Saturday, August 27, 2011

Captain Cook Fountain

A wedgetail quill,
Held quivering aloft
By a submerged black fella's hand,

Turns into the wind.

Feathers flicked leeward
At the nation's wheelhouses

Vaporise within sight of the coast.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

By the Power of Greyskull

You know, this is a little embarrassing
But last night, with the kids all at sleepovers
And the wife out of town, I,
I built a fort in the lounge.

I capsized coffee tables into a castle wall
And on the tall backs of dining chair joists
Hoist a sheet ceiling over a great hall;
Released seat cushions were jigsawed into a crazy paved floor
And a corkboard became a drawbridge door.

A sign from the ripped side of a
Cardboard box was the final touch;
Pinned to the sheets, it read:
‘No girls aloud’.

When all was done I stood wide legged proud
The King of Chateau Awesome.
Arrayed in my finest kingly armour
Of ugg boots and flannelette pyjamas,

With ceremony I entered the castle keep.
With the portcullis raised
And my head back through the castle gates,
I surveyed all my lands, of
….the plasma TV.

Where I watched the Goonies and Stand By Me and,
I don’t care, but I hid when they found the boy’s body
I drank creaming soda from the bottle and
Ate Cheezels one by one in sets of ten

I raided the shed and on my Walkman played Kiss tapes while I
Read to torchlight the Avengers and Swamp Thing and X-Men.
I even worked out how to plug the VHS into the DVD
So I could watch my collection of G Force and Masters of the Universe on TV.

I fell asleep giggly and warm, thinking of She-Ra and how I had a sword and that made me someone, and though I woke slightly sick, lips sticky with soda syrup and crusty cheese crumbs, I think I felt better than I can remember I ever have.

Anyway, I’m not sure that she’d understand, son.
So, please keep this to yourself
And don’t tell your mum.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Night is Paranoid

Sunday night is paranoid.
When the alcohol clears out
Taking the ladders but leaving all the snakes;
Unease seeping up my back in creeping shakes.

Sunday night is paranoid.
When the alcohol flees my body
Like islanders escape the volcano;
Shame down my face in lava flows.

Friday night, Friday night is short-sighted;
Friday night has twelve hours to live;
Friday night is a taser, charged;
And a lifetime of sweet static to give.

Friday night and I met briefly
As we passed outside the first club
When the lizard in my head tasted the air
With his tongue and grinned, knowing and smug.

Sunday night is paranoid.
When self-pity is jaundiced and bloodshot
And bile tastes like guilt;
Feeling in the mouth like relationships spilt.

Regret sticks like a night-club floor
And smells of sick sweet booze;
Crude sketches of memory appear uncalled
Like Saturday night tattoos.

Sunday night pins my eyes open
Imagined or remembered films running.
Friday night’s flotsam rising and rising
With nausea waves and waves coming.

Sunday night is paranoid.
Never again will I drink.
Sunday night is paranoid.
What will the rest of the week think?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A poem from the past

Three things compete for my favourite element of poetry slams: experiencing the audience's reaction to my poetry; hearing the performances of others; and talking to the fascinating people who turn up to these events. At last month's Traverse Poetry slam, I met someone I had not seen for twenty years.

It was a very nostalgic meeting, for several reasons. One of these was that my re-found friend reminded me of the period of my life when I last wrote poetry regularly (but not necessarily well). (And not to say that I write well in this period, either).

This poem was inspired by her. It makes me cringe a little now, but I did smile when I dug it out of an old notebook.

That Black Foal
(For Danyell)

Look there! That black foal that
Dances and speeds
On the fields like velvet.
Shine, dark horse,
Your sides foaming with life,
Wheeling and turning,
Chasing and breathing,
The sweet thick smell
Of mown grass in your nostrils.

So gloss her sides
So bright her eyes

I saw her glance at me,
And I swear,
She flashed white and
      From her brow
            A horn.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Comic Poet

As a special treat, here is a short set by Jamie Kilstein titled Anti-War Rant. Jamie is an American stand-up who started off as a slam poet. I was led to this video by Indiefeed Performance Poetry.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

the squat II

my chest is an abandoned church
the dusty, cobwebbed altar is my heart

my ribs are the ceiling beams bowed outwards
by the dust-star filled still pressure trapped within
the air is full of echos of the incense scent of organ moans
and the choruses of innocents
(you know, alone, I sing like ice cracking
but a river of voices makes a hymn ring
like rapids and gentle rain

I liked feeling part of a stream)

my chest is an abandoned church
in the highest corner there is a bird’s nest empty
around its precision and symmetry you can imagine
the small proud bird tending the twigs with twitching energy

his job now done, the bird is gone

my chest is an abandoned church
beneath this dense emptiness
you can just make out the parallel bruises
where the pews once knelt
the right-angled hardwood has left
but I can still see the shadows of pretty girls Sunday dressed
and feel the wooden backs worn smooth by
sweaty palms like candle wax

