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


On Goolwa Beach (audio / visual)

(if you are reading this in your email, you may need to click 
on the title link above to play the video on the web).

In 2010, I wrote the poem “On Goolwa Beach”. I’m fond of this poem, because it captures, for me, my experience of swimming, walking, relaxing there. Goolwa Beach is a sensational, long sandy beach near the town of Goolwa, on the Fleurieu Peninsula, in South Australia.  The waves on the beach are relentless.  Great fun if you’re a reasonable swimmer, and if you like body boarding. I’m not a surfer, but there are plenty of people who surf there too.  The poem is all about waves, but the word “dogged” came to mind, when I was thinking of ways to describe those waves. Hence the dog metaphor used throughout in the poem.

On the page, the poem is set out to vaguely resemble a seated dog. (See below). At least it does to me.  Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, the publishers of “New Poets 16” (in which the poem was published in 2011) were unable to replicate the formatting. Don’t ask me why. I wouldn’t have thought it was that hard. It ended up looking more like something a dog left behind, than a dog.  So I’ve always felt that the poem never got its just deserts.

I’ve been thinking of experimenting with audio / visuals to accompany my poems.  Rob Walker does some great musical stuff with his work, which has always impressed me (see  So I’ve had a go at putting some sounds and images with the words of “On Goolwa Beach”.  I’ve got a bit to learn in this area, but its a start.  Let me know what you think.

Here’s the video:

And here’s what the poem SHOULD have looked like in New Poets 16:

On Goolwa Beach

Incident at Brownhill Creek I

This poem won second prize at Salisbury Writers’ Week in 2010.  It recounts an incident I observed at Brownhill Creek, a lovely little reserve not far from where I live. Alongside the road which runs through the reserve are a few hobby farms.

Incident at Brownhill Creek

On the hobby farm

the man looks fondly on his flock

the dog looks up to the man

the dog looks down on the flock

the man crouches next to one of the sheep

runs his hands through its fleece

the sheep likes this

the dog thinks this is not quite right, growls disapproval

the man playfully pushes the sheep from side to side

the sheep likes this

rolls over, much like a dog

the man is amused

the dog thinks this inappropriate, barks displeasure

the man pats the sheep’s stomach

the sheep likes this

throws its head back, wriggles with joy

the man is delighted

the dog thinks this is outrageous, runs around yelping his fury

the man comes to his senses

looks at the dog sheepishly

the dog looks at the man sternly, nips the ankle of the sheep

steers it back to the flock, returns to sit by the man’s heel

looks up to the man

order is restored

© Mike Hopkins 2011