Monthly Archives: March 2014

David Malouf’s Earth Hour

DavidMalouf. Earth Hour (UQP 2014)

0702250139 As I was reading Clive James’s translation of Dante’s Purgatorio recently, one of my unexpected small pleasures was the occasional recognition of a place name. ‘Fiesole – that’s Anny’s town!’ I would exclaim under my breath, or ‘Campagnatico – isn’t that where David Malouf used to live?’ My pleasure comes from my North Queensland provenance: if you live in New York, Paris or even Sydney, you’re forever walking down streets that have appeared in poems, novels, movies; if you’re from Innisfail, North Queensland, not so much. My Purgatorio moments weren’t completely without wider usefulness, of course, as they gave me a whiff of how Dante’s contemporaries would have read the poem: they knew all the places he mentions, and had a wealth of personal associations with them. Any personal connection a modern reader has is a pale shadow, but a shadow all the same.

The shoe was on the other foot as I read the poems in Earth Hour. The poetry may address what they used to call universal themes (do they still call them that?), but it often addresses them as they arise in places I know, and nowhere more dramatically than in ‘At Laterina’. For a start, the poem is dedicated ‘For Jeffrey Smart (1921–2013)’: I know who Jeffrey Smart is, I know his portrait of David Malouf as petrol pump attendant, and what’s more I have fond memories of him as Phidias, the artist on the ABC Children’s Hour of my childhood, all of which may not add to an understanding of the poem, but it does add to my sense of connection with it. The poem meditates on the passage of time in an Italian village (‘Centuries pass / unnoticed here; it’s days that are tedious’), and moves on to the ‘sweet loaded breath’ of the tiglio in bloom. I’m engaged enough to find out that tiglio is lime tree. Then:

__________________Was it always
like this? Did native sons high on a scaffold
in Piedmont, streaked with smuts in a smoky canefield
near Innisfail, North Queensland, feel the planet
shrink in their memory of it, the streets, the decades
one as each June makes them when we catch
on a gust of heated air, as at a key-change,
its green, original fragrance?

I certainly feel the planet shrink, and in a good way.

There’s so much to love in this book: renderings of Horace, Heine and Baudelaire that range from elegant close translation to wildly divergent variations on the originals’ theme [Added later – not as divergent as I thought once I had the right Baudelaire poem – see Brendan Doyle’s comment below]; meditations on deep time, on what it means to be human, on our effect on the planet; profound pieces on ageing and mortality. I’m not able to do much more than name some of the poems that I am deeply grateful for: ‘Whistling in the Dark’ (‘Seeking a mind in the machine, and in constellations’), ‘A Green Miscellany’ (‘No, not nature but a green / miscellany, our years-in-the-making masterpiece’), ‘Touching the Earth’ (about worms), ‘Long Story Short’ (reminiscent of Blake’s ‘A Poison Tree’), ‘Persimmons: Campagnatico’ (about trees bearing fruit at the end of winter), ‘Nightsong, Nightlong’ (about a bird, and a heart), ‘Eternal Moment at Poggio Madonna’ (about a sleeping cat). That will have to do.

David Malouf turned 80 recently, and was celebrated on the show that has replaced Ramona Koval’s Book Show on the ABC. You can hear an excellent interview with Michael Cathcart here, and a discussion of his work here, by a panel comprising Ivor Indyk, academic Yvonne Smith, and poet Jaya Savige.

Finally, as a service to any drop-in readers looking for information about the translations in Earth Hour, here are links to the originals and literal translations: Horace Odes II, ii, Horace Odes I, xxvii, Baudelaire’s Spleen (link corrected thanks to Brendan Doyle], Heine’s Der Scheidende and Morphine.

Overland 213

Jeff Sparrow (editor), Overland 213 Summer 2013

213o I’m coming to this Overland late: the next issue must be just about due. Here are some brief notes with links, and because I’m late in writing the links are all live.

