Saturday, January 31, 2015

Month of poetry #31: Homophone villanelle

Today's challenge on #mop15 was to write a homophone poem. I decided to do it as a homophone villanelle. It's untitled at present.

Saturdays in parks and by the sea
Children laughing, week’s weight easing now;
A passing glimpse of Shangri La we see.

Drunk with pollen, the slowly-flitting bee
Trails off hiveward, a good small honey-cow;
Saturdays in parks and by the sea

Time to cease to do, and start to be
To lift shoulders from the hefty plow;
A passing glimpse of Shangri La we see.

Eating fruit and sipping golden tea
As the silver birch drops thin leaves from its bough;
Saturdays in parks and by the sea.

Singing softly, idly, so fa te
Formless notes that wander like a scow;
A passing glimpse of Shangri La we see.

Boats are bobbing gently at the quay
Gracefully, the weekend takes her bow;
Saturdays in parks and by the sea.
A passing glimpse of Shangri La we see.

- Kathy, 31/1/15

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Month of Poetry #27: Delilah

Back to Maligned or Mistreated Women of the Bible today, for a woman who is definitely given a bad name - Delilah, the "woman of Sorek" who teases the secret of his great strength from the Israelite warrior, Samson, and then betrays him to the Philistines.

I posit Delilah here as not so much hard-done-by as eminently pragmatic.

what makes you so strong, I said, bent on my knees
to wash his feet, dusty from the road. he gave that giant's-roaring laugh of his
the one straight from his gut, and said -
never you mind that, girl, let's go to bed.

but I want to know, I said, breathing on his earlobe
the way he likes, the way that makes him sigh.
what does make you strong - but he frowned, and turned away -
ah well. tomorrow is another day.

lying in the dawn, curled up in his vast side, I said
lover, tell me. tell me what would make you not strong -
fine, he murmured, half-awake
seven fresh bowstrings is all it will take.

that was a lie. he burst them easily, and
slammed my men's heads into the ground besides.
a wise man would've left then; but he?
he is not wise when it comes to me.

tell me! I demanded, stamping my foot. his eyes
darkened with desire as I unhitched my robe
you're so beautiful when you're angry, he groaned,
seven new ropes, and I'm dethroned.

I tied them so tightly, but it made no difference
he shrugged them off so casually, and killed more men withall.
I narrowed my eyes to slits, and hissed -
This has been our final tryst.

He still thought he had the whip-hand, you see.
Being huge and half-smart does that to a man.
Alright, alright, he chuckled, I'll say -
Weave my hair in your loom and my strength goes away.

I knew this wouldn't be it, but I knew, too,
That he was going to crack soon.
We went through the motions, and predictably
More men dead on the floor in front of me.

Time to end this farce; I am getting that silver
(And ending a menace. Do you know how many people this giant has slaughtered?)
You don't love me, I throbbingly breathe
You don't! You don't! You should definitely leave!

He thinks I may mean it, and his flame isn't burned out yet
Like all men, until it is, he's in thrall to it.
Delilah, he says, and he's quiet and sad -
Cut my hair off, and I'm just a big lad.

They put out his eyes, and I had to watch it
He didn't scream, not once, not even then
I was paid, and now my family has water
And food and fine cloths - I am such a good daughter

Later, I heard, his hair grew a little, his god heard him again,
And he brought the temple down on their heads.
That's nice, I thought, smiling with some satisfaction -
It wasn't personal, you know. Just a business transaction.

- Kathy, 27/1/15

Monday, January 26, 2015

Month of Poetry #26: Australia Day villanelle

It is my habit to write a villanelle to mark 26 January each year, which is currently Australia's national day. I try not to repeat rhyming sounds, as otherwise there is a temptation to revisit the same territory. This rules out the use of "ing", "asion / ation", "eers" and "and" as rhyming suffixes. It's also never a good idea to use plurals as the rhyme, so I avoid "s" sounds as well.

Here is 2015's effort. It's sadder and less rageful than previous years', and, I think, a little more despairing.

Australia Day Villanelle 2015

the sky broods, sulking, with a clouded face
a prince is knighted, and the song is sung;
other stories now are vanished without trace.

a continent than spins in time and space
clinging to the myth it's somehow young;
the sky broods, sulking, with a clouded face.

the rhetoric that rules allows no grace
all charity far from the throne is flung;
other stories now are vanished without trace.

playing to a self-deluded base
who cannot see how they too will be stung
the sky broods, sulking, with a clouded face.

the narrative that claims that life's a race
but fails to say the common prize is dung;
other stories now are vanished without trace.

as delicate and wistful as old lace
faint vision of what could be true is hung;
the sky broods, sulking, with a clouded face.
other stories now are vanished without trace.

