Monthly Archives: August 2013

Mario Petrucci’s anima

© Image by Jemimah Kuhfeld

© Image by Jemimah Kuhfeld

 
 
 
“Reminiscent of e.e. cummings at his best”, Mario Petrucci’s work is “vivid, generous and life-affirming” (Envoi).  His most recent poems, inspired by Black Mountain and hailed as “modernist marvels” (Poetry Book Society), embrace contemporary issues of profound social and personal relevance via a distinctive combination of innovation and humanity.  Through groundbreaking residencies, poetry films and a remarkable output of ecopoetry, his unique scientific sensibility has illuminated the linguistic as well as emotive resonances of love and loss in the public and private domains.  Whether exploring the tragedies of Chernobyl (Heavy Water, 2004) or immersing himself in heart-rending invention (i tulips, 2010), Petrucci aspires to “Poetry on a geological scale” (Verse).
 
 
 
 
anima 
 
 
 
“The thirty-nine poems of anima bring a distinctive, archetypal potency to the closing stages of Mario Petrucci’s larger i tulips project, the 1111-strong sequence in which this sub-sequence crucially sits.
 
Arising organically from prior modernist experiment, Petrucci’s style nevertheless remains utterly contemporary. His mastery of the shape and sound of each poem makes for an intense and all-consuming experience, refocusing an array of influences through an acute lyrical sensibility. By yielding so completely to the power of linguistic transformation, these searing, necessary poems capture both the crisis and the beauty of the heart’s innermost voyage.”
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
“Mario Petrucci’s anima is a revelation of the underside of a human heart submitting to the contradictions of love, doubt and mortality. This remarkable work reconfigures the soul as well as the mind, through language that shapes the ineffable into a visceral, triumphant poetry.”

– Alexandra Burack
 
 
 
“The tensile delicacy of Petrucci’s lines springs back with a very English baroque, Miltonic surprise: sense-ambush occurs in the next line, skewering what’s gone before.  Between these line-breaks rests a declamatory silence tested to snapping.  This is major work to cast shadows.”

– Álvaro de Campos, tr. Simon Jenner
 
 
 
“With a brio and tenderness all of their own, these new lyric poems are modernist marvels, word sculptures pared to their very essence… Petrucci’s tulips promise to grow into a truly ambitious landmark body of work.”

Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Spring 2010
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
the machine
 
 
step into the machine
they said
& we can take you back

undo each & all regret
the girls  the booze  that bank
I said

the catch?
that’s for you to choose  they said
just get in first &

take it
step by step  so I could have had  (I
mean could have)

Margaret?  no –
better than that  the clearest pearl you
never met  a flower

a-swirl in mead  but
hurry now  this power is
expensive  & what of illness?  mine?  no

need for that  you’ll be shown
where you mustn’t live  look – an open
door  sign

here (I cursed)  was she then
the one?  of many  friend  you mean
rather than the one I

took?  you’re sure?   oh
much more than you can know  so
meet that hearse

with a silken heart  take another
throw…(I’d one leg
in)  I said

&
what about
my son?

your son?  ah
– nothing to be done  nothing
we can do  but

there’ll be others  just like
him & not  unkilled  & he’ll never know
you know   nor you

I know
now  I said  (they began to fret  the floor
began to slide)  we need

answers  get
inside  don’t make this your biggest
yet   I

saw a face
somewhere still  at play  a door
swept shut

then
disappeared as I whispered
through air  distilled

I’ll stay
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
for Pablo Neruda (‘Tonight I Can Write…’)
 
 
because  i have
 
 
lost her  I hold her gaze in mine
who never loses  who sees me  under
the bone moon  bones in her eyes  daze

all love shown  in singlest glance  nothing
survives other than love  what eyes
steady behind a look  covered

recovered  as one loses a stone
generations passed  down on single
fingers  regenerations to regain her  I

found because I looked & all  gazing salt  who
think eyes that dance  lose  translating
flesh to other flesh  that thinned

