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Jill Jones was born in Sydney and has lived in Adelaide since 2008. Her latest book is Acrobat Music: New and Selected Poems, published in 2023. Other recent books include Wild Curious Air, winner of the 2021 Wesley Michel Wright Prize, A History Of What I’ll Become, shortlisted for the 2021 Kenneth Slessor Award and the 2022 John Bray Award, and Viva the Real, shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry and the 2020 John Bray Award. In 2015 she won the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry for The Beautiful Anxiety. Her work is widely published in Australia and internationally and has been translated into a number of languages, including Chinese, French, Italian, Czech, Macedonian and Spanish. No, the System Did Not Work For Me I landed among delusion, with a lag and a dogsbody. I was hauled within a millimetre of someone’s brown balaclava. I was a deb in line with a litre of jackpots holding a new key and a gypsy. I blundered past the icing, the pioneer pasties until it became confusing. There was some mug serving vol-au-vents in the event of an accident. The dogsbody left for a two-up game back east and though I wrote to the mug there were questions about indemnities. I couldn’t tell if the lag had the only weapon. They looked like blackballs or something you’d wear in an airlift. I did not lose though the vortex was faulty too many yes-men hamming it up for too many yobbos. The dollars shook down their own catastrophe. I became a debacle in pearls with a litter of Jaffas. I dropped the lucky cards the horizon got shonky. I gave up crystals and tea leaf methodologies. I could not lose though the yardstick was dodgy. It was a blast in the blunders. And thanks for the bluffs. Continue reading
Posted May 31, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
"Lufthansa" is one of Tranter's best and most anthologised poems. The poem is mimetic of one of its early lines: it seems "struck by an acute feeling of precision" which leaves little room for interpretation or "meaning" that extends beyond the surface of its language. Michael Brennan has astutely drawn comparisons between the poem's "unity, precision and momentum" and a passage from Susan Sontag's 'Against Interpretation': "Ideally, it is possible to elude the interpreters in another way, by making works of art whose surface is so unified and clean, whose momentum is so rapid, whose address is so direct that the work can be… just what it is." Lufthansa Flying up a valley in the Alps where the rock rushes past like a broken diorama I’m struck by an acute feeling of precision – the way the wing-tips flex, just a little as the German crew adjust the tilt of the sky and bank us all into a minor course correction while the turbo-props gulp at the mist with their old-fashioned thirsty thunder – or you notice how the hostess, perfecting a smile as she offers you a dozen drinks, enacts what is almost a craft: Technical Drawing, for example, a subject where desire and function, in the hands of a Dürer, can force a thousand fine ink lines to bite into the doubts of an epoch, spelling Humanism. Those ice reefs repeat the motto whispered by the snow-drifts on the north side of the woods and model villages: the sun has a favourite leaning, and the Nordic gloom is a glow alcohol can fan into a flame. And what is this truth that holds the grey shaking metal whole while we believe in it? The radar keeps its sweeping intermittent promises speaking metaphysics on the phosphor screen; our faith is sad and practical, and leads back to our bodies, to the smile behind the drink trolley and her white knuckles as the plane drops a hundred feet. The sun slanting through a porthole blitzes the ice-blocks in my glass of lemonade and splinters light across the cabin ceiling. No, two drinks – one for me, one for Katharina sleeping somewhere – suddenly the Captain lifts us up and over the final wall explaining roads, a town, a distant lake as a dictionary of shelter – sleeping elsewhere, under a night sky growing bright with stars. Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
To honor the late John Tranter, one of Australia’s finest ever poets, I thought I would share some of my favorite poems of his over the coming weeks. “Christopher Brennan'' encapsulates much of what makes Tranter so special. The poem most obviously showcases his mastery of form, which fulfills the demands of the sestina so nonchalantly it seems to be at the same time a perfect representation of the form and a highly exaggerated parody. The voice: casual, ironic, conversational but detached, as if the speaker is partially distracted or worse, the poem is uninterested in itself. The poem is ostensibly a biographical sketch of the Australian poet Chirstopher Brennan, but within this portrait Tranter deals with a number of themes that occupied him over the course of his life, most notably the value of poetry (Tranter once mentioned in an interview that every eleven years or so he developed a strong distaste of poetry and questioned its worth) and how to locate Australian modernism within an international context. Christopher Brennan was an Australian poet born in 1870. Heavily influenced by German Romanticism, he is probably best known for his 14 part cycle “The Wanderer.” Brennan was also an early enthusiast of the French Symbolists, in particular Mallarmé, to whom he sent his first collection and received back a note of praise. The poet John Hawke has written that at the turn of the 20th century there was “a stronger interest in Mallarmé’s poetic philosophy in Australia than virtually anywhere else in the English-speaking world.” Brennan was at the avant-garde of this movement. In 1897, the same year Un Coup de dés arrived on Australia’s shores, Brennan produced a handwritten facsimile of Mallarmé’s masterpiece, a parody called Prose-Verse-Poster-Algebraic- Symbolico-Riddle Musicopoematographoscope & Pocket Musicopoematographoscope. Years later, Tranter would continue this tradition by producing his own mistranslation of Un Coup de dés, “Desmond’s Coupe.” You can read Tranter's thoughts on Brennan's parody here. Christopher Brennan He spoke German, Fluently, and French. One he got by study, the other from an inclination to drink absinthe, like the poets who were always writing among the cafes and the bottles and the crowds of women. How do they do it? He liked women, though they seemed a little too German, at times, invading the domain of writing and buggering up his whispered amatory French the way that a few too many drinks would ginger up but addle the study of his volumes of foreign verse. In the study he worked at a huge monument to women for an hour or two, then had a drink. Phew! Like a good German he had a method for everything, and like the French he wasted it on writing poems about feelings like writing all through the night. His study lamp glowed out across the Quad. Famous French poets wrote to him, once or twice. Women from one end of Europe to the other admired his German manners. Ah, Heidelberg! Must be time for a drink. Back to the... Continue reading
Posted May 3, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
