Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Anzac dead in captured Turkish trenches in Gallipoli

I wrote this poem remembering attending so many Remembrance Day services with my mother, whose husband, the father who I never knew, died at 46, a cheerful but essentially broken man, after six years of service in the Royal Navy..

I am very proud of this poem, both as a poem, in and of itself, and as an authentic expression of my feelings and some things I consider important.

I am largely a pacifist in my outlook, but I have great respect for those who put their lives on the line defending values I hold dear, and opposing tyranny.

It references not only those solemn services attended at memorials with my mother, but the many times since I have seen elderly people stand and pay their respects to the dead of both World Wars, and other wars.

Anzac DayThere is a wave of emotion sweeping Australia at the moment when Anzac day rolls around, with record numbers of people attending Dawn Services both around the country and in places overseas such as Papua New Guinea and Galipolli.

Increasingly, those people have young faces. The great grandchildren, grandchildren and children of those who were wounded, broken, and died. Why the sudden upsurge of interest? Perhaps younger people today look back to a past when the issues were simpler and convictions stronger.

I am also sure that the 39 Australian service people killed in Afghanistan since hostilities broke out there have something to do with it. The Americans and others have lost more people, of course, but those 39 lives are a grievous loss to a country with a population as small as Australia’s, just as the disproportionate sacrifice of the World War I diggers left a scar across the country that took generations to heal: the faces and stories of those brave young people killed in Afghanistan in recent years sure focuses the mind.

I am also reminded, on this solemn day, of the most important thing ever said about conflict, which is, of course:

“War will continue until men refuse to fight.”

If you are interested to purchase my collection of poems called Read Me – 71 Poems and 1 Story - just head here.

(Article re-published for Anzac Day 2013 and Remembrance Day 2014.)

Doppler Effect

Posted: October 19, 2014 in Popular Culture et al
Tags: , , , ,

ambulance night

 

The sound of an ambulance

very late in the fetid night

closes, then closer, louder,

howling, cutting machete-like

through the traffic for the ER,

then leaving us, passing

away now, quieter,

and quieter. Just how you

entered my life, in a hurry,

and left it as suddenly.

 

All there is now to tell the tale?

A wreck, and a fading echo.

fallenA very sad story in the newspaper in Melbourne today, noting that over 104 people over the age of 50 died in their homes in 2011, and lay there dead for a week or more before their bodies were discovered.

Even sadder is that some of those people – victims of heart attacks, strokes, and falls, for example – might have survived if found sooner. And saddest of all is that the same litany of little tragedies are surely repeated every year in every city in the world.

We live in a world which is theoretically more connected than ever. And yet, as more people live alone – especially more older people – any sense that we all live in a village with an eye on each other’s welfare is receding into distant memory.

We recall growing up in a typical middle-class street, with friends and neighbours in abundance in all directions.

Connections were not made because people were nosy and inquisitive, but simply because people were polite and caring. It would be unusual not to greet the people who lived nearby with a cheery “Good morning” when walking past them. Indeed, more so: to nod, smile and utter a greeting to complete strangers, who often became, in due course, acquaintances, and then friends. Nowadays, likely as not, people would shy back, concerned you were a nutter or from a religious cult.

We live in a colder, harder world, where the idea of a harmless conversation over the fence or sharing a quick cuppa on the back step seems immeasurably quaint.

Do yourself a favour. Do the world a favour. Go knock on their door. Any excuse will do – or just ‘fess up. “I thought we should know one another.”

Especially if they’re old, and alone. Just do it.

 

MRS TURKINGTON

She used to stand, proud and erect, the Colossus of Assembly.
Headmistress of St Catherine’s Church of England Primary
Concentrating Camp
For David and Gareth and Julie and Helen and Me.

Talons grasping the eagle-winged lectern
she would gravely announce
“All God’s Creatures Here Alive
Ancient and Modern, Number 35”
,
and God help you if you didn’t sing.
(Except he wouldn’t.
because he was silenced by a glance
from Mrs T, as well.)

She had a cane, but never used it.
If found running in the quadrangle
she just pinned you to the blue breeze-block walls
with Yorkshire-steel eyes and asked you what
exactly it was you thought you were doing?7
And whatever it was, you stopped it.

Bubble-gum swallowed, marbles pocketed.
Prize conker? Dropped it.

I heard some time ago Mrs T had died.
They found her on the floor.
No-one called, no more.
So no-one saw.

Been there for days, they said.
All thin, and gnarled, and very dead.

In later life, she’d mellowed.
Her skin had yellowed.
I used to see her in Church, a bit
when time had pushed her shoulders up in the middle.
She just got all bent, when the rheumatics hit.

Always sent me a Christmas card,
even when her life got hard.

Mum used to shove one under me nose to sign for her
so I suppose she’d always got it,
and then thought I never forgot it.

I never thought I would, but
I felt sorry when they found her,
fallen and forgotten at the bottom of the stairs.

She had a cane, you see.
But she never used it.

poem

 

You came to me unexpectedly
happening on a glade, as if
gliding over me like crystal in the early morning
cool like the fever in my life breaking
refreshing as the splash of a wave
murmuring like a gentle stream until I drowned.

