Poetry Season #6 – Tyrone Guthrie Artists’ Retreat Centre

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“The Big House”, Tyrone Guthrie Centre

The sixth and final piece of homework for the Andy Jackson course. The prompt for this week, greatly summarised, is to write a poem about poetry. I spent two weeks at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre last year, and when I started this exercise, memories of how hard it is to sit and write all day, every day for two weeks, came flooding back.

Tyrone Guthrie Artists’ Retreat Centre

Co Monaghan, Ireland, April 2018

From this bay window, the black lough,

the banks of bulrushes, the boathouse, 

the silhouetted swans, the scent of pine

are all perfect and …

…and across the stable yard the artists work away in their high-ceilinged, light-filled studios. I envy them, their brushes and canvases, their jars of water, their tubes of paint, their watercolour sets, their space rich with the scent of oils and turps. They have their easels and their palettes. All I have is a blank page and a pen and my thoughts. I’m sitting here in this beautiful room with an idyllic view, in this stately house. But I can’t write about a lough and a boathouse and a forest. That’s too obvious. I have to make the lough a metaphor for something, and the boathouse a metaphor for something else, but not too something else because that would be mixing my metaphors. The artist can just paint the lough and the boathouse and the swans – job done. And if they paint a unicorn on the hillside nobody will accuse them of mixing their metaphors. They can daub paint onto their canvases and they’re away and they can call the painting the first thing that comes into their heads – “Swans on Lough” or “Composition 8”. My first line has to be stunning, my title has to grab attention. They can say “Oh I just go where the brush takes me” and I think “Wonderful”, but when a poet says “Oh I just go where the pen takes me” I think “Wanker”. They can choose from a varied but limited palette. I have the whole fucking English language to choose from plus foreign words. There are over 200,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary and new ones, like “amazeballs” and “omnishambles” being added all the time. Jesus Christ, how to decide? They can mix and smudge and layer and smear. I can only use strictly defined letter shapes in black on white. The most artistic shape on my page is a sodding semi-colon, and poets sneer at them. Nobody says to artists “Show don’t tell” because they are always bloody showing. “A picture paints a thousand words” proclaimed Captain Obvious. I think he/she was vastly underestimating. And you can tell they’re artists, with their dungarees and their paint-blotched fingers, but who can tell you’re a poet unless you go the full Oscar Wilde with black cloak and lily and if you did that down the village pub here you’d get beaten up before you could recite the first stanza of The Ballad of Reading Jail. They have their art exhibitions, where they hang their works on some fancy gallery wall and people come and drink wine and stand back and cock their heads and stare at the paintings and “ooh” and “ah” and eat those little bits of pineapple, cheese and cocktail onions on sticks and handover more money than a poet makes in a lifetime. Us poets, if we’re lucky, might get a reading at a launch in front of a handful of people who are only there to get drunk on the cask wine and scoff the sausage rolls and try to steal a fucking book on their way out. Everybody can name at least a handful of painters – Van Gogh, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Monet, Picasso – but how many can name more than one or two poets eh? Maybe Famous Seamus and Wordsworth and the daughter of that crashing-bore at work who won the school poetry competition and that’s it. And downstairs the artists are sitting round the breakfast table, waving their arms and talking excitedly about perspective and light and tone and symmetry. Over in the poets’ corner they’re arguing about the correct pronunciation of enjambement and what’s the difference between prose and prose poetry (answer “fuck all”). And when you go to any city there’s always an art gallery but do you ever see a poetry gallery? Hell no! You’d have to search out some sticky-carpet dive to uncover a collection of penniless, broken-arsed poets droning into a cheap mic and none of them listening, just shuffling their papers impatiently waiting their turn. And what about all the fucking constraints poets have to adhere to – bloody fourteen line Petrarchan sonnets which are somehow different from Shakespearean sonnets, and villanelles and haiku and ghazals and mind-numbing sestinas. So many bloody rules that some smartarse will accuse you of breaking if you use a single bloody extra syllable. Jesus, all the painter is constrained by is the canvas and they can make that as big or small as they like and paint it all black if they want and it will still sell. And the further you get away from a painting the more sense it makes – the further you get away from a poem the less sense it makes (though this can also happen when you get closer). And everyone wants to own an original artwork to hang on their wall, but offer somebody the framed piece of paper on which you wrote the first draft of your best poem and they’ll think you’re bonkers. No wonder poets turn to drink and end up as bitter, twisted curmudgeons who’ve lost the ability to rhyme and try to pass off prose as poetry.

