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POET ON TRIAL
I am a human by birth but am a poet by choice,
My poetry gives this artist’s abstraction a voice.
But now when I write of the beauty of stars in the sky
Or of the pain in the heart born of saying goodbye
They condemn my use of order, rhyme and repetition,
On the slippery foundation of perfidious opinion.
They say that I’m guilty but do they have proof,
They must know that I only ever wrote down the truth.
I have spent many hours just searching for beauty
As a poet I was surely just doing my duty.
You disciples of Elliot, you lovers of Ginsberg and Pound,
You have contempt for the past and for lyrical sound.
You are literature zealots, who seek to destroy,
All those past compositions that many others enjoy.
You blame me for exposing your pride and pretense,
My words are my weapons they are my only defense.
You put me on trial, but failed to get a conviction,
My ballads and sonnets were outside your courts’ jurisdiction.
You asked me was I guilty? You asked did I transgress
Against your perceived wisdom? My answer was yes.
You wrote me a confession which you asked me to sign,
Because I valued the truth, I was forced to decline.
You keepers of disrupted syntax and experimentation,
You killers of rhyme, you lovers of prose fragmentation,
You don’t like my words but even ideologues must see,
The fact I can write them is what it means to be free.
I think you’re pretentious, you think my work is absurd,
But I’ve only ever been trying to cast a tune down in words.
Trying to find hidden ideas that my mind has caught,
Releasing them from impenetrable thickets of thought
Maybe I could be wrong, and you may prove to be right,
That I’ve been ensnared by the very words that I write.
You say my poetry is obsolete, observing outmoded rules,
But I write for the believers and not for proselyte fools.
You subvert my intentions, punctuating all of my lines,
With meaningless phrases, as revenge for my crimes.
You have confiscated my Sonnets you are shredding them fast,
In your desperation to break all links with the past.
All of our previous beliefs you’ve overturned,
Disregarding all the earlier rules that we’ve learned.
We yearn for the poetry of Hardy, Longfellow and Poe,
And all those lyrical poems penned a long time ago.
But you crucified romantic tradition on Elliot’s cross,
Burying Coleridge, the Mariner and the Albatross.
We’re now emerging from your self-serving sententious gloom,
We have rolled that boulder away from the tomb.
With brains that are hardwired to rhyme and repetition
Lyrical poetry is written to enhance the human condition.
It survives in the remembered verses of a million songs
Your work lies in a void beyond recall, where it belongs.
I now write in secret my sonnets and verses,
That you say are traditional and therefore subversive.
You thought you had won but we were never defeated,
Those lines now rewritten which you had deleted.
You’re conforming non-conformists, loving your own reflection,
Our army is now growing through your disciple’s defection.
I have started a petition, I’ve got ten thousand names,
Very soon other poets will join in our campaign.
So now in the back rooms of backstreet cafes we lurk,
Still fighting the war against all your modernist work.
My disciples are gathering, they meet in the night,
They will soon be re-armed and ready to fight,
To fight for that poetry that sings to your soul,
Replacing all those rhythms and rhymes you Modernists stole.
I have gone underground, I am biding my time,
Waiting for the poetry elite to return to order and rhyme.
Once upon a time there were two, early teenage girls. They lived miles apart and never knew each other, though they had much in common. For them both, there was a stable family and equally they respected their elders. They were at that age which saw their awakening sexuality; involuntary blushes were not uncommon. They both accepted their school days and the lessons they absorbed there, though with varying degrees of interest or success. Naturally they longed for approbation.
For Kathy, this came one glorious summer day. She was called from her class and lauded as a master of her craft – she had written a verse or two about the wonder of the sky at night: the ethereal beauty of a new rising moon; the glorious clarity of a dark, cloudless sky, giving a backdrop to a whole galaxy of stars. Her teacher was impressed. He told her that her work had earned her a star. That star, a gold beauty, was fixed to her work. Star of wonder! It glistened; it reflected her exhilaration – approbation in deed. That star was the half-open door to a possible literary career. She returned to her seat on cloud nine. Her future suddenly seemed bright.
Her contemporary, Katarina, was awarded a star – a bright gold emblem. She too had a star which defined her future. Her star was awarded in the company of her family and friends, not because of any excellence in her work, simply because of who she was. It was emblazoned on the lapel of her coat, for all the world to see. He who demanded that it be there intended just that.
An aching train journey followed this award, which took her far into the country, away from what she knew and loved – all because of her star. Journey over, she stood with her family, and that reassured her somewhat. Soon, though, she had to leave her dad and her brothers and go with her mum for a shower. She was filthy and smelly after her long, long journey, so to her mind, that had to be good.