And then you left as if you had never been
and all my world was dust and air and sand again
but I remember you to this day
when the sun beats down, cruel
when the sun is strong on my brow

I swim in my memories and pretend that you were real.


Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.

Spoons

Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.


Kindergarnered

Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.

He would appreciate it if you could share this poem by linking to this blog post in any way you can.

detainee

 

CHRISTMAS ISLAND, AUSTRALIA,
JULY 2014 ~ A POEM

 

She takes a bottle,

smashes it against a breeze block

they used to build the barracks

that bake at noon and sweat at midnight.

 

Sorts out a piece of glass

sharp, fits neatly in her hand

draws it across her slender wrist

a green transluscent bow ’cross a brown cello.

 

She lies back, deeply tired.

More tired than she thought possible

sun incessant on her face

and, dignified, hoses her life over the wooden steps.

 

Within a few minutes they come running.

Rush her to the infirmary

wrapping her, scolding her,

but she is silent, crying silent, bleeding silent.

 

A dozen at least like this, they say,

because if they die their children

will have a golden future.

Dreaming of the lucky country.

 

And in the Ministerial offices

a man with glasses and a poor haircut

says we do not comment on detainee self-harm

we could not possibly comment.

 

We lock them up.

We send them back.

We give them over.

We un-person them by not talking.

 

And on the island, the woman lies

wrists bandaged, children frightened.

She is an operational matter:

she operated on herself,

but we are not allowed to know.

 

The blood bakes black on the wooden steps.

Birds carol raucous in the trees.

Her children weep midst the breeze blocks.

Merry Christmas Island.

Not.

broken bottle

Full-Moon

Get the garlic. Grab a stake. Don’t walk under any ladders. Throw salt over your left shoulder if you spill any. Avoid slinky, furry things glimpsed in the distance.

Better still, just hide under the duvet.

A full moon is rising on infamous Friday the 13th – the very same day a solar flare could send a shockwave to Earth’s surface.

It’s a triple whammy for superstitious folks, according to Stuart Vyse, a psychology professor at Connecticut College.

“People tend to try to read something into coincidences like these,” said Vyse, author of “Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition.”

“There will be a small group of people who are undoubtedly, predictably nervous about the day.”

Solar Flares Could Send Shockwave to Earth on Friday the 13th

The day also marks the first full moon on Friday the 13th since October 2000. The next one won’t happen until August of 2049, according to NASA.

In addition, the possibility of a solar flare shocking Earth’s atmosphere and disrupting communication signals adds another level to the tension.

“Astronomical events tend to be seen as very momentous and almost biblical in nature,” Vyse said. “It’s seen as being very powerful and something you can’t do anything about. It makes sense to me that it, too, would be connected to the general fears about Friday the 13th and the full moon.”

It’s a long-standing superstition that lunacy is connected the full moon, and that the lunar phase pushes people to act crazy and triggers more check-ins at mental institutions — theories that live on despite being proved wrong by research, Vyse said.

For people scared of the curse, staying home might be a solution.

“People afraid of these superstitions tend to restrict their activity,” Vyse said. “They tend to, for example, not schedule a doctor’s appointment or not travel on this day. In some rare cases, they stay home from work.”

Which is all very well, except the fruit of one’s loins has organised a new Variety night at Club Voltaire in Melbourne for tonight, and we are making a rare public appearance to read our poetry.

It'll be a blast.

It’ll be a blast. Be there, or be scared. Your choice.

 

So come one, come all.

It’s after dark, so solar flares won’t affect you.#

Be careful of that great big confronting moon, though.

Cue howling in the distance.

Seats are strictly limited, so we suggest booking if you can, if not take pot luck and just rock up, we’ll find somewhere for you. And there’s a bar! Whoot!

A few drinks before listening to our poetry is always advisable.

#We are fully aware of the fact this is a nonsensical statement. Correspondence is not required.

 

Mystery first-grader’s incredible poem about dancing goes viral

Mystery first-grader s incredible poem about dancing goes viral

When photographer Jason Gardner visited a US public school to photograph some of the students and their families this week, he ended up taking one picture he wasn’t planning to — a shot of a poem, written by a first-grader, which has now gone viral worldwide. We’re guessing you’re going to love it and share it, too.

The poem, penned at an after-school program in honour of National Poetry Month, which takes place in April, quickly became a hit. As a working poet, we simply love it. We love the idea of National Poetry Month, too.

But since Gardner took a picture of only the unsigned poem and not the student who wrote it, at this point the world has no idea of the young author’s identity. The poem reads:

We did the soft wind.

We danst slowly. We swrld

Aroned. We danst soft.

We lisin to the mozik.

We danst to the mozik.

We made personal space.

Forget the spelling, read the thoughts.

 

Although the poem doesn’t seem complicated at first glance, there’s a surprising depth in those simple words. And it comes with the endorsement of several high-profile writers and critics, including Michael Dumanis, a literature and poetry writing professor at Bennington College in Vermont.

“I loved it!” Dumanis told Yahoo about the poem. “It captured the truth about personal space. The mis-spellings make it more primal and deliberate. At the end there’s an epiphany about dancing and what that means.”

