Category Archives: Australian poets

poets I’m reading: A D Hope


Card Game – A D Hope

Club, diamond, heart and spade,

Under these the game is played.

Warfare, wealth, love and death

Dominate our every breath.


Players are not free to choose

Suit assigned or hand refuse

Dealt them, careless of their skill

Shuffled blindly, well or ill.


Wealth I had no talent for;

Lacked all aptitude for war;

Death at most might set me free;

Hearts were always trumps to me.


From Orpheus. Angus and Robertson, 1991

poets I’m reading: Nicolette Stasko

After I selected this poem by Nicolette Stasko, I came across a post from Southerly in which Nicolette Stasko interviews Nicolette Stasko featuring Reading in Bed. Enjoy.

Reading in Bed – Nicolette Stasko

I love old books

except when they were owned

by students

and other earnest types

scored in black lines

asking questions that

can never be answered

Wallace Stevens’ Collected

thick cream pages heavy wine

dark cover

filled with bright blue ink


when you open it


Elizabeth Bishop just now

quietly Questions of Travel

each hard gained insight

marked carefully

pencilled comments

so obvious

the poem unable to speak

for itself it seems

whole sections ruled

block wisdom

swallowed like a dose

and delicacy

of line and phrase


I sit here

filling the bed

with eraser crumbs

From: Abundance. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1992

poets I’m reading: Would You Be Yevtushenko? by Geoffrey Dutton

Today’s work by Australian poet, Geoffrey Dutton, references the star status of Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, in his own country.

In his obituary of Dutton which appeared in The Independent on 25 September 1998, Clement Semmler wrote:

Happier was Dutton’s friendship with the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, whom he arranged to visit the Adelaide Festival in 1966 and again for a visit in 1973 when Dutton took the poet on an outback trip. “He had an enormous capacity for drink,” Dutton recalled, “and he developed a taste for Australian champagne.”

Dutton had many of Yevtushenko’s poems translated and published and they corresponded for many years.

Before the two poets met, Yevtushenko was interviewed by Olga Vadimovna in The Art of Poetry series. This excerpt is provided by way of a backdrop to Dutton’s poem which appears below.

The Paris ReviewSpring-Summer 1965, Number 34

Soon after my arrival in Moscow I took advantage of my father’s acquaintance with the poet and telephoned him. I invited him to have tea with me one afternoon and also mentioned that my father had requested an inscribed volume of his poems. Yevtushenko accepted my invitation and was very friendly on the telephone, but I gathered that he found my father’s request naïve. “Olga Vadimovna,” he said, “clearly you are a newcomer to Moscow. Printings of poetry are sold out at once in our country. The twenty thousand copies of my most recent book of selected poems disappeared in two days. Not a single copy left. But, I’ll recite some of my new verse to you,” he added with warmth.


Would You Be Yevtushenko? – Geoffrey Dutton

Let us now praise poets, famous or infamous,

Whose prices are unquoted at Sotheby’s or the Hotel Drouot,

Who rate no plainclothes men at Parke-Bernet’s,

Whose worksheets are unprompted by Rudy Komon.

Mild fellows, politely turning their backs to you,

Going with any drapes or wall to wall,

Never in Vogue, photographed by daylight crouching,

Paint brush in hand, in elaborately slept-in clothes.


Poets, the only incorruptibles left, I praise you,

Whose hands are never mirrored in the Steinway lid,

White and insured for half a million dollars,

But only make scratching sounds on lonely desks

Or scribble lines on scrumpled envelopes from pockets.


Whose rights are never sold to MGM

For the price of a happy ending, never Book of the Month,

Never serialized in any of the Heralds, or Readers-Digested,

Never living the modern, exciting way

On TV between harmless armpits and filtered lips.


Quiet fellows, putting up your little flowers

(Fertilized by CLF, the only brand,)

Or comfortable in universities avoiding the scent

Of Australia like the dahlia in the old limerick,

At the lathe in the study, making smooth and rounded legs

And not minding there is nothing at all to stand upon them.


But if, oh uncorrupted ones, you had the chance,

Bursting from some far country not called free,

With millions for audience, books in hundreds of thousands,

Under TV lights, with an income twice the Prime Minister’s,

Just from poetry,

Would you have the nerve to come out of your alientation

In your old Irish tweeds smelling of exile and cunning,

And in the awful public heat, not regret

The cosy warmth of being untempted and ignored?


From Poems Soft and Loud: F W Cheshire, 1967

poets I’m reading: Over the frontier by Rosemary Dobson

Today’s poem is by Australian poet, Rosemary Dobson.

there is always something that eludes one … the poems presented here are part of a search for something only fugitively glimpsed; a state of grace which one once knew, or imagined, or from which one was turned away. Surely everyone who writes poetry would agree that this is part of it – a doomed but urgent wish to express the inexpressible.

From the preface of Selected Poems. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1973, revised 1980.

Over the frontier – Rosemary Dobson 

(Reverie on a poem by Zbigniew Herbert)

The object that exists

a glass, say, or a bottle

is one step away from the object that does not exist,

it has crossed over the outermost rim

and between light and darkness

it has assumed shape and purpose.


And the poem that exists

will never equal the poem that does not exist.

Trembling, it crosses the frontier at dawn

from non-being to being

carrying a small banner,

bearing a message,


bringing news of the poem that does not exist,

that pulses like a star, red and green, no-colour,

blazing white against whiteness.

