Tag Archives: doggerel

Couplets refusing to be enraged

Young man, who tore down Lord Street on your bike
and called my love a deaf old ugly dyke
because her body occupied a space
you wanted to traverse at lycra pace
(though you’d admit it was a narrow path
designed for walkers), you whose noisy wrath
resounded once you’d left her in your wake
until the lights at King Street made you brake,
you know, I’ve nothing much to say to you
except perhaps, Yah sucks bum piss, dog poo
and pubic hair. Our guava tree meanwhile
drops fruit as if it’s going out of style.
The tree won’t read this rhyme, nor I suppose
will you. Your droppings are a lot more on the nose.*

* Though I love the smell of guavas, other people say that to them it’s like a cross between vomit and excrement.

Vaughan & Guerra’s Y: The Last Man Books 3–5 and my November Verse 13

Brian K Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Y: The Last Man Book 3 (2004, 2005, this edition 2010)
—, Y: The Last Man Book 4 (2005, 2006, this edition 2010)
—, Y: The Last Man Book 5 (2006–2008, this edition 2011)

Previously in Y: Yorick, a 23 year old New Yorker escape artist, and Ampersand, a trainee-companion monkey, are the only two male mammals on earth to have survived a mysterious plague. They have teamed up with the woman known only as 355, who is a member of the Culper Ring, a mysterious organisation, and Dr Alison Mann, who has ben experimenting with clone technology and so has a good chance of ensuring a future for humankind. Dr Mann’s New York lab is blown up by Israeli operatives, and the three of them travel across the US to her West Coast lab where her back-up data is safe, encountering an assortment of female post-apocalyptic enemies and allies: the Israelis, a Russian operative, survivalists, escaped convicts making a new life, an astronaut, paranoid cowgirls. Yorick’s sister, Hero, has meanwhile joined a group of neo-Amazons who are fanatically and violently determined to erase all vestiges of the patriarchy. And Yorick has a personal mission, to meet up with his girlfriend Beth, who was in Australian when the plague hit and has since been out of contact.


The adventure continues in Book 3 with plenty of violence, and a modicum of sex. It turns out that the Australian navy had women active in submarines where the US did not. As a result a fully armed and dangerous Collins Class sub intercepts the ship taking our little band across the Pacific. Australia also comes to the fore as we get some of Beth’s story. There’s some deeply worrisome representations of Warlpiri culture (though you have to give Brian Vaughan credit for actually naming a people rather than giving us generic mystical ‘Aborigines’ like the ones in Werner Herzog’s Green Ant Dreaming).

Goran Sudžuka joins Pia Guerra in the pencilling, and to my untrained eye the seams are invisible.


In Book 4, Yorick, Dr Mann and agent 335 reach Australia, which isn’t a happy place, though there’s plenty of amusing US attempts at Australian slang, and some cheerful sex and one bit of comic full frontal male nudity (poor Yorick is drawn looking all heroic on the covers, but doesn’t fare so well in the actual stories).

We also get the back stories of a number of characters, and lectures on the status of women that in any other context might be tediously didactic, but here have a certain charm. For example, there’s a key plot point when two capuchin monkeys escape from their cages in an airport. This is how we see it:

equal pay.jpg

And the reader responds by secretly cheering for the ‘gendercide’ that is to come. Similar moments, such as a short debate about whether the mistreatment of women in the Catholic Church was perpetrated solely by men, or whether women might have been pretty bad as well, turn out to be important to the plot.


Then in Book 5 it all comes together – or apart, depending on your point of view. Yorick finds Beth and their reunion turns out pretty much as the discerning reader might have expected. There’s another romance that also turns out pretty much as expected, though in a way that surprised and, yes, shocked me. In fact, the working out of all the plot strands is almost at the level of Shakespearean comedy. Of the many hypotheses that have been floated about the cause of the catastrophe, the one that is finally given may not be realistic but it fits the world of the story better than any other: at least grounds have been laid for it.

It all ends happily for the human race, though almost literally up in the air for Yorick himself.

