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.