Both sides of me – glass. Across the street – glass.
A township’s reflection in silicate.
I watch a car, I see it three times pass.
Gleditsia – a sunburst in triplicate.
Waitress serves coffee, delivers it thrice.
A school bus on route to three destinations.
Thread of pedestrians – a three-way splice.
Parked vans in parallel situations.
An over-weight figure stretches and shrinks.
From the pavement’s perspective, three lines switch.
A chain of clients making awkward links.
Three panels of distortion – a triptych.
. The arcade – a see-through kaleidoscope.
. A visual illusion of words in trope.
To the reader: Taree is a small town on the central coast of eastern Australia. Over three mornings, I found myself in a coffee-spot, positioned in a neat and tidy arcade, overlooking a sleepy main-street. With glass all about me, I peered out from within my squared-off telescope and captured a kaleidoscope of reflections; as the town began its business: in country towns the streets are wide, with rows of trees on either side.
To the poet: As a stranger in town, you are invisible on the first and second day. By day-three, however, your regular habits have been revealed and noted by the observant local. The guy behind the counter knows your coffee-preference, the waitress works around your table-setting of books and pens. There’s a polite expectation, not quite an obligation, that you explain your purpose. Towns, just like people, are a little suspicious of strangers with pad and paper.
The scenery at large is much the same.
Division of the canvas is at scale.
My chair’s vista, its aspect, holds its frame.
Too much of the same; how soon the fresh goes stale.
And so, in search of interest, I observe
the nuance, the difference, at closer range.
The ant upon the banister, the curve
of filagree, the butterfly’s exchange,
the magpie’s meanderings, the sun’s glint
brightening my pen, sharpening its edge.
Dislocate from distance a fine-grained hint
of interest; extract one leaf from its hedge.
. Beneath a broad brush there sits a fine stroke.
. Fire finds new flame from an ambers poke.
To the reader: Big picture spaces have big dimensions, sized to fit larger than life characters committing acts of great courage or crimes of deep passion. Scaled-down, the miniature world has its equivalent perspectives. With the lens in macro we can watch nature’s smallest surveyors staking-out territories; acting-out tragedies… eking-out existences. All creatures great and small have a frame of reference.
To the poet: The poet’s lens is endlessly variable. From a static vantage point, characters move in and out of fields of interest and intrigue. A single character can occupy layers of landscape; moving in and out of focus. Poets select their foreground, and from within that loose-boundary construct a depth of field. The narrative’s success relies on how convincingly a curiosity emerges and then interacts with the imagery… context is everything.
So it was Jack who took the photograph. So it was him behind the camera. Twas Jack who developed the contoured map. Twas him who squared the circles of Canberra. It’s through Jack’s lens our city came to light. It’s through his eyes our city was revealed. Jack of all trades who gave this city sight Jack himself citified an open field. May not have built the house, but he was there… May not have cut the stalks, but so he’d been… Jack was at the opening, Jack was at the fair… Jack be nimble, Jack be quick … to the scene. . What Jack saw yesterday, we see today; . Jack’s people at work, Jack’s children at play.
To the reader: Jack Mildenhall was Canberra’s first official photographer. His active years (1920s and 1930s) captured our social and physical integration into the landscape. In 2013, his vast collection was digitised and put online as part of the city’s centenary activities. For young Canberrans, the Mildenhall Gallery is now an accessible treasure trove of archaic revelations; distantly familiar and curiously connected. The separation of decades has sharpened the contrast of these black and white images.
To the poet: A teacher’s poem, an advertiser’s jingle…oh no! The temptation to make a story rhyme is sadly irresistible. The trouble is, people are kindly and encouraging; too polite to say stop. And so, with ‘vim and vigour’ we would-be-poets merrily sentence to death a perfectly good story; death by enthusiastic strangulation. With the next rhyme being paramount we lunge desperately to its match; overlooking all other creative courtesies and considerations… that’s nice, but unreadable.
