Friday, December 29, 2006

Poetry Book of the Year

Teahouse of the Almighty
Poems by Patricia Smith

National Poetry Series winner

"Smith appears to be that rarest of creatures, a charismatic slam and performance poet whose artistry truly survives on the printed page. . . . This National Poetry Series-winning volume marks [her] triumphal return."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Teahouse of the Almighty is searing, honest, well-crafted, and full of the real world transformed by Patricia Smith's fine ear for nuance and the shaking of the soul's duties. I was weeping for the beauty of poetry when I reached the end of the final poem."
Edward Sanders, National Poetry Series judge

Revelling in the rhythms, stories, fallibilities and triumphs of everyone she encounters, renowned spoken word artist Patricia Smith is back with her first book of poetry in over a decade, creating passionate, bluesy narratives in this empowering, finely tuned collection. Unflinching, undeniably intimate, and full of the hush and scream of the stage, Smith's voice sings from every page.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Famous Reporter 34

Here, in Linfen smoggy city, forever deafened by the sound of very loud fireworks to keep away the 'bad spirits', I miss the literary media back home in Australia. So I was very pleased to receive the latest issue of Famous Reporter, that great literary survivor from Tasmania. This is number 34 and it owes its existence and success to Ralph Wessman, editor, and his team of support editors who hold portfolios in haiku, poetry, reviews, etc. I sent Ralph some poems from here some weeks ago, and as it happened he had a page to spare up the back, so in my poem went: Epistle to Andrew Taylor. This issue has a lot of names I'm proud to know and call friends: Shane McCauley, Helen Hagemann, Roland Leach, Rachael Petridis, Philip Hammial, John Bird, Flora Smith - and well-known names like Les Wicks, Jeff Guess, Janice Bostock (also friend) ... It's a lively read (as they say nowadays) and has a great cover, with a very effective photograph by John Dawson.

Two issues in Australia will cost you just $15. Great value. Send subscriptions to Walleah Press, PO Box 368, North Hobart, Tasmania 7002.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Light-hearted drafts of 2 poems

The first poem was here a couple of days ago - I've just tweaked it a bit. Second poem is a little clumsy (!) but is about an occasion worth recording. Maybe I'll work on it ...

Linfen bricolage

The buildings outside our door which
create our courtyard and badminton court
are being gutted
windows partitions old chairs
brick walls floor tiles
everything up and out
demolished each day
from dawn to dusk with
hand hammers and chisels
sledge-hammers and drills
walls now gape like skulls

In the dust and rubble
a workman with his Mao cap on
back of his head
hammers old nails into
demolition wood to
create his own ladder -
a ragged ‘z’ pattern between
two pieces of wood nailed in
at an angle as each new step -
nothing ‘true’ but
his spirit was on the level:
waste not, want not

As I pass I smile
and tap a step -
‘Solid!’ I say. ‘Ni hao’
he grins and replies
in a Linfen dialect
of dust and stoicism


As I walked out late yesterday
along the campus road to the gate
among pedestrians going
both ways hither and thither
I heard a trained cultured voice –
male, operatic –
singing quietly to itself,
‘Maria, Maria’ then Mandarin lyrics.
I couldn’t understand
so I asked him ‘You sing “Maria”?’
He shook his head wildly.
I said, ‘You know, “Maria” from
West Side Story ...’ he shook
his head some more – so I sang on
and he joined me and we sang
down the road to the gate,
my English ‘Maria’ and his Chinese song.
At the gate, between smiling sentries,
I tapped him on the shoulder and said,
‘Same melody has got me thinking
it’s the same bloody song, pal!’

Andrew Symonds maiden century

Today I had no access to the cricket! You call this livin'? So I must quote from our own trusty local rag, The West Australian (whom I gratefully thank for the photo also):

Andrew Symonds demolished any doubts over his ability at the highest level as he and Matthew Hayden batted England into oblivion during the fourth Ashes Test at the MCG.

For the second day running Australian players turned cricket's grandest stage into their own dreamworld, as Symonds (154 not out) struck his maiden Test century to fulfil his rich talent before celebrating with gusto.