- Kathy,  26/1/15

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Month of Poetry #25: Penalty

Alright, this is a fairly polemical, political one. It may not stagger you to learn that I lean left politically; if you're a Tony Abbott fan or a big-business proponent, feel free to look away. Or not. It's a poem, so whatever.

Also, advance warning that tomorrow is Australia Day, which, traditionally, means angsty villanelle time. 2013's is here, 2014's is here. I am not feeling substantially cheerier about the state of the nation this year, so tomorrow's poem will be a bit rough on the sensibilities too.


So now listen -
If you're poor, it's because you're not trying hard enough.
That is what capitalism means, alright?

If you don't work and you're poor, what exactly do you expect?
Oh, you're sick, you say -
That's hardly my fault, is it?
There's no jobs, or none that will hire you because you're too young / unskilled / old / weird
or whatever?
Well, the state's not your nanny, I'm afraid
Reskill yourself! Access the Dignity of Work!
Move, or something.
It's not a problem I should have to solve for you.

Oh, you DO work. And you're still poor. But you get by, don't you?
On weekend rates - I see. I see.
That's hardly fair to business, though, is it?
How can their profits be maximised? What's their incentive to do business at all, if they can't -
Well, no, I wouldn't describe it as sweated labour, exactly.
I imagine you get ventilation, and tea breaks?
(Likely not the tea, though. There are limits!)

You can't afford things, you say. A very modest - extremely modest! - price signal at the doctor's
has you all aflame (or despairing).
It's the cost of a cup of coffee! Not even a fancy one
like a soy moccachino or anything bijoux from one of those little city cafs
but I digress. A plain cup of coffee!
I expect you can afford the things you really want, can't you?
Plenty of cash for bourbon and ciggies and -

I can't help it that life applies penalties to some of you
(Well, most of you. Those without capital behind them or on front of them).
I didn't load the dice - Not that the dice is loaded!
Anyone can get ahead, if they work hard enough!
We live in a meritocracy here!

If you don't want to work weekends, don't.
I can't understand why you don't understand this.
It's really simple. You can be whatever you want to be, and work to be.
This is an even playing field!
Go to university, get a degree, get a good job, why not?
I did it, why can't you?

Why can't you?

- Kathy, 25/1/15

Saturday, January 24, 2015

To the Is-Land: A summer holiday in pictures

Beach selfie!

Ahhhhh, Phillip Island. Beloved holiday spot of my childhood, and still as lovely now. We returned last night from a six-day stay, and we are all the better for it. We hit the beach, the market and the coastal walks; we visited the penguins, the koalas and the historic Churchill Island Farm. We went to the Chocolate Factory (oh yes we did!) and we shopped at the secondhand book sale in the church hall, and picked up some superb gems. We mostly cooked and ate at the holiday house we'd rented, but had one superlative lunch at a beachside cafe in Rhyll.

When I was little, I used to call this place "the Is-Land", which seems still quite apt in many ways. It has a solidity, a lack of pretension to it that doesn't seem to attach to most beach resorts. Tourists come and go, but this little dolphin-shaped piece of turf is, and will be, I hope for a very long time to come.

It's back to work for me on Tuesday, and back to school for the kids on Thursday, but at least we'll go in carrying a little stalwart piece of sunshine with us.

At Kitty Miller Bay

The Cowes front beach

Beauty at Churchill Island Farm

Making sandcastles at Red Rock Beach

Looking over The Nobbies

The Nobbies in view

Lamb, artichoke and asparagus salad at The Foreshore in Rhyll ... so very good

At Pyramid Rock, being photographed by husband as I am photographing the kids and the view. 
How meta can you get.

