Monthly Archives: November 2013

Sonnet 14: November ends

For a while there it looked as if I wasn’t going to make my sonnet quota this year, but here’s the last one, just ahead of deadline. I was tossing up whether to write about my increasing deafness, or Yoko Ono’s exhibition at the MCA, or the way Eleanor Caron’s Booker prize-winning novel The Luminaries is getting so little promotion in the end-of-year lists in newspapers and bookshop reading guides. I settled for this:

Sonnet 14: November ends
I shopped, I read, I went to movies,
played with children, watched TV,
rode a train with weary juvies,
helped add a show to P’s CV,
stood in rain for climate action,
faced computer death distraction,
ruminated on the news,
tried to formulate some views:
all grist for my November rhyming
fourteen lines in Pushkin’s ways,
fourteen times in thirty days.
An hour to spare – precision timing –
I’ve got them done. Perhaps next year
the form of Petrarch, or Shakespeare.

Colleen Z Burke’s Splicing Air (and Sonnet 13)

Colleen Z Burke, Splicing Air (Feakle Press, 2013)

1sa

More than 20 years ago in a pub in Glebe I heard Colleen Burke (I don’t think the Z had yet become part of her working title) read poems from which I still remember lines that move me, from what she presented as straightforward records of conversations with her children.

Many of the poems in Splicing Air capture moments with her grandchildren, and the conversations still smuggle killer lines into the poetry. Many others, in what I think of as her signature style, are short, impressionistic pieces about landscape or, especially, skyscape in and over Newtown and surrounds, or bushland. There are a number of pieces observing the social life of Newtown, past and present, and a handful of longer pieces. And some snapshots from New Zealand

Four of the longer pieces draw on the history of discovery and settlement of New South Wales: an narrative-essay on James and Elizabeth Cook, journal entries by the surgeon and an officer from the First Fleet, a biographical sketch of the early Australian poet Frank Macnamara. They lack obvious poetic embellishment, but in each of them the effect is unsettling and revelatory. There are straightforward accounts of the lives of two nineteenth-century women – ‘The publican’s daughter’ being the poet’s great grandmother, and ‘The fossil hunter – Mary Anning’ (which accounts for roughly a fifth of the book) an extraordinary Dorset woman who might easily have been lost to history because of her class and gender.

The sense of place is strong here as in all Colleen Z Burke’s work: I think of her as the poet of Newtown. Earlier books have included a number of pieces set in Camperdown Cemetery, and this book has two beauties set there too: ‘Kangaroo grasslands and my 20 month old grandson’ and the wicked ‘Another take on recycling’.

It’s November, so a sonnet is obligatory. This one draws on the last couple of times I laid eyes on the poet, and occasions when her work has featured large in the urban landscape, as illuminated posters that were part of the Sydney Festival some years ago, and more recently on the Newtown Art Seat. (there are six different links there, all to this site)

Sonnet 13: Colleen Z Burke
She reads to us beside a Whiteley –
her landscapes quiet, his lewd and loud.
I’ve seen her sunset words shine nightly,
tall amid a milling crowd.
Her tiny poems tread light, illumine;
the details of decay are human’
as she bids a friend farewell.
Human too what she can tell
of autumn air and Maralinga,
clouds, trees, coprolites, cats, birds,
muskets, trinkets, children’s words.
This poetry’s a pointing finger,
self-effacing, yet with grace
it helps to root us in this place.

Full disclosure: I published one or two of these poems in The School Magazine in my past life, and may have rejected one or two others A significant event in my mother-in-law’s pre-dementia life was a creative writing class taught by Colleen Burke.

awwbadge_2013

I think this is the 11th book I’ve read as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

Sonnet 12: Australia, 27 November 2013

As we headed for bed, home form a social evening, I wailed that I had to get a sonnet written but the well was dry. The Art Student, never one to let someone just moan, told me to get in touch with my inner rage about recent news headlines. So I came up with this in fairly short order:

Sonnet 12: Australia, 27 November 2013
When they were in opposition
they said no, no, no, no. No
one expects the Inquisition,
Spanish or otherwise, and so
we didn’t dream that once empowered
they’d really drag us back to Howard
and beyond, ditch Gonski, try
to bluff and bully SBY,
sack scientists, be kind to rorters,
snub climate talks, give boats to thugs,
tweet racist tweets, treat us like mugs.
As trusting lambs are led to slaughters
we chose them. They appal, amaze
the world in barely eighty days.

Sonnet 11: How I got a new tool

If I remember correctly the French for ‘crash’ in the context of computers is naufrager, which is also the word used when a ship wrecks.

Sonnet 11: How I got a new toy tool
Some virtual reef sank my computer
as it steamed on through the night.
Its kernel panic wasn’t cute or
pretty, nor its owner’s fright.
But I’d backed up, so very little
work was lost – two jots, one tittle.
I took it to a man in red,
who said the audio card was dead.
A woman in red T-shirt, Uppy,
charming smile, discreet tattoos,
helped dissipate my first-world blues.
Though I’m too old to be a yuppy
my heart leapt up when I did hold
a shiny new Mac, bought and sold.

