In this episode of Australian Book Review's States of Poetry podcast, Fiona Wright reads her poem 'Crisis Poem' which features in the 2016 New South Wales anthology.

 

Crisis Poem

for Ian

And suddenly:
the men
are holding beers
and standing round
the trampoline,
and not the barbecue;
turning over toddlers,
instead of steaks.
The women
make the salads.

Fiona Wright

 

'Crisis Poem' appears in 'States of Poetry - NSW'. You can learn more about States of Poetry and read the full anthologies here

Read Fiona Wright's biography in 'States of Poetry - NSW'

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    In this episode of Australian Book Review's States of Poetry podcast, Fiona Wright reads her poem 'Crisis Poem' which features in the 2016 New South Wales anthology.

In this episode of Australian Book Review's States of Poetry podcast, Fiona Wright reads her poem 'Potts Point' which features in the 2016 New South Wales anthology.

 

Potts Point

for Eileen

The light's older
in these sandstone suburbs,
jam-thick.

A clipped-haired man held a dog leash
saying one of us is single,
and even the leaves
had hunched their shoulders
in the gutters.

A waiter, golden-brown as a bread loaf,
squirted water at the pigeons
that sat cock-headed at the tables. My tart
was soft and skinless. Later, your cat

curled fluidly against my legs
and watched the water fizzing on the moorings.
There are crossed oceans
that must spill still
at the edges of your vision,

things we can not understand.

You said perhaps we're both like this because.
Or perhaps because we are like this. Perhaps
it doesn't matter. We stack
your fridge with blueberries and sushi. You roll
up the lid
of your old writing desk,
curved in three places,
like a spine.

Fiona Wright

 

'Potts Point' appears in 'States of Poetry - NSW'. You can learn more about States of Poetry and read the full anthologies here

Read Fiona Wright's biography in 'States of Poetry - NSW'

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    In this episode of Australian Book Review's States of Poetry podcast, Fiona Wright reads her poem 'Potts Point' which features in the 2016 New South Wales anthology.

In this episode of Australian Book Review's States of Poetry podcast, Fiona Wright reads her poem 'Set Piece' which features in the 2016 New South Wales anthology.

 

Set Piece

 Strange, that there are sequences
                 we live as cinema, if I looked
over my shoulder
I might recognise the front wall
of my bedroom
                opened out towards the camera,

my furniture as hollow
as a stage prop. I am
vicarious to myself:strange,

                                  that sometimes
we recognise significance
instead of burning it back in, much later
and imperfectly.
            Some nights I wake up
gasping at the air, I dream
I'm trying, through my sleep
                              to speak,

           to call your name
from the wet depths of slumber
but I can't will my mouth
to move: if we are unknown

even to our selves
how can we try to hold each other
still? I sit against
          the bedhead, my knees

press against my breasts. Outside
are stars, a car door slamming,
the last train shunting back into the depot.

 

Fiona Wright

 

'Set Piece' appears in 'States of Poetry - NSW'. You can learn more about States of Poetry and read the full anthologies here

Read Fiona Wright's biography in 'States of Poetry - NSW'

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    In this episode of Australian Book Review's States of Poetry podcast, Fiona Wright reads her poem 'Set Piece' which features in the 2016 New South Wales anthology.

In this episode of Australian Book Review's States of Poetry podcast, Fiona Wright reads her poem 'Smith's Lake' which features in the 2016 New South Wales anthology.

 

Smith's Lake

The grass grows longer on the easeway.

A pelican swipes the sky
            towards the seascape we can't yet see,
its webby legs outstretched:
                                          I wait for these,

              for sunburn behind the knees,
for sand between the bedsheets,
champagne at dusk
              and pelicans,
and their unthinking ease.

They clap their chitin jaws
              when we gut bream up on the sandbank,
this they augur:
to swallow fishheads
and stare with oyster eyes
              at the tangle of tackle and flaked scales
that will sandcastle by our toes.
You grew up inland
and don't yet expect this.

We'll eat straight from unfurled paper,
and leave our oily fingerprints to refract,
buy coffee at the marina
(and it will taste like sump oil
and salt, but a tiny chocolate biscuit will balance
on the spoon.)

You have no history here,
and don't yet know this.
               You can't yet read
the ocean
for its undertow.

