Category Archives: Desert(ed) Island Poems

QPF Spotlight #14 – Jessika Tong’s Desert(ed) Island Poems

Last year at QPF, one of my highlights was an afternoon reading by local Brisbane poet, Jessika Tong; words raw and engaging, pulling the crowd into her at times unsettling world. Audiences will again have the opportunity to hear Jessika at this year’s QLD Poetry Festival, so I asked her about the poems she would tuck into her hip-pocket if she was heading off to a Desert(ed) Island.


Jessika Tong


Lady Lazarus – Sylvia Plath

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

This poem, to me, is beautiful. I have always admired the sharp, short but brutal lines of ‘Lady Lazarus’, as well as its honesty and brave approach to language.  I first read this poem when I was fourteen and have come to greatly appreciate its place amongst my collection of favourites with its stabbing lines and bold imagery. I have always been an avid reader of Plath and a great admirer of the ways in which she chose to express herself.

Ash, ash –
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there –

I don’t think ‘Lady Lazarus’ is sun and sand material but I would take it, regardless of the scenery.


Bindawalla, binda, bindi, bindii – Elizabeth Hodgson

I enjoy the simple words of this poem. The way it doesn’t glamorize but haunts with its starkness (deserted island) – this is what makes it appealing. I discovered this poem only a few weeks ago and immediately shoved it under the eyes of friends just to see if it broke their hearts as well (it did).

The nurses laughed as they put me in a shoe-box
And gave me to my mother: she cried.

I was weighed and measured.
With the Apgar score they rated me
To see if I could survive in this world on my own.


Rapunzel – Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton has always been a curious creature. I find myself drawn to her confessions and fragile but dark wordplay. The way she dominates a line with her famous ‘I’. Her recreation of ‘Rapunzel’ shows her brilliant mastery of taking a beloved fairytale and making it entirely her own. I adore most of Sexton’s work but ‘Rapunzel’ remains a solid favourite (as does the entire collection of ‘Transformations’) since fairytales and folk lore (Baltic) have always entranced me. I grew up with a mother who looked like a witch and read me tale after tale in front of a crackling fireplace so I feel very much at home when I am reading ‘Rapunzel’.

As for Mother Gothel,
Her heart shrank to the size of a pin,
Never again to say: Hold me, my young dear,
Hold me,
And only as she dreamt of the yellow hair
Did moonlight sift into her mouth.


Light breaks where no sun shines – Dylan Thomas

Light breaks where no sun shines;
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides;
And, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,
The things of light
File through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.

This poem describes the body, or the death of the body, in the most extraordinary way – its slow decay with connection to earth “the secret of the soil grows through the eye”. Like all great Thomas poems, there seems to be edge to something other than man, woman, body, sea, animal, bone and light. Like many of the other poems I would select, this one would not suit an island littered with sun tanned shoulders and coconut milk.


You took away all the oceans and all the rooms (307) – Osip Mandelstam

I have carried this poem around with me in a notebook for years. Transferring it when each book became fat and useless. Mandelstam died in the Gulags of Russia but wrote this particular poem while in exile. It is a brave poem, highlighting the human spirit without making one gag.

You took away all the oceans and all the room.
You gave me my shoe-size in earth with bars around it.
Where did it get you? Nowhere.
You left me my lips, and they shape words, even in silence.


The Nim Poems – Dorothy Hewett

Alice turning eleven
Watching the blood trickle
Between her thighs onto the warm boards
The woodbugs investigated it
For touching myself on the woodheap
I must be going to die she thought

This poem is an epic and is broken up into seventy-two verses under a number of sub-headings. I love the way that Alice’s life (the centre piece of the poem) is slowly rolled out with its mythical undertones and raw language. Hewett writes poetry that is adventurous and the Nim poems are a great example of her wild talent and provocative imagination – she is not shy and this is why I appreciate this set (and her) so much.

She went to the races
Pregnant in a black pill box hat
With a veil
He borrowed his father’s ute
& drove her to the abortionist’s
The unregistered doctor came
In the dark & masturbated her clitoris
Relax  he told her


In a dark time – Theodore Roethke

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The days on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks – is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I  have.

This poem is incredibly rich with imagery and rhythm. It reads like a heartbeat. Poems which generally describe self-discovery can be flowery and are poems which I usually avoid except for this one. ‘In a dark time’ is fat with death-like images but is rich with hope, recording the pain one must go through in search of the I. “A fallen man, I climb out of my fear. The mind enters itself, and God the mind, and one is One, free in the tearing wind”. What an exquisite creature Roethke is.


And you as well must die, beloved dust – Edna St. Vincent Millay

This flawless, vital hand, this perfect head,
This body of flame and steel, before the gust
Of Death, or under his autumnal frost
Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead

This poem bleeds and aches. It is truly beautiful and one of my all time favourites with its wonderful ode to lost love and death. This is a poem to sit quietly with as it is flooded with such intense imagery that it demands to be read slowly so as to be truly absorbed. I like the way that nature is used to describe decay of body, love, and life and how the appreciation of beauty is stitched into each line adding to the poems romantic appeal.


Trees – Jordie Albiston

My breasts fall free my torso expands
Hair covers my flesh like a friend   I
Feel my roots burgeon back down the
Years I stretch and stand to leave

‘Trees’ is pure magic. This poem was given to me as a gift when I was eighteen and although the pages have grown a faint yellow around the edges I have never grown bored of it. I like the connection to earth and how this is drawn back into the poet’s (or female) body.

Please do not feed the trees
They do not hunger  They do not seethe
Or writhe   requiring the control of
Nylon silk   twisted   root bound foot

The way Albiston is able to create an almost tree-like envy while wrapping the female into root and bark greatly appeals to me. I grew up in a pine forest and have always carried with me, and throughout my own work, the image of trees and I have always been fascinated by their appearance within the poems of others (The moon and the yew tree by Sylvia Plath).


And there’s no grave – Marina Tsvetaeva

And there’s no grave! No separation, ending!
The tables un-spelled, the house – wakened up.
Like Death – on a gay dinner after wedding,
I’m Life, arrived on the last evening sup!

Marina Tsvetaeva reminds me of my Grandmother by the sharpness of her face and severe fringe. My Grandmother smelt of her garden, beheaded chickens without crying, poured entire bottles of Brandy in her trifles. She always reminded me of a woman from the old world. A Tsvetaeva (although not Russian, but German). I admire Tsvetaeva originality, her spitting lines, and at times, her hardness.


About Jessika:

Jessika Tong grew up in a small pine village on the Northern Island of New Zealand and has spent most of her adult life in Central and South East Queensland. Jessika has appeared within various literary journals including Motherlode: Australian Women’s Poetry 1986 – 2008, Poetry Matters, The Age, The Australian Literature Review, The Westerly, Wet Ink, Tears in the Fence FourWnineteen, Mascara, Pendulum, LinQ, Poetrix, Polestar and Verandah22. Her first collection, The Anatomy of Blue was released in December 2008 by SunLine Press.


by Jessika Tong

I came over the green flanked
Sea of the Arctic hooked pike
With brilliant gristle I came madly
Rocked the crotch bell split the
Artery of its tarred filaments let
The lid off your blood box

A studded stump of a man now
Cleaned of your gorse you achieve
Talent, nerves, the watery earth
Of the eye its black points and
Waxy edge of white humanness,
Pureness, at last, you are one of us

A beggar for ink in your house
I have filleted books of their sternums
Poured alphabets down the throats
Of geese until their livers, fat with dictionaries,
Swelled the emptied nib of a pen we are
Nothing special but hands in suffrage

Finding windows in bodies small curtains
Of meat a kind of light that turns on when
The tongue stamps its ownership
It does not breathe or speak
Its teeth poisoned at the root it
Opens, grisly as a cut throat, blowing red balloons.


Catch Jessika at QPF 2009:

Saturday August 22 – 1:30pm – 2:30pm

Spine of Lost Voices: featuring Jessika Tong, Noelle Janaczewska & Elizabeth Bachinsky


Saturday August 22 – 8:00pm

A Million Bright Things: featuring a short set from every bright thing on the 2009 program plus a feature set from the awesome Neil Murray


All sessions are held at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brunswick St. Fortitude Valley.

For full program details head to


Filed under Desert(ed) Island Poems

QPF Spotlight #13 – AF Harrold’s Desert(ed) Island Poems

With just a little more than two weeks to go before more than 40 poets descend on the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, the anticipation is splitting my seams. The dashingly bearded AF Harrold is one of the poets who I am dying to see take the QPF stage. To get a glimpse of the poetry that travels with him, I asked him which poems he would take to a Desert(ed) Island. So raise your anchor and let these poems carry you one sleep closer to QPF 2009.


AFH by JenniferWicks


General Introduction

I only give these ten poems on the understanding that if you asked me yesterday or tomorrow they would be ten different poems; that some of them are chosen because I love the poem, some are chosen because I like the poet and have had to plump, half at random, for one among many possible poems from them. Also I felt bound to limit myself to just one poem by any particular poet.

This list could be a hundred long without exhausting the poems I’d want on my island, and at that length I would still curse myself as I remembered such obvious choices which had vanished out of my mind when I made this hasty selection. There is nothing by Marvell, or Donne, or Auden, or MacNeice in here, no work by Stephen Sondheim (which I count as poetry), no novels by Kurt Vonnegut (which are a sort of poetry), nothing from my contemporaries on the performance scene in the UK, where there is much that I admire… so many obvious gaps.


Jenny Kiss’d Me

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
  Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
  Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
  Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
  Jenny kiss’d me.

Leigh Hunt


It’s such a simple lyric, and yet it seems to perfectly capture so many emotions – the weariness of age, the shadowy broad-wings of ‘time’s winged chariot’, combated by the simple warmth of memory, of a specific memory. In the poem there’s no back-story, no elaboration on this moment – maybe it only happened the once, but sometimes there’s enough light in a moment to sustain a heart far into the future. Oh, it’s beautiful, achingly so! Or it’s just a tiny simple lyric – simple enough to be a child’s song, but one written in advancing years raging, in its own way, against the dying light.

I’ll take it to the island with me, if only to remind me when I find I can’t get the coconuts down and my hut keeps blowing away and my sunburn is chaffing (like Woody Allen, ‘I don’t tan, I stroke’), that I too have, to use Hunt as a metaphor, been ‘kiss’d by Jenny’ once or twice. I won’t last long on the island, but life’s not been bad up to now.




There is no one beside thee, and no one above thee,
  Thou standest alone as the nightingale sings!
  And my words which would praise thee are impotent things,
For none can express thee though all should approve thee,
  I love thee so, Dear, that I only can love thee.