(now, there are no pews
but I still genuflect at the base of the nave
and always walk along rigid perpendicular lanes)

my chest is an abandoned church
there is a dandelion growing through a crack
in the knee-polished floor in the stained light of the sun
through the dirty glass see disheveled youths
lounge pensive on the stones of tombs
grave flowers in their locks
among empty gin bottles and dead cigarette butts

back inside, there is an
old school exercise book on the floor
on its cover, a crude penis in purple pen
and beneath that, in cursive red
is going to cleanse the doors?’

my chest is an abandoned church
look: the steeple rises like a hesitant fist
my totem; my family crest

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A little of Amy

Oh God of soul and RnB,

Grant me some of Amy Winehouse’s intensity

She wrote always autobiographically

The creative process not as therapy

More like deconstruction or dismantling

Lyrics like bricks removed from her foundations

Lyrics like organ donations

An itch, a scratch, peeling skin

All-night jam sessions leaving gashes and bruises

And we hungrily took it all in

Oh God of soul and RnB

Give me just a little taste of Amy Winehouse’s intensity

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Am Comic

On a recent flight I watched a documentary titled I Am Comic, directed by Jordan Brady. Through interviews with comedians such as Sarah Silverman, Tim Allen, Jeanne Garofolo and Lewis Black, the movie explores the what, how and why of stand-up.

I found a lot of parallels in the movie between stand-up and slam poetry. Similar techniques are used to develop, practice and refine material. The performers have similar motivations and similar hang-ups.

Jeff Foxworthy says that everyone has the ideas that comics use to build their material. For most people, these ideas just pass through their heads and are then lost. Comics catch these ideas, polish them and then show them to an audience. The best laughs come when the audience clicks with the idea, saying 'yeah, I thought that'.

The best performance poems are built similarly around familiar ideas in unfamiliar settings. Poets know when they have 'clicked' with an audience, although in this case it is not always humourous.

Roseanne Barr talks of the greatest jokes being a mix of the profane and the funny. Sarah Silverman finds she gets the best laughs when something is 'funnier than it is heartbreaking, and it is heartbreaking'. When we, as an audience, develop a strong emotional response to something it tends to cross emotions: we are just as likely to weep as we are to laugh. Some of the best performances straddle these lines, mixing humour with sadness and shock. This applies to poetry just as it does to comedy.

The narrator of the movie is Rich Shydner. A successful stand-up from the 80s and 90s, he is made out to be past his prime. Part of the movie shows Rich getting the itch to perform again, as he sees other comedians on stage. He eventually tries some new material at an open mic, to mixed responses.

The movie finishes with the news that Rich has gone back to performing. As a result, he is now off the anti-depressants he had to take when he first gave up stand-up.

Performance as an addiction is something I can relate to.

If you get a chance, see this movie. I really enjoyed it and I think it tells us about more than just comedy performance.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Emilie Zoey Baker's Masterpoet

Last month, the fantastic Melbourne poet, Emilie Zoey Baker, was interviewed in the Fairfax press by Michael Short. Michael said:
POETRY can be one of the simplest, most malleable forms of writing. It is accessible art, for composer and consumer alike.
Following this theme, Emilie is quoted:
I would love [poetry] to be on prime-time television. It is such a fantastic way to get it into people's lounge rooms. Imagine having your soul unravelled like a ribbon at 7.30 on Thursday night, rather than learning the contents of Matt Preston's stomach. Imagine young people's voices, having that explode into people's lounge rooms. That would be magnificent
So you think you can rhyme or Masterpoet.

I am not so sure about this. I love how poetry reaches into people's minds and twists their emotions and thoughts into little knots, beautiful bows and sturdy plaits. But I am not sure the same people who watch Dating in the Dark are ready for prime time live slam.

Regardless, my doubts were bland compared to the reaction by Christopher Bantick in The Australian. His opinion rambles a little, but he starts by saying:
...poetry will not regain its place in the national conscience by our reducing it to a public mosh pit
Those who know what great poetry is covet its place in the culture. Pop poems may pull the punters to pubs, but that's all.
What needs to be grasped is that not all poetry has the capacity to move us. Great poetry does.
I think that is crap. Firstly, who decides what 'great' poetry is? Secondly, while I agree there is a wide range in the quality of poetry, there is also a place for accessible poetry that has an immediate impact. Poetry that doesn't require a PhD in classics and fourteen hours of reading and rereading in a leather-bound chair before we are 'moved'.

Bantick goes on to bemoan the fact most young Australians cannot quote Australian poems. But he doesn't identify how to fix this. Surely the work of performance poets such as Emilie Zoey Baker, who are reintroducing poetry in a hip and accessible way to people, can only be a good thing.