And Dumanis isn’t the only one with good things to say about the elementary student’s work. After Gardner posted the photo of the poem to his Facebook page, NPR’s radio show “Studio 360″ shared it with listeners and called the poem its favorite poem of National Poetry Month. (The story has since become the most shared on NPR’s website and has gotten more than 4000 likes.) Meanwhile, a headline on Gawker.com blared “This Talented First Grader Just Wrote a Better Poem Than You Ever Could.”

Though some poets and scholars don’t like the idea of a National Poetry Month, worrying that it will dis-suade people from being interested in poetry during the rest of the year, Dumanis disagrees with that idea.

“Anything that draws attention to an art form is ultimately a good thing. Because of National Poetry Month, more people encounter [poetry], more people write it and find a role for it in their lives. It becomes a long-term pursuit.” He hopes that once the student is identified, he or she will find out how much positive praise the poem has received. He also hopes that the student will continue pursuing creative endeavors and continue to read, study, and write poetry.

“This poem, to me, coming from a first-grader, has so much spark and originality,” he said. “Anytime you put a word on the page, you are making a choice.”

And it’s clear that, for this six-year-old, it was the right one. More power to his elbow.

(Yahoo and others.)

stars

 

ONE NIGHT OF MANY


I lie beside you, a long wait into tomorrow

and listen to you gently snore.

Whoever invented that phrase

~ gently snore ~

they knew. There is ungentle snoring,

when I nudge you in the back and roll you

half awake into silence

but that is not this. This is a soft rhythm

like the sea carressing white sand.

 

The rain on the new tin roof

syncopatedly changes tempo

as if to accompany you.

For a while there, it rises and falls

in time with your chest

in time with your dreams.

And the life in your breath

and the life in the rain

soothe me.

 

Without warning, I am assailed by images.

Unbidden. What would happen

if you were taken out of our lives?

A truck, a tree branch, your heart.

Police at the door, our daughter’s face.

The nights.

I could manage the days, I think.

But not the nights.

I listen for the gentle heave of air.

 

And again, and again, there it is,

that gentle heave of air, and I am stilled.

Do not distress yourself with imaginings.

Not yet. Not yet awhile, at least.

Go to sleep.

The rain falls on the world like balm.

And by the moonlight of the clock

I see your perfect calm face and think

how you would hold me, if you knew.

 

 

readMeTo buy a printed copy
of my collection of
poetry, “71 Poems and One Short Story”,
(there’s a download, too), please go to:

http://tinyurl.com/cumbx42

 

 

Ring - A Poem

Many bloggers were saluting Remembrance Day yesterday.

 

The poem's author's parents on their wedding day

The poem’s author’s parents on their wedding day

 

This rather beautiful poem is worthy of a wider audience. Give it a click.

Lest I Forget.

20131021-001112.jpg

You don’t GET it I snarled
And told her why, at length.

Fine. You don’t get IT she smiled
And shortly after, left.

Clive James

Clive James

I am reminded by the arrival of a TV docco on the Wellthisiswhatithink household screen that one of my cultural heroes, Clive James, is apparently not all that much longer for this world.

Afflicted with leukaemia and emphysema, he battles on gamely, his body restricted but his mind still luminously alert.

Death comes to us all, and it’s better, I have decided, to get used to the idea, even if we rage, rage against the dying of the light as we go.

However long he is spared, James is and was the perfect fusion of true erudition and pop culture, and when he finally does shuffle off his mortal coil he will leave behind a charmingly rotund and ineffably sad gap for so many people.

Sue Ellen's drinkin' prarlm ran for a few series ... to everyone's delight.

Sue Ellen’s drinkin’ prarlm ran for a few series … to everyone’s communal delight.

He first came to general notice writing pithy and frequently hilarious TV criticism for the Observer newspaper in London some thirty or so years ago. His ability to take ephemeral material and turn it into something guaranteed to make one both think and yet laugh out loud was unmatched – I well remember how in one glorious series of articles he would take the mangled southern US drawl of the characters of “Dallas” and turn his column into something approaching comic genius by spelling their dialogue out phonetically.

Thus, you will see, Sue-Ellen Ewing wasn’t an alcoholic, she had someone with what was hilariously described as a “drinkin’ prarlm”.

As I am reminded (for which I am grateful) by a correspondent), James was also author of what must be one of the finest sentences ever written in the English language. It fell to him to review TV coverage of the royal wedding in 1981. Barbara Cartland was Princess Di’s step-grandmother but was not invited to the wedding ceremony, so one of the broadcasters hired her as a studio pundit. Clive James described her thus: “Twin miracles of mascara, her eyes looked liked the corpses of two crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff.”

Anyhow, I reproduce here from the author’s own website, for which trespass I am sure he will forgive me if I say clivejames.com often enough, one of his finest TV crit columns from 1980 which was headlined, as per his phonetic re-purposing of the English language when commenting on “Dallas”,  Someone Shart JR.

I reproduce it in full with no apologies for the patience I require of you in completing this column, Dear Reader, because it is possibly the finest example of a critical essay that I have ever read, and also for the simple reason that I note that the anthology which it is part of is now out of print. (I still have my treasured copy.) This example is notable not only because of the wonderful meandering amuse bouche of his opening views on the BBC and the cast of Dallas, but also because of the wonderfully wise and pointed Shakespearian crit that follows it.