Say, what can I do for thee? weary thee, grieve thee?
  Lean on thy shoulder, new burdens to add?
  Weep my tears over thee, making thee sad?
Oh, hold me not – love me not! let me retrieve thee.
  I love thee so, Dear, that I only can leave thee.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


This poem is almost unique in that it is one of the very small number of verses by other people which are lodged inside me head. By the time I went to school poems were no longer learnt by rote, unlike, perhaps, in my parents’ time – and in retrospect I think maybe this is a shame. However burdensome it is as a schoolboy to be made to learn poems, the presence of those words popping up in future years, I suspect, would be a tonic to all sorts of ills. But be that as it may, this poem is lodged in my head for no good reason.

There was a very lovely suede covered book of E.B. Browning in the house I grew up in, over a hundred years old and made beautiful by that soft delicate malleable warm cover. I read it, this old poetry full of thous and thees, with every stanza numbered, and somehow this miserable poem of self-inflicted unrequitability stuck itself like a burr in my brain and twenty years on it’s still there, recitable at any moment.

It’s certainly not her best poem, but it’s the one that that’s going with me to the desert island, because I have no choice about it, and even for its imperfections and self-pitying angsty maudlin nature, it is perfectly crafted, sculpted, formed and I do love it.


Jesus Is Not Just For Christmas

Down in the Bible
some of it’s tribal,
a tooth for a tooth
and eyeball for an eyeball,
some of it’s truth, some of it’s Gospel:
a man with a mission, a mission impospel,
a man with a tan, a man who liked a parable,
cast your seed on to land that is arable,
a stony field and the yield will be tarable.
Born in a manger, born into danger,
don’t take gifts from any old stranger
especially if it’s gold.
Especially if they say you’ve been specially selected
and they’ve found your address by following a star
with a couple of mates who’ve got gifts as well – unusual gifts:
just tell ‘em – ‘Thanks but no ta.’

Did he have a sweet tooth, did he have a sweetheart,
when he was a youth, did he do some street art?
Did he have a dog, was it a disaster,
breaking all its legs and going round in plaster?
Swallowed by the water, following its master,
sinking like a stone, only sinking somewhat faster?

He had his staff, to help him do the walkin’,
he had his staff, to help him with the talkin’.
He had his path, it never had a fork in,
he made a lot of sandwiches and none of them had pork in.
If you had a party he knew how to cater,
he could feed a party with the one potater:
‘Don’t go thanking me, mate, credit the Creator.’
‘The wine’s all gone, son’, ‘Don’t you worry, mater,
let me have that water for a moment, would you, waiter?’

Down in the temple, kicking up a rumpus,
money-lenders wondering, ‘Is he going to thump us?
He don’t like us, is he gonna lump us,
spilling our blood all over our new jumpers?’

Treated like a criminal, flattened in a hymninal,
what the men don’t do, maybe the women’ll

A proper dad, he never really had one.
It’s not on file if the child was a glad one,
no trial – for whatever it was the lad done,
if that’s a Good Friday, I wouldn’t want a bad one.

John Hegley


John is one of the UK’s leading comic poets, though of course saying that sounds like something of a back-handed compliment – through comedy he manages to say serious things, and there’s as much craft and love of the spirit of poetry in his work as there is in any number of more ‘respected’ books on the shelves of our libraries and bookshops.

This poem, especially when you see John sing/speak it live, is an astonishing bit of craftsmanship – the sort of thing that makes me want to give up trying to be funny and just walk away. When I think of the joy he must’ve felt when the line about the sandwiches, for example, appeared – oh, he must’ve known he’d won something when that popped into his head or onto the page – I know that joy, only too rarely. I’m jealous and I’m so very glad this poem exists.

I always loved Jesus Christ Superstar when I was growing up – this does the same (and a different) job, in a space about an hour and half smaller.


The Stolen Orange

When I went out  I stole an orange
I kept it in my pocket
It felt like a warm planet

Everywhere I went smelt of oranges
Whenever I got into an awkward situation
I’d take the orange out and smell it

And immediately on even dead branches I saw
The lovely and fierce orange blossom
That smells so much of joy

When I went out I stole an orange
It was a safeguard against imagining
There was nothing bright or special in the world

Brian Patten


This is the poem I read at my father’s funeral. I can’t be doing with any of that mawkish ‘He’s just stepped into the next room…’ twaddle, and so I had to pick something different. This summed up what needed to be done, how one could move forward after such a bereavement – by remembering that the world is still bright and special outside.

I count myself fortunate to know Brian Patten a little – having read and loved his work as a teenager, I later on met him out on the circuit and he was always kind when I was starting out. It’s good when you can meet someone you’ve known on the page for a long time and discover that they’re not an arsehole when you meet them. (Of course, I’ve had the other sort of encounter with other heroes too.)

Brian has a wonderful simplicity of writing, generally an aware sort of free verse, that cuts absolutely and astonishingly to the heart of the matter – of the moment, of the emotion, of the loss, of the love. He makes it look so easy, so much of the time.


The Mower

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

Philip Larkin


Another one who makes it look easy, except where Brian usually opts for free verse, Larkin is usually tightly formal, and yet (although this particular poem is unrhymed) they read smoothly, the end rhymes on the page often vanish in the reading and they become like carefully balanced letters from a misanthropic uncle.

Except, of course, under the misanthropy beats the same heart that beats in all of us, once which is searching to say those words ‘At once true and kind, / Or not untrue and not unkind.’

In this poems those two moments of enjambment (the ‘Killed’ and ‘Unmendably’) are dramatically balanced; the assuming simplicity of the third stanza – no need to try to explain or elaborate on what it is like, this ‘new absence’. It’s lovely, again it’s heartbreaking. And so simple.


To Maeve

You walk unaware
Of the slender gazelle
That moves when you move
And is one with the limbs
That you have.

You live unaware
Of the faint, the unearthly
Echo of hooves
That throughout your white streams
Of clear clay that I love

Are in flight as you turn,
As you stand, as you move,
As you sleep, for the slender
Gazelle never rests
In your ivory grove.

Mervyn Peake


Peake is, of course, better known for his novels and his drawings, but his poems are interesting beasts. Often couched in ‘poetic’ language, there is something awkward and a bit gauche about many of them, but when he allows the simplicity (there’s that word again!) to shine through you end up with something as clear and light as this small piece carved out for his young wife in the mid-thirties.

It makes me think of the Leonard Cohen poem Beneath My Hands with its similar echo of nature – ‘Beneath my hands / your small breasts / are the upturned bellies / of breathing fallen sparrows.’ – written twenty years later. (And allows me to sneak the first stanza of an eleventh poem onto my desert island.)


Putting Down The Cat

The assistant holds her on the table,
the fur hanging limp from her tiny skeleton,
and the veterinarian raises the needle of fluid
which will put the line through her ninth life.

‘Painless,’ he reassures me, ‘like counting
backwards from a hundred,’ but I want to tell him
that our poor cat cannot count at all,
much less to a hundred, much less backwards.

Billy Collins


Collins writes these typically conversational American poems – and does so with such felicity that it sometimes looks like you’re reading a first draft, as if you’re listening to him talk to himself. And usually it works – because that is what you want from any artist, from any actor or comedian, for it to look like this is the first time they’ve said these words, as if you’re the privileged party to be there when they said them, because they won’t be said quite like that again. Even though you know, of course, that they will.

The other great quality that Collins has is of being able to walk with you through a normal situation – making coffee in the morning, or the sad visit to the vet – and leading you down a path of thought that would never have occurred to you, past the fork in the road you never noticed or imagined was there, and without making any single step seem unreal, unlikely or forced. And so you end up with this great lump of sadness expressed perfectly and terribly for this poor cat and what could have been ‘yet another poem about a dead pet’ (God, haven’t we all heard enough of those at open mics – God, haven’t we all written one!) becomes, for once, something worthwhile, and unique.



In the hour before dawn, when the smallest
sounds are amplified by the stillness,
before the first jumbos have skinned the rooftops,
Mandy wakes me again with her moans
from over the way, my early-morning call
for dawn, when the gardens are pungent,
the sycamores flushed with an unreal green.
As I stand by the window, I can see inside
her room, the parquet floor, the legs
of her bed, her curtains blowing, like veils.
In the house next door, Maureen
is drinking her tea in a dressing gown.
She wanders the garden, smelling the roses.
When she sees me standing there, naked
in morning glory, she waves, and slips the robe
from her shoulders, and stands like a wrinkled
Venus risen from her flowery gown,
her old brown body knotted, and faintly erotic
at such an hour. She starts to dance to this early
music, to the grace notes of lovers embracing
at dawn. I stand there and watch, tumescent
and spellbound, one eye on her and one
on the bedroom where Mandy is raising the roof
with her cries, an incantation to love, and Maureen
is stroking a huge, imaginary phallus, entreating me
to join this strange suburban rite, so I move
to the rhythm and blues of my strange neighbours,
and Mandy and I climax like lovers do, together,
and I come from the first-floor window
into the herb garden, and Maureen stands there
laughing, and clapping her hands in the sunshine.

Neil Rollinson


Well, don’t you just want to be there?
I was in a hotel bar, a few years ago, with Neil and John Hegley (see above), after John and I had done a reading at the Wordsworth Trust in the Lake District, where Neil was poet-in-residence, and the conversation turned to poetry and poets, and that old chestnut, ‘Who’s your favourite poet?’ Raised its head. Being immersed in the poet whose poem comes next I gave his name, whereas John, who answered after me, with great wisdom side-stepped the question, saying, ‘I don’t have favourite poets, but favourite poems.’ Of course he was right.
For now, this one of Neil’s is a favourite.


Blue Tit On A String Of Peanuts

A cubic inch of some stars
weighs a hundred tons – Blue tit,
who could measure the power
of your tiny spark of energy? Your hair-thin legs
(one north-east, one due west) support
a scrap of volcano, four inches
of hurricane: and, seeing me you make the sound
of a grain of sawdust being sawn
by the minutest of saws.

Norman MacCaig


Such a perfect little sketch – surprising, astonishing in its way.
And yet again, it’s simple, there’s not a wasted word – nine lines, that’s all it needs, thank you. Done.

MacCaig remains as one of my favourite poets just because when looking through his collected poems he scores ‘hits’ with me – poems that I sit up and say ‘Yes!’ about – more often than most other poets I know.


I Live In Great Sorrow

Foweles in the frith,
The fisses in the flod,
And I mon waxe wod:
Mulch sorw I walke with
For beste of bon and blod.

anonymous  later 13th Century


Like the Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem, this is another little nugget that is firmly lodged in my brainpan and that is ready to fall out of my mouth at any moment. The literal translation of this bit of Middle English is: Birds in the wood, the fish in the river, and I must go mad: I live in great sorrow because of the best creature living. It’s the blues!

It’s always encouraging and humbling to remember that even 750 years ago, when this language of ours was still turbulently forming, the concerns of the poets writing were more or less just the same as they are today – oh, my baby’s left me (or never even spoken to me in the first place)! People haven’t changed all that much, things don’t change all that much.


