Sunday, November 25, 2012

Yass Valley Writers - Anthology - Book Launch

The Yass Valley Writers launch their third anthology on Thursday 29 November at Yass, a country town not far from Canberra on the way to Melbourne.

The anthology covers both prose and poems and there are 16 contributors to this work ...

Jane Baker, Nola Bindon, Val Brown, Robin Butt, Robyn Cadwallader, Katherin Cameron, Glenys Ferguson, Debra Glassford, Julie Meadows, Liz Murphy, Jane Nauta, Greg Piko, Richard Scutter, Agnes Skillin, Robyn Sykes, and Alan Watts.

... of note - one of the contributers, Agnes Skillin, will be 99 years old on the day of the launch. A day for a double celebration.

Some of the writers are well versed with many published pieces others are not so well known but none the less they exhibit a high standard of work and have taken great pride in producing material for this anthology.

Jane Baker is the co-ordinator of the group - Here is a link to one of her poems

I was privileged to be invited to contribute to the book. Here is a link to one of my poems.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Trains - Judith Wright - Analysis

The Trains

Tunnelling through the night, the trains pass
in a splendour of power, with a sound like thunder
shaking the orchards, waking
the young from a dream, scattering like glass

the old mens' sleep, laying
a black trail over the still bloom of the orchards;
the trains go north with guns.
Strange primitive piece of flesh, the heart laid quiet

hearing their cry pierce through its thin-walled cave
recalls the forgotten tiger,
and leaps awake in its old panic riot;
and how shall mind be sober,

since blood's red thread still binds us fast in history?
Tiger, you walk through all our past and future,
troubling the children's sleep'; laying
a reeking trail across our dreams of orchards.

Racing on iron errands, the trains go by,
and over the white acres of our orchards
hurl their wild summoning cry, their animal cry....
the trains go north with guns.

Judith Wright

from The Moving Image - 1946 (Collected Poems)

Written during the War in the Pacific this is the perennial telling poem on the nature of man responding emotionally ... history repeating and there is no escape to the primitive nature that defies rational thought ... blood's red thread still binds us fast in history ... will we ever tame that tiger ... and the brilliant contrast with the spring blossom.

 Notes ...

The first stanza sets the scene. It is black night and ‘tunnelling' becomes such perfect choice in track with the dark-mind-set of man referenced by unthinking emotive response in the next stanza.

When I first read this stanza I immediately recalled a scene in South Africa from 1967. I was travelling by car with another student from Jo'burg to the Kruger National Park. We took a steep side-track to the bottom valley to stay in 'ronde-hut' type accommodation. All through the night goods-trains sounded as they disappeared into a tunnel high on the escarpment. These apparent unattended trains were quite eerie and they literally continually disturbed the peace.

Look at the way the old man's sleep is disturbed compared to the young ... scattering like glass ... old men who have perhaps known war and do not want their current peace disturbed ... a fragile peace, only too aware of the pain of war ... then suddenly shattered again ... hard to recover broken glass - hard to rebuild peace, destroy hate.

The white apple-blossom in bright contrast and reminded me of the old road into Sydney before the motorway when you had to drive through Picton and the road paralleled the orchards.

Well, we all know about the ‘Tiger' and the nature of man and an unthinking response to situations ... racing on iron errands ... an intractable mind-set ... against the background of unease ... the mother views the sleeping child ... war threatens the dreams for the next generation ... and the innocent again suffer ...
... but today there has been a ceasefire between Gaza and Israel and the animal-tiger within is subjected to a little discipline.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

As I was climbing up the stair - Analysis

As I was climbing up the stair

As I was climbing up the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there;
He wasn’t there again today:
Oh how I wish he’d go away!

This poem was part of my childhood experience of poetry. Not that I particularly regarded this as a poem. My father would occasionally say these words. As a child we thought it ridiculous and a little silly, a little amusing. How can anyone see something that isn’t there – it’s just not possible. Perhaps children tend to always see things on face value.

As I was climbing up the stair

We used to go up the stairs to go to bed. Climbing suggest a struggle and difficulty. Of course quite often we were made to go to bed when we didn’t want to go. Our bedrooms were somewhat a little scary too being isolated from the rest of the house and at times the place of nightmares.

These words could mean something entirely different to face value.  For instance they could be saying as the struggle of life unfolds.

I met a man who wasn’t there;

How can you meet someone that isn’t there? The answer could be that the person is not there to everyone but you – the person created by you in your mind.

Another alternative is that the person was there and true to everybody – but you, for some unknown reason, are unwilling to recognise the existence. A beggar in the street could fall into such a category.

He wasn’t there again today:

This imagined or real man is not an isolated incident. This line gives an on-going flavour to the situation. Is it a man or does the man represent something else which is feared?

Oh how I wish he’d go away!

There is something amusing about this line when we take the situation as silly and on face value. If we give different interpretation then it is a clear desire not to have this ‘man’ around – whether it is avoiding a beggar in the street or something much more sinister carried around with the person preventing, limiting or hindering the life of the person.