Pyramid Rock in the distance

Friday, January 23, 2015

Month of Poetry #23: Birthing the Poem

sometimes there is definitely a plan -
a narrative to be explicated, a serious mood to be conveyed
the pregnancy of a thousand sighs to be bottled and poured out
clucking into the glass like a morose cherry-noted merlot

sometimes it's all a bit more random and chaotic, really;
images and soundbites failing cheerily to coalesce
and you wonder, can I do anything with homecoming
Or the Wombles, or that tooth-grindingly annoying earworm of Taylah Swift's -
you know the one, with the baffling line about her Starbucks lovers
Or, perhaps, claustrophobia, panic, and death;
Or maybe the sharp way the salt air bites your nostrils -

sometimes it doesn't show up at all, and you are left to try to flog life into dead words
while your muse laughs into her gin down the pub

sometimes it builds and teases for days and weeks
sometimes it speaks itself in a dream that fades before full wakefulness

sometimes it's craft, sometimes it's inspiration
more often than either, it's the strange glancing way the light catches a cat's eye
or the music in a fairy penguin calling to her young
the immense sadness in a child's bruised knee
the oddments of living, that all give flashing glimpses
of something else beyond

sometimes it feels like the only way you have to say what you have to say
the only language available robust enough to do the job; then again,
sometimes it feels as inscrutable as the Milky Way, coming through you, but not of you

sometimes it is the easiest thing imaginable to do;
sometimes the labour is long and bloody.

sometimes you think you might not do it anymore.
mostly, you know you don't really have that choice

because, every night,
the muse, quietly, folds wings around your tenderness, and
promises a song in the morning.

- Kathy, 23/1/15

Month of Poetry Catch Up Post: Days 18-22

We have been away on a family holiday in Phillip Island since last Saturday morning, and I have been writing my poems on my phone, so I opted to post them just to the Month of Poetry closed Facebook group each day. Playing catch-up, here are the poems for days 19, 21 and 22 (both 18 and 20 are not for open publication due to the subject matter). I'll get day 23 done in a post by itself shortly (I hope!)

Tomorrow is MoP challenge day, which means posting the poem to the locked blog instead of here, so it's likely tomorrow's post will be holiday-centric instead.

#19: A Freezing Penguin Haiku

sunset beach waits, quiet,
for small sea birds to come home -
Antarctic winds howl
#21:  Kitty Miller Bay (Sevenling)

The cream-clean sand is dotted with molluscs
In the water, long trailing ropes of olive seaweed;
Arcing away on the curve, piles of black volcanic rock.

Children, sparsely dotted, call in high unmusical screeches
Their parents attentive, or not, as it pleases
A long-haired toddler busily fills his bucket.

The robin-egg sky tells nothing of what will come.

#22: A Leaving Haiku

parting company
with sea, sand and calling birds
soft melancholy

- Kathy, January 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Month of Poetry #16 and #17

I posted these on the Facebook group but forgot to put 'em here. Bygones ... here they are now.

#16: Night Haiku

steel blue, the night sky
colour of melancholy
stars drift silently

- Kathy, 16/1/15

#17: Villanelle on a Book

Beckoning, paper fingers stretching wide
A secret smile that weaves a siren's song
The universe and more concealed inside.

Whispering of worlds set to collide
Containing multitudes, a pale transparent throng
Beckoning, paper fingers stretching wide.

Comforting, with gentle arms to hide
A stalwart shield against all that sits wrong
The universe and more concealed inside.

Hypnotic-voiced, she tempts me now to bide
Ignoring all the "shoulds" for far too long
Beckoning, paper fingers stretching wide.

She is prancing, merry steed; this ride
Is succor to the weak and yes, the strong;
The universe and more concealed inside.

Vaster than the ocean, clothed in inky tide
Embracing all the possibilities to belong;
Beckoning, paper fingers stretching wide.
The universe and more concealed inside.

- Kathy, 17/1/15

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Month of Poetry #15: The Genie

Another Sevenling today - this one inspired by the book I've nearly finished, Noami Klein's This Changes Everything - Capitalism Vs The Climate.

One option is to dig it all, protesting, from the ground, and burn it black;
Another is to ration ourselves, taking some, not much, maybe a little too much;
Or we could just learn to do without it, and leave it lie.

The genie Growth, it could be, is the expansion of capital;
Perhaps it's the burgeoning of the human spirit, instead,
Or the jewel-bright re-carpeting of the earth.

not all paths lead to Avalon, from this doubtful crossroad.

- Kathy, 15/1/15

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Month of Poetry #14: Sacrifice

Today's poem is about one of the more truly unfortunate women of the Bible (and that's saying something in an exceptionally strong field) - Jephthah's daughter. Her story is given in Judges 11, and is, depending how you read it, either a complete horror show or else just mildly appalling.