 


© Mike Hopkins 2019

image of Tyrone Guthrie centre taken by Mike Hopkins

Poetry Season #5 – The Stones in Virginia Woolf’s Coat Pockets

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The fifth piece of homework for the Andy Jackson course. The prompt for this week, greatly summarised, is to have a conversation with another writer, by alternating lines written by that writer with lines of your own in response. I took lines from “Figuring” by Maria Popova and, much to my surprise, came up with a poem that is sort of about Virginia Woolf.

The Stones in Virginia Woolf’s Coat Pockets

All of it, the rings of Saturn and my father’s wedding band

are beyond my figuring. If I had

Einstein’s brain bathing in a jar of formaldehyde

might I dissect the circuitry that would cause

A certain forearm I love

to one day author its own destruction?

 

One autumn morning as I read a dead poet’s letter

I saw that too much love can be destructive.

Are the imaginations of women less vivid than of men?

Are the dreams of women less portentous?

Every stone with which Virginia Woolf filled her coat pockets

was lovingly chosen for heft and effect.

 

Where does it live, that place of permission

to choose a life less ordinary?

Does genius suffice for happiness, does distinction, does love?

None of these inoculate against suffering.

There are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives

but few beautiful ways to end one.

 


© Mike Hopkins 2019

Italicised lines from “Figuring” by Maria Popova 2019

image: https://pixabay.com/en/users/robinsonk26-6013603/

Poetry Season #4 – Tortoise

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The fourth piece of homework for the Andy Jackson course. The prompt for this week, greatly summarised, is “otherness”, which could mean, for instance, the world of an animal. In my case, a tortoise. Did you know that a tortoise called Harriet, supposedly collected by Charles Darwin in the Galapagos, reached the age of 175 years and died in Steve Irwin (the Crocodile Hunter)’s Australia Zoo in 2006. And the first living creatures to orbit the moon were a pair of tortoises, in the Russian Zond 5 mission. This is the second poem I’ve written about tortoises in recent months. Analyse that.

Tortoise

His clawed feet bear the weight of his world. He cares nothing for the impatience of youth. He is the original testudo. His skeleton is within and without. His scales proclaim his longevity. Breathing out, he retreats into his nerve-rich shell. He draws water from the well of his own waste. Smelling with his mouth, pumping air with his throat, he sifts sensations with nostrils and tongue. He has sub-sonic conversations with his neighbours. He circled the moon in Zond 5. His black eyes are picture pools of dark corners and warm concealments. His thoughts are antique. He knew Darwin and Irwin. He is utterly grounded. He holds the weathered memories of a century of deliberation. He hides his contentment behind a doleful mouth. He craves little – not affection, not food, but sometimes deep, cyclical sleep. I can promise food, water, shelter and warmth. I know his greatest fear is inversion. He disdains my bulk, my neediness, my hasty heart. He will outwait us all. His lines are not from worry. His tortoiseshell is not from vanity.

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© Mike Hopkins 2019

Poetry Season #3 – Burger

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The third piece of homework for the Andy Jackson course. The prompt for the this week, greatly summarised, is “love / lineage”, for which Andy provided a range of example poems. One of them was “Bread” by Brendan Kennelly, which really appealed to me. (There’s an interesting performance of it here.) I used this to write a parallel poem. I never thought I’d write a poem called “Burger” (I’m vegetarian). It probably needs a better title but that’s the title for now.

Burger

after Brendan Kennelly

Someone blasted a bolt through my skull

in a blood-red shed.

I was bled,

 

disassembled, ground down. This

fakery is more cunning

than a fox gone to ground

 

more tricky than a politician’s

dog whistle

or the patter of a pimp.

 

Even as it flaunts, it is

trickier than anything

in a conjurer’s bag of tricks.

 

My remains,

are mixed with a million others

and rendered as an illusion.

 

The shape I now inhabit

is a succulent mockery.

Willful fools drool

 

as I am flipped and grilled

with sleight of hand

and slipped into a bun.

 

The collusion, the deception is

absolute.

So I am cremated

and reborn

 

in a concoction.

In my way I am their best kind of beast –

processed for profit.

 

I will break their hearts.

 

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© Mike Hopkins 2019

image https://actualite.nouvelle-aquitaine.science/hassen-ferhani-dans-lintimite-de-labattoir-dalger/

 

Poetry Season #2 – “An Thuong 4”

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The second piece of homework for the Andy Jackson course. Not very happy with this one. It’s been a record-breaking, stinking hot week in Adelaide and I haven’t felt much like writing.

