Ships of States


Ships of States

What is poetry?

craft carved from hard words and soft,
coloured for the eye and sounded well,
and polished along the true,
tacked with perfume and fathomed for a spell.

argosy launched from the mire of mind
to sail in auditors’ ears,
and float in currents of readers’ specific
memory, bliss and tears.

tender (legal or outlaw) convoyed from hand to hand
rich koine valued by someone new
or poems pocketed lying idle
lost change hiding in plain view.

****

Ted Witham 

Joint Winner WA Poets’ 2018 Occasional Poetry Prize.

 

 

Bourgeois Bacchanalia?


 

Glyn Max1783197412-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_well, Drinks with Dead Poets: The autumn term, Oberon Books, 2012. Hardcover, 200 pages.

$20 online

Reviewed by Ted Witham

 

Drinks with Dead Poets was a delightful surprise. A professor of poetry called ‘Glyn Maxwell’ turns up in a mysterious village to teach a term of poetry. He meets his eclectic class and directs them to readings of a series of 19th Century poets. Professor Maxwell is not sure if it is by his doing, or the organisation of Kerri, the efficient registrar, but each poet has been invited to the village on the Thursdays of the autumn term.

Each poet arrives in the village according to their personality. Nature poet John Clare walks in across the fields. Emily Dickinson, visiting from the States, arrives by train. The Brownings, Robert and Elizabeth, their relationship as ambiguous as ever, are fetched in their coach. W.B. Yeats appears on the island in the middle of the lagoon.

Each poet behaves in character. It takes some time to warm the serious Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, but once relaxed, he speaks with great joy about the craft of poetry. The conversations teacher and students have with these poets are the actual words of each poet.

Although Professor Maxwell has been allotted a little room off the village hall for his teaching, a lot of the action takes place in one or other of the drinking establishments in the village. The professor is occasionally successful in imparting deep insights about the poets.

The professor himself has limited success in asking questions or directing the questions of the audience. One of the students asks each poet, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’, and this hackneyed request is met with incomprehension, sarcasm, or gentle correction according to the temperament of the poet in residence.

By using this public reading format, the book avoids long quotations from these poets, providing representative snippets instead.

After a hip-hop celebrity recites a mangled version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge’s presence, the students tune into the idea of poetry as performance, and look forward to hearing subsequent poets read their work, with questions following.

 

In November, the professor’s birthday is celebrated in wild style in a nearby country house. In December, Lord Bryon and the students repeat Bryon’s exploit in the Hellespont by swimming across the icy village lagoon.

The professor is never quite sure whether his class is part of the college, or an unofficial elective: poetry is taken not quite seriously by this academy. On the other hand, this professor drinks with students and even sleeps with one of the female students. He would be the subject of disciplinary hearings if he were officially on the staff! These drinks are taken with a suburban bacchanalian spirit which grows out of the playful premise that dead poets can drink with 21st Century students.

I missed out on studying the Romantic poets because of the cycle of the English curriculum at Uni. This wonderful book has partly made up for that. If you love poetry, and you are intrigued by the fantasy setting Glyn Maxwell has created, you will thoroughly enjoy taking Drinks with Dead Poets.

 

 

Psalm 114 for Noongar country


When Israel came into the Great South Land:
and the People of God among a people of an alien tongue.

Torndirrup became his sanctuary:
and Walyunga his domain.

The sea saw that, and fled:
Derbal Yiragan was driven back.

Pualaar Miial skipped like a ram:
and the foothills like young sheep.

What ailed you, O sea, that you fled:
O Yiragan, that you were driven back?

O Bluff Knoll, that you skipped like a ram?:
O little hills like young sheep?

Tremble, O Noongar country, at the Lord’s presence:
at the presence of the God of gods.

Who turned the rock into a billabong:
and threw sand into the waterhole to make it safe.

***

(Acknowledging Professor David Frost’s version of Psalm 114 in A Prayer Book for Australia)

 Torndirrup – the National Park on the south coast at Albany with the Gap and Natural Bridge.

Walyunga – National Park on the Darling Range near Perth with many sacred places associated with the Waagyl.

Derbal Yiragan – Swan River

Pualar Miial – Bluff Knoll (tallest peak in the Stirling Ranges)

Throwing sand – When Noongars arrive at a water-hole or river, they throw sand into the water so as not to disturb the Waagyl and make the water safe for drinking and swimming.

The Gap, Torndirrup National Park, courtesy pleasetakemeto.com

Psalm 108 for Noongar country


My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed:
I will sing and make melody.

Awake, my soul, and awake, sticks and didj:
for I will awake the morning.

I will play the didj, O Lord, among the peoples:
its circle buzzing breathes our gratitude.

I will chip your clapping sticks among the nations:
its clicking claims your eternal praise.

For the dawn in the east rises in gold and scarlet:
robes of Easter and Pentecost overwhelm the sky.

Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds:
and the land is a body painted with white and ochre dreamings.