About AF Harrold:

A.F. Harrold is a poet and performance poet who does things that aren’t always normal. Having performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, Cheltenham and Oxford Literary Festivals, Reading and Leicester Comedy Festivals, Essex and Ledbury Poetry Festivals and been Poet-In-Residence at this 2008’s Glastonbury Festival, he now brings himself to Australia, a place he’s never been before. Very exciting stuff for a poet. Comedy and performance poetry without shouting, rapping, issues or angst, but with a healthy dose of the surreal, the peculiar and the sanitary. Visit for stuff, such as a book of poetry (Logic & the Heart), two collections of comic verse (Postcards From The Hedgehog and The Man Who Spent Years In The Bath), and a book of peculiar poems for peculiar children (I Eat Squirrels). What fun?


Catch AF Harrold at QPF 2009:

Friday August 21 – 7:30pm – 10:30pm

A Tangle of Possiblilties: featuring Elizabeth Bachinsky, AF Harrold, Neil Murray & Hinemoana Baker

Tickets now on sale!


Saturday August 22 – 8:00pm

A Million Bright Things: featuring a short set from every bright thing on the 2009 program plus a feature set from the awesome Neil Murray


Sunday August 23 – 2:00pm – 3:00pm

Proscuitto and the Pink: featuring AF Harrold, Paul Magee & Angela Costi


Sunday August 23 – 3:15pm – 4:15pm

Museum of Brisbane presents – A City Machine: featuring AF Harrold, Elizabeth Bachinsky & Rob Morris


Sunday August 23 – 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Just Kissed Goodbye: feat. Paul Magee, Janet Jackson, Angela Costi, Jane Williams, Neil Murray, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Geoff Goodfellow, AF Harrold, Hinemoana Baker and the QPF Committee


All sessions are held at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brunswick St. Fortitude Valley.

For full program details head to


Filed under Desert(ed) Island Poems

QPF Spotlight #9 – Zenobia Frost’s Desert(ed) Island Poems

QPF 2009 features many local talents, including hat fetishist, Zenobia Frost. This Spotlight takes us to the Desert(ed) Island of her mind and (some of) the poems that inhabit it. So raise your sails and let these poems carry you away…




Enivrez-Vous – Charles Baudelaire

Don’t be martyred slaves of Time,
Get drunk!
Stay drunk!
On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!

With its simple language and imperative tone, I always thought this poem would sound best shouted by a drunk or a preacher or a drunk preacher from a soapbox in a busy town square.

This poem has had more influence on me than any other. In my teen years I found its call to arms so rousing that I painted the poem, in its entirety, onto my bedroom wall. I’ve endeavoured to follow its instructions and make the very best of whatever situation I find myself in—something I might need to be reminded of now and then in the desert. Furthermore, thanks to this poem, I refuse to wear a watch on principle; I think a feeling of detachment from Time might just come in handy while stranded on an island. No use counting down the days, after all.

Read it here:


You Are Old, Father William – Lewis Carroll

When I have gone quite, quite mad from thirst and boredom, I can make up an infinite number of tunes to set this to, and sing it over and over. Maybe I could even catch an eel and learn to balance it on my nose, as the hero of the poem claims to be able to do.

One has to entertain oneself somehow.

Read it here:


Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed from a Skull – George Gordon, Lord Byron

Frankly, if I’m faced with the prospect of years alone on a desert island, I would hope that I’m taking a lot of booze with me. Just as there are drinking songs, this is a drinking poem, and is made to be performed.

Where once my wit, perchance, hath shone,
In aid of others’ let me shine;
And when, alas! our brains are gone,
What nobler substitute than wine?

Not only does it make me smirk, it also has a beautiful rhythm. Its language is truly inebriated—both fearless and playful, but with undertones of growing melancholy. This is precisely the kind of poem that Monsieur Baudelaire intended for us to get drunk on. The poet has resigned himself to his mortality and hopes to pour himself into the grave inoculated against rot, or at least the knowledge of it.

Read it here:


Sexing the Cherry – Jeanette Winterson

Apparently this is marketed as a novel, but from the first reading I knew it was a novel-length long prose poem. Its dreamlike metanarrative stitches itself into your skin. It spins strange new myths into you. It elicits sighs of pleasure that you thought (foolishly!) only your lover could draw out of you. If I could, I would memorise large chunks of Sexing the Cherry and take it everywhere with me. What better place to learn it by heart than on a desert island?

When Jordan was a boy he made paper boats and floated them on the river. From this he learned how the wind affects the heart. His patience was exceeded only by his hope. I used to watch him standing in the mud or lying face down, his nose almost in the current, his hands steadying the boat and then letting it go straight into the wind. Letting go hours of himself. When the time came, he did the same with his heart. He didn’t believe in shipwreck.


‘i like my body when it is with your’ and ‘somewhere i have never travelled’ – e.e. cummings

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

I’m going to be naughty and smuggle both of these poems in, one on each side of a piece of paper. somewhere i have never travelled is such a delicate love poem, and i like my body when it is with your is its perfect match, with its tender, erotic zing. These poems speak of lovers who are so adoring of one another; it speaks to my head full of romance and, on my island, will remind me of what I am missing. cummings’ style perfectly embodies the wonder-chaos of new love as it feels to the lovers, not to onlookers; cummings is thrilling, without being sappy.


Tides – Hugo Williams

For that is happiness: to wander alone
Surrounded by the same moon, whose tides remind us of ourselves,
Our distances, and what we leave behind.

I read this poem for the first time a few weeks ago, and it felt like déjà vu, for it achieves, in theme, what I tried to do in my chapbook. It is eloquent and concise; in so few words, it speaks volumes about its characters, and about human kind, and our ties to place.

I shan’t go on; it’s best to let it speak for itself. This is a poem that needs to settle within you, and needn’t be overanalysed. Let it make its promises to you:


The Summer – Josh Pyke

What a wonderful song, and what a delightful lyricist Mr Pyke is. The Summer is about nostalgia’s potential for both loveliness and devastation—after all, living in the past has its consequences.

There’s something characteristically Australian about the way Josh writes. He’s a great storyteller, and his words are warm and casual and genuine. After spending an album with him you feel quite sure you’d get on really well over a cup of tea on the verandah. In short, his poetry is trustworthy, and it reminds you to revisit the things in life you value.

On my desert island, I think I’d name a coconut Josh Pyke and tell it all my secrets. And it would sing this song.

Listen to it here:

Read it here:


The Cloudland Funicular Cha-Cha – Rob Morris

Black shellac solid vinyl
scratches sounds from a time
when the whole world wore hats.

This paean to Brisbane’s iconic Cloudland dancehall was the first Queensland poem I remember hearing performed, and it was the beginning of my love affair with the fifties. Its images—‘a gal in a Lindy satin skirt and mohair top’ and ‘heavens dripping from my powder-blue suit’—strobe past in the ‘musical hysteria’. This poem takes you skidding right back to those heady days, and I think a time ‘when the whole world wore hats’ is surely the best time to skid back to.

You can find The Cloudland Furnicular Cha-Cha in the book of the same name, published by Post Pressed in 2005.


Skin – Shane Koyczan

This suite of poems is, frankly, delicious. I remember seeing Shane, a Canadian poet, perform these at the Queensland Poetry Festival a couple of years ago, and every single person in the audience had warm fuzzies. Shane’s poems are the vocabulary of lovers. They are comfort foods and long baths. They are the literary equivalent of spooning.

looking at you it occurred to me
I could sit around all day
wearing nothing but your kiss

you make mirrors
want to grind themselves
back down into sand
because they can’t do your reflection justice

There, don’t you feel so much better now?

Shane’s poems work best when performed, so the ideal would be to take Shane (and his band, The Short Story Long) on an mp3 player to my desert island. I could charge it by plugging it into palm trees or something.

Listen to Skin here: or pick up his debut collection, Visiting Hours (2005).


Lost (or ‘Deportment for Young Gentlemen’ or ‘A Young Woman Trying on a Victorian Hat’) – David Wagoner

Apparently Oprah likes this poem. I guess that means she must have good taste after all. Lost is a poem brimming with quiet wisdom. It is a poem to be read aloud in a silent room, or to chant to yourself when lost. It is the ultimate desert island poem, in that sense, because its message is that being lost—or stranded—is only an attitude. You can be found anywhere; you can be content anywhere.

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

If I could, I would sneak Mr Wagoner’s 1996 collection, Walt Whitman Bathing, with me too. The poems Deportment for Young Gentlemen and A Young Woman Trying on a Victorian Hat were close contenders for this spot on the the Desert(ed) Island list, but Lost won out because it would keep me sane.

Read it here:



About Zenobia:

Zenobia Frost is a poetic adventurer, hat fetishist and protector of apostrophes who (when she remembers to) coordinates the seriously frivolous Ruby Fizz Society, which promotes local performance art and encourages cross-discipline creativity. Her poems have appeared in Going Down Swinging, Small Packages, Stylus, Mascara and Voiceworks, and her first collection, The Voyage, was published by SweetWater Press in May of this year. She hopes to one day make the perfect cup of tea.


Catch Zenobia at QPF 2009:


Saturday August 22 – 8:00pm

A Million Bright Things: featuring a short set from every bright thing on the 2009 program plus a feature set from the awesome Neil Murray


Sunday August 23 – 12:15pm – 1:15pm

Venus Walked In: feat. Jane Williams, Zenobia Frost & Noëlle Janaczewska


Sunday August 23 – 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Just Kissed Goodbye: feat. Paul Magee, Janet Jackson, Angela Costi, Jane Williams, Neil Murray, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Geoff Goodfellow, AF Harrold, Hinemoana Baker and the QPF Committee (of which Zenobia is a part of)


All sessions are held at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brunswick St. Fortitude Valley.

For full program details head to


Filed under Desert(ed) Island Poems

Desert(ed) Island Poems #10 – Robert Lort

Brace yourself for this one folks… there are some turbulent seas ahead as we sail this leaking ship to the Desert(ed) Island of Robert Lort.




Photo by Sharka Bosakova: taken opposite the ‘Poet’s Cafe’ in Montville


“I am the first to wear your shackles like a bracelet” (Cohen)

– Apologies to William Burroughs and Kathy Acker, you didn’t write enough poetry.


Rimbaud – Une Saison D’Enfer / A Season In Hell

L’enfant terrible of French poetry, a revolutionary and visionary genius who, in disillusioned disgust, defiantly threw poetry to the wind, aged only 21 to become an enterprising, global-roaming capitalist. A real rock’n’roll nigger of the earth, he flung words like a tormented starving savage, systematically disordering all the senses, in a pent-up, bohemian, absinthe-soaked rebellion. Poetry is but a farce. Il est une autre!

