Friday, July 08, 2011

In a restaurant 

Of course, the real disaster is always one’s own death. The immortal slave was seen dining with a merchant prince, archduke of the electronic dreamwaves, executor of sharemarkets, poker machines and two flies up a wall, potentate of the demesne of tittle-tattle, authority of virtual hope and manufactured despair, a man as sensual and fragrant as money, with a sleekness that purses the lips of prime ministers and minor tyrants in shrewd calculations.

It is not enough to make the world bow down with a toxic smile on its lips. But it may be some compensation.

From The Common Flesh, New and Selected Poems, Arc Publications

Friday, October 27, 2006


We were woken too early, before the moths had died in the streets,
before the buds had hardened in the frost, when stars are hurtful
and famished. They took us through gardens and past the halls
where once we had lingered, past the houses and doused markets.
Our footsteps echoed back like iron. Of course we were frightened,
that was a given, of course we remembered photographs we had studied
that then had nothing to do with us. In the empty breath of morning
anything seemed possible, even freedom, even God. We stumbled
on familiar roads as if we were strangers, and everything turned away from us,
lamp posts, shopfronts, signs. They were not ours any longer. Even the air
greeted us differently, pinching our skin to wake us from its dreams.


Words of course were beyond us. They were what killed us
to begin with. They were taken away from the mouths that loved them
and given to men who worked their sorceries in distant cities,
who said that difficult things were simple now and that simple things
no longer existed. It was hard to find our way, we understood
the tender magic of hands, we knew the magic of things not spoken,
but this was a trick we could not grasp. It lifted the world in a clump of glass
and when everything came back down the streets had vanished.
In their places were shoes and clotting puddles and sparking wires
and holes and bricks and other things that words have no words for
and the silence that swells the noise until you can’t hear anything at all.


It’s said that the dead don’t dream, but I dream of flowers.
I could dream so many flowers, lilies like golden snow on water,
hyacinths the colours of summer evenings or those amaranths they call
love-lies-bleeding. I dream of none of those. I dream instead
of wind-blown roses that grew in our shabby yard, of daisies
glimpsed through the kitchen window, of marigolds that glowed
through nets of weed. But most of all, I dream of red anemones
that never grew in my garden. They rise on slender stalks,
their seven-petalled heads bobbing and weaving in the wind.
Wind-flowers, Pliny called them, because they open only in the wind,
and the wind scatters their petals over every waste in the world.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Well, then...

Fellow poet Andrew Burke told me off about this blog a couple of weeks ago. "Wassa matter boy, you asleep at the wheel?" he said, with his accustomed grace and wit. Well, I haven't written in this blog for around six months, so I guess it's not so much a problem of being asleep as of having too many wheels. Though as I type this, I am remembering what fun it is to write in this blog. As a discipline, though, it's of a piece with my diary keeping (when I kept a diary, many years ago), which is to say, it is at best occasional.

Anyway, I guess I should formally declare this blog closed. For the indefinite meantime. Theatre notes is a good blogging format for me: it drives me out of the house and gives me deadlines that force me to write stuff down. And besides, I really like going to the theatre, as I have rediscovered. And what with my on-going quest to finish The Crow, book three of my fantasy series, which is already six months' further down the track than I would like, this poor old blog is what has gone by the sideline. (For those interested, The Crow is going well, and I am pleased so far: but it's going slowly. I'm having to do an awful lot of making up. I also think each book gets sucessively more difficult). I am back on track with that, trying to summon the endless patience a novel requires and to just write my daily word count. But it adds up to quite a lot of compulsive writing already. I must have a personality disorder. Yes, I feel guilty: yes, I agree, there is absolutely no need for me to feel guilty. Maybe one day I'll come back.

Friday, June 04, 2004

More blogging

I have been toying for a few weeks with the idea of starting a theatre blog. The idea was that I would start an independent reviewing blog after I had finished the novel. Well, the problem with ideas is that they nag you until you do something, and rather unexpectedly, I found myself today launching my new career as a theatre blogger (highly paid, as usual).

I therefore didn't do my two thousand words. I am slapping my hand as I type (an interesting acrobatic exercise). Never mind, I'll catch up tomorrow...

It's here, if you want to take a look. Just an intro there at the moment, I won't be putting up my first review until Wednesday.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

When doves die

This blog - Rafah Today - is amazing. Although it is the writings of Mohammed, a Palestinian student, clearly hurriedly typed and sent from a laptop, there is something about its clear-eyed humanity which reminds me of some of the reportage of Ryszard Kapuschinski (whose book Imperium is one of my favourites, because he knows that facts are only part of reality and are often a shield against it and that true understanding often comes slantwise - in other words, he has a poetic view of journalism). Rafar Today is the simplest and most direct kind of witnessing, and it is potent. And like Kapuschinski, Mohammed, too, notices and speaks to children: but I suspect he is not much older than my own son.