What is not a good thing is Bantick's boomer superiority:

Gens X and Y are impoverished and have no storehouse of verse to call on.
Finally, Bantick lists Aussie poets such as James McAuley, A.D. Hope, Judith Wright and Les Murray. These are great poets, who reward careful reading and rereading. They write great poems and should be celebrated for this. But he also mentions Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, poets who were more story tellers, who wrote ballads that would immediately capture people's imaginations in pubs and would give instant gratification to the listener.

A bit like today's slam poets.

Here is Emilie from TedxMelbourne. Enjoy.

TEDxMelbourne - Emilie Zoey Baker - Slam Poet by tedxmelbourne

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Sound of a Fish Jumping

I really like this poem. It is based on a true recollection, although I cannot vouch for the accuracy of all of the events it contains. I performed this poem recently at the Ghost of the Gorman House Man Hatin' Matron open mic and also on ABC local radio. A gentleman in the Gorman House audience told me it sounded like a short story. I took this as a compliment, as I try to make each of my poems a complete tale. But he then went on to explain: 'Yeah, when I think of poetry I think of rhythm and rhyme. Your story didn't rhyme.'

Improv Slam

Last week, in Adelaide, I took part in an Improv Slam at the Squatter's Arms. It was my first improvisation poetry gig. It was not easy.

The concept is similar to a regular poetry slam, but you have to perform an impromptu poem/story/spoken word piece in response to a word thrown at you by a member of the audience. The rules were:
1. Maximum of 10 seconds to think before speaking.
2. Can reject 1 word only.
3. Must talk for a minimum of 40 seconds
4. Maximum talk time 2 minutes
Several different approaches were on display. One is to hop a ferry down the stream of consciousness, just saying the next sentence that pops into your head. This can be fun, but not always coherent for the listener. A related path is to base your poem on whatever rhymes with the word you are given. At its best, this approach is like the most successful hip hop freestyle. At its worst, you end up sounding like George Logan from Scary Movie 3 (here).

Several people, including the winner, told a story. I didn't ask if they already had these stories in their heads, but the performances worked well.

I chose the repetition technique, repeating the line that first came into my head and then forming imaginary stanzas beneath each repeat. It worked. Kinda. I found the whole experience very stressful and challenging. I rejected my first word - elephant - and had to accept the next - scratch. I blurted out something I had thought about while walking through the city earlier that day.

I'm in two minds about improv slam. I think there is more potential for a disappointing night for the audience with improv, given how difficult it is. If it is done well, though, the results can be exhilarating. Whose Line is it Anyway shows how rewarding improv can be to the audience, but then again, not everyone is Greg Proops.

Perhaps I didn't like just because I sucked at it.

Here is a good example of improv slam.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Speakeasy at Will's Pub Orlando

Later this week, I will be back in Orlando for work. While I am there I am going to perform something at Speakeasy at Will's Pub, run by talented writer and performer Tod Caviness.

Speakeasy is an open mike that runs monthly on a loose theme. This month, it is the Karaoke Edition. The idea is to write a poem or story based on a song.

As Tod says:
Pick a song. Write a little something about what it means to you, where you were when you first heard it. Re-arrange/riff on/fuck up the lyrics.
So, what song should I choose? I thought first of all the songs that have inspired me lately. There is This is Why we Fight by The Decemberists, Bloodbuzz Ohio by The National, 7 Days Later by The Ellis Collective, anything by Jonsi or Sigur Ros, even Yonkers by Tyler the Creator. But these songs inspire me because they are close to perfection. I am not sure I can add words to what these songs do (and I don't speak Icelandic).

No, I think I need to chose a song that, well, leaves some space to work within. Something like Bon Jovi's Dead or Alive or LMFAO's Party Rock Anthem. That gives me something to work with.

Alternatively, I can take Tod's advice and write about where I was when I first heard a certain song. That would work. I could explain why the first Violent Femmes album affects me everytime I hear it. Or why the Nine Inch Nails' Head Like a Hole reminds me of Princess Diana's death.

Yes, that's it! Thank you, blog. I think I have my theme.
Bow down before the one you serve 
You're going to get what you deserve
Now, to write...

Monday, July 11, 2011

I'm Too Boring to Make Good Art

This is one of the first poems I wrote when I started performing at poetry slams. I meant it to be a lament, of sorts. Woe is me, I am too wealthy, healthy and happy to write good poetry. Since then, others have interpreted it as a comment on other performers and the generic devices they use. That is not how it was meant, but it is always rewarding when people find things in my poetry I didn't know were there.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Most Beautiful Music Video

I came across NME's list of the 100 Greatest Music Videos on Stereogum the other day. Number 1 was Johnny's Cash's version of Hurt, a moving but simple video directed by Mark Romanek. Cash's song, like Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah, is one of the few examples of a cover being more powerful than the original.