One more note: It seems to me that a successful comic series has to have a certain amount of sex and violence. Y does that. It also manages to be witty, literate and occasionally instructive. Yorick and his sister Hero were named after Shakespearean characters by their nerdy parents. When it seems one woman is going to have to spend time in hospital, Yorick draws up a reading list for her – Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is at the top of the list. It’s similarly refreshing that one of the characters becomes President in the final pages but not, it turns out, of the USA: in this US comic, other countries exist.

And let me burst into verse, for the second last time this November. Extra points for readers who spot the Bill Haley reference.

November Verse 13: On Reading Y: The Last Man
Alas poor Yorick, last man standing!
Two male mammals left alive
on earth, just him and Ampersand, an
ape, his kind-of pet. These five
thick comic books by Vaughan and Guerra,
amuse and tease, prompt pity, terror.
A single man left on the ground,
three billion women all around.
But here’s no superhero fiction,
no Bacchanal or things more blue,
no Warhol shooter’s dream come true,
no earnest SF clone prediction,
just good fun: the men are dead,
that’s sad, but what a watershed!

November Verse 12

When you’re casting about for a subject suitable for rhyme and a deadline has just whizzed past, there’s always the TV news.

November Verse 12: 
Pauline took some journos diving
with senators and camera crews.
She said the Reef will soon be thriving:
so much for the lying views
of scientists and their self-serving
leftwing UN undeserving
dupes; if you dive deep enough
you’ll see that coral’s much more tough
than warmists claim. And here’s the kicker:
the ABC led with this story
and called it news, dragged out a hoary
beige-clad chap to contradict her.
A joke? But headlining this prank
makes other ‘sceptics’ seem less rank. 

Southerly 76/1 & November Verse 7

Elizabeth McMahon, (nominally) David Brooks and (actually) Hannah Fink (editors), Southerly Vol 76 No 1 2016: Words and Music

s761.jpgSoutherly is the journal of the English Association, Sydney. It generally includes a number of articles of interest to the semi-mythical ‘general reader’ as well as refereed papers meant mainly for academics. This music-themed issue is happily skewed toward those of us who identify with the semi-mythical.

The guest editor, arts writer Hannah Fink, has prevailed on a number of music professionals to write about their art and craft, and their relaxed and illuminating essays form the heart of the journal. Lyricist Hilary Bell’s ‘My Life in Lyrics’ starts out as a charming showbiz memoir and develops into a lucid communications of lessons she has learned about writing lyrics for musical theatre, winning points from me by referring to Stephen Sondheim’s magisterial Finishing the HatComposer Phillip Johnston’s ‘Wordless! Music for Comics and Graphic Novels Turns Time Into Space (and back again)’ may go into too much detail about the creation of a collaborative work with comix artist Art Spiegelman but I for one certainly hope to see the work some day. Jazz player and radio program host Dick Hughes, in ‘Jazz at the Pearly Gates’, imagines a number of brilliant jazz performances that might have happened, and allows us painless enjoyment of his great erudition.

Among the other non-fiction, there’s much to enjoy. David Brooks in ‘Herd Music’ speculates that music may have its deep origins in sounds like those a flock of grazing sheep might make. Joseph Toltz gives us a glimpse of compassionate research with Jewsih Holocaust survivors, in a number of anecdotes about the first music a number of people remember hearing after liberation.

There are short stories. Gareth Hipwell’s ‘Whatever Was Eating Whatever It Is That’s Eating The Trees’ is a brief celebration of a the way a man of an older generation has with the language. Colin Varney, whom I think of as a writer for children, definitely has mature readers in mind in ‘Zigazig-uh’, in which the narrator is a love song keeping a slightly snarky eye on the effect it has on a select group of humans.

And there’s poetry by Jill Jones (‘The Glass’), Matthew Wallman (two poems from ‘Inland Sea Poems’, a sequence about explorer Charles Sturt), Partrick Jones (‘Buladelah-Boomerang Point holiday song cycle’, whose odd typography has the welcome effect of slows one’s reading right down), Luke Fischer (the ekphrastic ‘Madonna of the Goldfinch’), and a wealth of others.

