Brenda Saunders is a Sydney writer and artist. She is a member of the Poets Union NSW and the Round Table Poets. As an urban Aboriginal artist and activist she is also a member of the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative. Her poetry and articles have been published in journals like Thylazine and Poetrix as well as being broadcast on ABC Radio National. Brenda was selected for The Red Room Company’s Poetry Crimes, and more recently for Poetry Without Borders ( National Poetry Week 2007).
Truth can spill out
with little hooks
caught in photos
stuffed at the back
of a drawer.
Families of black people
camping in tents
faded to sepia tints.
A loving couple
one white, one dark
uneasy in a boat on a lake.
And the negatives
give nothing away.
Vanished frames of secret lives
pale squares on wallpaper
In the silence of the old house
my fingers leave traces
in the film of dust.
beat the silence.
Curled tight they hold
the anxious moment,
let others slip by.
Years of blackness
spread across the palms
– rivers dispossessed,
Time runs out
with the present fear,
a lifeline held
in metal cuffs
caught at the wrist.
‘Sista girl need money to get home Native title
case ‘Big time!’ she raps, edgy.
She’s young, black and living in the city:
‘Gimme a dolla
Pay the Rent
Up in court, on the run. Stealing stuff,
‘This is a refuge’ I say, ‘OK? For Koori women at risk
Rape and violence, you know.’
– RIGHTS FOR WOMEN pinned to the wall,
a poster men don’t read,
(after the rage he’s blotto on the bed.
She plays dead.)
I give her money, refer her on.
Now I hear she’s working
on the Block,
tradin’ for cuz
speedy in the fast lane:
Live for the day.
Locked in jail,
singin’ up country.
… cuz: cousin, friend, singin’ up country: remembering tribal land
Margaret Bradstock is a Sydney poet, editor and critic. She is an Honorary Visiting Fellow at the University of NSW, a long-term committee member of Poets Union and co-editor of Five Bells. She has published four collections of poetry, the most recent of which are The Pomelo Tree (Ginninderra, 2001), which won the Wesley Michel Wright Prize for Poetry, and Coast (Ginninderra, 2005). She has also won Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson awards. Margaret was Asialink Writer-in-residence at Peking University, Beijing, in 2003.
The Butterfly Effect
(after Decompose, by Gaye Chapman)
‘Is the moon not there unless I can see it?’
Back home, but never back,
exploding like ectoplasm
across the empty rooms,
the decomposed gardens.
Old responsibilities, seasons
rise up, numinous
as Christmas ghosts, this space
that once took us in.
For the cabbage nymph, or neophyte,
it’s chaos theory.
Dust on the snooker balls
the moment of collision,
the dense stars wheeling
in the firmament,
or the response.
In Albert Brown Park
The night-stroked suburbs,
flare of occasional street lights
holding us in shadow,
and drought-starved gardens.
Downhill, past the Alsatian
revving up behind meshed wire
patrolling his square of concrete,
past the corner park, more
strip of green than park.
On the signpost
(frogmouth or nightjar),
a soft churring
shaping its gentle breath.
We douse torches, so close
I might have touched it,
waiting for prey.
Light plane over Sydney Cove
(after Brett Squires)
Crossing the Blue Mountains
soon after dawn
the air like torn canvas
you stretch the limits of reflected light
promontories reaching out
the Harbour glimmering.
Those Dubbo mornings
flying back from Emergency
the nightshift routine
of work, sleep, eat, repeat . . .
broken and restless for harbours.
Cupping the city
in the curve of your hands
you photograph the moment
the propeller’s beat.
Ilumina, edited by Judith Beveridge and Roberta Lowing
REVIEWED BY MICHELLE CAHILL
Poetry UnLimited Press
Ilumina is one of this year’s surprising packages. Published by the vanguard Poetry Unlimited Press under the loving patronage of Roberta Lowing, and edited by Judith Beveridge, it features work by commissioned guest poets of the monthly salon readings at Sappho Books Café, as well as the best of Sydney’s emerging talent. For the last two years post-graduate students from Sydney University, UTS and other non-affiliated aficionados have met in a grungy café behind the used bookshop in Glebe Point Rd to enjoy readings by guest poets and to read their own work in the open section. From personal experience these readings are of a high standard with an open, relaxed, and supportive atmosphere. A place where you can share a verse, a glass of wine, a few quiet words.
The PULP project is one of the few existing communal poetry projects, providing the opportunity to foster connection and nurture poets who are finding their voice in the factional and fractured Anglophone scene of Australian poetry. Ilumina provides us with new encounters; many of the contributing poets being of a non-Anglo-Celtic background, at a much higher proportion than you are guaranteed to find in any of your “Best” Australian anthologies, or for that matter in the majority of the mainstream journals.
Disregarding clichéd reverence, or the usual stylised conventions, many of these poets engage with disconcerting subjects like war, racism, dislocation and relocation. A good example is Tessa Lunney’s “You, My Brother”, a stark evocation of racial and sexual violence. There are chilling poems about war by Louise Wakeling, or this sparse stanza by Betty Johnson from the poem “Ali, Iraq”:
Your doctors promise
Miracles: new arms, new skin.
We are shy. Ruins wait.
Onur Karaozbek’s “The One Who Might Be Any One” explores otherness by satirising social stereotypes:
I’m the Asian fella going to university knowing little English
or the kid from Albury studying Asian Cinema and Culture
I’m the one serving your grass juice,
the suit pushing you aside during the CBD rush-hour.
A new discovery for me was Micah Horton-Hallett’s spare, tense narratives that build around metaphors of space and language:
unaware that we
were writing the walls
tighter around us.
That we were writing
toward a full
As I write a new cage
for my memory of you–
The last echoes of alexia
have dispersed into
the open universe &
The drunk stars still sing:
(103) “The Pit”
Jill Gientzotis’ “Amsterdam” draws the peripatetic to an inner physical landscape, with images of fragility:
Where you are is not foreign.
Where you are is home.
Many of these poets seem to be at odds with the arbitrary closures and the propagandas of nationalism. Paul Giles’ “Australian Sonnets” interrogates the utopian ideals of Australia as a country of beauty and rich blessings. The poem is a harshly cynical contemporary rendering of AD Hope’s “Australia”, reworking the images and tones from a migrant, and more significantly a female perspective:
what does “pullulate”
mean anyway? what is history
but the sweep of shifting sands?
what place is left to dare?
it’s neither Cairns nor Perth.
if she hopes to survive,
she must find a home
for a battered mind,
a lonely, aching breast.
In Carol Jenkins’ “White Poems” a process of intelligent and sensual moulding of subject moves towards specificity and identity in the poems about potato, optics, or skin.
This is what gives the words
room to think. I beat in soft wads
of butter, warm milk and cream, pyramids of salt
and anticipation, all the cloud air puffs out at me
its warm potato breath, I am balancing, perfectly
all the white potato space in between
the scaffolds of real potato.
(156) “White Poem No 4: Ode to the Potato”
Her poems complement the lexical layers of “Knitcap Sutras”, a preceding sonnet sequence by Peter Minter. Minter’s highly inventive rural excursion is transformed at the outset by syncopated urban riffs, the enjambment leaving one sometimes breathless.
I drive in a dust pile, Tank Girl shambolic through early evening paddocks, steel wire coat hangers and polyester string looped & shuddering clots past the milkers, bright static radio & duco bent in panels where city chunks of 80s pop & supermarket fluorofoods bounce on the back seat along the gravel bolt beside the Gloucester river, all hot-headed
Yet this allegro slows to more solemn movements where time is “ silently/ unfurling in the late sun’s gravity ”(153). There seems to be a desire to test and tease; to make of the landscape something more complex. Another youthful variant of the bucolic myth is found Ashley Burton’s poem “Swimming in the Murrumbidgee” with its unpretentious idiom.
Gospels of an entirely different nature are to be found in Peter Boyle’s “Apocrypha”, where crickets, shells, turtles and fish are personified with a surrealistic renouncement of the real; where the visual image surrenders wholly to the mind’s eye.
Above the sand
Spirit fish spin in the rivers of air.
A fish knows how to carry coolness deep inside its body,
How water glides
Even when it can’t be seen
The spirit fish are whispering the names of all the stars
Diversity and freshness aside, the hallmark of this anthology is a series of insightful essays by, and interviews with, guest poets. Judith Beveridge’s essay “How Poets Write” is a deeply personal account of her development towards greater receptiveness, towards a heightened attention to inner and outer worlds, and what she describes as “the ordering principles of the poem.”
