Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Tuesday Poem: "An Old Clown Disremembers"

In sawdust memories,
my oversized shoes trip.
Honked in my ear,
the hand-held hooter shatters my equilibrium.

I miss
the roar of the greasepaint,
the smell of the crowds,
adoring adults
and cynical kids.

The elephants have joined the dole queue,
their unicycles left to rust in the shed.
Recession tamed the lions faster
than the leather lightning of the Great Alfredo.

Maria’s behind the checkout, emitting price check sighs,
a pair of gold trapezes still swinging in her eyes.
On their night off from Arthur Murray, the bears
meet the poodles at the pub to relive their halcyon days.
And me, I am a yellowed page,
run over by people pushing their own barrows,
but, carried on the aroma of hot dogs,
the sauce-splattered children enter my Big Top heart.

Framed by multi-coloured light bulbs,
a young face returns to the mirror.
White face, red nose, blue hair,
laughter by layers.

With music blaring, I ride out on my tiny bike
to dousings and fallings and slapstick whackings.
I hold aloft my bucket-stuck foot for their gleeful approval
and we connect through candy-sticky claps.

A battered hat
crowned by a wilted flower
lies centre ring
in the silent arena.

I miss
the roar of the greasepaint,
the smell of the crowds...
cold wind creeping under the canvas,
blowing the magic away.

The poet wishes to acknowledge The West Australian in whose pages this poem first appeared.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

We don't celebrate failure enough

I saw a cartoon recently in The Press drawn by Tony Lopes under his "Insanity Streak" brand. I would have loved to reproduce the cartoon here for your amusement, but the technology of copying/scanning it into the blog defeated me. I failed which may be ironic because the subject of the cartoon was failure.

In the cartoon a group of mourners are sobbing in a church gathered around a coffin which is in two distinct pieces. One of the halves of the coffin has two feet poking out of it. The priest is saying: "Here we lay to rest Gaetano, the not so great illusionist."

Although we can speculate that the mourners would rather have their friend, Gaetano, alive, they are effectively gathered in the church to celebrate his failure.

Decades of The Great American Dream have been sold to us through the predominance of American culture exported globally. Speakers like Tony Robinson have amassed fortunes selling their secrets for success to the keening masses. Success and the quest for success have been inculcated in the philosophy of Western civilisation. Other cultures may have their own takes on success or they have grafted the Western vision on to their own.

When the London Olympics were being held, I  saw an American-produced current affairs piece on how China grooms potentially gifted children into elite Olympic athletes in special schools set up for the purpose. They start very young and they do their normal schooling and after school they train for hours every day. When so-called "regular" Chinese children are enjoying school holidays, these children are spending every single day of these holidays training. Competitive fear is bred into them. Little Yang must train harder than Little Zhang so he/she will be selected for glory. I was filled with a sense of sadness for these children.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers: the Story of Success, he outlines his now-famous theory that in order to succeed in a specific field, a person needs to do at least 10,000 hours practice. Now, I am not denigrating success or the quest for success, but when I saw those Chinese children in the current affairs story, I was struck by how the authorities were stealing something from them they could never replace: their childhoods. No goofing off, no playing with friends, no fishing for eels, building forts or playing games like hide-and-seek. Joe Jackson drove his son, Michael, like this from an early age and although he became a superstar and was a phenomenal creative force, it is well-documented what price Michael paid. He became a Peter Pan, reclusive, and, perhaps, behaved inappropriately around children. It's only conjecture, but if Michael Jackson had grown up with an ordinary childhood, I think he'd still be alive today.

The famous inventor, Thomas Edison, was once asked if he had been frustrated by his roughly one thousand attempts to perfect the light bulb. "No," he replied, "I just regarded them as one thousand ways not to make a light bulb." Edison wasn't concerned that he had FAILED one thousand times in his journey to eventual success.

But we don't celebrate failure. We cast it into the darkness, shining the spotlight only on success. We celebrate an endpoint while ignoring the journey.

I'm not the first person to say this nor will I likely be the last, but don't concentrate solely on your successes. If you do, your past will be like a moth-eaten rug with small fragments of material strung together with holes. Many successful people have spoken of how they learned so much more from failure than success.

If you try and fail, the failure isn't extricably wedded to your character or personality. You are not a failure, you just experienced failure and , if you are to have a rich and fulfilling life, you will experience (and maybe even celebrate) failure many more times.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Tuesday Poem: "For Chrissie Weeping for the Sea"

You’re the one,
the nexus, the crux, the one at the centre
keeping all us flakes from
flaking off into a life more ordinary
and yet,
here you are, bursting into spontaneous tears,
the creep up behind you emotions,
the lump rising mid-word
and it’s not much to ask:
here, the poor people have a patch of the sea
not generally a city feature.

We walk our dogs, we surf our dreams and we contemplate.
We know the value of a dollar and the value of
turning your back on one.

And we’re a funny, fucked-up family
and our sea is our friend,
our plaything,
our solace and we’ll drive
one and a half hours
on special occasions
just to change our view of our sea
but we’ll always come back to our strip
of our sea
and we’ll stand and weep with our friend, Chrissie,
for the day they filled our sea with shit.

It seemed appropriate to post this poem since tomorrow is the first anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Christchurch and its infrastructure and killed 185 people. Raw sewerage filled our rivers and flowed out into the sea so that our beaches were deemed off-limits for about nine months.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Tuesday Poem: "Switchfoot"

for my mother, Joan

Surfers have a word
for those select few whose ambidexterity
lets them lead with either foot,
always facing their aqueous dance partner.
We call it “switchfoot”
and this defiance of dominance is revered.
Some surfers practise for years,
enduring endless wipeouts to master that moment
when the switch becomes effortless,
a Zen scissored glide as smooth
as the wave they are now facing.

Mother, do you remember that moment
when we switched feet?
Now the child leads the parent towards
that white maelstrom that awaits us all
at the end of our ride.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Tuesday Poem: "It Will Always Be"

the soft white parchment
of your skin
on which I write my desire,
the sensual prow
of your hips
which steers me homeward,
the sun-warmed wine press
of your thighs
that urges the juices from my skin,
the billowing clouds
of your breasts
that obscure me from the mundane,
the fragrant garden
of your mouth
from which I drink a heady scent,
my heart that you hold in your hand.

Sorry for the late posting, but I've been sick the last two days with a stomach bug.