He could hardly have demonstrated his ability to fire with both strings of his considerable intellectual bow more appositely.

Begins:

SOMEONE SHART JR

In a week which contained a full-scale production of Hamlet, the well-known tragedy by William Shakespeare, there could be no question about what was the most important event — the long-delayed episode of Dallas(BBC1) in which JR got shot.

The BBC overdid the joke, as the humourless are wont to do. After JR had been plugged there was an item on the Nine O’Clock News (BBC1) to tell the world that it had happened, almost as if anyone who hadn’t been watching would be interested in hearing about it. Before the episode rolled there was a great deal of preparatory barking from the link-men. ‘The long-awaited dramatic climax to the present series of Dallas — the shooting of JR!’ In the event, all you saw was JR getting mown down. You didn’t see who was pulling the trigger. Thus was the way left clear for another long tease-play before the next series arrives to put us out of our supposed misery.

The Beeb should realise, poor soft creature, that the Dallas thing is only a gag if you play it straight. After all, that’s what the actors are doing. With the possible exception of JR himself, everybody in the cast is working flat out to convey the full range of his or her, usually her, emotional commitment. Sue Ellen, in particular, was a study in passionate outrage when she realised the extent of her husband’s perfidy. Her mouth practically took off. You will remember that JR swindled all the other big oilmen in Dallas by selling them his oil wells ‘off the coast of South-East Asia’ just before the wells were nationalised, presumably by the South-East Asian Government. This behaviour filled Sue Ellen with disgerst, and she reached for her gern.

Sue Ellen keeps her gern in a bottom drawer. Or perhaps it is JR’s gern and on this occasion she was only borrowing it. Whatever the truth of that, you were left certain of one thing: that you could not be sure it was Sue Ellen who shot JR. Candidates for the honour were queueing up in the corridor. It is even possible that Miss Ellie shot him, since she has been showing increasing signs of madness, singing her dialogue instead of saying it. Don’t be surprised if the sheriff turns up with a wornt for her arrest. There could be a tornt of wornts.

And so to Hamlet (BBC2), starring Derek Jacobi in the title role. As writer/presenter of Shakespeare in Perspective: Hamlet (BBC2), which was transmitted on the previous day, I am duly grateful to the BBC for the opportunity to say my two cents’ worth about the best play in the world. This, however, was only an average production of it. It didn’t matter so much that Elsinore was set in a velodrome, although you kept expecting cyclists to streak past on the banking while the Prince was in mid-soliloquy.

How the play is staged certainly matters, but not as much as how the lines are spoken, and in this production it soon became clear that there was a mania on the loose to speak them in the most pointed manner possible, so that the Bard’s meaning would be fully brought out. We have the Royal Shakespeare Company to thank for many virtues and this one vice — a way of speaking Shakespeare’s blank verse that is almost guaranteed to deprive it of its binding energy, which is not meaning but rhythm. To a large extent the meaning will take care of itself if the rhythm is well attended to, but if the rhythm is broken then no amount of searching emphasis will make up for the loss, and you are left with the spectacle of an actor trying to exhaust the semantic content of William Shakespeare, with about the same chance as a thirsty man trying to drain Lake Windermere through a straw.

Derek Jacobi was an excellent Richard II, but as Hamlet he went out of his way, presumably with the director’s encouragement, to give every line an explanatory reading. Enterprises of great pitch and moment, we were informed, with this regard their currents turn awry. The implication, presumably, was that enterprises of great pitch and moment don’t usually do this, and that it usually happens only to enterprises of lesser pitch and moment. Many a time and oft I was reminded of Robert Stephens’s classically, over-explanatory first line as Oberon. ‘Ill-met (as opposed to well-met) by moonlight (as opposed to daylight), proud (not humble, like other Titanias Oberon had had the good fortune to meet in his time)Titani (not some other well-met fairy of equivalent high rank walking proudly in the moonlight in that particular forest).’

Hamlet’s mother and uncle were more inclined to play it straight and thus drew most of my attention, although Claire Bloom could not help but remind you that she was better handled in an earlier production, Henry VIII, a well-thought-out occasion to which she rose brilliantly. Ophelia was encouraged to participate in the by now hallowed directorial tradition of fiddling about with Ophelia: she looked as if she were just about to sit her Danish O-levels with small hope of passing. Eric Porter rattled on lovably as Polonius, but that’s a hard one to get wrong, since the reactions of all the other principal characters are carefully specified.

Clad in complete steel plus a flying panel of what looked like tulle, Patrick Allen, voice-over in a thousand commercials, was a good ghost, although you would not have been stunned to hear him recommend Danish bacon. One should be grateful, of course, that the ghost was allowed to appear at all. In the latest London stage production, I am told, the ghost is a figment of Hamlet’s diseased fancy, an interpretation which involves re-arranging the text so that Horatio and the sentries never see the spook. How drama
critics stay sane is beyond me.

As the Japanese Like It (BBC2) engagingly showed the aforesaid Derek Jacobi on tour with the Old Vic Hamlet in Japan. The stage version of his performance sounded twice as good as the television version. Presumably some of the Japanese theatre companies learned a lot about how to underplay a scene. Their leading actors, even when engaged in contemplation, show a tendency to stamp around like Toshiro Mifune with piles. The Haiyuza company, however, looked wonderfully accomplished. Their transvestite Rosalind was lyricism incarnate and the whole production around him/her bubbled with inventive life. The same director will be stagingHamlet next January. Doubtless he will include plenty of tumbling, juggling and magic sword-fights.