Fiona Wright

 

'Smith's Lake' appears in 'States of Poetry - NSW'. You can learn more about States of Poetry and read the full anthologies here

Read Fiona Wright's biography in 'States of Poetry - NSW'

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    In this episode of Australian Book Review's States of Poetry podcast, Fiona Wright reads her poem 'Smith's Lake' which features in the 2016 New South Wales anthology.

Melbourne is home to numerous poetic institutions, including Australian Poetry Inc, Collected Works (Australia's best bookshop for poetry), and, of course, Australian Book Review. Among these institutions there are vibrant – if sometimes occult – print, audio-visual, and spoken-word scenes. Regional Victoria is far from eclipsed by the metropolitan centre. The Bellarine Peninsula, for instance, is home to numerous poets, including Barry Hill, Diane Fahey, and Anthony Lynch. Two of the poets included here – A. Frances Johnson and Cameron Lowe – are 'Bellarine poets'. Living in Geelong myself, I make no apologies for this regional bias. In putting together this anthology, I have focused largely on early- and mid-career poets whose poetics I find appealing. It is a poetics attracted to openness, energy, catholic interest, and wit.

Kevin Brophy – the most senior of the poets represented here, and a long-standing participant in poetic culture – writes poetry that is by turns plangent and comic. His work brings together a highly original, and rich, mix of the surreal, the lyrical, and the satirical. Jessica L. Wilkinson, one of the youngest poets represented here and the founding editor of Rabbit, a journal of 'non-fiction poetry', demonstrates that mode with an innovative suite of poems concerning the choreographer Nijinsky. One of the most intensely 'local' set of poems is from Amy Brown, a poet who was, in the first instance, 'foreign'. A New Zealander, Brown considers Melbourne with an eye that is both affectionate and critical, and she does so using a poetic language that is both delicate and authoritative. Possibly the 'coolest' of the poets, Cameron Lowe is also deeply interested in the everyday. However much other poets might be interested in quotidian particularity, Lowe's quotidian is all his own, both intensely 'felt' and intensely 'aesthetic' (from the Greek word meaning 'to feel'), undoing the supposed distinction between affect and aesthetic distance. Lowe is also attracted to an aesthetics of name-checking (something found in other contemporary Melbourne poets' work), referring without hierarchy to family members, friends, and poets (local and distant).

Proper nouns abound in the poetry of Michael Farrell, too, though his work is more explicitly 'experimental' (should such a term mean anything these days) and his comedy even more surreal or absurd. It is interesting that Farrell has been charged by some as being 'unduly' obscure, since – as the poems included here illustrate – his work is richly playful and steeped in antecedents of various kinds. Farrell's work is notable in part for the way it 'queers' classic (or reactionary) Australian tropes and myths. Perhaps this is what makes Farrell such a necessary irritant in Australian poetic culture.

Farrell's queering of Australian tropes is inherently a political act. While such an aesthetics is far from 'protest poetry' (a category that many literary poets would see as potentially facile and politically naïve), there is no doubt that recent years have seen something of a 'political turn' in Victorian, and Australian, poetry generally. Many poets have been galvanised, if not radicalised, by the actions of the federal government. Political satirists such as Charlie Pickering or the cartoonist First Dog on the Moon have the medium and audience to publicly intervene in the tragedy and farce that is political life in contemporary Australia, but poets are also engaging with the torsions of national politics, albeit often in complex and tangential ways, as Brophy's 'Before I Speak' illustrates. Indeed, one might say that such a 'tangential poetics' is in fact a necessary addition to a public discourse so otherwise debased.

The continuity between poetry and politics, anger and artfulness, is eloquently seen in the work of A. Frances Johnson. She – like Lowe – shows that being a 'Bellarine poet' does not simply mean attending to the bourgeois blandishments of coastal life. One of Johnson's key strategies is to imagine and recontextualise Victoria's largely repressed histories. Her 'Shrine', for instance, is one of the great poems on the frontier wars in colonial Australia. Just as First Dog on the Moon brings about his powerful effects through the marrying of political rage and cartoon comedy, so Johnson produces her powerful effects by marrying political rage with lyrical intensity and wit.

The six poets collected here are not 'representative' in a demographic sense, but they do illustrate the variety and vitality of poetry in Victoria. They bring together the Magic Pudding, Frida Kahlo's face, and Tunnerminnerwait.

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Friday, 26 February 2016 14:53

News from the Editor's Desk - March 2016

Porter Prize

Five poems have been shortlisted in the 2016 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. The poets are Dan Disney, Anne Elvey, Amanda Joy, Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet, and Campbell Thomson; their poems can be read here. The judges on this occasion were Luke Davies, Lisa Gorton, and Kate Middleton.

Join us at our studio in Boyd Community Hub on Wednesday, 9 March (6 pm), when the poets will introduce and read their works, followed by the announcement of the overall winner, who will receive $5,000 and an Arthur Boyd print. This is a free event, but reservations are essential.

These ceremonies always commence with a series of readings of poems written by Peter Porter (1929–2010). This year our readers – Judith Bishop (winner in 2006 and 2011), Morag Fraser, Lisa Gorton, and Peter Rose among them – may choose to dip into the new collection of late Porter poems: Chorale at the Crossing (Picador, $24.99 pb).

Peter Porter portrait 1Peter Porter

States of Poetry

ABR's poetry content continues to expand. To complement the Porter Prize, monthly poems and reviews, and our Poem of the Week podcast, we are delighted to introduce States of Poetry, the first federally arranged poetry anthology project to be published in this country. With handsome support from Copyright Agency's Cultural Fund, each year we will publish individual state and territory anthologies intended to highlight the quality and diversity of contemporary Australian poetry. The full States of Poetry anthologies will appear free of charge on our website, with poems, biographies, recordings, and introductions from our state editors. Each month we will publish a selection in the print edition. South Australia is the mini-anthology to be printed in the print edition while the first full anthology to be published online is ACT, which you can find here

Renting a guillotine

Harper's Magazine carried, in its January issue, a list of queries submitted to the New York Public Library's Reference and Research Services between 1940 and 1989. Here are some examples: 'Where can I rent a guillotine?'; 'Who built the English Channel?'; 'Is it proper to go alone to Reno to get a divorce?'; 'Is this where I ask questions I can't get answers to?'

Whenever we advertise one of our literary prizes, we feel for those librarians. Entrants pose the curliest questions. A few instances will serve. 'Does a short story have to be fiction?' 'What is fiction?' 'Do the spaces in my poem count as lines?' 'Can I enter online but send my story by post?' 'If I published my essay online but no one read it, does that count as publication?'

With the Jolley Prize open until 11 April, we look forward to fielding lots of metaphysically elevated if possibly unanswerable questions.

Gwen Harwood

Harwood GwenGwen Harwood

A footnote to our December lament about the paucity of Australian literary biographies. Brandl & Schlesinger, that enterprising Sydney publisher, has issued Gwen Harwood's Idle Talk: Letters 1960–1964, edited by Alison Hoddinott, the recipient, with her husband, of these brilliant missives. No one wrote like Harwood. Her account in 1961 of the furore that followed the Bulletin's unwitting publication of her two famous acrostic sonnets (SO LONG BULLETIN; and FUCK ALL EDITORS) contains some ferocious comic writing quite worthy of Evelyn Waugh, none better than Harwood's transcript of a conversation with the Bulletin's embattled Desmond O'Grady.

Only three letters survive from 1960. Alison Hoddinott records a late conversation with Harwood in 1995 who became annoyed when her friend confessed that she had burned the other letters, at Harwood's request. 'You shouldn't have taken any notice of me,' Harwood replied. 'Writers always say that. They don't mean it.'

Quite right: if authors really want to destroy their private papers, they stoke the incinerator, like Henry James.

Her majesty's pleasure

Prime ministerial post-mortems can be absorbing, and Aaron Patrick's Credlin & Co.: How the Abbott Government Destroyed Itself (Black Inc., $29.99 pb) is entertaining. The author repeats one claim that, to our surprise, didn't gain much traction in the weeks after Abbott's defeat. Greg Sheridan, reliably close to Abbott, suggested in The Australian that Abbott gave Philip his knighthood 'because he learned the Queen wanted her husband to have one'.

The British monarchy can be accused of many things, but in this case Aaron Patrick's reading seems plausible: 'Sheridan's article could not be verified: Buckingham Palace would never answer a question about the Queen's wishes for her husband. The article sounded like after-the-fact justification.' Of which we can expect to hear much more this year, especially from the Malcontents.