Rebecca Jessen is a Brisbane based poet whose first poetry collection Ask Me About the Future (UQP, 2020) was shortlisted for the 2021 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry, the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry and Commended for the Anne Elder Award. "deflated at dusk" evokes the sometimes excruciating slowness of a family summer vacation in Australia—bbqs and tomato sauce (ketchup), sand in the bed, Aeroguard for the mosquitos, Mum narrating the weather "with every vagrant cloud"—which seems to absorb all life and sense of identity and singularity into it’s soporific spell. deflated at dusk xmas lights trapeze across campsites. all-day bbq smell makes me reconsider my vego status. no-one tells you swimming is more fun in the wading pool. has Mum ever existed without a cigarette in her hand. smoke and Reef Oil wafting from the porch. two essentials: Aeroguard and Masterfoods tomato sauce. so what if I still check the news hourly. life moves fast elsewhere. here the easy affection of toddlers is life-affirming. sometimes a bucket really is just a bucket. we are all deflated at dusk. Mum narrates the weather with every vagrant cloud. I don’t even mind the sand in my bed or the mirror of my alternative life. I’ve never been less Continue reading
Posted Apr 12, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
“Chatty abstraction” is how Eileen Myles described the defining quality of New York School poetry in an essay in the Fall 2003 issue of Mississippi Review. “John Ashbery heard John Cage's randomness of composition and was a fan of abstract expressionist painting and John Ashbery decided that we could do that in literature, too," Myles writes. "Abstraction. Let the sentences stop and start like one's attention. In Frank O’Hara’s poetry the abstraction took a vivid human form.” Jennifer Maiden’s “Diary Poem: Uses of Frank O’Hara” moves seamlessly in and out of a number of conversations, which give the poem an architecture through which Maiden’s flow of speculation (on the nature of poets and poetry, the stubborn anxieties of influence, aging and more) can run. There are brief chats between the speaker and her contemporaries, Johns Frobes and Tranter, dialogue with a reviewer, her daughter, and, as the diary form encourages, with herself. These ”real” or “historical” conversations lead into, and set the stage for, the longer, imagined exchange with Frank O’Hara “on a gritty tenement balcony / on a star-chilled American evening / with drinks in our numb hands speculating / why poetry is so much about denying / what one is not.” It is this "chatty abstraction" which allows the poem to be so open to conjecture and so free to espouse. Jennifer Maiden has published 28 collections of poetry and has won many awards including the Victorian Prize for Literature, the Age Poetry Book of the Year (twice), the overall Age Book of the Year, the Kenneth Slessor Award (three times), and the Christopher Brennan Award for lifetime achievement in poetry. She has been described by Gig Ryan as “one of the most striking voices to emerge from a generation that included John Forbes, Martin Johnston, Robert Adamson and Michael Dransfield.” Diary Poem: Uses of Frank O'Hara Years ago when John Forbes praised my later work, he said my Problem of Evil was influenced by Tranter’s Red Movie, and being younger and furiouser, I rang Forbes and explained P. of E. was actually written first. The paper printed an apology but wicked Forbes started at once to speculate that Tranter had based Red Movie on P. of E., a claim of which I thought I’d better warn Tranter, who laughed: ‘Anxieties of Influence’, and that phrase came back to me recently when a reviewer said I’d learned a lot from Frank O’Hara. I explained to my daughter I’d never read O’Hara and she, the Fire Tiger, defended me on those grounds, so the reviewer professed shock that I had never read O’Hara. I wondered: am I shocked myself really that I’ve never read O’Hara? I do not miss O’Hara, but I said I would write a poem called Frank and I about us. The imaginary O’Hara would confess of course that he has not read me either, despite which we would feel quite at home. I see us relaxed on a gritty tenement balcony on a star-chilled American... Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
Yesterday marked the 105th birthday of Ern Malley, who remains one of Australia’s most internationally renowned poets and our greatest ever literary hoax. After I disclosed that I'm Australian in our first ever email exchange, David immediately wanted to know where I stood on the whole Malley affair. While the hoax overall has legions of fans, many people feel that the poems themselves cannot possibly possess any quality due to the nature of their genesis. In his review of The Complete Poems of Ern Malley published in Jacket in 2002, David offers a comprehensive introduction to Ern’s formative years and a lucid and insightful commentary on his poetry, arguing that Ern’s oeuvre has merit beyond the hoax, no matter the dubious motivations behind the poems’ creation. You can read David’s review here. Happy birthday Ern! The Ern Malley Poetry Hoax by David Lehman "THE greatest literary hoax of the twentieth century was concocted by a couple of Australian soldiers at their desks in the offices of the Victoria Barracks in Melbourne, land headquarters of the Australian army, on a quiet Saturday in October 1943. The uniformed noncombatants, Lieutenant James McAuley and Corporal Harold Stewart, were a pair of Sydney poets with a shared animus toward modern poetry in general and a particular hatred of the surrealist stuff championed by Adelaide wunderkind Max Harris, the twenty-two-year-old editor of Angry Penguins, a well-heeled journal devoted to the spread of modernism down under. In a single rollicking afternoon McAuley and Stewart cooked up the collected works of Ernest Lalor Malley. Imitating the modern poets they most despised (‘not Max Harris in particular, but the whole literary fashion as we knew it from the works of Dylan Thomas, Henry Treece, and others’), they rapidly wrote the sixteen poems that constitute Ern Malley’s ‘tragic lifework.’ They lifted lines at random from the books and papers on their desks (Shakespeare, a dictionary of quotations, an American report on the breeding grounds of mosquitoes, etc.). They mixed in false allusions and misquotations, dropped ‘confused and inconsistent hints at a meaning’ in place of a coherent theme, and deliberately produced what they thought was bad verse. They called their creation Malley because mal in French means bad. He was Ernest because they were not. Later, the hoaxers added a high-sounding ‘preface and statement,’ outfitted Malley with a tearjerking biography, and created his suburban sister Ethel. The invention of Ethel was a masterstroke. It was she who sent Malley’s posthumous opus, ‘The Darkening Ecliptic’, to Max Harris along with a cover letter tinged with her disapproval of her brother’s bohemian ways and proclaiming her own ignorance of poetry." Petit Testament In the twenty-fifth year of my age I find myself to be a dromedary That has run short of water between One oasis and the next mirage And having despaired of ever Making my obsessions intelligible I am content at last to be The sole clerk of my metamorphoses. Begin here: In the year 1943 I resigned to the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 15, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