His jubilant leap into the arms of Hayden when he hit a six down the ground to reach three figures easily bettered the celebration Shane Warne produced when he claimed his 700th Test wicket on day one.

Hayden (153) also renewed his fondness for the ground with a fifth hundred in six Tests in Melbourne, which capped an otherwise lean year with a landmark century.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Sleep on it

Beautiful examples of Chinglish surround me everyday, but it was only this evening whilst making the bed that I found another puzzling example. If you have trouble reading it, enlarge it. This is the mattress supplied to us by the university - firm and comfortable.

Linfen bricolage

The buildings outside our door
creating our courtyard and badminton court
are being gutted
windows partitions old chairs
brick walls floor tiles
everything up and out
demolished each day
from dawn to dusk with
hand hammers and chisels
sledge-hammers and drills
walls now gape like skulls

In the dust and rubble
a workman with his Mao cap on
back of his head
hammers old nails into
old demolition wood
to make his own ladder -
a ragged ‘z’ pattern between
two pieces of wood nailed in
at an angle as each new step -
nothing ‘true’ but
his spirit was on the level:
waste not, want not

As I pass I smile
and tap a step -
‘solid!’ I say ‘Ni hao’
he grins and replies
in a Linfen dialect
of dust and stoicism

Friday, December 22, 2006

Bob Dylan - 'After 40 years on the job ...'

'Look on his works, ye mighty, and despair. After 40 years on the job, Bob Dylan still makes all other songwriters sound like scared kittens, and in terms of sheer volume, he's built the largest body of work worth listening to in rock & roll. He's the American song-and-dance man, the sleight-of-hand man, mixing up folk roots, beat poetry, Chuck Berry, Baudelaire, Texas medicine, railroad gin, and his own psychedelic mutations of the blues, singing it all in that intense Book-of-Deuteronomy howl of his. By now, Dylan's failures are as mythic as his successes, but even though he has journeyed through the Valley of Suckdom (and has even rested there for years at a time) he also remains rock's longest-running font of vitality, a mystery tramp with his boot heels wandering all over the map of American music. His career is one rock archetype after another: the arrogant young protest singer in the Huck Finn cap; the mod Chelsea-booted hipster of the mid-'60s, singing the third verse of "I Want You" with all the deadly hip-twitching swing of Chuck Berry's guitar; the grizzled old con man of Love and Theft, croaking biblical blues and Tin Pan Alley valentines out of the side of his mouth while keeping one eye on the exit.'

This wonderful intro to a Biography piece by BOB SHEFFIELD is from

I was walking through Adelaide on my hitch-hiking trip across Oz as a very young man, or elderly teenager, when I heard a strange style of singing coming from a shopping mall (the first of those I'd ever seen). I tracked it down to a small very hip little record store where the owner and a couple of raggedy looking people were listening to a record on the turntable in front of them. I joined them and we all nodded in silence as we listened. The times certainly were a-changin' for me. I added Bob Dylan to my list of heroes - Kerouac, Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Alan Watts, Philip Whalen and all. When I reached Sydney I met a whole rack of Dylan would-bes, which taught me another lesson: listen to the man but be true to yourself. Here endeth the lesson ...

Chinese steel rods waiting to be made into ... The quantity I can believe, but the quality worries me. The bikes look old and rusty very quickly, and we are into our second kettle in four months. They leak at the joins - so this one has higher joins so we can fill it two-thirds full and still stop water leaking. 'Made in China' for overseas consumption seems to have more quality control than 'Made in China' for local consumption.
By contrast, the Maids in China are of the highest quality, and in the most tantalising quantities.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Snowcup Cakes

Send me a dozen when you make these:

In my thirtieth year to the sky ...