The reliably enjoyable regular columnists,  Alison Croggon, Rjurik Davidson and Stephen Wright demonstrate that just about any life event can prompt a writer and habitual reader to reflect on readerly–writerly matters: in this case they start respectively from packing up to move house,  serious injury and building a bedroom–library. Mel Campbell’s article The Writer as Performer offers a more sobering view of the writer’s life – the freelance writer as no more free of panoptic supervision than the less glamorised office worker.

In Paul Keating’s Redfern Park speech and its rhetorical legacy, Tom Clark does a very nice job of explicating the distinctive nature of that speech – different in significant ways from Paul Keating’s usual mode, and interestingly the subject of public squabbles over its authorship (the existence of the squabbles is what’s interesting rather than any proposed resolution). John Campbell, the Anti-Kim by David Brophy, explores a Victorian proto boy’s-own-adventure story and the reality behind it.

The centrepiece of this issue is the 2013 Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize for New and Emerging Writers. The three shortlisted stories are published here, along with comments from the chief judge, Jennifer Mills. All three of the stories are worth your time: Turncoat by Jennifer Down (the winner), Rush by Nic Low and The job by Robyn Dennison. I’m not quarrelling with the judges’ decision at all, but if you only click on one of them I recommend you choose Nic Low’s for sheer subversive fun.

As ever, poetry is sequestered up the back on tinted paper, and as ever it’s a feast. Treasure hunt, a prose poem by Anne Elvey, finds poetic form for the experience of a parent’s dementia.  Refrigerator by Elizabeth Allen, also a prose poem, has this memorable ‘out of the mouths of babes’ moment:

There were also the brightly coloured fish in my brother’s aquarium. One day when I saw my five-year-old sister staring at the tank, I said to her, ‘The fish are pretty aren’t they?’ She said, ‘I’m not looking at the fish. I’m looking at the space between them.’

Fiona Wright gives us Marrickville, an inner city love poem … kind of. Samuel Wagan Watson’s Cloud burst invokes T S Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’ to devastating effect. Walmadany by Brenda Saunders puts poetic flesh on the issue of mining on traditional Aboriginal land. Mark Mordue (I didn’t know your eyes were blue) and Larry Buttrose (Toast) have elegies for their fathers, the latter with the arresting opening lines:

The smell of toast reminds me of my father,
Not only because he was cremated.

I want to pick a nit over Northgate by Adam Formosa, which begins

A cigarette bud sits
at my windscreen

but then doesn’t take the image of cigarette as blossom anywhere. It leaves its readers wrestling with phantom meanings until we finally conclude that bud was just a misspelled butt, and no metaphor was intended. The poem about the cigarette bud is yet to be written.

Maree Dawes brb

Maree Dawes, brb: be right back (Spineless Wonders 2014)

brb A friend of mine once suspected her husband of having an online affair. He was spending an awful lot of time on the computer and she was fairly sure some of it was in chat rooms. Oh dear, I thought, I spend an awful lot of time online myself – just look at my blog output. What suspicions have I been arousing? While it’s true I’ve made some good friends thanks to the internet, I’m glad to report that chat rooms, multi-user fantasy games, bitcoin, and perhaps especially cybersex have never had the remotest appeal. So brb, a verse novella about raunchy chat room experiences, was a long way from presenting a temptation, though it was a bit of a titillation, and something of an education.

Maree Dawes’s protagonist is known only by her online ‘handles’, of which Boadicea (shortened to ‘cea’ in chats) is the main one. Her spouse, known to us only as ‘he’, is often away from home, and has given her a number of hours online as a gift. (How time flies, that such a gift marks the story as belonging to an earlier epoch! You can almost hear the dial-up tone.) Boadicea ventures into a chat room. After a rocky start she finds a warmly affectionate community, where people exchange an awful lot of ‘huggles’. We learn that it’s nominally a room devoted to books and literature, but from the beginning Boadicea is looking for adventure. She falls in love and has at least one torrid erotic encounter with a disembodied lover. There are hints of cyber-bonks with other, less emotionally significant chatsters, and there’s one piece of serious nastiness.