Feeling the world give and give, one thing opening up to another, is what I enjoy most about writing. My poems don’t start from ideas, but are very definitely derived from sensory experience. (28)
This is interesting given Beveridge’s meditative observations of sense-impressions as a form of aesthetic and spiritual practice in her poems. Jill Jones in “I Want To Be Available To The Moment” acknowledges a similar phenomenological debt. She writes of her awareness of space, and of writing from the body; of breathlessness, vertigo and sound. Like Beveridge there is the need to be open and receptive.
I see what I do as exploratory, responsive to the pressures of language and my own intuition and memories as they converge in the moment, in going places, in observing and being part of experience. (145)
Both Jones and joanne burns, in her essay “Click” describe an interest in the physicality of writing. Jones, with her collage narratives confesses to her reliance on accretions, associations, taking notes in cafés, buses, even meetings, and of her stationery fetish. “It can get a bit pervy,” she writes, “but a lot of art practise is like that, I suspect.” (142) joanne burns speaks of the “technologies of writing”, and of their potential to create random correspondences. Writing as a practice, she admits, can be ritualistic, playful and surprising.
Lowing is to be credited for her skillful interviewing of the guest poets, particularly Stephen Edgar and Peter Boyle, whom I suspect would otherwise be taciturn about their writing habits. What results is an inquiry into the ‘how’ of writing, an arguably more interesting question than the ‘why’. Equally impressive is Stuart Rees’ inquiry “Can Poets Change The World?”. Rees dismantles the manifestos of one-dimensional institutions, or the use of power ‘which tolerates no critics and values only compliance.’ (224) Citing poets like Octavio Paz, Oodgeroo Noonuncal, and William Stafford, Rees asserts that poets can indeed confront the basic humanitarian struggle for home, dignity and identity:
If poets breathe life into the premise that the personal is the political, they will inevitably confront these issues of identity, which are at the hub of destructive conflicts. (219)
Nicolete Stasko reminds us of this in “Ashes”, one of the book’s closing poems:
All over the world
poets are going up in flames
little piles of ashes
in the shape of mountains
it seems we do no notice
so much else is ablaze
but the darkness
is growing and
it is not our eyes
Ilumina strives to resist this ‘darkness.’ It’s a book to read on trains and buses, or while ever you are waiting for glimpses and sparks. The poems and poetics in Ilumina make the issues of space, time and perspective more complex and inclusive. It’s a collection that mostly sidesteps the ‘sludge’, to quote Rees, in the hope of making a difference.
Heng Siok Tian has published three collections: Crossing the Chopsticks and Other Poems (1993)My City, My Canvas (1999) and, Contouring, (2004). She has been published in Harvest International (2006/2007), Idea to Ideal (2004), Love Gathers All: A Philippines-Singapore Anthology of Love Poems (2002), No Other City: An Anthology of Urban Poetry (2000), More Than Half the Sky (1998), Journeys: Words, Home and Nation (1995), The Calling of the Kindred (1993), Singapore: Places, Poems, Paintings (1992), New Voices in Southeast Asia (1991) and Words for the 25th (1990). One of her short stories has been translated into Italian for a collection of Singapore short stories published by Isbn Edizioni (2005). Her short play, The Lift, staged in 1991, was selected to be read at the Third International Women Playwrights’ Conference in Adelaide in 1994. Siok Tian holds a Master of Arts in Literature from the National University of Singapore and a Master of Science in Information Studies from the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore. In 2000, she attended the Iowa International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, USA on a National Arts Council Fellowship.
in the centre of a baba home
a mosaic of blue.
Like a pre-hologram,
glimpsing an early sky:
I see amahs in samfoos
in their time and space
washing, working within the marbled tiles,
for big master and mistress who slept above,
for little masters they would sayang and love..
Where was their half of the sky?
next to babas and nonyas twirling, whirling with a gramophone in an upstairs dance studio
which became the play den of fruit bats when owners upgraded,
layered with droppings, so decomposed they become
To first lose the turquoise of mosaic-blue, then the shapes of carved zodiac animals,
to leave them with the wings of bats,
to touch again these losses
as I linger on the airwell,
My noise won’t stop.
Elephants howl for no reason
I could not get
my clown-act right
and the master trainer
threatens to whip me.
I fear so much
I wish so hard
he begins to change from pumpkin to marsh-mellow
I stop believing I have a wand
to magick away
baking them into cup cakes
which I serve my audiences,
as they reach for them,
the cakes become bubbles,
they become angry at my alleged deceit.
