Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Tuesday Poem: "Savage Spring"

comin’ down like a machine gun on the brothers.
Ain’t no “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, baby!
Martin Luther King, Rodney King,
keep beatin’ on the black man for any old thing.
Lotta anger down here in South Central LA.
Keep worryin’, Hollywood, we’re comin’ your way.
Spike Lee comin’ atcha, Ice T comin’ atcha.
George Bush keeps talkin’ ‘bout Laura Norder.
Who she? She a waitress?
Gimme fries with that order.

news ‘copter, news ‘copter,
hangin’ there in judgement like the finger of God.
Yeah, Joshua fought the battle of Jericho.
You built the walls, baby, now we’re gonna blow.
Picture-takin’ while we fry white bacon,
hoverin’ out of reach like a kid at the zoo
showin’ white America the black bugaboo.
Film at eleven, CNN, Alabama,
but Rodney King’s assailants ain’t sittin’ in the slammer.
WelI, Miss Daisy, I don’t know what happen.
Uncle Tom Bradley, get back to your cabin!

Chutta- chutta-chutta-chutta,
eye in the sky got no tears for the sisters.
Laura Norder sleeps in the white man’s bed.
Black children die while she’s givin’ him head.
It ain’t no John Wayne, rootin’ and tootin’,
Hispanic child killed in a drive-by shootin’.
Crack money rules ‘cause there ain’t no jobs.
It’s enough to make even Laura Norder break down.
American Dream is a nightmare in this town.
Lotta anger down here, just needs a spark to ignite it.
Martin Luther King, Rodney King,
whitey look in horror at the savage spring.

The recent story in the international media of the shooting and killing of the black teenager, Trayvon Martin, 
reminded me that race issues and the perception of African-Americans has not changed much since the days of the civil rights movement. It also reminded me of the Rodney King case in 1992 which sparked the LA riots.

I wrote the poem above in 1992 after watching news footage of the LA riots. I don't condone rioting, but you could see how the African-Americans in South Central Los Angeles were angered to the point of uncontainable rage. You just sensed that they faced incidents of racist attitude almost daily and the small trickles of everyday indignation built up into a torrent of anger that sought an outpouring. The media's coverage itself was laced with subtle and not-so-subtle racist viewpoints.

As a coda, I was a 35-year-old middle-class white guy living in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia when I wrote this poem. What did I know about the reality of being black and living in South Central LA? Nothing! Naturally, I was concerned that writing this poem in a rap style might not be perceived as the empathetic viewpoint it was intended to be. But I received a blessing in a most unusual way. One night while I was performing this poem to a white Australian audience in an inner-city Perth pub, unbeknown to me, two African-American sailors from a visiting US naval ship walked into the bar. Later, when I went to the bar they congratulated me on my poem and for "tellin' it like it is". I was elated. I felt validated that I had done the right thing, that my instinct was a good one.

Friday, 20 April 2012

"The Poets' Birthday" by The Tuesday Poets 2012

Just because it is worth repeating:

The shyest sparrow's supplications in the early evening trees
are a careful arpeggio - each note liberates a flotilla of leaves
fleeting, indeed, left scattered as archipelago in a dew-grass 
The song's begun: feathered entreaties lift from every hedgerow, every
field, join in one great arc of beak and wing and downy plume --
brief benediction for the worker trudging home, a heart-lifted pause
at day's end. Summer's pages fall. Leaf by leaf, they shorten days,
strip bare the trunks, spill forth a concertina of split, sagging plums,
crimson globes -- Demeter's heart strung low against the blue note 
sky. Furrowed fields lie flat beneath the tramp of corn-fed feet.

The scene is set, two candles lit, another year opens a window 
through which we pass in streak of silver, burst of wheels' screech, breath
of horns' bright blasting. Inside, the chink of glass against china,
bubble of laughter tossed from one guest to the next draws us
to warmth, the blissful promise of shared experience. How it swells
the soul's bright plumage! A winking flame copies itself on the clean
slope of the knife before it passes. The reflection flickers: and beyond 
the window frame, a final guest hesitates in mauve-hued shadow, ghost 
of Keats maybe, listening still, reticent, reluctant to eschew 
autumn's arias. And hear now, along the bay, 

the pulse of song ticks out again in joyous iteration, a boy kicks 
a ball against a wall, a sole finch adds bebop syncopationGabble, 
and its consistency of warm honey dampen the tenor, the tune -- best
left out in the tang of sharpened daylight. Shadows unwilling to retreat
stand shoulder-to-shoulder and beat the day's thrum chanting come, cold,
come, dark, come firelight, we too have our part. Gladly, watch effulgence fade,
into this gentler glow of murmured crackle and spark-fed thoughts. Each year
is gathered and falls away in a clap of digits, up from nothing to where
we find ourselves surrounded. It's come to this: the riffle of breath, the winking
flame. One is out, then the other. Stay with us, poets, it's time to start over.  

A global birthday poem written line by line by 26 poets from six countries and 12 cities over two weeks: from Tuesday April 3 to April 17 2012. It has been written to celebrate our second birthday. 

