Australian

Poetry Collaboration

#24

 

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from Meuse Press –

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Manly Art Gallery & Museum

 

www.magam.com.au

Ekphrasis selected to be read in celebration of the artworks in the Gallery’s collection exhibition ‘Manly: Art from the Vault’

#24

 

 

 

 

FEATURING (roughly in chronological order of the pieces they addressed): Meredith Pitt, Danny Gardner, Jan Dean, Paul Williamson, Adam Aitken, Frank Russo, Jenny Blackford, Halee Isil Cosar, Lou Steer, Bhupen Thakker, Marie McMillan, Rebecca Kylie Law,  Magdalena Ball,  Colleen Z Burke,

Gisela Sophia Nittel, Ian Pettit, Leigh McGregor-Upton, Angela Gardner, Malcolm Fisher & Doug Neale.

 

 

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Meredith Pitt

Breathe

after Manly Beach with lady lifesavers by Percy Spence

 

I have been standing on the beach, waiting
for my turn to breathe since I was four

 

there have been years where I watched

the seagulls for a signal—

their white shit always missed

 

A lineage of women who wore half-moon aprons

and ironed with an astronaut’s helmet

attached to a shoulder bag of hot air

 

My tunnelled escape meant assuming past the point of knowing

until another           appeared

 

A conversation waiting to be had

splits ripe—it’s not me you want at your side

but a child’s crayon drawing

 

I’m sorry I can’t be your missing mother, or

mine.  I still buy sandalwood soap to keep in my drawers.

 

Two currawongs visit me,

pacing the railing of my balcony.  I’ve

learnt not to approach but allow them

to ignore me

 

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Danny Gardner

A Response to: Moslems in Procession by Emanuel Philips Fox.    1911

 

It’s a matter of knowing when you should go – that’s the key.

Did Mr Fox meet and talk with them -

the other artists and writers - from Europe?

People like Andre Gide, Antoine Saint Exupery,

Paul Klee, August Macke, Henri Matisse and so many others.

They were all interested in finding out about the oriental at that time.

Did they ask him about the Antipodes?

Or did he see them and shear off – wanting the Orient to himself,

keeping the low profile.

Did he interact with the Moslems at all?

I’m sure he had to hire all kinds of guides.

Everyone has to pay ‘baksheesh’ to village urchins and their mummies.

It’s been said the artist’s first aim is to observe

And what was that quote of William Hazlitt’s?

‘In a stranger’s ignorance of me and my affairs

I – in a manner – forget myself.’

 

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Jan Dean

Red floral swimsuit 1950

Primary Colours

Railway Picnic, Manly 1950

 

Tired from the trip and so much excitement, I flop

on the pontoon with friends, watching a teenager

stride the sandy strip in her colourful costume

 

bright red with blue and yellow flowers.

We’ve seen nothing like it. She walked out of a dream.

 

The long journey, ginger beer from a barrel, ice cream

in tiny cartons with wooden paddles, lollies in paper

bags with twisted tops, the sack and egg & spoon races

 

fade into insignificance.

Thanks to her swimmers, the teenager is more potent

 

than Wonder Woman because those colours dazzle.

Her mother must use Persil.

I pleaded for this bubble swimsuit with elastic shirring

 

on the bodice, all the rage for fellow ten year-olds

back home. Now it’s feeble, the way the world looks

 

through blue cellophane. Still, I can wriggle inside a towel

to dress and undress in full sight of company

but imagine the teenager uses a dressing room.

 

When I peel my cossie off, it leaves scale marks on my skin

and my scrawny straggle of long plaits, dripping after a dip

 

feels fishy, whereas the girl on the shore is adorable

trimmed by her tiny skirt, perky yet demure.

My suit is a bubble atrocity and I’m kin to seaweed.

 

Here I am; a pretend member of the family of seven across

the street whose father works for the railways, tagging along

 

at their annual picnic. When I grow up I want to be

that teenager. Her swimsuit will never get wet

so maybe I should stay a legitimate form of sea life.

 

 

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Paul Williamson

Alan Hind Surfers with Long Boards 1950

Primeval Shore

 

Breakers roll in - they are smaller today.
It doesn’t matter.
Dull sun freshens the white roofs
of shelters, sharpens their peaks.
Gulls move quick red legs across the grass.
Two long-haired surfers sit on boards
waiting in low swell for their next ride

during our visit
to the semi-eternal mother
at this ancestral edge that holds a place
to reconcile us with what we are.
Others dream of forests
Our lot longs for seashores.

We slowly calm to the dull roar.

 

previously published To the Spice Islands (Belgrove, 2015)

 

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Adam Aitken

Ashton’s Notre Dame

 

Sir John William Ashton (1881-1963)

Notre Dame undated oil on canvas

mounted on composition board

38 x 54cm Gift of Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo, 1954

 

What is it you really want to argue with

stone machine of anti-gravity?

 

Statement buttressed & exquisitely glassed

in a summer in Paris.

 

(Cathedral Industries that thrive.)

 

Today three gentlemen walk by

on their way to the view.

Nearby a man in a pink smock

and white cap

(the artist?)

 

They see a river

dust or swallow feathers

some stony sense of it

take off into cumulus.

 

Painting another summer in Paris

twin tower of levers and stained glass:

magnificence come to Mosman,

the origin of light (blue sky version).

 

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Frank Russo

Tom Thompson Annunciation 1973

The Annunciation

 

Mary of Bingara, of Gongolgon,

of Mahra Station, sits beneath

the skillion verandah, watching

the trees on the horizon

as if they might transfigure

into horsemen in clouds

of hoof-kicked dust.

 

Six days now her husband left,

with him five stockmen,

a thousand head of short horns.

The wooden dining table polished,

the linens, bore-water washed,

stiffen in the dry wind.

 

She keeps company

with the old man saltbush,

make believing it speaks to her

in the blithe tones of childhood

until her daydream is interrupted

by a low susurration,

a flutter of wings

caught in her left field of vision.

 

Fearing a hawk or a kite, she shields

her face from the light.

Glimpsing the form before her,

she imagines it a Birra-gnulu

the local women speak of—this landscape

of red earth and dunes

is a place for spirits, not saints—

 

and trembles at the sight

of the emu-god transformed

to human flesh, two-pocket

cotton shirt loose around his form,

skin and hair sun-baked to a flaxen glow.

As he speaks, she thinks of how

the tin awning her husband built

is no altar of incense; the nearest Galilee

forty days ride by horseback.

 

Once the spirit has departed

she gathers the folds of her cloak

and observes the landscape shift

in the morning light: the earth a swirl

of coral-shaped channels, organs

of salty white and pale marine

soaking past the wooden posts,

heedless of lines drawn on parchment.

 

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Jenny Blackford 

Promotional Poster South Steyn

South Steyne

 

Landlocked in Bexley North,

cramped all week in the wooden desk

stained blue around the inkwell,

I pined for the sea.

 

Wherever my parents drove us – tear-free

Sans Souci, Picnic Point, or Manly –

I fell fully-clothed into water,

came back wrapped in Dad's holey old jumper

from the car boot. Too often I skinned my knee

on rocks. There's still a tooth-scar on my lip,

if you look hard.

 

The South Steyne ferry was heaven

for me, though doubtless hell for parents

trying to keep me from dragging my baby sisters

over wooden sides not quite steep enough

to deter a determined child. The trip took days,

or months. Pure ecstasy

with ice cream at the end.

 

Then the ride back with sleeping babies

piled over the parents,

and my last chance to fall. 

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Halee Isil Cosar

Bill Samuels Shino Bowl 1995

Wabi-Sabi

 

Perhaps he has no expectations

after all these years

He knows the kiln can produce

many mysteries

The fire, works its magic

in the confines of the womb

Stains the cup where it has the deepest wound

 

Each one is made with the same materials

He guides, the breast like white with fingers gliding

A meditation of work that writes its own destiny

To create the cup that is empty, he must be empty

He must be present, yet willing to let go

Let go

Of wanting to know

 

He is just like this shino cup

Made from clay and cooked by life

His glazed skin is mist that covers his stains

wabi-sabi

He also fits into his maker’s hands

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 Lou Steer

Paola Talbert, Kairos (Moment of Truth) 2000

Muse

 

Muse appears,

not  - as we imagine -

in a cloud of cherubs, trumpets blaring -

softly,  a feather falling on water,

silent,  a breath in the deep.

 

Muse descends, 

floating beneath the surface of your thoughts,

suspended in a solution only you can make for her.

 

Her party finery trails behind her,

shedding pearls, diamonds, periwinkles,

glimmering drops of light into the abyss.

 

She reaches out her hand, takes yours,

her pearly fingertips brush your palm,

tracing a phosphorescent trail along your destiny line.

 

 

 

Ephemeral, evanescent,

Muse needs your poor hands and mind

to show her to the world.

 

Muse flees, 

leaving no trace –

except the dreams you try to capture before they vanish.

 

No matter how much care you take,

you never quite surf the crest of her wave

as she breaks over you.

Human -  your visions are limited

by the daily grind of living,

your need to keep that body going,

so your mind can soar free into Muse’s realm. 

 

Nothing to do now -

but accept the extravagant praise

of those who have not felt her touch

and yearn for her uncertain return.

 

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Bhupen Thakker

John Olsen Sydney \Harbour Seaport of Desire    2003

(spirit of the collection) …..An old Indian woman who speaks no English       

 

 

lost her sparkle at seventeen. Her husband threw her art against a wall and pointed to his many siblings who needed looking after

Sunita did it well.

a walking stick roams a gallery-  by a light blue harbour, beside golden sand. The determined Rat tat tat tat wakes a lonely art group… swaying elderly traditional clothing sends messages

I like the sweep of the bridge in this….pointing to the John Olsen

I was as beautiful as that. The Rah Fizelle

in Manly Art Gallery. Sunita does it well

And look at this one she utters to her son. You see how the purple is, to lead the eye into infinity……….” Ketlu saru kam che” she says in Gujarati…”what beautiful strokes”. This is the Ralph Balson. ”Gulabi ketlu Nache che” - “pink dancing strongly”,“safed jane bole che”- “the white almost talking”,“lilu chupai ne bethu che”- green hides and sits,“shu light blue joyu”- did you see the light blue.“Ane soneri jaane swarg no darvajo”- and the gold like a door to paradise…

Sunita sits down              for

perhaps  a thousand long breaths/sighs ,  a thousand memories,  a thousand tears, a thousand imagined strokes of paint, a life missed, of no regret, of many religious chants, a thousand perfectly shaped chapatis…and delicate aromas of crackling mustard seeds

“stillness red

touch orange         awareness yellow        hearts green

words light blue                 sounds indigo blue         presence navy blue         holiness pink pink

truth gold        the wonder of purple        sparkle gold

white quiet”

 

a air-bubble critique in Gujarati surfaces.

Sunita sparkles well

leaving eventually a repose of a second, a second’s recognition, a second of happiness, a second of remembrance with a glance back to the Ralph Balson on her departure rat tat tat tat

 

Years later her son walks past the John Olsen noting the curviness of the bridge, past the beauty of the woman in the Rah Fizelle and sits with his walking stick opposite the Ralph Balson by the light blue harbour near golden sand

white quiet,  gold sparkle, purple wonder,  gold truth, pink holiness, navy blue presence, indigo blue sounds, light blue words, green hearts, yellow awareness, orange touch and red stillness  know him

He wonders how Sunita is. Whether she sparkles? He does not see her much due to her domineering. It’s best this way he thinks. We both sparkle…in our own ways

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Marie McMillan

LAUNCHED IN LINO

Peter Kingston’s Friday Night at Kookaburras 2003

 

On finest cream laid tissue
Old Hegarty's ferry plies
With end-of-week
                                                                          Commuters

Some jarred, some others jaded

In this illuminated matchbox
Warmth beckoning from inside
Old beacon of conveyance
 - by briny cousin Charon -
Ferrying t'other side
Of living harbour
Whose hidden depths 
                                                                         Beguile

A ligneous lighthouse
Its shadow doppelganger
Floats in timbered sea’s
Inked waters
A severed arboretum
Immortalised
In aqueous diagonals
Its sylvan ancestry
Slashed and slivered

                                                                          Cut

Swashbuckled strokes

Laboured upon
Its frothy ruff, it
Frolicks aft
While tail of noirish wake
Wags ‘cross the
                                                                            Linoprint
Until the vessel's launched

 


                                                 
We're told 'twas Friday night and latish
Straight rain and
Jet-black sleet,
Cross-seared, cut deep by
Tridentating Neptune,
Spill from chimneyed,

Stygian sky
O'er grainless
                                                                           Linoleum


                                                                     

His finger tips excoriated,
Scraped and bloodied
(Perhaps even band-aided)
From glass 'n blades and knives
Is artist Kingston now?

 

While
Mentor Hiroshige
Of Hegarty's ferry
Would have been very
                                                                           Proud                                                                         

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Rebecca Kylie Law

Shimmer.

 

After Chris Langlois’ Landscape (Narrabeen Lake) no.2

Standing in the prayer space

of headland rock at low tide,

flat and empty of ornament,

 

I followed you to the water’s edge,

avoiding ‘the brown’ as we called it,

the hazard zones of ocean peat;

 

and every now and then steadied myself

when you turned with your hands in your pockets

for a kiss. You talked later, as we

stood at the island’s edge, about

the water’s tendency to move back into

shore surreptitiously; and how many tourists

had found themselves marooned here

 

for oh, hours until the tide turned.

 

We fossicked for crabs in the pools

back inland of the prayer space

 

and when I held out my palm

to receive one you’d hidden inside,

behind knuckles, I looked up smiling

and said softly: “it’s okay, I like them.”

 

There were small shells and larger shells,

the one still holding a creature in good conscience

you lobbed back into deeper waters, not so much

soundlessly as reverently, the sunlight on turquoise

promising a further passage. In your bright green, v-necked

 

t-shirt, my friend, I asked you if you had ever

thrown a stone across a lake and watched

it skip. You replied yes and I thought of that

awhile, moving into shore behind you,

the light still sunny and cloudless

though winter had come; that in those

 

moments it was a wish cast also, though

 

the thrown stone would plummet and its

wholehearted dream would soar.

Published "Earthly Darling Came" (Ginninderra, 2017).

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Magdalena Ball

Just like that

                        After Chris Langlois’ Landscape (Narrabeen Lake) no.2

 

 

Just like that, she was there

the mirror that was your lake

creeping across the shore

in shadow like a film

disappearing as heroes do

beyond sea, sky

the end of this day or every day

fogged up into memory

the patina rubbed to satin sheen

so all you feel is a tug

a longing where words fail

fall to hunger, desire

 

thistle, or liseran purple

cut down to the raw centre

becomes gravity, charging a force

two bodies of mass drawn together

 

the brain aches with the smell of it

knows what it knows

and reaches for what it no longer sees

 

it could be anywhere that space

with you in it and not

a body in the darkening day

low tide drawing the eye

 

you know your fingers will pass

through that water as glass

she isn’t the only ghost

inhabiting the scene

you too, breathe out mist

sliding deep into the space

and listen for it

the twist, when the lake becomes

blood, your eyes shield against

soft glare, and hold.

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Colleen Z Burke

After Chris Langlois’ Landscape (Narrabeen Lake) no.2

 

Life’s ambiguities

  

 

Waters of the mauve

tinged lagoon

slide into silvery riffs

spiky with darkness

as a woman

enmeshed in mist  

vanishes

with barely a ripple

Only her mossy scarf

splices the lagoon

as lake    sky     merge

and    hills     bush

                 waver

beyond the

charcoal headland

 

 

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Gisela Sophia Nittel

Joshua Yeldham (1970- )

Mangrove Country, Hawkesbury River – Protection 2009

Patterns of surrender

 

Such understated culmination

in these Hawkesbury River mangroves.

A different time zone to your mountain

climbing days, your days of Emmy triumph

& Oscar nomination for the re-creation

of what seemed such folly at the time:

a near hubristic plan to scale Pico Humboldt,

Venezuela’s second highest peak,

without map or guide.

 

Your camera was abandoned for a paintbrush

years ago. Even so in interviews your eyes

spark with semi-disbelief, recalling that green

teenager, so irreversibly lost until Chucho,

the local hermit, found you. Muy loco!

he scolded. Yet struck a deal to lead you

to the top, wearing your Gore-Tex boots

while you trekked on in the only other shoes

you had – your father’s leather loafers.

Muy loco, indeed.

 

Hard to trace this reckless youth back

to that reclusive eight-year old, who hid

in racks of fashion garments, watching

his parents entice customers

with the latest shipment of exquisite imports.

Like the young Matisse, you swooned

with love for textiles, surrendering your eyes

to colour & succumbing to the mesmerising

language of repetition in design. 

 

Here now in the mangroves of ‘Protection’

I search for anticipated shades of green & blue

but find instead pale blood-orange tones

& fleshy hues that blush with youth

& vulnerability. Or is it maternal warmth

that forms an amniotic backdrop to textile

textures, whose patterns could be crinkled layers

of sun-ravaged skin under a microscope.

Front stage, burnt-match-coloured outlines

form reverse x-rays of speckled trunks

& limbs painstakingly hand-carved on what

could be a sheaf ripped from a paper-bark.

 

Initially perplexing, your palette now

soaks up clarity. Why not cast flesh

tones & patterns of scaled skin

as a silent chorus

for wiry, charcoaled trees

born to sing the arias of oxygen

to an audience of life in muddy tributaries

between land & sea? With boundaries

so porous, protection works both ways.