Sarah Day is the author of nine volumes of poetry, including Tempo (2013) shortlisted for The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, The Ship (2004) winner of the Judith Wright Calanthe Queensland Premier’s Award for Poetry and joint winner of the Judith Wright Prize ACT National Poetry Awards, and most recently Slack Tide (2022). A former editor of Island Magazine, Day was born in England and grew up in Hobart, Tasmania. Her poems often engage with the natural world and the ways in which domestic experience connects to history and society at large. Day’s poems are also noteworthy for their formal skill and musicality. “Fe” from 2018's Towards Light is a quiet sonnet with a subtle rhyme scheme and a clever turn: magnetic north, with its subterranean loops and seemingly planchette-like randomness, should confuse, “but fails." Instead, the pole's diurnal shift "quietly adjusts our compasses, our hearts” to align us with the movements of the natural world. Fe Magnetic north is always on the move, looping its slow deep subterranean loops around true north which it eludes like an errant partner in an Arctic dance. Whoops – gliding now at forty k per year from Canada towards Siberia like a planchette on a Ouija – anyone would think these shifts might derange a home-bound salmon and rearrange the map for pigeon, turtle, snow goose or the coded alphabet inside the honey bee dance; it all seems set to confuse but fails. Blood hears more than its own euphony as the sliding behemoth in fits and starts quietly adjusts our compasses, our hearts. Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
When John Forbes died of a heart attack in January of 1998 while sitting around his kitchen table talking with friends, he left a relatively small body of work with an extraordinarily high strike rate. Forbes was well known for his critical acuity, and his trained eye did not suffer mediocrity, in his own work or the work of others (his friends included). As Laurie Duggan remembers, “John wouldn’t pretend (or allow you to) that anything could be gotten away with. He was his own harshest critic, and he may well have been the conscience of modern Australian poetry.” Here are three of Forbes’ better known poems. Television features prominently in each of them. Forbes seems drawn to television for its democratic appeal and pervasive influence on the culture in which he was writing, with its ability, both as object and medium, to reflect back insights into our social, political and spiritual condition. The opening injunction of “TV” to dispense with an account of the program being watched in favor of a description of the actual television set itself, suggests that how we watch, the social and economic settings in which we encounter events, provides an architecture for experience which is just as consequential (and revelatory) as what we watch. TV dont bother telling me about the programs describe what your set is like the casing the curved screen its strip of white stillness like beach sand at pools where the animals come down to drink and a native hunter hides his muscles, poised with a fire sharpened spear until the sudden whirr of an anthropologist’s hidden camera sends gazelles leaping off in their delicate slow motion caught on film despite the impulsive killing of unlucky Doctor Mathews whose body was found three months later the film and the camera intact save for a faint, green mould on its hand-made leather casing “Love Poem” is a paradigm of concision. In ten short-lined couplets, Forbes is able to consider themes as hefty and varied as love, war (as entertainment, distraction and consolation), his own poetry (“whose letter / lets me know my poems show / how unhappy I can be”), and the power television wields over both the political and the personal. With its terrifying beauty, the televised bombing of Baghdad, which announced the commencement of the First Gulf War and was the first ever live coverage of war, comforts the speaker in the absence of his beloved. The poem makes the seemingly incongruous action of curling up with images of the war, as if they were a romantic comedy, eerily (and comically) apposite.The poem continues to play with this absurdity, switching between a clear knowledge and appreciation of military hardware and a forlorn romanticism: “Our precision guided weapons / make the horizon flash & glow / but nothing I can do makes you / want me.” The bombing is seen by Forbes as “what the west does best”, an advertisement of technological advancement and awe inspiring power—a detached brutality masked... Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the death of John Forbes at age 47. Ironic, understated, comic and deceptively erudite, Forbes’ poetry represented for many Australian poets, as Ken Bolton writes, “a high-water mark against which to judge their own work.” A keen student of art history, philosophy, military history, and cultural theory, Forbes in his poetry married his intellectual fascinations to suburban Australian landscapes and 20th century ephemera in a conversational tone and colloquial voice that owed much to his early love of the New York School, in particular John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara, on who he wrote his honors thesis and a completed (but never submitted) masters thesis respectively. A precocious talent, Forbes won a major literary prize at the age of 22 with his poem “Four Heads & how to do them.” The poem borrows for its starting point a Renaissance treatise on how to paint a “Classical Head” and proceeds to riff on the form, so that the Symbolist Head “No longer begins with even a mention of anatomy, / the approach in fact leaves one with the whole glittering / universe from which only the head has been removed.” The poem launched Forbes’ career and became an anthology staple. His second collection, Stunned Mullet, was funded by the Australian Bicentennial Authority for the purpose of celebrating Australia’s bicentenary in 1988. It presented Forbes with the opportunity to take on the mantle of a "Public" Australian poet. He was, however, far too suspicious of authority for any such pretensions, and in the book’s central poem “On the Beach” the poet goes from answering the call of his vocation to seeing: “Milled day-glo ephemera sell you this image of Australia & where it appears, flogged and true-blue, your vocation looks more like a blurred tattoo or something you did for a bet & now regret, like a man walking the length of the bar on his hands balancing a drink on his shoe” Yet it is precisely this cynicism and self-effacement which make him a fundamentally "Australian" poet, and validates the argument for his having been a national poet of a kind. Forbes’ persistent skepticism of those things which can at times make great claims for themselves, including those things which interested him most: politics, art, philosophy, poetry, is inherently, if not uniquely, Australian, and gives his poetry an ironic mode which recalls Robert Hughes' diagnosis of Australia's national character in which the country's convict past has made its people at once conformist and cynical of authority. Eschewing academia, Forbes made his living working menial jobs, including a long-ish stint as a furniture removalist, and the meagre art grants offered to poets in the 1970s and 80s. Forbes' view of the role of the poet in late 20th century Australia was perhaps best explained by his speaking grape in "Monkey's Pride", which Forbes viewed as a kind of manifesto: "Because society has elected me / to decorate / its falling / apart with a useless panache."... Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
