Friday, July 31, 2015

Moonlight Musings

I tend to write at night. (Smile.) 
Welcome to the new column; I hope you enjoy it.


What Price Poetry?

What do you think? Is it more important that our art is taken seriously and paid for, or is it more important that we get it out there to as many readers as possible, even if that’s our only reward? Or can we have it both ways?

Occupation: poet

When I was a child, and people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, 'A poet'. My parents pointed out, quite kindly, that a poet wasn't a thing you could 'be' in that sense: it wouldn't earn you a living. My generation of Australian poets proved them wrong eventually, but we had to include various related activities such as writing book reviews for publications that paid, and teaching poetry writing in colleges as part of Professional Writing courses. Even then, it was a frugal living. 

Late last century the Poets Union of Australia espoused the principle that writing poetry is work, deserving of payment. This was one of the platforms on which the Union was founded in 1977.

We were sick of the notion that if we had a poem published in a newspaper (squeezed into a tiny corner of a page somewhere, buried deep) or if we were grudgingly allowed to recite a short poem or two between bands at a rock concert, the honour and glory should be sufficient. Newspaper editors and concert organisers thought we should be grateful, not paid.

The Union did succeed in establishing the principle of payment for our work. Admittedly, some small literary magazines paid in copies of the issue you were in, rather than cash; and if venue owners were struggling to make money, the poets might donate the fee back to them. But at least we established the principle. And we supported each other, buying the magazines and the books. Those who subsisted solely on their writing (and the related activities) proudly wrote 'poet' when declaring their occupation.

There was something of a boom in Australian poetry at that time, with a proliferation of small presses and performance opportunities. Heck, sometimes poetry was the whole concert!  One or two featured readers would be paid from the door takings; others would read a poem each in the 'open section'. Hopefully we’d all get a turn at being featured.

I don't know what is happening now, all these decades later, about payment of poets. I haven't been much involved in performance in the last 20 years, since moving away from the city; even less so with printed (i.e. paper) literary magazines and anthologies. It's a while since I got paid in actual money.


Even in the old days, when I was an independent publisher of poetry (some of it award-winning) the business ran at a loss. Poor marketing, you think? One of my publications — in addition to being short-listed for two major prizes, and being by a popular, high-profile poet — got a double-page centre spread, editorial and photos, in the most popular daily paper in the State. You can't get much more mainstream than that! This wonderful free publicity did not sell one copy.

However, we (meaning not only the small presses but the individual poets) did sell our books by other means, and some sold well — albeit from small print-runs of 500 copies, which was about what the market at the time could bear. But it was a battle. Everyone knew poetry didn't sell, therefore agents wouldn't touch the stuff and very few publishers, apart from idealistic small presses like my own, would take it on. Even when they did, the distributors didn't push it hard to the bookshops because everyone knew poetry didn't sell, and most of the booksellers, knowing this too, didn't bother to display it or promote it. Therefore it didn't sell — a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or so we told ourselves, with some truth. There is also some truth in the view that it doesn't sell anyway, at least not in great quantities. It's certainly a niche market.

We sold our books gradually. We sold them via book launches, to our friends and relatives and other poets. We sold them at poetry readings, to our audiences. We sold some to libraries around the country, who felt duty-bound to stock them and support Australian culture. We gave away a number of review copies, and sold a few to readers of the reviews.

Stop me if you know all this already! I imagine it wasn't much different in other countries.

The Digital Age

And now? It's a different century. There were always poets who self-published chapbooks, usually as a prelude to achieving ‘respectable’ publication. Now this practice is commonplace, particularly in the form of ebooks, and has become respectable as an end in itself. The ebooks sell at very low prices or are offered free. Performance poetry (or spoken word poetry, as it's now called) is shared more and more on YouTube.

I've embraced the digital poetry world, along with most if not all of you who are reading this. In recent years I have produced very few books, most of them collaborations and only one of them in paperback as well as ebook. They aren't selling well. I give away most of my poetry for free in blogs and on facebook and twitter. So, I think, do you.

I'm not hankering for the old days, although I enjoyed them at the time. Mainly, we wanted to take poetry 'off the page' and into people's lives. We did — a bit, for a while. We started something. We were the precursors of spoken word and rap, and poetry slams. We were part of what I now realise was a world-wide 'idea whose time had come'. It was wild and wonderful, and I hobnobbed with poets of amazing brilliance who were doing innovative things. But that time is past. Now, in the digital age, things have changed again. Good heavens, I've now taken part in two poetic revolutions!

The second might seem to be a backward sort of change if we've lost the principle of being paid for our work ... for our art.

What do we do it for?

But I recall Fay Weldon (I think it was her) advising a young writer — not even about poetry but fiction — that the only good reason to do it was for the love of it, not for the problematical income.

And indeed, who writes poetry solely for the possibility of making money? (You see? That’s laughable!) No, we write it because we must. It's a compulsion, a vocation. Or maybe, for some, it is simply a pleasant hobby — but I bet they'd miss it if they were compelled to stop. Let's face it, we do it for its own sake.

I always think that the first impulse in doing it is self-expression, closely followed by the second, which is to communicate it.

I think we get at least as much readership on our blogs as we might by being published in paper literary magazines with limited circulation. If we get into digital literary magazines, all the better. Many of them don't regard poems posted to a blog as ineligible for inclusion, whereas most paper lit mags, as far as I know, still do.

Even the most successful poets, those few names known around the world, have usually worked at other jobs to pay the bills. Often, it has been as academics, absolutely giving the lie to the saying that 'those who can't, teach'.

Work or play?

So, is poetry our work? It can require much devoted time and effort, that's for sure. But I've come to align myself with Ms Weldon, who insisted that the reason we should not do it for money is that it's not work but play, and that if we want to retain our love for it, let alone continue to do it well, we must treat it that way. (Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing from memory.)

I know that if ever I try to write deep and meaningful things, capital-I Important, I very easily dry up and develop writer's block. What breaks the block is simply to start playing with words. Then, before I know it, I have a poem. (Sometimes it even turns out to be deep and meaningful. As for 'important', that's for others to judge ... I'd settle for 'moving'.)

Well, perhaps we can do both. Perhaps we can hold it as both work and play, and hope for both remuneration and readership. I know that many of you keep a foot in both camps, and good luck to you!

But I’m old; I can’t be bothered playing the game of ