Recently this poem “back fence lost” was shortlisted for the Judith Wright Overland emerging poets prize.
The whole experience was really unexpected and strange for me. I even began to wish that i had never entered because if i won i would have to reveal that i am an imposter that knows very little about contemporary poetry in Australia. Through this process i realised how strongly i have come into the belief that creativity is growing more common. That it is becoming less about the individual modernist genius, and more about everybody having the knowledge that they possess the greatest genius of all, that of the inherent creativity of everyday life.
I have always questioned if the world needs another white male middle class story-teller. I have almost given up creative practice because of these issues that are so present in literary and art communities. I still don’t know where i stand on this issue, maybe i never will? But having said all that, art making is about expression of communities, dialogue and healing. That’s a good enough reason to keep doing it for me. Just to make sense of the world and make sure that cultural monster forms don’t swallow me up completely.
Back Fence Lost is a poem that i wrote while living in Katooma. I had just left living on a rural property in northern NSW and was confronted by the shift back into a suburban lifestyle. All everyday things are full of ecological interactions. All these things we live with are openings and beginnings of stories that cascade forever.
In the form and style of the poem you can hear how much i love my favorite poets, especially Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman and Gary Snyder. BUt It’s also written from reading the poets, Kath Walker, Anita Heiss and Yvette Holt. There is also the feeling of co-writing with my peers Julie-ann Henninger and Simon Leo, who are the most important and brilliant poets for me because they share a personal journey of life and growth with me.
The poem was edited and rewritten from its original form which is about 200 lines to fit the 50 line limit of the Overland prize. I have posted both versions of the poem here. let me know what you think…
Back fence lost
Rough-edged palings warped bent nail shadows and twisted grain,
chicken wire half dead bean vine climbing full of seeds and light breeze moving,
afternoon shadow decent of cross beam and 5 + 3 hardwood upright,
once upon a time made with string line and spirit level
now an ancient relic leaning:
weather-board white grey dusk light through the cracks,
brilliant in the moon-light with arch of Milky-Way arm spiral above,
crawling with snails in the wet dew night.
palings torn from the old eucalypt forests,
uplifted volcanic ancient hotspots and leaf litter of thousand year old hardwood
in an under story of lace work vine clothes dangling from canopy to buttress,
on a cold windy ridge top
log truck spitting up dust against the bleeding angophoras.
hillsides burnt black smouldering root-balls and the etched road access of compacted and grader
r I p p E d l I n E s.
This arvo with hand rested on the back-fence wondering,
what kind of sport is this anyway?
head thrown back in lycra suit racing across the roof tiles with billowing smoke and rafters
cheering in race day hats beneath blue and white stripped umbrellas as soldiers move through
bombed streets in old pattern SHM respirators and ZFK-58 suits
Standing on Olympic podium with chin high ignorant of garden fence complexities,
Hitting snooker chalked balls across green felt war zones with roof collapsing and woman with sick
child begging on the street outside.
looking up see the sky rested on the pavers crooked against grey fence shadows
neighbour mowing lawn over back fence
l l l l l
O O O o O
s s s s s
t t t t t
in the wood grain
h O l d i n g
the shadow eucalypt tree rusting nail eternity.
(This is the longer version. It’s a bit more honest and i think it’s better to read.)
Late summer beneath light rain on unbalanced weed infected pavers,
It’s 3pm and I’m out here wondering about the world.
Look up at old fence and hear the neighbour gallant on the other-side struggling with lawnmower
Sounds like a beast of a pull start cord siezed by rust,
I am thinking about suburban backyards and my display cement
How many fences in this town?
How much separation?
How much old-growth destruction for land claim’d bound airy lines?
Could we pull the fences of the world down with rusted jemmy bar and hammer and climbing
Reclaim the commons of humanities sensual belonging:
Make sure everybody has a home, land to grow food on and a place to fuck wildly amongst the
With strange neighbour alien mowing grass
I touch the fence-face with curious fingers…
The rough-edg’d pailings warp’d bent nail shadows and twist’d grain,
Chicken wire half dead bean vine climbing full of seeds and light breeze moving:
Afternoon shadows decent of eros cross beam and 5 + 3 hardwood upright,
Straight! Plumb! Level!
Once upon a time made with string line and spirit level,
Hammer’d, Saw’d, Chisl’d fit together neatly,
Now an ancient relic leaning,
Weather-board white grey dusk light through the cracks,
Brilliant in the moon-light with arch of Milky-Way arm spiral above,
Crawling with snails in the wet dew night seen through window ghost panes knot’d and reflective of
Caress’d and clamber’d by morning glory!
Later I am sitting with a splinter in the palm of my hand for an hour looking at Arnhem land painting in thick
Missionary curator mediated book cover,
Near the garden fence on plastic chair unfolded!
Ancestral mother dancing ochre patterns and spirit healing on the back of x-ray serpent render’d on bark scroll.
How many thousand years?
How many moons, suns floods?
How many cyclones, fires, droughts?
Old ancestral dancer in the deep unknown desert on the sand holds down nuclear death,
Dispers’d radioactive elements, Uranium, Plutonium Strontium-90,
In world wide power station facilities,
Those chemical elements dug up spread annihilation for children, mothers, lands, disrupted power by tsunami earthquake nuclear meltdown on deep earth fault line,
In the rain drifting the biosphere in clouds fallen in soil,
Gives Mona Lisa bone cancer!