Anyway, this post is not about that video. It is about Sigur Rós's video for Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása. This is the most beautiful thing I have seen in a long time.

It made me realise how much songs and the music videos that accompany them are like the best poems. I want to write poems like this music video. It told a simple story that had me captured. It made me want to cry, first sad tears, then happy tears, then sad tears again. It had a change of direction that made me laugh out loud.

Anyway, enjoy:

Monday, July 4, 2011

My First Paid Gig

This Saturday. Gorman House Markets. My first paid gig.

Well, I have had a rider of sorts before (one free drink), but this time it is cash money. Not that I need it, unlike most poets, but it is nice to be wanted.

I will be a feature poet at The Ghost of the Gorman House Man Hatin' Matron Poetry Open Mic With-out a Microphone but with a Milk Crate on Saturday 9 July, starting at 12pm. This monthly event has been run by Andrew Galan for the past two months and has been a great success. I will be performing a poem to get things started and doing a 15-20 min set somewhere in the middle.

I am really looking forward to hearing other people's works. As an open mic, there is a lot of opportunity for creative readings and there is no competition involved.

Now I need to work out a set list....

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Grace said ‘Mum, it’s time to let me go’, and
Scratched the plastic mask aside
So I could kiss her one last time
Before her eyelids hid the light in her eyes.

In the 426 days since diagnosis,
My Grace treated life as an unexpected guest
And death as an invisible friend.
Time was Santa’s sack packed with moments
Gift-wrapped with smiles and hugs you’d wish would never end.

Entering her room was like walking out to a Spring morning.
Her face was the sun, her voice birdsong,
Filtering the air so every sound you heard there,
Both good news and bad, had dawn’s clarity.

Grace had gravity. People circled her like moons,
Like buttercups, their chins held up,
Their faces raised to her beams.

Paperchain folk danced a ring around her room,
Each silhouette representing someone Grace had met,
Each marked in her hand with a blue felt pen:

Daniel, good dancer;
Dr Wong, big smile, crooked tie;
Mr Mason, call me Steve, always jeans with thongs,
Delta Goodrem, exclamation mark, beautiful,
And in brackets, soppy songs.

Grace’s brother Samuel, had a special cut:
Arms a little wider, edged in highlighter, and, on the back:
Don’t tell him, but I love him this much.

Grace was young enough to want to be read to sleep,
But old enough to reject fairy tales.

As she lost her curls, she did not set her sails
With the pirate bandana crew – Grace was a ninja girl.
A ninja can’t be seen or heard, but you know she’s always there,
Watching over you from afar, and with a well-thrown star,
Will destroy that shadow creeping up on you.

Grace said she could tell I was afraid of the dark,
So she let me lie in her bed,
Where she’d show me the stars in the shape of a ninja
Through the window before she lay down her head.

While Grace’s graying marrow was narrowing inside,
Her eyes stayed as clear as telescope glass
No sign of the ashes smoking behind,
Her pale skin as smooth as the still sea’s face
Open wide to the moon’s cool light.

14 days after she turned eleven,
Grace said ‘Mum, it’s time to let me go’, and
Scratched the plastic mask aside
So I could kiss her one last time
Before her eyelids hid that light in her eyes.

Now I spend my nights staring at the ninja constellation,
Catching falling stars in the corner of my eyes,
My heart as empty
And as full
As the night sky.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Andrea Gibson - Wasabi

At the last Traverse slam I did a cover of Andrea Gibson's Wasabi. I usually avoid covers - I have a hunger to keep creating new poems and I don't feel that each poem is complete until I have performed it at least once. The precious opportunities to perform my own work are important to me.

But I love this poem and I found that memorising and performing it has given me more insight into how it is structured - its secret scaffolding.

Wasabi has everything I enjoy in a performance poem, starting with a coherent theme. The images build upon each other, creating a whole. I find some contemporary American poetry arrogant and incoherent. Metaphors come at you out of nowhere, leaving a discordant ring in your ear that you are trying to resolve while the poem plays on. Andrea's poems are not like this.

Another thrilling aspect is the pacing of this poem, the way it accelerates and slows, weaves and races. The colours and textures of the rhythm create a performance that transfixes the listener.

Finally, Andrea uses rhyme just right. She doesn't force any rhymes and uses some of them in unexpected but perfect places.

I would like to emulate Andrea in my poetry. By putting myself inside Wasabi, I am hoping that some of her talent has entered me.

This youtube vid starts with a lot of dialogue. To go straight to the poem, skip to 4:05.

