Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Money" by Philip Larkin

Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
    ‘Why do you let me lie here wastefully?

I am all you never had of goods and sex.

    You could get them still by writing a few cheques.’

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:  

    They certainly don’t keep it upstairs.

By now they’ve a second house and car and wife:

    Clearly money has something to do with life

—In fact, they’ve a lot in common, if you enquire:

    You can’t put off being young until you retire,

And however you bank your screw, the money you save

    Won’t in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down

    From long french windows at a provincial town,  

The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad

    In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

by Philip Larkin

With the New Zealand Budget announcement looming, this seemed a very appropriate poem to post.

For more information about the poet, Philip Larkin, see:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Savage Spring"

comin’ down like a machine gun on the brothers.
Ain’t no “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, baby!
Martin Luther King, Rodney King,
keep beatin’ on the black man for any old thing.
Lotta anger down here in South Central LA.
Keep worryin’, Hollywood, we’re comin’ your way.
Spike Lee comin’ atcha, Ice T comin’ atcha.
George Bush keeps talkin’ ‘bout Laura Norder.
Who she? She a waitress?
Gimme fries with that order.

news ‘copter, news ‘copter,
hangin’ there in judgement like the finger of God.
Yeah, Joshua fought the battle of Jericho.
You built the walls, baby, now we’re gonna blow.
Picture-takin’ while we fry white bacon,
hoverin’ out of reach like a kid at the zoo
showin’ white America the black bugaboo.
Film at eleven, CNN, Alabama,
but Rodney King’s assailants ain’t sittin’ in the slammer.
WelI, Miss Daisy, I don’t know what happen.
Uncle Tom Bradley, get back to your cabin!

Chutta- chutta-chutta-chutta,
eye in the sky got no tears for the sisters.
Laura Norder sleeps in the white man’s bed.
Black children die while she’s givin’ him head.
It ain’t no John Wayne, rootin’ and tootin’,
Hispanic child killed in a drive-by shootin’.
Crack money rules ‘cause there ain’t no jobs.
It’s enough to make even Laura Norder break down.
American Dream is a nightmare in this town.
Lotta anger down here, just needs a spark to ignite it.
Martin Luther King, Rodney King,
whitey look in horror at the savage spring.

The recent story in the international media of the murder by "rough riding" of the young black man, Freddie Grey:

reminded me that race issues and the perception of African-Americans has not changed much since the days of the civil rights movement. It also reminded me of the Rodney King case in 1992 which sparked the LA riots.

There is a litany of names of young black men in America  who have been, essentially, seriously assaulted or even murdered by racist cops or vigilantes: Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Cameron Tillman, Vonderrit Myers Jr., Laquan McDonald, Qusean Whitten...the list goes on, saddeningly.

I wrote the poem above in 1992 after watching news footage of the LA riots. I don't condone rioting, but you could see how the African-Americans in South Central Los Angeles were angered to the point of uncontainable rage. You just sensed that they faced incidents of racist attitude almost daily and the small trickles of everyday indignation built up into a torrent of anger that sought an outpouring. The media's coverage itself was laced with subtle and not-so-subtle racist viewpoints.

These riots will continue as longer as these racist murders continue by those who are supposedly in authority, on the side of law.

As a coda, I was a 35-year-old middle-class white guy living in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia when I wrote this poem. What did I know about the reality of being black and living in South Central LA? Nothing! Naturally, I was concerned that writing this poem in a rap style might not be perceived as the empathetic viewpoint it was intended to be. But I received a blessing in a most unusual way. One night while I was performing this poem to a white Australian audience in an inner-city Perth pub, unbeknown to me, two African-American sailors from a visiting US naval ship walked into the bar. Later, when I went to the bar they congratulated me on my poem and for "tellin' it like it is". I was elated. I felt validated that I had done the right thing, that my instinct was a good one.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "The Brook" by Laxmi Prasad Devkota

Down lines of pine and eglantine
Serpentine in my falling
I touch the woodbines and the vines
Mellifluously calling.

Calling on links of ripply winks
To ocean anemone
On silver kinks that pass through chinks
Of mountain chalcedony.

On stones of silver tones I ring
Make music of the mountain
Intonating notations fine
To make his sonant fountains.

I linger as a singer
Gingerly in my saree
Of silver threads and leap adown
Singing my charivari.

I wobble on my ripples
In which the sunbeams dabble
I double as I babble on
And on the pebbles babble.

I rally all my ripples
And make a sparkling sally
And dally down to daffodils
Into a dappled valley.

My silver bells a-jingle
Mingle upon the shingles
I jangle as a wrangle on
Illuming little ingles.

I titter as I glitter
Beneath the blossom's twitter
I fritter fairy jewels
Borne on my silver litter.

I murmur, murmur merrily
A marine mermaid funning
Remembering my marine home
By airy rumours running.

By pleasant haunts of pheasants
And rainbow wings aflutter;
By peewit-haunted woodlands
I spurt, I race, I sputter.

I wander, wander as I run
Meandering in meshes
I squander all my music
Philandering my cresses.

I wield my water chisel
Rounding the angled boulder;
And carve my fretted bank curves
Singing a fairy moulder.

On earth's incline I wind and twine
Upon her pull I scurry;
To find her random wrinkles
Romances in my hurry.

Liquidly skidding scud I down
Love's path divinely fretted
The sunshine on the tears of life
In lovely lays all netted.

I purl and whirl and twirl my kinks
A girl in woodlands merry
I swirl, my silver scarves unfurl,
Curl fairy pearls to ferry.

By kindling briar blooms I flow
Spindling on brindled gravel
I scintillate on diamonds
As down the thorps I travel.

I murmur, murmur, murmur on,
Remembering my ocean;
For life is flow, the reaching slow,
But quick is quick emotion.

by Laxmi Prasad Devkota

For more about the Nepali poet, Laxmi Prasad Devkota, see:

I'm posting this poem by, arguably, Nepal's greatest poet to honour the memory of all those who have lost their lives in the recent earthquake in Nepal. May they rest in peace.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Poem: "Dulce Et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
and towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
but limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
but someone still was yelling out and stumbling
and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
as under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
behind the wagon that we flung him in,
and watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
his hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
- my friend, you would not tell with such high zest
to children ardent for some desperate glory,
the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
pro patria mori.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Poem: "Anthem for Doomed Youth " by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

      Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?

      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

      The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

by Wilfred Owen

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Poem: "Every Day" by Ingeborg Bachmann

War is no longer declared,
only continued. The monstrous
has become everyday. The hero
stays away from battle. The weak
have gone to the front.
The uniform of the day is patience,
its medal the pitiful star of hope above the heart.

The medal is awarded
when nothing more happens,
when the artillery falls silent,
when the enemy has grown invisible
and the shadow of eternal armament
covers the sky.

It is awarded
for desertion of the flag,
for bravery in the face of friends,
for the betrayal of unworthy secrets
and the disregard
of every command.

by Ingeborg Bachmann

For more on the Austrian poet, Ingeborg Bachmann, see:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Where are the War Poets?" by Cecil Day-Lewis

They who in folly or mere greed
Enslaved religion, markets, laws,
Borrow our language now and bid
Us to speak up in freedom’s cause.

It is the logic of our times,
No subject for immortal verse –
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse.

by Cecil Day-Lewis

I'll make no personal comment on this poem. I believe it speaks for itself.

For more information about the poet, Cecil Day-Lewis, see: