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Moods: More poems in response to the pandemic

This pair of poems – two faces of response to the pandemic we are living through – has just been published in Mensicus literary journal. https://www.meniscus.org.au/Vol8Iss1.pdf. Thanks to Jen Webb and Shane Strange.

Pandemic Moods

1.      Anxiety

clutches               like a virus

at surfaces         the warm vulnerability

of membranes                               it hangs

heavy in air

droplets of contagion     impossible

to see   chasing at shadows

              filling my time   frantic

with the wrong things

or maybe the wrong things         I can’t

tell         presentiments of doom

weigh on me                    a vice that grips

like a headache

something is proliferating          

a wild cacophony            pounding

at the fragile borders of this body

                             seeking its own path

trying to get in


2. Compassion     

is a tall tree

a searching filigree of roots              a steadiness that

reaches               risky      into changeable air         while

leaves   like open palms       signal

to a restless world

I see you

and it’s possible to

rest here            a short time

in the deep pulse            and dance of      shadow

grass     sweet    with summer rain

under the arch of my arms

this        flickering            cathedral of green

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On Mother’s Day

Val Lucas 1922-2013

In remembrance of my dear mother – and in acknowledgement of the complex work of mothering.

You came back

             she said     her hands

fluttering around her face      abroad   in the air

between us        they are brittle wings unfolding     in that scrubbed

corridor       when she looks up from her wheelchair    suddenly   

ecstatic            weeping                   you   came back

from where?   I come out of the day

flurried    my own worn hands    catching

hers     stroking        I will always

come back    to sit close    to walk quiet streets together

under plane trees       their generous leaves

until I remember     how I first left her   flush

with the hubris of youth     and how she stood on the nature strip

vulnerable      trying not to touch me      or hold me     just asking

me to come home          but I went     anyway   my face

turned    resolutely   in a different direction

it was years    too many     before

I looked back      properly   before I saw her      a good person

living her life     tending hydrangeas   cradling

generations of children      moving

like all of us           through uncertainty and pleasure

toward the always unexpected      dark fields       this slow

drift into clouded water  

  I came back      just

as she unmoored 
      

          
this island        this fragile

territory                              where I have always been

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Between home and the further world

This poem, published as ‘Further, or Autumn Isolation 2020,’ has now been published in Text journal, special issue 58, The in/completeness of human experience.

Somewhere around early April we travelled down to our weekender to bring supplies to our daughter who was in quarantine there after returning from overseas. Coming out of the cocoon of home, I was almost surprised to see that the beautiful balmy world of autumn was still out there, patiently waiting for us, maybe wondering what we’d be like when we emerged and re-entered it.

Further

Isolation in Melbourne: April 2020

‘I love our house…It’s probably a bit of a dump to some or a castle to others, but for me it’s a light-filled container full of people I love.’ Sarah Watt[1]

The sanctity of this         marked out        space

this collective turning             inwards


 the quiet comfort of walls                        angle of stair

our bed    creaking    as we turn

ripening of garden figs in afternoon light or

voices   drifting down a corridor –


while     streaming away              like photons dissolving in air

the further world                    still lies

              bemused      and utterly beautiful

beneath a creamy sun  


its fields and stony

rises    streets and verandahs                    all tipped

skywards            and slipping

gently    from summer’s ferocious grip


waiting for us –      as though

through a frosted pane

              we had never really seen it before

rolling out its     carpets of recurrent green


never stood amongst the low     thrumming

of unfolding seasons      or travelled

its wide and gusting territories                 of shift

and hold             and shift


[1] Sarah Watt and William McInnnes, Worse Things Happen at Sea: Tales of life, love, family and the everyday beauty in between,’ Hatchette, 2011, p.244.

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Of fear, death and life

This season of easter and of passover comes in the middle of the corona virus pandemic. Apart from the sad fact that, as in Narnia, all holidays are cancelled, it’s not a bad time to think about these narratives and traditions which concern the human relation to death and our persistent desire to somehow overcome it. It is a relationship certainly characterised by anxiety and grief; yet, at our best, we can glimpse the possibilities of change and acceptance, those small transformations of shift and slip.

Easter, during the Pandemic

Broken

like an egg into a pan

              its yellow eye &    spill

of visceral white

            

this seasonal story          of catharsis

  hurricane of catastrophe     beating

                             on this bowed back

one human body      

          

cracked

& hammered            until it is

a vanishing point             of fall    & grief     of where

the splintered edges can never be made

whole

                             no going back     only

ahead      where Lazarus slides        without reprieve  

into inexorable death      the heavy curtain

of descending quiet –

a first morning                 unspeakable    &

then a second

at last a third &                        life creaks on

jolting us forward

              awkward            scarred

into the only world                       possible

its narrow frame

its flickers of meaning

              our persistent   hearts

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If you stop – and look carefully – what will you see?

‘Woolsthorpe Manor,’ copyright Pauline Brightling 2012

1666. Bubonic plague devastates London and Isaac Newton retreats to his family home at Woolsthorpe Manor. Self-isolation, long months of being in close quarters, no external stimulus – just the quiet world around him and the rising, creative life of the mind. Quite a combination as it turned out.

What can you see, what new constellation of elements – as the noise and frenzy of the great world slows, as the quietness of garden, autumn sunlight, the passing of hours, comes inexorably into view?

