Wednesday, September 13, 2006

National Poetry Week [2]

A big thank you to John Tranter, who sent me the link to his piece 'Lost Things in the Garden of Type'. As well as editing the excellent online journal Jacket Magazine, John has done more to promote Australian poets online than anyone else I know, including and especially the resource Australian Poetry Resources Internet Library.

Ok. I just walked out on the AFI screening of Kokoda in favour of coming home, writing this post and then putting in some more Mary Gilmore time. I am sure it had honorable movie intentions, but after 50 minutes, I was bored stiff. Boy to Man. Untrained to battle weary. Mateship. I was picking out the next one to die when I decided that I'd just had enough. I hadn't engaged with any of the characters and there's only so many times you can hear the same sound-effect to signal Teh Japanese Soldiers. It's the sort of movie Howard is probably proud to fund with government money, but it makes awful viewing. So here I am, ready to work, unrepentant that I left them all flailing in the mud.

If you want to see some great poetry sharing, head over to my post at Sarsaparilla. But here's another humble offering, since I'm talking about mud:


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

Seamus Heaney, from Selected Poems 1965-1975 (London: Faber & Faber, 1980)

And ay, here's the rub: that poem means something to me not because of it's content, although it's a very good poem, but because it was set for the HSC in 1987, and my brother was writing an essay on it the day he died. The book was open, some words were written on foolscap paper, and then some time afterwards he got up, went to the kitchen and killed himself. We all wonder about that day, and I constantly wonder what, if anything, this means. The last line written in his hand on the book page is 'Justification of him breaking with his roots'. Yes, well, indeed.

Sorry about that sledgehammer. I haven't thought about it for years. Must have been all that Kokoda mud. Sometimes poetry means so much more than the words on the page.


Laura said...

Big Hug.

Mindy said...

what Laura said.

Zoe said...

group hug it is

Ampersand Duck said...

Thanks, girls. I felt a bit ashamed of myself today for pulling that one out of the hat, but I had a bit of a dark moment last night. I'm really not a pity junkie :)

worldpeace and a speedboat said...


Pavlov's Cat said...

So young!

I missed this till tonight. Black ice, as you say. Can I be in the group hug after the fact?

Ampersand Duck said...

[tut] oh, if you have to, Pav!


not enough group hugs in blogging, although Zoe is doing her best to redress the matter.

genevieve said...

Bravely put, duck. A good hommage.
Sometimes the sledgehammer is the only way to fly.

My sister has a friend whose brother was like the boy in Alibrandi. The first time I saw the film, I knew what that fellow was going to do (the Matthew Newton character, John) when he would not dance at the Year 12 formal. I just knew. Afterwards my daughter asked me how, and I told her I knew someone like that once. (He was a dentist's son, though, not a pollie's.)
May these fellows rest easier every time we call them up. So to speak.

genevieve said...

And I guess that qualifies as a spoiler, so you can delete it if you like. But the hug goes out all the same, squat like a pen. I like that poem too.

Ampersand Duck said...

Actually, funny you should bring that up. The movie of Alibrandi freaks me out a bit because a lot of the details are so close to our story -- not the parental stuff, but the schools they used, and the Sydney locations. My brother had a scholarship to an inner-Sydney private school, and his girlfriend was at the convent school up at Rose Bay. It's set around a similar time too. I used to think the author knew him, but I'm not so sure anymore.

It'll be a long time before I can sit through the movie again; it was a painful experience.

genevieve said...

My word yes, that is a tough coincidence. I think you're exempt from watching that for a good while - that part still upsets me, and it was a long time ago for my friends too.

Thanks for the sidebar nod, by the way - have I thanked you before? All my traffic seems to come from the kindness of bloggers now.