That was the last she knew – the Zyclon B did its work and so did the ovens. Her star had truly defined her future. Her Dad, focussing on the giant belching chimney, saw in fatherhood’s mind’s eye, her star taking its place among nature’s galaxies, that would shine there forever.
Once upon a time, no fairy tale this, all this happened: two stars; two messages; two outcomes.
What means a star?
Nursing! Nursing is one of my worst nightmares, so I decided to start this piece by stating what a rubbish nurse I am. I simply hate needy, ill people and have very little sympathy, mainly because when I’m ill, sympathy is the last thing I want. What I do want is seclusion and normality. Normal normality not abnormal, cliched, pretentious normality and I don’t like the usual trite, rubbishy, well-rehearsed, overly compassionate stuff that some people love to trot out. I am not unfeeling, in fact I feel things quite strongly and I know how hard it is to say something original when you are facing someone in pain. Pain is a massive leveler with the ability to turn even the bravest, most tenacious person into a babbling, physical wreck although some people seem to get off on being ill, they can ramp it up, turn it off or back on, almost at will…but seriously, I don’t have time for illness.
I remember when my son Danny was about 10 and he’d had to write about what it was like when he was ill and these were his very words. “I try not to be ill because It’s better to be well at our house. My mum’s horrible when you’re ill, even my dad says so. All she says is get your shoulders back and stop whinging.”
I was at a parent/teacher evening when his form teacher felt she had to show me his essay. I should have been horrified, tried to defend my actions or at least have a go at dignifying myself…but I didn’t. Instead I told her that I agreed with every word and as far as I was concerned illness is a state of mind, for wimps only.
I have never been any good at pandering to or pampering and I simply hate feeling pressurised into indulging someone through their insecurities. My French sister in law with her permanently silver lined, soft edged, mushy romanticism says I’m hard and that’s fine by me because I know I am. The thought of me trying to be a tender-hearted, nurturing, caring soul makes me want to throw up…but… I can be if I want to be, although I admit it isn’t pretty.
Anyway, after I’d had my brush with the big C, I felt I needed to give something back and decided that a spot of volunteer work might just do the trick, so I checked some of my options.
1/ collecting money for charity… so not me.
2/ Helping the elderly or housebound with housework or gardening, but I hate cleaning and reckon people who like it spoil it for those of us who don’t.
3/ Hospital visitor or serving in the shop or tea trolley or news trolley or driving people to hospital appointments but hospitals leave me cold so they were all out.
4/ Looking after or walking pet dogs for the elderly…A massive, colossal NO!
My husband, who had been driving people to Royal Perth Hospital for a couple of years told me how desperate Swan Caring were for volunteers to help in the daycare centre, so, I went, just for a look and two days later found myself knocking on the locked doors of the Dementia/Alzheimer wing, where I was welcomed like some kind of Samaritan or saviour, when I knew I was neither.
With wide eyes and hunched shoulders I listened to all Bridget, the care co-coordinator said, but the health and safety stuff made it really heavy going and I wasn’t sure if it was for me. Veronica, the care-centre manager, could see how I felt and told me not to worry as I was there to aid the staff, chat and help with the clients and nothing more. So, for a while I would lay the lunch tables then clear them, load the dishwasher, then unload it, be a Bingo caller and a general dogsbody every Tuesday and sometimes Thursdays too. I quickly learnt the daily routine and the clients all seemed comfortable with me around. [They were always referred to as clients, never patients.]
I wrote an awful lot of poetry at this time, probably my most productive period and one day I told Veronica about it and she said maybe I could read one to the clients. I said I didn’t think they’d understand what I was on about, most people don’t, but maybe, after lunch, during their quiet afternoon time, as they sat snoozing in their chairs, it might be OK. It was something I could do to help, but in my own way and…it would allow me to give my creative juices a bit of an air.
One of my favourite clients was Daisy. Daisy was born in London and her Cockney accent was unmistakable even though she had lived in Australia all of her adult life. But, as her Alzheimers grew steadily worse, her accent seemed to get stronger and she became withdrawn and morose. She was a teenager during the blitz and sometimes it was like she was reliving every second of the horror she had lived through, especially when the International flights from nearby Perth airport were taking off. She’d rush outside and freak out, screaming to her mother that the planes were coming over again but she wasn’t going down the air raid shelter.
One of the best ways to calm things down before the other clients became too upset, was to try and take their minds off whatever troubled them and I clearly remember the day Veronica asked if they would like Fay to read one of her poems.
