Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Brittle Dark

Paintings by Jo D'Hagé on display at Fortyfive Downstairs

Last night I attended "The Brittle Dark" - a poetic and musical soirée at Fortyfive Downstairs.

Leading up to the premiere of Hugh Crosthwaite's new string quartet - which was wonderful - a number of people read poetry. The poetry readers were:
  • Terry Lane (broadcaster, journalist, author and prominent free speech advocate);
  • Barry Heard (Vietnam veteran and author of "Well Done, Those Men" and other books);
  • Barry Jones AO (Australian intellectual, former parliamentarian and minister);
  • Julian Burnside AO (barrister, patron of the arts, and human rights advocate);
  • Rod Quantock (comedian and activist);
  • Mary Kenneally (comedian and activist);
  • Sam Zifchak (professional poet, and events co-ordinator at the Australian Poetry Centre - part of the Wheeler Center).
I also read some poems, and I've been asked to post them. Here they are:

The first poem is by former poet laureate of the United States, Billy Collins:

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

The next poem is by the 13th century Persian poet and mystic, Rumi:

The flute weeps to the pacing drum.
The drunken camel staggers to his knees
and tugs at the rope of reason.
The little bird in the heart’s cage
puts out his head on this side and that.
The flood fills the ancient river bed
and once again the river banks are green.
The falcon hears the royal drum
and circles seeking the wrist of the king.
The musk deer smells the lion
and her haunches tremble.
The madmen have seen the moon in the window:
they are running to the rooves with ladders.
Somewhere tonight
a dervish cries:
“It was my soul in the wine!
It was my soul.”

Then I read this poem which I wrote in Provence a few years ago:


No, no, never, never –
do not ask again.
Day has slipped from gold to blue
and night falls fast.
The cup is dry
The hour is spent
The blushing glass is drained.
The whiff of wine is old and stale –
faded, drab and stained.

Well. Well. Maybe, waiting –
Who can say for sure?
Summer’s past. The autumn’s here.
With fogs and busy harvest.
The bounty’s rich
The grapes are good,
The gold-hazed air is bracing.
I may grow cold, with warm days gone,
But still my heart is racing.

Yes. Yes. Always, ever –
Earth and sea and sky.
The faith to build,
The hope to bond,
The love to bind together.
Good endures and evil withers
Fades and rots like straw.
But life will give – and give again –
And giving, find still more.

Finally I read a poem by the US Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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