Way back in the 1970s, Brian Dibble, an American who had only recently come to roost in Perth, Western Australia, guest edited an issue of Beloit Poetry Journal (USA) and produced a Western Australian Chapbook. The cover was by Guy Grey-Smith, well-known local artist and the poetry was various and very us. Of particular interest are the contributions by William Hart-Smith, one of my favourite Australian/New Zealand poets of that era. He was originally a Jindyworabak poet - one of a group who insisted on using images and the flora and fauna of our large island continent to make a truly Australian poetry. Much of the poetry produced by others became jingoistic and parochial, but some poets rang true in this theme, among them Roland Robinson and William Hart-Smith. I say all this from memory, being thousands of kilometres from my home library. Either way, it is a very interesting issue of a magazine which still flourishes today.

Other poets include Lee Knowles, Hal Colebatch, Glen Phillips, Phil Collier and myself (heavily under the influence of the Projectivists).

Take a look at

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Adam Gilchrist posts second-fastest ton ever

Today, at the WACA ground in my hometown, Perth, Australian vice-captain and wicketkeeper, Adam Gilchrist, posted the second fastest 100 in Test history - in 57 balls. The master-blaster Viv Richards holds the record with just one ball more.
Australia is now over 550 ahead in the Third Test of this series and are very likely to win the game, and so the series.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Donald Hall's advice

American poet Donald Hall was named USA Poet Laureate in June, and interviewed two weeks later by Poets & Writers magazine. The short but interesting interview can be read at

Here's a snippet:

Any career advice for aspiring poets?
It's a life. It's a whole life. And my advice to young poets is pretty standard: Read the old people. Read the seventeenth century; don't just read the twentieth century. Sometimes, you get the impression that people think that poetry began in 1984 or something. And read the old boys and revise. Revise endlessly. Never show a poem to anybody else until you have worked on it yourself for a couple of months.

What are you most looking forward to about this appointment?
Probably the sale of my books.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Perth Test @ the WACA 14 to 19 December

Tomorrow's the true Test -
leather against willow,
Pom against Aussie.

The crowd wears
wattle green-and-yellow
zinc cream on their noses

while the 'Barmy Army'
chants its soccer songs,
playing away, confused

by the upside-down order
of things: water leaves
antipodean sinks the wrong

way, and lager is
kept on ice. 'Play!'
and cameras flash

as the speedsters
come in to bowl:
'Uh-ah, Glen McGrath!'

chant the Aussies,
mumbling about
the omission of

their local hero,
Adam aptly named,
first among men

wielding the willow.
But still, eleven
tried men and true

bring the battle
to a high-fevered pitch
(the bookies wager

on how many days
the Poms will last)
as the turnstiles spin

and the stock exchange
is 'C'mon ump! Blind Freddy
could see that was out!'

Here, in ancient Cathay,
I am padded up to
go in next. Just

give me the call, Punter,
and I'll drop my laptop
and switch it for a box.

C'mon, Aussie, c'mon.
It's 36 degrees there
and minus ten here

but I'm still warming up
for the game, waving my
(virtual) baggy green in the air.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

'What's that you say?'

Sorry, I can't hear you. I'm listening to Kronos Quartet play 'Purple Haze'!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Night-time in Linfen - 'Open Mouth' 4

Another great night of music and poems at 'Open Mouth' ... This month, Number 4. The cruel camera catches the drear surroundings - the blackboard, and the ubiquitous mop and bucket in the corner. What you can't see is the lyrical music, the disciplined musicianship of these young students playing traditional instruments - pipa, erhu, various flutes - under the baton (the flying fingers and hands) of their conductor and music master. My limited camera skills meant we missed the musicians who also danced - not so traditional when it comes to choreography! & the costumes? Tight jeans and colourful jumpers. It seems part of Chinese musical training includes dance, which may be a good thing for Western musical students to try :-) After the musicians we heard Tom McConkie and Daisy, who between them read Chinese and English translations of Li Bai and Robert Frost. They also compered the evening, which featured a song by myself, 'The Ballad of Many Crows', recorded by Australian folksinger Margaret Walters and available in the CD section of ...

