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Showing posts from 2013

Is, Is not, Is, Is not, a Haiku. Is, Is not. Is.

The haiku was virtually unknown to English writing before the twentieth century. Some readers see haiku in William Blake, William Wordsworth and many others, but if they are haiku they are there by accident rather than design. It is today the most common form of English poem, unless you define free verse as anything without end rhymes. Peter Porter was the first person I know to raise complaint about there being too many haiku, his words turning into the usual ker-plop of the frog into the pond of despond. Porter’s complaint was probably based on the judgement that there is too much bad haiku circulating about, and possibly that it is too easy to produce such stuff. Porter was anything but a curmudgeon, no scrooge muttering bah humbug at haiku. His expectations for poetry were always high, even with the lowliest of forms. His own poetry, for example, is a result of the Audenish belief that the forms exist to make something new, surprising, and different. Auden himself went

Australian Love Poems 2013

This review first appeared in Eureka Street in early November: Saying we love someone can take all our courage, all our wisdom, all our foolishness, and often we don’t know how to say it. When we do get to say we love someone, sometimes we reach for the pitch known as poetry. Of all the art forms, poetry and song relay love most immediately. A book of all new work (Australian love poems 2013, edited by Mark Tredinnick. Inkerman & Blunt Publishers ISBN 978-0-9875401-0-2) shows how poetry can stretch the message to screaming point, or say it all in a few seconds. Poetry allows us to say just how silly we feel or can make of a simple admission, something sublime. Michael Sharkey asks profusely The sky that falls in children’s tales, the tide that ebbs, the moon’s Swiss cheese, Nijinsky’s dance. Stravinsky’s Flood ; what if I said you’re all of these. While Petra White forces a needful perspectiv

Purgatorio after Inferno according to Dante

Readers of The Divine Comedy who get stuck in Inferno and see this as the place where all the action happens, have a long way to go. It is a common response for a novice to conclude that Dante equals Inferno. But Inferno is a dead-end ultimately without an understanding of what happens next. Indeed, Purgatorio is the poem that helps us better appreciate what is going on in Inferno. Here are some contrasts in Dante’s presentation of the two places that help our reading of both Inferno and Purgatorio. 1.      The word ‘peregrin’ (pilgrim) first appears in the Divine Comedy in Canto 2 of Purgatorio.   For the first time in the poem we are on pilgrimage, we are on the way to learning about ourselves. Inferno was not a pilgrimage. How do we describe Inferno? An endurance test, a wakeup call, a warning, a place of no exit for its inhabitants. But an early sign that the infernal state has been escaped is the use of ‘peregrin’. It is behind us. While on pilgrimage we are not in a burni

‘Good Friday Seder at Separation Creek’ by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

This is a paper on the poem ‘Good Friday Seder at Separation Creek’ by Chris Wallace-Crabbe written for the symposium in his honour held at University College, Parkville, on Saturday the 31 st of August 2013. A shorter version of this paper was read at the symposium itself, to meet the set time limit of ten minutes. The poem was first published in the poet’s collection ‘Rungs of Time’ (Oxford University Press, 1993).   Separation Creek is a pretty inlet with its own hamlet on the Great Ocean Road halfway between Lorne and Apollo Bay. The exact reason for the name remains inconclusive, maybe something to do with the early timber industry, or something brought back from France in 1918. It is a weekender, which is why the family in this poem is down for Easter holidays. The title warns us that complexities and ironies abound, for the family plans to conduct that most ancient of Jewish familial obligations, the seder meal commemorating the Passover in Exodus, on the most hol

“What if I said you’re all of these” – Michael Sharkey

Two Sonnets Ten Talk: or, Ten to the Dozen What if I said you’re all of these “Yeah whatever can I run round the block?” A singular wonder, a soft breeze, You leave us all timeless, even the clock. So embarrassing to hear that stuff. You change the subject with questions “What’s new?” and “How do you spell ‘enough’?” Homework, piano, plus other suggestions. All’s not as it seems, while we’re on it, As you rebuff praise and cut to the chase. A week later you ask how’s the sonnet While you put a bookmark in place. “You know,” you say, “it starts (if you please) ‘What if I said you’re all of these?’” Questionnaire: Please Limit Answers to One Hundred Words What if I said you’re all of these? When did it start? When will it end? What is asked for on our knees? Where’s the safest address to send? Why are there things that words can’t say?

Bloomsday and Dear Dirty Dublin

In the New York Times this week John Williams reports: Today is Bloomsday, when readers worldwide celebrate Leopold Bloom’s Dublin wanderings on June 16, 1904, in James Joyce’s “Ulysses”. To mark the event I asked a few notable fans of Joyce’s masterwork for memories of their own Bloomsdays. The novelist Colm Toibin recalled a June 16 several years ago when he took a break from working at home in Dublin to food shop. Forgetting it was Bloomsday, he came across a group of literary celebrants outside a pub. “I had two plastic bags of groceries,” Toibin said. “When the crowd asked me who I was, I expressed puzzlement. They presumed I was masquerading as a character from the book, and were trying to think who had two bags of groceries in ‘Ulysses.’ In the end, I used a term with which Joyce might have not been familiar — I called them ‘a shower of wankers’ — and slowly made my way home and got on with my day’s work.” This is a carefully articulated position, not as it ap

Las Preguntas - History (Pablo Neruda)

Article by Philip Harvey first published in Eureka Street on May the 14th, 2013 Like many great poems, life is worked out by testing both questions and answers. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?, is itself a beautiful question, made more beautiful by the thirteen line reply that follows. A poem with all the answers is as unconvincing as a poem that has never asked any questions. We seem to find ourselves somewhere between those two extremes, which is why some poems work for us now, while others bide their time. The last poems of the Chilean Pablo Neruda are a cycle of 74 cantos called El Libro de las Preguntas , The Book of Questions . In fact, the poems consist entirely of questions, which act as much to celebrate as to query the world around us. They reveal the poet in his many moods – humourous, nostalgic, political, sentimental, metaphysical, absurd, realistic, passionate, wistful – and in just a few words reduced to the fundamentals. The unquesti

Las Preguntas – Tyrants (Pablo Neruda)

Don’t let the turkeys get you down, as the saying goes. For even the best regulated lives have to deal with difficult people and petty tyrants. Pablo Neruda himself asks, Por qué me pican las pulgas y los sargentos literarios? Why do the fleas and literary sergeants bite me? [XII] His though is a world more extensive of view than a publisher’s desk or editor’s redraft. Aquel solemne Senador que me atribuía un Castillo devoró ya con su sobrino la torta del asesinato? Has that solemn senator who dedicated a castle to me already devoured, with his nephew, the assassin’s cake? [XXVI] For this is a world on the edge, a society in 1973 where no one knows who to trust, where what you say today could be your death warrant tomorrow. Qué significa persistir en el callejón de la muerte? What does it mean to persist on the alley of death? [LXII] Adolf Hitler is not the most interesting figure in Second World War hist