The prompt for the second poem, greatly summarised, is “place”. This is my response. The An Thuongs are a set of streets near where I lived in Đà Nẵng, full of bars, cafes, burger joints, street vendors, massage parlors, hostels, expats, drunks, drunken expats, Korean tourists, Thuốc Lào smokers (strong pipe tobacco), weed smokers, dogs, the occasional pig, loud music and all sorts of activity, most of which I could never figure out. But I did love the bars there, and a dull night was a rarity.

An Thuong 4

Each day is a riddle

Night is electric black

obscured by grey plumes

 

A short-circuit cracks the air

Locals make the “I have no fucking idea” sign

The fridge hums with Saigon Specials

 

A pig hoovers up peanuts

The Wifi password is “thankyou”

Police are midnight knocking

 

for permits and bribes

It’s Tet : Chúc mừng năm mới

A tattooed man steals a beer

 

The barman serves enigmas

The hostel is one shipping container

on top of another

 

The security guard is

like your favourite uncle

but answers no questions

 

Two white guys swap punches

Weed smoke hovers over the dog

Russian Roulette was a thing

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© Mike Hopkins 2019

Poetry Season #1 – “Shine”

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The Wavy Path

I’ve just started a course with talented poet and all-round great guy Andy Jackson. Andy is based in Castlemaine, New South Wales, so the course is run via email. I, and nineteen other lucky students, split into two groups of ten, receive a detailed prompt and poems to read on a Monday morning, and respond with our own poems by the Friday.  Then we give feedback on the other poets’ work in our group, and finally Andy gives us his detailed feedback. The course runs for six weeks. This is the end of week 1 and so far it looks like it’s going to be really useful and instructive. Best of all, it forces me to write, and I usually need to be forced.

So I thought I’d post my weekly poem here. They will all be first draft, though not quite as first draft and instantaneous as the poem a day napowrimo poems. And I’ll likely be concentrating on prose poems, which I want to write more of this year.

The prompt for the first poem, greatly summarised, is “summer”. This is my response:

capture
Image:COP Biodiversity and Landscape https://www.flickr.com/photos/copbiodiversityandlandscape/35687633296

Caution – Rabbits hitch-hiking

Near Ridge Park, Adelaide is a traffic sign, which used to warn of elderly people crossing. For some weeks now, the sign has been upside down (see above). It’s on Glen Osmond Road, near the bottom of the south-east freeway. It would be one of the first things people driving from Victoria see on arriving in Adelaide. (For non-Australian readers, there is a fair bit of animosity between Victorians and Adelaideans). I often wonder what they might think of the sign, especially if they’ve looked at optical illusion pictures. On the other hand, they probably just see an upside down warning of elderly people ahead.

 

Caution – One-Eyed Rabbits Hitch-Hiking

Caution – One-eyed rabbits smoking cigars

Caution – One-eyed rabbits line-dancing

Caution – Abusive two-finger gestures ahead

Caution – Abusive two-finger gestures combined with A-OK gestures ahead

Caution – Abusive one-balled rabbits ahead

Caution – Elderly people helping each other across the road whilst doing head-stands

Caution – Elderly Inverted Line Dancers Ahead

Caution – Fancy cocktails with two straws ahead

Caution – One eyed rabbits drinking fancy cocktails ahead

Caution – One eyed rabbits spitting out fur-balls ahead

Caution – Double Fuck off back to Victoria

Caution – Bad shadow puppetry ahead

Caution – Rabbits cleaning their ears with Q-Tips

Hey Victorians:  Fuck off back to Melbourne and take your bloody one-eyed, one-balled, cigar-smoking, fur-ball-spitting, cocktail-drinking, line-dancing, hitch-hiking fucking rabbits with you.

 

Glen Osmond Road, Myrtle Bank


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018

Reading with Louise Nicholas at the Halifax Cafe, Wednesday 26th September 2018

 

Wednesday, 26th September, 2018, 6 p.m to 7:30 p.m
Halifax Cafe,
187 Halifax Street, Adelaide

I’ll be reading with the wonderful Louise Nicholas as part of the Friendly Street Poets Featured Poets series (unless we’ve been deported before then)

(photo by Alex Ellinghausen)

More Details on the FSP site:
http://friendlystreetpoets.org.au/2018/09/16/fsp-featured-poets-at-halifax-cafe-mike-hopkins-and-louse-nicholas/

 

For non-Australians, the nasty looking character in the pic above is Peter Dutton., He very, very nearly became our Prime Minister a few weeks ago. Instead we ended up with an almost equally nasty piece of work called Scott Morrison, who came flying through a field of incompetents in a sort of Steven Bradbury finish. Dutton has been under investigation for fast-tracking tourist visas for European au pairs, some of whom allegedly work for alleged friends and party donors. At the same time, he prosecutes a vicious campaign against refugees, keeping them locked up for years in awful conditions offshore. He came into Parliament recently with two files marked with the names of political opponents – a not-so-veiled threat that he would dish out dirt on anyone who attacked him.

