RSS

Category Archives: poets and poetry

Sunday Floating Life photo 33 AND Friday poem 18

Is that confusing enough for you?

Peter Skrzynecki’s “Immigrants at Central Station, 1951” was the subject of my tuition session yesterday. The coachee is doing the ESL course in English. On my way I took some pictures of Central from the perspective of the speaker in the poem – as I read it anyway. (We read the poem carefully so he could see why I had chosen my angles.) Of course it isn’t 1951 any more, but I do vividly remember migrant camps, and Central Station in the 1950s. What follows the poem is a sketch commentary around that HSC topic de jour — “Belonging”.

CIMG3512

Immigrants at Central Station, 1951

It was sad to hear
The train’s whistle this morning
At the railway station.
All night it had rained.
The air was crowded
With a dampness that slowly
Sank into our thoughts –
But we ate it all:
The silence, the cold, the benevolence
Of empty streets.

Time waited anxiously with us
Behind upturned collars
And space hemmed us
Against each other
Like cattle bought for slaughter.

Families stood
With blankets and packed cases –
Keeping children by their sides,
Watching pigeons
That watched them.

But it was sad to hear
The train’s whistle so suddenly –
To the right of our shoulders
Like a word of command.
The signal at the platform’s end
Turned red and dropped
Like a guillotine –
Cutting us off from the space of eyesight

While time ran ahead
Along glistening tracks of steel.

Peter Skrzynecki’s “Immigrants at Central Station” describes a family who with other families has just arrived in Sydney from a migrant camp in western NSW. The poem is about the poet’s own family. As well as describing the scene, the poet tells us a lot about their feeling of not belonging in this new place and their fears about the future.

Their journey to Sydney had been through a night of rain, cutting them off from the landscape they were passing through, making them feel uncomfortable, and echoing their feelings

The air was crowded

With a dampness that slowly

Sank into our thoughts –

The families each huddle together not just for warmth but also because the only sense of belonging they have left is to the family and their few possessions represented by their luggage. In this city whose cold “benevolence” has controlled their lives for years now they feel anxious and lonely. They do not know anyone in those “empty streets”. They don’t even really know where they are going next, or what it will be like when they get there. They feel like “cattle bought for slaughter” or people about to face the guillotine. They have had very little choice in life up to now. But there is nothing they can do except to accept what they are given.

But we ate it all:

The silence, the cold, the benevolence

Of empty streets.

The whistle of the departing train which had left them at Central is a “sad” sound – the poet uses the word twice. The tracks back to where they came from are also tracks into their future. Like the steel of a guillotine blade the tracks are “glistening tracks of steel”. It could be though that the last image offers a little hope, as “glistening” does suggest light.

CIMG3514a

— Photos – Neil Whitfield 1 November 2009

 

Tags: ,

Friday poem 17: Judith Wright

dust14

Australia 1970

Die, wild country, like the eaglehawk,
dangerous till the last breath’s gone,
clawing and striking. Die
cursing your captor through a raging eye.

Die like the tiger snake
that hisses such pure hatred from its pain
as fills the killer’s dreams
with fear like suicide’s invading stain.

Suffer, wild country, like the ironwood
that gaps the dozer-blade.
I see your living soil ebb with the tree
to naked poverty.

Die like the soldier-ant
mindless and unfaithful to your million years.
Though we corrupt you with our torturing mind,
stay obstinate; stay blind.

For we are conquerors and self-poisoners
more than scorpion or snake
and dying of the venoms that we make
even while you die of us.

I praise the scoring drought, the flying dust,
the drying creek, the furious animal,
that they oppose us still;
that we are ruined by the thing we kill.

Photo by Graeme Greenwood

 

Tags: ,

Friday poem 16: W B Yeats “When you are old and grey…”

A lovely classic, but also a classic put-down in its way.

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on September 11, 2009 in Irish, poets and poetry

 

Tags: ,

Friday poem 15 & For the fifty million dead — 2: W H Auden

It has to be at this time seventy years later: W H Auden’sSeptember 1 1939”.