An elliptical stance; a solstice night;
remnants of Autumn; blanket of leaves;
haiku syllables; captured sound and sight;
severe frost; white footsteps; icicled eaves.
Snippets, half-formed, in the absence of heat;
cold-fusion; liquid air; saturated;
frozen to a frame; cameos compete.
A fragile balance, equally weighted;
naked trees strike a pose in silhouette;
ghostly shadows dance to a druid’s drum;
the pendulum must pause to pirouette;
for that which passes tells of that to come.
. That which tilters must surrender to time;
. so be the season, the reason and rhyme.
To the reader: In temperate zones seasons swing with a contrast of moods. With reduced hours, Winter days make-do with what little warmth the sun has to offer. Long-nights, without a store of heat, settle quickly into a frigid chill. In the cold depths of night a frozen moment rearranges water particles into crystals of ice. The dark-theatre is austere, stripped of animation; made still.
To the poet: A lifeless sonnet, descriptive of a cold suburban landscape. As much imagined as it is observed. Small snippets of observation, transitions, staggered frames; brittle connections. The relationship of water and ice in-part describes the sonnet’s internal structure as crystallised. There’s a fractured feel to the poem, which at any moment could shatter in to parts.
Things, nameless remnants, objects in a drawer;
trinkets that tumble out of time and place.
Garage gadgets, artefacts of war;
unidentified objects, out of space,
out of reason, out of function and fit:
oddities, obscurities, curios
long since departed from inventor’s wit;
having lost the memory of ‘who knows’.
Relics in a box, contents in a trunk,
a job-lot of stuff, a deceased estate
to be sold-off cheap, to be bought as junk:
what’s good for nothing makes a paper weight.
. Nothing more nameless than a nameless thing.
. All deserve a title – be it subject or king.
To the reader: I discovered an eccentric great uncle: the bird man. He was featured in a national display of urban characters known for having an inventive wit related to ‘things’. Uncle Henry Grace, was a bird-listener. He rode the country-side listening to warbles. Fittingly, he then invented his own form of warble-notation to capture distinctive ‘calls of the bush’. Then, he would create tin-whistles that imitated the various cheeps and chirps. A century later they are ‘things’ of interest; curios.
To the poet: In its first-draft this sonnet began with: ‘Objectification, the stuff of things’… borrowed (I remember) from the more contentious notion of ‘Subjectification, the sport of kings’. Quite a nice beginning, but the rest of the sonnet was hopelessly lost in trivial detail. And so, the long task of re-writing began. A complete upheaval takes some effort. Holding on to the essence, discarding all else … that’s the thing.
To all things my interest cannot attend.
I am responsive to movement, colours
and the scent of life; all things so contend
for my attention; distinct of others.
One thing for the moment will steal my gaze.
I take note of that which sways and swishes.
That which has rhythm to my interest plays,
so becomes the pick of many wishes.
I’m partial to soft tones that glow; that blush
the dull canvas with a rose-coloured tint.
I’m partial to that which is full and lush;
that which brings love to life with perfumed hint.
. I cannot attend to all things in sight;
. instead, I seek what gives my eyes delight.
To the reader: Programmed to attend to life’s rhythm; we literally seek and appreciate animation. Some movements have particular powers of attraction. The effortless ‘sway and swish’ of a wiggling-walk makes alluring theatre. The long-stride of confidence without pretence or contrivance draws attention. The nonchalant amble of a carefree character entertains our imagination. Powers of observation energise our interest; sharpen our focus.
To the poet: Infatuation lacks restraint. To ogle is obsessive. Admiration construes a connection. Polite interest requires distance, it respects the dignity of a shared space; eye-contact is confirmed not consumated. From a poet’s vantage point there’s a code of practice that applies to people watching. As subjects of interest ‘the observed’ will tolerate a casual glance; not so an intrusive gaze.