On the South Bank Show (LWT) Melvyn Bragg interviewed Roman Polanski, who was fascinating about his craft. It was refreshing to hear someone of his unchallenged technical skill declaring outright that Laurence Olivier is a film director of genius. Polanski has seen Olivier’s Hamlettwenty-five times. Bragg screened an excerpt from
it and there you had it, if you had ever forgotten: the way Shakespeare should look and the way he should sound, with Olivier’s voice moving as quickly and accurately as his body, so that the meaning of the verse rippled outward in your mind as the stress skipped rhythmically forward like a stone flung across the water.”

:Ends

Ah, bliss.

James was and is also an accomplished poet. As a young man, he fitted neatly for me into the great tradition established by populist 1960s poets such as Roger McGough, and he was unquestionably one of the luminaries whose work encouraged me to take up writing my own poetry, and eventually to make my career as a professional writer. He made it look so much fun, and so easy. And so a lifelong war of attrition with blank pages began.

In one early poem “Bring Me the Sweat of Gabriela Sabatini”, he reached such heights of delightful comic talent as to surely cement his place in writing history. Certainly in my view of writing history.

James never had to explain his crush on Gabriella Sabatini. It was shared by every other heterosexual male in the world.

James never had to explain his crush on Gabriella Sabatini. It was shared by every other heterosexual male in the world.

Never one to hide his affection for beautiful women, James, in the words of one commentator on NPR in America, “aims for warm glow and clear flow, and a delightfully shocking number of his poems achieve that lucid state. An ace critic of the printed word and moving image, James brings that eye for the ideas of art and the soul of pop to his lustrous moonlighting.

The speaker of “Bring Me the Sweat of Gabriela Sabatini” — a bloke, one surely senses, with tastes none too distant from the poet’s own — is a tennis fan no longer able to stifle his “croak of need” for the beauties of the women’s tour.

James unleashes this “parched howl” for eight stanzas, pining for intimacy with the Argentinean brunette and her supple backhand.

In classical fashion, he catalogues and incants. He’s not unreasonable (“Out of deference to Billie Jean I did my best / To control my male chauvinist urges”), but his reason loses its battle to the pull of the poem’s pleading meter.

Recurring themes (in James’s work) include the vanities of literary life (as in the schadenfreude masterpiece “The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered”), the tick-tock of mortality (“The breath of life is what finally kills you”) and the destructive power of religion (and, not quite paradoxically, the plump grace of angels).

But almost all of the poems touch on desire — parting glances, nostalgic gazes, inquiries into the charms of both Don Juan and Cleopatra. One proof that James, the poet, deserves greater recognition on these shores is his ability to make even the sin of lust ring with the sound of fun.”

Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini by Clive James

Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini
For I know it tastes as pure as Malvern water,
Though laced with bright bubbles like the aqua minerale
That melted the kidney stones of Michelangelo
As sunlight the snow in spring.

Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini
In a green Lycergus cup with a sprig of mint,
But add no sugar -
The bitterness is what I want.
If I craved sweetness I would be asking you to bring me
The tears of Annabel Croft.

I never asked for the wristbands of Maria Bueno,
Though their periodic transit of her glowing forehead
Was like watching a bear’s tongue lap nectar.
I never asked for the blouse of Françoise Durr,
Who refused point-blank to improve her soufflé serve
For fear of overdeveloping her upper arm -
Which indeed remained delicate as a fawn’s femur,
As a fern’s frond under which cool shadows gather
So that the dew lingers.

Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini
And give me credit for having never before now
Cried out with longing.
Though for all the years since TV acquired colour
To watch Wimbledon for even a single day
Has left me shaking with grief like an ex-smoker
Locked overnight in a cigar factory,
Not once have I let loose as now I do
The parched howl of deprivation,
The croak of need.

Did I ever demand, as I might well have done,
The socks of Tracy Austin?
Did you ever hear me call for the cast-off Pumas
Of Hana Mandlikova?
Think what might have been distilled from these things,
And what a small request it would have seemed -
It would not, after all, have been like asking
For something so intimate as to arouse suspicion
Of mental derangement.
I would not have been calling for Carling Bassett’s knickers
Or the tingling, Teddy Tinling B-cup brassière
Of Andrea Temesvari.

Yet I denied myself.
I have denied myself too long.
If I had been Pat Cash at that great moment
Of triumph, I would have handed back the trophy
Saying take that thing away
And don’t let me see it again until
It spills what makes this lawn burst into flower:
Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini.

In the beginning there was Gorgeous Gussie Moran
And even when there was just her it was tough enough,
But by now the top hundred boasts at least a dozen knockouts
Who make it difficult to keep one’s tongue
From lolling like a broken roller blind.
Out of deference to Billie-Jean I did my best
To control my male chauvinist urges -
An objectivity made easier to achieve
When Betty Stove came clumping out to play
On a pair of what appeared to be bionic legs
Borrowed from Six Million Dollar Man.