It goes like this: Jephthah, a judge / warrior of Israel, is hard pressed in battle, so proclaims a promise to God that if the Ammonites are delivered into his hand, he will sacrifice the first living thing he sees on his return home. He defeats the enemy, comes home, and is greeted by ... his only child, a daughter, who comes dancing and singing from the house to meet her victorious parent. He isn't thrilled with himself, but the unbelievably forebearing girl philosophically accepts her fate and asks merely for 2 months to go away with her friends and "bewail her virginity", after which she comes home and he "does with her as he said he would."

The devil, of course, is in the detail - is the sacrifice a literal one (making this a very nasty inverse of the almost-sacrifice of Isaac) or is it, as many commentators suggest, implying that Jephthah gave his daughter up to a life of religious service / celibacy? If the former, it's one of the darkest stories in the Old Testament, in my view; if the latter, it's still not awesome, but less bloodthirsty at least. I thought it might be quite interesting to leave the poem ambiguous on this central point.


From the house, dancing; my hero father
Home safely, crusher of the horde of Ammon -
Why does he look so, like a warrior speared to the heart?
Is not my cymbal a joyful noise? Is not my dance an honour to him?

His voice is cracked as summer clay as he stumbles out the thing he has done
This thing he has promised
The sun, uncaring, is still as bright, but my eyes see only shadow now
Now it is my heart laid open by the blade of the Lord

Can I have a little time, then, to mourn my lost life?
A small space of time to farewell all the future I might have known, had my father -
(A hero of Israel! A man of the Lord!) -
Had he been more temperate in his battle vows

Two months in the desert with my dearest friends;
Such a lot of wailing and weeping; it exhausts us all
None of it brings about the miracle, but it is good to do
A way to mark the mark that lies on me

Back now to the house, so my father can fulfill his promise
The road is long, but not, in truth, long enough
My eyes see the sharpness of birds against the cloudless sky; ravens?
They have followed me home from the desert

The portal is close, so close; I can see my mother, ululating by the grove
I am heavy with fear, but I cannot stop. How can I stop?
My father the hero made a promise. My father the warrior
Debts must be paid, and I will pay it -

- Kathy, 14/1/15

Monday, January 12, 2015

Month of Poetry #12: River Son

Today I wanted to do a poem for all the mothers who didn't give birth to their children - foster mothers, stepmothers, adoptive mothers, mother-figures, mother-substitutes. I thought Pharoah's daughter, who saved baby Moses from an untimely death as part of the slaughter of male Israelite infants when she found him, hidden, in a basket in the river, was a lovely focus for this. (The story's in Exodus 2).

River Son

The river is cool in the tourmaline morning; I like to bathe, then,
Passing news idly with my women as we immerse our feet.

The great Nile!
Source of all life, benefactor of Egypt; faintly, you can hear, the sounds of the market
The ululating of the priests, the chants of the work gangs
I like to listen for the singing of the slave women, as they beat their cloths on the rocks -
Their songs are strange, but beautiful. Not that they sing much, in these times.
The silence of my father's decree sits heavily on them.

The river is always quiet where and when I come; my father's guards make sure of it
All sounds are muffled by the wide berth that caution bids all human creatures place
Between themselves and Pharoah's daughter. It is always quiet,
So what is this sound I hear; sharp, full of incensed vowels,
Like a starveling kit, abandoned by Bast?

Pull the rushes apart, then, hurry up,
Something is in trouble, in the river -

Madam, it is a babe, she says, her voice doubtful
As if there could be doubt! Look at him, now -
(Yes, it's he. My maidservant changed a soiled breechcloth without delay)
He's a fine loud lad, isn't he. What glorious eyes
What lamb-soft skin on the full cheeks I stroke now with my smallest finger
Hush now, dearest, do not cry now; I shall not let you come to harm

A Hebrew baby? Yes, I suppose he must be. Yes, hidden,
Well, and what's the mystery there. I understand it too well
My father is not turned from his course, once he has decided it
(Or his oily priests have decided it for him, as too often happens).

Don't be ridiculous, girl. Of course we are not going to call the guards!
Or, yes, wait - yes, we will, because they need to be told that this son of mine
This my bullrush son, pulled from the waters,
He is not to be harmed. Not he, nor the woman who gives him suck, nor her family

I cannot save them all. I'm not even sure if I should
This babe though - he I will lift up, I will embrace
This son is my son, none will wrest him from me
I will rear him in the house of Pharoah and he will be a prince
He will drive chariots and call the sun home and be great

One day, he may turn his heel away from Egypt, remembering dead cousins
He may leave me when I am old, kohl smeared on my face in the palace of Pharoah
He may flame against the many cruelties wrought by my father the King
He may forget me, or he may hate me, princess of the royal house that I am

He may. But he is my son. I say it, I, Pharoah's daughter
My son will be mine, and I will be his mother
No one will harm him, because I say they will not
My son that I pulled from the water
My lovely, doe-eyed baby son.