Read the poem here:


Patti Smith – Babelfield

Patti Smith normally talks about her discovery of Rimbaud at a Philadelphia bus depot bookshop, aged 16. Patti Smith was perhaps the only cherished find that a family member ever dropped into my lap, from a pile of 40 or so dusty ’70s LPs there stood “Easter” with it’s uplifted hairy armpit, I was instantly captivated. This feverish, slipshod, wide-eyed, barefoot girl carved out the very path between poetry and rock’n’roll. A live version of “Babelfield” was released on the rare 12” “Set Free,” the printed version here is but slightly different.

“wherein war is expressed
thru the violent hieroglyphs
of sound and motion
a scream is a shoulder
the profile of life
raised are our instruments – sonic necks
lubricants of aggression and flesh
notes pierce the body round
wounds are cherished blessed and bound
by boys posed before the spinal region
of the parthenon…”


Daevid Allen – <theordinaryaustralian@y2k>

I first saw Daevid Allen, in all his nakedness, performing with members of Japan’s heavy psychedelic band Acid Mothers Temple. As head of legendary trip-out band Gong, Daevid Allen is like a Dr Seuss on bad acid, delivering bent and dirty nursery rhymes from on top a giant towering mushroom. Unabashed, dirty, in yr face, perverse and political (without pining for attention votes), Daevid Allen is a word toting terrorist, a delinquent yahoo with a high IQ, high on contamination, bursting with provocative ephemera.“The Ordinary Australian” comes from his “Poet For Sale” where he lampoons that ordinary suburban Ozzie, “Those ordinary decent small time insensitive stupid dim witted arrogant aggressive lying bad tempered shit centred over paid over fed lazy spoilt brat…” What greater prestige is there, than getting kicked out of the Woodford Folk Festival for saying ‘FUCK’ in a poem?


Steven Jesse Bernstein – Face

From the CD “Prison” which this Russian DJ on 4ZZZ repeatedly played. This must have stood out like a sore thumb on the ultra-grunge Sub-Pop label. On the insert is a photo of Steven and William Burroughs, as thou comparing unsightly ties. The  expression “Look there’s Stevie,” as one pointed to the CD, became an in-joke amongst my housemates. A harrowing tale about a disaffected youth, ridiculed for his ugliness, he became a detached loner who never ventured out, eventually needing to be hospitalized, he became a drug addict, alcoholic and criminal… of cause, not one word of it is true! After listening to this long poem one always felt a little lucky to have a head that pointed forward, it could be much worse after all – polio, glasses, braces, pills… a film documentary about his life “I Am Secretly An Important Man” is currently in the making.

Read it here:


Antonin Artaud – Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu / To Have Done With The Judgment Of God

The great uncrowned Antonin Artaud was a silent film actor, artist, film writer, theatre director and theorist. A crazed genius of French poetry, he was expelled from the Surrealist movement for being, quite simply, really mad! – he spend years confined in asylums, was almost starved to death by the Nazis and suffered countless electroshock treatments, so violent they fractured the vertebrae in his spine. The original Body Without Organs, he lived in a perpetual state of fulmination, condemnation and mania, finally diagnosed with rectal cancer, he died from an overdose of chloral hydrate still clutching his shoe. His notorious radio broadcast, “Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu” was banned even by the French, before it’s scheduled broadcast in 1948, the recording was eventually stolen from Radio France during the riots of May ’68. The play is a blasphemous and scatological tirade against America, complete with glossolalia, cacophonous percussion and Artaud’s cater!
wauling, unending scream that turns the insides out.

Read the poem here:


Steve Kilbey – Untitled

“Good, now and forever, music reaches and awakens…” from the cassette insert for the Church’s “Starfish” (’88). I printed out these words and glued them to the cover of my uni folder along with the paisley cover image of “HeyDay” as some sort of statement defying the rest, standing apart, and encapsulating something I didn’t want to lose (I wasn’t in the arts faculty like all of you). Childhood memories at dusk, a microscopic sense attractor, disappearing into muffled tongues…

Read the poem here:


Leonard Cohen – This Is The Only Poem

From “The Energy Of Slaves” ’72, in his so-called anti-poem mode, which spawned a sort of poetics of punk (even though he forgets the name). We know Leonard like an ugly uncle, melancholic, full of self-pity, spiritual yearnings, betrayals, anguishes, sexual conquests and maybe even more sexual failures, honesty, lost trust, misgivings and life’s futility. Turning against popular notions of the time, he dismissed the fads to carve out his own course. There is much here to learn, but you don’t want to know too quick, some will turn away in disgust and denial, to only years later confess it’s virtues.

This is the only poem
I can read
I am the only one
can write it
Others seem to think
the past can guide them
My own music
is not merely naked
It is open-legged
It is like a cunt
and like a cunt
must needs be houseproud
I didn’t kill myself
when things went wrong
I didn’t turn
to drugs or teaching
I tried to sleep
but when I couldn’t sleep
I learned to write
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me


Genesis P-Orridge – A Debris Of Murder

I first heard this on my friend’s Download CD “The Eyes Of Stanley Pain” where it was called “H Sien Influence”, years later I was astonished to find a different version called “A Debris Of Murder” on the Throbbing Gristle bootleg “Assume Power Focus“ (although the vocal recording is identical) this version is the same as on “The Fractured Garden,” but the version on Thee Majesty’s “Wordship” is different again. Did I mention I’m a collector? Gen has such an endearing warm scented voice, that reminds us that life is mere folly and all throw away. Like no other, he approaches childlike onto that horrendous threshold of existentialism, felt when one stares too long at the things of ‘time’ and ‘body’… E’ve seen his boobs too.

Read the poem here:


Tristian Tzara – XIII

The bemused Tristian Tzara sits wearing a monocle, beret and carrying a walking stick – it was the 1920s after all. Tristian Tzara was the key linchpin of Dada, the radical and extravagant art movement preceding the so much more lame movement of Surrealism. Dada invented the cut-up, collage, sound poems and madness itself. Delightful and charming, Tristian Tzara lacks arms, strings and a few buttons, but considers himself very likeable.

DADA is a virgin microbe
DADA is against the high cost of living
limited company for the exploitation of ideas
DADA has 391 different attitudes and colours according to the sex of the president
It changes – affirms – says the opposite at the same time – no importance – shouts – goes fishing.
Dada is the chameleon of rapid and self-interested change.
Dada is against the future. Dada is dead. Dada is absurd. Long live Dada. Dada is not a literary school, howl


Blixa Bargeld – Der Mund ist die Wunde des Alphabetes

To most, Blixa Bargeld is known as long time guitarist with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, but he is also lead singer of the German industrial band Einsturzende Neubauten. There is perhaps no better introduction to their music than Nick Cave’s own discovery, glimpsing them on Dutch TV circa 1982, “For sixty seconds, this man stood as if paralysed, hexed by his own madness. Then he opened his mouth and let out a scream that sounded like somebody was pulling a thistle out of his soul.” The original text is from “Stimme Frisst Feuer,” but the agonised words appear in the song “Blutvergiftung” (Blood Poisoning, 1984). Squealing and caterwauling like a parched and wounded beast, “the words were sung backwards onto a backwards recording tape so they’d be comprehensible when played forward.” 

“Der Mund ist die Wunde des Alphabetes.  Meine Schiere kehren zuruck lecken die Wunde…”

“The mouth is the wound of the alphabet. My screams turn back to lick the wound…”



About Robert:



Robert Lort is a UNregular Brisbane based poet and an original member of the SpeedPoets collective. He has worked across theoretical, fictional and poetic realms inspired by everything from Surrealism to Deleuze & Guattari to avant-garde music and film. Robert Lort maintains the Azimute website and is a regular art critic for various journals.




Wie oft stellst du dir Frage ueber deinen Geisteszustand?

Soft white bones, can they still think?  She unties the ribbons and runs her
plump fingers along the blunt teeth.

According to my calculations… cutlery draws came crashing to the ground
following the 2nd primordial mirror stage
Thereafter, the cluttered ratio of conduits fogged the playing cards of the
pinafored circus lads.
galactic shadows severed the inter-organic mirrors
parching the breath of fairground elephants and
toothless children began playing with scissors
Alice stood there shaking her head,
“who’s counting the dead?”

windup accordion optricians puckered their queasiness
rusty fingers scratched the itchy fur
yesterday’s rainbow fell crumpled around my legs
gentrified delicacies left vanquished, ambushed in misery
walrus feathers neatly brushed into manicured madness
all the slip-static of imvaginated emissions
teem in heat wrinkles of insect grease euphoria
the dead groans of the universe, spat-out on your plate
you crawl back into your skin and set your cloths alight

primal and flickering, depraved once more
sinking between elephant toes, awash with awe
the residual labyrinth creaks in my eyes
discreetly wretching the golden entrails
vanishing obscurity to deprivation tanks
swelling thresholds of vomit puddles stretched over a quivering sky
Have you not been told? LOVE spelt backwards is EVOL!


Filed under Desert(ed) Island Poems

Desert(ed) Island Poems #9 – Rob Morris

Rob Morris is an original Brisbane hipster; his vernacular owning all the rush of the street. Rob has built his raft and is sailing to that mystical island just north of nowhere… and he has packed his poems. Yes indeed, he has packed his poems. Take a look at what will get him through the journey.




FIVE BELLS by Kenneth Slessor

Slessor declared: “I think poetry is written mostly for pleasure, by which I mean the pleasure of pain, horror, anguish and awe as well as the pleasure of beauty, music and the act of living.”

As a war correspondent (see ‘Beach Burial’) and a journalist, this Sydney-dwelling multi-tasker has taken the death of Joe Lynch and elevated it into parable, dreamscape and nautical myth.  ‘Five Bells’ is at once, truly beautiful and mysterious in its use of language, and a piece of art that exists beyond the tawdry strictures of time and location.  It is a masterpiece from a poet who cannot be easily defined or even discussed.  Genius at work!

Read the poem here: 




He proved how cruel he could be with “Like a Rolling Stone”.  This is not a cynical blast at Edie Sedgewick; this is a far more profound brush at words directed, I think, at many women he has loved.

The alliteration and imagery generally take the senses into someone elses sad life.  The use of repetition (How could they ever have persuaded you?) is effective to the point where one feels like taking up arms in defence of the song’s much abused subject.  Hymn-like.  Listen in darkness.

Read the poem here: 



LYSISTRATA by Aristophanes

As new as tomorrow’s bread, I’d take the edition using Norman Lindsay’s illustrations.  If one is stuck on as island, a bit of classical bawdiness and “nod-nod” humour would not go astray.  Sexy and funny enough to keep the mozzies off:

1st market-lounger:  What’s this?
You’re sitting down; Shall I singe you with my torch?
That’s vulgar!  Oh I couldn’t do it … yet
If it would gratify the audience.
I’ll mortify myself.

2nd market-lounger:  And I will too.
We’ll both be crude and vulgar, yes we will.