I first heard Andrea on the IndieFeed Performance Poetry podcast. You can find IndieFeed podcasts on iTunes and also here.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Phrase Trains

On Friday night, at the usual monthly Traverse slam, we competing poets had a surprise: as there was only five of us, Arbitrary Andrew (yes, that's his real name) decided there would be two rounds. So we all had to pull out a second piece to perform. And so, we did.

The poem I performed is an old one that I posted here previously. Here it is again:

I really like this poem, although it is nonsense. I enjoy the stream of consciousness lyrics of Stephen Malkmus (from Pavement) and Beck, so I tried to replicate them. I had a rough idea and then let it flow. I think it worked out well. I went back to smooth out the rhythm and change some of the words and phrases to align roughly with the broad theme (which only appeared after I had drafted the poem).

This is a great poem to perform (the recording does not give any indication of the possibilities for gestures) and it has grown as I have performed it.

Choo choo!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chickenshit Conformist

Sidney left his spine at a punk rock gig
In a 1980s basement tavern
His fist in the air, or during that stage dive pause
Mid-air, before landing on outstretched palms and spiked heads.

Sidney left his spine at a punk rock gig
By night, entrusting his fight to hard core chords and ramming speed beats, bouncing off sweaty shoulders like a pinball

But by day, he moved like a teddy bear, shuffling to his employment where he fulfilled his role well as beige stuffing for a cubicle

Sidney wore his Nobody Likes a Thinker shirt to bed and brown cardigans to work
At home, he pounded his head to Bad Religion LPs,
In the office he nodded, so meek and eager to please the boss
Oi oi oi! fist-punching the air by night
Became yes sir data punching by daylight

When Nickelbak Steve bullied the office floor into a shark tank,
Sidney shook in a locked toilet stall, holding the tooth that was elbowed free when skin heads crashed that Hard Ons gig in the CBD clenching the tooth in his fist until the enameled tip bit.

Sidney left his spine at a punk rock gig
To fill the gap, he slowly fled to drink
He drank at home to Black Flag and DOA
If he drank enough he’d go out, become corner fluff in some bar or club.

Until last Friday,
When Sidney was tossed from Mooseheads for shouting ‘Chickenshit Conformist’ at 30 seconds from Mars on the flat screen TV,
‘Chickenshit Conformist’, his face so close his spit sprayed on his own reflection, over the fake Mohawks and eyeliner.

Ten minutes later, he was glassed in Shooters by a guy in white canvas shoes and an Ed Hardy tee.

Sidney left his spine at a punk rock gig,
But the ambos couldn’t silence him and didn’t understand him, his split cheek flapping torn like a ripped tartan sleeve
As he screamed for Nancy.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Corners Parts 3 and 4

Here is the second half:

3   I have an interactive concept: a dot-to-dot verse painting. Here is a stanza, with every fifth word a point. You join the dots in your mind, use straight lines and the curved form of the poem will appear.

Got it? Here we go:

      corner          cycle      
     complained        tangential     
                          slid      sparks       fire      cheek.



4   My mother told me to marry a trapezium.
Trapeziums are sure and safe.
Just enough corners to hint at danger,
But stable, solid-based.

She said never trust an ellipse.
An ellipse flips between two centres
And rocks between heaven and hell.

Mobius strips give me nightmares.
Death is a dot.
Eternal life is a mobius strip.

No, I’m more of a straights man.
I never made good Hot Wheels tracks when I was a kid,
But in the face of a strong breeze I flew a mean kite.


I like the third section and I think it works. I actually wrote two sentences and then selected every 4th or 5th word. (I cheated a little to make it sound better). I know what the original sentences are, but now that I read it I can see different meanings and nuances in it. Some minds of a certain persuasion (you know who you are) read an entirely different meaning into it. I think that's cool.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Corners 1 and 2

On Friday at the monthly Traverse Poetry slam, I read a four-part poem that explores my love-hate relationship with curves. Here are the first two sections:

1   I know you are one for straights and flats,
But I am transfixed by corners.
The look of a curve, the camber,
The centrifugal pull,
The edge of just about to let go the earth,
The anticipation, the just beyond unknown,
The sashay of an S-bend,
The exhilaration of a tightening hook;
Like a tongue-tip around the crease in your lips…

No, that was a lie.
I am not a corners guy.
I avoid curves like pavement cracks.
I am straight as a bible page’s white edge.
More, I shun gradients too.
I am a railway line,
My three little bears path
Not too steep, not too tight:

2   You know, once, I dated a roller coaster.
Well, I was dragged jolted along in her train.
One day I was standing my big carny palm open,
She screamed by and my body was sucked into her wake.

She’d get all jacked up on fairy floss, her lips
Glistening jeweled with the sharp sticky red of donut jam,
Her mouth sweet knife-edged crystals that
Would cut and dissolve convex under the moist pressure of my tongue.

I lost my stomach on our first date,
My chest locked at a full inhale,
The floor falling away from me so
I floated an inch above all with a head full of air.