Aaron Patrick, like many scribblers, chooses to dedicate the book to the 'love of his life'; but in an Author's Note he also remembers Roger East, the journalist who was murdered by Indonesian troops in Dili in 1975. Royalties from Credlin & Co. will be donated to a fund honouring the Balibo Five, who perished shortly before East did. Impressively, this fund will help train East Timorese journalists in Australia.

ABR RAFT Fellowship

Alan AtkinsonAlan Atkinson

Interest was high in the inaugural ABR RAFT Fellowship, which examines the role and significance of religion in society and culture. Alan Atkinson was chosen from a large and impressive field. He is Emeritus Professor of History, University of New England, and Senior Tutor and Fellow at St Paul's College, and Honorary Professor, University of Sydney. Professor Atkinson, an occasional contributor to ABR, is the author of several award-winning books, including his three-volume magnum opus, The Europeans in Australia.

Alan Atkinson's proposal began, timelily, 'Can a nation, Australia especially, make an effort, just to be good?' We can't wait to publish his Fellowship article, whose working title is 'How Do We Live with Ourselves? The Australian National Conscience'.

We thank everyone who applied for the ABR RAFT Fellowship, and hope to present a second one in 2017.

ABR Laureate's Fellow

Michael Aiken smallerMichael Aiken

ABR Laureate David Malouf has chosen Sydney poet Michael Aiken as the inaugural ABR Laureate's Fellow. These Fellowships are intended to advance the work of a younger writer admired by the Laureate. Michael Aiken, who lives and works in Sydney, receives $5,000. He was born in western Sydney and raised on the New South Wales central coast. Michael Aiken spent thirteen years working in the security industry. His book A Vicious Example (Grand Parade, 2014) was shortlisted for the 2015 Kenneth Slessor Prize. His poetry and prose have appeared in various journals in Australia and overseas. Michael is working on a narrative poem, part of which ABR will publish in due course.

Hazel Rowley Fellowship

Shannon Burns's ABR Fellowship profile of Gerald Murnane ('The Scientist of His Own Experience', ABR, August 2015) was admired by many, including Text Publishing, which has commissioned him to write Murnane's biography. Shannon Burns has also been shortlisted for the 2016 Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship. He is one of nine biographers on the shortlist, and the competition is keen. Others include Jacqueline Kent (for a biography of Robert Helpmann), Jeff Sparrow (Paul Robeson), and Philip Dwyer (Napoleon Bonaparte).

The Rowley Fellowship, now in its fifth year and worth $10,000, commemorates the life and work of one of Australia's finest biographers, Hazel Rowley (1951–2011). The intention is to encourage travel and risk-taking – of which Hazel would have emphatically approved. The winner will be announced on 9 March.

Marathons and Prepositions

Few editors write books (they're not meant to have time for such frivolities). Even fewer run marathons (or break into a jog, in our experience). Catriona Menzies-Pike – editor of the Sydney Review of Books – is an exception. Her first book, The Long Run, is described as 'a personal and cultural memoir about why women run' (Affirm Press, $29.99 pb). One of Menzies-Pike's reasons for doing so was the death of her parents in a light plane crash when she was twenty. Those early losses are described in dignified, telling prose, with a moving description of revisiting the family home in Albury soon after the accident, only to find it barred.

The editor in Catriona Menzies-Pike is never sedentary for long: 'To map the meaning of any kind of run, we need to pay attention to the prepositions.'

Vale John Hirst

Distinguished historian and author John Hirst has died, aged seventy-three. For almost four decades he taught history at La Trobe University, always eschewing a Chair and preferring to remain Reader in History. His prose was impeccable, his scholarship highly influential. ACU Vice-Chancellor Greg Craven has described him as 'one of the greatest historians this country has had'.

John Hirst's frequent contributions to ABR began with the current Editor's first issue in 2001. The pair had worked on several books for Oxford University Press in the 1990s, including A Republican Manifesto in 1994 (Hirst was a founding convenor of the ARM in Victoria). With Graeme Davison and Stuart Macintyre, Dr Hirst co-edited The Oxford Companion to Australian History (1998). After retiring from La Trobe University in 2006, he continued to publish books aimed at an enquiring general audience. These included The Shortest History of Europe (2009) and Australian History in 7 Questions (2014).