Rots Venus birthing!
Withers van Gough sunflowers!
Marbl’d David’s cock flush’d crack’d down museum toilet!
Monet’s haystacks disposed black toxic rain burnt!
Turns them to earth.
Old spirit dancer wake my young body!
Wake flesh blood dormant spirit warrior and forgive my ignorance and push my face in the dirt to greet my own ancestral dancers of other climates!
Before the children’s bodies are eaten by cancers!
Before the sacred land is murder’d and lay’d bare!
Before apathy and despair burry me in mounds of asphalt concrete and toxic ash!
Palings torn from the old eucalypt forests,
A mountain range of beauty 3000 kilometres long from tropic to curv’d southern snowdrifts,
Volcanic ancienthotspots and story’d cultur’d geologic wonders.
The sacred memory of creek-bed and the erosion of slope by cyclone torn trees.
In the warm afternoon sun, I am remembering mist rising from subtropical ecologies and ochre filled creek banks, the leaf litter
of thousand year old sentient giants,
Communities of rich interactions and deep strength sunlight filtering through thick vines
the eucalypt forests of old growth hardwoods giants in an under story of tree ferns,
a lace work of vine clothes dangling from canopy to buttress heart shap’d skeleton leafs,
creeks clear and fed from springs in the moss cover’d ground,
tree spiral figures embrac’d in the branches of worlds spreading in spirals of galaxies and leaves roots dug deep chew’d on by serpents,
curl’d around the trunk tongue flicking at the moon deep in the tree of life,
how many seasons?
How many winters of frost and snow?
How much dormancy and how much times of budding?
I am remembering when i saw a pademelon feeding at dawn on fern shoots,
Eucalypt silhouettes on a cold windy ridge top:
Log truck spitting up dust against the wounded bleeding Angophras.
Hillsides burnt black smouldering root-balls and the etched road access of compact’d and grader
Walked amongst the forest logging debris tall trees gone lay down across a stump as big as a bed,
I found a glider dead torn apart still in it’s hollow felled by chainsaw and harvesting
Full of maggots!
This afternoon with hand rested on the back-fence, once alive in a forest community,
now leaning against a neighbour separation device.
I am making a quite prayer:
Old tree hold still the ground!
Hold the atomic annihilation beneath!
Wake my ancestors cell forms and genetic ephemera!
ancient spirit power!
Show me the spiral branch of warriors and the graves where they feast!
What kind of sport is this anyway?
Head thrown back in Lycra suit racing across the roof tiles with billowing smoke and rafters collapsing behind,
Cheering in race day hats beneath blue and white stripped umbrellas as soldiers move through bombed streets in old pattern SHM respirators and ZFK-58
Depleted uranium casing baby deformities,
Hitting snooker chalk’d balls across green felt war zones with roof collapsing and woman with sick child begging on the street outside,
Standing on Olympic podium with chin high and forgotten garden fence complexities,
Finding god in church on pews or a with a hairless child woman with chemical melted hair, tanned skin and black silk dress,
Jumping high in metal studded boots on the back of someone falling down to catch an incoming atomic missile!
Down with the fence!
Talking with the neighbour he agrees!
Says: Knock it down put up steel colour bond one!
That’s just another captalyst nightmare mining atrocity,
Replace it with metal galvanised uprights for black spiders to hide in,
Remove the rustic shadows of bent nail ecstasy silk thread leaf dangling homes,
Take it to the tip and dump it out of the car wash polish’d utility,
Burn it in a pile over a privet prun’d manifestation,
Write holy laws in the ash and breath the smoke.
Looking up i see the sky book rested on the pavers crooked against grey fence shadows
Still talking to the neighbour over the edge of fence controlled chaos
Could we pull down native forest wood saw’d fence to make communal garden beds?
Grow food and boycott the supermarket slave driver subtle and paver of fluorescent death,
Tomatoes leaning pick’d by small children hands and cook’d for dinner,
Find chicken pecking snails for dinner holy saviour of silver-beet destruction,
Find freedom in penis climbed and caressed by lovers hands!
In Breast and clitoris aroused by gentle tongue or fingers,
Because enjoyment is a deep human need, not a capatlyist destruction tool.
Save the earth by playing football, basketball or cricket with friends
By listening to poets!
By fucking and teasing pleasure from free loving bodies,
By Chinese checkers, backgammon, naught’s and crosses!
Don’t need new TV!
Find our peace cooking on an open-fire beneath a sky full of distant suns!
Sing with guitars or drums or cooking pots!
surrounded by healing medicine herbs!
Wood grain eternity holding the shadow’s eucalypt tree of life rusting nail infinity!
Map the journeys of stars or snails!
Dance ecstatic and refuse to be a consumable unit!
Play table tennis on the reclaimed fence paling table beneath the peach tree spring blossoms and watch the fairy wrens chase their fancy blue breast’d hero!
learn each others names and sing songs of deep earth healing!
discuss political paraphernalia and bury newspaper politicians in piles of compost and chicken poo!
+ Katoomba autumn 2011