Today was always going to be about this topic, given it is 4 months since one of my best mates died. I’ve tried half a dozen times to write about this loss (as well as other recent & ongoing ones) without much success. This comes closest so far …
& so . in a way . we all die young .
younger than we’d like . even if
we live to a hundred and twenty .
younger than our loved ones want
too . too long lost . in that aching
chasm . that distance between
stars that is all that’s left . when
there is nothing of you . left . except
a wisp . a tear . an echo of laughter .
a hair . a sigh . a gasp . a stifled
sob . an aimless wandering from
room to room . trying to remember
where you are . where you went . & why
NOTE: cover is from Tracy K. Smith’s lovely collection, Life on Mars. It is imaginatively titled: ‘Cone Nebula Close Up’ (I think in part because it is a Close Up of the Cone Nebula).
NOTE 2: I know ‘technically’ this poem may not really Ekphrastic in the strictest sense of the word, but is definitely an emotional response to the image.
I hadn’t planned to solely use poetry collections for my Judging a Book by Its Cover phase of poetic generation, but it seems to be working okay (& I still have 4 or 5 possibles to draw from) so while it’s working, I’ll go with it.
Today is Sharon Olds’ The Unswept Room. It is chosen for no other reason than I had an urge to write something about fish (don’t ask why/I don’t know). This was the closest I could find. It seemed to work cos the pome itself came very quickly.
shell, coral, fishbones
— these three clues
from the sea
all that remains
of what we were
of our love that was ;
the beach house floor
where we lived
for so many years
has been swept clean ;
a tidal wave of anger
leaving only these
three enigmatic clues
which must mean
if only i can work out what
then perhaps, like the tide
you will return
NOTE: the work of art which forms the cover are ‘details from floor mosaic The Unswept Floor’, Museo Gregoriano Profano, Vatican
Second day of Judging a Book by its Cover … & today’s text is Wooroloo by Frieda Hughes. My friend & fellow poet, Jules Leigh Koch, lent it to me following my reading at Lee Marvin on Tuesday night.
Those who’ve read Day 5’s post Crows everywhere you turn, will know I elected to perform what amounted to a “concept album” of poems; with every one referencing in some way, a crow or crows; including a couple inspired by a chilling experience at this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week, where the voice of Ted Hughes reading poems recorded in Adelaide 40 years earlier were played through the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens. It made for a very a haunting session dedicated to Hughes, with guests Jonathon Bate (biography of Hughes) & Max Porter (Grief is the Thing With Feathers).
I didn’t know that Ted & Sylvia’s daughter had tried her hand at poetry. Nor that for a time she was married to an Australian and lived on a West Australian farm. Sadly, the collection did little for me, with only a couple of poems I found engaging. However, if the cover is anything to go by, she is a pretty talented artist.
the sky is a golden fleece
— a beach furnace fuelled
by driftwood embers
— the front face of fire
leaping into the air
— flames catapulting over
themselves to escape
— everything it is destroying
NOTE: this painting is not called ‘Wooroloo’, but ‘Two Sheep’, 1996, by Frieda Hughes. Sadly for the sheep, they have been cropped out by moi.
Having completed my first session as Poet-in-Residence, means, at least in my self-imposed rules, I can change the Word Game used to generate poetry. For next week’s session, I will be using Judging a Book by its Cover as the game to write poetry by. Its technical name is Ekphrasis. Wikipedia elucidates thus: a graphic, often dramatic, description of a visual work of art.
& to be honest, I couldn’t be happier: I’m much more comfortable making poems inspired by images than shuffling other people’s titles around.
That said, I began wandering round the library, er, my house picking up books at random & checking out their covers & going: OMG I’ve never gonna find anything good.
That’s when I came across, Gatherers and Hunters by Thomas Shapcott. Tom was my Creative Writing Professor way back in 1997-98. I’d taken it off the shelf cos I’d been talking with Mike Ladd about the last time we’d seen him … & later I realised, it was at the launch of this book. So, with synchronicity in action …
above your bed/ on a pink shelf
which might be marble/ or merely cloth
4 items/ artistically arranged
a sheep’s skull/ minus lower jaw
a jar/ of homemade olives
an upturned/ coffee mug
&/ the last object
which might be/ a gold bar
or equally unlikely/ a block of butter
from the doorway/ i cannot tell
the symbolism/ immediately obvious
since your mind/ was stroked
speech has slurred/ language failed
you no longer delight/ in caffeine’s bite
words scrawl to worms/ & that mouth
on which butter once/ wouldn’t have melted
now utters/ random profanity
as if decompressing/ years of vitriol
the only thing/ which puzzles me
are the olives/
step forward/ reach above your head
unscrew the lid/ pop one in my mouth
NOTE: the work of art which forms the cover of Tom’s book is called ‘Still life with skull’, 2004, by Don Rankin