Windpocked Sandstone

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:16 am

There’s a bit of a poetry challenge going on at the WGB at the moment, where we’re given the first line and have to make up a poem from that: the person who provided the first line gets to judge the poems. I kinda liked how this one (the prompt was ‘Wind pocked sandstone’, and I took some liberties) came out:

Windpocked sandstone stands against
A sky streaming clouds like bits

A thousand generations
It lay beneath the green
‘neath fertile soil
Surviving, remaining
While timelapse life
Flickered by above

Before that, a million more
Forming, compacting, concreting

And before: from hard rock ground
By winds and waves and heat and cold
To sand, on the floors of forgotten seas

Now, in a (relative) blink
Dug up, cut square, stood tall
To face the wind, the acid rain
The lost-packet sky…

And in a thousand generations more
New sand, on as yet unremembered ocean



Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:37 am

A life, a mind, like vellum
Too precious to discard
And so, instead, it’s scraped
Bleached a little by the sun
Then over-written with new words
A prayer, a sacred parable
A recipe, experiment or just
Something to be remembered
But no scrape, no sun
Erases every trace of life
Old stories bleeding through
Enrich and intertwine
So that this morning’s recipe
Or shopping list
Partakes of the divine


Life, Love, Joy and Music

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:35 pm

A sestina

All through these weary
Or in other seasons joyful
Days and years of life
Winds a strange and quiet music
Made of tears and time
Fear and always, always love

The various joys of human love
Something of which we seldom weary
Across this unforgotten time
Lie memories both bright and joyful
Of dawning rooms filled with music
Epiphanies of newly-rising life

But sometimes there is pain in life
Some years an unrequited love
Too saccharine the music
Sometimes enough to weary
Too busy to be joyful
So many tasks so little time

To each I say, improve the time
Gulp, drink down your life
Find times and ways, be joyful
And always, always live for love
Search on even when you’re weary
For that strange distant music

For meaning in the end is only music
Affection the chief end of time
The thing of which we never weary
The point of this too-fleeting life
Is just to give and have love
And linger sated and joyful

It’s us who will be joyful
The devotees of music
Of beauty and of love
And in our fleeting time
Embrace all life
Refuse to weary

So weary one, be joyful
Live life in all its music
And know there’s always time for love


Stephen Fry on the English Language

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:58 pm

I’ve talked before here about language and how it grows and develops, and the tension between correctness and usage.

This is the second half of an interview of Stephen Fry by Jonathan Ross, so it starts off a bit mid-stream, but once Stephen gets into his rant about the English language, it’s pure poetry.

(I’ve also written about my intellectual mancrush on Stephen Fry here before.)



Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:41 am

It seeps in, you know?
You think you’ve sealed it
With silicone and prayer
And clenched idolatry of text

But at the edges
And the heart
Something new
(Yet nothing’s new at all)
Erodes, perhaps corrupts or
Anyway, intrudes

Too full, perhaps, of meaning
Power, ritual, belief
The ions float, and
Membranes thought impermeable
Were semi after all

This undesired osmosis
Slips in life


Banjo Patterson

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:24 am

Cassie has an English assignment to write about an ‘Australian icon’. She’s chosen ‘the bushman’, and as part of her research we were looking together at the poems of Banjo Patterson. He was an Australian poet in the late 19th century who had a lot to do with developing Australia’s national identity. He wrote the words for our ‘unofficial national anthem’, Waltzing Matilda. You might know of the film ‘The Man from Snowy River’, but it really doesn’t do justice to the poem it’s based on – look it up online.

Here are two of his shorter poems. Clancy of the Overflow is probably the purest distillation of the bushman myth:

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just on spec, addressed as follows, “Clancy, of The Overflow”.
And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
(And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar)
’Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
“Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.”

. . . . .

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving “down the Cooper” where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.

. . . . .

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal—
But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of The Overflow.

And Mulga Bill’s Bicycle is just plain fun!

‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,
The grinning shop assistant said, “Excuse me, can you ride?”

“See here, young man,” said Mulga Bill, “from Walgett to the sea,
From Conroy’s Gap to Castlereagh, there’s none can ride like me.
I’m good all round at everything as everybody knows,
Although I’m not the one to talk – I hate a man that blows.
But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight;
Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.
There’s nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel,
There’s nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel,
But what I’ll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight:
I’ll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight.”

‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode,
That perched above the Dead Man’s Creek, beside the mountain road.
He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray,
But ‘ere he’d gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver steak,
It whistled down the awful slope towards the Dead Man’s Creek.

It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box:
The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks,
The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground,
As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree,
It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be;
And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek
It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dead Man’s Creek.

‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore:
He said, “I’ve had some narrer shaves and lively rides before;
I’ve rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five-pound bet,
But this was the most awful ride that I’ve encountered yet.
I’ll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; it’s shaken all my nerve
To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.
It’s safe at rest in Dead Man’s Creek, we’ll leave it lying still;
A horse’s back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill.”