Did I ask
to cruise into midnight
to meander into side-alleys,
to be led
where cobwebs become
that sink into dry flesh,
running through my head
lines of a chair
become dancing skeletons
that slip near to me?
I lost my posture as a chimpanzee,
broke my brittle back with stilettos,
rectify with surgery, pilates, yoga…
only to find myself
fetal-like in bed,
licking words off the edges
the knowledge of names.
Adam Aitken is the author of four collections of poetry and a new book is forthcoming from Giramondo Publishing next year. He is currently living in Cambodia. (Photo by Juno Gemes)
Fin de Siècle
Between two climates she’d be waiting, the slender young émigré
so dark and delicate the wind passed right through her,
always there before you, the bright architect of love
who knew her way around the café chairs, the Latin lovers.
How she’d inspired that horizon, the penthouse, the tower.
Greek, French, Ukrainian, all of the above? No-one knew for sure
what drove her south one winter, a whim or a storm?
Her age or why she had promised to see you again,
or why she always promised, sighing, mood wracked,
hat wide-brimmed with daisies and gliding towards you
through the fun palace colonnades before sunset – no one knew
why she always promised to be there
under the whitewash crumbling that left its stain
on your waiter’s apron and in your hair, as if you had emerged
unscathed from its collapse, the blast driving you back,
grasping your last tip.
She would arrive after work (though no-one knew what she did),
complement your menu, then a final swim
before the chill shadows enclosed the beach.
Statues murmured in the dusky shadows, mascara dusk
and in the golden bracelet of a rockpool children sparkled
among their castles, before they flooded at high tide.
Were they her children? If so they could never be too careful
building their moats, before she moved to a bench in the sun.
The Latin lovers waved and she didn’t wave back.
She was the pleasure of the world passing, about to shake
her wings free of the disaster, and take off, and leave you
once again thinking this had been the best century ever
and you were haunted by what she could not forget,
already beyond your knowing, what she is and was.
That year they rode low in the water
on ballast of oaths and convicted emotions
moved on to springtime ports
past the Pig and Sows reef
and the ridiculously expensive prison
lost steerage in a lull of unconcern
and absent-minded fishing.
In those days an invasion
was a kind of plague jellyfish,
laid back remorae, or cold front
that blew in early, unseasonal.
Everyone was hitching rides.
When someone entered
new seasons of exchange– fluids, fire,
language and metal–
someone else exited.
They were what they made, and what they couldn’t
someone else did.
Another’s lack seemed
no more than their own.
All land codified
as the visible
scoured and clearfelled,
of the forever language.
At Rozelle Hospital
At Rozelle Hospital, his final destination
some quartermaster who’d cracked
on a sandstone pier
a worldly fish, a navy frigate in its port,
a tropic bird of seed.
Full sails, great promise,
a kind of escape
from a madder Captain.
King’s botanist inside
who made the book for all
with his names – each new flower and tree
and new stiff Latin, the whole evolutionary kit,
the iron bars of genealogy.
Doctor, I ask you: what inky blot liberates
or draws together us
between the covers of hand-bound books
when you want your name
a legacy to crown the sky?
Fig trees, for instance, just
appear between the stones, green
as immigrants or refugees
hidden by the dark?
Are they natives now by instant decree?
You wear their leafy heads, and see
yourself once again,
historical footnote, crazed misfit
scattered, afraid, frozen
in unseasonal rain.
Or are we wasted now, due to
lack of name or use: seedy fruit
scattered in the grass,
imports that multiplied?
What of the bigger machines, like
destiny, meaning, sanity?
The fork and divergences
of who we want to be?
on that ship
will catch the breeze,
“are war and peace
playing their little game over your dead body?”
If, Eastern Asian time, you arrive
at the cove
to begin your holiday,
small figures camp in ruined hills,
waiting to advance.
Luckily we have
a Western point of view:
all timetables and maps: each hill,
the coordinates to fame
the minefield, the track
to that strategically useless
hilltop village, a tour guide,
and parking for buses.
Now, the snipers (retired codgers
your great-great grandpa couldn’t kill)
fish on the quiet beach, sipping
hot mint tea.
The winning cavalry
ride scabrous donkeys
and for a nominal sum
escort you through the ruins.
Tides regroup like armies
and the opalescent waters
whet your Byronic taste
for filigreed pistols, severed heads,
slavegirls, broken columns.
