New Year, New Tattoo

I recently came across a very unusual site devoted to literary tattoos. The idea being that if you love a certain poem, or passage of a novel, or story or whatever, you might have it tattooed onto your body.

Here are some examples from

1. The complete Sharon Olds poem, “I Go Back to May 1937″:

Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds

2. A simple alphabet adorns a librarian’s arm:



3. Someone was so keen on T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” that they had a few lines put on their back:

Prufrock 1

Prufrock 1

4. And that same poem inspires another tattooee:

Prufrock 2

Prufrock 2

5. Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips”


Tulips - Sylvia Plath

So what would I have tattooed on myself if I had to choose a few lines of poetry? It didn’t take me long to decide. It would have to be from Alan Ginsberg’s “America”:

My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.

I rushed into Hindley Street today, New Year’s Eve (after spending a few hours in the gym, “getting ripped”), and managed to have it done at “Tattoo You”:

My Mind is Made Up

My Mind is Made Up

What would your literary tattoo be?

“The Best Australian Poems 2011”. Tell ‘im ‘e’s dreamin’

BAP 2011

Poems are Dreams – Or Not?

He says that poems are dreams

manifest on paper

that poems are from

your deep subconscious

they float up to the surface

of your brain then flit down

the neural pathways

into your fingertips and onto

the tip of your pen.

But what if he’s wrong?

what if they are an expression

of frustration with everyday life?

what if they are anger

at the foolishness of politicians?

what if they are observations

of simple events?

what if they are cracks in the edifice

through which we shine a torch?

what if they are a reaction

to life’s tragedies and triumphs?

what if they are rampant emotions?

what if they are jokes

played on or with the reader?

what if they are all of these

and only some are dreams ?

 © Mike Hopkins 2011

I was given a copy of The Best Australian Poems 2011 (editor John Tranter), as a departing gift from some very nice work colleagues on finishing my contract with Country Health SA last week.  Today, I cycled up to Brownhill Creek, sat under a river redgum with a thermos of rooibos, and started to read it.

I read about a quarter of it, and then dipped into other parts of the book at random.  I was almost immediately hit by the impenetrability of many of the poems (not all of them e.g Jude Aquilina and Melinda Smith are two exceptions  in what I’ve read so far). So then I did what I don’t usually do.  I read the editor’s introduction.  In it, John Tranter proposes that poems can be read as dreams.  He says of his selection of Australian poems:

“I suspect that these baroque and potent imaginings can only have come into existence as fragments of dreams or nightmares”


“enjoy this fragment of dream-work”


“of course if you don’t agree with my line of thinking, you can always ask for a second opinion”.

Well, my opinion, partly expressed above, is that if he has used this filter (i.e. looking for poems which resemble the result of dreams), then he has excluded all sorts of equally valid types of poems. I’ve always found dreams (mine and anyone else’s) difficult to interprete (other than the obvious Freudian interpretations).   Maybe this is why I don’t understand many of the poems in The Best Australian Poems 2011.

Am I the only one who has this difficulty? I’ve had it with previous editions of the book, but I don’t have it, for instance, with Best of American Poetry anthologies. Nor do I have it with most of the poetry I hear around Adelaide.  Are these “dream poets” writing for the general populace, or just for each other?  Am I being harsh, or is it just that I don’t “get it”?  Have Australian poetry anthologies been ‘captured’ by a sub-set of Australian poets who all write in the same style, for the same small audience?

Perhaps Darryl Kerrigan should edit Best Australian Poems 2012?:

Adelaide Taxi Driver’s Prayer

Adelaide Suburbs

I don’t often use taxis, but I happened to get two yesterday. One to get to the funeral of an old friend from the SA Masters’ Running Club, Frank Rogers, a lovely man who died from cancer last weekend. And then I got a taxi from the funeral into the National Wine Centre, for a very enjoyable champagne evening with some friends.

Taxi drivers have a tough job.  They have to compete for customers, work long, unsociable hours, put up with all sorts of wallies. Sometimes, the fare might only be a few blocks, hardly worthwhile picking up the customer. But of course they’re obliged to do so.

