New and Selected Poemsby Chris Wallace-Crabbe
Ranging across various forms and tones, this poetry compilation expounds upon the Australian landscape, and its natural objects and inhabitants. Combining humor and gravity, it ponders the destruction of our planet and the detrimental effects of progress. See more details below
Ranging across various forms and tones, this poetry compilation expounds upon the Australian landscape, and its natural objects and inhabitants. Combining humor and gravity, it ponders the destruction of our planet and the detrimental effects of progress.
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New and Selected Poems
By Chris Wallace-Crabbe
Carcanet Press LtdCopyright © 2013 Chris Wallace-Crabbe
All rights reserved.
Salt on the Tongue
We just can't do without it, watery friends,
acrid sodium chloride, the spice of our lives
adding that Certain Something as a poem does:
our mineral tang of wry intensification
used even by the scribeless tribes for money.
Lacking it, life would be insipid;
poetry zings on the lolling tongue
having crept up on you,
quiet as a glittering lizard
or the water swelling in at last
by parched banks.
Between these angular crystals and
their dark blue sea we live.
While Half Asleep
The muse of failed memory
takes no hostages,
her coiffure has long been
counter-curled by loss;
she drives you out beyond
the senior moment
crumpling the wrappers
of old familiar names
(Didn't he surely begin
with M or with P?)
and chucking them on the couch-grass.
a mini-scruple she batters
and empowers you,
curt as a parade-ground
or the pink-faced, blond
Latin teacher at school,
who did however expect you
all the unspoken verbs
in their conjugations.
The muse of wilted memory
will certainly hint
at the general outlines,
of knowledge that ought to be
sharp as a pencil,
but leaving it more, then, like
slippage of dream.
Who wrote Thingo? you ask
when you need it,
only to get the answer
too bloody late,
over coffee. Yet she's the one
coming back up with
one big crazy
that shakes the back teeth
out of your head.
The muse of lost memory
will wheel you
into the whitewashed nursing-home
and then console you there
with her smorgasbord
of all the lost items,
like those oddball gems
on Kim's memory tray
before which, though, she waits
like a blackamoor page
for your green, ardent, hopeful
On the Lawn All Day
Friday. Takes more than this to interest
Rhode Island reds mechanically clucking and dipping
in their ramshackle corner of life.
Dark prunus frames a bodgy bedframe here;
one poor cupboard tilts over the lawn
behind intricate heads of smokepink valerian.
The tumbledown garage is plumfull of chairs,
reject paintings, exotic bottles, the globe,
everything from a drumlike pouffe to books
deeply miscellaneous in cardboard cartons.
Here are the dregs of sticky liqueurs,
easel, cushion pile, radio cabinet:
archaeology of a mind,
cheek by jowl and higgledy-piggledy
but rather less dusty now than yesterday.
The Murano salad bowl glows like coral
and here's a neon tube, unattached;
somebody's tennis racquet has no strings.
A garden's long slope sighs round all such
reorganisation of a lifetime,
a raggedy sycamore flapping way above it,
and that swayed silver gum graceful as any harp.
Here's a burgundy Peugeot, crammed
with indescribable rubbish for
its daily trip to the tip-face, meeting there
gulls, avid ravens and dust. These boxes and boxes
provide the punctuation of departure,
crooked boughs are pumping out crimson apples,
Blackie still carols from the gingerbread rooftree
and the chooks peck-peck, like wind-up toys.
Once on a time
Time was a language
Once on a time
Old everybody spoke
In god's esperanto
Once in the language
They made a lot of bricks
A bric-a-brac of bricks
To stack and stick and stack
Way up to heaven
A tower in clouds
Aloud in the cloud
Stack rattle pop
And they all could speak
In god's esperanto
Not happy, little men,
Said the god like thunder
Against that babble
Of people from Babel
So he broke their language
Like bits of firewood
And blew them all away
Across the desert
Of differing tongues
Off now they scattered
But yearning still for
The language umbrella
for Jacob Rosenberg
The summer streets run full of other diction,
Bright faces, differential skirt-lengths
And the bare tummies of young girls,
Which is a curious fashion
But Yiddish sits in the café on his own
Mouthing sweet syllables as they fade
Over the final piece of strudel,
His coffee gone cold as forgetting.
When I come back to this garden after my death
will the black walnut tree have been cut down,
the brick-and-galvo studio made over into flats
reflecting what will have happened all over town?
I wonder just what my airy after-self will find
that the present me could even recognise
roughly, as being something we lived amid;
what will confront my hypothetical eyes
and spiritual vision? Will the bluestone paving
be there, tangled vines and archaic gingko tree?
I wonder how my grandkids' generation
will be getting along: at all familiarly?
If a posthumous person can view things with horror
will my airy unself shrink back from the tacky way
fashion can rot the linework of certitude,
making more of a mess from townscape every day?
Will the blackbird's descendant still be pecking, though,
at our patchy lawn? Parrots will squeal overhead,
I'm sure. The hedge may still murmur hints of us
or the corrugated tanks.
But I'll be dead.
Reverie of Dora Pamphlet
When I'm a-snooze in my basket
all the world's at peace
(whatever 'world' connotes);
maybe my basket is all the world
Those bipeds reckon that I dream
but I don't entirely know
what they could mean by that.
In the morning, the two big ones
sip at their cups of tea
and I stretch pretty stiffly
half-ready to jump up
on their wide bed – if I still can.
After their morning paper thing
(whatever that is, really)
one of them scrambles up
and lets me out the back
or, now, their front door
where I have a welcome pee
Then I'm back in, safe as houses
under their kitchen table;
they have no meat at breakfast-time
for some creaturely reason.
Humans are regular animals
in my long experience:
they walk me and then go to work –
after my due biscuits.
Some days I even
go in to his lovely office;
it has difficult stairs, alas,
but those women spoil me to bits.
You'll always know me, of course,
by these perfectly white feet.
Excerpted from New and Selected Poems by Chris Wallace-Crabbe. Copyright © 2013 Chris Wallace-Crabbe. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Chris Wallace-Crabbe is professor emeritus at the University of Melbourne. He is the author of The Amorous Cannibal, By and Large, Read It Again, The Universe Looks Down, and Whirling and the editor of Oxford University Press’s Australian Writers and The Oxford Literary History of Australia. He is the chair of the Australian Poetry Limited and the recipient of the Christopher Brennan Award for Literature and the Dublin Prize for Arts and Sciences.
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