The narrative never really forgets that it’s all a bit silly, and the tone is generally comic. At the same time real emotions are involved, and the poetry explores a strange twilight state where relationships forged using only keyboard and screen can sometimes seem more substantial than those in the physical world, lacking as it does the delete key and the logout option. [If you’re worried about spoilers skip the next sentence.] For me the most powerful moments come when Boadicea is giving up her online life, tearing herself away from its addictive pull – in what feels like a cross between giving up cigarettes and losing faith in God. [End of spoilerish bit.] The poetry develops a deeper resonance, too, in moments that explore the relationship of words and sensuality, as in this non-computer moment from ‘me: 4 am’, rendered in online conventions:

me: ease under sheet

he rolls over grabs my breast, kisses my mouth smoothes my waist

me: stop
me: wait
me: back off
me: you have to tell me what you are doing
me: I need to know
me:  first the words
me: then the touch

me: these unplanned caresses
me: are too much

After eight lines in which she demonstrates the kind of words she means, there’s this:

oh forget it he says, I want to make love not lyric poems, it’s 4 am go back to sleep

And one is left wondering if ‘me’ was so wrong to want words. Do poetry and sex have to belong to different realms?

Appropriately enough, brb is published as an ebook, available from the pubisher as a PDF direct from Spineless Wonders or in Kindle-compatible or DRM-free ePub formats from tomely.com. I downloaded my complimentary copy to my tablet in the Kindle and ePub versions. The Kindle version was much friendlier. The ePub version made me yearn for the stability of words on paper. [Added later: The publisher asked me to enlarge on these comments, and I then did an experiment which I should have done before making these comments. Part of the difference was that the ePub version’s font size was very large, which played merry havoc with line breaks and even page breaks, whereas the Kindle’s font was of  a size that allowed the poems to sit comfortably within the page. This was not a fault of the file formats, but resulted from the different default settings on the apps I was using. What I said about the stability of words on paper still applies.]

awwbadge_2014brb is the fourth book I’ve read and reviewed as part of the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Vaughan and Staples’ Saga

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Saga, Vol. 1 (Image Comics 2013)
—————– Vol. 2 (Image Comics 2013)
—————– Vol. 3 (Image Comics 2014)

160706601716070669203SAGA

 

 

 

 

 

These are the first three volumes of the autobiography of Hazel, the child of a great romance between two people from different species. Her birth is something of a miracle, because no one was sure it was biologically possible – she is born with the beginnings of her mother’s wings and her father’s horns. More than that, the two species, originally from the planet Landfall and its moon Wreath, have been locked for centuries in bitter warfare that has spread to the whole galaxy. It’s an interstellar Romeo and Juliet in which the lovers don’t die, at least not before they’ve had a baby.

So it’s a mixture of science fiction and fantasy that wouldn’t be out of place as an extended Doctor Who narrative, though it includes a lot more physical and verbal grossness than would ever happen around the Tardis – male genitals can rarely have been portrayed as repulsively as in the images of the giant Fard in Volume 2, and the characters swear like troopers or inner-city hipsters.

Volume 1 begins with Hazel’s birth and ends with her paternal grandparents materialising on the young family’s organic, sentient spaceship, with a lot of bang-bang, kiss-kiss, magic and gore in between, as the lethal emissaries of several powerful organisations are out to kill Hazel’s parents and capture the baby.

In Volume 2, the chase continues. There are flashbacks to the parents’ courtship and the refreshingly frank conversation that followed hard on the moment of conception. Back in the present, the plot thickens when, among other things, Hazel’s father’s jilted fiancée joins forces with a mercenary named The Will, a planet turns out to be a giant egg (which hatches), and they visit someone who is either the wisest person in the universe or a hack romance writer.

