Launching “Selfish Bastards and Other Poems”

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The launch of my chapbook  “Selfish Bastards and Other Poems” will take place at the Halifax Cafe in Adelaide on Thursday, October 6th, 2016. I am in the illustrious company of Alison Flett, Judy Dally, Louise McKenna and Steve Brock, the other poets in the 2016 Garron chapbook series. It could be a big night.

If you can’t make the launch, you can order copies of “Selfish Bastards and Other Poems” here, and I will post to you as soon as they arrive from the publisher.

Order “Selfish Bastards and Other Poems”

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My new poetry chapbook Selfish Bastards and Other Poems will be published in late September 2016 by Garron Publishing.

You can order a signed copy now and pay via Paypal – I’ll post to you as soon as available.

Within Australia – Selfish Bastards and Other Poems – $8 including postage.

Overseas – Selfish Bastards and Other Poems – $10 including postage.

Click on the “Donate” button below to order and pay for your copy:


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Incident at the Exercise Park

This is the fifth assignment for the MOOC, “Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster“, through the University of Iowa.

This assignment is as follows:

In words and/or images, compose a piece in response to a memory of conflict, war, loss, or trauma that includes two or three central sensations: perhaps a sound that corresponds to or contrasts with a sight, perhaps the feel, noise, and smell of a place. 

I was walking one evening last week, through a nearby park used in the evenings for dog exercise. Out of apparently nowhere, a chicken appeared in the middle of the park. All hell broke loose. I’m pretty sure the chicken jumped the fence from a nearby house owned by an elderly Italian couple, who keep chickens in their back garden.

I’ve killed two birds with one stone here (pun intended) – I was meant to write about my trip to Mildura Writers’ Week last month, to share with fellow travellers Heather Taylor Johnson, Gay Lynch and Louise Nicholas. They all managed to write about Mildura, but I cheated and wrote about a chicken instead. Thanks to Heather, Gay and Louise for reviewing this poem. The version here is 2nd draft.


Incident at the Exercise Park

Blue Heelers, Poodles, Terriers, Retrievers,

all bustling eagerness, romping,

rolling, off leash on cold evening grass.

 

Drenched air, lemon scented gums,

a yellow glow from the old-folks home washes

over the iron fence. Cars sweep by, headlights

beaming, wipers swishing.

 

Above the smell of rain, of overcooked greens

and thickening gravy, of grass and gums:

the sudden presence of chicken.

Bemused, disoriented, strayed

from some backyard run into foreign territory.

 

A madness grips the animals,

a predatory reflex: chase, kill,

taste flesh. Everything is bark and bite,

hunter and hunted; a churning

of legs, ears, teeth, a helter-skelter

of fur and feather. The panicked bird

fleeing the snap of teeth.

 

In the cacophony, owners bark orders, call

hounds to heel. A man leaps into the whirl,

whips the stunned chicken from the chomp

of jaws, shields it under his jacket.

The clamour subsides in a fug of wet fur

and drooling maw. Charges are muzzled,

collars clipped to leads; a smear of blood

wiped from nose, a feather plucked from lip,

warnings delivered against ever again behaving

like animals.

 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2016

 

1st Prize and Highly Commended in Salisbury Writers’ Festival Competition 2016

Capture

I heard over the weekend that I was awarded first prize in the open poetry competition at Salisbury Writers’ Festival Writing Competition for my poem “My Father’s Blood”. I also got a highly commended in the short story section for “In the Beginning was the Cliché”.

Two contrasting works: one a serious piece recollecting my late father, and the other a humorous take on the English language.

Both pieces will appear in my upcoming chapbook to be published by Garron Press in the next few weeks.

Here they are:

My Father’s Blood

Capture

 


In the Beginning was the Cliché

  and the cliché was with God and the cliché was God, and oh my God, the cliché was the best thing since sliced bread. And after the false start, when everything in the Garden of Eden was not rosy, what with the sticky patch caused by the low hanging fruit and the snake in the grass, the cliché got the ball rolling again. Everything but the kitchen sink was in the cliché, and through the cliché. And without the cliché there was nothing to write home about.

