Category Archives: LoSoRhyMo

November verse 5.5: Découpé

The découpé, or more prosaically the cut-up and remix, is pretty much self-explanatory. According to Wikipedia, it’s ‘an aleatory literary technique in which a written text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text’. It was invented by Dadaist Tristan Zara who drew words out of a hat. William S. Boroughs Junior made it his own by cutting and folding pages of text (a fact that explains the incomprehensibility of the only Burroughs novel I’ve read). Boroughs evidently saw T S Eliot’s The Wasteland as a precursor to the technique.

I baulk at aleatory (that is, determined by the throw of a dice), so here is a découpé from a story on today’s front page. I printed out the article, cut up the first column, drew words and phrases out of a bowl, then did a little fiddling. I didn’t add any words and if any dropped out it was by accident.

Découpé: I want to be a featist

From Sydney Morning Herald 13 November 2021:
'PM pushes business to lead charge on climate' 

Before adopting the de-industrialists'
record of world history, I have confidence we can solve
other crises with the Herald and the investors
and the entrepreneurs and foreign leaders 
who say, 'Mr Morrison will be very ruined.'

In the interview based on the 
way next year's same scientists said to pitch
and the risk election responded 
to change: 'Mr Morrison, the world will beat
climate activists I'm warned.'
'We'll all be sharpening against his regulation.'
He believes this and it has solved this. 

Climate takers re-said that smart upbeat voters 
supported much more by the track, by poll 
and attitudes of featists. 

November verse 5: An old diary

I’ve been thinking for a while that if by some terrible accident I were to drop dead, someone would have to deal with the pile of my old diaries currently gathering dust. I flipped through one just now, looking for something that could be squeezed into sonnet form, and this is the squeezed thing:

November verse 5: On looking into my 1985 diary

Lists of letters owed and written,
phone calls made and cheques to post,
names of people long forgotten,
to-do items ticked or crossed:
pages only good for trashing,
lacking even grounds for blushing.
Then I found this ‘Day of Rest’,
a random Saturday, sun-blessed.
Our three-year-old was with his grandma,
Seven with his Sapphic aunts,
and you and I had seized the chance
to lie-in late, breathe slow, surrender
to the moment, sit and smell
the petrichor, and all was well.

November verse 4.5: N+7

Today’s little poem draws on the Oulipo movement. Founded in 1960 by French mathematician Francois de Lionnais and writer Raymond Queneau, Oulipo (Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle, or Workshop of Potential Literature) produced verse using impersonal/mechanical structural formulae. The only one of their formulae I know about is N+7. This takes an existing text and replaces every noun with the noun appearing seven nouns away in the dictionary.

I thought this was ridiculous until I saw what Hawaiian poet Susan M. Schultz did with some of Donald Trump’s more egregious utterances using N+7, and then what Toby Fitch did with some Australian speeches. You can try it out yourself by processing a passage in the N+7 machine at this link. (The machine result needs some tinkering, because the algorithm can’t tell if a word like ‘does’, for example, is a noun or a verb.)

So here goes, from the front page of today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

November verse 4.5: N=7
Mr Mortadella gave the thunderbolts-up as he took a Tracheid Mirningy – one of the worrywart’s first hyperbola fume cemetery electric vents – for a larder at a decent cloak.

Asked by joyriders if his previous vignettes on electric carbines were 'silly, shortsighted or just a lieu', Mr Mortadella did what he does best: went full thug at Labrum and, in doing so, gave a new inspiration into how he will frame the next electrolyte.

Walk Like a Cow with Brendan Ryan, plus November verse 4

Brendan Ryan, Walk Like a Cow: A memoir (Walleah Press 2021)

I take Brendan Ryan’s poetry personally. His childhood and mine didn’t have a huge amount in common, but his poetry about cattle – working with them, observing them, even loving them – and about growing up Catholic resonate hugely for me. There were only five children in my family, as opposed to his 10. I spent my childhood on a sugar farm in tropical North Queensland, hard to imagine a climate further removed from his western Victoria. We had just a few cows, of which two were milked by hand in the mornings, rather than a hundred that had to be milked by machine day and night. And I left the farm behind me when I went to boarding school aged 13, whereas he kept working on the farm, much harder than I ever did, into young adulthood. But I recognise so much of what he writes about, and am grateful that he has done the work of wrangling his experiences and observations into words.