Be exalted, O God, above the southern skies:
and let your glory shine over Noongar country;

That all whom you love may be delivered:
Noongars and wedulahs, O save us by your right hand, and answer us.

***

(Acknowledging Professor David Frost’s version of Psalm 108 in A Prayer Book for Australia)

 The ‘didj’ (didgeridoo) was technically not a part of Noongar culture before the arrival of Europeans, but they have adopted it since contact with ‘wedulahs’ (white fellas) has brought them into contact with other Indigenous groups.  

My country of origin is Koreng country. I now live in Wardandi country.

Noongar country (Western Australia)

 

 

 

Psalm 148 for Western Australia


Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord from heaven:
praise him from the heights of Toolbrunup.

Praise him, all his angels:
O praise him all his hosts.

Praise him, sun and moon, rippling staircase across the sea:
praise him, all you stars of light.

Praise him you highest heaven:
and you Cross bright against the dark of night.

Let them praise the name of the Lord:
for he commanded and they were made.

He established them for ever and ever:
he made an ordinance which shall not pass away.

O praise the Lord from the earth:
praise him you golden super-pit and caves of glistening stalactites.

Bush-fire and hail, cyclone and heat:
and willy-willies fulfilling his command.

Mountains of iron and giant ant-hills:
gum-trees, and grass-trees, and grey-green plains of spinifex.

Dingoes and kangaroos:
creeping things and long loping emus.

Elders of tribes, and many nations:
refugees and boat-people, and all who’ve crossed the seas.

Young folk and children:
Seniors and toddlers together,

Let them praise the name of the Lord:
for his name alone is exalted.

His glory is above earth and heaven:
and he has lifted high the stocks of his people.

Therefore he is the praise of all his servants:
of the children of the West, a people that is near him. Praise the Lord.

(Acknowledging Professor David Frost’s version of Psalm 148 in A Prayer Book for Australia)

* Toolbrunup – second highest peak (1,052 metres above sea level) in the Stirling Range in the Great Southern region of WA

* Staircase of the Moon – in Broome and Meelup in February and March the rising full moon shines over the east-facing beach to create a spectacular light effect like a staircase.

* super-pit – open-cut gold mine near Kalgoorlie 3.5 x 1.5 km and 600 metres deep.

* willy-willy – local word for dust-storm or mini-tornado.

* spinifex – properly called Triodia, these arid grasses are endemic to outback Australia.

Willly-willy

 

 

Psalm 89 for Western Australia


Lord, I will sing for ever of your loving kindnesses:
my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness throughout all generations.

Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord:
and let your faithfulness be sung by your holy ones in cathedrals and karri forests.

O Lord God of hosts, who is like you?:
your power and your faithfulness are all about you.

You rule the raging of the sea:
when its waves surge at Yallingup, you still them,
when its tides rush in at Hedland, you level them.

You created the Kimberley and the Great Southern:
Kununurra and Esperance shall sing of your name.

The endless array of the stars is yours:
and so are the far-dreamt deserts of the interior.

You founded the fertile valleys of the West:
and filled the rivers with gilgies and fish.

Happy the people who know the cry of the black cockatoo:
who walk, O Lord, in the paths of your creating.

They rejoice all the day because of your name:
because of your righteousness they are exalted.

Our land belongs to our God:
our country to the One who makes us.

(Acknowledging Professor David Frost’s version of Psalm 89 in A Prayer Book for Australia)

* karri – eucalyptus diverticolor trees which grow extremely straight up to 80 metres.

* gilgie – a freshwater crustacean found in West Australian waters.

Karri forest (courtesy Wikipedia)

Creation 1.0


God created the heavens and the earth

i. Pieces of God

Pieces of God strewn sparking
across the white-gold star-field of galaxies,
word-spells: breathings and vowels, shutters and consonants,
meaning and yearning –
God uttering creation into being.
 

God created the seas and all that swims and swarms in them

ii. Prayer of the Manta Ray

She stepped deeper. Her ankle was now covered. She shivered even though the sea water was warm and the sun shone. A wisp of warm breeze caressed her. “Prescience of joy,” whispered an angel, as the black disc, the manta ray, circled his way to shore. He delicately manoeuvred his sharp sting away from her tiny ankle and stroked the pale skin with his white under-body. The whole Indian Ocean came flooding into her like a gentle all-powerful tide.

As the manta ray glided back into the depths, not all the tide receded. Her body remained one with the water.

 

‘…the birds of the air…’

iii. Life after
(Sonnet)

I stand heart-still on bush-edge trail.
Puny next to high bunched boughs
of sage green gums.  The great wedge-tail
eagle soars: all before it stoops, bows.

 

My eye zooms: the bird has stalled:
gravity forgot; upheld by thermal.
All potential at rest, just the air mauled
by fierce talons; wings held formal.

 

Then, straight down from pin-head highs
the eagle drops, wings tucked, a grey stone-streak.
The lizard struck and killed, in cold eye’s

wink.  Wings wide as Passion Week.
For all of us in God’s surprise
are taken alive in Christ’s dear beak.