(Count me in!)

Read more about Lysistrata here: 



HORSES by Patti Smith

“do you know how to pony
like Boney Maroney?
Do you know how to twist?
Well, it goes like this.
Horses, horses …”

The reincarnation of Whitman, Rimbaud, Parker, and a dozen lesser known “individualists”, Patti Smith means POETRY AS LIFE.

A true shaman, a humble fan of other older Bohemian word dervishes, she demands total involvement.  “Horses” is everything Patti is:  poetic, unpredictable, Rock’n’Roll, brash,  transcendent and irrascible.  Sexy as well.  There’s plenty to choose from in the back catalogue but ‘Horses’ shows Patti Smith as warrior for the brumby word, and artist working sublimely.

Read the lyrics here: 




This is Rimbaud’s ‘Kubla Khan’ but comes from a darker level of the TREE OF LIFE.  “A SEASON IN HELL” is good but I would not want to be stuck with it.

 “I saw the sun with mystic horrors darken
      And shimmer through a violet haze;
      With a shimmer of shutters the waves fell
      Like actors in ancient, forgotten plays!”

Rimbaud is very modern, urbane, and truly disturbing.  His life has almost overshadowed his work but this and a dozen other poems place Rimbaud as a virile, invigorating, descriptive writer.  An electifying poet.

Read the poem here: 



MESSALINA by Dulcie Deamer

Once the most widely read English speaking female novelist, DD is funny, self deprecating and so very, very “different”.  She wrote:

“I am as naked as life’s naked flame!
No-one ever spoke of law or coward shame
In that spring-fevered world from which I came
I fear no death.  Let swift sleep end the game.”

With a Dorothy Parker-ish wit and a romantic streak as wide as Darlinghurst Road, she personifies the Bohemian poet of the twenties.  She was even crowned Queen of Bohemia at the 1924 Artists’ Ball.  A bit of a “square” in some ways, DD believed in “the triumph of the soul over the body”.  In her Arcadia she served Diana.  She deserves a more devoted legacy for she wrote finely.  As she said:

“So I stand – the hopeless goal
of the finite worlds desire.”

She aimed high!




Tasmanian poet Karen Knight wrote a collection of poems about America’s 19th century “enfant terrible” Walt Whitman (“Under the One Granite Roof”), and it is not difficult to comprehend why he remains such a charismatic poet.

“Laws of thyself complete, thine own track
firmly holding.”

Whitman makes you believe in a greater force, as alive in his poetic sculpting of engines and enormous America in a growth spurt as Otis in the compassion and empathy he showed in his life.  The Civil War made him a poet; “Leaves” spread his name around and got the folks arguing about his ‘poetry’.  Whitman doesn’t even sound like anyone else – then or now, despite copyists – and of course, it’s hard to think of Ginsberg or Pinske etc. without regarding the singular form and generosity of his style.

Read the poem here: 


MY HEART LEAPS UP by Wordsworth

With that line: “The Child is father to the Man” (Note the capitals) and concluding with the statement that we are “Bound each to each by natural piety”, this brief paen to the redemptive power of ‘spirit’ and life’s natural course makes my heart leap up (not everywhere).  Timeless and and wise.

Read the poem here: 




“We worked in a spirit of community and collaboration that seemed to spring from the text,” spoke Jones.  The text she was referring to is Lee Gantelon’s book “The Words”, a modern rendering of the words of Christ.

“It hurts to be here
It hurts to be here
It hurts to be here”

she repeats, and you wonder if this existential cry is at once a personal statement or only an interpretation of Jesus’ anguish at what he knows is coming.  She repeats words like a ‘shaker’ who doesn’t quite trust her instincts.  ‘The Sermon’ mixes words, prayerful exhortations.  Hers is a voice that has withstood all the secular pains.

“They think God hears them louder
if they say it over and over.”

She repeats too!  She’s looking for God, and meaning, and redemption, and answers.

“I wonder why there is so much suffering.”

Me too, me too!

Read the lyrics here: 




“I was much too far out all my life
and not waving but drowning.”

Stevie Smith is supposed to have loved the act of reading poetry to an audience.  She was feisty, opinionated and a bit of a handful.  Now, Stevie wasn’t interested in Jesus, and she was quite a changling, a “free spirit” of the sixties.  Her live readings MADE her!  In another poem called “Poor Soul, Poor Girl” she wrote:

“I cannot imagine anything nicer
than to be struck by lightning and killed
suddenly crossing a
As if somebody cared:
Nobody cares whether I am alive or dead”.

There is great sadness just beneath the words.  The pitiful irony that dresses itself in these poems of hers suggest a “greatness”.  Some people call it “doggerel”. I call it writing courageously, saying what one thinks.  “Drowning” is funny in a Pythonesque way and I could use that humour (more sophisticated and multi-dimensioned than it may immediately appear to be) on my island.  Stevie Smith is original.  One of her is enough and a great gift.

Read the poem here:



And here’s a poem from Rob’s latest collection ‘So Much Weather’


The Paradox

“The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the source of all true science.” – Albert Einstein

Is it natural that they depart beautiful
from the brutal drag that is time’s Glasgow kiss
escape with an enigmatic bow
as some velvet curtain falls?
It is the Keatsian paradox,
the body slumps,
the swag comes undone
yet modest and oblivious
mind still struts and rocks on
though we dally wistful practice our worshipful prayers.
Time is a tough nut to crack.
It offers only memory’s consoling embrace on the stair.
Gleaners, we have to work at this stuff
or let our young shining ones go.
In the house of the artist
there are shape shifters
trying on old and new costumery
hopeful the wardrobe still fits
’til time gets impatient
with our lingering party and the darkening room taxes
our vision. We will dress ourselves upon light,
ask if we may
leave to
return tomorrow
and early.


Filed under Desert(ed) Island Poems

Desert(ed) Island Poems #8 – Rosanna Licari

Here is an Easter Long Weekend treat for you all…

Rosanna Licari is one of the four feature poets programmed at this month’s Poetry on the Deck event at Riverbend Books (see details below). Here she lets us in to the world of her Desert(ed) Island, showing us glimpses of the poetry that has guided her journey.




When I was asked what ten poems I would take onto a desert(ed) island after some reflection the task seemed harder than I initially thought. Does a list of ten poems really encompass all my favourites? Do I choose contemporary poems or include some of the “golden oldies”? Do I get patriotic and choose only Australian poems? And all this deliberation before Good Friday!

I’m presenting a list that is by no means exhaustive and is not in any order of preference. I’ve selected the poems, firstly, for their level of writing mastery and, secondly, for their emotional impact. The poems are by Robert Lowell, Les Murray, Seamus Heaney, Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds, Bronwyn Lea, John Forbes, Sarah Holland-Batt, Anthony Lawrence and Gig Ryan.


1. Sailing Home from Rapallo by Robert Lowell

Lowell’s Life Studies was the first collection of poetry that really interested me. I was a working-class migrant girl who knew nothing about literature. The collection was introduced to me in high school and though I could probably say I had an immature comprehension because of my age and inexperience, what did attract me was the personal nature of the poems. Lowell wrote about his father, his mother, his grandparents, people that you could relate to, who were made of flesh and blood. He also wrote about a social class that was totally alien to me and this was intriguing. The title of this poem initially engaged me as one of my maternal aunts had lived in Rapallo. The first stanza stops you in your tracks:

 Your nurse could only speak Italian,
 but after twenty minutes I could imagine your final week,
 and tears ran down my cheeks….

Lowell is travelling with his mother’s coffin from the Gulf of Genoa, Italy back to America by ship and uses “spumante-bubbling” to describe the track of waves, “Risorgimento black and gold” to describe his mother’s casket. I’d never read anything like it. Then he changes scene to sub-zero weather conditions at the family cemetery in Dunbarton, New Hampshire:

 The graveyard’s soil was changing to stone –
 so many of its deaths had been midwinter.
 Dour and dark against the blinding snowdrifts,
 its black brook and fir trunks were as smooth as masts.
 A fence of iron spear-hafts
 black-bordered its mostly Colonial grave-slates.
 The only “unhistoric” soul to come here
 was Father, now buried beneath his recent
 unweathered pink-veined slice of marble.
His use of language, subject matter, and free verse was a revelation to me and probably was responsible for my partiality for confessional poetry.

Read the poem here:


2. The Bulahdelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle by Les Murray

There is no doubt that Murray is a master. Not only is he prolific, he knows how to put the right word in the right place. This is a long, richly descriptive poem depicts people, their activities, their histories as well as the flora and fauna that surrounds them. It deals with the ordinary rituals of the holidays:

 Fresh sheets have been spread and tucked tight, childhood room have
  been seen to,

 For this is the season when children return with their children
 to the place of Bingham’s Ghost, of the Old Timber wharf. Of the
  Big Flood That time,
 The country of the rationalised farms. Of the day-and-night farms,
  and the Pitt street farms,
 of the Shire Engineer and many other rumours, of the tractor crankcase
  furred with chaff,
 the places of sitting down near ferns, the snake-fear places, the
  cattle-crossing-long-ago places.

There is considerable difficulty associated with writing a long poem in terms of sustaining interest and avoiding the repetition of an idea that does not contribute to the work as a whole. Murray manages this effortlessly in a very accessible and truly creative writing style. No wonder he has broad appeal.

Read the poem here:


3. The Early Purges by Seamus Heaney

This poem is from Death of a Naturalist and is not recommended for vegetarians or RSPCA members. It is quite a confronting poem in which Heaney maintains a simple descriptive style. Heaney depicts the times he saw “pests” dealt with and highlights the contrast between city and country attitudes. At six, he first witnesses the drowning of kittens:

 Soft paws scraping like mad. But their tiny din
 Was soon soused. They were slung on the snout
 Of the pump and the water pumped in.

Heaney is a poet of high calibre who as a toddler must have uttered a limerick as his first verbal construction!

Read the poem here:


4. For My Lover, Returning to His Wife by Anne Sexton

Sexton’s Love Poems deals with the theme of adultery and female sexuality and this was something a female American poet just did not write about in the sixties. It was revolutionary for its time and I suggest that it is still very impressive several decades on. The title is self-explanatory and follows the telling-it-as-it-is style of Sexton. The female speaker unflinchingly compares herself to her lover’s steadfast wife:

 She has always been there, my darling.
 She is in fact, exquisite.
 Fireworks in the dull middle of February
 and as real as a cast-iron pot.

 Let’s face it, I have been momentary.
 A luxury…

Then the rejected woman farewells the married man she has had an affair with:

 I give you back your heart.
 I give you permission –

 for the fuse inside her, throbbing
 angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her
 and the burying of her wound –
 for the burying of her small red wound alive – …

Every time I read this poem, it still stings.