And God gave the one true cliché to a man who didn’t have a penny to his name, and told him “go forth with this cliché which is the spice of life and the light which shines at the end of the tunnel, and it will overcome the powers of darkness and will make the world go round”. And the one true cliché took the world by storm, though it was a small world, when all is said and done. And the man led the horse to water, and the people followed him to the bitter end. And he said he who comes after me with a cart, will gift you a horse, and he who comes before the horse has bolted must look it in the mouth, but if it is dead, do not flog it nor get back in the saddle.

But the people were young and foolish, and did not stay glued to the one true cliché. The man tried in vain to put the people back on track, but even those that lived in glass houses threw stones at him. They took to false clichés like ducks to water, and the clichés grew like weeds, and were as much like the one true cliché as chalk is like cheese. And so, at his wits’ end, God grabbed the rope that he had given the people enough of, picked up his bat, ball and the one true cliché and went back up the stairway to heaven which echoed with the sound of a fat lady singing.

 

Absence

This is the fourth assignment for the MOOC, “Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster“, through the University of Iowa.

This assignment is as follows:

Professor Folsom noted in our video discussion that Whitman encountered many soldiers who, even in the silence of a peaceful night, still heard the noises of Civil War Battlefields, sounds and sensations that never left them. These reverberations crept into the silence of each night, making those spaces unbearably loud. What are the unseen remnants of our modern conflicts and traumas? What losses or absences do you or do we continue to sense from things that are no longer present? In words or images, compose a piece that explores the “phantom limbs” of a trauma or traumas.

—————-

13 Ways of Looking at Absence

I

The child:

fatherless

before birth

II

the teenager:

role models

missing in action

III

the alcoholic:

memories

blanked by oblivion

IV

the drug-taker:

unhinged

unparented

V

the stray dog:

cowered

unleashed

VI

the wandered mind:

unwilling

to be present

VII

the lost keys:

determined

to be overlooked

VIII

the dementia ward:

short-term memories

extinguished

IX

the war veteran:

hope replaced

by horror

X

the aboriginal:

amputated from land

spirit adrift

XI

the abusive priest:

oaths broken

scruples dispensed

XII

the bully’s victim:

confidence lost

trust breached

XIII

the disgraced sportsman:

dreams shattered

image broken

 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2016

 

Account of a Survivor of an Australian Bushfire

Bushfire

This is the third assignment for the MOOC, “Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster“, through the University of Iowa.

This assignment is described as:

“The kinds of oxymoronic reactions that Whitman had toward the war are some of the most difficult to articulate in words—to express how one can both hate and love the same thing, find it beautiful and horrifying, sustaining and devastating.” In words or images, compose a response to an event or experience that invoked this kind of contradiction for you. Consider how craft can call upon contradiction—in form, syntax, diction, metaphor, exposure, or juxtaposition—and employ those elements in a manner most fitting to your experience.

I took some key words and partial sentences from an ABC interview with a survivor of the 2009 Victorian fires, just as Whitman took newspaper reports as the basis of some of his prose and poetry.

—————-

Account of a Survivor of an Australian Bushfire

It was forecast: the worst heat on record. Nobody can say they weren’t warned. The day started bloody hot and got hotter. We knew straight away that this was more than a hot one, it was going to be a catastrophic one. The wind blew up from the west. It was like being inside a fan forced oven. By late morning, the sky was still clear, but somehow threatening. I went inside for a cold drink. When I came out, there was a column of smoke, thousands of feet high. It was a straight column and it loomed right over us, directly above our house. The sun was directly behind it. The column had white edges, like cumulonimbus. And then it was all sorts of colours, but at its heart it was ochre – deep, deep ochre. Balls of yellow fire hit the deciduous trees around the house. Flames went into the trees, smoke shot out. All around the house, the light went golden. Through every window it went golden at the same time. We felt a burning, radiant, ferocious heat, and then it passed. We just huddled together on the floor, waiting to die, but somehow it passed. The only thing that saved us was the sprinkler system on the roof. The fire passed right over us without igniting the house. I don’t really know how.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2016

 

Review: The West Verandah by Sonia Mycak


west-verandah-life-and-works-les-murray-9781760321376-48174The West Verandah
by Sonia Mycak

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a series of essays about the life and works of Australia’s leading poet, Les Murray.

Read the book and you will learn a lot about Murray, his life and his works. Some of the essays are tough going, others are more accessible, especially those that give an insight into Murray’s life experience. I particularly found the final, lengthy essay incredibly dense – an overly academic review of one of Murray’s works which goes down several academic rabbit holes. They were of no interest to me whatsoever. Other readers may get value out of it.

There are probably better ways to learn about Murray. Hearing him read in person is an experience. He is much more interesting and engaging than one or two of these essays might lead you to believe.

View all my reviews

The Girl, the Cat and the Great Plague

The Plague

This is the second assignment for the MOOC, “Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster“, through the University of Iowa.

This assignment requires:

Think of a place that at first may not seem to be related to a contemporary conflict or a traumatic event from the past, but which might be used to reveal something important about that conflict. Perhaps if you describe that conflict or traumatic event from the viewpoint of that place, you will find that new thoughts about the conflict or event come to you. Perhaps if you compare this place to the site of the conflict or event, you will find new ways to describe what the conflict or event means to you and what you think it should mean to the world. Through writing and/or image, compose your own picture or description of this conflict or trauma, constructing the details from the unexpected place you have chosen

—————-

The Girl, the Cat and the Great Plague

 

She sips her mint tea. It soothes her swollen tonsils. Her cat sits at the foot of her bed. They share the warmth of the fire the girl’s mother has lit in her room. The cat appears to have no ill-effects from the vaccinations carried out by the vet a few days earlier. It was expensive, but the cat is much-loved, and is a great companion to the girl. She is an only child. Her parents do not skimp on healthcare for their daughter or her cat.

Three hundred and fifty years earlier, the keeping of cats in London was illegal. Men were employed to kill cats and dogs as a way, it was thought, to stop the spread of the Great Plague. In fact, it had the reverse effect: rats were the main carriers of the fleas infected with the Yersinia pestis bacterium. Cats in particular would have kept the rat population down, and slowed the spread of the plague. Eventually it was realised that those who (illegally) kept cats tended to avoid the plague, and the ban was lifted; too late for tens of thousands of plague victims.

Had the tonsillitis afflicted girl lived in London in 1665, she would have likely been such a victim. The leeches, the pomander, the potions, the prayers of her desperate mother would have had no effect. There would have been no pet cat to kill off the local, flea infested rats. Instead of mildly painful tonsils, the lymph nodes in her neck and under her arms would have swollen into painful buboes. She would have been racked with fever, afflicted with frequent vomiting, pounding headaches and gangrene; barely able to swallow. Her face would have blown up in bulbous black swellings. A quack doctor would have lanced them or sliced them with a razor. She would have gone mad with pain, died in agony. The single, cold, cramped room she shared with several siblings in a rat-infested building would have seen a feeding frenzy by the vicious biting fleas. The plague would have ravaged her whole family.

The fortunate modern-day girl sips her mint tea, gazes for a while out of the fly-screened window of her warm, comfortable bedroom, finishes her history homework with the help of her iPad and Wikipedia. She looks forward to her afternoon ice cream treat. The cat purrs contentedly at the foot of her bed. The girl unwraps a gift she has been saving for it: a black flea collar with small golden bell.

 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2016

 

Friends with Drinks

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Les (Murray) between drinks

The dynamic Kathryn Hummel has a project going, called “Friends with Drinks”. If you have anything artistic to contribute on the theme of drinking with friends anywhere in the world: words, images, whatever, have a look at her tumblr page and submit, submit, submit. Kathryn kindly published my “Art of Boozing” yesterday:

The Art of Boozing (after Elizabeth Bishop)

There is also a Facebook page and a SA Writers’ Centre blog page

Submission are via the tumblr page.