They must dream of ‘the big one’, the fare from Outer Harbour to Port Noarlunga, from Largs Bay to McLaren Vale.  Here’s a prayer I wrote, that maybe they recite each day, before they go to work.

(Inspired by Ian Dury’s “London Bus Driver’s Prayer”’s_Prayer)

The Adelaide Taxi Driver’s Prayer

(after Ian Dury)

Our cabfare, which starts in Cavan

Hallett Cove be thy aim

Thy Kingswood come

Thy Willaston

In Hove as it is in Hendon

Give us Largs Bay and Birkenhead

And forgive us our Crafers West

As we forgive those that Crafers against us

And lead us not into Keswick station

But deliver us from Frewville

For thine is the Findon

The Paralowie and the Salisbury

Rostrevor, Rostrevor

Mile End.

Video of “Australia”, my Political Poetry Competition 2nd Placer

Graham Nunn commented that he’d like to hear me read the poem Australia, which won 2nd place in the recent Friendly Street “National Political Poetry Competition”.

It reminded me that I’d been filmed reading it at RebelSlam earlier this year.  So here it is:


Memories and Mass, Guinness and Google

When I was a child, a lot of my summer holidays were spent in Ireland.  My mother, Bridget, is from County Kerry, and my father, Bernie, was from County Mayo.

Kerry was where we spent most time. In those days, I was too young to be an atheist, thank God.  Though I don’t think I was particularly keen on going to Mass on a Sunday morning, it was the done thing.  I have vague memories of it, probably a mish-mash of memories in fact.

It’s hard to separate individual memories from each year of your life. And when you revisit a place over several years, the memories tend to overlay each other, a bit like an artist might add layer upon layer to the same picture.

I have this aggregated memory of Mass in Ballydonoghue, near Lisselton in Kerry. The memory says that there was a pub just over the road, and that the men of the parish congregated near the door of the church, as if making a token appearance, and not wanting to be too far from the pub when it opened.  I know most of this memory is accurate, but just to prove some of it, I’ve used Google Maps to verify that the pub (Cantillon’s) is indeed right opposite the church.

Here’s the pub:

Cantillon's pub

Cantillon's pub

Here’s the church:

Ballydonogue church (St. Teresa's)

Ballydonogue church (St. Teresa's)

and here’s the steeple poem:

Mass in the West of Ireland

the men in their shiny arsed suits

gather close to the door

inhale the incense, the mothball aroma of their neighbour’s Sunday best

endure the droning of the priest,

who denounces the idleness of men

the sinfulness of women

they feel ferocious thirsts building

their minds have wandered

to the pub where the publican is pulling pints of porter

letting them stand, almost full, on the bar

foaming, settling, forming voluptuous heads

waiting for the appreciative lips, mouths, tongues of the restless church bound men.

one breaks ranks, sidles out the door

the others look sheepishly at each other and sidle, dribble

across the road to slake their thirsts

knowing that they have, barely, done their duty for the week

they can, with an almost clear conscience

drown their sins in the landlord’s best beer.

© Mike Hopkins 2011
(This poem was published in Friendly Street New Poets 16 by Wakefield Press in 2011)


2nd Prize in Friendly Street’s “National Political Poetry Competition”

Alan Ginsberg

I was very pleased to be awarded 2nd prize in the  Friendly Street “National Political Poetry Competition”, for my poem Australia.

The poem was inspired by Alan Ginsberg’s great 9 minute poetic rant America, in which he laments his fractured relationship with his home country. He addresses America as if he was addressing a life partner.

My take on Australia also laments a fractured relationship with a country I adopted, or adopted me, over 20 years ago.  It was really during the Howard years that I fell out with Australia, though things have improved somewhat since he was so sweetly beaten in 2007.  Shame Labor has been such a let-down, frittering away a huge amount of goodwill, and caving in to the bullying of the Murdoch press. But almost anything is better than an Australian Liberal (read hard right) government.

Here’s the poem, and there’s a link to the Ginsberg poem at the end.


(after Alan Ginsberg)

Australia, I gave you my heart and you broke it.

It’s over between us.

This is not about me it’s about you. You’ve changed.

Australia I came to you with nothing, and now I’m something.  Why am I not sure I made the right choice?

Australia I was a socialist when I was young and I’m not sorry.