Read the poem here:

5. First by Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds is another American poet that has the knack of writing about taboo subjects in an intelligent manner. “First” is from her collection, The Wellspring. This is a poem about a new sexual experience she had had when she was a young woman. She proceeds to tell the reader in a very matter-of-fact manner about an incident at the sulphur baths with a writer on whom she performs fellatio:

  … I was a sophomore
 at college, in the baths with a naked man,
 a writer, married, a father, widowed,
 remarried, separated, unreadable, and when I
 said No, I was sorry, I couldn’t,
 he invented this, rising and dripping
 in the heavy sodium water, giving me
 his body to suck…

And then she agrees to participate:

 I gave over to flesh like church music
 until he drew himself out and held himself and
 something flew past me like a fresh ghost.

It is not sleazy or disgusting even though the naked writer she tells us about may well have been.


6. Born Again by Bronwyn Lea

The poem reflects the confessional style of some of my favourite American women poets and is not something that is often seen in Lea’s work. Lea is adept at interweaving religious references throughout the poem about her meeting with her former husband who has become a born-again Christian. He had gone to the desert to die but:

 Instead of dying, god spoke to him.
 God forgave all his trespasses. But I
 didn’t forgive his trespasses against me.
 My heart was a long ledger….

He goes to her house to collect their daughter and Lea makes him wait. When she returns he is gone but then she finds him:

    …I saw
 a figure kneeling by a large granite
 boulder. The ponderosa above him
 was weighted with snow. The knees
 of his jeans were wet. Snow drifts
 on his shoulders & back of his shoes.
 Snow collected on his upturned palms.

This poem is in your face, the cold hard facts.


7. Four Heads and How to do Them by John Forbes

A classic. A suite of four poems that deals with perception. Forbes describes the Classical Head as follows:

 Nature in her wisdom has formed the human head
 so it stands at the very top of the body.

 The head – or let us say the face – divides into 3,
 the seats of wisdom, beauty & goodness respectively.

Of course, there’s more. Then discover the Romantic Head, the Symbolist Head and the Conceptual Head. A very interesting read.

Read the poem here:


8. Shore Acres by Sarah Holland-Batt

From her recent collection, Aria, the poem is about the ending of a relationship and begins with an engaging description:

 August, driving from North Bend
 from Empire, we saw how the waves gut
 the bluffs until they are pocked, whole
 scoops of rock being pawed out by water.

However, things have changed:

 But this year nothing moves at Shore Acres;
 the water is static as land, and stripes
 of foam bone its slate like a corset.
 We are here for the end of movement.

It is easy to be impressed by Holland-Batt’s use of language and imagery.


9. Grim Periphery by Anthony Lawrence

Lawrence’s poem of chronic insomnia begins with:

 The narrative extends, seamless, from a cutting
 you brought back from some great divide in a coal
 town’s grim periphery, and you do nothing to stop it,
 you’re exhausted….

Exhausted from another night of sleeplessness, facing a morning that it “too bright and thick with domestic urgency”, showering and self-gratification doesn’t help. It continues. The birds are up and it’s 6 am, thoughts race and there’s no relief. Fitful sleep eventually comes –  but there is no peace.

This is not a nice, well-mannered poem. Lawrence takes you by the hand to a disturbed, visceral world. But don’t be fooled by the chaotic imagery, this is a well-crafted, well thought out poem.


10. If I Had a Gun by Gig Ryan

A woman’s view about what is wrong with men. Effective use of repetition and blunt descriptions. Try this on for size:

 I’d shoot the man who can’t look me in the eye
 who stares at my boobs when we’re talking
 who rips me off in the milk-bar and smiles his wet purple smile
 who comments on my clothes. I’m not a fucking painting
 that needs to be told what it looks like.


 I’d shoot the man last night who said Smile honey
 don’t look so glum with money swearing from his jacket
 and a 3-course meal he prods lazily
 who tells me his problems: his girlfriend, his mother,
 his wife, his daughter, his sister, his lover
 because women will listen to that sort of rubbish.


Guys, this is a poem women poets talk about when you aren’t around and perhaps, even a poem they wanted to write themselves. A definite insight into female perception of the opposite sex.

Read the poem here:




Finally, I include a poem of mine which I’ve been asked to share with you. “The last weeks of the war, Italy 1945” is published in Hecate, Vol. 34 No 2, 2008 and comes from the unpublished collection, An Absence of Saints. It is about my mother, Sofia, and depicts a period of time during WWII when she was taken by the Germans. It is set in Istria, Italy.


The last weeks of the war, Italy 1945      


1. Ičiči

The Germans tell her to get
into the jeep.
Holding on to its cold, dusty sides,
Sofia looks back at the steel-grey
Adriatic and her brother,
as it lurches onto the road.
Against his chest, he holds
the lunch she’s brought him
wrapped in a worn, cotton napkin.
Standing next to him, his girlfriend,
who has accompanied her there.
Sofia tightens her grip.
The Germans are taking
her to Fiume.


2. Fiume

The gaol door slams shut
as she looks at the toilet
in the corner and the old stone wall
facing her and the others,
all women. She is the youngest
in this group of forty. She fingers
the crucifix round her neck.

The cell smells
of human sweat and waste
but swallows swoop
into the courtyard
when the prisoners walk round
inside its walls once a day.

At midday after they soak
their bread with the remnants
of their watery soup,
the others stare at the serving
of pasta she gets in addition
because of her age.

For more food she lines up
with the adults to unpick rough,
burlap sacks in a musty room.
She’d hoped for meat, she gets
bread and jam.


3. Portorose

The guard takes her by the arm,
out of the cell, and onto a truck
to sit among German soldiers
with tortoise-like helmets and rifles.
Non parlano italiano and
she doesn’t speak German.

They arrive at a hotel that
smells of lilacs and roses.
Flanked by two soldiers she pauses
in the lobby  when she sees
the French windows and the honey-
coloured, parquet floor.

Sofia shares a velvet-draped room
with three other girls, and sees
the jade Adriatic from a small,
narrow balcony. No one talks.
Anyone could be a spy.
She dreams of her mother’s garden
in Valsantamarina.

She’s become a mula del FlaK
wears a blue uniform, goes to daily
lessons to learn German – Ich habe Angst
morse code –  dit dit dit dah dah dah dit dit dit
and to study the highways
of the air.


4. Pirano

She gets off the tram and something
makes her keep walking to the water’s edge.
This time she isn’t getting the tram
back to Portorose.

A shoemaker with a limp asks her
where she is going, she tells him
she wants to get back to Fiume.

He points to his house in the lane.
She walks in that direction after he leaves
but then she hides and waits.

Hai visito la mula del FlaK? 
He asks his wife when he returns.
There are no Germans.
Sofia comes out from her spot
under some stairs.

They’ll get her to a safe house.


5. Croc

Part of the letter to her mother reads
non sono coi tedeschi, sono in una casa and
the woman slips it into her shirt pocket
and promises to deliver it.

A few days later, some dirty, young men rush
past her and into the cottage with news −
the Americans have liberated Trieste.


6. Abbazia

Sofia stands at the aquamarine
shore and can’t remember
how many trucks it took
to get from Croc
to Buje
to Trieste
to Fiume
to Abbazia,

or how much
bread and water
she had,

or how many
people she met
as she passed rasping vehicles
filled with partisans
or prisoners of war.

She knows
if she’s lucky
she only needs
one more ride.



The last weeks of the war, Italy 1945
1. Non parlano italiano  – They don’t speak Italian.
2.Ich habe Angst (German) – I am afraid.
3. La mula del FlaK (Italian dialect) – A girl of the German anti-aircraft unit.
4. dit dit dit dah dah dah dit dit dit – morse code for SOS.
5. Hai visito la mula del FlaK?   Have you seen the girl of the German anti-aircraft unit.
6. Non sono coi tedeschi sono in una casa (Italian) – I’m not with the Germans, I’m in a house.
7. Croc – a place in Istria, Italy. My mother isn’t clear where it was but remembers the name as such. It may even have been code for the location.


Queensland Poetry Festival, QLD Writers Centre & Riverbend Books are proud to present the second Poetry on the Deck event for 2009. Join Rosanna Licari on the Riverbend deck alongside Longreach poet, Helen Avery (Seduced by Sky), Philip Neilsen (Without an Alibi) and emerging poet, Sophia Nugent-Siegal (Oracle).
Date: Tuesday 28 April
Location: Riverbend Books, 193 Oxford St. Bulimba
Time: Doors open for the event at 6pm for a 6:30pm start
Tickets: $10 available through Riverbend Books and include sushi and complimentary wine. To purchase tickets, call Riverbend Books on (07) 3899 8555 or book online at
The first event for the year was a huge success, with tickets selling out quickly, so book early to avoid disappointment!

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Desert(ed) Island Poems #7 – Darkwing Dubs

SpeedPoets hits The Alibi Room this Sunday, April 5 from 2pm with a three-prong feature attack including sets from Skye Staniford, Pru Gell and Brisbane spoken word/hip-hop artist Darkwing Dubs. Darkwing shared his Desert(ed) Island Poems with me recently, so now I am sharing them with you!




1. Freedom – J5

To me Jurassic Five are what a classic hip-hop crew are all about: great funky samples, lyrical precision, and a cohesion of artistic talent on par with the greatest bands and orchestras in the world. In essence, the title “Freedom” says it all. And it’s been done before. And it will be done again. But if the message is pummeled into the brains of the many, maybe it will actually, finally happen. Freedom comes in so many shapes and sizes. To be free means different things to different people. Whether you’re in a domestic violence situation; or your whole culture is denied it’s basic human rights; or your sexuality is denied, unwelcomed, shunned, freedom is a thing to constantly fight for… Bring it on.

Read the lyrics here:

Watch them perform it here:


2. Jack and The Beanstalk – Roald Dahl

Gotta love old mate Roald Dahl. What a creative genius! Hence you’ll find I’ve put two of his works in here. I was raised on Roald Dahl, loved his talent from the first sip of Fizzbang through to a journey with James and a ride on a chocolate river with Willy Wonka. I still pick up his books today with a smile, not just from the inevitable nostalgia, but because I genuinely still really enjoy reading his work. Me and some mates made a short film of this poem in high school, just for shits and giggles. Yet every time I read it I illicit that same mischievous laugh at how a book for kids could be so dark (something I discover more and more in his work, the older I get. I mean, what kind of psycho is Willy Wonka?… No, seriously! The dude’s a sadist!)

Read it here:


3. Papa’z Song – 2Pac

I was a bit skeptical of adding this one in. I mean, a lot of people know 2Pac as “one of those dead gangsta rappers”. But the 2Pac I know is far, far from it. I could go into his obsessive creative nature, being so transfixed by death and the ideas of dying, that he got more done in a single recording session than many artists do in a lifetime (hence the back catalogue of lyrics that pop up in “new” songs from time to time). How his acting ability in movies like Gridlock’d saw him break the conventional “rapper-actor” status quo. How his books of poetry piss on the conventional works in the poetry section at Dymocks.