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Ian Pettit

Joshua Yeldham (1970- )

Mangrove Country, Hawkesbury River – Protection 2009

Red Mangrove Country

 

Trollope called the Hawkesbury River Australia’s Rhine

Mangroves are our castles, our bulwarks, with complex roots

Binding the mud together, reducing erosion

A superstructure above and below saltwater

Within which is a most rich, complex environment

Managing high salinity, tidal inundation

Full algae, Sydney rock oysters, sponges, barnacles

Shrimps, mangrove crabs, destructive termites, moss animals

They cope with low oxygen in soil, intense sunlight

Australia’s mangrove species may be red, black or white

On a red mangrove, one of many seeds germinates

The seedling inexorably grows out through the fruit

To form a propagule for ready away to float

The mature propagule drops into the water salt

Remaining dormant and resisting from drying out

For about a year drifts while the density alters

The elongated shape’s like a vertical fish float

So it is more likely to lodge in the mud and root

A teaspoon of mud from temperate mangrove forest

Contains more than ten billion bacteria, mangroves

Produce one litter kilogram per square meter per year

Some is consumed by crabs but most must disintegrate

As bacteria and fungi reduce unusable

Carbohydrates and increase up four-fold the protein

Becoming available to other animals

All this nutrition, partly decomposed particles

Of leaf are then eaten by prawns and fish, they produce

In turn, waste which, along with smallest mangrove debris

 

Red Mangrove Country

 

Is consumed by molluscs and small crustaceans, shrimps, prawns

Dissolved substances are eaten by plankton, or landing

On the mud surface, are consumed by crabs and mud whelks

The mangroves are a nursery for many fish, sharks

Chasing and growing amongst the root forest playground

Until their size and strength for independence are sound

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 Leigh McGregor-Upton

Peter Tilly and Andy Devine exhibition Black Harvest

Spirit Contemplation

­­­­

Walking along the Corso

After visiting manly art gallery 

Watching children playing 

In the fountain in front of me

 

Another day passing me by

In this beautifully lavish land

Comprising of pristine beaches

With magnificent golden sand­­

 

Contemplating the future changes

Taking place on the land and sea

As I reminisce about ‘Black Harvest’  

An exhibition on the coal industry

 

Questioning the devastating mess 

Its impact and environmental effects

­­­­­­Partly created by human’s excess

Waiting to see sustainable progress

 

I continue walking to Manly Beach

The smell of salt lingers in the air

Feeling blessed that it’s wintertime

No clouds in the sky, completely fine

 

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Angela Gardner

Figures on Manly Beach, Anne Zahalka (after Nancy Kilgour), 2015

 

It has the stillness of Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte,

that recognisable indolence of a Summer day. Sun that warms our backs

even as it dazzles headland cliffs with green alps, suggesting we lay down

in the alternate violet-scumbled shade, here on the yellow zing of beach

towel, the soft abutting lemon-wedge of sand. The figures, arranged,

regard the sea (its arrested movement of the waves). A boy’s semaphore

-stance (looks straight to camera), a supplicant girl-child to her mother,

a clothed man holds his surfboard, each we measure against the bright

red beach umbrella with its furled tight flag. Sun dresses and boardies,

bright towels and dark glasses, beach bags and bikinis, all the expected

objects for a day at the beach. Receding: the sea and its successive blues,

the figures and the bays, each a wave that day-long laps our moments.

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Malcolm Fisher

What’s Past is Present.

 

Imagine the industry, the concentration, the blended juice of creation.

Captured and distilled, frozen in time.

Living an infinite life, on Manly’s care-free shores.

Picture the conceit, the frustration, the triumph.

Condensed, harnessed, coveted.

Fragments of forgotten lives, sweating still.

Reaching out with coded cyphers.

Canvas time-capsules leaking emotional energy back into the world.

Drip feeding the past’s composure to a restless present.

The collection exhales, reflects, reveals.

It lives on in curated spirit.

Preston, Proctor, Rees.

We still hear you.

Still see you.

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Doug Neale

 

Calling out to a time past 

Here Kay-ye-my, sandstone and sand,

Site of concrete, brick and mortar 

Sleeping pavilion garments into gallery.

 

Abstract white rendered walls

Exhibit the passage of memory,

Ushered upon stained timber floors 

Culture illuminates 

 

A burst of claret and fired medieval nature 

Hardened glaze in a cacophony of shape and colour,

Kangaroo, owl, tea and flower 

Bob and his medals oversee his beloved's room.

 

Sculpture, photograph, watercolour, painting, once witnessed,

Roberts and Rees, Proctor and Preston

Ferry and fashion, rock and roll,

From social comment

To social voice

The gallery sees.

 

 

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January 2017

 

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MEUSE PRESS publishes this collection.

All work © the authors.

 

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