I marched in the streets, waved placards, shouted slogans, sang “The Internationale”, wore the T-shirt.  You seemed to want the same things I did.  I thought we would grow closer as we got older, but Australia we’ve grown apart.

Australia why do you insist on draping another country’s flag over your shoulder?

What is it with you and America?

Australia you do realise you’re in the southern hemisphere?

Australia why do you have a third world country living right inside your belly?

Why does it seem like most of your history books only go back 200 years?

Did you eat all of your native animals Australia? If so, why do you need all those sheep as well?

Australia is it your ambition to supply the whole world with uranium and carbon dioxide?

Australia take me to your leader.

Australia, cancel that last request. It’s clear you don’t have any leaders.

Australia why do you let shit for brains shock jocks rule your intellectual life?

Why are your businessmen such macho pricks?

and when will you come out of the closet?

Australia I feel nostalgic for Paul Keating.

Christ, I’m worried I might even be feeling nostalgic for Malcolm Fraser and Robert Menzies.

Australia when will you free David Hicks?

Australia why are you obsessed with big bananas, big koalas, big rocking horses, big pineapples?  Is it some kind of penis envy thing?

Australia, if you were on the psychiatrist’s couch, I think you would be labelled ‘psycopathic’, lacking in empathy for anyone earning less than $150,000 a year.

Australia what are you on?

Can I have some too?

Australia I am being serious.

Australia what are we going to do about this situation, and don’t tell me “she’ll be right”?

Australia it occurs to me that maybe you’re not Australia at all. Maybe George W was right, and you’re really Austria. You’ve certainly been exhibiting some Teutonic tendencies of late.

Maybe I’m really Australia. I’m talking to myself yet again. Hell, I’m scared – my extremities are about to be colonised by hordes of desperate, dark skinned people, and you know I’m allergic to dark skinned people.

They’re coming to steal our daughters, to put a mosque on every street corner, to wake us with a wailing call to prayer, to force our women to cover their faces, to impose Sharia law.

Australia this is the impression I get from your media.

Is this correct?

Ok  Australia, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. You can be Australia again.

I’m too small for the job anyway.

Seriously Australia, if we are to resume our relationship, you need to make some changes.

I’m prepared to help. I’ll put my straight shoulder to the wheel.

Australia I’ll meet you halfway. I’ll give up beer, watching football and staying out late, if you’ll give up on shock jocks, spineless politicians and your forelock tugging to far off countries. That seems fair to me.

Australia do we have a deal?

© Mike Hopkins 2011


Alan Ginsberg reads his poetic rant America:

Dementia Ward

My poem “Dementia Ward” was published in the Independent Weekly on Friday:

Some years ago I was a community visitor to an aged care home in Goodwood. Keith, the man I visited each week for a couple of years, had alcohol induced dementia, and was in a secure ward for his own protection i.e. because if he wandered off the premises he’d never find his way back.   Keith had no family in Adelaide, no other visitors and not a great deal was known about him.

In the fractured conversations we had, I found out he had been a jazz musician in his younger days – maybe that was when he got into drinking.  One of our ways of communicating was that I would tap out a rhythm on the table with my fingers and he would respond with his rhythmically tapped response.  And we’d go on like this for maybe ten minutes.  Once, when I asked him about his taste in music , he said “Every subject of music is in my ears”.

Mike,Keith, Kieran - December 2001

Over the time I visited him (he died about 9 years ago), I met a lot of other residents of the ward. It could be both hilarious and heartbreaking to hear them talk.  I jotted down some of the conversations I had with them. I wasn’t writing poetry at the time, but dipped  back into my old notebooks to retrieve the quotes used in this poem.

Here is the complete piece:

The Dementia Ward

In the garden of the dementia ward

gazing over the fence

she says

“I want to go home

but I don’t know where

and I don’t know how”

In the recreation room

tapping rhythms

on the table

he says

“every subject of music is in my ears”

In the corridor

seated in a wheelchair

face to the wall

she wails

“where’s my son, I want my son”

In the car park

I sit thinking

what life would be like

without my most important memories


I drive home to my family

listening to the radio

drumming my fingers

on the steering wheel

all the way

©Mike Hopkins 2011