Daytime in Linfen town

It's getting into the freezing zone here, even if the sun does make the occasional appearance. Long Johns, gloves, hoods or hats, scarves, thick socks - but always a sunny disposition!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Anita O'Day RIP

Anita O'Day, one of the last of the great Big Band 'canaries', died at the end of November. She had many periods of great singing in her long career, but I still like hearing the old Gene Krupa Big Band recordings, especially tracks like 'Let Me Off Uptown' with Roy Eldridge. Ah, a voice and a personality to miss, one who sang through many changes of musical styles.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Andrew! I'd know him anywhere ...

Thank you, Patrick Speed, for noticing the 'obvious' resemblance and supplying this image.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Glenn McGrath's sixfer

Glenn McGrath holds the ball aloft after his 6 for 50. Australia bowled England out for 157 but did not enforce the follow-on despite leading by 445.

This was in the First Test Match in the 2006 Ashes series at the Gabba in Queensland.

Brilliant Aussie team goes from strength to strength.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy 80th Birthday, Frank O'Hara


The Poetry Project at St. Marks Church
131 E. 10th St., New York City

A celebration and reading of the work of the brilliant and widely influential poet Frank O'Hara (1926-1966; author of Lunch Poems, Meditations in an Emergency, and Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara), for the purposes of honoring his 80th birthday and hearing the poems. Readers will include Bill Berkson, Ned Rorem, Tony Towle, CAConrad, Eileen Myles, Anne Waldman, Greg Fuchs, Taylor Mead, Maureen O'Hara, Patricia Spears Jones, Olivier Brossard, Bob Holman, John Yau, Kimberly Lyons, Lytle Shaw, and a number more. Co-sponsored by Poet's House and the Museum of Modern Art.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"The water's on, honey!"

h too ohhh
lovely wet
from the tap ...

after a twoday
h too ohhh

is for orgasm
is for ogoody
is for okay

Foreign Language Department triumphs

Today in freezing cold weather, the department I work for here played soccer against the music department. We won - 7 to 1 :-) And the crowd was excited and the team and the Dean!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Confucius at Thanksgiving

Shanxi Normal University, Linfen

I was quoting the Catholic catechism as
example today, speaking of education
and the Plymouth Brethren by quoting
question and answer from fifty years ago,
‘God made me, giving me a body and a soul.’
Thirty two Chinese students laughed loudly.
‘God made the world’ drew a bigger laugh.
They were laughing at my early beliefs
so I diverted to Halloween and
hollow-faced Jack-o’-lanterns. Out
the window, five flights down, Confucius
stood among withered roses, a scroll
of analects greying in
sulphur dioxide. It would’ve been better
had he written the Clean Air Act …

This is yet another draft or version of the Food and Faith poem I posted last week. I have excised seven lines from the poem and changed 'pumpkin-faced' to 'hollow-faced' as more evocative of shallowness and empty-headedness. I am still all at sea with this poem so any feedback is welcome. I hope my comments panels are tuned in to my Chinese email address: burkeandre(at)gmail(dot)com

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Archibald Portrait Prize contender

The artist at work: Gao Xiao Peng, 26 year old artist from Shanxi Normal University.

Portrait of Jeanette Margaret Burke, in Linfen, China - 17 November 2006

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Snap: Learning & Teaching

no poem is perfect
i keep telling myself
but in a whisper
hoping i won't hear


her black lace bra
hangs off the ironing board
where i am sorting
Oral English exercises

we are both teaching
but she has taught me
more than i've taught her


english is everywhere
here shards of it
like crockery after
a Greek wedding

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Food and Faith

Mid-November One-and-a-Half Sonnet in Shanxi

I was quoting the Catholic catechism as
example today, speaking of education
and the Plymouth Brethren by quoting
question-and-answer from fifty years ago,
‘God made me, giving me a body and a soul.’
Thirty two Chinese students laughed loudly.
‘God made the world’ drew a bigger laugh.
They were laughing at my early beliefs
and I was confused. I stopped quoting and
went on to how turkeys ran wild and were
captured by Wampanoag braves and how
the Plymouth Brethren roasted turkey for
Thanksgiving, dressed with wild pumpkin.
Somehow, food is safer ground than faith.

