Ivy Ireland is currently studying an M. Phil in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle. Ivy has a penchant for mysticism, cosmology and cabaret performance. In 2006, Ivy worked as a co-cordinator for “The National Young Writer’s Festival”, and has performed her poetry at various events including ” This Is Not Art” and “The Peats Ridge Festival” . Currently, Ivy is a co-director of the performance troupe, “The Lovelorn Living Party”. She is one of the Australian Young Poets Fellows 2007.
‘For you yourself have created the karma that binds you. You are helpless in its power.
And you will do the very thing which your ignorance seeks to avoid.’ − Bhagavad Gita
Off working for peanuts,
off the books,
off in some country where I was not allowed,
I fell down two flights of stairs
on my base chakra.
I did not see a doctor,
I knew better.
Six months later,
back on a slab in my rightful place,
I had fractured my coccyx.
That type of thing never heals.
The grinding bone:
The tail that was:
I began the enquiry:
Injuries to the base chakra,
emotional or physical,
birth a wanderlust.
Back in that cold country,
lying prone on my solar plexus,
embalmed in numbing spray Laura’s ma stole
from the Falls Rd hospital,
I planned my escape–
Root cracked and numb,
no personal loophole in spacetime,
no tail to curl around the branches
of my family tree,
no train to wind around my lover as he twitched,
beside my blocked Kundalini.
Him: you’ll be alright,
you don’t need it,
we haven’t had tails for thousands off years,
Me: we nurse ghosts of all that has come before;
My tail will keep you awake at night
when I am gone.
One red blood rush.
It is correct to say the
chakra contains the obvious pulleys and levers,
our basic understanding of the cycles:
Low heat rising.
Whatever comes next.
It is also correct to say it contains all the dead:
The threads are sung back into our bodies,
we fuse them through only to gush them out again.
Sol and Luna got married in my guts.
First flurry was fear,
then undying love,
then temperate flow like the guru said.
For followers of Kali,
union of irreconcilable opposites is All −
wine and illicit sex at night,
yoga and fasting in the morning.
I’m afraid of things that dissipate categories,
that are The Ultimate Aim.
Still, when you caused it,
something snapped in there, like the
corners of my mouth spanning outwards
“gone, gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, oh what an awakening”
– Heart Sutra
don’t for a second think this one’s going to be about St Valentine or this or that fat goblin with a bow or even you
and me or this and that kissing some such under the waterfall or any other veiled reality the Buddhists tell me I
don’t understand or really participate in nor do I wish to
when I felt the invitation unfold from yours I wanted to hide but instead I wrote back
there is debate over the true colour of the heart chakra some say green of all colours it is compassionate green they
say others say rose pink which makes more sense to me though what would I know and anyway I hate rose pink
does that mean I hate hearts my own heart
that’s melodramatic and ridiculous how could I hate my own heart
in yoga meditation she tells me to pluck the twelve-petalled flower she says it’s gold residing there at the pump site
and send it to some significant one but I get scared that if I do that I won’t have any core to go home to when
it gets too rough out here on the sea of televisions so
I keep it for myself then feel selfish then decide to give it out to everyman
there are actually seven heart centres according to this or that holy text my friend Reuben says he’s got heart
centres in his heels they all represent a different love isn’t there a first principle in all this excess I want the right
doctrine to represent everything I want to feel it feel it for all and sundry no differentiation I want it to be atomic
that which can not be broken down
why does it always end up here at integers
I had a Inanna icon once,
believed in it,
for she is the oldest and the first.
Once, I held her up to my ear,
so she might say ancient things
my bleating throat could not.
She, too, refused to speak.
I got ill,
laryngitis in all this quiet,
moved house or country.
Somewhere in between,
Inanna fell out of the box.
I had thought she was impervious.
They say if you ask and mean it,
she will appear in the sky, the Great Goddess,
bless you with a boon. Perhaps say something.
There is sky blue where all I can’t say I wish for
There is the non-verbal stored elsewhere
There is the silence held dear haunting blood later
When they adjust a throat chakra,
they whirl the 16 petals to the left to let the emotions out.
The patient might start muttering things uncontrollably.
the first thing I mutter is Science where my bones are kept
the second thing I mutter is God where the disguise is kept
the third thing hints at Unity since I am now impervious
there is a superstring
replacing the unbreakable
electron with something that
could be snapped
if we desire it
little threads of sea
topography of my body
to its instigator and
through the firegate to
O Agni You
honey around the outside
like staring at fractals until your brain bursts
sahasrara is the channel vessel
inner lotus of 12 petals
outside honey flower has 960
what’s the meaning of this angel ladder?
reclining in a quiet grey bubble
the pineal gland remembers.
Jan Owen’s fifth book Timedancing was published by Five Islands Press in 2002. Her Collected Poems is forthcoming with John Leonard Press.
Listening to Bartok
From a distance, this half breath,
played in hesitation as by a child
tasting tomorrow’s saddest rhyme,
is ‘almost’ posing for ‘enough’.
The girl has learnt how want
elides get: this shuddery slow kiss
over her skin’s moist silk ambivalence.
She casts off doubt like a classic gown
for music’s shift. No moon.
Thyme and oregano crushed as in a book
exhale a double scent like irony
which guarantees nothing,
warning too soon the game is spent.
Lemon verbena is taking their weight,
ants trekking his arm, grit prickling her back.
From the starry overleap of night
only Saturn leans down.
The lines of a face arise within
and travel for a lifetime:
dry riverbeds, cliffs, endless dunes,
valleys of pomegranates and figs.
Swansdown is bringing them home
with ylang-ylang, almonds and apricot wine,
horizon playing horizon out
like a skipping game till extravagance
spills its hoard, all cost deferred.
Must a promise back away from its own mirage?
Dark is no antidote.
The lame night-watchman lurching by
has stroked her thigh three times.
Above: the Horse-head Nebula stretched out easy,
130 million light-years, nose to throat.
He slaps the sweat of his neck,
the tiny intimate bite of an ant,
and the borrowed music slips back into its den.
But the gist of shimmer’s payload
is grist in the mill, Shrove Tuesday:
such small eternities – C sharp, G minor,
quarter notes from the oud.
And the least tlink of a pebble
will swear time’s round.
Left hand plays a sombre tune.
The kernels float in their syrupy wine
like ancient embryos. Or dark souls levitating.
Deliciously bitter, and all they knew of love.
At night in the jacaranda suburbs,
over the wavy pavers
faking Escher under their purple season,
I pass a lit white wall where shadow and I
make a transient couple. If I say to him
Pattern is also obsession at bay,
he’ll reply: Your habits recrossing
their own predictable paths
are neither a soothing of edge nor a safety net.
I rent upstairs on a street of anti-doubt,
valiantly wrought iron gates, orderly borders,
twin lions and urns. Symmetry rules.
Between the spill of lamps,
crisp footstep-clicks are company
when shadow is cancelled out.
Darkness, like divinity, casts none,
but welcomes in the light:
Damayanta seeking Nala
concealed in the circle of gods
all bearing his face and form
knew him in the blink of an eye
by sweat and dust, and by the shadow he cast.
I meet no camouflaged gods,
but these spent bugles of jacaranda
come from that fading place where gratitude
chooses mortal being over heaven.
Only shadow knows your secret shapes.
To own it well is trust’s defence,
denying it makes massacre:
at best, your unlearnt life is on the line;
at worst, quiet queues are musicked
into the death cathedrals.
And here, for destination, are the roses’
memory scent, four hundred names
gilding the stone arch to the park.
The same two cannons flank the lawn
as when my brother and I played
war on the slippery-dip barrels −
Ack-ack-boom, you’re dead. My turn!
Over the road, the Christmas pine’s decked out,
and St Augustine’s battlements
flash red and green, the season’s spiritual traffic lights.
The cypress mopoke tolls his lugubrious name.