mink a thumbtip brushed in her  small
of back or animal  between thighs made
heady muse  what is  never held I cannot

lose as oceans do not hold  the dolphin  ever
passing  through  I have her now who
passed in trueness  feel her

glide within as certain days  become
asides to time  as though I were that air  emp-
tied  leap–stunned over water  what waters   hide

after dolphins
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
room
 
 
within
none ever
walked through

walls
unpainted with chords
yellowed

beneath silt
& caught between brick
each ability

to weep
bedded in plaster to cover
notes as

if music
were indicant absence for
what

instruments
never express though this
covert man

is able
sat by a window black
with lateness

halved
in love for all quiets
he cannot

hear
quite pianissimo
through

night
artful with dawn all on
its brink

agape
with the next his very next
beat b-

rushing
that rim outermost in him
ever after

about to
return even as it burns
lock to

key
in the one his
undone

heart
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
anima  I
 
 
cannot write
her straight – this
man in whom straightness is

an arrow curving
its path : mere illusion
for lovers who plot where it arcs

I cannot know
her in this line I draw
back tauter than the string that lets

pain go or
the bow supple in its
bend yet ever prone to warp & send

off-true : so
how may I find a You
where speech is impossible unless

this skimming
of targets be the way
into speaking between a man &

that woman he
started with neither
mother nor wife but She he

squints at
clear through near
-sighted morning as if

her stroke
steady & precise
through him were

all
air ready
to be parted
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
O  anima
 
 
you ran
ahead when magma
was just a girl hurled along masculine

vertebrae to spill her tresses hotly orange
or part in pleasure there &
here her

many yellow
lipsticked mouths – you
blessed the pool where bacteria unthinking

Brownian ways through measured light chose
instead one day to walk &
continents

still fused
hip to shoulder you
smouldered on each southern bed dreamy

with depth & loosely loved where underwater
vents teethed in druse sent
upwards

plumed
biota as campfires do
by gloomy streams & even through reptilian

doom you grew patient for me as the Nile for
sand or that green-brown rind
on crocodiles

you waited
for sun & mind to grow me
with every journey hearse-to-crib become one

slow breath & now i breathe creation in
as though that oxygen were
easy on

these lungs
received through a look
fearlessly ancient from a creature formed

not of rib but water who found at last air &
fire or as bluish Earth in
all its seas

glares in love
upon airier blues or the air
-borne bird ever chooses to keep motionless

its egg or settles in the nest it makes itself
with delicate shivers to rest
within

that perfect
fit – though today i sleep &
skit so sense myself a swallow stalled &

brought too soon to ground who sees thus
calls to your sky moving on
above to

wait for me
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
for Hafez
 
 
how  our stars
 
 
fall to heaven not
up
from hell: twinned

flares unseen in op-
position
that dare cross them

selves across the sea
-through
moon in soundless omen

a quick amen in bodied sky
light
swells to bluest child these

plutonic cells uncurtailed
&
indivisibly double this

zygote afternoon that
brings
to hours made all

but ionic with
bright
electrics our

invisibly
parallel
filaments

of night
 
 
 
 
from anima (Nine Arches Press, 2013).
 
Order anima here and here.
 
Visit Mario’s website.
 
 
 
*

‘The Old and the Young’ by Rebecca Goss

© Image by Rosie Bennett

© Image by Rosie Bennett

 
 
 
Rebecca Goss was born in 1974 and grew up in Suffolk.  She studied English at Liverpool John Moores University and has an MA in Creative Writing from Cardiff University. Her first full-length collection, The Anatomy of Structures, was published in 2010 by Flambard Press.  Her Birth, her second collection, is published by Carcanet/Northern House and has been shortlisted for the 2013 Forward Prize for Best Collection. She has recently moved back to Suffolk after twenty years in Liverpool, where she taught creative writing at Liverpool John Moores University. She is married, has raised her two stepchildren, and now combines writing full time with caring for her young daughter.