The new Children's Laureate

1 HobbsLeighLeigh Hobbs (photograph by Sergion Fontana)

Bestselling author and illustrator Leigh Hobbs – creator of the inimitable characters Horrible Harriet, Mr Chicken, and Old Tom – has been named as the new Australian Children's Laureate for 2016–17, succeeding writer Jackie French. Hobbs intends to use his term 'to champion creative opportunities for children, and to highlight the essential role libraries play in nurturing our creative lives'.

The Australian Children's Laureate initiative was developed by the Australian Children's Literature Alliance with the aim of promoting the importance of reading, creativity, and story in the lives of young Australians.

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Your kind friend sent a condolence card
and in the envelope a small white feather
which, she said, seemed to come from nowhere.
Angel's wings obviously, I wrote in my reply.
And for days after everywhere I went
I found small replicas, as if some tiny
feathered thing had scattered its moulting
on urban pavements, in shops and unlikely
bathrooms, as well as in gardens shocked
with loss. I fingered the delicate plumes
and hoped they were tokens from some
unlikely messenger, saying you were safely
wrapped in God's eiderdown – how reason is
undone by grief. Later, in answer
to my penned bewilderment a suggestion:
Death is like a going home.
I want to believe, but if that were so,
surely you'd like us to be there too
not left out here puzzling in the cold,
trying to fashion from nature's casual
droppings a scarecrow angel,
like children gluing tufts to lolly sticks,
who dream of trumpets announcing
a perpetual Christmas and forget
the frozen shepherds cowering
as they stare at the inexplicable
in the pitch black night.

Adrian Caesar

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Some months after the funeral,
checking emails from the other hemisphere,
there's one from Pauline; subject: Hell.
It's not promising. My mind traverses
the last five years, their litany of loss –
a son, two friends and mentors,
then you, lovely sister, and like some grim
comedic postscript even Frankie
the cat succumbed. Suffice to say
I am well acquainted with grief.
So on a bright morning of frost sparkle
and sunshine I don't want more bad news.
Through the window I watch parrots cavort
hunger's casual gymnasts in the trees
squawking over breakfast to celebrate
the playful day. Coraggio my own word
to you dying limps back to me
battered and bruised; I open the message
from your friend. It speaks of planting
wild primroses on your grave
and how the site at Barton Glebe
is bright with daisies and dandelions
peaceful as ever. There is talk
of daily things and at the last:
Tell Claire K's rose is blooming.
As I felt the familiar watering begin,
I realised the typo in the subject bar:
Hello it should have said. And saw how that
single 'o' could hold at once the meaning
of love perfected or the blank of absence
the nothing of death we try to fill with heaven.
And in my mind against the parrot's raucous din
as if to reassure I should dwell on more than zero
I swear I heard your voice make greeting.

Adrian Caesar

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my mum, being this, terribly emotional, also some part, egalitarian,
'I give him six months, then he won't be, any longer. and she
who is afraid of the mobile
telephone

under clock water when the print reverses, St Pancras, the Hardy
Tree necked in hours, of roots, of entry, oublié, headstones
clicking crabclaw
telegraphy, un
addition, s'il vous plait

while him, happening to die on an aeroplane, indeed did, have

an operation in Cyprus, she, who was not afraid
in Sinai, though he was, Jehovah's witness

from the Republic of Whangamomona
the moebius road. thin as a saddle
and wet with rain. left flank
thin as a saddle, wet with
nausea, slipping. right flank
thin, as a saddle, wet, with
adoration, slipping. 'this is how
I remember, completing

the round stone                                          in the clay

half visible                                       the round stone

in the clay                              half visible

 

*

 

so I've sent a remonstrative text to Kate,
I felt I had to tell her off for asking for advice
and then not passing it on. she said twice

that you'd mentioned the machine
I became extremely worried
it is a very specific terminology

I lost four nights sleep
they are very dangerous people.
several times I've told her

to mention the Avoca understanding your need
for absolute discretion

 

*

 

beside the sealed boxhead
neither sign-posted nor covered in camouflage grass
at a moment when shoes are slippers and
the world has run out of cigarettes, predictably
the fluorescent reaches. birds split overhead,
the boxhead alchemises the imprint
and returns it.