Filling the boats with trench-bootie:
proven property, like heritage,
gorgeous sunsets, or the exact
scent of victory –
too subtle for my words.
Gareth Sion Jenkins: writer, performer and digital media artist. Gareth currently teaches creative writing at the University of Newcastle, the University of Technology Sydney, and the University of Wollongong where he is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Creative Arts. His theoretical work focuses on art-makers who have experienced schizophrenia and he has presented his research in Australia, Europe and the U.S.A. Gareth’s creative work explores poetry, prose, digital media and performance. He has performed and been published in Australia and internationally.
Swallows loudly in ancient architraves wake me
diving onto cobbled stones washed each morning.
The motion of my mind towards you,
lips bent and feeling no thing, no thing
I remember every dream in which you sing,
your voice a hedged rustling;
aural snow drifting into the Pyrenees rift,
your breath moves me breathing –
breathe me in.
I remember every dream in which you say:
“My heart is four chambers singing your name.”
Come stand with in me.
Watch the morning light bright with Swallow’s wings uncoiling.
I looked for you on the subway and in Washington Square;
thought I saw you wandering through Central Park
as the light fell into the ice.
In Brooklyn there were rumours of your movements
spoken at the edges of basketball courts,
amid the crumble of brownstones.
I waited for days outside Printed Matter at 195 10th Avenue,
I was sure you would come and read their hand-made books.
Descending into Tahir Vintage Clothing Boutique at 412 & 9th St
I thought at last I had found you
chatting with the warm-smiling creature behind the counter.
You turned and morphed, striding away into another life,
leaving me seduced by a loosely-woven scarf.
“Premonitions,” said the psychic at 1091 2nd Avenue,
her ringed finger coiling the curtain.
I listened to the passage of feet on the pavement outside,
hearing you again and again stop to check your watch, straighten your hat.
I have left my breath for you in Manhattan’s subterranean steam,
my fingerprints in the American Folk Art Museum,
my footprints in the tangled subway,
my laughter in the budding Central Park trees.
Skin Drink Rain
I ask her if she minds me smoking, holding before me a packet of rolling tobacco
as explanation. She holds up her own and as the carriage blunders the length of Spain
we fill the air with smoke. It soars forth between lips parted as if to speak,
though silence reigns;
clouds of silence fill the air, more convincing of a union than any words could be.
She runs out of paper and I lend her. Each time I set out to smoke I offer,
each time watching her hand as it reaches over,
veins rearing up under her skin.
Morning comes with mountains, waking me from an unknown sleep.
The wind is back, drawing dead leaves from trees.
Rain, hard against the metal roof, blurs and magnifies the world.
After the changeless weather of near Sahara, upper Africa – this blessing,
the air is laced with ice.
I take off my shirt and press my chest against the cool of the glass,
hang my head out of the window,
let my skin drink rain.
She sleeps, immersed in a pool of dreams. “Come in the water’s beautiful,” she says
without moving her lips.
I wake later and she is gone.
Not even the depression of her weight marks the spot where she sat.
I run out of paper and curse her for hours, trying to read –
trying to ignore the tapping of my foot,
voice in my mind, restless tight rasping
demanding to be fed.
Judith Beveridge has published three books of poetry all of which have won major prizes: The Domesticity of Giraffes (Black Lighting Press 1987); Accidental Grace, (UQP, 1996) and Wolf Notes (Giramondo Publishing, 2003). She is the poetry editor of Meanjin. In 2005 she was awarded the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for excellence in literature. She currentlyteaches poetry at post-graduate level at the University of Sydney and at post-graduate and undergraduate level at the University of Newcastle. She has edited UQP’s The Best Australian Poetry 2006 as well as co-edited anthologies from the Newcastle Poetry Prize, Sunweight (2005) and The Honey Fills the Cone (2006).
There is a fish called flower of the wave
and a fish called the hardyhead. There is
the parrotfish, the pineapple fish, the boarfish
the bullhead shark. There’s the rough flute
mouth, the toothy flathead, the two spot
bristle tooth and the yellow sabretooth blenny.
At night I study. At night I learn sixty-two
types of wrasse. I learn there’s the glass fish,
the globe fish, the goat fish and an eastern
and southern gobble guts, both left-eyed
and right-eyed flounders, a rhinoceros
file fish, a racoon butterfly fish, a grub fish,
a tear-drop sleeper goby, a robust pygmy
star-gazer and a half and half puller. There’s
a fish called happy moments. But I haven’t
found it yet. I haven’t found the right one.