I won’t go so far as to say I harbour
Similar reservations about Steffi Graf -
I merely note that her thigh muscles when tense
Look interchangeable with those of Boris Becker -
Yet all are agreed that there can be no doubt
About Martina Navratilova:
Since she lent her body to Charles Atlas
The definition of the veins on her right forearm
Looks like the Mississippi river system
Photographed from a satellite,
And though she may unleash a charming smile
When crouching to dance at the ball with Ivan Lendl,
I have always found to admire her yet remain detached
Has been no problem.

But when the rain stops long enough for the true beauties
To come out swinging under the outshone sun,
The spectacle is hard for a man to take,
And in the case of this supernally graceful dish -
Likened to a panther by slavering sports reporters
Who pitiably fail to realise that any panther
With a topspin forehand line drive like hers
Would be managed personally by Mark McCormack -
I’m obliged to admit defeat.

So let me drink deep from the bitter cup.
Take it to her between any two points of a tie-break
That she may shake above it her thick black hair,
A nocturne from which the droplets as they fall
Flash like shooting stars -
And as their lustre becomes liqueur
Let the full calyx be repeatedly carried to me.
Until I tell you to stop,
Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini.

Clive-James-006

Bloodied by unbowed, James battles on.

Brilliant stuff. Whether in his hilarious and oh-so-human volumes of autobiographical memories, his TV criticism, his poetry, or his forays into really serious intellectual examination of people and things, (which I have struggled manfully to keep up with, frequently failing but always inspired), James has enriched and enlivened our lives and shone a torchlight on our culture – and not just British culture, but that of the world – for a generation which has been blessed to know him.

As he faces uncertainty and ultimately his final curtain, I hope he comes back for one more, and then one more, bow. However much he feels well enough to do, it is guaranteed that he will leave behind him a body of work so rich and varied that he can finally stop worrying about what has clearly plagued him all his life, to wit, whether or not we really take him seriously. Because the answer is clear.

Yes, we do. And we will seriously miss you, too.

You have been a stone flung across the water of our collective consciousness, and the ripples still bounce and cross one another and will do for a very long time indeed.

Thank you very much. Safe paths, Clive.

Neil Hilborn

Neil Hilborn’s brave and impassioned poem may do more for the recognition and acceptance of the suffering of people with OCD than a thousand documentaries or text books. Well done, that man.

Poet Neil Hilborn has become an internet sensation in the last 24 hours.

His massively impressive two-minute performance-style, life as art, baring of his soul poem about his love for his girlfriend, written through the window of his OCD, is simply astonishing.

 

 

As someone who has suffered from OCD in the past, a brutal multi-layered, multifaceted illness that makes its sufferer’s lives a misery, may I just say that I find the last two lines of the poem among the most moving I have ever heard in all my life.

Listen, weep, laugh, marvel at the courage – enjoy.

Mr Nice Guy. It's hard to find anyone, anywhere, with a bad word to say about Billy Joel. (Trust me, I looked.) And this story is just another example of why.

Mr Nice Guy. It’s hard to find anyone, anywhere, with a bad word to say about Billy Joel. (Trust me, I looked.) And this story is just another example of why.

I always thought – suspected – Billy Joel was a great bloke.

I’ve no idea if he really is, but he comes over that way, and I saw him once at Kooyong in Melbourne and the show just rocked along with great good humour, and awesome music, of course.

His marriage to Christie Brinkley – for whom he wrote Uptown Girl, and made the memorable video with her – was very publicly on the skids, and that she had not accompanied him to Australia was the cause of some speculation.

Someone called out from the audience “Where’s your wife?” He paused, looked down momentarily, then looked up and smiled. Leaning into the microphone he murmured:

“I know where my wife is, man. Which is more than we can say for you.”

Needless to say the audience erupted into applause. Very classy put down.

Another reason I like him is he  does those “Masterclass” things in schools and colleges, which is an incredibly generous thing for a huge star to do. At one, recently, his natural good nature shone out.

When lifelong Billy Joel fan Michael Pollack stood up to ask his childhood idol a question during the Piano Man’s recent Q&A at Vanderbilt University, he had no idea the answer would stay with him for the rest of his life.

Pollack, a piano player himself, asked Joel if he could accompany him in a performance of “New York State of Mind” — Pollack’s favorite song.

“He thought for a little – he took a second – and then he just said ‘Okay,'” Pollack would later tell the Vanderbilt Hustler.

That was good enough for Pollack, who took off toward the stage to prepare for whatever came next. After just a 15 second exchange with Joel, Pollack began to play. And the results are a rather wonderful rendition of what has always been a seminal Joel classic: I recommend you watch it.

Pollack recounted — or tried to recount — the next few minutes:

From there, it was just … foggy. It’s hard to remember. I just started playing. I had practiced it a little bit thinking maybe I’d get the chance to go up … I kind of lost myself playing. Then afterward he said to me … he said that I was great, where are you from … and I said, “I’m a Long Islander just like you.” He was like, “Cool.” Then I walked off, and that was it. It was probably the greatest moment of my life, up to date.

Joel’s advice to attendees to remember Pollack’s name won’t likely be much of a task: the young musician recently signed with the performing rights organization BMI and has already started working on some songs of his own. By the looks of him, there’s another Piano Man in the wings. Wonder if he needs any lyrics?