The Tuesday Poets are (in order of their lines): Melissa Green, Claire Beynon, Saradha Koirala, Janis Freegard, T. Clear, Catherine Bateson, Renee Liang, Elizabeth Welsh, Alicia Ponder, Tim Jones, Kathleen Jones, Helen McKinlay, Helen Lowe, Eileen Moeller, Orchid Tierney, Susan T. Landry, Keith Westwater, Belinda Hollyer, Harvey Molloy, Bernadette Keating, Andrew M. Bell, Michelle Elvy, Catherine Fitchett, P.S. Cottier, Helen Rickerby, Mary McCallum.

Unable to post this year: Sarah Jane Barnett, Robert Sullivan, Zireaux, Emma McCleary 

                                            Editor: Mary McCallum, TP co-curator

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Tuesday Poem: "The Shamans of Mandurah - Part Five: Lessons"

Those pioneers buried in the Sholl Street churchyard
built a country on the power of the individual.
Have we forgotten that progress
needs a human face and a human pace?
We have exalted logic at the expense of magic.
We have belittled the power of laughter.
We never flip the coin of genius
because we fear the madness on the other side.
Doctors and clergy have buried our shamans.
Our court jesters reside behind asylum walls,
silenced by medication.
The tentacles of conformity squeeze our hearts
like vinegar-soaked sponges
and the descending dollar darkness abhors eccentricity.
The Wanderer, The Shaven-headed Singer, The Old Rocker
and Dolly are forced out to the edge of experience
to seek their light.
Like warrior-shamans,
the call of the moon is stronger in their veins.
They feel the tug of river and tide.
When they look into the night sky,
do they know the stars where others live?
When they look at a stone,
do they read its history?
When they look at an animal,
do they remember its lineage?
When they look at a tree,
do they picture whose ancestors camped beneath it?
When they look at the ocean,
do they sense the shores it touches?
When they look at us,
do they see the people we could be?

POET'S NOTE: Enough said. Here endeth the lesson.

Oh, I forgot to link you back to the wonderful Global Poem at the Tuesday Poem hub which celebrates our 2nd birthday as an International Community of Poets. Go and have a look. You won't be disappointed.


Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Tuesday Poem: "The Shamans of Mandurah - Part Four: Dolly"

Dolly’s bar stool is empty now.
She no longer emerges from the fetid air
of her cluttered, weatherboard house
to take a two dollar taxi ride
to the back of the Brighton.
No more do the taxi drivers dread the lottery
of her six o’clock pick-up.
No more does she fill their ears with caustic comments
and their nostrils with her stale urine aura.
No more do they offer their silent prayers
to the god of incontinence.
No more do the children of Lower Gibson Street
scare each other with tales of the witch.
The old woman has gone,
her passing unmourned
by a society that had turned its face from hers.

POET'S NOTE: At a certain time in the early afternoon, the taxi drivers of Mandurah, if they were sitting on the taxi rank, dreaded getting that call over the radio to pick up Dolly who only lived a few hundred metres from the rank. Every afternoon Dolly would take a $2 fare to the back entrance of the Brighton hotel where she would sit on a bar stool and nurse a couple of beers for hours ( I imagine because she was on a pension and not well off). Then she had a standing booking with the taxi company to be picked up from the hotel and taken home at six o'clock. She would usually buy a box of beer to take home and the cabbie was supposed to take it inside her house for her. The maelstrom of malelovent smells inside her house would make even the strongest of stomachs lurch. And she quite often wet herself on the taxi seat during the journey. Apparently, she had grown-up children who lived with their families in Perth, but they rarely made any effort to visit her. She was a cantankerous woman, but I couldn't help wondering if she had grown caustic and defensive from a life of loneliness, abandonment and disappointment.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Tuesday Poem: "The Shamans of Mandurah - Part Three: The Old Rocker"

The Old Rocker swings his green, plastic, string bag
as he strolls Sholl* towards Woolworths.
His hair is bright orange.
Regardless of the weather,
he wears a brown, vinyl jacket
which is in danger of being knighted
for its ceaseless assault on the ramparts of fashion.
Perhaps, like Saul on the road to Tarsus,
he was blissfully playing his Glenn Miller 78s
when the voice of Johnny Rotten spoke to him
in a flash of light so blinding
that it knocked him off his chintz sofa.
Like a high priest of kitsch
he has ascended to the Mount
to receive the wisdom of the fifties and seventies,
inscribed on the tablets of tackiness.
He waits in the check-out line,
blissfully unaware of the hawkish gaze
of Mr Hard-working-Family-man-Suburban-Home- improver
who clearly resents this Warhol pop art splash
on his Rembrandt ideal of respectable burgher community.
The Old Rocker runs idle fingers through his lank, orange hair
and wishes the pension would stretch to hair gel.

POET'S NOTE: I guess it's like Sybil Fawlty "stating the bleedin' obvious", but here is the third instalment. As Robert Frost observed about life: "It goes on."

*Sholl Street is a main shopping street in the town (now city) of Mandurah. Also, by a great coincidence, it makes a nice sound rhyme with "stroll".