- Kathy, 12/1/15

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Month of Poetry #11: Salt

Yesterday's poem was an Abcedarian, and I posted it to the closed MoP blog. It was the fourth of my Maligned or Minimised Women of the Bible poems - I've now written about Vashti, the Persian Queen replaced by Esther; the unnamed wife of Jeroboam; Cozbi the Midianite princess; and, yesterday, Aholibamah, one of the wives of Esau.

Today I've tried a kyrielle. A kyrielle is a poetic form written in rhyming couplets or quatrains. It may use the phrase "Lord, have mercy", or a variant on it, as a refrain as the second line of the couplet or last line of the quatrain. Each line within the poem consists of only eight syllables. The rhyme pattern in the quatrain form (my chosen variant) is usually A-A B-B, so that's what I've stuck to.

Today's subject is a fairly well-known (and fairly symbolically important) Biblical woman - the wife of Lot, who looked back towards Sodom and was turned into a pillar of salt. The exegesis varies on why - she disobeyed the angels' command, yes, but was her transformation a punishment or just an inevitable consequence of seeing the destruction being rained on Sodom? Was she yearning back towards the evil they had been told to flee, or looking back in anxious concerns for those left behind?

Those who enjoy aliens-have-visited-the-earth conspiracies have posited that Sodom was destroyed by some kind of alien nuclear device and Lot's wife was smashed into pieces by being too close to ground zero. Creative as I find this storifying, it's not the explanation I've favoured in my kyrielle.


Fleeing from the smell of burning
Forward, forward, never turning
My heart is drawn to turn, to see -
Oh Lord, be merciful to me.

The city lies behind my head
I heard well what the angel said
Keep your eyes front if you'd be free -
Oh Lord, be merciful to me.

The market square alive with spice
The quiet lanes, the secret vice
My garden with its olive tree -
Oh Lord, be merciful to me.

Stopping, now, I cannot stop
I need to see the bitter crop
Slowly turning, oh Lord, oh thee -
Oh Lord, be merciful to me.

- Kathy, 11/1/15

Friday, January 9, 2015

Month of Poetry #9: Liar

Back to my series on Maligned or Misrepresented Women of the Bible, with a pretty comprehensively maligned woman this time. The only named woman in the story of the Heresy of Peor, Cozbi was the daughter of a Midianite leader, Zur, who married - or paired up with, at least - the Israelite Zimri. To say that she meets a sticky end is a comprehensive understatement. (Her story is in Numbers 25:6-18). It's her death, along with her lover Zimri's, which brings an end to the deaths in Israel of the plague visited on them for their idolatry.

Biblical scholarship has it that Cozbi was part of a plot (the one hatched by the prophet Balaam on behalf of the Moabite King, Balak) to corrupt the children of Israel and bring down Yahweh's curse on them. (Her name itself is derived from the Hebrew kazab, meaning "to lie or deceive").  I speculate here that the truth might have been a bit more complicated than that.

WARNING: This poem NSFW or kids.


they said I lied these children Yahweh's children moaning dying of their plague sores crying
red on the tents goatskins all red blood is sticky flies come to it
so sure they are they are to be saved so sure
if they rid themselves of what Yahweh hates

contamination corruption idols openings fluids sex sinuosity painted women
women like me deceivers liars traps honeybaits death desire putrescence ecstasy
swaying hips gilded breasts lidded eyes kohl tipped heavy speaking secrets
not ashamed not afraid scenting need scenting sweat bringing rites in the dark

they said I lied coming to this place my gold eyes knowing leading him by hand to the dark tent
daughter of lies my father chief in Midian my prayers to He of the Opening
and to Yahweh too we remember the burning bush burns in our cells too children of Abraham we
a less regarded wife our foremother but still but still

they said I lied trapping them deeper into sin into misery into death plotting with my father
with Balaam with Balak to curse them bring down Yahweh's wrath to destroy them utterly
take their flocks their tents their cymbals their wells deep desert wells
this is what they said -

liar he said Phineas the priest said as he thrust his spear into me my belly open darkness pouring
laying in the tent with my lover between my legs delicate bells on my ankles I saw
life draining light leaving Peor! Yahweh! you know I did not lie I did not
gods of opening and closing I came here to strangeness to black dying all for desire

and I am punished for it Yahweh's children will live they will live they will put away Ashteroth
they will put away Baal-Peor they will wail and throw ashes they will make psalms and sing
they will be armies they will be spears they will be great cities of gold they will be great
I will go silent into the ground into their book into the night