By the end of Volume 3, Hazel – now a toddler – is miraculously still alive, along with her parents, her grandmother and her spectral babysitter. The cast of interesting characters, both allies and enemies, has expanded, as has the tally of dead bodies and ingenious monsters in their wake.

The first two of these books were a birthday present from a son who knows I’m interested in comics. I had misgivings. Having recently faced the fact that super-heroes are inherently boring, I was half expecting a similar epiphany about science fiction/fantasy comics. But no, these books are witty, warm, interestingly plotted, well-paced, and at heart sweet. (I say ‘at heart’ because the frequent nakedness, swearing and superficial cynicism do a good job of protecting the warm, soft, even idealistic core of the narrative.)

I also had misgivings about the art. But once you accept the demands of the genre, which evidently include a quota of garishness and bare flesh, Fiona Staples’ visuals are brilliant. I particularly like the way our heroine, Hazel’s mother, is lithe, tough, gorgeous, and fiercely maternal.

So I spent my own good money on the third book, which just arrived in Sydney’s Kinokuniya this week. Given that the story is narrated by Hazel in what sounds like a young adult voice, I imagine the series has another 20 or so years to cover. It’s coming out in monthly instalments, of which these three volumes cover the first 18. There’s an interesting interview with Brian K Vaughan on the Comic Book Resources site, which incidentally draws attention to a couple of details in Fiona Staples’ images that I hadn’t noticed, but that definitely move the story over into Mature Readers Only territory.

Clive’s Dante’s Purgatory

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Book Two: Purgatory, translated by Clive James (Picador 2013)

1447244214The devil gets all the best lines in Paradise Lost, and the Inferno gets the best press in The Divine Comedy. I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything at all about Purgatorio, so as I began reading it, I was wondering if an obscure sense of duty was a good enough reason to keep going. Was I hoping for any reward beyond being able to say I’d read it?

It turns out I enjoyed it a lot. Partly I think that was because of a weird sense of privilege. Thanks to my pre–Vatican Two Catholic childhood and a young adulthood in a religious order just as things were changing, much of the theology that underpins the Purgatory is as familiar to me as gum trees. I didn’t need footnotes to explain the idea of the living praying for the dead ‘that they may be loosed from their sins’: we offered up our family Rosary each evening ‘for the Pope the poor, the sick, the dying, the suffering souls in Purgatory, for Aunty Hilda and Uncle Jack’s souls’. I recognised most of the Latin hymns that are sung in Purgatory, and can still hum a few bars of some of them. I have a passing acquaintance with the Thomistic philosophy that Virgil explains to Dante, most notably in Canto 17, where the notion contention that all virtue and all sin come from love might otherwise sound like intellectual play for its own sake. Even some fragments of the pervasive Church history/gossip rings a bell. What’s more, thanks to my parents giving me Kingsley’s Heroes and my membership of the Argonauts Club (I was Lebedos 5), not to mention 5 years studying Latin at school and university, not all of the classical allusions pass me by (though, for example, I hadn’t heard the rumours that Julius Caesar was gay until I read Canto 26).

I feel like a privileged dinosaur.

All the same, I confess to reading pages at a time enjoying the verse, the surface level of the narrative, and the imagery, but not having a clue what it all meant. In particular there’s an elaborate procession in the Garden of Eden in the last couple of Cantos, in which various maidens, mythological beasts, birds, trees and vehicles are clearly intended to carry allegorical meanings. Even Clive James’s kind practice of incorporating an occasional explanatory phrase into the text, and Dante himself explicating some of it left me bewildered. At base, for all my familiarity with elements of it, I found this a deeply alien text. To read it properly – to understand it – would take a lot of study, and I guess I’m lazy enough to be content with what I’ve got.