Listen to the universe –

those are the possibilities of order

buzzing and humming.


The outline of non-existence

can be held by the inner eye,

always moving, it assumes the shape of stillness.

So a plate spinning on a stick

is the essence of a plate, a still one,

absolute plate with a fish on it.


From the collection: Over the Frontier: Poems. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1978





poets I’m reading: Lament for Passenger Pigeons by Judith Wright


I’ve been searching for Judith Wright‘s poem, Lament for Passenger Pigeons for a year or two now.

It was a mention of the extinct Passenger Pigeon in this post by Ashley Hackshaw that prompted another hunt, this time successful. Ashley takes exquisite photographs and paints and writes with equal skill. Her blog is a treat to read.

Here is Wright’s poem that speaks truths of eradication and extinction and the culpability of humans.


Lament for Passenger Pigeons – Judith Wright

Don’t ask for the meaning, ask for the use – Wittgenstein

The voice of water as it flows and falls

the noise air makes against earth-surfaces

have changed; are changing to the tunes we choose.


What wooed and echoed in the pigeon’s voice?

We have not heart the bird. How reinvent

that passenger, its million wings and hues,


when we have lost the bird, the thing itself,

the sheen of life on flashing long migrations?

Might human musics hold it, could we hear?


Trapped in the fouling nests of time and space,

we turn the music on; but it is man,

and it is man who leans a deafening ear.


And it is man we eat and man we drink

and man who thickens round us like a stain.

Ice at the polar axis smells of me.


A word, a class, a formula, a use:

that is the rhythm, the cycle we impose.

The sirens sang us to the ends of sea,


and changed to us; their voices were our own,

jug jug to dirty ears in dirtied brine.

Pigeons and angels sang us to the sky


and turned to metal and a dirty need.

The height of sky, the depth of sea we are,

sick with a yellow stain, a fouling dye.


Whatever Being is, that formula,

it dies as we pursue it past the word.

We have not asked the meaning, but the use.


What is the use of water when it dims?

The use of air that whines an emptiness?

The use of glass-eyed pigeons caged in glass?


We listen to the sea, that old machine,

to air that hoarsens on earth-surfaces

and has no angel, no migrating cry.


What is the being and the end of man?

Blank surfaces reverb a human voice

whose echo tells us that we choose to die:


or else, against the blank of everything,

to reinvent that passenger, that bird-

siren-and-angel image we contain

essential in a constellating word.

To sing of Being, its escaping wing,

to utter absence in a human chord

and recreate the meaning as we sing.




poets I’m reading: Housewife by Amy Witting

Australian poet, Amy Witting (Joan Austral Fraser, 1918-2001) wrote most of her fiction and poems after she had retired from her teaching career. It’s never too late.


Housewife – Amy Witting

If you ask me what I’m knitting

on my quickmoving needles

out of the kind smile and the little lottery win

out of the sunlight moving on moving leaves

out of the new recipe and a hint for cleaning silver,

it’s a net.

If you ask me what I’m weaving

with fingers that work against time

out of the little dinner

out of the lampshade braided in plastic ribbon

and the Evening College course in Current Affairs,

out of the theatre tickets, the library book

and my day with Meals on Wheels,

it’s a net for under the tightrope,

and you may say it’s very fine

considering the void below it.

It’s very fine work indeed,

as fine as a spider’s web,

considering the void below it

and the weight of the heart it must hold.


From the collection – Beauty is the Straw, 1991.

poets I’m reading: Loving in Truth by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

From the Australian poet, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, this poem on the transition of time and what remains.  You can listen to him reading it here.


Loving in Truth by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

Someone will push the house over one day,

Some spacedozer give it a shove,

But the cobbles we laid down here in the yard,

These are a labour of love.


All winter we set these cobbles in place,

Or was it the summer as well?

Sorting through lumpy bluestone pitchers

For ones that looked suitable.


The old house decayed – along with us –

Will a strange new resident

Admire the patio made in joy

Wondering what we meant?


Things fall apart, the poet wrote,

Certainties crumble and move

But the cobbles oddly plotted together,

These are our labour of love.


Source: The Poetry Foundation 


poets I’m reading: Request to a Year by Judith Wright

To write, you must also read the work of others.

At high school, we were steeped in the work of Australian poet, Judith Wright. This morning, I found a poem I’d not known or read. It speaks to me of the importance of bearing witness to our own stories.

Request to a Year

If the year is meditating a suitable gift,
I should like it to be the attitude
of my great-great-grandmother,
legendary devotee of the arts,

who having eight children
and little opportunity for painting pictures,
sat one day on a high rock
beside a river in Switzerland

and from a difficult distance viewed
her second son, balanced on a small ice flow,
drift down the current toward a waterfall
that struck rock bottom eighty feet below,

while her second daughter, impeded,
no doubt, by the petticoats of the day,
stretched out a last-hope alpenstock
(which luckily later caught him on his way).

Nothing, it was evident, could be done;
And with the artist’s isolating eye
My great-great-grandmother hastily sketched the scene.
The sketch survives to prove the story by.

Year, if you have no Mother’s day present planned,
Reach back and bring me the firmness of her hand.

From: Five Senses: Selected Poems by Judith Wright, Angus and Robertson, Sydney. 1963