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: http://www.sweatywheels.com/Dransfield/rose.html
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: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/my-groupie/
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: http://www.internal.org/view_poem.phtml?poemID=356
Listen to it here: http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=6hHjctqSBwM
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: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/wcw-red-wheel.html
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: http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/476.html
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: http://dontstrayfromthepath.tumblr.com/post/63895893
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: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/candles/
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.
by Jules Supervielle translated by Allen Mandel Bawm
All his life
he loved to read
and often passed
his hand across
in order to
himself that he
And since the day
a burning candle
at his side
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: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/sometime-during-eternity/
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: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/looking-for-a-monk-and-not-finding-him/
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 www.riverbendbooks.com.au
Spaces are limited so book early to avoid disappointment!
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 www.myspace.com/psychicstreetsweepers