Monthly Archives: November 2011

LoSoRhyMo #14

It’s the end of November, and with this post I’m filling my quota of 14 sonnets. I know that’s trivial compared with the 50 000 words that NaNoWriMoers manage, but I’m pleased with myself anyhow.

This one takes off from a comment the Art Student made as we were walking in beautiful autumn sunshine. The ‘she’ in what follows bears only incidental resemblance to any persons living or dead.

Sonnet 14: On gloom and doom
She sees blue sky and dreads the rain
it bodes. She hardly draws a breath
of pleasure without fearing pain
and nothing rhymes with ‘breath’ but ‘death’
or crystal meth which, failing guns
or cars or flame, will kill her sons.
And if she takes the wider view
there’s war and global warming, eu-
ro in trouble, AIDS, blind greed.
She knew that Rudd would disappoint,
thinks Abbott soon will run the joint
and make the very cosmos bleed.
But then, although she’s mostly right,
she won’t give up without a fight.

This was heading for some kind of variation on ‘seize the day’, but when I had 11 lines done, I read them to the Art Student, and she suggested the final couplet pretty much as it is here. How could I resist?

It may be no coincidence that as I type this the rain is bucketing down, and we’re sitting in a warm room watching the gum trees’ branches outside wave and bow in response.

Next year I might see if I can persuade some hardy souls to join me in this venture …

LoSoRhyMo #13

I read some lines from Les Murray’s poem ‘Poetry and Religion‘ somewhere recently, and they became an ear worm. It’s a wonderful poem, and very challenging to readers like me who have no sense of the religious.

Sonnet #13: Not exactly Ars Poetica
Every poem’s a small religion
said Les Murray. P’raps that’s true
of his. Mine’s more a kerbside pigeon
[I’ve found a rhyme – now from the slew
of possibilities find reason]:
puffed up in the mating season
it coos alliteration, rakes
the ground with fanned iambics, makes
a strut around its object. Full
religion, Les says, is the large
poem. Buddha, Jesus, Thor,
the Prophet, Moses: metaphor.
Oh Dawkins! If no god’s in charge
poems like pigeons when they fly
in large flocks can blot out the sky.

Added later: Close readers will notice that this one has 15 lines. All I can say by way of explanation is ‘Oops!’

And later again: perhaps the last six lines should have gone:

religion, Les says, is the large
poem. If no god’s in charge
can poetry be meaningful?
Shall poems like pigeons when they fly
in large flocks obfuscate the sky?

Correspondence on Manne (no sonnet)

Quarterly Essay No 44 is just out. It may be a while before I get to read the essay itself, Andrew Charlton’s Man-Made World: Choosing between progress and planet, but I went straight to the pages up the back with correspondence about last quarter’s essay, Robert Manne’s critique of the Australian. In the past I have been glad that QE doesn’t include correspondence from the name-calling, straw-dog destroying, science-denying voices that dominate some other forums. This time it would have been odd not to have a contribution by someone from Rupert Murdoch’s empire – and indeed the discussion is kicked off by Nick Cater, editor of the Weekend Australian. He comes out fighting:

For thirty years or more, Manne has distinguished himself through his rare determination to exercise his intellect in the town square. There is no sign that he intends to relinquish his position as a public intellectual, but with this essay he has retreated further into the cloisters. He has become ever more abstract, aloof and contemptuous of his interlocutors. I mean no disrespect by suggesting that Manne needs to get out more.

Clearly he does mean disrespect. And so when the other correspondents make what might seem to be outrageous assertions and implications about the ethos of the Australian – that it is not a newspaper so much as an organ for political propaganda whose employees are in a state of denial that results in their responding like cornered beasts to any criticism, for example, or that it would be a good idea if they tried to represent accurately the arguments of people they disagreed with – there is a living, breathing example of the kind of thing they are talking about just a few pages earlier. Manne’s contribution or the correspondence is to thank the other correspondents and then attempt to extract the actual arguments from Cater’s piece, ignoring the abundant ad hominem elements, and counter them methodically. It’s a good read, though one is left with an uneasy sensation that Cater and Manne have widely divergent assumptions about what constitutes an argument.

It’s a pity that the correspondence doesn’t include anything from the left, putting the kind of position that Tad Tietze did on the Overland blog a while back. While appreciating the great service Robert Manne’s article has done us, among other things he laments Manne’s lack of analytical tools in relation o the media, gives a brief account of the Propaganda Model of the private media, and concludes:

Manne seems to believe that we’d have a better country if The Australian was somehow reined in, but this gets things the wrong way around. It is because things have gotten worse, and because elite hegemony has been unravelling, that we have been blessed with The Australian we have today. Better to stop obsessing about Murdoch’s apparent omnipotence and figure out how our side can more effectively prepare for the battles ahead.

Michael Dransfield revisited & LoSoRhyMo #12

Michael Dransfield, Streets of the Long Voyage (UQP, Paperback Poets 1970) and The Inspector of Tides (UQP Paperback Poets 1972)

Around 1970, when Sydney poetry readings drew relatively large audiences, a young Michael Dansfield, roughly my own age as it happens, created something of a stir. With unruly shoulder length curls, he looked every inch the romantic. He was evidently much loved by the community of poets and his death of an overdose inspired a number of moving elegies. I bought his books and applauded his readings, but it was my guilty secret that I found his persona and his poetry vaguely irritating.

Recently a friend who was culling her bookshelves gave these two books to me rather than tossing them or lugging them to a secondhand shop (where the Internet suggests they might have been worth a bob or two, if not for a small child’s large writing in the margins of ‘Still Life with Syringe’ and elsewhere). I’d long since disposed of my own copies, and was glad of a chance to revisit the poetry after some 40 years.

Half way into Streets of the Long Voyage I realised I was looking for irritants, and finding them: the self pitying romanticisation of drug addiction (‘a needle spelling XANADU / in pinprick visions down your arm / what of nostalgia when/ the era that you grew in dies’), the hi-falutin’ name-dropping (no John Forbesian Ramones for this lad, just Chopin, Scriabin, Taktakishvili all the way), the crude social commentary, the weird nostalgia for a fictional(?) decaying family home; and a pervasive self-absorption. The self-absorption came into focus for me in these lines from ‘goliard’:

The driver wonders what I’m writing
but with the superb manners of an Australian
merely asks, ‘Got enough light there, mate?’

Anyone who understood the idiom would realise, as the speaker evidently doesn’t, that ‘the driver’ was indirectly – and yes, politely – asking what his passenger was writing. One imagines that the driver’s account of that moment would not include the phrase ‘superb manners’; nor for that matter would it include the essentialising ‘Australian’.

The Inspector of Tides was more of the same: more ‘this world is going to the dogs so I’m leaving it on a needle’; more ‘ah, my ancestral home now in ruins’; more social commentary that seems quite untouched by the upsurge of optimistic activism that was happening at the time. There’s even a unicorn. ‘Endsight’ got up my nose with its reference to

00000000000000000000000the Official Poets, whose genteel
iambics chide industrialists
for making life extinct.

Since the poem is dedicated to A D Hope among others, this is a reasonably transparent jibe at Hope. I couldn’t lay hands on anything by Hope about environmental issues, but perhaps Dransfield was thinking of something like ‘Inscription for Any War’:

Linger not, stranger, shed no tear;
Go back to those who sent us here.
We are the young they drafted out
To wars their follies brought about.
Go tell those old men, safe in bed,
We took their orders and are dead.

Iambics, yes, but genteel chiding? I don’t think so. It would still take guts to read that at a military funeral, or even a parliamentary debate on Afghanistan.

There are plenty of things to enjoy in both these books – especially when the poetry relaxes, as in ‘Ryokan’:

at the window

the sparrow
feathers puffed out

sings brightly but alone

my hand makes
black marks on white

the sparrow
pink marks on grey

But this is a blog entry not a review. Dransfield is a much better poet than, for example, I will ever be. He just brings out the irrits in me.

And since it’s November and I’m behind on my quota of sonnets, a quick question in rhyme:

Sonnet 12: Re-reading
Oh you who love to read again
the books you loved, who tell us how
the love you had for Austen when
you were fourteen is burning now
with brighter and more subtle fire,
how Dostoevsky, then so dire
a challenge to your questing brain
now sparks your neural paths again,
you haven’t said, do you re-read
the books that stirred you not at all,
or those, perhaps, that made you fall
asleep mid sentence, ‘Meh!’ indeed?
If it annoyed in sixty-seven
what hope for it in twenty eleven?

LoSoRhyMo #11: Here comes January

Not so much a five finger exercise as a 112 foot warm-up, fourteen lines every second day isn’t such a big deal, but it pushes me to make rhymes about things previously in the Prosaic basket, like booking theatre tickets:

Sonnet 11: Festival City
The end of autumn’s here, November,
drizzle one day, next day sun.
Summer’s coming, must remember:
January’s time for fun.
I’ve tickets for the Festival
of Sydney
(this one’s estival,
unlike the ones for Film, Rides, Writers,
Vivid, Mardi Gras and Kiters).
Yang and Foley, Glass and Ford
Cheek by Jowl and on the Harbour,
all dressed up in fancy garb or
motley as the first night‘s horde.
My heart is going patter pitter –
can’t wait, as they say on Twitter.