- Kathy, 9/1/15

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Month of Poetry #8: Dystopia

saying nothing does not make us safe
saying everything does not make us safe

doing nothing, the green planet curls up its fronds 
doing everything does not seem like a possibility

in every generation, catastrophe, yes -
also the fear, always, that
this existential crisis has deeper claws

It's not God vs The Mind
It's not Wall Street vs Occupy
It's not Big Oil vs The Climate
It's not the Internet vs The Human Soul
It's not Freedom vs Control

It's all and none of those, and any other contrapuntal pairing
you might care to make, as a pattern-seeking mammal

the curse goes like this: may you live in interesting times
the good fairy's sad blessing, whispered, in weak response -
may you survive them -

- Kathy, 8/1/15


I don't think I'm going to manage a poem today; or, if I do, it will be later, and probably not publishable. In the light of Charlie Hebdo, I think I might let Sting speak instead.

"Perhaps this final act was meant / To clinch a lifetime's argument / That nothing comes from violence / And nothing ever could..."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Month of Poetry #7: Cloud Haiku

pearl indifference
white wounds on blue sky, drifting,
secretive as cats

- Kathy, 7/1/15

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Month of Poetry #6: Messenger

Continuing my sort-of series on Maligned or Barely-Mentioned Women of the Bible, this one is about the wife of King Jeroboam (the story's in 1 Kings). This is a typically horrific Old Testament story of a woman forced, without any regard for her feelings or agency, to be the harbinger of her own doom. Although she is pivotal to the action, also typically, she is not named.


Go to the prophet, my husband the king said;
Go and ask him what ails the child, and how to heal him.
There will be an answer, somewhere; but
he doesn't favour my rule, so go in disguise
Hide yourself from his clouded eyes, and ask him
Say, What makes the son of the king sick? Will he be healed? Will he die?

the son of the king, he said, will he die?
my husband the king said this of Abijah
the child of my body, lying sweat-drenched on the rushes

and I it was who had to leave him, silent, shallow-chested,
put on my man's robes and go to Shiloh
to the house of the strange old man, bearing honey and cakes

knowing all the while that the cloak would not hide me from his milky gaze
not when God whispers my name into his ear

I did not expect mercy; there has never been a reason or cause
my husband, the king, shows none
none will be shown to him or to his

but it is a bitter cup you hold to my lips, prophet of the Lord
a very bitter cup, God of Israel
to carry death in my dusty feet
the unbearable knowledge that my homecoming brings the end of my son
my Abijah
alone among the line of Jeroboam to be buried in honour

the dogs of the street and the birds of the air will eat the rest of us -

- Kathy, 6/1/14

Monday, January 5, 2015

Month of Poetry #5: Vashti

Last year, as part of Month of Poetry, I wrote a cycle of poems based on characters from the Narnia books. This year I thought I'd try a cycle on Maligned / Mentioned-In-Passing women of the Bible. First up is Vashti, the first queen of Persian King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther, who gets herself disgraced and demoted by refusing to answer the king's summons to appear at his banquet for him to show her off to his nobles. I am greatly in sympathy with Vashti; the King sounds like an arse, frankly.

Because I'm keen to practice the form more, I've written it as a Sevenling.


Beautiful, I am beautiful, crowned or crownless
With wit enough to please a king, yes,
And merry, with my maidens, when I feast -

Proud, too, nostrils flaring like a blood horse at foolish commands
Not afraid of power or cowed by brutality, no,
And fierce enough to stand against a king, who says come -

Wrapped in my defiance, the trek away was long.

- Kathy, 5/1/15

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Month of Poetry #4: Waiting for the poem to arrive

Waiting for the poem to arrive, I go about my business -
dishes, packing, eating blueberries, delivery of children to grandparents
kiss kiss goodbye darling!

a walk by a lake, a decaf coffee with a chocolate spoon
the sun bitier than it looks, settling scarf-like around my shoulders
the air smelling sweetish and a little like ducks

a movie about Alan Turing and the Enigma machine, with its bitter punchline
(apparently, saving 14 million lives isn't enough to save you;
not if you like having sex with people of your own gender)

dinner in a cafe, heated rapid conversation
a wandering journey home, the moon a gold coin full high in the sky
the first fragrant sip of bedtime camomile tea -

oh, look. here it is. it turned up after all.