I think I was fifteen
before I realised
she was my father's lover.
a Hungarian thing.
Neither Eastern nor Western,
but a painful, pram-shaped expression,
vermilion hair stumbling around St Martin's
calling Roxie Roxie while pugs quack.
he said it himself, three hundred or more but honestly
Risa, as your father I swear just this one

 

*

 

Mona Lisa among the Pestiferes

uno momento –
touch the bubo!
click click click
click click click

 

*

 

whereas in Palmerston North
the landmarks are the problem

I was lost for two hours, sunburn, the girl on the radio
four, heatstroke, certain privileges

before visiting hours, thelonious on sky
I trim his toenails, he dozes

let me ask. a mother, daughter, bichon frise.
chlorinal. for advice on my position. I've
never been to London but they know I'll love it.

and they dry sweetly in the hot car air
the side window hammers out a vacuum
the bichon on my lap accepts restraint

 

*

 

I am what I eat
I am what I touch
I am charged with the collection
I am afraid I can not take another photo for you
I have not yet been to the Richelieu wing
I must be complete by four.
Non, pardon. Je ne parle pas.
Then in English. Excuse me madam.
I wonder if I can trouble you
for just a single Euro.

 

*

 

I don't know where I've left my
in Camden whispering
annabayannabaywannabaymarawanna
jammed birdwhistle street shoveyshoulder twenty pounds
vanishing from my hand
and so I respectfully but forcefully demand
that you arrange for the deletion
of this erroneous, misleading and life-threatening
history from my records; indeed I plead
for the deletion of my records in toto; and further demand
that the Patient Alert is immediately recalled,
and that all records of the Patient Alert are destroyed
by each of the practitioners and agencies
that have received it

 

Jen Crawford

'did, have'  was previously published in Napoleon Swings (Soapbox Press, 2009)

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messenger

 

I mother a scorching fence
I mother a child against a fence

and the cry

here come the shellshocked to arm the day
here come collectors for the shells

amber cry

nest-thief

seed-eye

sown
for others to reap

 


 

planet of weeds

 

wild berries underfoot, drunken forests bend
down into the shape of their children,
tallish gardens. necklace spines fallow brown
settle down into pale lawns, child lawns'
curled shoulders, speeding
the forgetting of a forest.
air looks to being now and then
carries sight around the draped hair casting out
for sun-fish, which cool quickly
in the deep given away.

dry lichen fields the shift
between the seen unfelt and the felt unseen.
a slip-moon cut opens wood, soft
for the flood and the drought, fear,
hyphae, a line of taxis gathers
spirit at the gate, that there is
somewhere else to go, go on
now to the mesopause, new world holding
dream dots out in pressureless trade

 


 

dots out

 

does a beast stir near me I am alone
I am awake. my love has gone
into the dark the house open the wind

 

gone to the garden to look for the lilies
gone to count the buds

 

in the savour of young fruit
bitten on the trees

 

print of our house upon my cheek.

the spheres of our house
rise, flagstones
float upon the dirt

 

the gate's fallen open,
the garden is open,

the servants of the gate
and the guards
of the road bruise my breast:

 

he has gone to the fields
that turn to brine

he has gone to the fields
on horizons of milk

gone to catch the seeds
that float away

 


 

hyphae

 

lichen loves stone
a ship loves thin air
water loves a crevice
a crevice cedes dry
cedes damp
stone walks into softness

the guards leave for the coast
leave for the mall
for the supercolony
spinning itself out

around green-crossed
chorion
multiform darkness
amnios and body-stalk
yolk and cry

koel

 


 

promise

 

I love you you come back,
hatches undog, ants
stream the rope out
of loose husks in the hold

it must be you, come back
as ants, as honeydew uneaten by ants
dripping onto the trees,
sooty mould swarming
over the stems and leaves. exhausted,
seasonless, vigorous

cascade,
adorn me to meet you
as formic acid, as shells bleached
out in an ungroomed place,
the springing up of a stinging tree
as swelling belly,
ruin, the lack
of a canopy gap

 

Jen Crawford

 

'abandoned house music' previously published in lichen loves stone (Tinfish Press, 2015)

Recording

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