But that’ll take too much time, plus it’s just my biased opinion, and if you want to talk 2Pac, I’m always just an e-mail or phone call away.

What I will mention is how this song touched my teenage, angst-ridden, only-child-single-mum-wanna-feel-sorry-for-myself heart.

I never had it this bad. There were no drugs. No weekly visits by strange men etc. But here is the crux of 2Pac’s universal appeal: emotion, emotion, emotion. I wanted to feel like someone out there knew how lonely I was. 2Pac let me. I wanted to feel angry at a world that looked at me as an outcast. 2Pac let me. I wanted to hate the dad I never met. 2Pac let me.

And even though I’m not in that place anymore, whenever I hear 2Pac’s voice, he takes me wherever he is. And I let him.

Read the lyrics here:

Watch him perform it here:


4. Television – Roald Dahl

You can just tell how pissed he is about the idiot-box. Great Stuff.

Read it here:


5. The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran “On Children”

This is the closest thing I’ve got to a bible, so to speak. I’ll look into it from time to time just to centre myself. “On Children” is great because I find myself thinking about parenting a lot (cluck cluck eh?…. shit….). So this verse helps me re-align the place children have, and deserve to have in society. As human beings.

Read it here:


6. Waiting For The Great Leap Forward – Billy Bragg

Easily one of my favorites. Billy Bragg is a folk singer from the UK who struts around the globe with his hand made electric guitar, fist raised. “If you’ve got a blacklist I want to be on it”. Tell ‘em Billy. Give ‘em hell.
“So join the struggle while you may, the revolution is just a T-shirt away”…

Read it here:

Watch him perform it on the Rollins Show here:


7. Coded Language – Saul Williams

I’ve only just recently discovered Saul Williams, and what a delight he is. So fresh and bold. Check out this on youtube if you get a chance.
Reject Mediocrity!

Read it here:

Watch him perform it here:


8. Shadows of Tomorrow – Madvillain (feat. Lord Quas)

I truly can’t get enough of anything Madlib and MF Doom touch. So hearing this music is the very definition of “music to my ears”. Madlib on the beats, Doom on the vocals, yet this track sees a switch up. With Madlib and his alter-ego Quasimoto stepping up to present a wordsmith’s dream of philosophy and downright confusion. I’m still unsure exactly what it all means, and for me, that signifies a great, sincere, mammoth effort (especially in the current hip-hop climate of wack beats with even wack-er MC’s).

Read the lyrics here:

Watch them perform it here:


9. The Creation Of Ea – Ursula K. Le Guin

This is the poem that begins her classic Earthsea novels. I’ve read this book so many times throughout my life I’ve lost count. I started reading the Earthsea books when I was about 7. These books symbolise, to me: death and life; hope and despair; love and hate; and youth and maturity. The poem at the start says it all.

She is an author who can say in one sentence what takes J.K. Rowling a whole chapter (not hating on Harry Potter, don’t get me wrong, I really dig a bit of expelliarmis and death eater action myself, but if you compare the two, you’ll agree). Le Guin transfixes me in worlds beyond your standard fantasy and science fiction.

Read it here:

The Creation of Ea – by Ursula K. Le Guin in “A Wizard Of Earthsea”

Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life :
bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.


10. Extract from Macbeth – William Shakespeare

I returned to Shakespeare last semester at uni. It was really great to explore that world again. Shakespeare’s work is something that will be examined and defined and redefined until the human race is extinct. It works on the basic human levels of love and loss, hate and love and pain and death death death death death.

You’ve got to love a morbid ending or nine.

I love Macbeth. The witches, the death, the betrayal. Underbelly needn’t be true or not, it’s still the same story!

I particularly liked this scene, because the way it’s written is top class Shakespeare. You can hear the heavy breathing of a man suffering between each line. The despair and the grief. “Out, out brief candle!”

Read it here:

Extract from “Macbeth”
By William Shakespeare


I have almost forgot the taste of fears;
The time has been, my senses would have cool’d
To hear a night-shriek; and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir
As life were in’t: I have supp’d full with horrors;
Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts
Cannot once start me.

(Re-enter SEYTON)

Wherefore was that cry?

The queen, my lord, is dead.

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.


About Darkwing Dubs:

Darkwing Dubs has been performing hip-hop for over five years. After joining M.A.S. in 2003, he quickly established himself as a charismatic front man and skilled MC and Producer.

While a member of M.A.S., Dubs supported:
The Herd, Hermitude, Cog, Apsci, Morganics, Dogg Pound, Bone Thugs N Harmony, The Coalition Crew, Bias B, Muph n Plutonic, The Serenity and Rainman.

Since leaving M.A.S. at the beginning of 2008, Darkwing Dubs pursued the Poetry Slam scene in QLD. Taking out the Chermside heats, and earning a spot in the QLD final held at the State Library.

He has since performed Poetry and Hip-hop at:
Queensland Poetry Slam 2007 and 2008
‘Outsiderz’ @ Tongue and Groove 2007 and 2008
Queensland Poetry Festival 2008
Woodford ‘Word-food’ Slam 2008
City Cyphaz 2008 and 2009

Collaborating with fellow Hip-hop artist and Poet, Zennabomb, Darkwing Dubs has had rave reviews including:

Darkwing Dubs & Zennabomb take a sci fi twist to the unlit sparks and torch the space between The Cramps swallowing Sage Francis and where every comic book villian with three feet finds a beat and starts to dance. Hip hop sonic word twisters for the bent generation, boyyzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  – Ghostboy

Find Out More:

Last FM:


Be there to catch Darkwing’s set at SpeedPoets this Sunday, April 5 at The Alibi Room (720 Brunswick St. New Farm), from 2pm – 5pm.


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Desert(ed) Island Poems #6 – Alan Jefferies

Sunday morning is a time of strangeness… remnants of the week prior still swimming somewhere inside us and the prospects of the week ahead beginning to materialise. It is somehow quieter than all other mornings. The perfect space for us to travel in and out of the poems that inhabit the Desert(ed) Island of Alan Jefferies.




Each of the ten Desert(ed) Island poems illustrates for me one of the desirable qualities of poetry. Of course these qualities overlap and many of the poems contain more than one.  These traits are what I look for in poetry, my own and other peoples.

that which we call a rose – Michael Dransfield

Dransfield was probably the first Australian poet that I had a real encounter with. A lot of Australian poetry that I’d read up to the age of 17 had no effect on me whatsoever. Dransfield stopped me. He was a hard one to get past. He remains for me one of only a handful of Australian poets, living or dead, who deserves that title. I’ll always remember reading the poem “Fix” to the prefects in year 12 at Cleveland State High. “Once you’ve become a drug addict, you never want to become anything else”. They were horrified. I learnt then that great poetry can make comfortable people uncomfortable, and in the Land of Snug, that’s not such a bad thing. The quality that this Dransfield poem illustrates for me is directness. Saying how it is without artifice or ploy.

Read the poem here:


my groupie – Charles Bukowski

Humour is hard to do in poetry.  And I don’t necessarily mean the belly laughs of a stand-up comedian. Irony, understatement, hyperbole,  anything that can lighten the dead weight of seriousness in poetry is, in my view, a good thing. Bukowski did humour well. A little coarse most of the time and incorrect as hell but if you’re looking for someone to lower the tone – Hank’s your man. Levity is the quality this poem exemplifies.

Read the poem here:


Daddy – Sylvia Plath

I’ve always loved this poem. My affection only deepened when I came across a recording of Plath reading it aloud. Direct, passionate, unbalanced but perfectly poised at the same time. I love the incantation of the nursery rhyme juxtaposed with the dark, somewhat unsettling subject matter. Rhythm is the quality this poem highlights.

Read the poem here:
Listen to it here:


The Red Wheelbarrow – William Carlos Williams

This poem illustrates the quality of brevity, which I think is so important in poetry. Not a single word gone to waste, nothing explained, nothing left unsaid.

Read the poem here:


In my craft or sullen art – Dylan Thomas

This poem says a lot about the craft of writing poetry and it also reminds us why not to write poetry:

Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages

The poem reads like free verse but is actually very structured. Each line has a regular number of syllables and stresses and the final two lines fall into a conventional iambic pattern. Form is an important quality of good poetry and this poem reminds me of that.

Read the poem here:


Some people – Rita Ann Higgins

What I like about this poem is that it’s engaged. Engaged with the real world struggles that real people are engaged with.  In my view there are too many poems that are lost in the miasma of all things me. On my desert(ed) island those poems would be banned, along with all other assortments of self-indulgence.

Read the poem here:


Candles – Constantine P Cavafy

Luminosity is for me an important quality of good poetry. Cavafy remains one of my all time favourites. His poems illuminate the subject matter using everyday words and a directness that I very much admire.

Read the poem here:


Flame Point – Jules Supervielle

Whenever I start a new notebook I handwrite this poem onto the first page. I love it but I struggle to explain why. Read it for yourself.

Flame Point
by Jules Supervielle translated by Allen Mandel Bawm

All his life
he loved to read
by candlelight
and often passed
his hand across
the flame
in order to
himself that he
was alive
was alive

And since the day
he died
he keeps
a burning candle
at his side
and yet
his hands
he hides


Sometime during eternity… – Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Ferlingetti often manages to infuse his poems with lightness and humour and in my opinion these qualities go a long way in poetry. See, I’m already starting to repeat myself.

Read the poem here:


Looking for a monk and not finding him – Li Po

Li Po brings all the qualities I like in poetry together in his work. Clear, lyrical, luminous, and engaged – all the qualities that modern Australian poetry for the most part eschews.

Read the poem here:


Alan Jefferies reads at Riverbend Books alongside Jessika Tong, Anna Krien & Felicity Plunkett on Tuesday February 24. Details below:

Date: Tuesday 24 February
Location: Riverbend Books, 193 Oxford St. Bulimba
Time: Doors open for the event at 6pm for a 6:30pm start
Tickets: $10 available through Riverbend Books and include sushi and complimentary wine. To purchase tickets, call Riverbend Books on (07) 3899 8555 or book online at

Spaces are limited so book early to avoid disappointment!

About Alan:

Alan Jefferies was born in Brisbane and grew up in Cleveland. He lived in Sydney and Coalcliff for much of the 80’s and 90’s and obtained degrees in Communication and Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney. In 1998 he moved to Hong Kong where he lived until 2007. With Kit Kelen and Mani Rao he started the spoken word reading OutLoud. In 2002 an anthology of work from these readings was published (Outloud: an anthology of poetry from Outloud readings, Hong Kong). He has published 5 collections of poetry, his most recent being Homage and other poems (Chameleon, 2007). He was recently an invited participant at the ‘Cairo International Forum of Arabic poetry’ and the ‘Tenth International Literature Festival’ in Romania. He now lives in Redland Bay. He keeps a musical alter ego at

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Desert(ed) Island Poems #5 – Matt Hetherington

It’s time to take that lonely trip again people… so man those oars and together let’s paddle to the Desert(ed) Island of Matt Hetherington.