Alexa Ray, Joel and Brinkley's daughter, is "all growed up now", of course. At the time of writing, she's 26 and developing her own career as a painist and songwriter. "Lullaby" is her favourite song of her father's.

Alexa Ray, Joel and Brinkley’s daughter, is “all growed up now”, of course. At the time of writing, she’s 26 and developing her own career as a painist and songwriter. “Lullaby” is her favourite song of her father’s.

If I am writing about Joel, I may as well chuck in his immortal song Lullaby, also titled “Goodnight, My Angel”, seen performed here with an explanation of its genesis to another fascinated student audience.

As the video explains, it is his answer to a question from his daughter, “Daddy, what happens when we die?”

It is, without doubt, one of the most moving – and effortlessly simple – meditations on family, dying, death, and memory that one can possible imagine.

As the father of a daughter myself it invariably moves me to tears – you have been warned. Halfway through it appears to affect Joel similarly: he breaks down, and has to continue in a little while.

It’s been covered so many times now that people forget it’s Joel that wrote it.

It may be his most lasting gift to us all: that, and his good nature.

“So many things I still want to say.” Amen.

The video that was released with the song is here. And very lovely and beautifully produced and thought provoking it is. But I prefer the unvarnished live version. Then again, I’m just an old softie. What can I say?

welsh

St David's Day poem

Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, North Wales

Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, North Wales

Mary Gelpi and her dog Monty. And, er, red pants.

Mary Gelpi and her dog Monty. And, er, red pants.

I found this little poem on a blog called by Fibromy-Awesome, written by a charming and intelligent young lady called Mary Gelpi who is currently struck down by a bunch of crappy medical problems that she refuses to allow to defeat her.

I find reading her blog thoroughly uplifting, sometimes bringing me close to tears, occasionally very funny, and always well written. Many others agree, and I commend it to you.

Anyhow, while reading her stuff today I happened on some of her poetry, and as you will know, Dear Reader, I am something of a scribbler of rhyming couplets myself, and this one actually both moved me and made me guffaw simultaneously, which is a rare trick.

I don’t think I would have written it quite this way, but show me a poet who wouldn’t change something about what someone else has written and I will show you a poet bereft of passion and dying.

It’s sharp, and genuinely witty. Enjoy.

New People

There are two things people ask you
When they meet you for the first time.
What is your name?
What is it that you do?

I dislike these questions
They don’t actually reveal too much
of anything
about who we are.

Our name says something about our parents.
Our job says something about the world.

I have my grandmothers name
And now I’m unemployed.
Should we keep talking?

 

PS I am always glad to publish poems submitted to the blog provided they’re not, you know – how does one put this – utter crap*? Just email them to me at steveyolland@yahoo.com.

*Nota bene – utter crap of course means “I didn’t like it”. Everyone’s a critic, right?

Funny thing to do because you are perfectly capable, Dear Reader, in looking round the blog yourself. But with 270 new blogs in a year that’s a lot of searching, so all the “Blogging Basics” sites say I must give you a guide that you can go look through, so here it is.

Er, nope. Never happened. Nice painting though.

Er, nope. Never happened. Nice painting though.

By far the most popular blog of the year on any one day was http://wellthisiswhatithink.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/its-official-adam-and-eve-er-werent/ which garnered nearly 5,000 hits in one day (out of an annual total of more than 77,000 in 2012) when a very senior Archbishop in the Roman Catholic Church revealed what the rest of us with brains have known forever and a day anyway, which is that Genesis is true only in the sense that is is a moral fable, and not in the sense that the world was created in 7 days, or that Eve came from Adam’s rib, or that all the horrors of the world arose from munching a forbidden apple.

The really interesting thing about this story, of course, is that theologically speaking when we allow any part of the Bible text to be considered mythological then we have no argument that any other part of the Bible might not also be mythological.

Hence, just to pick a few major ones – bye bye Noah and capturing two of every living creature on the earth (including all bacteria, all 8000 species of ants, etc.), cya later Lot offering his virgin daughters to the crowd, not to mention the fact that Joshua collapsing the walls of Jericho couldn’t have happened because archaeology reveals the place was deserted when Joshua was around. Great story – good song – historical nonsense.

It seems we will just have to do what the 19th and 20th century “modernist” or “critical” theologians wanted us to do, which is read the Bible with the benefit of modern textual analysis, studying the original languages not the translations, (which, for example, can be used to argue that the Bible actually says nothing at all about gays) and taking full advantage of archaeology when we can.

The article on Adam and Eve was also the second most popular article overall of the whole year.

I think we have more to worry about than whether a Secret Serviceman did or did not employ a prostitute. Like: HIV, violence, drug addiction, social dislocation.

I think we have more to worry about than whether a Secret Serviceman did or did not employ a prostitute. Like: HIV, violence, drug addiction, social dislocation. And more.

The most popular article for the whole year was http://wellthisiswhatithink.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/the-secret-serviceman-and-the-prostitute-whats-the-real-scandal/.

I’d like to think this was all about my thoughtful analysis of hypocrisy in American moral values, the role of prostitution in modern society, the role of the media in drumming up salacious gossip, and the relationship between poverty and the sex trade.