- Kathy, 4/1/15

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2014: The year that was

Month of Poetry is on a challenge day today (which means posting to the locked MoP blog rather than here), so I thought it might be an opportune moment to do the traditional Year in Review post.

2014! What a merry prankster of a year you were. Like all jokers, you weren't nearly as funny as you thought you were, and a lot of the time, you were downright mean. But you had your moments of mirth and lightness, even if I did spent almost all of you on hyper-alert waiting for the next cream pie in the face.

The Good first:

- Holidays. We had a lovely long weekend as a family in Portarlington in March, and the girls and I were lucky enough to get away for 5 days at Easter with friends to Merricks on the Mornington Peninsula. Both of these short breaks were relaxing, recharging and much needed time out of routine.

I also had a week off in January with the kids, which worked very well as a "holiday from home", featuring lots of day trips and mini adventures.

July, of course, brought the long-anticipated 2 weeks in Port Douglas. This was the girls' first-ever plane flight and the first time we have ever holidayed interstate as a family. It was every kind of wonderful; I raved about it at the time and I still think, often and warmly, about the beaches, the Reef and the magical Daintree. Being surrounded by so much beauty was both humbling and energising.

- Activities. Both the big girls got into netball this year, and are really enjoying it. The 11yo and my husband continued their guitar lessons and the improvement both have shown is remarkable. Husband has also taken up distance walking this year, with great results in his overall energy and fitness levels. I had hopes of becoming a distance walker myself, and also of building my writing up, but it didn't happen for me this year. (See: The Bad).
- Food, birthdays, special days and books: Once again, delicious food, fancy cakes, fun birthdays / Easter / Mothers and Fathers Days / Christmas and wonderful books were grace notes in our year. Yum Cha, meals out, home cooking, and increasing culinary experimentation from husband (partly fuelled by his role as Assistant Cook at the school's cooking classes) has meant we've eaten richly this year, and food has been a support and delight through tougher times.

On the book front, I read many amazing texts and reviewed most of them, either on this blog or on The Shake or Global Comment. Book of the Year is hard to pick, but We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, The Burial, Boy Lost and The Swan Book would have to be front-runners.

The kids have also had a bookly year, with their wholehearted embrace of Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and the two big read-aloud series we tackled - Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising and Madeleine L'Engle's Time series.

C, my baby, is starting her reading life now and is greatly interested in picture books. Dr Seuss, Grug, Spot and alphabet books are favourite at the moment, and it's a wonderful to see.

- A good school year: All three kids had a great year at school this year. This was particularly encouraging as it was my littlie's first year at school, and the first year of "senior primary" for my eldest. Both the big girls represented the school in chess tournaments and did very well, and the middle girl also served on the SRC. They are all very settled and happy at the school, which has not always been the case, so that was a
definite highlight of the year.

Of course, along with the Good, there was The Bad...

- Work stress, for me in particular, was a killer this year. My job is a big job, this year vastly exacerbated by difficult structural changes (including mass redundancies) at my workplace. I have found the workload, the expectations and the unrelenting pace incredibly draining this year, especially in light of:

- Health challenges: From early August onwards, I was in a sharp and scary health crisis spiral, which took the form of extreme and unremitting fatigue, whole-body shakes and trembling, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia and parasomnias, dizziness, headaches and loss of appetite / nausea. (Among other things). It took a goodly while to get my current three-part diagnosis and to start to address the root causes, and frankly, the four months from August til the end of November were pretty much hell.

I kept working, parenting and doing the necessary through it all (although, God Bless Sick Leave and Working At Home, both of which were heavily deployed through this phase). The net result, though, is that one of the underlying conditions responsible is going to be with me awhile, and has necessitated a radical rethink of how I do life, and especially how I do work / life balance. I hope for better things from 2015 on this front.

My ideas about 2015, in the light of 2014, are fairly general, and I explained here what I think my core focus needs to be. We have a nice local family holiday (to Phillip Island) coming up, but no fixed ideas about where, or when, any further breaks might occur. I have a determination to get to either - or, ambitiously, both - the Emerging Writers Festival and Continuum in 2015. We are toying with taking the kids to one of the Melbourne comicon festivals (probably SuperNova), as they are old enough now to enjoy it. We may proceed with our kitchen renovation this year, money permitting. I'd like to do, and publish, more writing, both columns / articles and hopefully poetry or fiction. (January's Month of Poetry is the first part of this goal). I'd also like to get back in to volunteering, but I'm going to hang back on that until my health is more stable.

