Friday, February 24, 2012

I Wish I'd Written This

Three poems by Mal Morgan
(all from Throwaway Moon: New and Selected Poems)


tied two balloons
on the railing
along the side
of the freeway
they’re bobbing up and down
in the wind
like the heads
of laughing children
it’s nice to think
as I drive by
short of breath
that someone’s given
up their air
for me

inside the wire compound
classified as psychiatric

two children
throw stones
at the gardener
who happens to be used
to a certain disorder
amongst wild
and growing things
puts down his wheelbarrow
of topsoil
as if it were full
of rare feathers
puts an outsize hand
in an overall pocket
and pulls out

I step out

I greet you    morning

embracez moi!

your mouth
                  wide and blue as sky

smell of musk
the earth’s bowels      grass and flowers

streets      too straight for ordinary thieves

I steal a patch of green

bundle my thoughts
collect my dreams      dress

in my tattoo

warm as blood      I step out!

Mal wrote longer poems too, but these three short pieces are the ones I’d most wish to have written — posted here in the order in which I’d most wish that, which happens to be the reverse of the chronological order. There are plenty of others I admire but wouldn’t wish to have occasion to write, particularly those in his last book, Beautiful Veins, written in the knowledge that he was dying of cancer. (He lived to attend the book launch.) But they are not morbid poems. Mal was good at confronting the human condition, and doesn’t shirk it in his last poems; nevertheless they are as wry, whimsical and celebratory of life as those in his previous six volumes. He regarded himself as a surrealist poet, and admired Breton and Apollinaire. I found his work far more accessible than most of the current surrealist writers I’ve encountered. He was an ethnic, though not religious, Jew and this too formed an important strand in his writing.

I first met him in the early eighties when he was editing a magazine called Parachute Poems and I submitted some work. Our correspondence about those poems was the beginning of a friendship that lasted the rest of his life. He was a pharmacist, and in those days worked in the city of Melbourne. I think just about all the poets in Melbourne used to drop into his shop when they were in town, to hang out in the back room for coffee and chat between customers. He hated the commercial side of pharmacy, ‘selling lipsticks and toilet paper’ as he scathingly remarked, and later worked at the Children’s Hospital for less money but much more job satisfaction.

Like our mutual friend Shelton Lea, whom I met when he and I happened to drop into the pharmacy at the same time, Mal was something of a mentor to me when I was beginning to go public as a poet, and later I became the publisher of his third book, a handshake with the moon.

I was by no means the only poet he encouraged. He convened monthly poetry and short fiction readings for several years at La Mama (a small theatre in Melbourne, famous for presenting new and innovative stage plays, some of which went on to become mainstream). For a few years after that, he ran the annual, national poetry and arts festival at the equally famous artists' colony, Montsalvat, in the hills outside Melbourne. He was greatly loved for his generosity of spirit, cheeky humour, and laid-back libertarian philosophies.

Mal was also an editor. This photo, used with permission, was snapped at the the launch of La Mama Poetica, a large anthology of work by poets who had read there over the years. Mal edited it and oversaw the production, and a fine production it is. On the strength of it, Pariah Press, of which I was a member, asked him to publish an anthology of members’ work. He did a very good job with that, too. It was called Walking the Dogs, and is available at various places online, but does not include any of Mal’s own work.

Photo Pamela Sidney ('unofficial' photographer of the Melbourne poetry scene in the eighties and nineties) 
from her blog, Melbourne Poetry Gig Guide.

You can download some of his poetry — and a whole heap of other good reading — in the Cordite Review #9. Also look for him, again amongst many other fine Australian poets, in Divan #1.  His books were:

Poemstones (1976)
Statues Don't Bleed (1984)
A Handshake with the Moon (1987)
Once Father and God (1992)
Throwaway Moon (New and Selected Poems) (1995)
Beautiful Veins (1999)

You can find several available to buy if you Google, particularly the last volume, with its cover portrait by his second wife, the artist Di Morgan. (Others of her paintings of Mal adorn the covers of three of his other books.)

(And sorry, I've done it again. I do get so mixed up about the time diff.)

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).


  1. I wish I had written this too! Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Rosemary, once again you introduce us to someone one wishes they had known - he sounds wonderful, and I love his take on the human sure have known a lot of distinguished and talented poets!Yay!

  3. Yes, I lived through a particularly vibrant era of Australian poetry. :)

  4. This was wonderful! Just amazing, I love his view
    Thank you for sharing :D


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