The computer that died has featured in this blog at least once before. It survived four years after the disaster that befell it shortly before this photo was taken, and was already of a certain age then, so I guess it’s had a good innings.

Sonnet 10: Suburban travelling companions

Perhaps a snippet of narrative, which is after all what this form of sonnet was invented for:

Sonnet 10: Suburban travelling companions
Corinda, Sherwood, Graceville, Chelmer:
Tattooed boys with half shaved heads
and desperado airs that tell more
than they know use seats as beds.
One sleeps. ‘I hope he bought three tickets,’
tuts a greybeard, ‘makes me sick.’ It’s
soon Taringa, then Toowong.
Two boys share buds. A chinkling song
confirms the greybeard’s irriration.
Unplugged, they chat about the dole
and meetings to observe parole.
The sleeper wakes for Central Station,
which comes like dawn to end his night.
There tattoos, beard, and I alight.

Sonnet 9: South Bank

Enough with trying to squeeze a thought into 14 lines of roughly 8 syllables each. Today, an impressionistic moment:

Sonnet 9: South Bank
Thursday morning in the city
at the Ice-Cream-Brand-Name Beach
and Other-Brand-Name Fountains, pretty
children with one adult each –
mothers, aunts, great aunts, grandmothers
a dad or two – and sundry others
deploy the sunny Brisbane day
to better ends than making hay.
A squad of teenage girls come jogging,
uniformed, with in-ear buds.
A skateboard ollies, grinds and scuds.
I sit and eavesdrop, rhyming, blogging:
‘Mummy, sunscreen!’ ‘Splash me!’ ‘What?’
‘Oh my god, how can you not?’

Sonnet 8: A prayer

I’m away from my computer and trying to catch up on my sonnet quota on the iPad far from home. The first eight lines of this got published prematurely some time yesterday. Here’s the whole thing, and the other six lines took less than 24 hours.

Sonnet 8: Prayer of a child of capitalism
Dear Absent Lord, Our Nobodaddy,
Dear Particle, or Gland, or Gene,
Who speak through prophet, saint and maddy
and have done since the Pleistocene,
accept my humble genuflection
in awe of natural selection.
Give us this day our daily bread
and roses, birdsong, sky’s vast spread.
Forgive – But I’ve no heart to ask it.
We’ve made a quarry of the Earth
and of its peoples. What’s it worth
when hell-bound in a plastic basket
to say we’re sorry? Don’t respond.
We’ve work to do. No magic wand.

Sonnet 8: A prayer

I’m away from my computer and trying to catch up on my sonnet quota on the iPad far from home. The first eight lines of this got published prematurely some time yesterday. Here’s the whole thing, and the other six lines took less than 24 hours.

Sonnet 8: Prayer of a child of capitalism
Dear Absent Lord, Our Nobodaddy,
Dear Particle, or Gland, or Gene,
Who speak through prophet, saint and maddy
and have done since the Pleistocene,
accept my humble genuflection
in awe of natural selection.
Give us this day our daily bread
and roses, birdsong, sky’s vast spread.
Forgive – But I’ve no heart to ask it.
We’ve made a quarry of the Earth
and of its peoples. What’s it worth
when hell-bound in a plastic basket
to say we’re sorry? Don’t respond.
We’ve work to do. No magic wand.

Sonnet 7: Demo

For those who didn’t receive any group emails, recorded phone messages, leaflets, facebook promptings or reminders from actual friends: yesterday was National Day of Climate Action.

Sonnet 7: Demo
Ten thousand had, today in Sydney,
enough sense to stand in the rain
and twirl umbrellas, not stay hid. We
rallied, one link in a chain
of rallies all around Australia
crying out against the failure
of governments who play the role
of sycophants to Old King Coal.
Ten thousand stood with rain god Hughie,
sixty thousand nationwide
who’ll vote, divest, protest, decide
to use renewables, get more cluey.
There’s climate change, heat’s on the rise.
It’s time to change, to organise.

Sonnet 6: Friday night TV

November is disappearing fast and the sonnets are coming slow, so a night on the couch in front of the box can’t go to waste.

Sonnet 6: Friday night on the box
Auction Room with Scottish Gordon
Juanita tells of child porn bust
and crooked Christmas Island warden,
and Tony still expecting trust.
After Sinabung’s eruption
Quentin shouts about corruption.
Stephen and his boys play bright.
Jack and Phryne put things right.
Serangoon Road has been too clunky
so we watch week-old New Tricks
for Sandra’s swan song – what a fix!
Ten-thirty – I’m no TV junky.
iView Luther? Nah! Instead
it’s time to read a book in bed.