All in all, though, 2014 was a monster of a year, vibrant, full-on, sometimes joyful, sometimes awful, red in tooth and claw. I'm hoping for more serenity from 2015, or at least to be able to rein in the excesses of the past 12 months in ways that promote sustainability in my life.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Month of Poetry #2: The Grandmother

Before I knew her, she had a sharp beak of a nose
A surgeon sculpted her a delicate-bridged replacement, a gift
from her husband, the doctor, her reward for the throes
of childbirth that delivered him three sons; prior, of course, to the rift
that divided them, bitter and permanent. An obstreperous pair;
Ill-fitted fiercenesses, misaligned goals.
He with his certitudes, she with her care
For how things would look. Together, wrecked on the shoals
of redoubled recalcitrance. A rock and hard place,

so he left and she stayed, a middle-aged child
to care for her own ageing father, with unwonted grace
(he, of course, she loved, with the innocent, mild
uncomplex love of the four-year she was
when he handed her over to his own parents to rear).
 For her own four children, love was more difficult; because
I suppose, it was tangled with equal parts longing and fear
What was she like? She was fierce, sometimes kind
Sharp-tongued and savage and did not compromise;
She was brilliant at Scrabble, her quick fluid mind
Leeched away at the end by that dismal surprise
Of Alzheimer's. Yes, I know all you saw of her
was an old lady, bedbound, confused, frail as the grass

I knew her, earlier, when all neural pathways were
still connected. As she made her earth pass
She was who she was. She stood for the weak -
well, for some of them. And she had her hair done
every Saturday, at the hairdresser's, into a soft peak
She cooked me pho and introduced me to the fun
of poker, Monkey Magic, and Brighton Beach in the spring.

She loved me. I think. She didn't say so, but
she called to me, soft voiced, to come hear the birds sing
I wish now I had thought to embrace her then, she with her shut
heart, that bore several wounds too many for one
lifetime. I think I would have tried to love her more
had I understood, then, that sometimes the sun
might be weakly and faltering, edged round the door
but still it shines. My grandmother, you say? She was like me
as I might have been, had I had her road to walk
She was bright, she was curt, she wanted to see the world free
She could be wonderful, she knew how to talk

I loved her. I think so. It feels long ago, now,
Lost in the mists of the Time Before There Was You.
She was everything her time and place would allow-
Her traces I see in the paths the birds flew.

- Kathy, 2/1/15

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Month of Poetry #1: A New Year's Day Sevenling

January has arrived, with a cloudy face, but here it is nonetheless ... which means it's time for Month of Poetry again!

Australian writer Kathryn Apel co-ordinates the Month of Poetry challenge each year, in which participants are set the task of writing a poem each day for the 31 days of January. I always find this a very rewarding exercise, and I try to use it as an opportunity to practice different poetic forms, both ones I find more difficult / less natural (eg. sonnet, sestina, rondeau, nonnet, ballads) and my favourite / most natural forms (haiku, villanelle, blank verse, free verse).

I will post my Month of Poetry efforts here, except for the 5 Saurdays in January when I will be posting them to the closed Month of Poetry blog (Saturdays are challenge days!) If I accidentally make something beautiful, I might withhold it too for further work towards submission elsewhere. Most of them will end up here, however.

Today, to kick off, and to host my traditional New Year's Day poem, I've made a sevenling. Wikipedia defines this form thusly:
Lines one to three should contain three connected or contrasting statements, or a list of three details, names or possibilities. This can take up all of the three lines or be contained anywhere within them.
Lines four to six should similarly have three elements (statements, details, names, or possibilities) connected directly or indirectly or not at all.
The seventh line should act as a narrative summary or punchline or an unusual juxtaposition.
While there are no set metrical rules, because of its form, some rhythm, meter and/or rhyme is desirable. The visual structure of the form is two stanzas of three lines, with a solitary seventh line last line.
Sevenling should be mysterious, offbeat or disturbing, giving a feeling that only part of the story is being told.

A New Year's Day Sevenling

Three things breathe colour into this New Year -
Shelled peas, fresh and tiny; the sharp smell of vinegar
A half-ripe lemon from the careworn tree.

Meanwhile, the world grows hotter
Refuge-seekers are denied, and above it all
the one percent sit, ascendant.

our posits of survivability variable, between citrus and armies.

- Kathy, 1/1/15