In Ania Walwicz’s “Australia” we get a critique of the country through the eyes of an outsider. The poem’s diction (a vibrant, broken English), paired with the accuracy of complaints (“You silent on Sunday. Nobody on your streets. You dead at night. You go to sleep too early. You don’t excite me”) hints at an immigrant speaker who knows her subject well. The litany of grievances is elevated through the use of second-person pronouns, their intimacy giving the protestation a propulsive energy, with the “you” being addressed subtly morphing as the poem develops. We begin with complaints against Australia's too open landscape: “You too empty. You desert with your nothing nothing nothing,” followed by a shift to a more personal version of the pronoun, the “you” both an individual in and of themselves and an individual personifying the sentiments and attitudes of the nation-at-large: “You try to be friendly but you’re not very friendly. You never ask me to your house. You insult me. You don’t know how to be with me,” until we arrive at the speaker addressing you, the reader, and, perhaps, herself: “You go to work in the morning. You shiver on a tram.” The poem tracks the immigrant experience, from being a stranger in a new land to becoming immersed (if only with a measure of hostility) into the fabric of the country, becoming a constituent of the “you”—a part of Australia—herself. Australia You big ugly. You too empty. You desert with your nothing nothing nothing. You scorched suntanned. Old too quickly. Acres of suburbs watching the telly. You bore me. Freckle silly children. You nothing much. With your big sea. Beach beach beach. I’ve seen enough already. You dumb dirty city with bar stools. You’re ugly. You silly shopping town. You copy. You too far everywhere. You laugh at me. When I came this woman gave me a box of biscuits. You try to be friendly but you’re not very friendly. You never ask me to your house. You insult me. You don’t know how to be with me. Road road tree tree. I came from crowded and many. I came from rich. You have nothing to offer. You’re poor and spread thin. You big. So what. I’m small. It’s what’s in. You silent on Sunday. Nobody on your streets. You dead at night. You go to sleep too early. You don’t excite me. You scare me with your hopeless. Asleep when you walk. Too hot to think. You big awful. You don’t match me. You burnt out. You too big sky. You make me a dot in the nowhere. You laugh with your big healthy. You want everyone to be the same. You’re dumb. You do like anybody else. You engaged Doreen. You big cow. You average average. Cold day at school playing around at lunchtime. Running around for nothing. You never accept me. For your own. You always ask me where I’m from. You always ask me. You tell me I look strange.... Continue reading
Posted Jan 18, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
Andy Jackson’s Human Looking (Giramondo) won both the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for poetry and the Australian Literature Society’s Gold Medal in 2022. The book’s title possesses a canny doubleness that can inform us of how we might enter the collection: life is, to a large degree, a cumulation of looking, both as observer and observed, and this looking is always human, that is, flawed, partial, dismissive, adoring, indifferent; while to be human looking implies that what is being observed is not considered human at all. Jackson lives with Marfan Syndrome, including severe curvature of the spine, and his poems give a visceral account of what it is like to be considered “human looking”—to be on the margins of society because of the way we appear to others. “Microbiome” reminds us, however, that to be human is to be inhabited by a profusion of non-human life, and that these microbes dining at the body’s “soft table” are “always hungry / unfussy.” The speaker, then, offers up his menu: both somatic and psychogenic, including “starch, sugar, paper and ink,” “hesitation in the face of violence,” and “the scent of the skin of the one I love” suggesting an intimacy with the microbes that is almost erotic, reminiscent of Donne’s flea. Microbiome While we live, we ourselves are inhabited – William Bryant Logan, ‘Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth’ In the earth, prepared and silent, what will I be offering you? It’s said the menu opens with the liver and the brain, for their wealth of enzymes and water, the heart before the bones. But so many of you are already here at this soft table, always hungry, unfussy. I’ve been feeding you protein, fibre, starch, sugar, paper and ink, self-consciousness, the crimson jolt of the rosella in the leafless tree, my own dying cells, hesitation in the face of violence, more water, the scent of the skin of the one I love, confusion with almost everything else. And what will you make of all this turning? Warm compost, what remains. Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
Kate Lilley has published three books of poetry, including Versary (2002), winner of the Grace Levin Prize, and the acclaimed Lady Like (2012). Her most recent collection Tilt won the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for poetry. Lilley is a poet of exceptional formal skill whose poems engage with a profusion of ideas and subjects that are testament to a fierce intelligence. Over the course of three collections, her range of references and thematic concerns are dazzling, from 16th century England to 1970s Sydney, Viennese psychoanalysis, female sexuality and desire, the golden-era of Hollywood, childhood trauma and the conflicts and contradictions of the self (daughter, poet, lover, teacher, patient). Yet Lilley’s erudition is always tempered by the poem’s urge to connect. As John Tranter wrote of Lady Like, “it's the yearning, euphoric human peeping through the veil of art that seduces the reader.” Lilley’s poetry also carries with it a savage wit. In “Pet”, Lilley playfully explores the complications and power dynamics in paired relationships, specifically that of teacher/student (turned lovers), while managing to get in the most brilliant and faintest of slant-rhymes (“bottle of gin” with “Olivia Newton John”), and one of my favorite closing couplets. Happy Holidays. Pet The new teacher takes me out: orchestra, revolving restaurant, lesbian bar. I burn my leg on the exhaust of her bike. Next she comes around with a bottle of gin and her admiration for Olivia Newton John. Mortified, I let her do as she pleases. When she moves in with me and my boyfriend, an alcoholic poet, I develop a fever like Villette (which I haven’t read yet). On the bus to school she cries about other girls, Jobs she has had to leave in a hurry. She shows me their bewildered letters, I disassociate. When I stop having sex with her, She calls me a bourgeois bitch and joins a gun club. Continue reading
Posted Dec 21, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
Marty Hiatt is a Berlin based poet and translator who runs the intrepid Baulk Press. Originally from Melbourne, Hiatt’s work keeps alive the correspondence between the experiments in French poetry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and those taking place in Australian poetry today, exemplified by his great long-poem “The Manifold”. His translations include works by Philippe Soupault, Apollinaire’s “Vendémiaire” and Nathalie Quintane’s contemporary masterpiece Tomatoes. Hiatt’s own poetry is infused with the spirit of those writers he translates, who seem to give him, as Soupault said of Apollinaire, “permission to go faster and father”. In “Transit of Venus”, discordant images crash against one another, creating a kind of junk energy: both energizing and enervating. “Possible arcs are continually amassing”, but they are of “almond milk or intratelluric menses”. Engines and alien dialects lull either the monsoon season or the speaker, or both. The effect is a curated disorientation (“I look down but not back”) that embodies precisely the defining features of our postmodern selves: we haven’t simply “had enough of the old world” but are addicted to the new world we continue to fashion around us, a world that causes us to be at once both perpetually exhilarated and permanently exhausted. Transit of Venus standing on top of the helicopter counting the bristles of my toothbrush i look down but not back for with precision instruments we’re raked a vision of my next career move pins my eyes but it turns out to be just another thundercloud to hack through like one more enemy toad gliding past black n red wreckages in whose