Poems A Head


Head coverIvan Head, The Magpie Sermons: Poems 2005-2017, Sydney: St Paul’s College 2017.  

Hardcover. Available for $35 from 48header@gmail.com 

Reviewed by Ted Witham  

This collection of nearly 50 poems is the second for Ivan Head. Dr Head is a West Australian priest, former director of AIT and Canon of St George’s Cathedral, who has spent the last 27 years as Warden first of Christ’s College in Hobart and then of St Paul’s College within the University of Sydney. He and his wife Christine are now moving into retirement in Sydney. 

Many of the poems have been published in Quadrant (where Les Murray is the poetry editor), the West Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. Their presence in those publications suggests their high quality. 

Ivan is a poet who celebrates birds and flowers, trips by train and trips to London and the US. In some the words tumble just to celebrate language: 

Montezuma met a Puma going to the fair
Said Montezuma to the Puma let me taste your ware. 
Said the Puma
to Montezuma  
No I prefer my fare rare and so he ate him then and there.  

Many of the poems are complex with multiple levels of meanings. I enjoy recognising the double- or triple-meaning, but also knowing there may be more levels that I don’t get. In Swan River, Ivan reflects on boyhood memories of throwing a kylie, or thrusting a home-made gidgie towards a Cobbler.  And then: 

A boy knows that prawns rest beneath the sand by day. 
It is like knowledge of the Pleiades. 
Under the Narrows Bridge I stood for hours and left a line out all night just in case 
Something big went past.  

After the series of Noongar words and the reference to arcane knowing, the pleasure of ‘Something big’ might mean a fish to catch, or, it might mean deep knowledge of culture, Aboriginal and Western. And it might mean something even bigger.  

An undercurrent of Christian faith and theology, which on occasion rises to the surface level of the poems, holds them in a strong web of meaning.  

Ivan has a strong ear for the music of words, their sound and rhythm. All his poems are free-form and show the influence of modernist and Beat poetry.  

I found real pleasure in their Australianness. The poems are about the plants and animals of Cookernup (near Bunbury), Perth and Sydney. They are about our childhoods in the 1950s. Even when the subject is not directly Australian, Ivan’s attitude is. He punctures pomposity. Here he reduces the English Reformation to Henry VIII’s armour. 

…. And now he’s gone, 
the ghost isn’t in the machine. 
Just the carapace remains 

And what the commentator 
gawks at for the screen 
is the gigantic iron cod-piece 

With nothing in it.  

The Magpie Sermons is printed on quality high-gloss paper and bound simply in a hardcover embossed with gold leaf.  

Poetry lovers will enjoy reading, and re-reading, these poems of celebration, irony, contemplation and joy.  

 

 

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Narrows Bridge 1963

 

Now, And at the Hour of our Death


For the Feast of St Mary – at evening

(forthcoming in the Geelong Writers’ Azuria #7)

Now, and at the hour of our death // Maintenant, et à l’heure de notre mort.  

Mother Mary come to me
now, and when I die:
Mother Mary strum for me,
my death will make you cry.  

Mother Mary sing for me,
when I pass from here:
Mother Mary bring for me
new life heralded by ear.  

Mother Mary pray for me,
with loving susurrations,
Mother Mary stay with me
become God’s new creations.  

Marie Mère, approche-moi,
maintenant, en joie,
et aussi à ma dernière heure,
quand t’écoutant je meurs. 

Marie Mère chante pour moi,
en grattant doucement
les cordes d’une belle guitare
un cantique d’encouragement.  

Marie Mère c’est dur pour moi
de monter sur scène du départ :
j’ai peur de tromper la bonne voie :

de confondre l’absurdité, la Croix.  

 

The Annunciation as the Ordination of Mary

Psalm 148 for Western Australia (revisited)


Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the sky!
Praise him in the heavens!
Praise him, all his angels!
Praise him, all his heavenly mob!
Praise him, O sun and moon!
Praise him, all you shiny stars!
Praise him, O Milky Way,
and you Southern Cross at the heart of the skies!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he gave the command and they came into existence.
He established them so they would endure;
he issued a decree that will not be revoked.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you orcas and all you great whales,
O fire and hail, snow and clouds,
O stormy wind that carries out his orders,
you Porongurups and all you Hamersleys,
you quandongs and all you karri trees,
10 you merinos and all you cattle,
you bungarras and you emus,
11 you elders of the Wardandi and all you Noongars,
you Aunties and all you Yamaji and desert folk,
you refugees and you fifth generation Australians,
12 you young men and young women,
you elderly, along with you children!
13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty extends over the earth and sky.
14 He has made his people victorious,
and given all his loyal followers reason to praise—
the West Australians, the people who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!