However checking out my stats closely I suspect it’s just because the word prostitute is often typed into search engines, and the story duly pops up.

Similar big scores have been gathered with articles about tits, and even bum.

One would despair, were it not for the fact that I know that some people read the article seriously.

Similarly, promising to ignore injunctions and show people Princess Catherine of Wales (aka Kate Middleton) topless and then bottomless worked well to drum up passing trade, though I doubt many of the people who clicked on the links got the point of my tongue in cheek effort.

The third most popular post of the year was this “Gratuitously Offensive Politically Incorrect Joke”, which I still think is very funny, (it’s also a paraprosdokian by the way, and there are some more of them here, which is probably why I like it so much), and scores very highly with anyone searching for Angela Merkel in Google and so on, so the Bundesnachrichtendienst have probably given me the once-over, but decided I am harmless.

Snookie, Chelsea the Borgias and Big Tits was the fourth most popular article of the year, and has been in the Top Ten most popular almost every day of the year. I a eagerly awaiting the next series of the Borgias, not to mention the next series of Downton Abbey and Throne of Kings. I don’t mind crap TV, so long as it’s good quality crap. A lot of you seemed to agree with me that Jeremy Irons and the Crew give good crap. Snookie and the Crew? Not so much. I wish, actually, I had been a TV reviewer, which is, of course, one of the most sought after positions in journalism. Do we think it is too late, Dear Reader? Hell, no!

Last but by no means least – in fifth place – was what I have decided was the WINNER of Advertising F*** Up of the Year, in fact the very first of the series which proved incredibly popular with readers. To save you clicking back to last January, here it is:

The first poster is for a road safety campaign where Daddy has crashed his car and died. The one right next to it is for a notorious lap dancing club. I mean, really?

The first poster is for a road safety campaign where Daddy has crashed his car and died. The one right next to it is for a notorious lap dancing club. I mean, really? Really?

The Advertising F*** Up series were undoubtedly the most popular series of articles in the year. To access them, just type “F***” into the search box and they’ll all be listed for you. (Saves me doing it.)

I am enormously grateful for all the supporters of the Blog, all those who have commented, who have argued, who have provided elucidation, and who have laughed and loved. It is most popular in the USA, in the UK, and in my home country of Australia, and I guess that is inevitable. But in all, people in 172 countries read the blog, which I personally find quite humbling and astonishing, and the free spread of ideas and opinions must surely be the greatest boon the Internet has given the world.

I am especially proud, in the year just gone, for the work we were able to do on awareness to do with bullying, and Alzheimer’s, on clean water for the poor of the world, and on women’s rights. I am also very glad my feverish campaigning for Obama came out on the right side of history, and I hope his second term is more impressive than his first, which is often the case. Let us hope and pray for wisdom for all our political leaders, as the world is a long way from being out of the woods yet – economically, and politically.

I bitterly regret that my warnings on Syria, which predated most commentators in the world, were ignored, but I only have a very small lectern and it is a big world. And anyway, the world only listens when it wants to. Yesterday the United Nations estimated that 60,000 have died in this completely avoidable conflict thus far, and unless Assad’s Alawite regime can be persuaded to decamp to the safe haven of Iran pretty damn quickly that figure could still rise exponentially.  It was – and is – all so unnecessary, and so awfully, inexorably predictable.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to showcase my poetry and creative writing. Thank you for all the kind comments.

I am Bradley Manning. Are you?

I am Bradley Manning. Are you?

As the blog tipped over from 2011 into 2012, I was still deeply distressed by the murderous execution of Troy Davis, campaigning against which had occupied – unsuccessfully – so much of the start of the blog. This year, I have watched with increasing horror as the might of the modern American state has born down relentlessly on Bradley Manning, the well-meaning and honourable serviceman who set off the Wikileaks scandal by releasing for public gaze tens of thousands of classified snippets of information. Expect to hear a lot more about his case in the coming weeks, not least why I believe the man is a modern hero who should be feted, not crucified.

I am still Troy Davis. I am now Bradley Manning.

Happy New Year, Dear Reader.

Janis Ian in 1969, and today. Did this woman really ever believe she was an “ugly duckling”? Surely not. And she is surely a beautiful soul, and one who effortlessly combined skill as a writer with genius as a composer. Respect.

… and I dial up one of those on demand radio station things to get some background music that helps the creative juices to flow, when suddenly Janis Ian comes on singing In the Winter.

Well, that was the end of productive work for a while, as it prompted a quick rush round the outer reaches of YouTube to remind myself of this exquisitely personal woman’s haunting music and lyrics.

Do yourselves a favour, and watch this interview and live un-plugged performance, including an hilarious little ditty she wrote about the release of her autobiography, which, as it happens, was very successful.

I reckon it’s the best 15 minutes you’ll give yourself this week. And if you can’t spend 15 minutes, just fast forward to her performance of At Seventeen at the end. If it’s possible, it’s even more heart rending now, as she settles so comfortably and productively into late middle age, than it was when she originally wrote it at 24 years old.

The pain, the humanity, the empathy, the understanding of the human condition. It leaves one breathless.

Remember, this was a woman who received death threats at 16 for writing and releasing a song in favour of inter-racial marriage. As poet Roger McGough once said “Words? Why, she could almost make them talk.”