Poems in a time of Pestilence #1

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) - United States Department of ...

I’ve started, with a group of friends, writing a poem a week during these strange Covid-19 days. I’ll share mine here, regardless of quality. The first was a response to, or inspired by, or in parallel to a poem about Covid-19 written by Simon Armitage here.

Let Me Count the Ways of My Virus …

… it causes men in pubs to speak at less than eighty decibels,

dogs to squeak like mice after three barks,

Americans to stop saying “reach out” (unless singing The Four Tops),

Australians to stop saying “that’s unAustralian”,

and shockjocks to receive a shock

every time they broadcast bullshit.


It turns politicians’ lies into pig grunts,

small children’s squeals into flute concerti,

football crowds’ racist chants into hymns,

sermons into words Jesus might have said,

suicide bombers into peaceniks,

soldiers’ rifle sights into pictures of their families,

dirty water into freshly squeezed orange juice,

cheap plonk into organic tempranillo,

dog shit into buttercups,

homelessness into homecoming,

cheeseburgers into vegan Bánh mì.


It causes bad poets to go hoarse,

spoken word poets to stop rhyming,

poker machines to pay out more than they take.

It amplifies choirs,

cools the Antarctic icecap,

gives pollen back to bees,

skims everything above a million dollars

from millionaires’ bank accounts

and spreads it like fertiliser

amongst the homeless.


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2020 except image which is U.S. Department of State

Book Review: “Don’t Skip out on Me” by Willy Vlautin, plus a few others

「Don't Skip Out on Me」(Willy Vlautin - 9780062799463)| 楽天Kobo

Don’t Skip Out on Me by Willy Vlautin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A book with it’s own soundtrack by the author! I heard Willy Vlautin speak at Adelaide Writers Week a few years ago. He is an engaging speaker, I think a Vietnam Vet, and a band musician. That’s quite a combination of experiences for a still relatively young man. His book “The Free” was about a Vietnam vet, but I reviewed it as three stars “… I struggled at times to follow the narrative, which switches between reality and anaesthetic induced dreams.”

This book is really, really good. The arc of the story is straightforward – young man, Horace, who is part American Indian, part Irish, part Nevadan has been abandoned by his parents when young, and rescued by working on a remote sheep farm for a couple who we only ever know as Mr. and Mrs. Reece. He has a dream to be a boxing champion and, for some reason, be thought of as Mexican, because he is ashamed of his Indian heritage. The Reeces love him as their own son, but must let him go to follow his boxing dream. He is a good boxer, but is he a champion? The rest of the book follows his trajectory towards his goal.

Vlautin now writes clear, concise and deceptively simple prose. It is a gripping story and the relationship between Horace and the Reeces is heartbreaking.

Vlautin’s band, Richmond Fontaine, have a lovely alt-country album with the same title as the book, on which each track depicts a section of the book. Tailor made to be the soundtrack of a film of the book.

Highly recommended.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good read, but impossible to match “The Handmaid’s Tale”. I thought the ending was a touch “Harry Potter”-ish as if it was rushed to meet a deadline.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found it a hard read. The story of a family (or are they) who have escaped a male dominated apocalyptic land to live alone on a remote island or peninsula. Interesting premise but, for me, not engaging, although I stayed with it to the end

Travelling in a Strange Land by David Park

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting insight into the mind of a grieving man, centred around his journey from Belfast to Sunderland at Christmas, to retrieve his (probably) mentally disturbed son and bring him home. Not that engaging for me, but engaging enough for me to finish it.

View all my reviews

Book Review: “Stoner” by John Williams

21 Brilliant Books You’ve Never Heard Of | GQ

Stoner by John Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The New Yorker called it “the greatest American novel you’ve never heard of”. Lest the title of the book misleads you, John Williams’ “Stoner” is not a book about a drug addled no-hoper. It’s set in the first half of the twentieth century in Missouri, where William Stoner is born into a dirt poor farming family. He has no ambition, no set path in life except to carry on back-breaking farm work like his father. His father decides that William should go to university to study agriculture, in the hope that their poor farm can become more than bare subsistence.