Plot summary (don’t read if you’re worried about spoilers): Guided by the great Roman poet, Virgil, Dante continues his exploration of the afterlife . He climbs the seven circles of Purgatory, each circle inhabited by the souls of dead people expiating one of the seven deadly sins – pride, anger, envy, sloth, lust, gluttony, avarice. At the start Dante has seven Ps branded on his forehead by the touch of an angel’s wing, one of which disappears with each level passed. Virgil and Dante are joined by the poet Statius, whose time in Purgatory is up, but who elects to spend time talking shop with Virgil rather than rushing off to heaven. Finally, they reach a version of the Garden of Eden where the aforementioned allegorical procession happens, Virgil says he can go no further, and Dante’s great love, Beatrice, gives him a piece of her mind. Led by maiden named Matilda, Dante and Statius head for the mountain of heaven under a sky full of stars.

A nice bit of the translation: At the end of Canto 22, in the circle where souls of gluttons are suffering, Clive James has:

As beautiful as gold was the First Age:
Hunger made acorns tasty, thirst made sweet
Nectar of every brook, so you can gauge
How satisfied the Baptist was to eat
The locust and sip honey. Every page
About this in the Gospel shows, therefore,
His greatness and his glory. Less is more.

That sent me hunting the original of those last four lines, which I found at Canto 22, lines 151–154:

Mele e locuste furon le vivande
che nodriro il Batista nel diserto;
per ch’elli è glorioso e tanto grande
quanto per lo Vangelio v’è aperto.

(Honey and locusts were the aliments
That fed the Baptist in the wilderness;
Whence he is glorious, and so magnified
As by the Evangel is revealed to you.)

So James isn’t the most subservient of translators, and isn’t above inserting little anachronisms like ‘Less is more’. Purists would probably object, but it keeps his readers on our toes, and deters us from thinking we’ve actually read the original.

The best bit: I knew that Beatrice replaces Virgil as Dante’s guide in Heaven, because Virgil, having died before Christ, is stuck in Limbo. But I was quite unprepared for the intensity of the scene where Dante and Beatrice meet in Canto 30. She is the great love of his life, and he knows that it is thanks to her that he is being taken on this grand tour of the afterlife. She turns up at a moment when I was feeling that Clive James and I were doing our best to get through some impenetrable mediaeval allegorising with the least possible pain – and everything changes. Dante is thrilled to see her. But instead of embracing him warmly and joyously, she goes for him:

Yet royally, like one with the design
Of holding back the heat her words might mean
While speaking, said this: ‘Look. Look at me well,
For I am Beatrice indeed. How do
You dare approach this mountain. Can you tell?
For man is happy here, yet here are you.’

He responds incoherently, provoking her to increasingly vehement reproach for having fallen away from the paths of virtue after her death. It’s electrifying, and it feels as if all the preceding theology and inventiveness and sheer genius creation exist as scaffolding for this moment when Dante (and Clive James?) writes with authentic passion about the experience of being found deeply wanting by the woman he loves.

There are lots of other good bits, but that’s the one that takes the cake for me.

PS: I’ve just seen that this is my 777th post on this blog – very appropriate, I thought, as I’m about to head off to Heaven.

The media and March in March

I wrote this to the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday morning:

Dear Sir
So Prime Minister Tony Abbott was correct after all when he said, as shown on the ABC News last night, that the only big march happening in Sydney was the St Patrick’s Day march. He must have been correct because that’s the only march reported in today’s SMH, and the SMH is a journal of record, or at least it was once.
The March in March demonstration by people wanting their voices to be heard in opposition to the many ways in which the Abbott government is attacking the common good evidently didn’t happen. Their numbers, ranging from 8 to 40 thousand depending on whose estimate you take, were an illusion that took up the whole of Broadway from Railway Square to Victoria Park. The illusion evidently was sufficiently realistic for you to publish two accounts online, the first a derisory and derisive AAP report [sorry, I couldn’t find it on the Fairfax site] saying there were hundreds of people and mentioning a couple of ‘wacky’ placards, the second mentioning a more realistic  figure of 8–10 thousand and giving a somewhat more accurate account of the demonstrators.
A couple of the speakers at this non-event spoke of the terrible effect of cynicism on our public life. Your total silence about this event, and other marches all over the country – not even a by-the-way in your account of the St Patrick’s Day march – is certainly doing its bit to foster cynicism.
Yours
Jonathan Shaw

Today’s paper did publish a letter from Antony Mann of Lawson (scroll down at the link) making the same general point much more succinctly. I wonder how many they received?