erstwhile spans we’re serried as one — whether baggage attendant pilot or stag beetle we kiss one another’s lofty bitumen with creaking lips my lust for diesel is becoming a problem n water’s too hard though other possible arcs are continually amassing like almond milk or intratelluric menses that help me through the dilation of the monsoon season lulled by so many engines n alien dialects about the garbage press the circular koan foreseen by the oracle composes itself trips on a splattered helmet pronouncing radio static that implores me to return to my neglected duties to world’s best practice rooftop dining, silt deposits n jubilant mastication mammoth concerns devour one another in the lagoon i’ll have to leave the slack-water revert to aerobic status even as the advancing front engulfs what little oxygen i’d extracted n carried through suns set at 9am after peak hour broke its banks damaging conveyors n other infrastructure it is time to pick up my thighs from the dry-cleaners. no cash so steam torture in its stead platoons flush by too quick to indict though silken families stranded on the pontoon compliment my figure, at once offering their condolences n implying the loss was worth it all told but their countenances turn with my shoulder in the application window tread on the heads of the buoyant while distilling new perfumes to compliment the scum of enslavement i frankly... Continue reading
Posted Dec 7, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
Misbah Wolf is a Melbourne based poet. She holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of QLD. Her most recent collection of poems, Carapace, was published by Vagabond Press earlier this year. "Under the pink house" first appeared in Overland journal, along with another of Misbah's poems, which you can find here. Under the Pink House It was pornographic science fiction inside you. You stretched yourself onto the bed and I was casually stationed as a headless fog. You undressed in the afternoon—the chimerical atmosphere where chatting women turn into chittering insects. I felt you scrape your tongue against my chin, the moment of vanishing inside you where I could leave the forms of your different faces and hear the conversation you really wanted with me. Your tits sent out whips that lassoed me to the bed, and your pussy adopted the same penetrating gaze, a cabalistic cipher where occult forces dimly sounded. Our lips strayed towards edges, idols and fiction, experience and fruition. The room was pinned with veils, resounding with lengthening shadows sweating through each syllable, each bluish charge against the inner thigh and neck, accepting that I was not the gentleman you wished me to be. In the centremost labyrinth of your labia, I unintentionally scried your future and saw echoes of tall trees in gentle winds, fingers turning pages of burning books with images of hungry baby birds that would be unlikely figures of your liberation. Continue reading
Posted Nov 23, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
David Colmer is an award-winning Australian translator who has translated over 15 volumes of Dutch-language poetry, including Even Now by Hugo Clauss, which was shortlisted for a PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and Self-Portrait of an Other by Cees Nooteboom. In 2001 he received the James Brockway Prize, an oeuvre prize for translators of Dutch-language poetry established by the Dutch Foundation of Literature, for which the award jury noted “[Colmer] is particularly at ease with the colloquial, contemporary voice and does not hesitate to produce slang when the Dutch requires this. (…) He is a bold translator; he never automatically chooses the obvious but tries to tease out the maximum from every line.” Colmer’s latest work of translation is a selection of the Dutch poet Nachoem Wijnberg, published earlier this year by The New York Review of Books. Wijnberg is an especially prolific poet, producing 20 volumes of poetry since 1989 and the NYRB collection includes poems from each of these titles. While there are noticeable developments in form and mode throughout the different volumes, Colmer’s selection captures what appears to be a constant in Wijnberg’s poetry: his use of the most plain spoken language to mystify and bewilder. These poems exist in a logic entirely of their own making and reliably undercut our expectations; they are disorientating in the way they can be at once of good humor and unnerving, straight forward and elliptical. "Laziness and Patience", which reads almost as a parable, and "I Am a Doctor" are two poems which both achieve the extraordinary feat of ordinary mystification. Laziness and Patience The three sons of the father who says that when he dies, the entire inheritance will go to the laziest son. A judge has to find out which of the sons is the laziest. The first son says: I go quiet when I think someone loves me. That’s not bad, especially the haste, like someone who has come to tell someone they don’t love them. The second son says: my father has worked hard his whole life to say that the inheritance goes to the laziest son and that it’s up to a judge to find out which son is laziest. If it was more I know what I’d do, says the third son to the woman he spends the inheritance with in just one night. The woman tells the judge. The judge asks the son: how did you know that she was the woman who would tell me about it? I Am a Doctor I let rain destroy my clothes and stay up all night and fall asleep on the backseat of my car, on my horse. If I find a dead body on the street I search the pockets for letters and keys and try to find someone who recognizes the body (sometimes it is the dog or the horse). Look at me, I am a doctor. Give me your hand, I am a doctor. Let me through, I am a doctor, no,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
It's well known that Elvis never toured internationally because his Dutch-born manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker, believed that if he (Parker) ever left the United States he would not be allowed back in. This did nothing to lessen Elvis’ appeal around the world, and Australia was no exception, where a healthy fascination with the King still very much exists. Every year on Elvis’ birthday, around 30,000 Australian Elvis impersonators descend upon the small rural town of Parkes for the Parkes Elvis Festival. Now in its 28th year, the festival holds over 200 events across five days. The Parkes Elvis Festival Sadly, not all Australians’ passion for Elvis translates into such joyous events. After holding out for as long as possible, fearing the worst, I recently saw Elvis, the biopic by Australian director Baz Luhrmann, for which I feel it is my patriotic duty to apologize for. Claire Nashar As an olive branch I offer “The Biography of Elvis” by Claire Nashar, a Sydney-born poet who completed her Ph.D. at the University of Buffalo, and has two collections of poetry to her name: Lake (2016) and Handmade (2015). Nashar’s poem adds sometimes absurd and fantastical, often intimate and quotidian details (all hearsay) to Elvis’ bloated legend. To me, these speculations, no louder than murmurs, seem far more worthy inclusions to Elvis’ story than Mr. Lurhmann’s overblown theatrics. Biography of Elvis (after Mark Leidner) They say Elvis could shoot a hoop from twelve metres out. They say it was because he was missing a tiny bone in each of his wrists. They say that when he sweated the inside of his clothes became gilded, and if they happened to already be gilded, became like rainbows or supernovae. They say that Elvis had a way with birds. They say that this explains the mob of ornithologists that tried to kill him in Georgia. They say that once, after observing the flight of a group of grey pigeons, Elvis predicted the rise and fall of the Spice Girls. They say that if you listen to Blue Suede Shoes backwards, that’s what it says. They say that when Elvis was a child he often saw the ghost of a dog that had been shot in the head. They say that when he was older he drank dom peringon just to forget it. They say that he once lived in Alaska, in a spare log cabin with a potbelly stove, and watched movies about pilgrims on the television sets which he collected to people his home with presidents and game show hosts. They say that he once visited Sydney, Australia, but I’m not sure I believe that one. They say that Elvis never told a lie. They say that he married for love. They say that when his heart broke for the first time he created a dance move so sad that it would break all other hearts forever, but that it made him so afraid that he died without ever showing it to anyone. They say... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