Early in his time at university, William Stoner takes an English elective, without any expectation, and is so inspired by his professor and by reading Shakespeare, that he decides to quit agriculture and study English full-time. The rest of his life is in academia, teaching English Literature in the same institution in which he studied. He meets and marries a woman at an academic function. They have a daughter. The marriage is unsuccessful, the daughter being used as a pawn in the marital conflict. His career flourishes, he has an affair with a colleague, his career founders, he dies a painful death of cancer. This is no Gatsby-like hero.


This all sounds fairly depressing, and in a way it is. But it is depressing in the same way that a Thomas Hardy novel is depressing – by being incredibly insightful into the twists and turns of fate that alter any human life and create both pain and joy for the characters. The writing is beautiful and the main characters are skilfully portrayed. The observations of academic politics and chicanery are acute.


I can imagine alternative critiques of this book. One would be that all the female characters are damaged, difficult and unsympathetically portrayed. Some reviewers have accused Williams of misogyny. The same criticism could be levelled at the unsympathetic portrayal of two disabled characters.


“Stoner” was initially published in 1965. It sold fewer than 2,000 copies and was out of print a year later. In 1972 Pocket Books put out a paperback version, reissued again in 1998 by the University of Arkansas Press and then in 2003 in paperback by Vintage and 2006 by New York Review Books Classics. French novelist Anna Gavalda translated Stoner in 2011, and it became Waterstones’ Book of the Year in Britain in 2012. It has now sold hundreds of thousands of copies in 21 countries. Williams died in 1994, probably before the book received the wide acclaim it now enjoys.




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Book Review: “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Pat Barker is a great writer of both contemporary and historical fiction. The Regeneration Trilogy, (Regeneration (1991), The Eye in the Door (1993), and The Ghost Road (1995)), is a monumental achievement. It explores the First World War, combining history and fiction, using the poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers as characters. She won the Booker Prize for The Ghost Road. However “Toby’s Room” and “Double Vision” were less to my liking, so I did not have such high expectations from this novel.

In “The Silence of the Girls” Barker retells The Iliad, but primarily from the point of view of the women involved. In particular, this is the story of Briseis, the wife of the King of Lyrnessus. Briseis is captured when the Greeks take her city, slaughter her husband, and sons, and award her as a prize to Achilles.


There is no romanticising of war in this story. The way women are treated as possessions to be bartered or given away when they are young and fertile, and cast aside when no longer attractive, is vividly described.

Barker uses modern idioms rather than archaic speech in writing dialogue. Initially this grated on me a bit, but as the novel progressed I became used to it.

Particularly moving is her description of the scene where the King of Troy, Priam, steals into the Greek camp and begs Achilles to return the body of Hector, Priam’s son. There is a great Michael Longley poem, “Ceasefire” which also describes the same scene. In both cases, Priam’s words are quoted and are particularly memorable:

“I get down on my knees and do what must be done
and kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son”






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Poets, Pizza, Crowd-Sourced Poetry and Requests

Last night (Friday 17th Jan 2020), I performed in the beautiful new pavilion at Coriole Winery, overlooking the majestic McLaren Vale vineyards. A large and raucous crowd, fuelled by the excellent Coriole wines and fed by pizza from the newly constructed pizza oven, gave a warm reception to me, Sarah-Jane Justice, Emilia Haskey and Alison Bennett. The evening was MCd by the lovely Jude Aquilina who interspersed the performances with poems of her own and of others, including a new and very moving one to her partner Brenton, who had been fighting the bushfires on Kangaroo Island.