The name I can throw back at Davey when
in a voice flat as oil, he calls me: “sweetlips”.
Despite a headache, stationary all day, unable to decay;
despite these reels ticking again into the gradient
of each throb; my eyes feeling as fragile as snow-domes
in the hands of a fractious child; my head grading all
the grains of sand shunted southwards again by a week
of black katabatic winds; despite the yachts tinkling,
calling like knives on goblets for silence as the tide
dumps another load of kelp around my head – I feel
happy, calm; and for a moment I love the feel of hessian
weather on my arms and legs. I love being with Davey
who smells like an old fish trough, stubble on his chin
sharp as wrasse’s teeth. I love the lighthouse on the cliff-top
as it holds the stupefied position of a pocket chesspiece.
I know another distress flare might soon find its passage
through the nerves my head manipulates, that an onshore
of jagged air push isobars back; that lightning’s filamented
pulse rig more cordage for my head. I know the veins
in my head will tighten, distort, bend again like lines
trying to dislodge a snag, that nausea will head for a dry
berth in my throat – but now, I fix my bait, spit out my beer
as if it had become as tasteless as the brackish Baltic
and I reel my line in. I know the creels must come in despite
blood on the charts, the pounding of cruel encephalitic winds.
I drag the rod back, it arcs like a dolphin scudding on its tail,
and I’m happy, calm, fishing again here with Davey.
We’re almost doing the limbo bringing our lines in.
Stephen Oliver’s latest collection of poetry is titled, Either Side The Horizon, Titus Books, Auckland / Sydney, 2005. His next collection titled, Harmonic is forthcoming from IP Interactive Publications, Brisbane, in 2008. IP is to release his CD recording of poems read by the author, to music composed by Matt Ottley, November, 2007. The CD is titled: KING HIT Selected Readings.
An Avenue To The Sea
Knowledge comes by indirect paths,
found addresses, by moonlight’s note left on the
back doorstep, molecular puzzle
of pigeons (brown and white potsherd)
in the high air at mid-day over this raucous town.
By panels of light cantilevered off cloud
that signal the departure of angels to earthly realms.
City of property investors, real estate mania.
City of rack renters and home renovators.
City of bladed light and blue-grey harbour.
City of broken contracts and sybaritic compulsion.
City of up-front rip-offs and council rorts.
City of jasmine and the eternal summer party.
City of shimmer dreams-sans-memory.
The most famous of living poets remain anonymous
and unrecognized in foreign towns,
ghosts before their time.
An avenue of artists, philosophers, poets, musicians
leads from the city square out through suburbs,
past terra cotta, yellow, and liver-brick villas –
(smoke twists through pine and laurel grove)
an avenue wide enough for a phalanx of soldiers
or two tanks grazing side by side.
Flags of spiritual battles won and lost adorn poles
set at intervals, diminishing
whitely into distance,
where it is observed that a central point at the close
of the avenue, bright as diamonds streaming in
the light, (barely larger than your pupil) is the
sea burning in its cauldron of watery fragmentation.
For Night To Roll Its Camber Over
The ruddy glare,
yellow, blurs its palette in rain,
at the boundaries of vision
flaring to white, blindingly, passes on (reassuringly)
into darkness, a rubbery hiss.
August is the windiest month,
west, sou’ westerlies rattle the Sydney basin.
Light beams search down through underside
of cloud where planes lower unwaveringly toward
North East, South West runways.
A machine screams slowly backwards over rooftops
(a sound that moves away-and-toward)
pushing space apart, seemingly swallowing itself.
Reverberations directly overhead wrap around
the room you’re in and rooming under
for night to roll its camber over.
Todd Swift is one of the leading Canadian poets of his generation (those born since 1960), and his poetry was included in two recent major anthologies of Canadian verse, Open Field (Persea, 2005) and The New Canon (Vehicule, 2005). He is Oxfam GB Poet In Residence and editor of their best-selling poetry CD series, Life Lines and Life Lines 2. He is poetry editor for Nthposition online magazine. He lectures in creative writing and English at the graduate and undergraduate levels at Kingston University, and teaches at Birkbeck and The Poetry School, in London. He has edited many international anthologies, such as Short Fuse (Rattapallax, 2002) and 100 Poets Against The War (Salt, 2003). His own poetry has been published by DC Books in four collections, most recently Winter Tennis (2007). He is co-editor of the major new study of contemporary English Quebec poetry, Language Acts (Vehicule, 2007). His poems have appeared widely in such journals as Agenda, Cimarron Review, The Guardian, Jacket, London Magazine, The Manhattan Review, New American Writing, Poetry Review, and The Wolf. His reviews appear widely, in places such as Books in Canada, The Globe and Mail, and Poetry London. He is doing his PhD at the University of East Anglia, where he also took his MA in Creative Writing.