Turning back, I pass three men and a bottle
knocking off work at an outside table.
Further down, on the floor of a closed café,
someone is huddled between two chairs.
Then fashions, skimpy in orange and blue,
the Fairy Boutique and the quilt shop,
antique and liquor store,
Videoland lit up, Mitre 10 dimmed down.
And here’s my street
with its stepping-stones of yellow light.
Past twenty-four’s magnolia
in full flower like a roost of souls,
to the last dark stretch where shadow and I must part,
slipping back easily into our warm shared night.
Gwee Li Sui teaches literature at the National University of Singapore. His graphic novel Myth of the Stone (1993) was published to critical silence; it is out of print today and its publisher has since wound up.Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems? (1998), his volume of humorous poems, was not meant to be published; it was privately circulated before a selection was bravely issued under the same name.
Last Death in Iraq
9 April 2003
Of course, collectively,
It made perfect sense.
The day is glowing,
The old is no more.
So the last man to die
In Saddam’s Iraq
Finds himself thinking
One day like
The men in the
Like the Christians
Like I do
The morning I pick up
My pen to write
Against a war that is
Confucius! Thou shouldst be living at this hour:
Thy folks have need of thee! They have become
All bureaucrats: pens, forms, letters, tiresome
Ping-pong matters − O how our old men cower
To one corner and wet their Eisenhower
Trousers! Are we no more than this feared sum?
Then raise again thy cane and beat us mum;
Teach us good sense, manners not to overpower!
For thou alone art most qualified and smart:
Thou art the poster boy of this strange age
That sees in paperwork a privilege.
So mock us: in the name of Ancient China,
Save us from more red tape and its counterpart—
Even more circulars blowing its tuba!
The Blinding Truth
What I cannot see I cannot see—
Cannot see intelligence in nature, the tree in the bird,
The pattern in the yellow an angsana forms,
The fact that something else thinks in this moment I scruple,
How the world thinks and how I think I think as I watch you think,
The colour of my own brown pupil in yours,
The practice of our faith, a fixing in words,
The shape of each day to be speared through the dark.
When you beam and talk of rooms besieged by many corners,
I cannot find the verbal house in the labyrinth you call home;
And entrepreneurs are not my heroes, nor progress progressive.
When you deem global evil a poor shadow, the trick of subtle good,
I imagine how, on an old bed ten minutes away, the night
Is not the ticking of a grand clock which tallies for dawn.
Your hung Christ brings Sunday peace, mine hysteric living;
Yours knows property prices and backs instinctive wars,
Mine flies into the corridors of discussion where nothing is owned,
Where all weapons shall be beaten into the humanities.
The moving sun, your happy miracle of the same, is still your star:
I cannot see how such occurrences should describe religion at all,
Why I cannot see black, brown, yellow, a tree, a bird, stupid nature—
All else a perilous rupture that connects.
Who’s the idiot who says
if you meet Buddha on the road
If you meet Buddha on the road
leave him alone,
don’t kill anyone,
and don’t listen to stupid advice.
Tang Yi was born in Shanghai in 1983 and graduated from Xiamen University with a BA of Chinese Language and Literature. She is currently completing her MA in Creative Writing at the School of Culture and Communication, Department of English, University of Melbourne. She writes poetry bilingually and her poems have been published in Australia, Hong Kong and Mainland China.
Before my departure,
so much has not been said:
look after the lake for me,
which we discovered five years ago.
Watch the frolicking ducks −
be sure not to disturb them.
The trees’ old skins will soon begin to flake,
wait for their buds to emerge.
Throw a pebble into the water,
hear a cloud pass you by.
In the dawn the lake will absorb all the light
(You have noticed that too).
One day if I come back,
show me all your sketches of silent mornings.
Flowers in their spring profusion
will weigh the branches down.
Herb pickers will return to their huts
with the crisp voices of children spread around.
Blue haze will rise from the chimneys
conveying the fragrance of rice to the afterglow.
How I wish to enter this picture alone
letting my wine cup float freely along the stream.