I tried something completely different as part of my set last night. I distributed clip boards amongst the crowd and asked them to write one liners about behaviours that make them want to shout “Selfish Bastards” at other people. I thought I might get one or two suggestions or none at all, but was inundated with contributions. Clearly there are a lot of selfish bastards out there. At the end of my set I incorporated most of these lines into my “Selfish Bastards” poem. It was a lot of fun. There were lewd, rude, funny and insightful lines from the audience. Just a  few of my favourites:

“People who holiday in Hawaii”

“People who dump me Xmas Eve (fuck you Dan)”

“People who don’t believe in climate change”

“People who think sex ends when they’ve orgasmed”

“Carnivores who eat all the vegetarian pizzas”

“People who’s mobile phones ring during poetry readings”

“People who know they’ve had more pizza than the rest of us but keep on eating it” (with accompanying diagram!)

Anyway, the poem itself went down well, and the whole evening was great fun. Many thanks to Jude Aquilina for the invite and to the wonderful management and staff at Coriole Winery for hosting the event. If you’re ever in McLaren Vale, pay them a visit, not just because they support the arts, but also because they are lovely people, their wine is world-class and the winery is such a beautiful spot.

Two people asked me for copies of poems I read which are not yet published, so I thought the easiest thing to do would be to put them here on the blog where they can access them and pass them onto friends. One is my sensitive little love poem to Donald Trump (for Tom from Norfolk – have fun in India). The other is my take on Philip Larkin’s “This be the Verse”, mine being titled “This be the ReVerse”, for Margret without an “a” – hope your children are the ones you deserve.

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Donald Trump, I Love You Man

Oh Donald Trump, I love you man

Your orange skin face and your bright golden hair

Your peppermint breath and your predators glare

Your hair surfs your head from one side to the other

like a baby hamster in search of its mother

I love how you hold up your neat thumb and finger

like you’re summoning thoughts through the hole in your sphincter



Oh Donald Trump, I love you man

I love the way you don’t read no books

You got all your wisdom from working with crooks

No need for long words, no speech hi falutin

Your message is simple, just trust Mr. Putin

We trust you’re the man to clean up this mess

We don’t trust you more but we distrust you less



 

Oh Donald Trump, I love you man

You’ll keep those illegals from crossing our borders

with their nachos and tacos and cheap Margaritas

You’ll build a huge wall and you’ll send them the bill

and if they don’t pay you’ll nuke them to hell.

Real ‘mericans will get the great jobs that they do

Like mowing the lawn and cleaning your loo



 

Oh Donald Trump, I love you man

I’ve heard the fake news of your sexual disgrace

with cute Russian hookers who piss on your face

And the stuff about groping and grabbing of pussy

Your businesses bankrupt, your real estate dodgy

But you wouldn’t waggle your horny old trumpet

In Russian hotels, with weak bladdered strumpets



 

Oh Donald Trump, I love you man

You say you can see that the future is dark

some say that’s because your head’s up your arse

You did it the hard way, you started with nowt

Apart from your billionaire Daddy’s hand out

You’re not polite and you’re not genteel

And you pulled off the greatest old snake oil deal

that’s why, Donny baby, our love is for real.

That’s why Donald Trump, I truly, madly, deeply love you man


=====================

 

This Be The ReVerse

after Philip Larkin’s “This Be The Verse”

 

They fuck you up your sons and daughters

They mean to, yes of course they do.

They blame you when they shouldn’t ought to

Denying all that you hold true.



 

And we fucked up our Mums and Dads,

Complained of absence and neglect.

Our rebel instincts drove them mad,

We thought them gormless, dull, inept.



 

We place the blame on those before.

We pass the parcel in reverse.

But here’s a truth you can’t ignore:

You get the children you deserve.





----
Copyright Mike Hopkins 2020

To everyone who has given to us in anyway since our place burned

Words of gratitude from bushfire victims Belinda and Ervin

Belinda Broughton

How can we thank you enough? 

If ever I had doubts about the hearts of others, about generosity of spirit, or pure love, I have no doubts now. It is incredibly humbling to be on the receiving end of such openness of spirit, and we can’t thank you all enough.  