First published in Plumwood Mountain, a poem from my second collection Unexpected Clearing (UWAP 2016) – certainly more prescient than I could have known.

What Isaac Newton Saw

At Woolsthorpe Manor,

his childhood home,

the famous apple tree –

                     or perhaps its latter-day descendent,

a gracious Maid of Kent –

still droops its gnarled arms toward the

clottedness of earth,

giving up its wormed and floury fruit to the grass,

to the possibilities of turbulent

and muddy transformation:

Outwitting the plague, he sat for seasons in his quiet house,

its losses and constraints,

the drabness of its close routines;

almost a poet,

he watched

with such stillness and

openness

and restlessness –

the quiet world unfolding in his garden;

an ordinary miracle that needs a different eye to see it,

           a new tilt of the head, or sudden mood of

equanimity that allows leaves to rustle,

branches to brush the lawn,

a bird to move discretely and even

          try out some autumnal singing –

each thing 

sifting into

place,

judged   or

unjudged:

until an apple simply

 falls –

a muscular movement of energy,

and chance –

and a new constellation of elements

spins

shimmering

into view.

For more on Isaac Newton in the time of plague, see the UK National Trust: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/woolsthorpe-manor/features/year-of-wonders

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Poetry in the time of corona virus

Under the Wave off Kanagawa: A Poetose Notebook (100 pages/50 ...

Dear friends, we are entering the strangest and most challenging of tunnels. These last few weeks I know that I, along with everyone else, has been frantic – trying to mentally catch up to what this pandemic means, even as it keep changing, scrambling to recreate my working life from home, trying hard to manage the rising anxiety and its different manifestations, reaching out to the people I love.

Poetry has been on the back burner amidst all this. But I thought about Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year (a whole year??) and thought I would try and record some of my thoughts and reflections during this unprecedented time. Please follow the blog – tell me what you’re thinking, respond to what I’m able to put out there. Let’s converse.

As we move into this uncertain time, here’s a poem from my second book Unexpected Clearing (UWAP 2016), ‘Under the Wave’, that speaks to both the risk and the possibility of such a dive:

Under the Wave

Slipping under the wave –

that space where even sand

might settle,

          unswirled, where

the turbulence that rakes at the roots of your hair

          filling it with grit,

                     yanking it back toward the wildness of the surface,

a kind of reverse gravity,

might yet,   like the hand of god,   pass over you –

slip under the wave,

you know its towering confluence of tide and wind,

the crushing hammer of its foamy fist;

watch, where the form of your flailing, human body,

with all its intricacies of angle and organ,

might turn its fins in this mottled light,

negotiating an ancient element –

slip under the wave,

make for the sky.

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Outback Bowser, 1970: new poem in Westerly 64, 1

‘Listen to the Stories Woven Around us,’ by Brooke Collins-Gearing. Cover image

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.

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Thrilled to be in Plumwood Mountain 6,2 Intersecting Energies

A bit of a bonanza for me in this edition of Plumwood Mountain, thanks to Managing Editor the indefatigable Anne Elvey

My review of Louise Crisp’s beautiful, many-layered walk through different country.
My poem on Mount Elephant/Djerrinallum
A privilege to also review Judith Beveridge’s new collection – familiar friends and new poems

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The Sky Falls Down Melbourne Launch

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
call you;
time seeps by,
and though grief
          loosens its cruelest hooks
I remain bereft,
perplexed –
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
in Darwin,
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
still
wiry and strong?
 
And if I could get a line
          through to you –
what would I say?
The children are growing,
beautiful,
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
          diminished
without you.
 
Most of all,
unreconciled,
I would ask you to
come home –
it’s enough now,
please
come back –
 
And here it is again:
the persistence of that old,
 mad dream of
restoration,
when the patience of mourning,
the gratitude
for all the rich
          love you left amongst us –
gives way
to the shocking
need for the miracle:
the past
                     intact and
cupped
in the broad palms of your sun-tanned hands.
 

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Women, Work and Wandering Poetry Reading

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:

Clothesline

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

cotton,                 

rising crisp and warm in the sun –

is to find a sweet hiatus in the day,

a moment

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 –

gathering, sorting,

washing,

ready –

for the rich harvest of the basket.

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Poetry Reading: Women, work and wandering…

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.

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Walt Whitman in the Hospitals of the Civil War

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.

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Impossible: a mourning cycle

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.


Detail from Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ (1488-89), St Peter’s Basilica

Pietà

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
again,
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
homed
beside the persistent beating of my heart.

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Another Sijo from our paddock

Grey Fantails

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.

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Drifting….with Mary Oliver

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.

Ramble! Enjoy!


‘Drifting in the Weeds of Heaven: Mary Oliver and the Poetics of the Immeasurable’

http://www.rhizomes.net/issue13/lucas.html

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Experimenting with Sijo

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.

Autumn Morning

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.

Reading for World Poetry Day: Geelong Library and Heritage Centre

I’m really looking forward to reading for World Poetry Day at the Geelong Library special event, with fellow poets David McCooey, Jo Langdon, Cameron Lowe and Maria Takolander.

Come along on Wednesday March 18, from 6.30, at the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre at 51 Little Malop St. Register via the link below

https://www.grlc.vic.gov.au/whats-on/world-poetry-day