Saturday, July 2, 2016

Poem for the Australian General Election: "The Track Less Thrashed" by Alain Frost

Two tracks leading nowhere in the bush
Miles from anywhere, I rolled the window
Down and had a look up the first one, 
Considered the position briefly and 
Said I preferred the other one. My father
Looked up from his form guide and asked me why, 
I said because it's not this one. You talk
To him, mother, he said. I can't deal
With him, the boy's a bloody idiot.
There's no need for language said my mother. 

While the matter was discussed I climbed
A very large redgum out over the river
And in a sense I never quite came down. 
The great thing about being up a tree
Is that you're not going along a track. 

 by Alain Frost

Don't look for this poet on Wikipedia because I suspect it is one of the many parodic (is that a word? If not, I just coined it) aliases of the humourist, John Clarke, New Zealand-born, but resident in Australia for several decades now.

This poem was originally published in The Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday Poem: "House of the Forgotten" by Andrew M. Bell


Like time travellers,
we arrived at the boarding house,
rare in our youth and togetherness.
Behind the brave smile
of the white, wooden facade
the men lived like mementoes
in sad, concrete shoeboxes.

It was the nadir of winter
and shadows seeped through the courtyard,
squeezing old lungs with icy fingers
until they wheezed like defective accordions.
In the drab lounge room
television held out its flickering promises to them
as they sat on musty furniture in mustier suits.
The kerosene heater could not dispel
the coldness of their hope.

At six o’clock, we assembled
in the ’50s functional ugliness dining room
where they used the arctic cutlery
to cut each other down to size.
The car accident man whose disfigured face
was reduced to spouting clichés,
the man whose heart was devoured by the bottle,
the man who walked miles every day
but had nowhere to go,
the man whose wife had turned him out
for fear of catching his self-pity
and the friendless young man
who had never learnt to listen.

It seemed almost sinful
to look forward
to the European summer
when some of these men
would die forgotten
in the Australian winter.

In the southern winter of 1987, I was living in a small summer resort town called Mandurah which is on the coast about 72 kilometres south of Perth, Western Australia. I’d turned 30 earlier that year and my partner, Adrienne, and I had been saving hard to travel to the UK and Europe.

In my early 20s, I’d travelled extensively through Southeast and Central Asia with a friend, but neither Adrienne nor I had been to Europe. The lease on our flat expired a couple of weeks before our departure date so we checked into a local boarding house.

Places that revolve around the activities of summer seem especially dreary in winter. Somehow these men seemed to live at the periphery of the happy family image that the town’s authorities liked to cultivate. Perhaps they were cruel to each other because life had been cruel to them.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Special Poem for Brexit: "The Second Coming" by W. B. Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst  
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.  
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out  
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert  
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,  
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,  
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it  
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.  
The darkness drops again; but now I know  
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,  
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,  
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? 

by W. B. Yeats

For more information about the poet, William Butler Yeats, see:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tuesday Poem: "A Contribution to Statistics" by Wisława Szymborska

Out of a hundred people

those who always know better

— fifty-two

doubting every step

— nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand

if it doesn’t take too long

— as high as forty-nine,

always good

because they can’t be otherwise

— four, well maybe five,

able to admire without envy

— eighteen,

suffering illusions

induced by fleeting youth

— sixty, give or take a few,

not to be taken lightly

— forty and four,

living in constant fear

of someone or something

— seventy-seven,

capable of happiness

— twenty-something tops,

harmless singly, savage in crowds

— half at least,


when forced by circumstances

— better not to know

even ballpark figures,

wise after the fact

— just a couple more

than wise before it,

taking only things from life

— thirty

(I wish I were wrong),

hunched in pain,

no flashlight in the dark

— eighty-three

sooner or later,


— thirty-five, which is a lot,


and understanding

— three,

worthy of compassion

— ninety-nine,


— a hundred out of a hundred.

Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

by Wisława Szymborska
(translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak)

For more information about poet, see:

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tuesday Poem: "Depth of Field" by Anne Michaels

"The camera relieves us of the burden of memory ...
records in order to forget."       — John Berger

We've retold the stories of our lives

by the time we reach Buffalo,

sun coming up diffuse and prehistoric

over the Falls.

A white morning,

sun like paint on the windshield.

You drive, smoke, wear sunglasses.

Rochester, Camera Capital of America.

Stubbing a cigar in the lid of a film cannister,

the Kodak watchman gives directions.

The museum's a wide-angle mansion.

You search the second storey from the lawn,

mentally converting bathrooms to darkrooms.

A thousand photos later,

exhausted by second-guessing

the mind which invisibly surrounds each image,

we nap in a high school parking lot,

sun leaning low as the trees

over the roof of the warm car.

Driving home. The moon's so big and close

I draw a moustache on it and smudge the windshield.

I stick my fingers in your collar to keep you awake.

I can't remember a thing about our lives before this morning.

We left our city at night and return at night.

We buy pineapple and float quietly through the neighbourhood,

thick trees washing themselves in lush darkness,

or in the intimate light of streetlamps.

In summer the planer's heavy with smells of us,

stung with the green odour of gardens.

Heat won't leave the pavement

until night is almost over.

I've loved you all day.

We take the old familiar Intertwine Freeway,

begin the long journey towards each other

as to our home town with all its lights on.

by Anne Michaels

For more information about the poet, Anne Michaels, see:

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tuesday Poem: "Ex-Basketball Player" by John Updike

Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off

Before it has a chance to go two blocks,

At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth’s Garage

Is on the corner facing west, and there,

Most days, you'll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.

Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps—

Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,

Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.

One’s nostrils are two S’s, and his eyes

An E and O. And one is squat, without

A head at all—more of a football type.

Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.

He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46

He bucketed three hundred ninety points,

A county record still. The ball loved Flick.

I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty

In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.

He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,

Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,

As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,

But most of us remember anyway.

His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.

It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.

Off work, he hangs around Mae’s Luncheonette.

Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,

Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.

Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods

Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers

Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.

by John Updike

John Updike is probably more well-known for his novels, but he was also a poet. For more about author and poet, John Updike, see:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tuesday Poem: "Exposure" by Wilfrid Owen

Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive us . . .
Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent . . .

Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient . . .

Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,

       But nothing happens.

Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire,

Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.

Northward, incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,

Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.

       What are we doing here?

The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow . . .

We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.

Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army

Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of grey,

       But nothing happens.

Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.

Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow,

With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause, and renew,

We watch them wandering up and down the wind's nonchalance,

       But nothing happens.

Pale flakes with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces—

We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,

Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,

Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.

       —Is it that we are dying?

Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires, glozed

With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;

For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs;

Shutters and doors, all closed: on us the doors are closed,—

       We turn back to our dying.

Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;

Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.

For God's invincible spring our love is made afraid;

Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,

       For love of God seems dying.

Tonight, this frost will fasten on this mud and us,

Shrivelling many hands, and puckering foreheads crisp.

The burying-party, picks and shovels in shaking grasp,

Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice,

       But nothing happens.

by Wilfred Owen

Certain regions have experienced devastating winds of late in New Zealand, but nothing really compares to Wilfred Owen's wartime wind experience.

For more information about the poet, Wilfrid Owen, see: