a superhero in contemporary Australian literature and recognised internationally as one of the best contemporary poets writing in English.

Ted Hughes put him forward for the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry which he won in 1998. At the presentation ceremony he cut a fine figure in a sharp suit looking a bit like Alfred Hitchcock, smiling at the queen, she smiling back.

His work has been translated into several languages and has also won The Petrarch Prize (2005), the TS Eliot Award (1997) and a swag of Australian awards. He published thirty collections of poetry, two verse novels, essays and collections of prose and has edited several poetry anthologies and performed the role of poetry editor for Quadrant from 1989-2018.

That night in Melbourne I remembered thinking he had the soft moon face of my grandfather and the cosy home-knit that made him look like the old man up the road. He didn’t seem to bother much about performing or slamming that night. He read quietly and quickly. I remember feeling disappointed, wishing he would slow down and speak out. I wanted to relish his hawk eye for detail, the profane and pedestrian mashed together in a fresh patterning often harking back to Hopkins as in the poem ‘Performance’.

I starred that night, I shone:
I was footwork and firework in one,

a rocket that wriggled up and shot
darkness with a parasol of brilliants
and a peewee descant on a flung bit;
I was busters of glitter-bombs expanding
to mantle and aurora from a crown,
I was fouettés, falls of blazing paint,
para-flares spot-welding cloudy heaven,
loose gold off fierce toeholds of white,
a finale red-tongued as a haka leap:
that too was a butt of all right!

As usual after any triumph, I was
of course, inconsolable.

from Subhuman Redneck Poems, 1996

In an interview with Robert Haas, at the 2011 Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam he begins the session with a reading. It’s hard to know where the poems begin and end. His reading is rushed and mumbled but after a lively Q and A he reads again and the difference in execution is palpable. It seems that in telling only a small part of his life story he gains the confidence to speak with marked animation and commitment.

He was reading his animal poems from Translations from the Natural World which came out of his depression and debilitating panic attacks. He ‘ventriloquises’ some of the creatures admitting to a form of catharsis in the writing of these poems. His sense of humour and the unexpected is shot through his work.

Us all on sore cement was we.
Not warmed then with glares. Not glutting mush
Under that pole the lightning’s tied to.
No farrow-shit in milk to make us randy.
Us back in cool god-shit.

Murray’s candid disclosures in interviews are compelling and disarming. In the middle of what seems to be a regular anecdote he becomes lyrical and fanciful, alluding to a Greek god or German philosopher. His responses frequently punctuated by that laugh, bordering on a giggle and a sharp intake of breath. Some of his comments leave the interviewer speechless. He is never predictable and while he felt that Australian poetry should eschew the post-modern his own poetry is often experimental and veers into the mythical and wickedly outlandish.

In the sixties and seventies Murray upset many people in the literary world with his conservative politics and scorn for the intellectual cliques that cluster around universities. His critiques of academia and what he perceived as political bias in the distribution of literary funds he expressed with clarity and élan, a chip perhaps resting lightly and sometimes not so lightly on his broad shoulder.

It seems as though he was treated with suspicion by peers when he was invited by Liberal Prime Minister John Howard to help rewrite part of the constitution. At the same time his early political movement is said to have been a forerunner of the Greens and Democrats.

Murray was a nuanced, complex character as well as a wonderful raconteur and critic, frequently possessed by anxiety when, after receiving harsh criticism of his own work, which has been referred to by some as patchy and even doggerel, was then reluctant to critique others.

Since his death several young poets have spoken of the encouragement and mentoring that Murray gave them if he felt their work showed promise. He was generous in his time in fostering new talent.

I have heard him speak highly of certain fellow poets and more recently of his friend and fellow recipient of The TS Eliot Award, Pascale Petit. He became her mentor saying, ‘ ‘No other British poet I am aware of can match the powerful mythic imagination of Pascale Petit.’ And Pascale, writing on hearing of his death said of Murray, ‘…a great, great poet. A world treasure. A gift to the earth and to his readers…His quality of sprawl and trance unmatched.’

In 1989 he returned to his beloved Bunyah with his wife, writer and musician Valerie Morelli, and remained there until his last months in a nursing home in Tarree, NSW in 2019. He is survived by Valerie and their five children.

At one stage in his discussion with Haas he says that Australia is now bereft of eccentrics. He posits that this country is ignored because its heartbreaks are trivial compared to those of the rest of the world. We lack rivers of blood, he says, in so many words. Les Murray – ‘contrarian bastard’ laments Thomas Keneally, ‘You’ve reduced us to your poetry.’

 

 

Image from the Western Suburbs Weekly