LoSoRhyMo #10: From yesterday’s front page

Emotion recollected, not exactly in tranquillity, from yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald:

Sonnet 10: Front page news
We’ll stay the course, the PM said
and Doctor No for once agreed.
For boys who went there and are dead
our staying somehow fills the need
to make their dying meaningful,
their killing too. This seeming bull –
‘That didn’t work, so let’s do more’ –
persuades those who promote this war.
Commander of the Afghan troops
our troops are training (some of whom
went rogue, sent Aussies to the tomb)
has put that logic through some hoops:
‘Three years is too long. Leave your gear.
Thanks for the help. Get out of here.’

LoSoRhyMo #9: Deadline

Oh no, I’ve fallen behind schedule even on my fun! If I’m to manage 14 sonnets in November I need to push out one every two days, allowing for a couple of days slippage. It’s now the 21st and I’ve only done eight. Here’s a very quick one.

Sonnet 9: I love to hear them whooshing by
I cannot, will not touch a key
on my computer keyboard now,
although I know it’s time to be
delivering that text. Oh how
I though it would be fun to write –
this guilt by day, this ghost by night,
this task that makes my blood run slow
and gives all else a tempting glow!
St Frank the patron saint of writers
is also patron of the deaf.
That fact’s a whistle from the ref –
don’t listen to the world’s detritus.
Disconnect, log out, ignore
all writing not being writ by Shaw.

OK, now I’m off to have a tomato and cheese sandwich then take my own advice.

LoSoRhyMo #8: Place names

I’ve recently discovered Luke Pearson’s @Aboriginal oz blog, which I recommend for smart, measured writing about hard subjects.

I stumbled across (not upon) it when doing some research on Massacre Island (also known as Murdering Island) near Narrandera. In a piece on the ‘History Wars‘, Luke takes off on a bit of grim comedy:

MURDERING ISLAND…. “and if you look to your left, you will see Kid Stealing Hill just behind Rape Road, and just after you cross Old Black Bastards Belong On The Other Side of The River Bridge…. which of course was replaced by the New Black Bastards Belong On The Other Side of The River Bridge in 2007. And of course the towns biggest tourist attraction, the Giant Prison Tree, which is still occasionally used just to keep the history alive!”

(It wasn’t until I cut and pasted that that I saw the mention of the Prison Tree, which I would have imagined was as much an invention as the bridges if I hadn’t fortuitously seen Rew Hanks’s linoprint ‘Whispers from the Prison Tree‘ at Watters Gallery last night.)

I can feel my compulsory November sonnet coming on:

Sonnet 8: Some Australian place names
Mount Despair, Cape Tribulation,
Misery in Port, Mount, Beach,
Shipwreck Creek and Desolation
Bay, Point Perilous: names teach
the sufferings, struggles of our past,
recall events and list the cast
of characters (Macquarie, Cook
are everywhere– just have a look).
But some names aren’t on Google Maps:
Massacre Island, Murdering Point,
Poisoned Waterholes Creek.* A Joint
Committee could be formed perhaps
to set things right. Now, sad to say,
My street’s named Look The Other Way.

In haste …

* These are all real places, and I couldn’t see any of them on Google Maps. In the interests of accuracy, I should say that the explanation I heard as a child for Murdering Point, at Kurrimine Beach in Queensland, is that survivors of a shipwreck were murdered by Aboriginal people – no mention was made of any retaliation.

LoSoRhyMo #7: Easier than citrus fruit

mccardey asked for a sonnet about feral apostrophes. What mccardey asks for, mccardey sometimes gets.

Sonnet 7: Lines 5 & 10 dont need any more punctuation to make sense, nor does this title
O hail, thou blithe apostrophe
perhaps the most dispensable
of punctuation marks. To thee
I sing, no ode, but sensible
to commenters demand, a sonnet.
What blackboard hath not thee upon it?
Bean’s, tangerine’s and door alarm’s!
I’ll never live down at The Arm’s.
My not-so-smart phone changes its
to it’s. Oh, what I learned at schools
now shrunk to arbitrary rules.
It must be time to call it quits:
though I have loved you, dearest punct-
-uation mark, please go defunct.


Length? Reach?


A greengrocer’s apostrophe has escaped and been seen at this block of flats in Victoria Road, Marrickville. Approach with caution, as it is believed to breed at a phenomenal  rate.