Poetry Season #6 – Tyrone Guthrie Artists’ Retreat Centre


“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


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 #2 – “An Thuong 4”


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


© Mike Hopkins 2019

NaPoWriMo 2018 – #28 Q & A With a Ghost


Nearing the end of the month and running out of ideas. Here’s a draft inspired by reading Anne Carson.

Q & A With a Ghost

after Anne Carson

Q. Do you sleep?
A. Yes but there is no day or night
Q. Do you stay there forever?
A. Forever has no meaning here
Q. Do you eat?
A. Yes, but what we call food you might call inspiration
Q. What about sex?
A. Yes, but without the physical bit
Q. Do you have language?
A. No but we understand each other perfectly
Q. Is there such as thing as the Bardo?
A. There is a place like that. We call it the waiting room.
Q. Do you ever see your past life?
A. It plays on a big screen every Saturday.
Q. Are there saints?
A. and devils too
Q. Who do you report to?
A. The choir director
Q. So you have singing?
A. I’m a soprano
Q. and poetry?
A. Dear god no.




Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018

Image: Mike Hopkins

About NaPoWriMo

(Some / most of these could be rightly described as “chopped up text”. But that’s how first drafts often look.)


NaPoWriMo 2018-#18 – It’s 2 p.m. and a Woman is Screaming at Me


Today I’ve been feeling a bit wiped out so didn’t start writing until about 4 p.m. I tried a few different exercises, none of which worked, and then decided to write about this incident in Vietnam. Very much first draft.

It’s 2 p.m. and a Woman is Screaming at Me

It’s 2 p.m. and a woman is screaming at me

on the phone, I don’t know why

I put it down

and drink my tea.


It’s 2:30 p.m. and a woman is screaming at me

under my balcony

like some demented Romeo

but I don’t think it’s love.


It’s 3 p.m. and a woman is screaming at me

rattling my thankfully

padlocked gate

saying I’ve ruined her business.


It’s 3:30 p.m. and a woman is screaming at me

and the penny

drops: she’s from the restaurant

I left a 2-star review for on TripAdvisor.


It’s 4 p.m. and a woman is still screaming at me

out in the laneway

I call the restaurant, and a man says

“Yes, that’s my wife. I feel your pain”.


It’s 4:30 p.m. and a woman is not screaming at me

I’ve taken down the TripAdvisor review and see

that every rating for that restaurant

is 5 stars.



Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018

Image: Barry Schwartz

About NaPoWriMo

(Some / most of these could be rightly described as “chopped up text”. But that’s how first drafts often look.)

NaPoWriMo 2018 – #17 His Photoshopped Life

photoshopped life

Yesterday I started my two week stay at the wonderful Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland. Now I have no excuses for not writing. This one is new today, but I’ve had more time to work on it. Hence it’s longer than most, which probably means it needs a good edit.

His Photoshopped Life

Now that he’d left Vietnam

he could Photoshop his memories,

rose tint them for public consumption,

make them suitable for family viewing,

crop the New Year’s Eve incident,

the altercation with the restaurant owner

and anything to do with women.


Now that he’d left

he could filter the green tinted anxiety

of daily dealing with surrounding strangeness,

the life-threatening traffic,

the challenge of just crossing the road,

the fear of being bribed by police.


Now that he’d left

he could tone down the times

when there was nobody to speak to

except waitresses and barmen

and his Vietnamese was too pathetic

to get beyond “Xin chào” and “Cảm ơn”.


Now that he’d left

he could sharpen those bits

where the kids were delightful,

where they chanted “Hello TEAcher”

and “Goodbye TEAcher”

and unpacked his bag for him

and repacked his bag for him

and hugged him at the end of class

and cried when he said he was leaving.


Now that he’d left

he could erase the smartarse teenagers

who wanted a young, square-jawed American teacher,

who completely ignored his only three rules:

  1. Turn off your phone 2. Speak English 3. Be nice.

He could cut out the time he shouted:

“Does anyone here actually want to learn English?”

and they all laughed and chanted “I do TEAcher”.


Now that he’d left

he could highlight the camaraderie,

the nights sitting on benches,

drinking beer, eating phở so cheap

that it was almost free,

of riding three up on a motorbike

down back lanes, dodging the rats and the dogs

and yes, even going to a karaoke bar.


Now that he’d left

he could get back to normality.



Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018

Image: originally Mike Essl  with minor modification by Mike Hopkins

About NaPoWriMo

(Some / most of these could be rightly described as “chopped up text”. But that’s how first drafts often look.)

NaPoWriMo 2018 – #16 Language App


Der Hund hat eine Ente – The dog has a duck

In recent years I’ve been using DuoLingo (without much success, I have to admit) to try to learn German and Vietnamese. DuoLingo is an app that runs on phones and computers. Part of its approach is to give you an English phrase and its translation, which you then have to speak into your phone or computer. The phrases are mostly mundane (e.g. where is the hotel?) but occasionally bizarre. Today’s piece uses some of those bizarre phrases. There are a number of web-pages discussing the origins of these phrases. There is a link to one at the bottom of this page.



Language App

In Berlin a woman recites

German phrases into a computer.


In Bangalore, a programmer loads her phrases

into the language app.


In Australia, a man downloads the app,

recites these new German expressions.


He loves her voice,

is enchanted by her eloquence.


He imagines a woman gazing at a Paul Klee painting.

asking “Who eats the clock?”


He thinks of her flipping through a Thomas Manne novel,

wondering “Where does the cat run to?”


He suspects she has watched a rerun of “The Blue Angel”

thinking “My husband wears a dress”.


He imagines her at Mass praying for absolution,

hearing a whispered “We know every egg”,


considers her strolling the Tiergarten,

a stranger shouting: “You need a duck”.


He searches for her on Facebook, on Instagram,

finds her on LinkedIn.


Professes his love for her,

for her phrases, for her life.


He tells her:

The clock asked to be eaten.

Cats have no conscience.

Your husband is confused.

Your body is your own.

Ducks are indispensable.


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018

How do weird duolingo sentences get generated?


Image: here

About NaPoWriMo

(Some / most of these could be rightly described as “chopped up text”. But that’s how first drafts often look.)

Friends with Drinks


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.


Tram Stop 6

Back in late 2013, I participated, along with several other writers / artists, in a project to write words for a public art project at tram stop 6, about halfway between Adelaide and Glenelg. This is the very grey concrete tram stop:

Tramstop 6 - South Rd


I wrote about it here. The project was organised by Mike Ladd and Cathy Brooks for Marion Council

The project is in the process of being implemented. Here are some pics provided by Mike Ladd. I haven’t dropped by to look at it yet. There will be an official opening sometime soon.

Cycle_IMG_8111_smInstal BB6_IMG_8073





No Skating_IMG_8114_sm






Poem a Day 2015 #30 – Not for You


Poem number 30 for April 2015. The final one. I’ll miss NaPoWriMo, because it makes me write every day.

Like many people, I’m very uncomfortable with the exploitation of patriotism by politicians, and the selective commemoration of some wars but not others. On Anzac day in Canberra, an aboriginal man was prevented from marching. He had a banner saying “Lest we Forget – The Frontier Wars” (referring to the people killed in undeclared wars between settlers and the aboriginal population). He is an ex-serviceman and wanted to march in commemoration of his dead colleagues, but also in commemoration of aboriginal people killed in the frontier wars. A policeman told him “this day is not for you”.

The Australian War Memorial website says that Anzac Day “.. is the day on which we remember Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations.”

Poem now submitted for publication



Read more at  New Matilda


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015