Last weekend, the Bathurst 1000, Australia’s most famous race, was won by Holden drivers Shane van Ginsbergen and Garth Tander. It was a historic victory as it was the final Bathurst 1000 to feature Holden, the iconic car manufacturer of Australian classics including the Kingswood and Commodore. Holden was the last remaining Australian car company, until the brand's owners, General Motors, shut down production in early 2020. Holden Kingswood Growing up in Australia, cars were totemic: a symbol of freedom and independence and an expression of character. Much like in the United States, Australia’s wide open spaces lend themselves easily to the mythology of the road trip, while our sprawling cities make cars a product of necessity. Belinda Rule Belinda Rule’s “Poem of a New Driver” captures perfectly the symbolic power of the car: “When I first get the car, I pull all the fabric / of the city towards me”. Rule’s ode has a casual lyricism and uses imagery which counters our expectations “the road a seatbelt / speeding on its reel.“ The poem elevates the experience of driving into a near mystical practice. The supernatural speed of the car unrolls the sky, abstracts and distills the trees into essence, transforming the driver into a “master of all trees” and a connoisseur of that unknowable moment before death. Poem of a New Driver When I first get the car, I pull all the fabric of the city towards me, race it through like cloth beneath the presser foot. Come here, Geelong! And it does: a satin bolt of sky unrolls, the road a seatbelt speeding on its reel. You see so much of the sky driving: you’re an eel darting upwards in a limpid bowl of glass, trailing the road like a tail. So much of trees, too: abstracted and distilled by speed into essence. When you walk there is only one tree, and your beetling body labouring below. At speed you are the master of all trees— all of them arrayed as if curated just for you. And always you know you might die. A second’s distraction and you will swerve, careen, flip, and in mid-air you will be the master of something new, a mote exploding from the sun, the knower of what may only be known once, and then only for a second; at last, purely happy. Continue reading
Posted Oct 12, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
Thomas Moody added a favorite at The Best American Poetry
Oct 10, 2022
If T.S. Eliot had been writing in Australia, "The Waste Land" might have opened "September is the cruelest month". Spring has just arrived in the Southern Hemisphere, and on the east coast of Australia it looks likely the season will only compound what has been the wettest year ever recorded. The great Philip Mead's "Torrents of Spring" seems superbly situated for the occasion, a spring poem more doleful than celebratory. Through the speaker's conversation with the dead Scottish poet Sorley Maclean, who is on his way to Calvary (evoking both one of Maclean's most well known poems and the Crucifixion and resurrection of Christ), we are reminded that loss is just as an essential element of spring's process of renewal as the blooming of acacias and bottlebrush. But how do we find renewal in the loss of a loved one? According to Maclean "there are no solutions" but to be in the world and know that it carries on: What I always did was walk to the edge of the sea and watch the fishermen where they haul their boats in and the surge of the ebbless ocean. Everything passes between islands, and take it from me anything in art can be deferred, it’s free of the future. The last line suggests that art exists outside of this carrying on; one step removed from life, it can be deferred. I like the idea that art is free of the future, that its temptation to exist lies not in time but in the eternal. It allows for us to meet dead poets in city laneways and have them assure us we continue to dream in death, as in life, "lonely as exoplanets". Torrents of Spring I thought I recognised Sorley Maclean walking towards me down Niagara Lane. As he came alongside he said look up, you can see our friend the sky where the tall buildings lean in towards each other. I can see some glyphs floating across up there. The in-between goes all the way back to the well of darkness. Sorry but I’m an analogist, and out of area. Back on the corner the tree shadows had seemed to scatter around his ankles. He said he was on his way through, from Antofogasta to Calvary, reminded me that the lamps are a super important part of the hanging universe. We keep dreaming he said, lonely as exoplanets. The hard thing, I know, is losing one of your own. That always takes up a lot. Then after a very long pause he said, there are no solutions. What I always did was walk to the edge of the sea and watch the fishermen where they haul their boats in and the surge of the ebbless ocean. Everything passes between islands, and take it from me anything in art can be deferred, it’s free of the future. I know you’ve read about my afflictions. And I was different then. I wanted to ask him about sudden gusts of wind, and the... Continue reading
Posted Sep 28, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
Lisa Gorton is the former poetry editor of the Australian Book Review and the author of three award winning collections of poetry: Press Release, Hotel Hyperion, and Empirical, and the novel The Life of Houses, which won the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction in 2016. Gorton has a special interest in ekphrastic poetry, having written poems for several exhibition catalogs and also composed a series of poems for the artist Izabela Pluta’s book Figures of Slippage and Oscillation. One of my favorites of Gorton’s poems is “Graffiti,” in which her talent for the ekphrastic is turned to a wall in the city of Pompeii and the scribblings that deface it. The wall was long ago “chained-lugged to the city” by “slaves bent double against the weight," and the poem is constructed around a number of contradictions built out from these details: the aspirations of the wall's purpose (“peace dragged in as a pile of stones”) and the violence of its creation; the dignity of the wall's longevity and the “piss-riddled importunities” that now cover it. We then arrive at the mesmerizing final four lines, in which the poem turns away from its prior concern with notions of permanence and fixedness towards the fleeting and ephemeral: ashes fall softly from the sky and the speaker has to repeatedly stand up to shake them off. "What a weight of light!" she exclaims. We first take this "light" to mean the cumulative weight of the ashes, but our interpretation is immediately undercut by the poem's extraordinary final line. Grafitti ‘I wonder this wall can bear the weight of such