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,
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: http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/581.html
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: http://thinks.com/words/nonsense/william.htm
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.
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: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/tides/
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1ABbLlKTlw
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: http://www.myspace.com/shanekoyczanandtheshortstorylong 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: http://www.seishindo.org/david_wagoner.html
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 www.queenslandpoetryfestival.com