 

Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster – 1

tent of indigenous people

Image from National Library of Australia

I’ve just started an online course entitled “Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster“, through the University of Iowa. I haven’t read a lot of Walt Whitman – he wasn’t on the British school curriculum when I was a boy. And the course is not so much an in-depth study of Whitman, as an investigation into the ways in which we might create art, be it prose, poetry, photography, artwork around the subject of loss, death and disaster, using Whitman as an example. Whitman wrote extensively about the American Civil War and the earlier Mexican War.

Assignment one requires:

“In words or images, compose a response to a “rupture” in a particular history – an event that you think was a defining moment at a particular place, a moment when something seemed to break open or to be dramatically exposed, a moment of dramatic importance – and use a constraint to shape your response.”

I did some further research on massacres of the Australian indigenous population during white “settlement”, and came across descriptions of horrific events in South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, near the town of Elliston. This was 1839 / 1849, around the same time as Whitman wrote about the Mexican War.  The assignment required use of a constraint, such as a poetic form. For this I chose to model Section 34 of Whitman’s “The Song of Myself”.

 

—————-

The Elliston Massacre

(after Walt Whitman)

Now I tell what I knew in Elliston in my early youth,

(I tell not the massacre of Appin,

Not one escaped to tell the deeds of Appin,

Fourteen and many more are dumb yet at Appin)

‘Tis the tale of the murder in cold blood of a hundred or more of Aboriginal men, women and children.

Rounded up by local farmers, angered by the disappearance of but four sheep.

Four sheep and the death of a hanging judge, was the price they took in advance.

The alleged sheep killers already hanged, further retribution was served on the tribe.

They were the Nauo people, who had lived on those lands for tens of thousands of years, subsisting, deeply connected to the spirit of the land.

Matchless trackers, skilled hunters of native animals.

Peaceful, proud people.

Strong, dark, drest in possum and kangaroo skin.

The morning after the hanging judges death, the policemen roused the farmers. On horseback they rode to the Nauo camp, herded all the Aboriginal men, women and children like they would herd cattle, and drove them off the high cliffs of Elliston. From babies to old men and women.

Any who tried to escape were cut down by whip, stick and gun. It was beautiful early summer.

The work commenced about seven o’clock and was over by ten.

None obey’d the command to submit for they knew they would be killed anyway.

Some made a mad and helpless rush over the cliff to their doom, some stood stark and straight and were driven over.

A few fell, shot in the back.

The maim’d and mangled were lifted and thrown to the rocks below.

Some half-kill’d attempted to crawl away. They too were despatched with bayonets or batter’d with the blunts of rifles.

A teenage girl and two small boys survived, by hiding in the saltbush. After the horsemen left, the children peered over the cliff edge but saw only battered bodies on the rocks one hundred and fifty feet below. And some further bodies rolling in the surf.

They set off on foot for Streaky Bay, and with them the tale of the massacre spread. The Aboriginal people they met were terrified, and immediately left, lest they too be massacred. They walked as far as Talewan, the Bight, Yardea, the Gawler Ranges and Ooldea. No Aboriginal person has lived in Elliston ever since.

The cliff is now known as Blackfellas Cliff.

I was one of those small boys, hiding in the saltbush.

That is the tale of the massacre of the Nauo people.

====

The constraint I used was to adopt Section 34 as the model, and superimpose on it details of two massacres of aboriginal people that occurred in South Australia in 1839 and 1849. The two South Australian massacres were remarkably similar, both involving the rounding up of Nauo people and driving them over a cliff. The above is not meant to be a historical record, but conflates details from both massacres. It is therefore a work of fiction, written as a ‘version’ of Section 34 and acknowledging Whitman’s work.

There are several sites with information about the Elliston Massacres, including here

 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2016