When I went down the little stone bridge,
I could easily touch the surface of the water.
My toes were submerged in the pond;
I collected the duckweeds for my fishes.
The little stone bridge was so intricately carved
for the days to hide in.
In the night it was decorated by
the red lanterns, like a shy bride.
There was tinkling music
from passing cyclists.
The bridge was captivated −
something unspoken was connected.
Ouyang Yu now moves between China and Australia. A poet, novelist and critic, he has to date published 36 books including fiction, non-fiction, poetry and translation in both English and Chinese. Ouyang’s best-known works in English are his poetry collections Moon Over Melbourne and Other Poems (1995), Songs of the Last Chinese Poet (1997), short-listed for the 1999 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards) and Two Hearts, Two Tongues and Rain-Coloured Eyes (2002).
you are your own alter-ego
you see, life has not treated you badly
even though there were many times you thought it did, it didn’t
thing is, you don’t feel much desire for many things you used to
so passionately believe in. the sum-total of hard work seems to be
more of the same. you, and your self. in your language, alter-ego
is the opposite of the alter-ego, not the mirror image but the reverse side
of the mirror. it requires a strange translation to make sense: know-heart
hence the alter-ego that knows the heart. not true. the distance between a know
and a heart is a hyphen. often, it is this hyphen that cuts you apart
day after day you live with a diminishing sense of romance
the word itself having ceased to mean anything more than a mere memory
an age in which fallen teeth serve as part of an improvised interior
design and daily written things, fodder for future franchise the owner of those teeth
will not be a part of. incidentally, though, alter-ego is
the other self, the enemy of the self. hey, but what has this got to do
with the mathematics of it all. when will it happen? when the real
become the imaginary
here you go
here you go again
why is it never associated with failure is something that beats
an ant. does one ever hear a bird awarded a prize for flying
over mt everest or ever wonder why it simply stops
flying if it deems it beyond its capacity? a being, though, a human
being, in particular, is a totally different kettle of worms or a can
of fish. how so? it will leave you moved when you see how fame
is allowed one person like, like, a wrong word, once used, that will never
be used again unless the magnetic starts attracting it again
in a never ceasing business that we proudly call humanity. meanwhile
more died in lebanon, their names, never known before, now known
and shortlists could be abolished altogether considering how time and patience
consuming to get so short that one never gets there. as for longlists, one should
not even invent the word for the pain of it simply not worthwhile. the emperor
syndrome is still there. who wants to be lin biao that is one above a billion
but below the one. top is always top till it becomes topless and that’s when
the eyes are happy. nothing in the bowels seems to be brewing anything
that is wanted, unlike the brains. is it because the process does not involve
long enough but what about constipation that is even less awardable?
(to be continued)
Christopher (Kit) Kelen is an Associate Professor at the University of Macau in south China, where he has taught Literature and Creative Writing for the last seven years. The most recent of Kelen’s seven volumes of poetry Eight Days in Lhasa was published by VAC in Chicago in 2006. A volume of Macao poems Dredging the Delta is forthcoming from Cinnamon Press in the U.K.
Free translations from Xin Qiji (1140-1207)
water dragon chant #3
the horses of heaven
float back from the south
the elders of the central plain
wish to attack the north
around the Prime Minister’s villa
the party goes on day and night
fragrance of flowers, songs
with birds singing, it’s always
‘let’s raise just this one more cup’
those officials meant
to protect the country
empty it of what’s worth saving
how efficient they are
the northern tribes will never come
knowing there’s not a thing
left for them
congratulating the bride
I can’t help it but I’m getting old
I don’t travel much anymore
old friends are fewer
white hair is more
you laugh at the world
or you cry
what is there makes an old man happy?