Rami Al Wawi (9) was wearing a red football shirt, his face was marked with clear sadness and worry and his eyes indicated that he hadn't slept the night before.

He sat down in the rubble of his damaged house and said he could hear the sound of his chicken. He was sure he could hear it but wasn't able to know where the sound was coming from. He kept removing piles of rubble, but could not find it, so the children began helping him. Twenty minutes later they were all able to find it ALIVE. A sad smile lit up Rami's face when he began talking to it as if he was talking to a person. He was very sad when he later found two of his doves killed in the rubble.

Not very far from Rami, a few metes away, in a neighboring house, I found an old woman with pain clearly written on her wrinkled face. She seemed exhausted, searching for something under the rubble of the house. When I asked her what she was looking for, she answered: "For the future!" For the future? I asked. She answered: "Yes I'm searching for the key of my old house, which is more important than time, this key is for my house which was occupied in 1948 and now lies in what is called Israel these days, but I will ever never throw that key because I believe the day will come when I will get to my home in our occupied land. I'm quite sure there will be a day that I will get back to my home, and if it's not me, then my grandchildren".

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Quagmire? Squagmire...

Quagmire seems too clean a word for the mess that the Bush administration has made of their attempted colonisation of Iraq. Corruption, incompetence, violence conducted with impunity, gross sexual abuse - and now the almost unbelievable possibility that the whole thing was set up by Iran to get rid of an inconvenient neighbour. Meanwhile the US administration seems to be self-imploding in intercenine warfare, with the State Department, The US Army, the CIA all at loggerheads with the brainiacs at the Pentagon: which is of course why we're hearing about a lot of this stuff.

In an essay on the cultural situation in Iraq, America's Incompetent Colonialism, historian Keith Watenpaugh, in common with General Zinni, has some unkind words about a certain lack of foresight in the "post-war" administration in Iraq:

A year ago, word began to filter out of Baghdad that in addition to the National Museum, the Iraqi National Library and Archive had also been looted, and burned, not once, but twice. Like the current scandal of systematic abuses of human rights by members of the US military, the CIA and its sub-contractors, the burning evoked a host of emotions most notably shame, revulsion and anger. The anger was primarily directed against the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense who failed to heed the near-unanimous warnings of the probability of post-war instability and the vulnerability of Iraq’s cultural heritage and take appropriate preventative measures. Their failure to fully grasp the reality of the situation in Iraq was among the earliest examples of continuing gross and criminal ineptitude of which the gruesome images from Abu Ghuraib are the most recent manifestations.

The looting of the libraries and museums was, alas, only the beginning. And our little PM is "staying the distance", apparently, although he seems about three months behind on the "current political reality", as I remember one (Labor) MP memorably saying, with admirable Hawke-era pragmatism. "The lawlessness," says Howard, "(is) not indicative of a mass uprising; electricity and power (are) at higher levels than under Saddam; municipal councils (have) been formed; schools, hospitals and health clinics (are) open; and crude oil production (is) at prewar levels." Phew, thank the Lord for that. I'm sure I don't know what all the panic in the White House is about.

But the comment which has most gobsmacked me, again from Josh Marshall's blog, is from an unnamed military intelligence officer who is now working as a security contractor in Iraq. It's a devastating indictment on the US Army: he goes further even than the British, who are openly refusing to serve under US command, despite being gagged by Blair's spinners:

About the Army - Man, it hurts my heart to write this about an institution I dearly love but this army is completely dysfunctional, angry and is near losing its honor. We are back to the Army of 1968. I knew we were finished when I had a soldier point his Squad Automatic Weapons at me and my bodyguard detail for driving down the street when he decided he would cross the street in the middle of rush hour traffic (which was moving at about 70 MPH) ... He made it clear to any and all that he was preparing to shoot drivers who did not stop for his jaunt because speeding cars are "threats."

I also once had a soldier from a squad of Florida National Guard reservists raise weapons and kick the door panel of a clearly marked CPA security vehicle (big American flag in the windshield of a $150,000 armored Land Cruiser) because they wanted us to back away from them so they could change a tire ... as far as they were concerned WE (non-soldiers) were equally the enemy as any Iraqi.