This book is a welcome backgrounder on the poetry, and it’s very interesting in its own right. It’s a collection of memoir essays: a version of one of them, ‘Ash Wednesday: A memorial’, published in Heat in 2010, first introduced me to Brendan Ryan’s writing, and I have read versions of several others in Heat and Southerly since. It’s good to see them brought together to form a narrative: his parents’ story, his childhood on the farm, Catholic school and then work away from home in late teenage years, the move to Melbourne, shared houses, pub music scene, odd jobs, and the beginnings of his lifelong relationship. Through it all there is his appreciation of cows, his learning from them how to walk the country (as opposed to Henry David Thoreau’s advice to learn to walk like a camel), and his development as a poet.

There’s a moving account of his relationship with poet John Forbes, who was a mentor. The life with cows and then living in the city with a paddock in his head, so vividly rendered in his poetry, are described here at fascinating length. It’s delightful to read that the first publication of a poet who is so rooted in place, so earthy and so accessible, was a self-published limited edition of 14 copies, bound in paperbark from the trees of St Kilda and selling for $50 each.

Here’s a taste of his writing about cows:

While a cow walks in a straight line, not moving from side to side, it also walks a deviating line. This line seems to be closely linked to two elements a cow encounters each day: the geography of a paddock and habit. Due to their physical size, cows will walk across a hill rather than down the steepest incline. Being a herd animal, a cow will mostly follow other cows along the track they walked the day before. Their cow tracks meander around bumps and ridges in the dirt, ands so the tracks suggest the intimate knowledge the cows have of each paddock. Each day the cows walk along these tracks, perhaps for security, most likely because the tracks have a more practical basis. When viewed from a distance the cow tracks describe the routine of a cow’s day. One track will lead straight to the water trough. Another track will fork off toward shelter on the boundary fence, while other tracks converge like veins around a heart at the paddock’s gate.

‘Walk Like a Cow’, page 202

Because it’s November, inspired by Brendan Ryan, here’s a little verse tribute from me to the Jersey cow that led our herd of mostly Australian Illawarra Shorthorns, with a couple of Friesians:

November verse 4: Cows I have known
For Brendan Ryan
Beauty was our herd's true leader.
Bulls might think they'd be obeyed,
but all the herd would turn to read her
every move, and move her way.
Bony ancient, grey as morning,
with no need for roughhouse horning,
queenlike, she assumed her rank
and strolled from shade to water tank.
Bullocks, calves and springing heifers, 
roan, and black and white, and red,
chewing, calling to be fed,
crumpled horned, with swinging udders,
lifting tails to drop their loads –
they all followed. Beauty led. 

November verse 3.5: Cento

According to

the cento (or collage poem) is a poetic form composed entirely of lines from poems by other poets.

You might think the name has something to do with the Latin for 100, and maybe it does, remotely, but it is actually a Latin word in its own right. According to my trusty Gepp & Haigh Latin dictionary, its first meaning is ‘a piece of patchwork, used for clothing, or as a fireproof curtain or blanket, or as a quilt, etc’.

Here’s a cento made, not from other poems, but from the program description of films I’ve got tickets for in this year’s Sydney Film Festival:

At the movies: a cento
Impressed by Einstein, 
a Swiss businessman and a Russian oligarch
are compelled to
violence, incompetence and oppression.
There are death threats,
more direct and more stridently critical,
a timely reminder of 
the role of individuals in an autocratic state.
An uncommunicative young woman
becomes increasingly desperate as she manoeuvres to keep
slapstick humour and deep emotion
with integrity and grit.
They begin to make sense of
life and death in the nuclear age.

November verse 3

I did go to the dentist on Friday, but was reduced to writing this between movies at the Sydney Festival.

November verse 3: Dentist
I used to focus on my breathing,
hoping not to feel the pain.
I’d concentrate on muscles, easing
tightness to relax my brain. 
I used to chant a homemade mantra:
Om madur,I give up Fanta, 
or words to that effect. The drill
and picks would terrify me still.
But these days if I pay attention
closely to what’s going on –
each nerve impulse, each tiny prick, 
each jolt – I find it does the trick:
my mind’s too busy keeping track
to let the panic goons attack. 

