the banyan on northcliffe

in the road a century tree
guard railed, buttress of grasses

encirclement of kerbing 
captive and indomitable

speaks of road-makers’ charity (or cowardice)
its roots extend—feels the traffic above 

suckers appear in gardens
blocks away

it shades, a brief dark pool
sudden respite from the tumult

cruelly pruned to allow trucks
its leaves caress, its arms

wounded but beautiful
as you descend 

Image: The Australian Banyan (Ficus macrophylla,) tree this morning.

And for music, here’s Tom Verlaine (former guitarist with Television who died in January after a long struggle with cancer) with some gorgeous de-tuned guitar work from his 2006 album Around (only available on Youtube). RIP Tom.

tanka on the first heatwave of summer — Feb. 16.

beyond the cafe —
street trees roil, girrrr of 
ten thousand cicadas 
SUV backs into wall —
tea-leaves orbit my cup

Image: my scorching driveway. The poet musing from the air-conditioned comfort of a cafe while the world outside gets used to what local weather forecasters describe as a ‘low intensity heatwave’.

And for music this morning, here’s Taiwanese ensemble Cicada with their 2023 album Seeking the Sources of Streams (Youtube) –

on the path to the shore, a haibun

I’d not been down it for a year, not since the dog’s arthritis got worse. It was a cunning way. From an unpromising corner of a municipal lawn, a steep descent into wilderness, a few blind turns, then some scrubground where the dog can go off lead looking for fox and the black snake, an eastern whip bird right there in the casuarinas. 

Today it’s so overgrown it barely exists. Morning glory, lantana, bittou bush and coastal banksia have closed over—it’s as impenetrable as paradise. Crouch thru low doors and tunnels, feet deep in weeds and puddles, the green rained-on vegetation like a shroud over what promise there is in the day.

All its history gone: schoolkids, dog walkers, shoplifters fleeing security guards, masturbators in their groves, workers with their lunch pails taking the back route down to the plant, and men like me, huffing up and down hills, determined to stave off the heart-attack that’ll inevitably take us too early. 

(My ex-wife jokes about what a buff corpse I’ll leave.)

Surely there’s some wisdom about paths needing to be used, remade by walkers lest they vanish?

At last that engine the sea—the grey rollers full throttle against the rockshelf, spray snatched away by the southerly. The remains of the swimming pool built in the twenties to keep the kids and the sharks apart—rafts of twigs and plastic. 

Gone also that house. It had occupied this block for more than 100 years, with a nice aspect to the pool and the yawn of the beach. Lead-light windows, curated succulents in coffee tins up the front steps. I imagined the dark of the sitting room, a photo of her son in his uniform on the mantle, the chime of the clock on the quarter hour, a tabby on the sofa sniffing the day. 

How quickly houses become meadows. And meadows become houses. Surely there’s some Buddhist sutra about impermanence and abandonment?

bleached shell
tossed on this midden
five thousand years ago
just yesterday  

Image: Lounge chair, Port Kembla. And for music today here’s Australian musician and multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi with his solo album Shebang (Youtube). And if you’re wondering what a shebang is, start here

Here’s a PDF for those having trouble reading this…

Afternoon tanka – Jan 27

impatient the air
slams a door, a saucer
certainty of downpours
evaporates before 
reaching this far

Image: Utagawa Hiroshige, Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge and Atake, from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo 1857. c/- Metropolitan Museum

And for music this morning, here’s Japanese composer Isao Tomita with Claire de Lune (Youtube). The whole album (sorry couldn’t find it on Youtube but there’s plenty of Tomita for you to enjoy) is pretty fab from the master of synths. (I remember my father bringing home one of Tomita’s LPs and we sat fascinated that all this music was without a single instrument being bowed or blown into or orchestra being conducted)

a flat tanka — Jan. 15

barely waves, turquoise
lift and settle
of surfers
collective supplication
anything, send us anything

Image: Harold Salvage sunbaking, “The Sunbather” from Camping trips on Culburra Beach by Max Dupain and Olive Cotton c/- State Library of NSW on Flickr

Music this morning, here’s Australian musician Andrew Tuttle with reminiscence of Alexandra (Youtube has the live performance), very chill – banjo, cicadas and sprinklers on the lawns – and no surf today.

tanka — Jan. 9

bluebag of a day
one quick dunking
final rinse the sky
then hung brighter
flower the very bee

Image by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash. Today was one of those cloudless perfect days that a friend described as a ‘bluebag’. This referenced Reckitt & Coleman’s laundry product, a history of laundry and the (incomplete and wildly speculative) wikipedia entry for bluing (fabric): bee sting remedies, hoodoo spells and blue hands.

Unrelated, for music this morning here’s Cecilia Bartoli with cellist Sol Gabetta with some sweet duets (youtube)

7 January tanka

blown sand blocks our street
duneland has returned
like the past
finds us oddly
unready its tidings

Image: Dunes south of Port Kembla, c. 1940s c/- Wollongong Library. A tanka inspired by the brief closure of a local road after a few days of strong southerlies. This area was subject to some ‘dune shaping’ recently by the local council which involved removal of foredune vegetation which (in my view) helped stabilise the sand. That said, the past is implacable.

Music this morning, here’s British vocal ensemble Voces8 with a reworking of Radiohead’s Pyramid Song (Youtube).

Ron Pretty — 101 poems

Wollongong poet, publisher and Australian poetry legend Ron Pretty has published a collection of his work over 50 years of writing.

Poetry shifts so quickly it can be hard to keep up. Sometimes I imagine it as a wave, its front rising up full of new exciting voices; voices that have been ignored or silenced; sassy angry voices talking back to the blandness of popular culture and late stage capitalism; urgent voices insisting we act on environmental destruction now.  

Consider this year’s winner of the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry, Andy Jackson’s Human Looking. To quote the judges:

“Jackson’s book is an extraordinary poetic exploration of his own disability – Marfan’s syndrome, which is disfiguring and distorts the shape of his face and body. His poems are blistering in their power, wonderfully subtle, objective and with no self-pity. “

Similarly, this year I listened to readings from a new anthology Admissions from Red Room Poetry, poems written from the lived experience of mental illness. My warmest memory of that night is as one of the poets came to the critical point in the poem he was struck dumb, overcome with emotion. And we, a room of 80 fans and friends, held our breath as the poet found his composure and courage to keep reading. Powerful words indeed.

So what to make of a collection of someone who’s been writing poetry for over 50 years, has published eight full collections and six chapbooks of poetry? To continue the surf metaphor, this poetry is from the green water out beyond the breakers, it’s deep and cool and collected and exhilarating in its own way. Yes, there are experiments in form, in voice and subject but it also points to the evolution of a writer over time. 

Recently, I voiced Ron’s words for a program on Radio 3CR in which two of his poetry colleagues — Kevin Brophy and Alex Skovron — read from 101 poems. It’s a terrific program put together by Tina Ginannoukos from the Spoken Word team at 3CR and gives you an introduction to Ron Pretty’s work (a longer extended version is also available). 

After listening to this, you’re going to want to immediately order a copy from Ron’s publisher Pitt Street Poetry. 

3CR spoken-word program: The work of Ron Pretty, December 22, 2022.

And for music this afternoon (where it’s raining on newly mown summer grass) here’s American composer Caroline Shaw with the Attacca quartet playing Orange (Youtube)