Unlike the wars of the past 20 years where the Army encouraged (needed) soldiers, NGOs, allies and civil organizations to work together to resolve matters and return to normal society, the US Forces only trust themselves here and that means they set their own limits and tolerances. Abu Ghuraib are good examples of that limit. I told a Journalist the other day that these kids here are being told that they are chasing Al Qaeda in the War on Terrorism so they think everyone at Abu Ghuraib had something to do with 9/11. So they were encouraged to make them pay. These kids thought they were going to be honored for hunting terrorists.

Cheery stuff, eh? In the meantime, I am struggling with my own "noble lie": I just heard today about Leo Strauss, the philosophical hero of the neo-cons. Hard to see Rumsfeld as a "noble liar", it's not the adjective that occurs to me: but it seems that in the strange paranoid fishtank of this kind of thinking, noble lying is in. Only, according to Shadia Drury, a leading critic of Strauss, Strauss got Plato wrong:

Strauss justifies his position by an appeal to Plato’s concept of the noble lie. But in truth, Strauss has a very impoverished conception of Plato’s noble lie. Plato thought that the noble lie is a story whose details are fictitious; but at the heart of it is a profound truth.

In the myth of metals, for example, some people have golden souls – meaning that they are more capable of resisting the temptations of power. And these morally trustworthy types are the ones who are most fit to rule. The details are fictitious, but the moral of the story is that not all human beings are morally equal.

In contrast to this reading of Plato , Strauss thinks that the superiority of the ruling philosophers is an intellectual superiority and not a moral one ( Natural Right and History , p. 151). For many commentators who (like Karl Popper) have read Plato as a totalitarian, the logical consequence is to doubt that philosophers can be trusted with political power. Those who read him this way invariably reject him. Strauss is the only interpreter who gives a sinister reading to Plato, and then celebrates him.

A story whose details are fictitious, but at whose heart is a profound truth? Hey, that's what I'm trying to do. Though Plato wanted to chuck poets out of his Republic, so I'm not barracking for him, either...

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Old stuff

Going through my files, seduced by the idle moments and endless procrastinations of writing, I found this speech I gave when asked to read an event for East Timor, shortly after that country voted for its independence from Indonesia in 1999, with horrific results. So I thought I would post it here, as the dilemmas it outlines are as current to me, five years later, as they were then.

I am honoured to be asked to read tonight. I wished to say something briefly, and then to read some of my poems.

It is well documented that the Indonesian military, especially the notorious Kopassus, has been trained at taxpayers' expense by the US, the UK and Australia, and that the arms used to quell the populations of East Timor and elsewhere in the archipelago were supplied by the armaments industries of the so-called "free world". This is only one of many instances where the rhetoric of Western Governments for human rights rings more than a little hollow. Remember how Slobodan Milosevic was an ally whom the West could, quote, "deal with"? It was the case in only November last year. Those with longer memories might remember when Saddam Hussein was a good guy.

I think most of us know that Western foreign policy has precious little to do with human rights or ideals of justice, and rather more to do with the interests of finance. Australia's relationship with Indonesia is no different. When our governments are complicit in murder, as Australia has been in East Timor, the least we can do is protest. We owe it to ourselves, to our children and, most of all, to the people who have had their hopes for justice, peace and freedom betrayed. It is impossible to maintain the fiction that what happens elsewhere has no implications for us. As the hopes of others are betrayed, so, insidiously and inevitably, are our own. Whatever the hopes of the East Timorese now help has, finally, arrived, the fact remains that it is too late for more than 200,000 of their people.

At the very least we must refuse, again and again, to be misled by the lies of politicians and the veiled interests of big business. Those interests are not the same as ours. Those interests commodify everything that is irreplacable and sell it to anyone who buys. Justice, hope, peace, freedom have become merely advertising slogans. Dissent, in such a world as ours, is almost nonsensical, so beset it is by contradictions. The most successful dissenting is commodified almost immediately, and so consciences are vaccinated in advance.

Nevertheless, I dissent.

It is difficult for me, in the face of situations like that in East Timor, not to feel art's impotence: what poem ever fed a hungry child, or housed the homeless, or staved off a gun? However, there are two things that can be said for poetry: firstly, unlike many other human activities, it causes little harm, and secondly, as a commodity it is a triumphant failure. It is still a place where the search for truthful language may exist. I present my poems humbly, as places where I am seeking truths: for it seems a little difficult, at the end of this century, to say with the inimitable confidence of a Picasso: I do not seek, I find. They are attempts to say, where silence seems impossible to maintain.

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