"But no more rat puke, okay? Try to write something beautiful."
- Peggy Sue Got Married
I love poetry; good poetry. Bad poetry is worse than bad prose. I know. I've had a couple of bad poems written to me. There was this guy I was hanging round with at college? I thought he was a fun person and I was a little bit interested in him. And then one night he slipped a poem under my door, which I think he considered to be a prime example of the art of seduction, and I lay awake all night trying to figure out if I could spend the rest of my life hidden inside my room because he had suddenly become the weirdest, creepiest person in the world. After that, awkwardly and horrifically enough, I had to go home with him for a weekend because I'd already said I would, and, poor student me, I'd bought a non-refundable train ticket. His family also turned out to be creepy and weird. There were miscarried foetuses, from the hospital where his mum worked, in the freezer in ice-cream containers. His mother asked me in a loud and jovial voice in the supermarket if I needed her to grab some, er, prophylactics for us and got rather huffy when I explained that not only would we be sleeping in separate beds, they would have to be in separate rooms only because separate continents didn't seem possible to arrange at short notice. I destroyed that poem. I did think about hanging on to it so that I could have a jolly laugh over it in twenty years' time. That would have been a mistake. Every now and then a vague memory of it stirs in the deep recesses of the brain matter and it still makes me cringe.
A sweet but very nerdy boy in Canberra wrote me a poem about 5 years later. (It wasn't Grumpy: I did say sweet.) It had no artistic merit whatsoever but it was simple and very complimentary to me and unlike the previous effort, didn't make any assumptions about what might unfold between us down the track. So I went out to lunch with him and while we were out we ran into a girl I knew, also sweet and nerdy, who ended up joining us at our table. Sparks flew between he and she. I had every intention of hanging on to that poem but he came to see me a couple of weeks later to ask for it back. He felt it had the potential to upset his now girlfriend; someone he wouldn't want to upset for the world. I thought that was such a gentlemanly thing to do. It made me wish I'd been able to see past the nerdiness.
Grumpy wrote me a poem once. He bought me a dive watch for my 30th birthday. He had engraved on the back:
He has a girlfriend now but he hasn't come round asking for the watch back. Well, maybe she doesn't go diving.
So I've been reading some poetry this week:
Borrowed Ware: Medieval Persian Epigrams. (In translation, obviously.) I knew nothing about Persian poetry beyond Omar Khayyam so this little volume has been a revelation. The verses are clever, beautiful and sometimes humorous and provide a small window into the intrigues and operations of Persian courtly life.
I said, 'Are you aware of how love's scorchedMy cousin, David Musgrave, is a poet and I've been re-reading his collection To Thalia. You can read some of the poems here. 'Lagoon' is very good.
My crazy heart?' And smiling she replied,
'My dear - come on! What does the candle know
Of how a moth has blundered, shrivelled, died?'
- Fakhraddin Mobarak Shah
Look at this parti-coloured flower
An agate streak, a pearl-pale streak -
Two lovers who have crept away
And lie together, cheek to cheek.
I raced through Dorothy Porter's El Dorado, another of her fabulous poetry novels. Why can't more prose novelists write with this skill? Strains begin to show and suspicions emerge in the relationship between two old friends as they hunt a child killer.
Loose endOn Wednesday night I curled up on a very comfortable couch and browsed through The Idiom of the People: English Traditional Verse (edited with an Introduction and Notes from the Manuscripts of Cecil Sharp). I foolishly turned down the offer to borrow it. I was tired, and I am an idiot.
On the white doona
of the sterile bed
on her first night
in her South Yarra
Cath's hand twitches
in her sleep
like a warm loose end
floating on the surface
of an ice-cold deep.
A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill. The first Dalziel and Pascoe mystery. I should have read it first. It's overshadowed by the wonderful way he's developed his characters in subsequent books. Dalziel with glasses???
Black+Whiteley by Barry Dickins. This was, I think, supposed to be a memoir of Brett Whiteley that showed him as something other than an unpleasant, spoiled, drug-addict artist. I enjoyed reading it, because reading Barry Dickins is always worth reading, but I saw nothing of the artist that wasn't an unpleasant, spoiled drug-addict.
Use Me - Bill Withers
Dixie Drug Store - Grant Lee Buffalo
Sister Luck - Black Crowes
Sundown - Gordon Lightfoot
But Is It Art? - Stephen Duffy