Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Tuesday Poem: "The Shamans of Mandurah - Part Two: The Shaven-headed Singer"

On the Mewburn rank,
the taxi driver curses the silent two-way radio
as he peels his sweat-soaked back
off the vinyl seat.
Like an osprey scanning the shifting sea
for silver flashes,
he appraises each approaching shopper.
Only the growing sound
of loud and tuneless singing
breaks his newsprint-induced trance.
A laugh bursts from his lips
as he watches The Shaven-headed Singer
on his child-size bicycle
freewheeling past the agape pedestrians.
They look askance at one another
in case this passing madness
might call out their own demons.
Then, rolling back their eyes like grateful Plague survivors,
they go back to their lemming rush
for lifestyle with a capital L.
Only the taxi driver,
knowing the arbitrary yardstick of sanity,
loves The Shaven-headed Singer
for celebrating the wildness in us all.

POET'S NOTE: Here is the second instalment in the series started last week. Enjoy.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Sadly, it hasn't gone away

Recently, I posted a poem on this blog called Letter to Vietnam which was inspired (this seems like the wrong word somehow in this context) by the murder of a very elderly Vietnamese man in Sydney in the early 1990s.

I think if we all examine our lives, our speech and our actions, it would only be the most saintly among us who could claim they never told a racist joke or thought a racist thought. But I believe most of us try our best to rise above the inherent racism which occurs in all races. White people are often singled out when the topic of racism is discussed, but, in reality, every race on this planet can be racist against another race, often their neighbours.

So, naturally, I was disturbed when I came upon the article below:


It seems no matter how technologically advanced we've become, many of us have not advanced much beyond a caveman mentality. This may be unjust to cave people who, for all I know, may have been extremely tolerant and open-hearted people.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Tuesday Poem: "The Shamans of Mandurah - Part One: The Wanderer"

Towering over the townsfolk, yet unnoticed,
The Wanderer ambles through the streets of Mandurah.
His white shirt and black pants
are well-worn but clean.
Close-cropped silver hair frames his gentle face.
Like a bear forgotten by a travelling circus,
he can be seen rambling to
Furnissdale or Halls Head or Silver Sands.
As he pauses to quench his vision,
God’s butler offers him the silver-plated estuary,
the piece de resistance sprinkled with pelicans.
Looking at the old bridge,
he sees the fisherfolk jostling for casting space.
He wanders on alone,
past the real estate offices
where homogenised photos of faceless suburbs
shout out their dreams
in the form of women’s names
or advertising executives’ utopian fantasies.
As The Wanderer passes,
Mr White-Kneesocks-Safari-Suit shakes his head,
knowing he cannot sell him a mortgaged prison.

NOTE: In a previous incarnation, I drove taxis in a smallish town (with ambitions to be a city) called Mandurah which was about 72km south of Perth. For Kiwis, try to imagine Mount Manganui in the 1960s/1970s and you would get the picture of what it was like when I lived in Mandurah. As a taxi driver, I had plenty of time for observation (fuel for the writer's imagination) and I noticed that there were a number of eccentric personalities/characters that lived in Mandurah. I had the feeling that these characters I dubbed "shamans" were not appreciated in Mandurah. I think that the town fathers and others of their ilk who liked to project an image of Mandurah as a modern, clean, tidy, family-friendly tourist destination saw the "shamans" as blots on the shiny, shiny vista they envisaged. I'm sure if they could have had them re-located somewhere out of sight, they would have. Personally, I love social "outliers". They make life interesting.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Tuesday Poem: "Letter to Vietnam"

“He found the area very peaceful,”
his son said
after 92-year-old Thuyet Duy Chu
was found bashed to death.

No napalm falls in suburban Campsie*,
but could Bruce’s** ructions
have ignited the all-consuming fire of hatred?

With quiet dignity he stares out
from the newspaper photograph.
He could be anyone’s grandfather
save for an almost imperceptible impression
that he has lived with fear all his life.

His children saved to grant his wish
“to live in a civilised country”,
but five months later
Mr Chu’s blood dissolved the veneer of civiIisation.

No mortars pounded the back garden
where he read Vietnamese books.
No M-16s barked as he lovingly studied the photos
of his grandchildren in America
whom he planned to visit.
After surviving four wars,
he thought he had stepped out
of the shadow of violence.

Somewhere in Ho Chi Minh City
a tearful woman
clutches a bloodstained letter.
The climate of hatred never changes,
only the postmarks do.

*Campsie is a suburb in south-western Sydney, Australia, where there is a large population of immigrants from east Asia. See Wikipedia entry below:


** Bruce Ruxton was the President of the Victorian Returned and Services League from 1979 to 2002. He was a high-profile figure and a vocal opponent of multiculturalism. In essence, an unreconstituted racist and bigot. White Australians who feared "the yellow peril" found a champion in Bruce Ruxton. See Wikipedia entry below:


POET'S NOTE: I was inspired to write this poem several years ago when I was living in Australia and I read a newspaper article about Mr Chu's murder. It seemed a tragic irony that this man who had sought to live his remaining years in peace and with his extended family, had been brutally murdered 5 months after realising his goal. I never knew what followed from this murder, whether police found his killer or not. I cannot be certain what the killer or killers' motive was, but nothing was stolen. And at the time, anti-Asian sentiment was being fomented in the media by certain high-profile figures.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Being Inflexible about flexibility

There has been a lot in the media recently about the industrial turmoil on the wharves at the Port of Auckland. Hone Harawira, leader of the Mana Party, and Russell Norman, co-leader of the Green Party, have both opined in their ways that the National government has fostered an anti-worker climate in which employers feel emboldened to be more militant.