Paradoxically, I found the Herald‘s near silence oddly encouraging. If they can minimise or ignore what was probably more than 50,000 people in the streets all over Australia, then what else are they not telling us about? How many small acts are being performed in the community every day, invisible to the newspapers, that contribute to a swelling movement to bring some kind of sense to Australia’s responses to climate change, the international refugee crisis, predator capitalism and so on? Maybe the future is brighter than the Fairfax press makes it look. (Pardon me if I don’t mention Murdoch.)

And then there’s this, which I’ll write in spite of Godwin’s Law:

At Belmore Park on Sunday, I met an old friend who had come out in the pouring rain to be part of the march. She was going home before the speeches were finished, because, as she said, she was pooped. She’s 89 next week and the effort had taken its toll, but she said she was greatly heartened by the big turn-out. She was a girl in Austria at the Anschluss, the daughter of secular Jews. It matters to her to see people making their voices heard against injustice, even when the injustice is perpetrated by a democratically elected government.

A young woman with rainbow hair asked to take our photo. As we smiled for the camera, my friend surmised that she wanted us for our white hair. The young woman said she was sending the photo to her parents to show that there were respectable people at the demo – something, it turns out, they wouldn’t have learned from the Sydney Morning Herald.

(Also, thank heaven for the publicly funded SBS and ABC television.)

The Invitation (conclusion)

Continuing ‘The Invitation’, my versification of Scott Ludlam’s speech. Today’s instalment takes us to the end.

A lone voice in the chamber, he goes on.
‘You’re planning to destroy the NBN;
your A-G, Brandis, bows before the con
of NSA snoop-crimes (has he no yen
for self-respect?). And now the word has gone
out on the Web. Nerds, geeks and coders, then
gamers, are for the first time turning Green,
thanks to your tech-illiterate machine.

‘Most deeply, your campaign to stir up fear –
of people fleeing violence and war –
hoping Australians would accept the smear
and bring our worst impulses to the fore,
instead is bringing out the best. Oh dear
PM, you are most welcome to take your
heartless racist policies and ram
them where tax-payer funded travel scams

‘are hidden and the western sun don’t shine.
What is at stake on by-election day
is whether this man owns the root and vine
of parliament for years. Another way:
we want our country back. Chance, not design,
some ballots lost, required this replay:
we have the opportunity to wrest
one seat back now. Game on, PM. Come west.’

Scott Ludlam, Greens, in purple tie, sat down
to no applause, but now, if your desire is
to see the whole thing, you can go to town
on YouTube where it’s spreading like a virus.

Go, little poem. I pray that Scott won’t frown
at this hommage from one of his admirers.
I’ve changed some meanings, forced by Rhyme, the hoodlum.
What’s vile is mine, what’s fine is made by Ludlam.

Here ends the poem. The Senate by-election campaign is in full swing in WA. Scott Ludlam’s Twitter handle is @SenatorLudlam.

The Invitation (part three)

Continuing ‘The Invitation’, my versification of Scott Ludlam’s speech. Today’s instalment, only three stanzas, takes us to 5:47 of 7:34.

‘It’s 30 years since Greens first called for sanity
against the Cold War nuclear suicide pact.
We’ve fanned the flames for renewable energy.
We’ve fought for values too often attacked:
innovation, learning and equality.
We’ve honoured the First Peoples, and we’ve backed
worldwide resistance to the damage from
worldwide misuse of our uranium.