They immediately sat down and waited, eager for me to start, which threw me slightly as I wasn’t sure which one to actually do. I decided on my earliest poem and while I was reciting it, Daisy went quiet, listened intently and started to smile. When I had finished she asked if I would read it again because she really liked the bit about soft cool spring days and could remember when the woods were full of bluebells and cowslips. Veronica said it was OK because by now all the others were fast asleep.
PIONEER WOMEN WROTE.
Whenever I feel low, my thoughts seem to stray
back, several decades, to a flawless spring day.
Where bluebells sway gently, a carpet of blue
and pale yellow cowslips all dripping with dew.
But that was before I made a new home
in this country of contrasts where kangaroos roam.
So why am I often beset with the fears
of loss and homesickness which bring on the tears?
For I love Australia, and all her moods
from the withering droughts to the ‘wet’ when it floods
and wide open spaces that choke up my throat
with emotion and longing.
Pioneer women wrote-
of hardship and toil in the heat and the dust.
Of living on hope and existing on trust.
So, how did they manage to get through each day
while longing for England’s soft cool spring days?
That was my very first public poetry recital and I must say I enjoyed it enormously. It became a regular afternoon session, requested by the clients themselves. I think it was my voice droning on that lulled them to sleep, although they clearly looked forward to it, because straight after lunch they eagerly placed their chairs in a semi-circle around mine. Luckily, by then I had plenty of poems in my portfolio and although I am still under no illusions about my nursing prowess, I was valued by the staff and clients at Swan Caring because I enjoyed putting people to sleep… but in a nice way.
So, is that snoring I can hear…?
You watched the news and what you found
Was devastation all around
And all one hears now is the sound
Of pain and anguish on the ground
And bombs in flight
In Africa severe drought
And camels corpses lie about
And folks so starved they cannot shout
What’s in their heart “Please get me out
Beyond this Blight”
In makeshift craft they cross the seas
Cramming boats like podded peas
The traffickers ignore the pleas
Of babes and mothers as the breeze
Picks up their fright
And so we watch and can’t conceive
Of horrors such as we perceive
On TV news. Are we naïve
To hope that they can yet receive,
From darkness light
Jack choked on his mead as he heard a commotion in the outer office. He swept the nucklebones off the table and indicated the mead flagon to Harold, and the goblets to Ned. They slipped their playthings out of view as Jack sat back into his ample leather chair.
There was a scream from outside. The door banged open and three roundheads rattled in. The captain stood up to the desk.
The guardsmen blocked a swift exit with stamped feet and crossed lances. Not that anyone had legs to run with.
Jack’s nonchalant grin greeted the glare. He sucked his teeth.
‘Smells like a whorehouse in here,’ snapped the captain.
Jack sniffed. ‘I wouldn’t know.’
Jack looked around.
The captain, slapped a handbill on the table. ‘Is this your handiwork?’ he said.
Jack struggled up from his slouch and peered at the object which appeared to be causing some offence. ‘No sir.’
‘No sir! No sir?’
‘Prin’ers ’andiwork, sir. Nice ain’t it?’
The captain narrowed his eyes and took a noisy breath through flared nostrils.
‘Ow, I gets ye, sir,’ said Jack, ‘ye sort a means is the rats my ’andiwork, but er…you gid me that job … so ye kinda threw me at first.’
‘Stand up when I speak to you!’
Jack wriggled in his boots. His voice changed. ‘I am sir.’
The Captain looked back at his smirking men. He stroked his chin and said, ‘of course, just the man for the job. Ferreting the vermin out.’ He turned and jutted his chin into Jack’s face. ‘But you haven’t, have you?’
‘Well your boys pretty well cleaned up round ’ere. Not left me a lot to go at.’
‘When did you last see your Master?’
‘Now, that’s another question I knows you knows the answer to, sir,’ said Jack drawing his left cheek off his teeth. ‘It were you dragged him and the Missis out, what, free month ago?’
The Captains eyes were now a squinting slit. Through gritted teeth he hissed. His looked to his gloved fists as he clenched them and banged them down on the desk. ‘He was sprung, you insolent slob. You know he was sprung!’
Jack stood back a little, almost falling into the chair, then up onto his tiptoes. His face blanched. He cleared his throat. ‘Do I?’
‘Do I? Do I?’
Jack wasn’t trying to be facetious. Try offended, Jack. ‘Well I don’t know sir. Who…?’
The captain looked at Jack’s two henchmen one at each side of the ‘desk’ … table. They didn’t look like they could hench much. ‘Stand up!’ he bawled, ‘both of you. Get over there with your master.’ He stood back between his two men and three faced three.
The Captain drew his gauntlet across his mouth looking steadily into each man’s eyes in turn, before addressing the sentries.
‘Like looking into the eyes of fish in a barrel – long dead. Smell like them too, I’ll be bound.’
‘Are you trying to tell me that we let you keep your room in the manor house, and the Squire has not been back to…?’
‘Very kind of you, it were. Nice it is too … having it to ourselves…’
‘Our selves? Our?’
Jack shuddered. ‘Well yeah. Not these two, like. Missis an’ me sir. Me and Missis. Dint expect me to live there and her back in the cottage?’
‘But I did expect you to do something for the privilege, Horner! This is a damned Royalist hotspot. Veritable nest of Papist vipers.’ He stabbed the handbill. ‘What’s that say?’ He said pointing to ‘RATS, LICE, VERMIN’.
Jack looked at the captain. ‘Dirty deeds done good, sir.’
The Captain double checked and glanced at a sentry, who smirked out of the window.
‘It – says – rats, lice and vermin…’
‘That too sir, yeah.’
‘Dirty deeds, not done…!’ he growled. ‘Not done, are they?
‘Run off our feet ain’t we boys?’ He elbowed Harold to stop scratching his arse. ‘Printer done a great job and everyone callin’ on us to … look at that,’ he said shoving his rat-bitten hand under the Captain’s nose.
The officer slapped it away. ‘For us who are paying handsomely.’
‘We got some good leads, for you, ain’t we boys?’
They were all nodding like donkeys.
‘Just need to get a … well don’t want to send you in after any wild gooses. That’s our job. But, we will get you some sitting ducks ..’ He looked to his men ‘…this time next week. How’s that?’
The Captain took off his gauntlets.
Jack wondered if that meant either business, him in the rat trap, or the soldiers were going to get comfy. He glanced hopefully at a full flagon on the shelf behind the door.
‘That Manor house you are living in: you do know it could be yours?’
Jack thought it already was. That was the deal. He had given them seven houses – well the deeds he had found in the pie – and Lord Frederick had agreed terms. Keeping one was only fair. Did the Captain know? Did he care? He wheedled, ‘His Lordship … enjoyed the pie I took him?’ He waggled his head. ‘Not got indigestion, now I hope – Lord Frederick, I mean.’
That seemed to hit the spot. The Captain stood back, looked at his gloves and put one back on. He raised an ungloved finger very close to Jack’s nose.
Jack looked disdainfully at it, as it slowly retreated.
‘A week, Horner! Seven days. Same day next week – that’s Thursday, but morning, not late afternoon. You had the wits to look into that pie, and to bring it to his Lordship. You might not be able to read the word ‘deeds’, but you know what a Deed is.’ He stopped to ensure a reasonable tone, before continuing. He tapped the lose gauntlet on the table. ‘His Lordship appreciated you bringing him those other six…’ he looked all round and coughed ‘… but if it had been me, I would have you for spoiling the pie in the first place…’
‘What and take the pie where it was sent, eh? To one his nibs Royalist cronies, Eh? Eh? I ask you? That what Lord Fred…’
‘Calm down man. Of course not. Let’s be reasonable.’ He coughed. ‘Lord Frederick, is a fair a reasonable man and well … we don’t want that good nature being taken advantage of now, do we?’
Jack was beginning to relax.
‘You and me, Jack?’ He let the stress sink in. ‘That Manor is yours. Yes. The deeds from the … pie … are for keeps. His Lordship did indeed … if you’ll excuse the joke … enjoy the pie. He drew himself up to his full height and raised his voice, just a little, ‘but he is busy about the Parliament’s business, and you must be also.’
‘I realise what you are saying Captain, I need to deliver some of my Master’s friends, if I am to … enjoy my slice of the pie … and live in peace. Yessir.’
The Captain leaned in. ‘You pulled out a real plum, there Jack, and don’t we know it? But there is a reason why his Lordship let you keep it. Have some nice juice for me next Thursday, else I’ll leave with you just the stone. He indicated the door to the sentries and they turned out.
Jack’s mouth hung open.
The captain’s round-head helmet flashed sunlight from the street as he turned in the doorway and shouted ‘That’s a good boy.’
Jack clapped his hands, ‘Gives me the pip, that bastard’, but he cackled and pointed to the new flagon.
THE CALL by Angela O’Connor
She spat down the phone, vile words of attack;
Meant to harm
Meant to humiliate
Meant to help her
Holding the phone like a white hot coal
No sentence formed
Simple or complex
My ears accepted their host’s brutal yet beautiful deceit
I placed it in its cradle, ceasing the explosion of betrayal.
Shaken with cruel reality, I slumped into an old chair
Outside rain hit the panes, tinkling on the glass-
Sounding my resurrection