I love reading Patterson’s poetry aloud: the rhymes and rhythms are simple and robust, and he uses lots of alliteration and internal rhymes that carry the poem along. I learned a lot of them as a kid (heh – for an assignment once I had to type out The Man From Snowy River from a book, on a manual typewriter, ‘cos there was no cut and paste in those days) and there are still lines that stick in my mind very clearly.


Big Words 2

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:53 am

I posted a month or so ago on the topic of using big or unfamiliar words. Messing about today I found a poem I wrote around the same time on the same topic:

I didn’t use that
Word you’ve never
Heard before to
Put you down

It’s just that I
Couldn’t think of
Any other one that
Meant the same and
Rang with all the
Appropriate connotations
And signifiers

Ah crap
I’ve done it again
Haven’t I


It’s a Small Web After All

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:38 am

Alex’s best friend Lynsey said to her on MSN ‘I found this site on the net with an awesome poem! Go to www.bravus.com.au/blog and search for this poem‘. Alex then told her ‘That’s my Dad’s blog, and I wrote that poem with him!’ (2 years ago, as it happens.) Apparently Lynsey had googled for ‘Alex Geelan’ (kind of a friend ‘vanity google’), but not realised the connection when she found the blog and poem (not knowing my Bravus alias). Kinda cool.

(and yes, if you’ve ever been to Disneyland you now have that confounded song stuck in your head all day – {evil grin})


Indistinguishable From Magic

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:40 pm

“That’s all it takes”, he said – slightly arch, a little condescending
“Just any sufficiently advanced technology”

Perhaps it’s so
Perhaps each miracle can be
Explained away by secret
Mechanisms and hidden springs

I’ve met his type before, of course
Eager to drop factoids on my toes
With a tone-deaf clunk
Eager to explain away

The parting of the Red Sea?
A freak of wind and tide
Rivers turned to blood?
Just algal blooms and mud

And fairies?
Why, an elaborate prank
With that newfangled
Photographic tech

I feel as though these
Reductionist perspectives
Disenchant the world
And yet

When indistinguishable –
Magic swallows tech

(a riff on Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’)


Hacker Haiku

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:04 am

A new poetic form I’ve been playing with a bit. The first one I wrote both illustrates and explains the form:

Then two
Four syllables
And the next line needs at least eight
Themes and topics can be various, but things cyber are welcome
Rather than get impossible
Reduce power
Back to

The line lengths go 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1 syllables: hackers among you will realise that this is the sequence 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20… which explains the reference in the first one to ‘Reduce power/Back to/Zero’.

Here’s the second, which is more of a poem:

Steel thumb
Whirred slowly, sure
Counting each syllable, cadence
Monotonously creating art (or artifice). But ??
Cure for exceeded moduli
Stress fracturing
A steel

(∼∃ means ‘there does not exist’, but needs to be read as ‘not exist’ for the count to work!)

Yes, as a matter of fact I am a hopeless geek!



Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:21 pm

Jintishi is a Chinese form of poetry from the Tang dynasty. Here are a couple of examples, with translations:


Our host brings wine, for merry-making tonight;
And bids the guest from Guangling, to play upon the zither;
Moonlight bathes the city walls, crows fly mid-air;
Frost petrifies ten thousand tress, wind pierces our robes.
But the copper stove gleams bright, and candles add their shimmer;
First he plays Lu Water, then The Princess of Chu.
As the first note trembles, all else falls silent;
From the whole company not a word, till the stars begin to pale.
The thousand miles to Qinghuai, I was sent by the Emperor’s mandate;
On such a night I venture to speak of, retiring to the mountains and the clouds.
[A Zither Song : Li Qi, ???? : ??]


Sitting alone, in the hush of the bamboo;
I thrum my lute, and whistle lingering notes.
In the secrecy of the wood, no one can hear;
Only the clear moon, comes to shine on me.
[Hut Among the Bamboos : Wang Wei, ????? : ??]

It’s basically impossible to do in English because it relies on the tonality of Chinese, but one form, lüshi, consists of 8 lines – four sets of couplets – in which the second and third couplets must parallel one another with opposite ideas. I tried my hand at an English version, and for some reason what came out was kind of delta blues inflected:

I have no zither, but this old guitar
Although much scratched, sings with a mellow tone
My slide the neck of a bottle of Jack
Worn smooth by fingers and wire strings
Yet one small sharp place still exists
It happened when I dropped it, when you left
I essay sweet slow sad beauty under the moon
But sometimes it cuts and my guitar bleeds jagged


Caution: Poets At Work

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:13 pm

A thread I started at the William Gibson Board that involves writing poetry to order within certain rules. Lots of cool and fun stuff so far: http://williamgibsonboard.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/2866012481/m/2671022652



Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:22 am

There’s a bit of a limerick thread going on on the William Gibson Board at the moment. Most of my contributions have related to particular things or people on the board, so they don’t stand alone very well, but I thought this one was kinda fun:

The secret to limerick’s metre
Is to make every line even sweeter
Doesn’t matter how long
All that counts is the song
But \/\/r171n6 1|\| d16i72 1z 13373R