As she crested thrill reaching peaks
And made g force turns out of acute angled dives
I held my arm across my torso like a safety belt,
The sound of a rattling bolt set loose in my mind.

I danced in the vacuum that her carriage left,
A series of pinball junkie jinks and gibes
Until one night I missed a tack and a bolt
Died with a clang like a railway hammer strike

With a receding pleasure scream she was gone.

To be honest, I was relieved, the blessing of not having to give an acceptance speech because you were not the one chosen to win.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Maid of Orleans Folds Washing

(This poem is more about me than anyone else...)

As I do the bills at the dining room table,
You fold our clean, pure cotton sheets.

I know you despise me though you’d never let
Those words slip through your pursed pale lips:
You wear pert fitted cashmere like a breastplate;
Joan of Arc was not more righteous than you.

Holding your aquiline nose higher than your eyeline,
Holding your posture as the hatred smoulders inside,
You’d rather burn at the stake
Than state what is burning you:
The arrogant grace of knowing you’re right

Your real passion clutched
In a brassiere and pearled buttons,
A sheet of cold metal between our two lives.
And I am trapped in a B movie mashup
Of I Robot and Stepford Wives

If we kiss, you taste like battery leads.
You don’t make love or even have sex;
The curves of your body like rosary beads,
You bear it like penance or a pap smear test

You never raise your voice, speak out or shout:
Always the same tone like a plucked wound spring.

I want you to scream
I want you to slap
The rise of blood back to my skin.

I want to hear you like Ani Di Franco or Martha Wainwright
When she’s horny and drunk,
Not Celine Dion at a funeral home.
I want you to say, no I want you to shout fuck!

I am an arsehole: Say it! Say it: I’m a prick!

But you press your lips, tighten the tendons in your cheeks.
Hands folded like aristocracy,
Laying guilt like clergy,
Laying guilt like kindling,

And I’m the heretic.

Well, I went and struck a match in my mind.

And as the flames rise to my waist
And I scream your name

You snap tea towels crease-free and fold them onto a shelf

And I lower my head and enter numbers in spreadsheet cells.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bicycle girl at the lights

Your legs make calligraphy ‘Ls’ with ease
Propelling your own wind machine
Hair flowing stroking cheek flicks
Your face held high

Helmetless, you are willing to take a chance
Sexy linking of vulnerability and pride
Tall, shoulders back but elbows loose:
Independence on a bike

You make the city cosmopolitan
A little Copenhagen cobbles and long blacks
You read novels about impossible love
Your palms itch when you lie

You do something in design or fashion
While listening to Iron & Wine
You apply makeup to Beyonce and Jay-Z
Your tongue poking to the side

Your stockinged leg lazily circles
Languid ellipses as you lean on the pole
The lights change and you glide leaving
A gap in the air like a sigh.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why vote for a poet?

Here is the talk I delivered at Pecha Kucha last week:

Earlier this month, Ken Henry, the outgoing Treasury Secretary, presented a lecture at the University of Tasmania. He said that we know what we need to do to keep Australia a successful country, but what we don’t understand so well is how to get it done.

I share Ken Henry’s pessimism, but perhaps for different reasons. I do not think our current political leaders are capable of introducing the changes needed to meet our current challenges. My reason: none of them can tell a story and none have poetry in their voices.

There has been significant social and economic change in the past thirty years in Australia, introduced by both major political parties. Consider removal of trade tariffs, centralised wage bargaining, floating of the Australian dollar, Medicare, the Sex Discrimination Act and the GST. The Prime Ministers who led Australia through these changes could tell a story and had the orator’s gift. They could use language to inspire, motivate and lead. And they had to. Not all of these changes were popular. In fact, many of them were extremely unpopular.

Gough Whitlam’s ability to craft a sentence is well known (‘well may we say…’). He used this ability to introduce changes as diverse as free tertiary education and abolishment of the death penalty for federal offenses. Bob Hawke could hush a bar full of blokes with his stories, which convinced unions and socialists that floating the dollar and opening Australia to trade were necessary.  Paul Keating’s Redfern Speech is one of the best known of the 20th Century. He expressed thoughts never before heard from a Prime Minister.  And John Howard told convincing stories in a simple voice to middle Australia. Think gun control and budget surpluses.

So what do we have now? A speech where the PM uses the phrase ‘moving forward’ twenty-three times in fifteen hundred words. It was painful to listen to and condescending. It was compared to training a dog to sit through repeating the word ‘sit’. Weeks later, Julia Gillard had dropped ‘moving forward’. But her allegedly unscripted campaign launch was uninspiring. It was highlighted only by her addressing the audience as ‘friends’ twenty-seven times. Perhaps it was a wish (I do believe in fairies, I do, I do).