Auden and Isherwood sailed to New York in January 1939, entering on temporary visas. Their departure from Britain was later seen by many there as a betrayal and Auden’s reputation suffered. In April 1939 Isherwood moved to California, and he and Auden saw each other only intermittently in later years. Around this time, Auden met the poet Chester Kallman, who became his lover for the next two years (Auden described their relation as a "marriage" that began with a cross-country "honeymoon" journey). In 1941 Kallman ended their sexual relations because he could not accept Auden’s insistence on a mutual faithful relationship, but he and Auden remained companions for the rest of Auden’s life, sharing houses and apartments from 1953 until Auden’s death. Auden dedicated both editions of his collected poetry (1945/50 and 1966) to Isherwood and Kallman.

Here are the first and last three stanzas:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
***
From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 4, 2009 in British, Europe, events, poets and poetry, writers

 

Tags: ,

Friday poem 14: not really a poem!

But it could be.

1705 017In Redfern Park

In the latest South Sydney Herald Adrian Spry contributes this on the back page.

Utopian Dream

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan…

On a drear early morning, mid-year and hand-numbing cold. Greyness seems juxtaposed upon grey. The morning mist shrouds the Waterloo towers, making them seem ceilingless. They seem to climb heavenward forever.

Walking – walking downhill. My normally constant chatter with my children is missing. We are all lost in our own thoughts. Coming to terms with the start of a new week. The start of a new day. The grind of everyday life.

Crack!! My eyes snap to the right! What was that? A pistol shot? Ahhh…

Comprehension dawns as my eyes give credence to my mind’s film. I take in the scene.

Martial artists on the basketball court. The “crack” is the snapping of fans in unison as the three artists perform the tai-chi Kata or dance. Brightly coloured as oriental fans are. Exotic. Ancient. As we watch we seem to lighten. Awaken.

And now I notice the green of the grass. The towers and buildings. I see the gardens bright. I sense all this world around me.

Ahh yes… with smiles we three carry on. As we bend the corner into Cooper Street my daughter laughs and skips. My son smiles on. My daughter speaks. “Dad, those Chinese people look great.” They do. Yes. The rhythm of life.

God is great.

 

Tags: ,

Friday poem 13: Emily Dickinson

1406 010 

There’s a certain slant of light

There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
‘Tis the seal, despair, —
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ’tis like the distance
On the look of death.

I found this on The Englewood Review of Books. Now there is an interesting site. I commend it to anyone who thinks they know what US Christianity is all about. Go there and have your stereotypes challenged.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 26, 2009 in America, poets and poetry, religion, USA, writers

 

Tags:

June review catch-up 3 — “Sylvia” (2004)

sylvia

star30 star30star30star30star30a  I watched this partly out of HSC-related duty, but also out of interest. I have to say I was very impressed by its accuracy and fairness. The lead review (at the moment) on IMDb pretty much sums up my reaction.

In 1998, "Hilary and Jackie" explored alleged episodes in the short life of cellist Jacqueline Du Pre and her pianist, now also conductor, husband, Daniel Barenboim. Despite very very good acting the film was largely a descent into the basement of scurrilous storytelling by relatives of the dead musician. Whatever the truth of the claim that she bedded her sister’s husband, the movie said nothing about the couple’s meteorically brilliant early careers. It was slanted voyeurism writ large.

Director Christine Wells has taken a very different and insightful tack in exploring the life of poet Sylvia Plath and her marriage to Ted Hughes, a poet with laurels garnered while Ms. Plath was still starting up a not very steady ladder to recognition.

Plath, an American, met Hughes in England. A short courtship was followed by marriage and then two children. The relationship was tumultuous and eventually it foundered because of Sylvia’s underlying emotional instability followed by her husband’s desertion to another woman…

Wells takes a sympathetic view of Ted and Sylvia, not joining in the political debate over feminism and Sylvia’s supposed maltreatment by Ted. Sylvia in this film is brilliant but also terribly brittle and her inner demons are not caused by a brutish or callous husband. As Platrow portrays her, I believe accurately, Sylvia was seriously and chronically depressed with life events worsening but in no regard initiating a downward spiral. Today she would probably thrive and be both prolific as a poet and happy as a person if successfully maintained on an effective anti-depressant.

Ted, played by Daniel Craig, is a bit transparent – loving but somewhat distanced by his own quest for fame. He hectors Sylvia to write more, annoyed that she bakes instead of composing verse while on a seaside vacation. He’s supportive but also blind to the deepening reality that he is dealing with a woman who needs help, not critical comments about non-productivity.