 

   
Her Birth 
 
 
 
Shortlisted for the 2013 Forward Prize for Best Collection
 
 
“In 2007 Rebecca Goss’s newborn daughter Ella was diagnosed with Severe Ebstein’s Anomaly, a rare and incurable heart condition. She lived for sixteen months. Her Birth is a book-length sequence of poems beginning with Ella’s birth, her short life and her death, and ending with the joys and complexities that come with the birth of another child. Goss navigates the difficult territory of grief and loss in poems that are spare, tender and haunting: “Going home, back down/ the river road, will be a foreign route without her”.”
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
“The poems in Her Birth unfold their story of love, loss and grief for a baby daughter with pared-down precision and scorching intensity. The language, like sea-glass, has been ground by a tide that might have crushed words completely. Instead, it has shaped these translucent poems.”

– Helen Dunmore
 
 
 
 
“It is rare to read a book of poems which has the narrative compulsion of Her Birth. But even such a powerful and moving narrative as this one would not be effective without the beautifully crafted language in which the poems are expressed: clear, graceful, word-perfect. This is a wonderful book.”

– Bernard O’Donoghue
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
The Old and the Young
 
 
Since the death of my baby daughter in 2008, I look at old people differently. By old, I mean men and women well into their pensionable years. I have always loved the company of older people but there is an added poignancy to it now.

Twenty years of my life were spent in Liverpool. It’s rare to go anywhere in the city and not engage with a stranger within hours. Perhaps I am generalising, but I think women too, are particularly quick to confess and confide in each other. We have an ability to share and reveal information about ourselves, to females we barely know, in a matter of minutes. In the past five years I have met several elderly women who have lost children. Their stories were told to me in various locations: the gardens of a café, a bus, my own street. I didn’t know any of the women, we had not met before, but just the gentle crossing of paths prompted conversation. Their stories of sadness came quickly. I didn’t tell them about my own daughter’s death and what floored me about their stories was how quickly their ‘loss’ came to the surface. In each case, the death of their child had happened decades earlier but it was almost the first thing they told me. It defined them, all those years later.

Inside Liverpool’s imposing Catholic cathedral there is a Children’s Chapel. It houses a stone-finished sculpture depicting Christ surrounded by children. The windows have been likened to the ‘Oranges and Lemons’ nursery song. The woven hanging depicts the Sea of Galilee. At one end of the seat circling the chapel’s edge is a folder. It is overflowing, bursting with letters, cards and handwritten notes. I am not religious. I do not believe in God. I went to the cathedral on this particular day with my stepdaughter, as she was sketching part of the building for her school art project. I had no idea the chapel was inside. While Rosie sketched, I wandered into the chapel and gradually realised where I was and what this place meant to people.

I opened the folder and began to read. It was harrowing. There is no other word for it. Parents had come to leave letters for their dead children. But it was the dates that haunted me. My own daughter had been dead for less than a year. Some of the letters in the chapel were from women whose children had been dead for over fifty years. They had come to mark birthdays, or anniversaries and each card was written with the rawness of a recent loss.

I’m not frightened of getting old. I am frightened of forgetting my daughter, of sitting in a chair, stricken with dementia and being unable to recall her name or face. But I am also terrified of remembering her. That a part of me is going to be very sad, for the rest of my life. How selfish that sounds. How selfish too, to fear the day I will be old, an unremarkable presence on a bus and no one will give a damn that my daughter died. No one will know that I lived through that terrible thing. Now, when I see an elderly woman alone, I want to sit beside her and say Tell me everything. Tell me everything about your life.
 
 
 
Helpline
 
 
I’ve been told of women in their eighties
who dial on birthdays, their story drawn

from the receiver in small damp breaths:
‘He would have been sixty’

and a voice wraps them in a blanket of vowels.
Somehow, a child has slipped from them.

They were unable to stop it, like sand collapsing
back down the hole, dug on that dry part of beach.
 
 
 
The final section of Her Birth covers the birth of my second child. I wanted the book to end with feelings of hope. Hope is there, but the poems are permeated with fears of something awful happening again. When your world has been that of hospitals, palliative care, bad news, it is hard to believe that children live to grow old.