In the blue corner, Tony Abbott’s campaign launch had its own nauseating slogans: end the waste, stop the boats, stop the big new taxes. His speech began negatively, emphasising the failures of the Labor government. Then he seemed about to move to a positive theme. He said ‘We must offer the Australian people a better way’. But we were quickly deflated when the better way was revealed to be ‘stop the boats, stop the great big huge new taxes…’ By this stage, our ears had RSI.

And this is all without mentioning Kevin ‘Programmatic Specificity’ Rudd. On the whole, our current political leaders are failures with the spoken word. Well, that’s not entirely true. These politicians take clichés to the next level. In fact, as a poet I am almost envious. They seem to invent clichés whenever they speak.

Our leaders do not seem to read creative works or listen to creative people. They are guided by media advisors and not by their humanity, in an environment where the slogan rules over the narrative, where the subeditor always trumps the journalist.

I think this is important. Stories matter. Poetic language matters. Themes, rhythm, imagination, pleasant surprises, rhetoric – these all matter. It seems the only tools available to politicians today are hyperbole, repetition, repetition and repetition.

The way politicians speak today lacks empathy. It does not connect with people with any depth. It is a poke rather than a hug. This is great for talkback radio hosts, but not for people who want to move the nation.

Our current political vernacular is unimaginative. It betrays the underlying (or should I say underpinning) lack of creativity and thought in development of policies. Thinking and writing are intrinsically linked. If you cannot write a speech that is creative and compelling, then most likely you cannot make policy that is create and compelling. I am not saying no one is creating thoughtful policy. It is just that it is not our politicians.

Ultimately, this means our political leaders are not. If you cannot communicate, if you cannot motivate, if you merely reflect opinions instead of changing minds, then you cannot lead people through change.

When was the last time during an Australian political speech you heard a story, that touched your heart and delighted your ears? We will not get the change our country needs until you do hear a story like this. For this reason, I think climate change policy in Australia is doomed. No one is telling us a convincing, consistent story about why it is needed and what it will look like. And this is just one example of the creative policies we need.

So how do we fix this? Vote for a poet at the next election. I am only half-joking. Only someone who can use language in a compelling way and link ideas to our deep emotions will be able to lead Australia to a prosperous, peaceful and healthy future. Until our major political parties install leaders who can do this, we will not get the changes that we need.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pecha Kucha Canberra

Last night I was one of eight presenters at Canberra's ninth Pecha Kucha night. I really enjoyed the night and, once again, was honoured to be among so many creative and passionate people.

I offered my theory that nothing lasting or significantly will come out of our current political leaders because they cannot tell a story and they do not have any poetry in their voices. This is in stark contrast to previous leaders, such as Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. Even John Howard told compelling stories. Until we get leaders who can speak convincingly, with narrative and imaginative language, we will not get the changes Australia needs to meet our current and future challenges.

I will post the whole talk in a couple of days, once I have finished transcribing it. In the meantime I recommend you check out the link above and some of the amazing people who also spoke last night.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Literally the only thing that matters

I performed at a very rewarding gig on Saturday night - Literally the only thing that matters: Traverse Poetry, part of the You Are Here festival.

The event's format, venue and combination of performers was untested, but it worked very well, mostly due to the efforts of Julian Fleetwood. The performers were myself, Ira Gamerman (US), Claire Reilly (Syd), Jess Bellamy (Syd), Mirando Lello, Ben Keaney and Tasnim Hossain. The venue was an empty shopfront - a huge open space of concrete, glass and exposed ceilings.

The format revolved around the seven performers spreading out in the space and performing for 45 minutes. The audience rotated between the performers as they liked. Each performer had a slightly different approach - Claire clutched a bottle of gin, in character the whole time; Ira narrated his facebook slideshow in front of a projector; and Ben channelled the thoughts of a cactus. It was chaotic and it loud, but it worked.

I gave my audience a menu of poems to choose from.

I managed to perform all of the poems on offer, although Canberra and Party got a pretty good going over.

At the end of the evening, we all performed a piece or two to the whole audience, who were fantastic. There was a great crowd of around 30 people there. I loved performing in front of them.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Two Doors Down from Billy-Cart Hill

We lived two doors down
From Billy Cart Hill
With a slope faster than a stomach,
Cheese grater tar
And T-intersection traffic to catch your fall.

I would drag my cart like a litter
Up guillotine steps to the top
And mount scary free like Lucifer felt
When God opened his forefinger and thumb
And let him drop.

I’m rolling, leaning back backboard pressing me earthward
Re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, gravel-rashed knuckles locked tight on rough rope reins held by horseshoe nails and pivoted on two washers, a bolt and nut, rattling like a boiling pot lid.

Feel the road typewritering morse code frantic relayed by thin rubber strip wheels through shrink skin wrapped bones, telex writer teeth with no carriage return biting off staccato cries shaken loose.