The supporting cast is fine but this is Paltrow and Craig’s film. She has a strong affinity for England and its culture (I believe she has moved there) and she gives the role deep conviction and understanding. It happens that she somewhat resembles Sylvia but the true recognition is internal and intellectual. And emotional, let’s not omit that…

"Sylvia" sets the record straight as Paltrow acts the part of a woman – mother as well as poet – who slowly loses control of her life while her husband reacts first with confusion and later with the self-protective armor of withdrawal.

Hughes went on to publish many fine poems and he became poet laureate of England, a post he definitely wanted and enjoyed (Hughes was one of the very few modern and relatively young intellectuals who was a convinced monarchist).

Not long before succumbing to cancer, Hughes published "Birthday Letters," an attempt to show through years of verse the nature of his relationship with Sylvia. Whether viewed as an apologia or a last record – and chance – to give his side, it’s an impressive work. And "Ariel’s Gift" by Erica Wagner is must reading for those who want more than a film and sometimes potted articles can provide. It analyzes the poets’ relationship through the prism of Hughes’s writings, most unpublished before "Birthday Letters." A recent book, "Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, Portrait of a Marriage," by Diane Middlebrook, is also recommended…

The movie is M15+ in Australia.

 
 

Shakespeare Hotel: Rabbit and Sirdan

That is the company at Sunday Lunch; the menu you may divine from the plates. As generous a $10 worth as you could hope for…

CIMG2934

Ran into Richard Allen and Karen Pearlman later at the new Surry Hills Library. And their two children! Richard was one of the editors of Neos.

 
Comments Off on Shakespeare Hotel: Rabbit and Sirdan

Posted by on June 21, 2009 in Australia, friends, local, personal, poets and poetry, reminiscences, reminiscing, Sirdan, Sunday lunch, Surry Hills

 

Friday poem # 12 – Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

Some treasures!

A bit different today! The videos I found for a coachee studying Ted Hughes, Birthday Letters. Inevitably this involves a study of Sylvia Plath.

I read "Daddy" aloud to him, mentioning that years ago I had heard a recording of Sylvia Plath reading "Daddy". I said I would try to capture what I remembered of the way she had read it. He moved from incomprehension to "Wow!", but the wow factor is much greater in her reading, the first video above.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on May 29, 2009 in America, British, poets and poetry

 

Tags: ,

Roads taken and not taken

Off shortly to my fortnightly appointment with Dr C.

The title of course refers to the much loved Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken”.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

There’s an interesting discussion of this deceptively simple poem here: Robert Frost’s Tricky Poem.

Way back when (last century) when I studied History II at Sydney University with classmate Philip Ruddock I wrote a not very good essay on Edward Gibbon. I was trying to kill two birds with one stone, as Gibbon was also set for study in English. (Even the lecturer never finished The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.) The essay topic was odd too, being in French! Translated it meant something like: “What is a great life? A dream of youth carried out in maturity” – Discuss in relation to Gibbon’s ‘Autobiography’.

My dream of youth was to be a scientist. By youth I mean about age seven when, I am told, on our driving past the University – there was only one in Sydney then – I asserted that one day I would go there. That I accomplished at 16, the first in the family to do so. But Science didn’t figure by then. I also once considered journalism, but seem to have channelled that into blogging much later on, though I did write articles in English teacher publications and did a spot of literary editing. Still, it’s nice that now I am an occasional cub reporter for The South Sydney Herald. (My piece has been accepted, by the way. Dorothy was nice about it: “Just looked at your write-up of the Human Rights event – very professional! As one would expect from a person like you.” You’ll see it in June.)

I also was offered Law – twice: once when I left school, and once when I had a year out being an Insurance clerk for the MLC. But mostly my career turned out to be teaching English and History, and latterly ESL. (My other not much used teaching subject was Latin.) And an up and down career it has been, with a number of byways. Nonetheless it has had its satisfactions.

But who can’t sympathise with the ambiguity of that last stanza by Robert Frost?

 

Friday poem #11 – D H Lawrence

This is prompted by a recent post from Thomas. We’ve all felt this way at times. Lawrence (of Lady Chatterley’s Lover fame) was not a teacher for long.

Last Lesson of the Afternoon

When will the bell ring, and end this weariness?

How long have they tugged the leash, and strained apart,

My pack of unruly hounds! I cannot start

Them again on a quarry of knowledge they hate to hunt,

I can haul them and urge them no more.