I discovered Sharon Olds’ collection The Sign of Saturn (Secker and Warburg, 1991) in my very early twenties. I was single, had no children of my own but was drawn in completely by her portrayal of women, motherhood and children. She also wrote a lot about sex. Sexual relationships and the family were two key things I wanted to write about and I’ve always felt that book gave me a kind of ‘green light’ to go ahead. Olds observes not just the beauty of children, but their fragility and vulnerability too. In a poem about her daughter’s worn and abandoned pyjamas she describes how they “lie on the floor/ inside out, thin and wrinkled as/ peeled skins of peaches when you ease the/ whole skin off at once./ You can see where her waist emerged, and her legs,/ gathered in rumples like skin the caterpillar/ ramped out of and left to shrivel” (from ‘Pajamas’).

Her daughter ‘ramps’ through life, but what she leaves behind is as fragile and ephemeral as peach skin. The daughter matures at a pace and there is the mother, behind her, following the trail, collecting the discarded items of proof that her child existed. Of course, this is what we want. We want to see our children growing, maturing, achieving each metamorphic stage. Despite Olds’ poems about her own children being quite wondrous, she does not take anything for granted. The book is punctuated with stories of children who do not make it. A young girl is raped and murdered, a child goes missing – the tape of his information poster “beginning to/ melt at the centre and curl at the edges as it/ ages”.

In The Sign of Saturn Olds describes someone who “knows what all of us never want to know”. If you experience the death of a child, you then carry that awful knowledge. The final poem in Her Birth returns to the wondrous state of watching a child bloom, of allowing myself to enjoy her young life. But I admit, I wanted to share some of the awful knowledge too. I wanted to explain it, explore it, try and make sense of it in some way.
 
 
 
Mining
 
 
I let socks dot the washing, coats grace
a chair’s arm.  Her hospital bag, too hard
to unpack, stayed slumped and ignored

but eventually there was a gathering,
the limp outline of her size carried upstairs.
It accumulated in the cot, a cold pit

of pyjamas, dresses, jeans.  My heap of her,
visible through bars.  Insides of sleeves
brushed with her cells, last flecks compacting

in pastel matter, until her father found me
fretting at its edge, suggested it was time
for the careful mining of her things.

Our intention to sort, fold and label soon became
a quick, unhappy shoving into grey plastic bags,
the silent hoisting to an attic’s dark.  Her cot

collapsed, I sobbed in that desolated space,
while my desk was carried in, books and pens
planted on its surface, her father’s wise reclamation

of the site.  I kept a row of lilac-buttoned relics
in my wardrobe. Hand-knitted proof, something
to haul my sorry lump of heart and make it blaze.
 
 
 
The Lights
 

Pausing in traffic, I’m miles away
when a file of children forces me
to focus.  School now behind them,
they cross in a bustle of coats and bags –
their ages vague to me, but their limbs
bold and flailing, affirming themselves
with shoves and pushes. I marvel
this mass of certainty.  Even the loners

get to the other side, lights turning green
as they dawdle. I’m beginning to realise
most children make it. It’s rare to see
your child being fought for in intensive care;
to stay with her afterwards, saying her name.
It’s unusual, at the undertakers, to finalise
arrangements then fumble for a photograph,
so they could know her when she was warm.
 
 
 
 
© Her Birth (Carcanet/Northern House, 2013).
 
 
Order Her Birth here.

Visit Rebecca’s blog.
 
 
Rebecca will be talking about Her Birth on Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4, on Thursday, 15 August from 10h00.
 
 
Read Rebecca’s interview in The Observer about Ella, the book and the Forward Prize.

Rebecca writes about ‘Motherhood, poetry and loss’.

Read Rebecca’s title poem, ‘Her Birth’.

Visit Child Bereavement UK.
 
