Tuesday, March 24, 2015

New Margins by Joan Fleming

On the way home from art school she stopped to shave off a piece of her hair. The skin was new under there, soft as soft bristle, a new field of thought. She started meeting with a living room of women, drinking tea without the buzz. They invented hand gestures so everyone could talk at once. This means, I hear you. They talked about all the things they had and did, which others didn’t and couldn’t, like social unevenness was a cause they caused by never thinking about it. I think it looks fine, he said when she came home. Whatever you want. He started to never mind. His never-never mind never minded. He drifted off someplace and left his head behind. The centre of their story lost its centre. It bloomed like a cauliflower. All the florets were edible, dense with nutrition in blank colour. She stitched sorry text on a charcoal face and signed her name. She questioned all the structures. She read dense text for doorways. The fine things she was born with became a weight, she rubbed at her white skin. She tied a set of wrists and tamped gold leaf at their sawn point, penance and gleam. Sorry is an art. Marriage is an art. Art is an art. She stitched for hours, and he was her rock. A rock on the couch. A rock in the kitchen, washing the dishes. He washed a dish every twenty minutes. What do you want? I don’t mind. He went to work where he talked about assets. Losses and gains. Gold and string. Every stitch is held in place by another stitch, is held down. They stayed up nights with furred questions. Could you love me, plus some other? What kind of enough is enough? The questions had the smell of old pets. They cared for no creatures in the day, in the day light. Then one more question. What about a baby? The thought of it floated, it glistered, they could almost hear it, it had no smell. 


In November last year, with poet Anna Jackson and doctoral student Angelina Sbroma, I organised a conference about biographical poetry. We had a great time, with poets and scholars (and poet scholars) from New Zealand and Australia, and so many interesting conversations were started.

Before the conference we invited all the participants to submit a biographical poem for an anthology, which is, as far as we know, the first ever anthology of biographical poetry. The poems in the anthology take the idea of biographical poetry in all kinds of interesting directions. Some deal with the lives of the dead and famous, though generally in some unexpected sort of way. Others, like this poem, are about the lives of the anonymous.

In this prose poem, which is part of a series, we get an insight into the lives of an unnamed couple. It is very much showing rather than telling - like much good poetry, it nails just a few details, but gives us a whole world, a whole life. I love this poem because it is enigmatic, but also very specific, very precise. These are qualities I have found in other of Joan's poems, including those in her fine debut collection, The Same as Yes.

'New Margins' will be included in Joan's second collection, Failed Love Poems, which is forthcoming from Victoria University Press - I think later this year. I am definitely looking forward to reading it.

Joan Fleming is a doctoral student at Monash University’s graduate programme in Literary and Cultural Studies in Melbourne. Her research focuses on power dynamics and competing epistemologies in poetic texts. She is the author of The Same as Yes (Victoria University Press, 2011) and a book of failed love poems, which is forthcoming. You can find Joan's website here: http://www.joanflemingpoet.com/.
And you can read a piece she wrote about love and failure, with the gorgeous title 'Poetry as a child on fire who is trying, and failing, to pronounce itself', here: http://nzpoetryshelf.com/2014/05/02/an-occasional-series-on-poetry-joan-fleming-on-poetry-as-a-child-on-fire-who-is-trying-and-failing-to-pronounce-itself/.

This week’s editor, Helen Rickerby, is a poet and publisher from Wellington. She has published four collections of poetry – her most recent, Cinema, was published by Mākaro Press in 2014. She runs Seraph Press, a boutique publishing company with a growing reputation for publishing high-quality poetry books, and she is co-managing editor of JAAM literary journal.

And check out the other Tuesday Poems in the side-bar to the left.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"Hour glass" and "at night my dead mother appears wanting soup" by Frankie McMillan

she was a corsetière
threading whale bone

through cloth

placing herself close
to the ocean

became lucrative

when whales surfaced
she saw 

bustles, derrières,   

the amazement of men 
on their wedding night  

she scraped her learning
from medical notes

collapsed lung
block and tackle

© Frankie McMillan

Hour glass first appeared in Turbine (2012)


at night my dead mother appears wanting soup

I search the town for ox tails
even the movie houses

there’s Clint Eastwood placing
a bridle on his horse

I need a bit of guidance, I say
and he turns to doff his hat

the way cowboys do and I ask
the approximate whereabouts

of the nearest ox
and he hands me a pistol

you can do this, he says
so now I’m in charge

of a Colt but how to load
or fire and time is running out,

you see light leak around the edges
the way you might if trussed up

in a haybarn, your eyes fixed
towards the door, somewhere

a gramophone playing,
all the good husbands dancing

with their wives and your mother
in the doorway with her bowl

you do what you can – hunger
merits our grief

if only you’d paid attention
at the movies, if only you’d learned

how to shoot those ox
© Frankie McMillan

'at night my dead mother appears wanting soup' was Highly Commended in the NZ Poetry Society (NZPS) International Competition 2014 and subsequently published in the NZPS anthology Take Back Our Sky (2014.)

Both poems are featured on The Tuesday Poem Hub with permission.
Editor: Helen Lowe
Artist: Nichola Shanley
I am continually struck afresh by the way in which Frankie McMillan's poetic voice exemplifies the exhortation of Emily Dickinson that as poets we must "tell all the truth but tell it slant." Frankie's poetry always encompasses a perception of the wonder, absurdity, and humour in the world, but also picks out oddities and the quirks in the everyday that many of us, I fear, pass by or simply do not see at all.

In looking for a feature poem to celebrate Frankie's second collection, There Are No Horses in Heaven, (which is being published this very Thursday by Canterbury University Press) I was keen to select one that reflected both Frankie's unique slantwise perspective, but also her curiosity about the foibles of life and people, while also conveying a sense of the surreal. In the end, the best way to do that, I felt, was to feature not one but two of her delightful poems.

Hour glass opens with the corsetière and juxtaposes "the amazement of men on their wedding nights" with another distinctive element of Frankie's poetry, the concreteness of the real, in this case corsetry "threading whale bone/through cloth", which is in its turn set alongside the corsetière's view of whales as "bustles, derrières." In light of acquaintance with Frankie's earlier poetry, I feel there may well be an actual corsetière upon whom this initial sequence of the poem is based – although the whole conception may equally well have sprung entirely from her imagination. 

In at night my dead mother appears wanting soup we see a shift in poetic gear, moving from a more remote "observation" of the corsetière to a distinct "personal" voice. This is definitely Frankie McMillan at her most surreal, where "I" is dispatched on a quest for soup by the dead mother. I love the dream-sequence feel of this second poem, which is also – another distinctive Frankie McMillan element – very cinematographic, especially when it morphs into actual cinema going:

"at night my dead mother appears wanting soup 

I search the town for ox tails 
even the movie houses

there’s Clint Eastwood placing 
a bridle on his horse"

Now the poem embarks fully on Frankie's signature mix of the surreal with humour and more than a dash of the absurd, as "I" seeks guidance of Clint Eastwood and is dispatched to slay the required ox with a Colt while "time is running out."

Yet however slantwise, Emily Dickinson's stricture was that we must "tell all the truth" – and there is truth here. As readers, we experience it in that sense of the dream mission to connect with a loved one (in this case by providing soup) – a mission that can never, however close we may come, quite be fulfilled – that often follows a death. This intermingled sense of desire with impossibility is conveyed through: 

"you see light leak around the edges 
the way you might if trussed up 
in a haybarn, your eyes fixed 
towards the door..."

and the concluding regret, however whimsical, of:

"you do what you can – hunger
merits our grief

if only you’d paid attention
at the movies, if only you’d learned

how to shoot those ox"

If only we had, and could, indeed.
I would like to thank Frankie for allowing me to feature both Hour glass and at night my dead mother appears wanting soup with you today and hope you enjoy reading the poems as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you.

Frankie McMillan is the author of The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories, and a poetry collection, Dressing for the Cannibals. In 2005 she was awarded the Creative NZ Todd Bursary. In 2008 and 2009 her work was selected for the Best NZ Fiction anthologies. Other awards include winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Competition (2009) and the NZ National Flash Fiction award (2013). In 2014 she held an Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University. Her next book of poetry, There Are No Horses in Heaven is to be published by CUP in March, 2015.

Today's editor, Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet and interviewer whose work has been published, broadcast and anthologized in New Zealand and internationally. Her first novel, Thornspell, was published to critical praise in 2008, and her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Helen's fourth novel, Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Series, Book Three) is forthcoming in January 2016. She posts regularly on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and is also active on Twitter: @helenl0we

In addition to today's feature be sure to check out the wonderful poems featured by the other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

This Is Love by Gemma White

for P. J. Harvey

Those swish-swish hips
Buttocks swelling in suit pants
Brief exposure of elliptical breast
Guitar thrust! And thrust again!
Flick back of black, black hair
Angle-faced with red lipstick
Lopsided grin from ear-to-ear mouth
I want escape and release!
Take me white-suited goddess,
Take me over with your song!
I am sacrifice to your guitar slinging,
I want to lick its strings
You're a sacrilegious hymn, a hint of fuck-you
Cracking through my monochrome world
A whiff of something rare
Buzzing electricity through every hair
A whole 3.48 minutes of ecstasy.

from Furniture is Disappearing (IP, 2014) by Gemma White. Reprinted here with the kind permission of the poet.