I usually skip reviews of books I haven’t read, but those of Toby Fitch’s The Blooming Notions of Other & Beau and Chris Edwards’s’s Sonata , books of deliberate mistranslation from French and German respectively, inspired me for today’s November verse: a ‘translation’ of a stanza chosen at random from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, which is in Russian, which I can’t read even though I’ve happily been attempting to write Onegin stanzas for years now. It turns out to be harder and more fun than I expected. Here is what I’ve managed, a nonsensical shadow of the achievement of those books and others like them:

November Verse 7: Worse than Google Translate
Go near me, freshen my loo, charm me.
Soak crusty gore, use a cigar.
Speak sharply, mutiny, rush army.
Nah! Ptoo! Play on your guitar.
You Lib boy – yes, no! – you prop-odour,
Squeeze on, stretch it, you true goader.
See nigh a blush – cute? Nay, bizarre.
Eschew the prozac. No lay star
Brought cake to puke-home-selling – eye it!
Chill as I darn your pulley, boy;
let it upskill your foxy toy.
Do line your socket, pests will try it.
Tada! Shoe, mat and solo way
You spell. Be small VE, not Che.

For anyone interested and/or capable of reading Russian, here’s the original, Book 7, Stanza 1 (and you can click here for more):

Гоними вешними лучами,
С окрестных гор уже снега
Сбежали мутными русьями
На потоплённые луга.
Улыбкой ясною природа
Сквозь сон встречает утро года;
Синея блещут небеса.
Ещё прозрачные, леса
Как будто пухом зеленеют.
Пчела за данью полевой
Летит из кельи восковой.
Долины сохнут и пестреют;
Стада шумят, и соловей
Уж пел в безмолвии ночей.

November Verse 5

First an embarrassing memory, and then a slightly less embarrassing piece of verse.

The memory: in 1970 I was an English Honours student at Sydney University and had no idea how ignorant I was. James McAuley, then one of the Grand Old Men of Australian poetry, had a new book out, Surprises of the Sun. One of its poems, ‘In the Twentieth Century’, begins: ‘Christ, you walked on the sea, / But cannot walk in a poem, /Not in our century.’

To my mind he was clearly mistaken, so I wrote him a letter, in which I pointed out his error and as proof transcribed the second stanza of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’, which begins, ‘Jesus was a sailor and he walked upon the water’.

McAuley didn’t reply, and presumably the letter itself has long since ceased to exist, but my brain has refused to eliminate the memory.

And the verse:

Verse 5: … about it all again
No drunken midnight choir sang me to
sleep. I heard no secret chord.
The room filled up with one mosquito,
and no sweetness was restored.
Adam’s long since left the garden.
Home he’s gone without a hard-on.
Break the bugle, skin the drum –
democracy is yet to come.
He’s danced us to the end of living,
leans no longer for Suzanne
or sea-and-shoreline Marianne.
Say goodbye to Leonard leaving.
So much light came through his cracks
and gave our griefs their music tracks.

Helen Garner’s Everywhere I Look and November Verse 3

Helen Garner, Everywhere I Look (Text 2016)

1925355365.jpgI’ve recently been surprised to hear a number of people refer to Helen Garner as ‘one of our great writers’. My surprise doesn’t come from disagreement. It’s just that hers isn’t writing that invites one to bow down in the presence of greatness. She’s less a Great Dane (or Grande Dame) making magisterial pronouncements than a terrier who keeps on at her subject until it yields some truth, her truth. She passes judgement often enough, and definitely enough, but not dogmatically, and not looking for a stoush either, but ready in case one comes along. A striking feature of Sotiris Dounoukos’ movie of Joe Cinque’s Consolation is the absence of the book’s persistent questioning – so when the end titles announce that, against the strongly implied judgement of the previous 90 minutes, one of the real-world characters was exonerated by a real-world jury, one tends to simply distrust the movie. When the book calls that verdict into question, you can disagree, but you can’t honestly dismiss it out of hand: the judgement has been honestly, and I would say humbly, worked for. (Perhaps its relevant that some of the harshest critics of Garner’s The First Stone refused to read it, or so I’ve been told.)