 
 
*

Gaia Holmes’s Lifting the Piano with One Hand

Gaia Holmes 
 
 
 
Gaia Holmes is a West Yorkshire-born poet and a graduate of Huddersfield University’s English with Creative Writing BA, and has previously made a living as a busker, a cleaner, a gallery attendant, an oral historian, a lollypop lady, a poet in residence at Bradford Library and Halifax festival, a freelance writer and Creative Writing lecturer. As well as being a familiar face on the local poetry scene, Gaia Holmes is also known nationally. She has read at literary festivals throughout Britain and beyond. Her poem ‘Claustrophobia’ was highly commended in the ‘Best Individual Poem’ category of the Forward Poetry Prize, 2007 and ‘A Homesick Truckie in the Algarve’ was the featured poem in Frieda Hughes’ weekly literary column in The Times (May 2007).
 
 
 
 
Lifting the Piano with One Hand 
  
 
 
“The poetry of Gaia Holmes delves deep beneath the urban and the quotidian to reveal a strange and exotic other-life. This, her much-anticipated second collection, champions the survivor and celebrates the indomitability of the self, measuring at each turn the cost suffered against the hope retained, the loss still felt against the new-found strength of starting afresh.”
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
“More like incantation or witchcraft – these poems are spells, taking the most ordinary and mundane of things, including jokes and sadness, and working some metamorphosis on them, so they shine like stars – tiny but brilliant.”
 
– Sara Maitland
 
 
 
 
“Like the narrator of her title poem, Gaia Holmes performs elegant feats, her language effortless and remarkable. This is a haunting but often witty collection, the poems alive to both ‘the sweet and the sour / moments of life’.”
 
– Helen Mort
 
 
 
 
“Here we see Holmes deepening the distinctive voice which made Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed such an impressive debut. With frailty and ferocity, she finds the sacred and discordant in the everyday. Empty teacups and beds are brimful of loss. Sex is sweet, sour and subversive. All this in a style which is as accessible as it is challenging. An engaging collection from a poet going from strength to strength.”
 
– Cathy Galvin
 
 
 
 
“Gaia Holmes became my favourite contemporary female poet the moment I read her potent, enchanting art. A wordsmith chef mixing the magic of the concrete and sensory with the imaginative, she is like a young Lady Prospero, able to make eiderdown moonlight or lift a neglected piano up to the skylight.”
 
– Joan Jobe Smith
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Blessed
 
 
Your grandmother
had tins full of prayer tags
and soft Garibaldi biscuits.
She stored gossip like hymn sheets
folded into the back
of her breeze-block bible,
kept a row of icons
above her fireplace
with garish hearts
like rotting plums,
reserved the best bone china
for priests, saints
and other visitations.
 
If you were lucky, upon leaving
you’d be blessed with a dry kiss
pressed upon the brow,
otherwise you’d leave
drenched in a frenzy of spittle,
Hail Marys and Holy Water.
 
You said I’d done quite well,
made a good impression
but I could tell by the way
she edged her way
around my name
and how damp I was
when we said goodbye
that she thought
I’d burn in Hell.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Retraction
 
 
Our sadness lives
on different floors,
separated
by a flimsy wafer
of carpet and board.
 
Mine is the feisty kind
that screams,
yours is the quiet rat
that gnaws.
  
Sometimes they meet
at the breakfast table,
spill milk, make chaos,
leave meaning out to sour.
 
But we
keep missing each other.
A fast car shrieks,
a bass-beat
jellies the house
or a cat keens and mewls
over our pleas
and we hear nothing,
only the tense creak
of our parallel pacing,
the gush and scratch
of something
scrubbing itself raw.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Ice Hotel
 
 
We have here
our own cheap little room
in the ice hotel
with none of the glamour
of a honeymoon bed.
 
We sleep on glaciers
with thick sheets of glass
between us.
 
Already
you have forgotten me.
My name turns blue
on your lips.
 
At night
the hotel glows
with its chandeliers
of seal-fat candles
and from the outside
you can see us,
you can see through us.
You can see
our meaty hearts
choking
under traceries
of frost.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Carmelo’s
 
 
On Albion Street, squeezed between Pisces fishmongers
and Custace’s game shop there is a little slice of Italy.
A tiny stereo plays Mina Mazzini’s greatest hits
as Carmelo flours his rounds of soft calzone dough.
All day a gush of butchers’ slop trickles past his shop,
a slurry of gills and gizzards and shreds of hide.
Carmelo grins above the gore, spins pale manna on his fingertip:
‘A calzone , Madame? Nice with the coffee, the tea’,
but he says it like a tragedy, as if he’s announcing a death.
No one stops. His beautiful cubes of feta run like milk
as the sun shines hard, turns pig’s blood into clots
and the dead rabbits swinging beside his sign
begin to drip.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
I turned my heart into a 2-star B&B
 
 
hoping that I might trick you
into checking in.
I covered the uneven walls
with red flock
and tawdry dados,
painted the ceiling
nicotine yellow,
hung dog-eared landscapes
at subtle slants,
put a back-lit tank
of Angel Fish in the foyer,
left stacks of browning
Readers Digests
on a pouffe in the lounge.
 
I transformed myself into a Mistress
of Marigold gloves
and tremulous ash cones,
wore pressed pin-curls
and a lilac housecoat.
And the only way you might
see through my disguise
would be when I slid your
grease-jeweled breakfast
onto the yellowed oil-cloth table,
bent low and close
so that my powdery cheek
dusted your jaw
and beneath the new
Jiff and liver scent
of my neck
you smelled wood smoke
and coconut
and remembered me.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
I’d like to live in a French film
 
 
where the thin tea-brown light
paints me wise and beautiful
Where the Sacre Coeur bells
and my neighbor playing Satie
make a stinging soundtrack
to my life.
 
Nothing will be bland:
you will be addicted
to my skin,
you will smoke
stumpy Gauloises cigarettes,
fill your car
with lust and violet clouds
as you drive through storms
dodging monstrous wind-fall trees
and toppled telegraph poles
just to get to me,
just to plant little kisses
like forget-me-nots
at the top of my thighs.
 
And in the morning,
every morning
we will drink black coffee
from shallow bowls,
we will eat croissants.
Our bed will become a table
full of love, books,
butter and crumbs
and outside
the wet streets will shine
like pewter,
the world will smell
of Montparnasse cafes
and Parisian rain.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
I am lifting the piano with one hand
 
 
I am holding it effortlessly steady
like a graceful waitress balancing a tray
of quail’s eggs and salmon soufflé
on her horizontal palm.
 
I am dexterously carrying it up three flights of stairs
without stubbing my toes or splitting my fingernails,
without chipping paint off the door frames
or denting the soft plaster of the walls.
 
I am lifting the piano with one hand.
I have not eaten spinach, mineral supplements,
muscle powder or Weetabix.
Today I am just unusually strong
and able to carry the piano up three flights of stairs
where I’ll leave the skylight window open
and a note inviting any passing ghosts
to come in, sit down and play ‘Moonlight Sonata’
or Chopin’s ‘Nocturne’ or ‘The Entertainer’
or whatever they’d like to play on a neglected piano
in the house of a strong woman.
 
 
 
 
from Lifting the Piano with One Hand (Comma Press, 2013).
 
Order Lifting the Piano with One Hand here or here.
 
Visit Gaia’s blog.
 
Read four of Gaia’s poems here.
   
 
    
   
*
 
  

Cliff Forshaw’s Vandemonian

Cliff Forshaw 
 
 
 
Cliff Forshaw left school at sixteen and worked in an abattoir before studying painting at art college and developing an interest in languages and European literatures. After various jobs in Spain, Mexico, Italy, Germany and New York and freelance writing in London, he completed a doctorate on Elizabethan satire at Oxford. Since then he has lived in Snowdonia and Yorkshire and taught at Bangor, Sheffield and, since 2005, Hull University.
 
He has been a writer-in-residence in California, Transylvania and Tasmania, twice a Hawthornden Writing Fellow, and a winner of the Welsh Academi John Tripp Award. He continues to paint and his work has been exhibited in the United Kingdom and the United States. He has also made two short films to accompany poetry collaborations: Drift was shown at the Humber Mouth Literature Festival in 2008; Under Travelling Skies (Kingston Press, 2012) won the first Larkin 25 Words Award in 2012.
   
Cliff Forshaw also writes fiction.
 
 
 
 
Vandemonian 
 
 
 
“The term “Vandemonian” refers to Van Diemen’s Land, and Cliff Forshaw’s sixth collection focuses on its inhabitants, both human and animal, newcomer and Aborigine, to piece together a fragmentary history of Tasmania. The first section moves from the island’s mythic beginnings as Trowenna, through its discovery by Europeans and the subsequent destruction of native peoples and wildlife as it becomes a penal colony’s own penal colony. Here there are songs and ballads for Trucanini, the last full-blood Tasmanian Aborigine, and also sonnets for the Tasmanian Tiger, officially declared extinct, but living on through folklore and unconfirmed sightings.
 
The poems roam wider and eventually fetch up on the mainland. ‘A Ned Kelly Hymnal’ reflects on the legend of the famous outlaw, its use by artists such as Sidney Nolan, and its ambiguous ubiquity as a symbol of Australian identity.
  
The book concludes with ‘The Shoal Bay Death Spirit Dreaming’: an elegy for one whitefella victim of the Australian sun. The poem considers death and displacement through the disorientating effects of modern travel which foster oblique reflections on a famous aborigine artwork, the huge collaborative painting by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and his brother Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri, The Napperby Death Spirit Dreaming.”
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
“An imagination like no other, transforming the world you thought you knew.”
 
– Jon Stallworthy
 
 
 
“The high energy of Cliff Forshaw’s poems makes me think particularly of Donne and the other Metaphysicals: argument, wit, erudition and force of feeling all working to convey an authentic vision of the world we live in.”
 
– Christopher Reid
 
 
 
“As always, Cliff Forshaw’s writing embodies a large intelligence. These are poems of voyage, exertion and discovery, enjoying the challenge of unpredictable and unusual locations, both geographical and psychological. At the same time, they demonstrate grounded, dependable craft. They never trick the reader, but, witty and exuberant, send us on our poetic journeys with new imaginative maps.”
 
– Carol Rumens
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Dumb Cells
 
 
They shut your trap. The warder said nowt,
bundled you – poor bugger! – into dark.
This monkhood turns grasses Trappist:
dumb cells, down there no light, no noise, no talk.
 
Without the light, it’s all bad dreams, blind faith.
You touch the wall to feel the world’s still there.
For days you wheel over landless seas.
You pray for Sunday: clanks, chains, the key.
 
But now, felt slippers, the guards’ steps muffled,
you’re hooded with a beak, prodded, shuffled
(damp-smells, echoes) towards a sniff of sun,
air, black on the back of your neck and hands.
 
Sunday, each man in his privy wooden stall,
you take your only communion in the swell
of hymns. Each soul can shout himself out
from his little wedge of God-pointed dark.
 
You sing your name: it fills your throat, your mouth;
not sure what is echo, what is prayer;
once more you’re wheeling over what brought you here:
Roaring Forties, that ache of nothing to the south.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Bird
 
 
You work. Pick oakum in solitude.
In the yard you’re hidden by a mask
that twists each jail-bird’s face into beak.
 
Nothing to say or do, but Work is Prayer.
You do your bird. You do your time. Keep shtum.
Keep nose clean. Keeps hands to yourself. Keep mum.
 
One day in the yard, a man runs head-first, mad
against the wall. Falls, gets up, head-butts
his way, almost through brick: again and again,
you hear skin and bone on stone. That crack.
 
It echoes down the months. It fills your cell.
Your mind’s eye colonised by the twitch
of a wounded bird, the way it fell;
how blood frothed cobbles, sun smirked along its beak.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Suddenly One Sunday
 
      Port Arthur, 28 April 1996
 
 
Suddenly one Sunday
a man goes into the Broad Arrow Café,
hands out the punishment to all and sundry.
 