Furniture is Disappearing is available from the publisher and on Amazon. Gemma also says:
I sell Furniture is Disappearing in person at local open mic nights around Melbourne (the next one is at WestWord Poetry, @ The Dancing Dog on the 26th of April, see www.facebook.com/events/857275297646951). The Facebook page for the regular Footscray poetry event is here: www.facebook.com/WestWordpoetry.

Tuesday Poem Editor: Tim Jones.

The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry, the anthology I co-edited with Tuesday Poet P.S. Cottier, had two launches in Australia in June 2014: one in Melbourne and one in Canberra. The Melbourne launch was a double launch with Gemma White's debut collection Furniture is Disappearing, which I've been reading and enjoying over the past few weeks.

There are many poems I like in this collection, but I think my favourite is "This Is Love" - indeed, I love the way it captures P. J. Harvey's swagger, power, sexuality and energy, both in general and in the titular song:

Gemma White's short, stabbing lines perfectly mirror the aggression of P. J.'s playing style. The poem pops (and rocks) as much as the song.

Gemma White lives in Melbourne, Australia. She is a poet, artist and musician.

Her poetry has appeared in The Age, Voiceworks, page seventeen, Visible Ink, The Green Fuse, Unusual Work, foam:e, Verity La, Award Winning Australian Writing 2011 and Best Australian Poems 2013.

This week's editor is Tim Jones, whose own recent books include poetry collection Men Briefly Explained (IP, 2011) and short story collection Transported (Random House, 2008).

With Mark Pirie, he co-edited Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand (IP, 2009), and with P.S. Cottier, he co-edited The Stars Like Sand: Speculative Australian Poetry (IP, 2014).

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A lyrebird by Michael Farrell

A lyrebird

Swift-footed it stops behind a mountain ash.
All genres are destroyed at last.
History, mistakes, swallowed up in a nominal grub.
The slow wild alcoholics of the nineteenth dare make no reply.
I tip my beak to the sky.
A nest-building lament starts up.
It's humans taking up too much room.
Swift-footed it stops behind a mountain ash.
The enclosed imagination buys a hunting gun.
All genres are destroyed at last.
Anthems say they love us too many times removed.
History, mistakes, swallowed up in a nominal grub.
Is this ground good ground?
The slow wild alcoholics of the nineteenth dare make no reply.
The tide's reach is projectile: look what lands in the bush.
I tip my beak to the sky.
Inside a person's mind the sandwich crack of axe, and moaning saw.
The nest-building lament starts up.
Somehow we're used by the earth's language.
A car rolled here like a sacked politician's speech.
Swift-footed it stops behind a mountain ash.
Cars learn ethics through becoming nests.
Like a camel that would take what's in my head!
All genres are destroyed at last.
A rhyme's a moral that becomes a fence; a fallen down fence is a joy forever.
The knitters are pulling the grass out by the roots.
History, mistakes, swallowed up in a nominal grub.
Patterns appear: I have no ears.
In the scanty shanty pleasure of meeting.
The slow wild alcoholics of the nineteenth dare make no reply.
The leaves full of memories of loves long lost, crumble and fade like ornaments.
Industry needs no commentary.
I tip my beak to the sky.

I came upon this poem in The Best Australian Poems of 2014. I always look forward to seeing what's happening with that series. But I have rarely been so gobsmacked as I was by this poem by Michael Farrell.
For a kick off, it is so modern! (and yet it looks back.)
And then it is so blatant with the way it throws the metaphor of poet as lyrebird into the air.
Next it toys with pantoum.
Fourth, it displays an intimate empathy with the male lyrebird (or an act of the imagination which is almost beyond imagining.)
(I could go on and on and on - but I won't, because the poem builds its own danceground and speaks for itself.)

Michael Farrell is the poet to watch here in Australia. His technical accomplishment leaves me weak at the knees. His cheek (which approaches chutzpah) is so very Australian. Again and again in recent years I have read poems of his that drive a stake into the red heart of Australia. He is a poet and a half!

Michael Farrel has lived and worked in Bombala, Canberra and Melbourne. 'A lyrebird' was written during a residency at the University of New South Wales, Canberra (ADFA) in 2013. His latest books and chapbooks are open sesame (Giramondo, 2012), same! same! same! same! (sus, 2014), and the thorn with the boy in its side (Oystercatcher, 2014).

Jennifer Compton lives in Melbourne and is a poet and playwright who also writes prose. Her most recent book is Now You Shall Know just out from Five Islands Press.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

“Container” by Fiona Apple

I was screaming into the canyon
At the moment of my death.
The echo I created
Outlasted my last breath.

My voice it made an avalanche
And buried a man I never knew.
And when he died his widowed bride
Met your daddy and they made you.

I have only one thing to do and that's
To be the wave that I am and then
Sink back into the ocean.