One of the pieces in this collection is titled ‘While Not Writing a Book’. That could have been a working title for the collection as a whole. It and a couple of others, including ‘Before Whatever Else Happens’, are presented as excerpts from the writer’s diaries/notebooks: overheard snippets, chance encounters, family moments, brief reflections. Another writer might have called them flash fictions or prose poems. Other pieces are more sustained: the product of a week locked away with CDs of Russell Crowe movies; reviews; sketches from the courts; wonderful pieces on her friendships with Jacob Rosenberg, Tim Winton and Elizabeth Jolly; glimpses of family life with grandchildren and, once, a dog; a revisit to her relationship with her mother; reflections on the ukulele, the ballet, suburban life; and more, enough to keep her readers interested between This House of Grief and whatever big thing may happen next.

Everywhere she looks and listens, from conversations about farting with small children to a teenager who has bashed her newborn baby to death, Garner finds stuff for her mind to grapple with, and she knows how to communicate the grappling with grace and vigour.

And now, because it’s November, a versification of one of the diary entries (see page 85 for the original):

Verse 3: At a conference
Supreme Court Judge and Helen Garner
chatted over tea and dip.
‘My home,’ the judge said to the yarner,
‘was once the scene of Monkey Grip,
your novel, and we’re renovating.’
‘My novel, and some devastating
and elating life. But how
do those old rooms look to you now.’
He listed them: ‘… and one so dinky
my daughter’s desk was there before.
It’s soon a bathroom, nothing more.’
‘The one with wooden shutters?’ Inky
flash from hippie days divine:
‘That tiny room was [humbly] mine.’

AWW2016Everywhere I Look is the twelfth book I’ve read as part of the 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Limerick elegy

In honour of possibly the most loved tree in Sydney and scholars everywhere who worked for their higher degrees and never besmirched whole academic disciplines:

The old jacaranda has died.
It witnessed the senate decide
to give Howard, John
a PhD (Hon)
and died from the wound to its pride.

Click on the image if you need an explanation.


The Farewell: Part Two

Concluding my versification of Tony Abbott’s farewell address. Click here for the first instalment, and here for  video of the speech on the Guardian’s site.

The Farewell (Part Two)
Video 3:11–3:36
‘I’m proud of what we’ve done against the odds.
stayed focussed right until the white-ants’ coup,
though we’ve been men, and women too, not gods
walking the earth, not perfect. Very few
can meet all expectations. [We poor sods
of course have trampled on a life or two,
protected child abusers, bent the knee
to Murdoch – yes, we’re only human, see?

Video 3:37–4:28
‘Politics has changed since I’ve been in it.
Commentary’s hijacked by the trolls.
Soon we’ll have a new PM each minute,
and each one sacked by colleagues spooked by polls.
It must affect our country. I’m agin it.
Don’t help self-serving traitors reach their goals,
O Media, stop conniving with dishonour:
don’t be the knife that’s plunged into a goner.’

‘[For me the press has been more like a bludgeon
– there’s Bolt, Jones, Hadley, Sheridan, Devine
and Photoshopped front pages, all high dudgeon
my office leaks, no treachery of mine
but acts of war. A pintle to my gudgeon,
the press that serves my higher ends is fine.
But steady now, I mustn’t lose my head.
Stick to the script and leaves such things unsaid.]

Video 4:30–5:32
‘I must thank many. First my family
[spot who’s missing from this paragraph],
my Margie for her grace and dignity,
my party, the armed forces, and my staff,
devoted to our country – Oh malignity
with which their chief was savaged. That’s no laugh.
I thank my country [’Tis of thee I sing]:
for being asked to lead is no small thing.