not weddings so much I’m sorry to say
but I look into green mountains
among them lies always the smile of a valley
the mountain and I this way alike
a glass of my favourite brew by the window
and waiting for a friend to come
I think of Tao Yuanming’s poem −
the motionless cloud −
those who wish to be famous
drink on the other side of the river
discover deep meanings
in dregs of the wine
I turn my head now
to roar with the wind
I’ll never regret
having not met the heroes
though I could do with
one or two here right now
what worries me
is just that
over my beard
if they came
second poem to the slow tune of ‘lily magnolias
down now I’m old
at banquets I fear
how merciless time
moon’s bright and round
but it won’t shine on my next reunions
the Yellow Springs are too far
if the emperor asks me
to pen him an edict
I’ve already worked out
what I will say
my wish is to wake
from wine into autumn
its empty strings
the river cares for nothing, for nobody
follows the west wind
and whether they’re king’s
or whether they’re commoners’
blows boats away’
god of water
I laugh at the water god
wonder what angers him
I laugh at the goddess
now amending the sky
no paths to follow
through this weed, this mist
I take a walking stick
to the dark green moss
was it I who asked for this wind
for this rain
all these thousand years?
the shepherd boys here
started a fire
sometimes oxen and sheep
will lock horns
spring on the rock
like a drop of fresh milk
now and then jade blossoms there
four, five pagodas
singing and dancing
water god, goddess
both laugh at me now
‘don’t think too hard,
just join in’
how can I get Spring to stay?
how can I get Spring to stay?
tonight there’s nothing in my cup
the five hours −
each has its own dream
paws up in sleep
but each dream runs away
morning − the birds here
sing the sun up
behind closed curtains and closed lids
I let the jade screen’s story run
Stu Hatton is a Melbourne-based poet who keeps himself out of trouble by working on various projects at RMIT University, and as an editor for indie publisher Vignette Press. He also teaches professional and creative writing at Deakin University, where he is completing an MA. Stu was awarded an Australian Society of Authors mentorship in 2006, and considers himself very fortunate to have Dorothy Porter as his mentor. In his spare time he facilitates an online writing forum for drug users through the international harm reduction website Bluelight.
The radio sniffling some song out, and
its candy glare seduces us, drawing
conversation to the fringes, as cigarette
ash rains from the wound-down windows,
the car idling with us like a lover’s sleeping face.
Queuing up in the drive-thru we feel itchy,
as if we’re watching lottery balls land
while chewing our tickets; like a mobile
chirping at the back of the theatre, we’re
crying outto be muted, forgotten, satisfied.
We bin the cups & wraps, waste more cigarettes,
then drive . . . through a streak of green lights
that flick to late amber, past sullen drivers
tapping fingers on steering wheels,
windscreens snatching warped ghosts.
And the zebra crossings stripe under us,
as the radio station goes off the air, and
we are handed over to the silence, as a
speed camera gets another dumb picture,
its diamond flash dribbles off the car.
Potrait of Ledong Qui
Fuelling the party
is a man from Manchuria
with lampshade hat −
in his worker’s bag
a bottle of 60% baijiu
with Chinese characters
partying on the label;
one shareable shot glass;
a fishbowl jar of aniseed beans
soaked grey like fishbowl pebbles;
and a bag of sunflower seeds
which he says are to be eaten
“like a bird eats”, and remaining true
to his word, leaves seedhusks
strewn to mark his perching –
41 amongst late-twentysomethings,
dignified in specs,
wise old man of the East
(he laughs at this!) −
he in turn fuelled by
poetry, philosophy, psych-jazz −
he in turn
turned by great turnings.
He crashes at ours, contributes $2
to the cab, leaves a note marked 9:15am
saying thankyou, and that
the day has greatness to be had.
Note: ‘baijiu’ = a variety of Chinese white liquor,
usually between 40-60% proof, in this case distilled from sorghum.
Cyril Wong won the Singapore Literature Prize for his fourth collection of poetry, unmarked treasure (firstfruits, 2004) and his fifth collection, like a seed with its singular purpose (firstfruits, 2006), was launched in Singapore. His poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, Poetry International, Fulcrum and online at The Cortland Review and Cordite. His books are available online at http://www.firstfruitspublications.com
Awake, I strike a word against the dark
like a match. This could be the past
we are leaving. Buses on high beams;
wild eyes that ride down the road’s
unpromising narrative. The sky at a loss
for stars, thick as a foreign tongue.