Sink back into the o-
Sink back into the ocean.
Sink back into the o-
Sink back into the ocean.


This week's Editor: Zireaux

“Speak, speak, I charge thee, speak" — this is Horatio, in Hamlet, imploring the ghost of Hamlet’s father not just to make some noise, to simply howl or to growl say (which would be astonishing enough), but rather to speak, to say something intelligible. More than any apparition, it's words that bring a ghost to life.

And yet, Hamlet’s father aside, they rarely make good orators, these clumsy, techno-challenged spectres and their speech impediments; rapping on tables, sending codes through flashlights and will-'o-the-wisps, playing alphabet games on ouija boards, making reverse recordings of their glossolalia on old LPs. But how else should it be? Speaking in tongues, or through mediums, offers a solution for those without tongues or bodies of their own. Divested of form, of density, what larynx can produce a voice? What brain suggests a syntax to the whims of the dead?

With her song “Container,” Fiona Apple produces the voice of a ghost — brilliantly, beautifully, but most importantly, poetically. Through lyrics, through words. It’s a wave, that voice. It rises and recedes, rages and calms. Apple starts with a tremor in her tone. Note the metrical structure here, the eerie, plaintive trimeter of the first quatrain — with its trochaic howling words, “SCREAMINGing,” “CANyon,” “MOment.” Then she belts the “echo” like no other singer, in no other song. The line becomes pure sound, pure mantra. The avalanche, meanwhile, seems completely out of place for an ocean-born ghost, but that’s the thing: This is a ghost voice. A vibration. It ripples and tsunamis through space, from sea to shining snow-top. There’s a oneness here, between language and sound, poet and phantom.

The first quatrain swells and solidifies into the event-driven physicality of the second, which is sturdy iambic tetrameter, re-enforced with the “died”/“bride” girders of internal rhyme. Note the echo-effect of line five, with its ricocheting ictus in the canyon of iambs — my VOICE, it MADE, an AVaLANCH. Apple bounces back and forth. The literary device here — “My voice, it made,” “my abc, it xyz’d” — is called dislocation,* whereby the pronoun emphasises the noun by echoing it.

And it’s the echo, the ripple, the great wave of sound that becomes physical and powerful; that causes the avalanche, that causes the death of a stranger and a child to be born. The reference to “daddy” is intimate, child-friendly.

“Containers,” I should point out, is the opening theme song of a TV series called “The Affair,” which just finished its first season on Showtime. The song lends the show a haunting artistic key with which “The Affair” never quite harmonises. Not for lack of trying. One of the show’s two main characters, Alison, insists that her dead son is still present in the world. “He’s watching us,” she says. “He’s caring for us every day.” If this is true — and at one point, yes, as Alison attempts to drown herself in the ocean, we hear the voice of a little boy shouting from the shore — if true, it’s definitely not something we want a main character to tell us.

Rather, we need to hear the ghost-voice for ourselves — which brings us back to Apple’s poem. We’re now at the third stanza, a tercet, in which the first two lines, still holding the dimensions of the previous stanza, start to tremble and collapse:

I have only one thing to do and that's
To be the wave that I am and then

This is pure abstraction, pure searching, wavy, echolocation. It’s barely English. The five-lettered “thing” is the longest of the 18 words that flail about and say nothing. Beautiful, poetic ghost-speak. There’s a very soft, ghostly, syllabic rhyme in the enjambment — “and that’s” / “and then” — which Apple deftly stresses through the rhythm and tone of her voice, before the whole thing slams into the spondee of the original trimeter: “SINK BACK into the Ocean.” From the howling trochees of “SCREAMing,” “MOment,” “CANyon” we end with another, softer, more surrendering and mournful one: “Ocean.”

One of the most beautiful themes in poetry (which circles just beyond the black hole tug of a trope) is that of the passively almighty. The powerfully weak. The noisy unnoticed. A kind of stop-motion perspective in which things that appear silent and still and locked in eternity — the ocean, the dead, the ancient rocks of Australia (see that greatest of ghost stories, Picnic at Hanging Rock) — can rise up, knock us over, overwhelm our world with their substance. Apple’s poem contains that kind of substance. It dislocates our sense of control over our lives; and makes us stop and listen in wonder.


This week's editor, Zireaux, lives in Canberra, Australia. His most recent novel, A Charlatan's Orbit, is available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon. (If you can't afford the Kindle version, contact Zireaux.com, mention "Tuesday Poem," and you'll receive a free gift version). His poetry, commentary, stories, novels and other writings are available at Immortalmuse.com.

* Dupriez, B. and Halsall, A.W., A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradus, A-Z, University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division, October 30, 1991; and later referenced in Huddleston, R. and Pullum G,, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Cambridge University Press, April 15, 2002.