Video 5:32–6:12
‘My maiden speech, I quoted Holy Writ,
the text for the first sermon in this land:
“What shall I render to the Lord … ?” I quit
the top job, knowing I can proudly stand
and say I’ve rendered all. [If modesty permit,
I’d say my all was really rather grand,
and could have been much more with loyal ranks.
I love this country still. God bless it. Thanks.’

Video 6:12–6:15
No weepie script, and read like hard De Niro:
a man for others, no tears on display.
With furrowed brow, a classic Western hero
he turns and does a John Wayne walk away.

Go little poem, I hope worth more than zero,
to mark the very end of one man’s sway.
I’ve added frills to feed my rhyming habit,
but most of what you see is true to Abbott.

Tony goes

the searchers

The Farewell: a versification

On Tuesday 15 September, Tony Abbott gave his final statement to the press as Prime Minister of Australia. Video here. Having rendered Alan Jones and Scott Ludlam into verse, I feel obliged to give Mr Abbott a go. Here’s Part One of what I expect to be two parts:

The farewell
Kings and queens must die before the toast
‘Long live the King or Queen!’ is raised by folk,
but prime (and lesser) ministers can coast
from office still alive – and far from broke.
A vote is not a dagger. At the most
a mobile phone lurks in the plotter’s cloak,
and though the headlines say blood’s on the floor,
in Canberra that’s mostly metaphor.

Video 0:00–0:05
So Monday night last week, when overthrown
by secret ballot in the party room,
our ex-PM, his face as grim as stone,
went to a drunken party, not a tomb,
took fourteen hours to face a microphone.
12.30, puffy eyed beneath the boom,
he started with a frail attempt at cheer:
‘Quite-a-crowd today. Thank you for being here.’

No more ad libs. The rest came from the script
that someone had prepared while we were sleeping
and doing all the morning things he’d skipped,
or so it seemed: there may have been some weeping.
It wasn’t life-or-death, but if he slipped
he’d set a ruthless Twitter chorus cheeping.
This was a chance to dignify his exit,
to bare his statesman muscle and to flex it.

Video 0:05–0:45
‘For many here this is no easy day.
Such things are never easy for our country.
I pledge to make it easy as I may:
not wreck, snipe, undermine [my style’s effrontery
and swagger]. Leaking’s never been my way.
It’s only for our country’s good I’m hungry,
and our government’s success [not my successor’s
whom I won’t name, still less my predecessors’].

Video 0:45–1:16
‘I’ve said the top job’s no end in itself.
It’s all about the people whom you serve.
From Uluru to Continental Shelf,
this country’s wonder, more than I deserve,
I’ve seen. I want to thank [a humble elf]
the voters for this honour. [Oh the nerve
of those who took it from me!] This day’s tough,
but: join the game, play by its rules, they’re rough.

Video 1:16–1:54
‘I’ve held true to what I have believed.’
His head bobs there, a curtsey of the mind.
‘I’m proud of what in two years we’ve achieved:
more folk in jobs, and three free trade deals signed,
huge roadworks under way, and we’ve relieved
mine owners of bad Labor taxes, shined
a spotlight on bad Labor’s Union mates.’
A chopper drowns out half of all he states.

Video 1:54–2:20
‘… terror threats … deployed … the other side …
to bring our loved ones home … the boats have stopped …
compassion … refugees … [I may have lied
or bent the facts a little
] … budget mopped …
billions … without principle the tide
of opposition … [Heaven knows I’ve copped
unprincipled  hysteria for Pell,
and ‘Nope, nope, nope’, and kids in Nauru’s hell.

Video 2:20–3:00
‘Of course, there’s much I had still wished to do:
To move things on for Noel’s and other mobs –
bring recognition, school, work, safety too.
My photo-op weeks broke new ground, no probs.
Ice and domestic violence wait in queue.
The wider world presents us with big jobs:
Wars far away are well within our range.
[But notice I don’t mention climate change.]

To be continued …

If you want to read some real poetry on the subject of our recent change of Prime Minister, I recommend the editorial of yesterday’s Saturday Paper. It begins, ‘It is no exaggeration to say Tony Abbott is the worst prime minister Australia has had,’ and builds from there.

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.