*

No longer now can I endure the brunt

Of the books that lie out on the desks; a full threescore

Of several insults of blotted pages, and scrawl

Of slovenly work that they have offered me.

I am sick, and what on earth is the good of it all?

What good to them or me, I cannot see!

*

                         So, shall I take

My last dear fuel of life to heap on my soul

And kindle my will to a flame that shall consume

Their dross of indifference; and take the toll

Of their insults in punishment? – I will not! –

*

I will not waste my soul and my strength for this.

What do I care for all that they do amiss!

What is the point of this teaching of mine, and of this

Learning of theirs? It all goes down the same abyss.

*

What does it matter to me, if they can write

A description of a dog, or if they can’t?

What is the point? To us both, it is all my aunt!

And yet I’m supposed to care, with all my might.

*

I do not, and will not; they won’t and they don’t; and that’s all!

I shall keep my strength for myself; they can keep theirs as well.

Why should we beat our heads against the wall

Of each other? I shall sit and wait for the bell.

 
Comments Off on Friday poem #11 – D H Lawrence

Posted by on May 15, 2009 in British, education, poets and poetry, teaching

 

Tags: ,

Perhaps I’ll write another Kubla Khan…

We all know the story…

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

… and Coleridge’s explanation:

In the summer of the year 1797, the Author, then in ill health, had retired to a lonely farm-house between Porlock and Linton, on the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire. In consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne had been prescribed, from the effects of which he fell asleep in his chair at the moment that he was reading the following sentence, or words of the same substance, in Purchas’s Pilgrimage: “Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto. And thus ten miles of fertile ground were inclosed with a wall.” The Author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which time he has the most vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines; if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort. On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter!

Like many readers I really think the poem is complete, despite what Coleridge said. I can’t think of a better ending than:

…I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Courtesy of citalopram my dreams continue to be quite extraordinary. They often involve friends, acquaintances and family members, with little regard for chronology however, as the dead and living happily coexist sometimes in real settings, sometimes in composite or shifting settings. Like Emily on the post I linked to there I often find them rather enjoyable in their way. Emily writes:

The dreams are never scary, generally just about everyday stuff…. sometimes i find it quite enjoyable as i remember the dreams from the night before through out the day!

Only occasionally do I remember them throughout the day. One example is here.

 
Comments Off on Perhaps I’ll write another Kubla Khan…

Posted by on May 9, 2009 in health, personal, poets and poetry, weirdness

 

Friday poem #10 – Elizabeth Bishop 1911-1979

This US poet is much admired by Australian poets like Robert Gray.

Suicide of a Moderate Dictator

by Elizabeth Bishop

This is a day when truths will out, perhaps;
leak from the dangling telephone earphones
sapping the festooned switchboards’ strength;
fall from the windows, blow from off the sills,
—the vague, slight unremarkable contents
of emptying ash-trays; rub off on our fingers
like ink from the un-proof-read newspapers,
crocking the way the unfocused photographs
of crooked faces do that soil our coats,
our tropical-weight coats, like slapped-at moths.

Today’s a day when those who work
are idling. Those who played must work
and hurry, too, to get it done,
with little dignity or none.
The newspapers are sold; the kiosk shutters
crash down. But anyway, in the night
the headlines wrote themselves, see, on the streets
and sidewalks everywhere; a sediment’s splashed
even to the first floors of apartment houses.

This is a day that’s beautiful as well,
warm and clear. At seven o’clock I saw
the dogs being walked along the famous beach
as usual, in a shiny gray-green dawn,
leaving their paw prints draining in the wet.
The line of breakers was steady and the pinkish,
segmented rainbow steadily hung above it.
At eight, two little boys were flying kites.

 
Comments Off on Friday poem #10 – Elizabeth Bishop 1911-1979

Posted by on May 1, 2009 in America, poets and poetry, USA

 

Tags: ,

Friday poem #9: Isaac Rosenberg 1890-1918

PAIU1989_140_01_1 Break of Day in the Trenches

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver — what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe —
Just a little white with the dust.

June 1916

Photo from Australian War Memorial Canberra.

 
Comments Off on Friday poem #9: Isaac Rosenberg 1890-1918

Posted by on April 24, 2009 in British, poets and poetry

 

Tags: ,