Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday Poem: "Sadness"

(For William Yang)

From sadness into darkness,
the associations rising in the auditorium
fought down as the house-lights go up,
old habits die hard.
How many times have we been cautioned against
public displays of private grief?

Darkness welcomes sadness,
the sweet release of streaming tears
shed freely on these strange windswept streets.
Tears of memory,
of other darknesses.
Like the darkness that devoured my grandmother
or the darkness of the womb wherein
one of my brothers was damaged by God
or the darkness of a Perth garden where I wept
in the early hours of the morning
and searched the starry firmament
for the star that was surely Don
after he had fled his AIDS-ravaged shell.

If the soul is a river flowing through our procession
of lives, perhaps tears
are the moments when our souls overflow.

I wrote this poem in 1995 after seeing a beautiful show at Downstage Theatre in Wellington called Sadness spoken/performed/illustrated by William Yang, an Australian photographer/performer of Chinese descent. It was essentially a kind of lecture, but that doesn't do justice to the emotional power of the piece, accompanied by slides taken by Yang. It had twin themes of loss and recovery. Yang, a homosexual, had lost many friends during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and he also embarked on a journey into North Queensland to research his Chinese ancestry.

I was deeply moved by this show. It did what the best of theatre does, it elicited an emotional response. I walked home to where I lived in Mt Victoria, crying all the way. When I had completed the poem, I gave a copy to the folk at the Downstage Box Office and they very kindly passed it on to William Yang who sent me a lovely postcard from North Queensland where he was touring the show.

The poet would also like to acknowledge the 1995 Whitireia Poetry Competition in which the poem subsequently won an award. 


  1. Beautifully emotive--thank you, Andrew.

    I couldn't help thinking that "How many times have we been cautioned against
    public displays of private grief?" is very true of the current poetic dictum, too, no?

  2. Yes, Helen, I would agree with you about the current poetic dictum.

  3. Hmm, the same lines Helen picked up really stuck with me too. Is it possible to avoid public displays of private grief? So many beautifully rendered words in this poem. Thanks so much for posting!

  4. Thanks, Elizabeth. Unfortunately, men are often conditioned to keep all grief "internal", so to speak. It's very English-influenced, stiff upper lip and all that.

    I prefer southern European and other cultures where men are "allowed' to be more emotional.