words’ Graffiti on a wall in Pompeii The city is smaller than you expected. Its houses turn their backs on streets – And given half a chance who wouldn’t bunker down behind a stack of silence? An arm’s length of wall permits any depth of meditative calm or your money back – Its walls are made of potsherds, broken bricks and stone cut from the hill’s mouth, chain-lugged to the city – It happened just as you picture it: slaves bent double against the weight, whip cracks and flies, that crowd in the marketplace breaking off mid-sentence to see peace dragged in as a pile of stones – The stucco of the city walls is everywhere scratched with these piss-riddled importunities – – Cruel Lalagus, why don’t you love me? A wall can bear the weight – All the girls love Celadus the Gladiator The weight is nothing to the wall – Caesius faithfully loves M[… name lost] A wall can bear the weight – For a good time, turn right at the end of the street Out of the dark, ashes fall softly. We have to stand up again and again to shake them off. What a weight of light! The dark is smaller than you expected. First published in The Australian Book Review Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
Here is Melbourne poet Emma Lew speaking to the Australian Book Review in 2019 about her approach to writing poems: "Writing a poem, for me, is an experience that blurs consciousness and the unconscious – the one relentlessly and obsessively advancing and checking the other. It begins usually with a line or a rhythm or both that I set down and run with, develop, push out from. I keep lists and lists of lines jotted down in a series of exercise books; lines gleaned from overhearing, from mishearing, from reading and misreading. Improbable lines, nonsensical, hypnotic lines; lines that have struck me purely for their nuttiness, or for their arresting syncopations or tones. I’ve stored up line upon line over the years, and I turn to them for something to start with, sometimes changing words or syntax, then seeking other lines that seem to connect with the first, then others and others – until I can start to see a kind of sense and tone emerging, and I try to nurture this thing and shape it and see what it seems to be trying to say, to adumbrate, to offer. It’s been frustrating, but over the years I’ve seldom been able to write anything with a ‘deliberate’ subject. It’s always been a matter of the poem coming into being and me, its humble, toiling servant, eventually stepping back and beholding something of my self – my pining orphan self, my besotted pupil self, my steely, dour agent provocateur self, my serial killer self." Reading Lew's poetry often takes us to those liminal spaces between the conscious and unconscious she mentions above, where we can experience both an awareness of unusual intensity and a trancelike stupor. "Snow Gold" exemplifies this almost incantatory power. A propulsion of images build upon one another without effacement, so that a swarm of shadow lines and ghost images trail throughout the poem, sometimes to return, sometimes to simply linger in our subconscious. They give the poem its unnerving affect, which seems to exist in the "grey hour" the speaker refers to "when mourners become lost and follow the wrong coffin." We are uncertain of both time and place: what army moves in a manner that would allow a troupe of musicians to follow? And, even if they could, what troupe of musicians would ever follow on their heels? We too, feel that the poem is leading us someplace familiar yet disorientating, where winter arrives "in one jump like a wolf" and the commonplace becomes pregnant with mystery. Snow Gold So, on the heels of the army, our troupe moved. I gave birth in the street and night nailed the great city to the earth. I saw the plague stalking like a stranger whose language I could not understand. My sores were dressed, my handkerchiefs hemmed. It is one thing to listen to the heart and its murmurs. A strange woman came to see me, saying that she was my lover’s wife. It was the twilight hour... Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
Brigit Gilmartin achieves a lot within sixteen short lines. “Louis Buvelot is painting” is the kind of opening you’d expect from a Frank O’Hara poem: both casual and direct, and there is an easy brevity to “slippage (un)fixed” that masks the significance of what it addresses. The poem is ostensibly about the artifice in art, the distance between the artwork and that which is being represented, no matter how faithful the attempt. Ironically, the landscape painting Louis Buvelot is working on is continually interfered with by the landscape being captured. “A mammoth gust of wind blows a twig onto the canvas” to mess up a branch of the painting's eucalypt. “Louis / picks out the twig with his thumb and forefinger.” Next a tooth appears in the painting's foreground. The tooth signals a shift (a volta?) in the poem's themes, as Gilmartin masterfully moves us away from representation in art and towards Australia’s colonial history. Louis Buvelot was a Swiss-Australian painter best known as Arthur Streeton’s tutor, a founding member of the Heidelberg School. Inspired by European Naturalism and Impressionism, the Heidelberg School was a movement in Australian art during the late 19th century which favored painting en plein air and claimed to be the first set of (settler) artists to see Australia “through Australian eyes.” (Up to that point, landscape painting in Australia had neglected the great tonal idiosyncrasies in the Australian countryside.) The movement coincided with the county’s push towards federation, and there is a fair amount of nationalism associated with it—these are the paintings you find reproductions of in textbooks, on the walls of pubs, and as symbols of “Australian-ness.” Louis Buvelot "Summer Evening Near Templestowe" What these artworks refused to include was any representation of Indigenous Australians, their culture or their violent mistreatment by colonial Australia. The exclusion of Indigenous representation was symptomatic of Australia’s historical amnesia, or as W.E.H Stanner termed it “The Great Australian Silence,” in which Australians do not only fail to acknowledge the atrocities of the past, but consciously choose not to think about them, to the point of forgetting they happened at all. In “slippage (un)fixed” we get Louis Buvelot literally "clearing" the landscape of this history from his canvas in real time as he paints “Louis goes on picking out teeth / until finally he pulls a whole skull out of his /canvas. He tosses it away and puts the finishing / touches on the landscape”. What makes “slippage” (un)fixed” such a terrific poem is that an ignorance of the history it references is no impediment to its enjoyment. Gilmartin's casual tone immediately welcomes us inside the poem, and the deftness of her transitions mean we never linger too long in any one place. It is such a visual poem, and the imagery so exact that once we arrive at pulling skulls from a canvas, we can see it so clearly it is hardly fantastical, an achievement which also might be mimetic of the ease in which history is erased... Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