Badge me and badger me,
Catch me and calliper my skull,
Suck out the phonemes, sip
The allomorphs. Automata, loci,
Imprudent, implants… put me on
Compound parade and glue
My ablative: stick a synthetical vowel
Up the lexical layer with a trowel
But build that system with interplay.
The Unidentified Man
So I went down to the fence where the jobs were,
Put my face against the wire, and yowled Hire me
To the boss-men whose job it was to hire two men,
When around me stood maybe two hundred men;
My hands gripped the wire, framing my yowling,
Too clean by half. I wanted to have something to do,
You see, in your world. The gates parted for no one
I knew. All I did was have a small way with words,
Of no use to the high chimneys that smoked above us,
To hang on the old tree where language yellowed.
Two men came and lugged me low, inside the gate,
Dropped my body in with the slow horses for meat.
To sing fado
is to open the barn door
before the horses.
Singing fado is to set water
spinning so it tires the storm.
Fado means teaching fire
to climb itself in flame, a rope.
Fado throws the wind away,
kisses the stars farewell
in night’s lost stairwell.
To sing fado
is knowing love’s torn dress
sold to sailors to buy
back your heart’s secret share.
Fado is leaving
nothing on your nakedness.
Fado is touch singing to skin.
Map Of Love
You are not on my map of love, you said
And I the cartographer of all things lived,
The device so curled and aged it had faded.
Sweep away those pins and flags, heart,
And come here to divide these spoils
On this bed where we surround and fall,
Fighting our way out of poppy fields
Consensual as battle, squabbling over power
Or Nepal. The answer is we’re artists or lovers
Pursuing night’s cherries in a spring campaign.
Tammy Ho Lai-ming, aka Sighming, is a Hong Kong-born and -based writer. She is the editor of HKU Writing: An Anthology (March, 2006) and a co-editor of Word Salad Poetry Magazine. Tammy’s creative works appear or are forthcoming in Australia, Hong Kong, India, Macao, New Zealand, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, USA, and Great Britain. More at www.sighming.com.
In This Massive Hallway
In this massive hallway the mahogany
reception desk is guarded by a woman of
mixed ancestry. The owner of a well-trimmed
moustache, an old man, told me he
has been hanging out there for more than five years:
too long, indeed, too long for his original to wait,
and he died of lung cancer. The old man has five
poems: three on canoeing, two
on the Canadian poet-cum-singer Leonard Cohen.
I am newly sent to this New York journal armed
with three petite prose poems: one on fishing,
two on post-postcolonial Hong Kong. My original,
naive and expectation-laden, is sending numerous mes
to different magazines, e-zines and whatnot. Us –
all of her invisible outer doppelgängers –
carry her manuscripts and wait, sometimes for days,
sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months, for
responses from editors. We haunt waiting rooms,
store rooms, nearly-empty rooms, forgotten rooms.
(This poem appeared in a different form in 21 Stars)
In The Summit Of Greying Snow
A poet died in the summit of greying snow.
He wrote about the realistic unordinary angst
of ordinary families, or vice versa,
and the human’s subconscious wish to be short-lived,
fast-mated insect (no mid-life
crises). Some envious poets thought aloud
to each other: oh it was wonderful to die
in the sacred cold, don’t you think? The icy weather
effortlessly formed a natural tomb for the sealed
and healed spirit. Other poets took up the task
to console the poet’s wife: her cream marble face
scarred with two non-parallel one-way tear tracks.
At the funeral, the wife asked the poets
to recite a poem of her husband’s – any poem
from any period of his writing career would do,
she said. Even the insect poems, she added.
The request drained away all sounds in the hall
in which the coffin was appropriately centred.
No one present, except the wife, had read
the poet’s poetry, and they called themselves
members of the same community of practice.
They spent too much time complaining at meetings
about the shrinking of the reading public
in the junk-layered village and being jealous
about other more successful writers –