November verse 2.5: Homophones

There may be a better word for this kind of poem, and it may be much more widespread than I know about. I’ve met it in Toby Fitch’s poetry, and I’ve read one poem by Jaya Savige (‘Coonoowrin (Crookneck)’ in Southerly: 80!). It’s a lot harder than it looks.

My version of the idea is to take an existing text and rewrite it so that the words sound the same, or can be made to sound the same with a bit of distortion, but have completely different meaning, or even perhaps no meaning at all. Please don’t take the quality of my offering as representing the best the form can offer.

I’ve given the original text for this at the bottom in smaller type. I didn’t want to deprive you of the dubious pleasure of trying to spot the original.

I forgot, brought showdirts,
I conned eel with hat.
Bit though's loose.
Eye m'nut, gunner.
Cop's legend hit a stray Lear.
Eye m'nut, gunner:
cope Thetan bee,
have a fast stray lens.

I’ve got broad shoulders. I can deal with that. But those slurs, I’m not going to cop sledging of Australia. I’m not going to cop that on behalf of Australians.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, responding disingenuously to President Macron’s accusation that he lied

November verse 2

No subject having presented itself to me for today’s stanza, I’ve fallen back on Shakespeare. This stanza uses the rhyme words from his Sonnet 37 (chosen at random), modified to meet the Onegin stanza’s requirements. After reading the Shakespeare, I had to go for a walk around the block before I could begin to find my own much more frivolous thoughts, but here goes, with illustrations.

November verse 2: Post-lockdown hair

You wouldn't say it's as delightful
as my unkempt mane in youth,
but call it straggly straw? Just spiteful.
Mynas like it, that's the truth,
and swooping magpies. And the witty
check-out girl at Supa City
called me Einstein. (We get more
than what we pay for at that store.)
Thanks to Covid I've been given
time to think. I once despised
unbarbered hair. Four months sufficed
to help me understand men who were living
back when they were thou and thee,
balding, crested white, like me.
2021. Photo by Penny Ryan

November verse 1.5: Erasure

This year I plan to add to my November exercises some excursions into poetic forms like erasure, cento, n+7, homophony (if that’s a good word for what Toby Fitch does), and others as I think of them. My idea is to make something from the day’s newspaper as source text.

I’m kicking off today with an erasure poem. Here’s one description of erasure poetry, from the website.

Erasure poetry, also known as blackout poetry, is a form of found poetry wherein a poet takes an existing text and erases, blacks out, or otherwise obscures a large portion of the text, creating a wholly new work from what remains.

You can read more about it, with links to ‘seminal’ works, here. Andy Jackson”s ‘borne away by distance’ is a fine example I have encountered recently (online here).

Here’s my offering, from page 1, column 5 of today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Or, to type it out and give it a title:


The  _dependent ____mission
________++++++____trust or
________+__Wag   Wag .

Make of it what you will. I love it.

November verse 1

Since 2010, inspired by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I’ve had a project of writing fourteen 14-line stanzas each November. Even though my favourite stanza form is an Onegin stanza and not a sonnet, I called this project LoSoRhyMo – Local Sonnet Rhyming Month.

If you want to read past Novembers’ verses you can click on the LoSoRhyMo tag at the bottom of this blog post. Or you could go to my Publications page and buy one of the six little books made up from these and others of my adventures in verse. All but one of these excellent volumes are self-published. The exception, None of Us Alone, is a kind of Best Of published by Ginninderra Press, and I have to thank Tricia Dearborn for her help in selecting the poems for inclusion in it.

Here goes for 2021

November verse 1: The swimming pools have re-opened

So good to be back in the water.
I like to see it lap the Tiles
as I swim laps or when granddaughter
clamps her lips around her smiles
to keep it out. First thing this morning
in the slow lane, I'm relearning
other bodies aren't a threat,
even unmasked, bare and wet.
After bushfires, epicormic
shoots adorn the trunks of gums
like bloomers on their legs and bums.
Post-lockdown, thanks to hypodermic
double vaccination rates,
we put on hope. We tempt our fates.

A note for readers who noticed the Emily Dickinson reference: for no reason I can think of, the actual Emily Dickinson line (with ‘Miles’ instead of ‘Tiles’) often hounds me like a non-musical ear-worm while I’m swimming laps, so I had to include it here, however awkwardly.