I could be really cheeky, and say that the first two I would take would be John Anderson’s the shadow’s keep (37p), and Nathan Shepherdson’s what marian drew never told me about light (26p)…These are both actually considered to be SINGLE POEMS and are truly two of the richest works I know, plus Graham here has been involved in getting the last one published…but that’d be impossible to reproduce here, and they’re BOOKS, dammit.  So, to be brief to the brief, here’s ONLY ten.  And there’s only 3-and-a-half Americans!


Leopold Sedar Senghor – Night of Sine

A politician who at least wrote good poetry!  Plus here in what I think is at least his third language…I know I don’t fully comprehend this poem – which is certainly part of why I’m so drawn to it – but I keep going back to it.  It’s a Senegalese/French sensibility, but the sense of peace amid darkness here is unique in my experience.  And yet familiar.

Read the poem here:


Paul Celan – The Straitening (trans. Michael Hamburger)

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation”, said Robert Frost, and that’s as good a definition as I’ve heard.  If one poet exemplifies that adage more than any other, I would reckon it’s Celan.  Difficult, verging on baffling at times, driven by the power of the WORD (in all that word’s suggestiveness, and to the point of obsession with etymological uncoverings)…put simply, he wrote like no other poet.  Born in Romania, a Jew writing in German, his first poems were published in 1947, at the age of 26. This is a later work, uncharacteristically lengthy (part of why I chose it), and I won’t comment on it, other than to say it’s the perfect sort of poem for a long desert(ed) island stay, and should really be read (like all his poetry) with a good German-English dictionary alongside the original and translation, together with lots of time and patience.

Read the poem here:


Denise Levertov – A Solitude

This haunts me.  Many, many levels of insight under such apparent plain observation.


Charles Bukowski – see here, you

No man has the testicular fortitude to write quite like Monsieur Buk, although certainly many have tried, and continue to try.  He makes it look extremely easy, this poetry malarkey, but that’s part of the greatness of the guy: you try writing like that and you invariably end up with crap.  And in this poem (from the last poetry collection he finished while alive, I believe), he knows how special he is – and how special you’re not – most probably, and he’s just telling you that truth plain and straight.  Ok, maybe rather enjoying it, too.  It’s strangely damn fortifying to be reminded of this aspect of artistic endeavour – what we do is in many ways so insignificant, and always in some sense a failure, and hats off to Hank for pointing to that.  Every time I read the last line I always kind of chuckle.  Hope I always do.


Jennifer Compton – Very Shadows

Just ‘cos it’s from a really good book (called Blue) and it’s my favourite poem right now.

Read the poem here:


T.S. Eliot – The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

To me, one of the few ‘classics’ that live up to the hype, and probably the first poem I really fell in love with.  Still trying to shake off its influence, but if I’m stuck on an island, I suppose I could just forget about that particular anxiety, couldn’t I?

Read the poem here:


Andre Breton – The Spectral Attitudes (trans. David Gascoyne)

For me, this piece perfectly illustrates the magnificence (as well as a little of the banality) of Breton and, more importantly, the principle that seems to lie at the centre of the Surrealist and Imagist enterprise, something beautifully expressed by the French poet Pierre Reverdy in 1918: “The image…cannot be born from a comparison but from a juxtaposition of two or more less distant realities. The more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is both distant and true, the stronger the image will be – the greater its emotional power and poetic reality.”  I also kind of felt that if I was going to put a Surrealist poem in here it should be a longish one, and that it should be by the movement’s self-appointed Pope.

Read the poem here:


mtc cronin – Slow

Like Ashley Capes said in the first Desert(ed) Island Poems installment, about William Carlos Williams’ “This is Just to Say: “Simplicity often strikes me – that and openness or accessibility.”  This has all three of those qualities, and a few more!  I’d take it with me to an island because I wouldn’t want to forget those virtues – as both a human being and a writer – or about the truth of easiness, ease, eroticism, and tenderness.  I love this poem and I want to marry it.


Harold Norse – Mysteries of the Orgy

Bukowski said of him: “He can’t write a bad line.  I’ve never seen one.”  Well, he couldn’t have been looking too hard, because like just about everyone remotely connected to the Beats, he wrote plenty.  But not too many in this poem.  In the section of her diaries later published as Incest, Anais Nin made consensual sex with her father seemingly ok and even romantic – Norse does something similar with orgiastic sex (admittedly a bit easier, I suppose.)  I love the depth, the joy, and the cosmic awareness of this poem.  On a desert island, it might have to serve as my only reminder of all the things I missed out on, and still can’t seem to have.


David Prater – betty conquers all

I’ve never chortled as much reading a poem.  Isn’t that enough?

Read the poem here:


About Matt:

Matt Hetherington is a writer and musician based in Melbourne.  His first poetry collection was Surface (PRECIOUS PRESS, 2004), and his latest is I Think We Have (Small Change Press, 2007.)  He is on the board of the Australian Haiku Society, can’t live a week without listening to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew album, and loves cooking with home-made vegetable stock.

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Desert(ed) Island Poems #4 – Eddy Burger

Once again, let’s take that trip to solitude. This time we look at the poems that inhabit the Desert(ed) Island of Melbourne’s Eddy Burger.




Henry Reed – Naming of Parts (1946)

This poem is one of a series by Reed entitled Lessons of the War. Naming of Parts was my first ‘favourite poem’, back when I started to write poetry seriously years ago. It’s funny and innovative, which are two qualities I aim for in my own work. I love the juxtaposition between serious military instruction and the poetic references to flowers, nature and sex – there is contrast between subject matter as well as between style of language. It is engaging, appealingly structured, and quite odd.

Read the poem here:


E. E. Cummings – in Just (1923)

I’ve always liked E. E. Cummings for his unconventional language and structure. In Just- is a wonderful poem. I love its depiction of childhood and the playfulness in its funny expressions and layout. Expressions like mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful are great, as is the funny lame balloonman who whistles far and wee. The poem is simple, innovative, beautiful and so joyous.

Read the poem here:


Williams Carlos Williams – This is just to say (1934)

I’m not the first to cite this poem as a favourite, yet I came upon it some time ago and have been enamoured of it ever since. It is so simple yet so evocative. It’s funny in the way he so cheekily confesses to eating the plums, then says how delicious they were, as if to rub it in. And I can really imagine how the plums must have tasted. The fact that this poem mimics a real note adds another dimension to it. I also like the way the poem’s title is also the first line of the poem.

Read the poem here:


Wallace Stevens – A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts (1937)

Stevens is my current most favourite poet. His work is complex yet beautiful, more concerned with the nature of things and obscurer relationships than most poetry. A common theme is the privileging of the subject’s perspective. I see it as empowering the subject and the reader, inspiring freedom and potential through freewill and imagination. We see it in A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts: The trees, moonlight and the whole ‘wideness of night’ is for the rabbit, whilst the local cat becomes no more than ‘a bug in the grass’. It’s such a beautiful, cute, inspiring and funny poem.

Read the poem here:


Ania Walwicz – Australia (1981)

Ania’s poetry works well on paper and also sounds great when she reads it, like a crazy child. Since I am a performance poet, among other things, it’s fitting that one of my top 10 particularly lends itself to performance. It’s language is simplistic yet frenetic, satirical and pointed. The naive tone accentuates the ridicule aimed at her subject. Her subject is Australia and its people, which her narrator attacks partly due to not feeling accepted. It echoes sentiments I feel about mainstream society. I love the odd manner of expression and the pace, which employs much alliteration and rhythm.

Read the poem here:


Les Murray – Bent Water in the Tasmanian Highlands (1983)

Whilst many writers I have chosen might be called modernist, unconventional or whatnot, Les Murray’s poetry is generally more conventional – though this one ain’t. A frequent subject of his is nature and the countryside, for which I feel a particular affinity. This poem is dense, focused on imagery and full of the exuberance of nature. I like the way it is laid out, like prose, with unbroken lines that help convey its relentless pace. I love its pace, reverence of nature, and abstraction, as the flowing of water encompasses the whole land, to the point of evoking of godliness.


Robert Frost – To Earthward (1923)

Frost’s work is more conventional but I am very fond of it, particularly this poem. I like its simplicity, beauty and oddness. I feel empathy for its sentiments, but its analogies are so striking, portraying his younger self’s experience of love and nature as so powerful it hurt, compared with the world-weary older self who wishes he was practically crushed against the earth just so he could feel. The poem is not long but absorbing and has me quite mesmerized. It has a rhyming structure, which I’m not usually keen on, but it compliments the poem’s sensuality nicely.

Read the poem here:


Mona Van Duyn – Falling in love at Sixty-Five (1990)

I came across the poetry of Mona, an American, only recently but really like what I’ve read, particularly this poem. To fall in love at sixty-five is likened to using an overly bright lamp in the bedroom at night, but it’s the most dynamic, feverish description of a lamp I’ve read. There is a beautiful passage describing an earlier experience of love, but then it’s back to the lamp and being barraged by bugs. To try relating it to falling in love makes my mind boggle. I like the poem’s pace and oddness. It is wonderful, innovative and funny.


Lewis Carroll – Jabberwocky (1871)

Mum has been quoting Jabberwocky since I was young and I have always loved John Tenniel’s Jabberwock illustration. I love the poem’s strange fantasy world, and its made-up words are innovative and so evocative. Much of my own writing contains fantasy, more literary than genre fantasy, and I find Jabberwocky likewise inspiring, as I do the complete Lewis Carroll books. As well as the poem, I’d like to include Humpty Dumpty’s explanation of the words, plus the Jabberwock illustration. Also, I think I’d prefer the poem in reverse, as Alice finds it; she has to read it through a mirror.

Read the poem here:


Guillaume Apollinaire – Horse Calligram (1916)

Since I also produce visual and concrete poetry, this visual poem belongs in my top 10. Its hand-written lettering is arranged to create an image of a horse (its front part). I can’t vouch for its legibility because it’s in French, but calligrams are generally about the thing they portray. It’s inspiring to see something handwritten taking precedence over printed lettering, which would look clunky by comparison. It’s a beautiful image. As a writer with also much experience in the visual arts, I am interested in combining the two. The Horse calligram is the perfect marriage of the two artforms.

View the poem here:

About Eddy:

Eddy Burger is a Melbourne writer of humorous and experimental poetry, fiction, plays and zines. His writing has appeared in local and overseas journals. In 2007 the Melbourne Poets Union published a chapbook of his poetry entitled Funny & Strange, and in 2009, Queensland ’s Small Change Press will publish his poetry collection Impressions of Me.

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Filed under Desert(ed) Island Poems