We diverted to Halloween and
pumpkin-faced Jack-o’-lanterns. Out
the window, five flights down, Confucius
stood among withered roses, a scroll
of analects greying in
sulphur dioxide. It would’ve been better
if he had written the Clean Air Act …

Saturday, November 11, 2006

'Open Mouth' Three in Linfen

We had such a beautiful night tonight I must tell you about it.
Some three months ago we started a 'cultural evening' called Open Mouth here at Shanxi Normal University, compered and drawn together by Shabnam and others. The first night went well, with a capella singing, story telling and poetry. But the second month went a little flat as a lot of the people were away or ill with a virus which was doing the rounds, particularly with the 'foreigners' here.

Tonight was a Phoenix rising out of the ashes!

Mainly because one guy here, Tom, encouraged some members of the music department to come and play traditonal Chinese instruments - this made it a truly cultural exchange night. Very beautiful music from stringed instruments pipa and erhu and a flute which I don't know the name of. I will research all the performers names in the next coluple of days, but for now go to for a wonderful version of similar music.

Here are some definitions:

Pipa (pi-pa or p'i-p'a) - four-stringed lute with 30 frets and pear-shaped body. The instrumentalist holds the pipa upright and play with five small plectra attached to each finger of the right hand. The pipa history can be dated back at least 2000 years and developed from pentatonic to full scales. This instrument has extremely wide dynamic range and remarkable expressive power.

Erhu - or Er-Hu, a two-stringed fiddle, is one of the most popular Chinese instruments in the Hu-qin family, where Hu stands for "foreign" or "the northern folk" in Chinese, and "qin" is a general name for all kinds of string instruments.

After an amazing flute music number first, Tom read two poems centred on the experience of student life on the campus. Javard, young American English teacher, then introduced his item with a potted history of hip-hop and/or rap music. Chinese uni student Daisy (her English name) translated for the many Chinese people in the crowd. Javard then launched into a very fast rendition of his own rap number. Amazing rhymes and rhythms! Jeff, American living in China for some years (and father of Sophie known to many readers of this blog) then sang a number - from Little Feat. All about a Dixie chicken and Tennesee lamb ... or somesuch :-) This is a PoMo age, folks, where culture (Kulchur to Pound) is full of diversity. Jamie, American singer of songs and a self-confessed Rebel (did I get that right?), got up next to sing... a Chinese pop song taught to him by his students. A brave man ... Then there was a beautiful rendition of a song on erhu by an equally beautiful Chinese young musician. This traditional music was followed by a young Chinese male student called Jack (English name) who sang a Chinese song about 'reunion', or 'unification'. This was followed by two young ladies playing pipa - a duet of amazing emotional depth and excitement. I then read a couple of recent poems about Manhole Covers and Teaching English History here in Linfen. Another young Chinese lady from the music department then played a pipa item of much spirit and drive.

The evening was concluded by John Jain, patriarch of the local clan, who recited a Robert Service ballad, entitled something like 'The Cremation of Sam McGee'

Ahh, a fun night in Linfen where the weather is getting cold but the hospitality hots up.

Next month's 'Open Mouth' evening is going to be held at 8pm at the Science Building, Room 802, Shanxi Normal University, on Saturday 9th December. All peoples of the province are invited to star and listen.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Jeanette at her Poota

Charles Darwin

There is a walkway to the main teaching building at Shanxi Normal University lined with eight statues. This blog featured the wonderfully quirky Einstein statue earlier, but this Darwin statue has a different style - a harder, chiselled look.

By the way, 'Normal' in the title of a university around here means it was once a teachers' college and has now (some years ago) been ungraded.

Guardians of the Ring Dynasty

Sunny Day

China is flapping in the breeze ... to paraphrase Andrew Taylor ...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The price of things in Linfen

The price of things: 5 yuan yesterday for a man to spend two hours fixing my watch, inserting a battery, and cleaning it inside-out. 5 yuan to travel around Linfen in a taxi (granted, it is not a luxury vehicle). 1 yuan for six peanut-brittle-type biscuits. 2 yuan for a bowl of tasty noodles, including vegetables and stuff in it (meat, if you wish – but I wouldn’t if I was you!). 5 yuan for a haircut. 10 yuan for a topnotch hairstyle. But 90 yuan for a bear-shaped humidifier which broke the second time we used it. An expensive kettle (comparatively) – 60 or 70 yuan, I forget which – which leaked three days after we bought it. This experience? Priceless. 3 yuan to have your blood pressure checked.