New English Translation (NET)

NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Orcas off Bremer Bay, W.A.
Orcas off Bremer Bay, W.A. Image by Dave and Fiona Harvey

Psalm 84 for Western Australia


How lovely is the place where you live,
O Lord who rules over all!
I desperately want to be
in the courts of the Lord’s temple.
My heart and my entire being shout for joy
to the living God.

Even the birds find a home there,
and the blue wren builds a nest,
where she can protect her young
near your altars, O Lord who rules over all,
my king and my God.
How blessed are those who live in your temple
and praise you continually!

How blessed are those who find their strength in you,
and long to travel the roads that lead to your temple!
As they pass through the Sandy Desert,
he provides a spring for them.
The rain even covers it with pools of water.
They are sustained as they travel along;
in their hearts is the highway to Zion.

O Lord, sovereign God,
hear my prayer!
Listen, O God of Jacob!
O God, take notice of our shield!
Show concern for your chosen king!

10 Certainly spending just one day in your temple courts is better
than spending a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather stand at the entrance to the temple of my God
than live in the houses of the wicked.

11 For the Lord God is our sovereign protector.
The Lord bestows favour and honor;
he withholds no good thing from those who have integrity.
12 O Lord who rules over all,
how blessed are those who trust in you!

New English Translation (NET)

NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

gnamma-hole-mukinbudin
Gnamma hole, Mukinbudin, W.A. Courtesy Wheatbelttourism.com

King Richard and me


Warming up for next week’s monologue workshop:

King Richard III: A History Lesson

Would you believe I’m a clone of King Richard,
the last of Plantagenet line?
To start with, his spine describes an S-bend,
so his skeleton looks exactly like mine.

A left-hander like me was good King Richard the Third,
so with the sword in his left he surprised.
Does the archaeological record contend
That molly-dukers too are baptised?

A brother of brothers was Richard the King,
All of them in the end killed.
Then his nephews made way for him to ascend,
at murder he was mightily skilled.

Then Richard the Third was himself finished off,
Giving the field to bad Henry Tudor.
While Harry and family may have been thrilled,
It’s hard now to say who was the shrewder.

One thing’s for sure when comparing little me is,
Being a King may be fun while you’re thriving,
But being a nobody you’re much more fulfilled:
At least in the end you’re surviving!

  • Ted Witham 2017
Bosworth Battlefield Anniversary Re-enactment 2013
Battle of Bosworth

 

 

Psalm 96 for Australia


7 Ascribe to the Lord, Australians and West Australians,

ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!

8Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;

bring an offering, and come into his breathtaking gorges!

Worship the Lord in the splendour of holiness;

tremble before him, all Australia!

10 Say in W.A., “The Lord reigns!

Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;

he will judge the peoples with equity.”

11 Let the Milky Way be glad, and let the South West rejoice;

let the Indian Ocean roar, and all that fills it;

12 let the golden canola fields exult, and everything in them!

Then shall all the jarrah trees sing for joy

13 before the Lord, for he comes,

for he comes to judge our nation.

He will judge us Sandgropers in righteousness,

and all Australians in his faithfulness.

 

Based on the English Standard Version

http://www.esvbible.org/Psalm+96/

grasstree1253-12

Gift in love: Saint Francis


Our joy in fervent prayer and stately dances,
In full-sung hymns and full-heart confession,
in earnest emotional expression,
all diverse ways to celebrate St Francis.

Liturgical wealth but poverty deep,
In all, radical Godward dependence,
Tangled in matter we find transcendence;
The sole way integrity to keep.

More in story than godly abstraction:
The Pope gives the Order’s permission,
The lepers’ care and pairs for mission,
In mutual prize and always loving action.

Thank God for blessings and seeing all in joy,
Our gifting for love we hurry to employ.