Beautiful Hearts, thank you for helping us, for digging into your pockets, your wardrobes, your art supplies (among other things) to help us. On Friday the first payment from GoFundMe came through. It is a relief. And while the insurance has not given us the final go ahead, it looks like it will go ahead, though typically, it is far too small. 

And talking of insurance, I urge you to look carefully at your policies. Those of you who are in fire zones, remember that if you have to rebuild, the cost of building a house, wherein the largest diameter…

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Poets and Pizza – Coriole Winery – Friday 17th January 2020

 

I’m delighted to be appearing at Coriole’s Poets and Pizza event on Friday 17th January 2020 at 6:30 pm. It’s a stunning location in McLaren Vale. Coriole make some of the best wine on the planet and the crowd are always boisterous and out for a fun night.

Tickets are $35 a head, which includes pizza. Booking in advance recommended because the event has regularly sold out in the past.

——–

Poets and Pizza

Coriole has been celebrating and supporting South Australian poets since 2005 with the Poets and Pizza event.
Come indulge in a raucous evening of poetry, great company, wood fired pizza and wines by Coriole.
For this event we welcome Jude Aquilina, Emelia Haskey, Sarah Jane Justice, Alison Paradoxx and Mike Hopkins.
On Friday 17 January 2020 at 6:30pm

LOCATION

Coriole Vineyards
Chaffeys Road, McLaren Vale, SA 5171

Book here

————–

 

various angles

The personal aftermath of fire

Belinda Broughton

People who have lost people
People who have lost their possessions
People who have lost their homes
Their buildings 
Their livelihoods
Their sheds of hay
Their orchards and vineyards
People who have buried animals
Nurses of both people and animals
Fire fighters and the families of fire fighters
Those who are ok but are shit scared
People who have lost the places where they go for solace
their sacred spaces
The community of individuals who witnessed it
The list goes on

Healing trauma takes a long time
People don’t want platitudes 
They don’t want encouraging stories of other people’s survival
They don’t want stories of how hard your or other people’s lives have been
They want practical action, a sense of hope
They need to be witnessed 
They need to be heard
in their own time 
and in their own way
They want to hold their hurt in their hearts…

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Three Lists written at 2:00 AM the night after we found out we’d lost Nearly Everything

Two lists after the fire.

Belinda Broughton

List of Lost Objects that matter now.
None of them. 

List of things lost that I’m sad about:
Bob the bird. (Shrike Thrush) whom Ervin fed, and whom we loved. 
All of the other birds, especially the small ones. Wrens, thornbills, pardalotes, finches. Maybe the bigger ones got out? 
Native animals, our resident echidna. 
Ervin’s sculptures and woodblock prints. 
All of my on-paper haiga.
My hand made paintbrushes and a couple of comercial brushes that still sang at forty years old. 
The singing bowls. My shaman’s drum. 
All of Ervin’s framed works and prints in boxes. A lot of his negatives. The ones I didn’t scan. 
Our new pigment printer. 
My hut. His studio. Our little house in the woods. 
The woods. 
The records of our toys ( that we made for a living for thirty years).
My jewellery, mostly worthless, but especially the ones made by friends. Ida for…

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chronology of a displacement

My friends Belinda and Ervin lost their home in the fires this week. Here are Belinda’s thoughts

Belinda Broughton

View from Lobethal Bakery. Later it burnt to the very edge of the town and was only held back by the vigilance of firefighters. Our place is just a ridge from the flames to the right.

On the morning of Friday 20th the electricity went off. Two fire engines went past. Looked on internet, saw fire very close. Packed the computers, a few coats, his camera kit, some important files, and random sundry items. Drove out with car and van, went back for his walking sticks. We did a sort of stop start journey, realising each time that we were still too close, eventually ending up at my daughter’s place (much to her relief). Watched the CFS maps with our hearts in our mouths.

Drove up home on Saturday 21th, with son and daughter. Were let through the closed roads by police. Hope in the main Street because it looked…

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