It's currently 6 yuan to the Aussie dollar, and 8 to the USA dollar.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sticky wicket ...

My son Charlie Burke 'batting' on the Great Northern Highway on his way to promote cricket in farflung communities near Derby.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gifts for the Gab

I call them swans, but someone said they were geese ... either way, they were a gift to me for talking. Hence the somewhat warped title.

Gals for the Gallery

Tania Jain and daughter Sophie.

A Diary Report ...

Today’s report begins last night when I sat and marked a bundle of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ news reports. Jeanette sat in the study and watched two episodes of Spooks with the heater on and the door closed while I worked. But it had to be done, and there’s a heap more to mark yet. I did have my computer on also, with the CricInfo scores from Chandigarh coming through where India and Australia were playing a one-day cricket game. Australia won, with another great innings by Damien Martyn.

Monday morning I teach ‘Selected Readings’ (Western Media) at 8 o’clock in Building 12, a new building just recently opened. It may be new, but still the smell from the toilets has managed to infiltrate the corridors and seep into the classrooms nearby. The students are delightful, if uncooperative. I say ‘uncooperative’ but really they are monumentally shy and wouldn’t say boo to a mouse. I ask questions and wait for an answer: silence. Sometimes one of my more adventurous students in the front row will whisper an answer, but they will never say it for the whole class to hear. If I insist and get them to stand up, they will hang their head and either remain silent or whisper so even I have to lean forward and put my ear to their mouth. Frustrating. These are Second Years – or, as they call them here, sophomores. They go by the USA system.

It was chilly this morning, but not freezing. Little birds were chirping in the vines covering some old flats as I walked back. The campus has old accommodation, like little cells, still sitting and growing weeds between the newer blocks of flats, all before the big new architectural structures which have taken over the area where an ancient and, by all accounts, beautiful garden and zoo once stood. The little pagoda and the well-decorated entrance to the old garden still stand, and a walkway and little bridge of stone traverses the still waters, which lie like a neglected lake between the building sites and the roadway and off-white domestic apartment buildings off campus.

Here, under a weeping tree in the old garden by the lake, a saxophone student practises, and a flute-player (perhaps the same player), plus a male tenor singer who sings scales some days(maddening). The sax player sounds terrific, but I don’t think they will be out there much longer, playing sax and flute with frozen lips.

In this ancient city, once a major regional capital, the garden may have been an emperor’s retreat where he walked and entertained his ladies and visitors. When I expressed concern that the old China was being destroyed, a student said matter-of-factly, We need the area for classrooms. There was no hint of sadness or concern. Perhaps it was just the forward-thinking of youth that made her so practical, but without the Old China there wouldn’t be a tourism industry—and that’s a very practical aspect of the New China’s economy.

I look out on polluted days like this and see the dirty still waters. They have planted water lilies to consume the algal bloom and clean the waters. Most days there are people there, sitting by the water, fishing for sustenance. On one side, the vines have covered all the building rubble and the rusting remains of an old aircraft.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Barbecue hosted by American Friends in Linfen

Self, Mrs Liu, Jeff Jain and Sophie; Li Fei taking a shot; Mrs Liu and Jeff with Sophie

Barbecue hosted by American Friends in Linfen

The gang's all here ... including Yoko and Mrs Liu ...

Barbecue hosted by American Friends in Linfen

One-year-old Sophie in our courtyard; Candy & Daisy; Chef John Jain and Christina; Tom and friend; Shiskebab and friend ... more to come ... Thanks to Brian Wolff and Pat Jain (off camera) for various vitals, including barbecue chicken and apple pie. Such a delicious event is not common in Linfen!