Full of tourists. Bad timing, very tough luck –
to coincide with some long-simmered grudge
and a semi-automatic. Faster than Shit! Fuck!
 
The newly articulate rhetoric of an AR-15
making its incontrovertible points with thirty
rounds of well-considered disputation in each magazine,
 
pressing home the argument with a leg or shoulder.
Quiet lad, bit of a loner.
Back of neck, spine; exiting splinters of bone.
 
The chorus to that song keeps growing longer:
Columbine, Virginia Tech, San Ysidro, Aramoana,
Hungerford, Dunblane, Killeen, Fort Hood, Utøya.
 
A number you can’t get out of your head.
Eighteen wounded, thirty-five dead.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
The thylacine or “Tasmanian tiger”, the world’s largest marsupial carnivore, originally native to continental Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea, was declared extinct in 1986. Though deliberately hunted to the brink of extinction throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, it was given the status of protected species two months before the last documented tiger died in 1936 in a Hobart zoo.
 
Attempts to clone the thylacine, using DNA from preserved specimens, have so far proved unsuccessful. The tiger has assumed a popular mythic status in Tasmania, with unconfirmed sightings continuing to this day.
 
 
 
 
Loop
 
      62 seconds of the extinct thylacine on film
 
 
Within the box, it growls, it twists,
scowls through its repertoire of tricks,
ignores the camera – or gurns up close, turns
again, to flop, to gnaw that paw-trapped bone.
 
It paces out its trap of light; one hundred reps
while hindquarters zither bars of sun;
claws cage’s mesh, hangs stretched
as if to take the measure of itself.
 
You saw. You see. And what we’ve got is what was shot:
short clips, fragments caught and stitched
together in a loop of black and white.
 
Nine lives? Not quite. It’s down. It’s out.
It’s on its feet and born again. Like a repetition
compulsion, like … like reincarnated light.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Barcode
 
 
Extinct, this creature’s everywhere
from CD sleeves to bottled beer.
With trademark stripes, it zebras out
between the gums’ abstracted light.
They’ve even tigered my hired Mazda’s plate.
Everything’s branded. Tasmania – your natural state.
 
Now you see them. Now they’re gone.
Did this tiger’s go-faster stripes
aid recognition in the loping pack?
 
Eucalypts, eucalypts at speed,
late sun flickers through those trees:
at the tarmac’s edge, off-cuts of fur, strange weeds.
 
Billboards, stores along the newly-metalled road:
ironic ads, that hide’s barcode.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
The Bottom Line
 
 
Tarraleah, Wayatinah, Catagunya, Lake Repulse,
Zeehan, Strahan, Teepookana, Marakoopa, Crotty Dam,
Lileah, Nabageena, Savage River, Blackguard’s Hill.
Out of Queenstown, down the Franklin,
at Cradle Mountain, the Walls of Jerusalem,
one one the banks of Pieman River,
past the place they named Corinna;
unconfirmed sightings at Misery Plateau, Gates of Hell

 
On the road to Wayatinah,
hard to tell in scratchy rain
if what stripes dusk’s a mangy
dog, its ribs all chiaroscuro hunger,
or weather rubbing landscape out.
 
Or, the passing place, where headlights catch
what crosses track – that flash glimpsed in the paddock,
head down low, salaamed to dirt:
bowing or praying. What you see at first
is resolved, from something grumbling an argument
with the earth itself, to some long-snouted thing
with life between its teeth, its dragged-back iffy twitch.
 
For days, that nervous stuff all looks like prey:
a lope that’s dopplered through the boles of trees,
is there … there … there, is disappeared.
And all around, the bottom line goes:
Tarraleah, Wayatinah, Catagunya …
 
Past the place they named Corinna,
what you hear is ghosts, ghosts, ghosts …
 
 
 
 
from Vandemonian (Arc Publications, 2013).
 
Order Vandemonian here and here.
 
Visit Cliff’s website.
 
 
 
 
*