The Bands You Have and Haven’t Heard of

Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin Wallpaper (27517850) - Fanpop

My old school pal, Paul Flatt, has undertaken the gargantuan task of writing a blog post every day through 2018, and a great job he is making of it. Granted, I may be biased, as his musings cover a life which overlapped with mine for several years when we were both students at the hell-hole known as Gunnersbury Grammar School for Boys in West London. But Paul writes well and ranges over topics as diverse as rock music, politics, rubbish removal (or non-removal) in Northampton, rugby, home renovations, television and radio and family life. His excellent blog can be found here.

In yesterday’s (7th September) post, Paul recounted getting his hands on an import version of Led Zeppelin 1. This would have been, I think, 1969, when he was 16 and I was 15 (I was the youngest in our year). I can also remember laying my hands on it, some months later than Paul did – the album was released in the USA before the UK. I too remember thrilling to the way Jimmy Page’s guitar soared between one stereo speaker and the other. (As an aside, it was my brother’s stereo system, which my mother bought “on the H.P.” from Simm’s Electrical in Sudbury Hill, and I can remember the repo men knocking on the door to take it away when she couldn’t keep up the payments).

And to attest to the timelessness of the music (to me at least), I have it in the CD player in my car. It was one of the few CDs which I left in the car before I went to Vietnam last year, so I was clearly listening to it last year as well.

Led Zeppelin II was an album I liked as well, but then, as often happens with me, I started to lose interest when the band became “big”. I always tended to prefer, for some reason, niche bands or bands that were made up of eccentrics or had a guitarist kicked out of another band that went on to become huge without him.

Which reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago:

 

The Bands You’ve Never Heard of

I always loved the bands that never quite made it,

 

that had a critically acclaimed first album

which they couldn’t follow up,

 

released a single which briefly

reached twenty-nine in the top thirty,

 

had an incredible multi-instrumentalist

who could play two saxophones at the same time

and was revered as a god in Nigeria,

 

that were nothing without the drop dead lead guitarist

who dropped dead too young to join the twenty-seven club,

 

that were formed by a bloke

who left a super group just before it became super

and now lives in a council house in the English Midlands

a few miles from the sprawling Gothic estates of his erstwhile band members,

 

that made an ill-advised appearance on Top of the Pops

stoned out of their minds miming

in front of the gob-smacked bubblegummers,

 

released L.P.s. with multi-coloured swirls on the vinyl,

causing a ripple of excitement at the time

and now eagerly sought by collectors of oddities,

 

had intriguing names taken from a Kipling poem, or a classic film

or an obscure 18th century inventor of agricultural implements,

 

produced albums with two stupendous tracks,

the rest filled with white boy versions of Elmore James standards,

 

that were talented jazz musicians trying their luck

at being a rock band before realising it needed a different key;

 

that you can find in grainy recordings on YouTube

with a hundred and twenty views and two ‘likes’, one of which is mine;

 

that wrote a great song which most people think

was written by the well-known band who took it to number one in the charts,

 

that referenced snatches of Bach or Coltrane

in the middle of 30 minute organ solos,

 

devised a killer riff that was stolen

and used in someone else’s million seller,

 

toured the States as support acts for Led Zep or Purple,

third on the bill, live at the Fillmore,

paid a pittance to open the show

and would have had the crowd screaming “more, more, more”

but the crowd was still queuing to get in,

 

that were just as good as the great bands

but not as good-looking.

 

You’ve got no idea who I’m talking about, have you?

 

______________

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018
except image

Book Review: “Meet My Mother” by Louise Nicholas

Meet My MotherMeet My Mother by Louise Nicholas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Louise Nicholas is a much-loved and admired Adelaide based poet. This book, about her mother Dorothy, builds on the writing of her mother, and supplements it with Louise’s recollections of her relationship with her mother. There are poems by Louise about her mother, poetic letters which her mother wrote to her in Louise’s adult travelling years, and sections of prose providing a timeline through her mother’s life.

Louise describes her mother’s life, in a non-pejorative way, as ‘a little life’. Most of us indeed lead little lives, without achieving or experiencing anything world shattering, getting through life as best we can. This book shows that a little life can still be an incredibly rich life, where the day-to-day challenges of childhood, family and ageing are wrestled with. It is written with the gentle humour and accessibility which characterises Louise’s poetry. And in Dorothy’s poetic letters to Louise, one can detect the seeds of Louise’s poetic style – just one of the many gifts that her mother left her.

A lovely book.

View all my reviews