Shadows bleed and every tree, thought
or breath is black. God is here
and not here, his retreat or restraint
everywhere around us, filling us
like cooling lead. Between nowhere
and everywhere, this is no hegira.
Where do we end up but at another
interchange? Sobering light gives us
pause, night pooling into memory.
The future takes its time to get here.
The morning drizzle
fails to perform
its threat of a downpour;
the sun only returns,
blunted, flexing its light
for the long haul.
You said we’d make love
are still kept,
the future made real
by the promises we fulfil.
lose their meaning−
the school you were told
would be there
has become a reservoir.
All I know about me
is what I once promised
myself, and you,
And when everything fails,
there is always that song
on the radio, news
of something heroic,
another long walk
in the park, another cigarette,
a sudden prayer.
The portrait you see remains unfinished. The mirror pounces like a single headlight.
Eyes deduce what its glass mouth devours. Some days you come back a distorted echo.
But no artist may ever know you better. But no artist may ever know you better.
Some days you come back a distorted echo. Eyes deduce what its glass mouth devours.
The mirror pounces like a single headlight. The portrait you see remains unfinished.
The apples wait in a bowl. Pick one.
The apples tug at the hem of my hunger − the love of apples.
The apples appear in a poem about a bowl of apples.
The apples are as serene as monks.
The apples cannot know the colour of the bowl they are in.
The apples in the poem are not edible. Neither is the bowl.
The apples fight for my attention. In fact, this happens very slowly.
The apples revel in their nudity and know nothing about sin.
The apples genuinely believe they are the original fruit.
The apples sometimes wish they were more than themselves.
The apples have heard of apples larger than themselves.
The apples deny any relationship to pears.
The apples wonder if it is true, that green apples exist.
The apples riot in the dark, but they cannot win. Still, they try.
The apples are a reminder that time is never still.
The apples fear what awaits them after they have been eaten.
The apples would like to be reborn with legs.
The apples are too restless to meditate.
The apples were communist, but they soon converted to capitalism.
The apples knock each other off the top of the bowl − the politics of apples.
The apples curse quietly when one of them is chosen.
The apples dream of orchards, the generosity of rain and sunlight.
The apples remember suspension, gravity, then falling −
The apples mourn when none of them is chosen.
The apples concede to my teeth, filling my mouth with their insides.
The apples, unlike us, would prefer time to hurry.
The apples at the bottom admire the apples at the top.
The apples wait to steal my life and turn it into an apple.
The apples cannot think beyond the bowl's bright rim, the open window.
The apples are still waiting.
by Robert Adamson
Reviewed by FIONA SCOTNEY
In many ways the collection Net Needle is a logical continuation of Adamson’s recurring themes of love, loss, birds and the Hawkesbury region. It is very Adamson. It has the traits readers have perhaps come to expect and admire from his last few collections. It is dedicated to his partner Juno, his ‘heart’s needle, soul’s compass’, it opens with a poem about birds and the title comes from a poem about fishermen. What could be more Adamson? Yet there is nothing staid about this collection. He returns to familiar subjects and makes us look again and in doing so we gain a new understanding and a new level of appreciation. This is Adamson doing what Adamson does best.
