It’s a great honour to be included in the most recent issue of Westerly. This poem takes me back to my own childhood, to long trips to Queensland up inland New South Wales roads – and the figure of my beloved father, always and still just at the periphery of my vision.
A bit of a bonanza for me in this edition of Plumwood Mountain, thanks to Managing Editor the indefatigable Anne Elvey
I was thrilled to be part of the amazing collection, The Sky Falls Down: An Anthology of Loss (Ginninderra Press), edited and lovingly curated by Terry Whitebeach and Gina Mercer. It was launched yesterday in Melbourne by Carrie Tiffany (having already been launched in Hobart).
The book is available through Ginninderra Press or at Readings in Hawthorn, where it was launched.
As Mary Oliver put it, ‘Loss is the great lesson:’ if we’re going to be open to loving we need to learn how to be open to and manage loss. The diverse contributions in this Anthology I think are all ways of struggling with this great lesson of being human.
My contribution was a poem about the ongoing experience of loss – written on the five year anniversary of the death of my father:
Five years and still –
Five years –
and still there are days when
I want to pick up the phone and
time seeps by,
and though grief
loosens its cruelest hooks
I remain bereft,
where are you?
Are you still sitting at your computer
tapping out the stories of your life –
the boy in the Queensland bush,
the young man stationed
poring over radar?
Or will I see you
coming into the kitchen –
a cup of tea in the offing –
joining us around the table,
the arc of your arms
wiry and strong?
And if I could get a line
through to you –
what would I say?
The children are growing,
I left my job,
the old cracks in the family
widen and groan like
lathe and plaster in the drought –
I admit we are all
Most of all,
I would ask you to
come home –
it’s enough now,
come back –
And here it is again:
the persistence of that old,
mad dream of
when the patience of mourning,
for all the rich
love you left amongst us –
to the shocking
need for the miracle:
in the broad palms of your sun-tanned hands.
I had great fun on the weekend reading at this festival event: thanks to a wonderful and receptive audience for making this such a enriching experience.
Here I am -in black and white and in colour – reading amongst some of the terrific art works!
I think maybe the most enthusiastically received poem was ‘Clothesline’ – a poem that comes from my book, Even in the Dark (UWAP 2013). It’s a little window both into the pleasures of doing laundry and the possibilities for that interstitial moment , when we see the ordinary in a different way:
To walk between the brightly coloured flags
of washing –
to gently stroke the fall
of drying fabric,
rearranging peg and angle
so that every fold
might find the fullness of the summer air;
to smell the hard-won clarity of
rising crisp and warm in the sun –
is to find a sweet hiatus in the day,
in the linearity of task and achievement –
in case you’re wondering,
this is not masochism,
or some throwback to the rigidity
of ancient roles:
instead, listen –
a faint hum amongst the tomato plants and
the marigolds and
it is possible to hear this
humble poetry of the backyard,
this ceremony of daily love –
for the rich harvest of the basket.
Is there ever a straight path forward? What happens when we wander in the so-called weeds, a ramble of body and ideas?
I’ll be giving a poetry reading on Saturday July 6, 2pm at the No Vacancy Gallery in the QV centre, as part of the women, work and wandering festival. This is a free event, but you do need to register.
It would be tremendous to see you there.
As many of you will know, it’s just recently been the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birth – that amazing American poet of teeming cities, meditations on life and loving, and of course that great and terrible experience of the Civil War. My poem, selected for this celebratory collection, Endlessly Rocking (ed Stan Galloway and Nicole Yurcaba), takes as its point of reference, the figure of Whitman as he travelled to the hospitals of the Civil War, horrified by the scale of the suffering and spectacle and beauty of so many violently damaged young men.
The poem is dedicated not only to Whitman himsef, that ‘bewhiskered emissay,’ but to my friend, fellow writer and Whitman -o-phile, Lindsay Tuggle.
I hope you enjoy my review in Mascara of Tricia Dearborn’s fantastic new collection, Autobiochemistry (UWAP 2019)
This is from a cycle of poems written in memory of my dear young friend, Sophie Ellis. This particular poem is for her mother, my dear friend Kerry.
For Kerry Dawson
Lay her here,
heavy as stone
across my shoulder, breast, the generosity of lap;
I long for this weight
Let the cataract of her hair fall
over my arms, across my face,
covering my eyes:
Child of my blood and sinew,
beloved daughter of my dreaming,
turn your face toward me
here, into the crook of my neck;
I have shielded you before:
And in the hollows of the night when
my arms lie useless and
desperate for you –
then lean against me again,
returned to me on this crushing
tide of longing,
scooped out of darkness –
be present and
beside the persistent beating of my heart.
On the rise in the middle paddock, grey fantails twirl and
arabesque through morning air dense with possibility, catching
the hands of the leaves and the light and our patient attention.
I wrote this paper a few years ago now in Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledges – but I’ve been returning to this ‘epistemology of wandering’ as evoked so wonderfully by Oliver’s poetic.
‘Drifting in the Weeds of Heaven: Mary Oliver and the Poetics of the Immeasurable’
Last week I did an inspiring workshop with Mark Tredinnick – a whole day dedicated to listening to, writing, thinking and talking about poetry. He introduced us to the form of the Sijo – a kind of Korean version of the haiku. I think I may have taken some liberties with the form, but here is another I wrote today.
You don’t have to go far to feel the kindness of the
Light to sit in a well of quiet sun beside the rosemary, the
Crush of mown grass, the heaviness of spent lavender nodding as I pass.
Scroll down in the poems from Australia and New Zealand to find me.
Thanks so much Denise O’Hagen.
October was a rich and busy month for me and poetry! Earlier in the month I read a series of poems around ‘Mothering/Daughtering’ at a Girls on Key event at Open Studio – thanks Laura Fisher! Then I collaborated with visual artists Sharon Monagle and Toby Penney in a collaborative installation at Mulbury Gallery, ‘Bodies: Form, Poetry, Paint.’ Below is a ‘found object piece from Toby and my poem in response: ‘Mend.’ It was great fun.
I also had two poems published in Pine’s ‘Earth’ edition – check them out! It’s great to be supporting new and innovative publications like this
I’m next reading at a Girls on Key Event with a selection of poems on the theme of ‘Mothering/Daughtering’ . Fellow poet Marian Webb will be the other featured performer- come for supper, company, listening and sharing
I’m very pleased to have two poems included in this year’s Grieve Anthology put out by the Hunter Writers’ Centre. These poems, ‘Sadness is a long tunnel’ and ‘Epithelial,’ come from a longer mourning cycle Impossible, written in the aftermath of the death of my young friend, Sophie Ellis.
La Mama Poetica August
On Tuesday August 20, 7.30-9, I’m really pleased to be reading some of my poetry with three other poets at La Mama Courthouse – Bella Li, Ross Donlon and Harry Reid. It would be fantastic if you could join us! Use the link below to make a booking.