The employers want to casualise the workers and have no union workers, just stevedores on individual contracts. It's the old "divide and conquer" mentality encouraged by National when they were in power in the 1990s. Woody Guthrie would be turning in his grave. Billy Bragg would be outraged.

The Right likes to portray unions as dinosaurs, as irrelevant to the modern workplace. Sure, unions have often flexed their muscle irresponsibly (folk still remember strike action by Interisland ferry workers always coincided with school holidays and screwed over a lot of regular folk), but in order for workers to have any power they have to band together.

Many union leaders are able to move with the times and endeavour to adjust their vision to the modern workplace. They know that the pendulum has swung, but they also realise that it has swung now too far Right. Many workers in their twenties and thirties have never been union members. They have been neatly snowed into believing that unions are irrelevant to them, are crusty and full of old people. They have been encouraged to look after Number One. But one is a small number when arrayed against the financial and political clout of big employers eg. McDonalds, Burger King and all the others who like to exploit the young worker.

Large employers who seek "flexibility" in their workforce are surprisingly inflexible themselves. It's all take and no give. Despite paying lip service to "family", bugger all workplaces accommodate the family demands of their employees. Try finding a job that allows you to drop your kids off at school at 9am and pick them up at 3pm. They are not thick on the ground! I speak from experience here.

No, the so-called "flexibility" means you are flexible to work at their beck and call and if you resist this, the next person on the dole queue will snap up your job. Unemployment is not something they wish to eradicate. It keeps the workers hungry and competitive to fight each other for scraps of work. It does not bestow dignity on the worker.

I know of an employer in the aviation industry that requires its employees to work in split shifts to meet the public demand times and flight scheduling times. So you come in the morning, bugger off for a few hours on your own time and then come back late afternoon, thereby messing with your day and incurring additional transport and childcare costs.

Bend over, little worker, and demonstrate your "flexibility".

Don't give me Kulcha

"Culture is on the horns of this dilemma: if profound and noble it must remain rare, if common it must become mean."
- George Santayana, Spanish-born philosopher (1863-1952)

I came upon this quote recently and it got me thinking. I had just been reading an article in Booknotes, the quarterly publication of the NZ Book Council, by a self-described NZ "chick-lit" novelist who had published her debut novel. In the article she compared her situation with that of her friend who had published a debut novel which was an Historical Romance. She wrote that despite the Romance genre being probably the largest-selling genre in the global book world, she and her friend were likely to be shunned and patronised by the literary novelists.

Now I don't read romance, but being a middle-class male I am not the reader demographic for the genre. But I realise that anyone who writes a book of any type and gets a publisher interested enough to invest in it, has done a lot of hard graft in writing and rewriting. They have my admiration even if the genre holds no appeal to me.

Expanding this situation beyond books and writing into other forms of art, I cannot help but think of musicians who sell millions of records often being snubbed by the "hip" because they have "sold out" art for commerce and the baubles of Mammon. The same hipsters want the artists they admire to starve in garrets, but, I'm sure if asked, would not want to share their heroes' fates.

The argument goes that if an artform or artwork is popular with the unwashed masses it is somehow inferior. Not every Beatles song was a masterpiece, but they certainly created some songs that transcended a mere cheap and tawdry commerce, sold in their millions and have still stood the test of time.

I would not argue that all popular artistic endeavours are shining artefacts of culture. I tried to read a Dan Brown novel to see what the fuss was about and I could not get beyond page 2 or 3. There are children in primary schools who could write a vastly superior sentence to Dan Brown. I concluded Dan somehow got by on racy plotlines alone.

But it is a vexed question. Acclaim or money? I imagine most writers from Salman Rushdie to Robert Ludlum would like to reach as many readers for their work as possible. So when does a literary novel cross over to a popular novel. Does the fact that Lionel Shriver's book, "We Have to Talk About Kevin", has probably sold truckloads make it any less powerful and moving and thought-provoking? I think not. Surely there is some middle ground where art and commerce peacefully co-exist.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Tuesday Poem: "Obese Man in Oxford Street"

The obese man loomed like a pedestrian iceberg
on the Oxford Street footpath.
His black trousers flapped like a nomad’s tent.
I heard the Mongolian desert song of guy ropes
plucked like harp strings by a nimble wind.
His white shirt billowed,
a sail sprayed by the salt of his sweat.
Like an otter emerging from an oil slick,
his lacquered grey hair gasped for air
as frequently as he did.
He noted people’s stares as though compiling
a catalogue of slights.
With the defiance of a pensioned-off circus freak
he answered my gaze.

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