Whooooooo! Whoooooo!

Screams my lungs letting go and
Wind tears face racing stripes.

Till I wrench the rope
Press wood lever against rear wheel
And jack-knife body to a rolling stop
Whooping winded and tingly alive.

On my ride, my release,
I left my life behind like
Rubber off my Dunlop Volleys.
The cart was a De Lorean
And as the landing pad bloomed
I forgot the dickhead, the dropped catch, the girl
As my speed turned back time.

Oh, how I want to live again like a thrown ball
The freedom of corked thighs and scabbed knees
When absolution smelt like iodine
And closure was a Band Aid
The perfect sense of handing control to
A piece of pine and a single bolt.

So that’s why I’m in Bunnings
Buying axles and rope
I’ve been climbing all my life and it’s time
I prised God’s fingers apart again
And lost some skin.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Traverse Poetry Slam 25 Feb

Hosted my first slam last night, standing in for the wonderful and dedicated Julian Fleetwood. It was a great night - a strong pool of performers and a large, welcoming audience. The Front has done a bit of redecorating and has raided some front lawns to replace a lot of its furniture. Overall, an inspiring start to the slam season of 2011.

I asked the audience for their definitions of poetry and read these out in between slammers. My favourite:
Poetry is...a most beautiful bird that allows us to hold it for a while.

Together with the audience contributions, I found some quotes from well-known poets. I really liked Marianne Moore's:
Poetry is...imaginary gardens with real toads in them.
Finally, while reading the newspaper this morning I realised a definition of my own:
Poetry is...everything political spin is not.
I tried my hand with poet humour, with mixed success:
What is the definition of a simile?
It is like a metaphor.
I performed a poem about billy-carts (soap-box racers for our American friends). I'm sure it's the only time I will mention Bunnings in verse. I will post the poem later this week.

The quality and range of the performers was comforting - the slam scene in Canberra is doing well. There were some poets new to slam and others new to slamming in Canberra. I hope to see them all back next time, along with several of the audience who have now been inspired to give it a go.

Finally, a big thank-you to Bernadette, who did a fantastic job reminding me of all the things I forgot to do. Oh, and she brought cupcakes and performed a very vivid poem about hotel rooms (among other things).


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lindbergh was a mystic

Driving past graveyards, when we were young,
My brother would hold his breath
So spirits of the dead did not enter him.

But I wanted to keep those passed alive.
I would breathe deep,
Inhale the memories and cut-short dreams,
Sweet like the scent of a room just passed through.

One stove summer day I stood inside a ghost,
A lighthouse shade in a cool stone corner,
And wrapped myself in gunpowder smoke
And saltwater mist.

Lives in the air brought back to life.

See, in the right light you could see them
Faces in smoke, their touch in a mist,
On hot days when they danced
On the street in the distance.

In storms I would rush to the window
To see phantoms wave leafy arms at me,
The wind through the wires calling me.

Foggy dawns were armies of steam,
Waiting in ambush in damp valleys;
Thunderclouds were souls reaching for release,
Jostling, holding tight, buoying each other up.

I longed to ride the trade winds and jet streams
Carrying our essence, then and now.
To breathe in the nimbus lives.

For I knew: death is but a sigh.
Our lives are just one exhaled breath
In the weather.

So I did what I breathed to do:
I learned to fly.
Lifted by the secrets of raptor guides
I rose and dipped on the currents in the sky
Of relationships, passions and hopes.

I slipped between cold and warm fronts
Pressing together like lost lovers.
I listened to the passion trapped in cumulous up-drafts,
The voices released in the bruised hearts of storm clouds:

A confession, a conclusion, a humid regret
A young man’s dying wish
A new mother’s love never heard
The snowflake of a mute poet’s first words.

At altitude I had the perspective that comes with death:
How what follows life is as full as the silence after a lightning strike
How vacuums do not exist
How we all blur at the edges
And all the puffs of our lives become one mass

Cupping the world.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Slamming in Orlando.

Last week I won the monthly Broken Speech poetry slam in Orlando, Florida. I travel for work and I love it when the moons align and I get to perform. It is even better when I am well received.

The theme was persona poems, to celebrate the release of the anthology RE:Telling by Ampersand Books. I performed this poem, a collection of three different personas interpreting 'hunger':

The Broken Speech poetry slam is run by a dedicated writer, J Bradley. He is a prolific writer and performer of poetry and flash fiction. He lives at

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Riding the Metro

American girls walking bow-legged,
Trailing big hair like revolutionary flags,
Blowing force fields of cliches,
Impenetrable images of
Motivational posters you do not feature in.

First Traverse poetry slam for 2011

7.30pm Friday, 25 February at The Front

I will be MC with the gracious assistance of Bernadette. There will be cupcakes!

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