Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Blake

On Saturday 4 September at 1pm join Judith Beveridge, acclaimed poet, academic and poetry editor of Meanjin, in conversation with the winner of the 2010 Blake Poetry Prize.

National Art School Gallery, Forbes Street Darlinghurst.

The winner of the 2010 Blake Poetry Prize will be announced Thursday 2 September.

NSW Writers' Centre
PO Box 1056
Rozelle NSW 2039

T  02 9555 9757
F  02 9818 1327

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Close the Gap

 For those precious few of you outside the ever-burgeoning Anglosphere, in June of this year the elected Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, was ousted in a palace coup after a series of poor showings in the polls. Polls: the credulous being flattered like cynics enabling the venal to be led by the leaderless. Kevin Rudd had served as Prime Minister of Australia for a total of 31 months and was at one time the most popular man ever elected to the office. However, the failure of the Copenhagen talks (at which he was a prime motivator) seemed to shake his confidence in any prospect of an Emissions Trading Scheme being passed in his first or second term, remembering that the party he was leading at the time is the party of labour in this country and that many jobs were at stake in Labor's heartland running along a 500km coal seam from Wollongong just south of Sydney to Newcastle a little further north. This is a political party so old and so crusted onto the fabric of the Westminster system that VI Lenin had cause to mention it in his pre-revolutionary writings, and for this and many other reasons it is confused by political dyslectics with an ersatz progressive party, which it is if you are talking about a conflict between capital and labour. But despite Whitlam's best efforts, the great party of labour has only ever embraced the progressive movement of the past 50 years like a drunk uncle at a wedding.

And so the man, Kevin Rudd PM, appearing increasingly isolated in his efforts to pair the short-term interests of labour with the long-term interests of the planet, and that Cheshire grin a distant memory, dallied while the knives were sharpened out back and the people turned away from their moon-faced saint. He was ousted suddenly in the small hours of early winter (no mean feat in Canberra) by the very party machine that had lent on him so silently and persistently to renege on policies the Australian populace deemed vital. Progressive policies, mark you, not necessarily in the interests of labour. And so a woman of good standing but little character took his place and a joust for the first office in the land commenced soon after, not between a government and an opposition, but between two oppositions – one to the government of the day, the other to the moon-faced King it had deposed.

A very un-Hegelian dialectic and a very un-Shakespearean tragedy.

Anyway, here endeth the lesson in hubris and that particular stamp of Aussie perfidy that is a field deemed perpetually fallow by all but a few brave poets.

I believe I was edging my way toward mediocrity……

 A symptom of the mediocrity that pervades this once-ebullient country is the fact that on the night of the first televised debate between the leaders of our two main political parties, schedules had to be put back so that politics didn't clash with a reality cooking show. You can probably gauge by the tone of this blog which "event" took preference. The best man won, I am told, although no-one seems to be able to remember his name with any degree of confidence. It was a "historical" moment as much as "history" can be said to  consist of such footprints in the snow.

 In the May issue of Chicago's Poetry Magazine, David Biespiel, offered a slightly less discursive plea for more substance and less spin in the public domain by asking simply: where are the poets? That we are a largely self-reliant lot is a given, that we are passionate is intrinsic to our very calling, for words will argue like a possum in a bag that you either love or put down on a roadside somewhere. 

Biespiel seems to infer that poets revel in their alienation, "that they want no part of democracy's dirty institutions". This would group them with the alienated left of 1960's vintage, which fits snugly with the stereotype of the bearded Ginsberg howling at the God of the New York skyline from his beat-up Chevvy. It is an ordinary perception, though, and a dull calling. Plato tired of it before he died 2,500 years ago. 

Biespel's prolonged diagnosis for the American polis and the American poet ends thus:

The American poet must speak truth to power and interpret suffering. And just as soon as the American poet actually speaks in public about civic concerns other than poetry, both American poetry and American democracy will be better for it.

He is addressing, it needs to be said, a rhetorical people with a rare gift for the taciturn that winks at an Australian like the distant portholes of a passing ship in the night. And an ideological people steeped in books of old Hebrew beside those of a far more recent pedigree, and thus a people condemned to lurch from one extreme to the other, whose centre is an axle that requires perpetual greasing. If they are plunging toward mediocrity, it is not the fault of their politicians per se, the speakers, the masters of rhetoric, but of the thinning rank of listeners in a polis which, for some time now, perhaps the better part of my life, has become an agent that is simply acted upon. Poets, myself included at times, play this victim role very well, and it is as good a time as any to remind ourselves that in a nation with a hung parliament it is we who hold the balance of power, as long as we are prepared to step inside our language and our culture, lay claim to all its baggage rather than continue to stand back and watch the carousel go round and round and round, shying away from  the ghosts who painted every sign.

Monday, August 02, 2010

New Poetry by Phillip A Ellis

Winter Breathing


Knowing well the wakening moments, morning
forming in front of my eyes, like some summer
evening after a humid nap, I embrace
the promise of another day with cool breeze.

Time was, I would have looked out of the window
with the dubiety that anticipates,
through the blustery trees, a southerly wind
channelled up from Bass Strait and off the snowfields.

Now, today is almost still, only a thin
abstraction of a breeze stirring the palm leaves
in what is an almost desultory way,
and, in the distance, the horizon is white.

No more cutting off the west with a hearty
escarpment, no more land then blue so brilliant
that eyes water, that little children can dream
that this city is at the edge of the world.


When the evening draws in, when the sun hangs low,
I look out on the winter day and think,
not on what I could have done to make better
this world, but with warm gratitude for this day.

The evening, as it breathes in me, will shelter
the world towards night and, for many, some sleep
in a bower, or a den, or nest, or bed,
and I think of so many hearts that beat slow.

I may turn off the lights, listen for night-birds
with my melting ice diluting my whisky
that grows steadily warmer with my palm's warmth,
and is not stirred by the thought of reflection.

And when I sometimes raise my glass to my lips,
I may momentarily remember smiles,
and, in doing so, lay my heart open-faced
to a mirror made of rue and reflection.

- Phillip A Ellis 2010


Colder than heart's thought,
it seems we're human,
but we are nothing
more than a shadow,
cast by a wan light
fading from attics

- Phillip A Ellis 2010