‘Mr Abbott, your deeds have been noted.
Perth light rail’s millions cancelled, that’s been noted.
Blank cheque for bloody cull of sharks here, noted.
Medicare, schools funding attacks, noted.
Environmental duties outsourced, noted.
Sell-out to Hollywood and biotech, noted.
Between big business and the common good:
we note each time you choose. We note it good.

‘So to be blunt, Prime Minister, the reason
I invite you over west for as much time
as you can spare, is that in pre-poll season
your every utterance makes our vote climb.
Your fracker friends and their like might just breeze in
but hundreds see their actions as a crime
and in the last few weeks have knocked on doors
of thousands more. Your presence helps our cause.’

To be concluded, hopefully tomorrow.

The Invitation (part two)

Continuing ‘The Invitation’, my versification of Scott Ludlam’s speech. Today’s instalment, only three stanzas, takes us to 3:13 of 7:34.

‘Sandgropers have a generous, welcoming soul,
but if when here you boast of your endeavour
to bankrupt the alternatives to coal,
hamstring the ABC, and also sever
state funds from SBS, to dig a hole
and bury same-sex marriage; of your ever
more insidious attacks on work-
ing people, then we’ll treat you like a jerk.

‘Life’s hard enough without three years of you
and your lot working hard to make things worse.
Awkward that you seek out the point of view
of billionaires and oligarchs averse
to Sunday loadings, decent pay – ah, true,
less awkward than revolting. But this curse
will pass. Your sad benighted time won’t last.
We need to raise our sights. The world is vast.

‘The reign of dinosaurs in the cretaceous
was cut short – Oops! dead, buried and cremated!
A like surprise may lurk – Oh goodness gracious! –
in store for you, Hon Tony, perhaps you’re slated
to be just a thin greasy layer of ashes
for research into politics that’s dated
early 21st CE.’ I smile.
He’s having fun. Chris Kenny called it vile.

To be continued. (Chris Kenny’s exchange with Senator Ludlam at the link is amusing.)

The Invitation (part one)

Eighteen months or so ago, I ventured on the huge (for me) task of versifying an Alan Jones press conference. You can read its five parts here, here, here, here and here. It wasn’t great art but it was fun to do. For quite different reasons – hommage rather than dommage – I’ve undertaken  a similar thing with a recent speech by WA Senator Scott Ludlam. My versification is no match for the eloquence of the original, and the ruthless demands of rhyme result in quite a bit of distortion of the meaning. I’ve skipped over some bits, in particular some party-political moments, but I hope I’ve captured something of the speech’s greatness. Here’s Part One, which takes us to 1:47 of the 7:34 video:

The Invitation
The Senate chamber, ten at night, when bed
or business has led all to quit the scene
save two, who sit in the expanse of red –
not red themselves: a Liberal and a Green.
Scott Ludlam stands to say what must be said,
main audience a future YouTube screen:
his last speech in this place before the poll
to make up for the one that someone stole.

‘Tonight I rise,’ he says, ‘to bid you come,
Prime Minister, to visit my home state,
the beautiful Westralia. Do please come.
I ask in all good faith, because our fate
is on the line. I ask respectfully: come.
You’re welcome here, but please first contemplate
the baggage that you pack for your stopover,
though it be brief, a campaign supernova.

‘You will alight on Whadjuk Nyoongar earth
where Derbal Yerigan (the Swan)’s been sung,
two hundred times as long as there’s been Perth.
Mount Druitt’s further off than Mount Agung.
The drought here’s never-ending. There’s a dearth
of housing fit for purchase by the young.
We live with climate change, we know it drives
the loss of jobs, and property and lives.

‘Prime Minister, I beg you, leave back east
your boring three-word slogans. Read us right!
Not as redneck monsters whose hearts feast
on Manus Island horrors. Though you might
call us ‘the mining state’ as if the beast
that benches, chops and  blasts as if by right
a third of this great continent was us.’
Mild mannered, neat, he turns a page. No fuss.

To be continued.