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

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

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.

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

Poetry Happenings in October

Bodies: Form, Poetry, Paint collaborative installation at Mulbury Gallery

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.

Mend

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

Poetry Readings

Thanks to Amanda Anastasi for hosting this wonderful opportunity to read at La Mama last month, and to Brendan Bonsack for the photo
Poetry Reading: ‘Mothering/Daughtering…’

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

  • Wednesday, October 2, 2019 at 7 PM – 9:30 PM
  • Open Studio 204 High Street, Northcote, Victoria 3070S
  • Tickets · $8 – $10Pay at event

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.