Perhaps the stanza is a lesson in facing up to reality … any thoughts?

It is an interesting exercise to create your own ‘silly’ words. Here is a variation on the above …

As I was climbing up the stair

As I was climbing up the stair
I met a lady who wasn’t there;
She wasn’t there again today:
Oh I’m so glad she’s here to stay!

I’ll leave it to the reader to give thought on the nature of this person and the relationship.

And here is a new stanza in similar vein …  

The yellow flower

The yellow flower caught my eye
with petals bright and gold against the sky
but how I wished it wasn’t true
that all its colour was so blue!

Again I’ll leave it to the reader to interpret.

Perhaps it is easier for a yellow flower to be blue? – but I give no more a clue.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Behind common words and nursery rhymes

All may not be what it might seem
Milk often masquerades as cream

Behind common words there is often deeper meaning. Never is this more evident in the origin and meaning behind some of the most common nursery rhymes.

Consider Mary, Mary ..

The following text was taken from the Internet Site …

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row
The Mary in this verse, the scholarly books read, refers to Mary Tudor: Queen Mary I of England (b 1516). For those not completely up to speed on their Tudor history, Mary was the only surviving child born to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Henry, ever the SNAG, became impatient with his lack of male heir and decided that he’d like the marriage annulled so that he could try and produce the next King with another woman (he, of course, had his eye on Anne Boleyn).

At that time, England was a Catholic country and required the permission of the Pope for any marriage to be deemed invalid. Pope Julius II – by all reports, a rather fearsome bloke – denied Henry this request, which royally upset the King and set in place the events that would lead to England breaking away from Rome, and the formation of the Church of England.

Henry VIII died in 1547, and the monarchy was passed to Mary (after a brief stint with her rather sickly half-brother, Edward VII, who died when he was 15). Mary, no doubt a little miffed at Henry’s treatment of her mother, remained loyal to Catholicism throughout her years in exile, and was intent on restoring England to this faith. But the clergy and nobleman weren’t too pleased with yet another change, and proclaimed that Protestantism (Church of England) was the rightful religion of England, and that Mary could go jump in a lake.

Mary got mad – indeed, she got very mad – and passed legislation that would punish anyone judged guilty of heresy against the Catholic faith in the most grisly of ways (Hint: her nickname was Bloody Mary).

It is at this gruesome point that we go back to the nursery rhyme. The garden refers not to a lovely England cottage overcome with bloom, but rather to the cemeteries that were becomingly increasingly full of Mary’s victims. The silver bells and cockle shells refer to her  favoured instruments of torture – the former being thumb screws, and the latter being screws that are places on…umm…other parts of the male anatomy. Finally, the ‘maids all in a row’ is a short-hand reference to the guillotine (nicknamed ‘The Maiden’), which Mary also didn’t seem to mind using on her enemies.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Chinese Sybolism

Chinese (and Eastern) Symbolism … is very different from the West … this must be considered in any understanding of text (whether or not poetic) …

English poetry has developed over hundreds of years, certain symbolic meanings have attached themselves to such things as colours, places, times, and animals …the same can be said for Chinese poetry …

Here are some examples where there are clear differences in association …

In English poetry a rose would identify with beauty and woman … the equivalent flower in Chinese imagery would be the magnolia, in China a dove represents fidelity but in English poetry (and art) a dog is more appropriate …

More examples of Chinese Symbols and there meaning …

Courage and Bravery

Pine TreesLongevity, Steadfastness, and Self-Discipline



TortoiseLongevity & Immortality

GooseMarried Bliss


CicadaImmortality, Life after Death


CraneLongevity. A Pair of Cranes symbolizes "Long Marriage", as Cranes mate for life

DragonMale Vigor and Fertility, also the symbol for The Emperor …

… and more on the Dragon … as this is perhaps one of the most well know of Chinese symbols …

Ancient Chinese Dragons are ultimate symbols of cosmic Chi (energy). It is said to be the most potent symbol of good fortune in the Chinese pantheon of symbols. As one of the four creatures of the world's directions, the Dragon stands for new beginnings. The Dragon also has the power to release water to parched lands, and which in turn stands for abundance & relief. Continued success, high achievement, and prosperity are also listed among the Dragon's arsenal of good qualities, which rank it one of the most popular of Asian signs.
(Website link ...

Symbolism is important in poetry … it represents something else, either by association or by resemblance. It represents a deeper meaning than the words themselves … figurative meaning compared to literal meaning …

Example 1 … Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ … here is the first line … Two roads converged in a yellow wood,
In this poem the two roads are far more than two roads …representing a decision … in this case a clear choice of two … there is a coming together representing the closeness of the decision … but a decision must be made … … for those that know the poem the road not taken will be remembered reflecting on what would it have been like to have taken the alternative.

Example 2 … We could speak of depression as a black dog …black has obvious association with negativity … but why is a dog more appropriate than, say, a cat?

Footnote …Of course any poet can develop his or her own personal symbolism.