John Ashbery, whose birthday is tomorrow, has been an important figure for several generations of Australian poets. This influence was acknowledged by the poet Michael Farrell, who in 2019 edited an anthology of Ashbery inspired Australian poetry, Ashbery Mode. With over sixty poems, of whose poets span fifty years, the anthology is as much a testament to Ashbery’s range (both form and tone) and durability as it is to his inimitability. The anthology includes a sestina, a pantoum, and poets as various as John Tranter, Jordie Albiston, Bella Li, John Kinsella, Gig Ryan, Ken Bolton, Laurie Duggan, John Jenkins, Kate Lilley and Toby Fitch. Despite his tremendous influence, Ashbery remains, as Farrell points out in his introduction, a “largely underground phenomenon” in Australia, someone who is “read by, and recommended by, poets to each other” but whose poetry isn’t taught in schools and cannot be found in bookstores. In America, of course, Ashbery has achieved the extraordinary feat of being appreciated by both the avant-garde and the mainstream, with The Tennis Court Oath, which turns sixty this year, perhaps the only collection not to make the crossover, its experimental cut ups lacking in popular appeal. Ashbery Mode features an ode to the collection, "Tennis Court Ode", by Hazel Smith. The poem opens with the great line “you can join in any conversation without really knowing the score” which seems to me perfectly to characterize Ashbery’s poetry, which so often meets us mid-conversation, or disrupts thought and, without any bearing, we are happily taken away on a meandering tour of digressions and distractions towards expectant revelations that seem never to arrive, or never arrive in full. “Tennis Court Ode'' ends with another brilliant line, “a voice from the convex mirror shouts ‘he’s the John Ashbery of tennis!’” As someone who considers himself a fairly knowledgeable tennis fan, this one had me stuck. Who, of all players past and present, could be considered ‘the John Ashbery of tennis’? Rod Laver, an Australian, perhaps? Tennis Court Ode you can join in any conversation without really knowing the score the garlic on the ghost's breath was deposited on the letters push back the boats they cry from the decks of miscarrying vessels a foetus sticks its head out and then retires to fallopian bliss that which is salient I have found is usually that which is hidden as dementia starts to cut its teeth, secrets begin to throw racquets a technician unplugs the autocue as an aid to the autoerotic he made others feel he was dependent on them even though he wasn't off-shore processing, onshore protests, people smuggling poetics writing becomes like death row with stochastic bouts of remission sometimes he said I find myself not liking people who everyone seems to admire the doctor talks and talks though he's taken an oath to listen as a stranger swivels on his bar stool and knocks over the carefully poured drinks the jury decides it wants to go home and serves a hit and... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
Max Harris is best known as the editor responsible for publishing the oeuvre of the fictional poet Ern Malley. The hoax has become the stuff of legend and Harris’s role as the dupe overshadows his substantial contributions to the arts in Australia for over half a century, as an editor, publisher, poet and the country’s most vocal champion of its nascent Modernism, in both painting and literature, throughout the 1940s. Harris’s journal Angry Penguins, which he founded at the age of 18, placed the Australian avant-garde in an international context, and included artists such as Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, John Perceval and Australia’s leading surrealist, James Gleeson. “Angry Penguins” became both a movement of artists, and a label of scorn used by conservatives for modernist trends in the culture. The phrase is taken from Harris’s poem “Mithridatum of Despair” and refers to drunks in tuxedos at night “straddling the cobbles of the square / tying a shoelace by fogged lamplight.” Harris’s early poetry is heavily influenced by European modernist and surrealist techniques, but an irrepressive lyricism is evident in even the most experimental works. The Ern Malley affair represented a fault line in the poet’s own writing. After the scandal, which saw Harris charged with Obscenity for publishing “indecent advertisements,” his poetry became less ebullient and more pensive, clear and declarative. “Aubade”, which imagines an elderly Oblomov, still in bed, stirring at a lyric gathering in his bowels, displays the poet’s own sardonic humor. Aubade Open up, Oblomov: for the dust pan sings Tinny-tang for all your years asleep. Who knows what maidens may have crept And brushed their lids against your cheek. Awake old slav, the kitchen calls, Eggs are frying, a saucepan falls, Outside an old grey wind begins to weep. In your bowels a lyric stirs— Your toilet call, you morning birds, Urging out your lazy feet To rest like dumplings on the boards. Your brain now beats about its bowl, Cake-making, for your acquaintance, Soul, Will make a formal call at five. Thi is, if you are still alive. Old poet, dragging on your drawers, Seeking a rhyme without a clause— All creation is about its chores! Oblomov sighs, subsides, and snores Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
Last Wednesday, June 8, would have been Gwen Harwood's 102nd birthday. Harwood was one of Australia's finest poets and one of its leading literary hoaxers. On August 5, 1961, Harwood published a pair of sonnets, “Eloisa to Abelard” and “Abelard to Eloisa,” in the Australian weekly, The Bulletin, under the pseudonym of Walter Lehmann. Unknown to the editors at the time of publication, the sonnets read acrostically FUCK ALL EDITORS and SO LONG BULLETIN (you can read more about the hoax here). Harwood's development of several heteronyms, including Lehmann and Francis Geyer, not only offered social critique to Australia's chauvinist mid-century literary establishment, but also allowed her poetry to map our species' labyrinthine psychological landscape with greater possibility. Harwood also wrote poems under her own name, with speakers who shared much of the poet's life experiences. "1945" details Harwood's move from her tropical home of Brisbane in the north of Australia, to soporific, grey Hobart, capital of Tasmania. The poem echoes Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, “Know’st thou the land where lemon- trees do bloom, / And oranges like gold in leafy gloom” (Book III, I). Both poems dwell on paradises lost, either through concealment or exile; in Harwood’s case, the land of citrus and color is being left behind for a new home whose light is much reduced from her tropical roots and which swells with the presence of Tasmania's violent colonial history. 1945 Nineteen forty-five. I have been sick all the way from Brisbane; first time in the air. My husband's waiting in civilian clothes. Another name now. All those burning glances cancelled, all those raging letters burned. And my mocking friends - 'Holy MaTRIMony!' 'You've had your wings trimmed. You'll be Mother Goose.' We melt with good old-fashioned happiness at the desolate terminal. I see the city ending in bush, St George's on the skyline, KEENS CURRY on the hill. We find a cafe. 'Lunch is off. Afternoon tea's not on,' the waitress snaps, and sniffs. She knows we're strangers. Saturday afternoon.How doth the city sit solitary. A shuttered delicatessen proclaims HIGH GRADE AND CONTINENTAL FOODSTUFFS. What continent? Perhaps they mean the mainland. I’m in my summer clothes. A wind breathes cold truth in those English trees that tried to fool me with their false fronts on a tourist office poster. Know’st thou the land wherein the citrons bloom? I do. Exile's the name i give that knowledge. Even as I say How Beautiful How Charming why do I feel that some demonic presence hovers where too much evil has been done near the harmless rivulet, the Georgian buildings? Hungry, we link our lives and wait for evening. In my husband's luggage the Tractatus waits with the world that was the case already fading. Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2022 at The Best American Poetry