This poetic craft is most evident when reading ‘Net Makers’, a poem which balances the delicacy of memory and weaving with the immediacy of tobacco stained fingers and fish guts. The poem contrasts the hardness of the men with the softness of their bent bodies and practiced movements. There is a sense of boyhood wonderment and admiration in their craft of mending and at the same time their ability to ‘cut the heart clean/ from a fish with a swipe of a fillet knife.’ The weaving of the nets in the poem is mundane, pragmatic and performative,
They stitched their lives into my days,
Blue Point fishermen, with a smoke
stuck to their bottom lips, bodies bent
forward, inspecting a haul-net’s wing
draped from a clothes line. Their hands
darting through mesh, holding bone
net needles, maybe a special half-needle
carved from tortoise shell. Their fingers,
browned by clusters of freckles
and tobacco tar, slippery with speed –
We are invited into an intimate space of memory, reflection and repetition as ‘they wove everything they knew/ into the mesh, along with the love they had,// or had lost, or maybe not needed.’ This is men’s work located in a domestic sphere; the backyard by the clothes line of Adamson’s childhood home. In the poem there are the subtle tones of the tortoise shell needles, freckles and tobacco tar set against the action of stitching, inspecting, draping, darting and mending.
As in The Goldfinches of Baghdad and other collections, Adamson has drawn on Mallarme’s idea of a book as a ‘living composition’, where each page becomes a stanza in the poem of the whole book. In this collection there is a four part structure which brings cohesion. The poems are grouped by observation, recollection, homage and finally death and transformation. Part one is characterised by observation, by poems that turn our attention to the otherwise unseen miracles in the mundane, as in ‘Net Makers’ and ‘Via Negativa, The Divine Dark’:
On the table a cicada, flecked with flour,
opening its dry cellophane wings.
The cat flies across polished space illuminated by the
Kitchen’s energy-saving light bulb,
A Philips “Genie.”
Here the divine dark is lit by stars and an eco-light blub. The via negativa, a way of describing God by negation, takes form in the tree-ferns, mist and banana trees, as well as breezes, watermarks and stars. It is not Wordsworth’s pantheism, but rather Spinoza’s recognition that all things are God.
Morning turns its back on the sun;
gradually, night arrives. In the skylight,
stars appear through the smokescreen from burn-off,
Stars are clustered tress, hung in the night sky.
Here and in other poems in part one of this collection, observation mingles with metaphor and personification to create interesting juxtapositions. In ‘Garden Poem’ for Juno where Adamson writes, ‘At midday/ the weather, with bushfire breath, walks about// talking to itself’ and ‘a breeze clatters in the green bamboo and shakes// its lank hair.’ These simple yet beautiful lines when considered become profound and masterful. In the first example he combines the observation of midday with the metaphor of ‘bushfire breath’, with personification the weather which ‘walks about// talking to itself’. Such lines show the complexity of Adamson’s craft.
Part two of Net Needle is comprised of redrafted poems from Shark-net Seahorses of Balmoral: A Harbor Memoir (2012), a collaboration with artist Peter Kingston which produced a hand printed limited edition artist book,. These poems are based on recollection and tell stories about Sydney, the harbor and the rivers. They are not simply nostalgic reminiscing, but rather poetry as memoir, as Adamson looks back over moments of his life that span his childhood to his time spent in Long Bay prison. In this section a focus on narrative tends to replace the more image-driven poetry of the first part of the collection. I wonder if this is in response to the collaborative process of creating the artist book, which responds to Adamson and Kingston’s shared memories of Sydney, albeit at opposite sides of the harbor, Kingston at Vaucluse in the east and Adamson at Neutral Bay in the north. Both were born in 1943 and the art book chronicles some of the history of the area, as well as Adamson’s personal history.
Sometimes there is an emotional distance in these poems, as in ‘The Long Bay Debating Society’ which begins with the dispassionate line, ‘I spent my twenty-first in Long Bay Penitentiary.’ The poem recalls the pacing in the prison yard through the day and his reading of novels and poetry at night. It records Adamson’s early ambition to be a poet,
Sometimes an education officer
Would turn up and ask
What are you going to do with your future?
I’d tell him I wanted to be a poet
He would shake his head
And comment that I was being insolent
After weeks I convinced him
We wanted to start a debating team
The poem takes an unexpected turn from Adamson reading and wanting to be a poet, to convincing the officer about his desire to start a debating team. As it moves from the general to the specific, the poem shifts to the subject of the poem, the debating society. ‘It took a month to convince the Governor/ Finally the authorities agreed/ We could form a debating society’. This new freedom is still bound by the control of the authorities, as the ‘crims’ read and research in the prison library and organise an outside team to debate with, they are undermined by the Governor’s choice of topic, ‘(it was the summer of 1964) our topic/ “Is the Sydney Opera House Really Necessary?”’
Other memories are captured with a mix of facts and observations, as in ‘The Green Flash’ where Adamson recalls walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge with his mother, and going to the ‘Pylon Lookout’, ‘There was the café, where mum bought/ my first Devonshire tea.’ The South West Pylon lookout was open to the public at weekends from 1932 -1981. ‘This was the spot my father took/ my mother on their first date; he always/ knew how to impress people.’ The strength of these poems is in their ability to record personal and public history and memory with location.
Part three acts as homage to other writers, the poems reference or are dedicated to other poets and writers including early influences on his writing including Francis Webb, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his friend Michael Dransfield. These poems provide a reminder of the sociability of poetry. The act of naming other poets creates textual relationships, the names become tropes, poetic devices that can represent a mode, or style of working, or gesture to interpersonal connections or relationships. These poems also speak of the longevity of Adamson’s vocation as a poet. Since the publication of his first collection in 1970, Adamson has published over 20 books of poetry. He has devoted much of his life to poetry, not only as a poet, but also an editor, mentor and teacher.
Adamson is one of a number of Sydney and Melbourne poets who emerged in the late 1960s and have been seen as part of a loose school or generation of poets characterised by their explicit break with existing poetic practice, their adaptation of American models, and their shared opposition to the Vietnam War. John Tranter’s anthology, The New Australian Poetry (Makar, 1979), announced this new generation, the ‘generation of ‘68’, and presented the twenty-four poets included as representing a ‘commitment to the overhauling of poetic method and function’ and a ‘serious attempt to revitalise a moribund poetic culture.’ Adamson, like Dransfield, was included in the anthology and they are often referred to as key figures of the “generation of 68.”
Part four of the collection can be characterised by themes of death and transformation. ‘Death of a Goshawk’ is a haiku with an untraditional syllable count which reaches its dénouement in the last line facilitated by its title,
Hovering on sunlight and air –
A boy’s trigger finger.
Other poems about death include ‘A Proper Burial’ about the death of a pair of tawny frogmouths beside a highway, ‘The Whiting’ where the poet is visited by the shadow of a fish he has killed and ‘The Great Auk’ for Charles Buckmaster, a poem which references another ‘generation of ‘68’ poet and friend of Adamson’s who died aged 21 in 1972. Not quite elegy, this poem recalls fondly Buckmaster’s poetry magazine The Great Auk and his contribution to the Sydney and Melbourne poetry scenes.
Charles spoke of auk bones
discovered in Massachusetts, fragments put
together by the archaeologist of morning, kingfisher
of poets. Charles wrote for the lost forest
and opened new pages as he
walked the streets of Melbourne,
writing back the great auks, speaking branches
to sing from; as the growth rings
thickened our lives, he stretched himself imagining
pilchards in massive schools
turning oceans silver with auk food –
auks returning in poems, swimming from the heads
of poets, into the tides of our words.
The final poem in the collection is ‘The Kingfisher’s Soul’ for Juno. It is a redemptive poem, where the ‘you’ in the poem, presumably Juno, brings new knowledge and discoveries to the first person speaker, ‘Your breath blew a thicket of smoke from my eyes’, ‘You taught me how to weigh the harvest of light’, and ‘You brought along new light to live in’. The poem ends with a final transformation, ‘I preferred the cover of night, yet here, I stepped/ into the day by following your gaze.’
Net Needle sees Adamson return to recognisable themes and influences in a way that is at once familiar and rewarding. For this reason, it is also a wonderful introduction to his work for new readers.
FIONA SCOTNEY recently completed her PhD at the University of Queensland titled ‘The New Australian Poets: Networks and the Generation of 68’. She has previously been published in Cordite, The Australian Poetry Journal and Southerly.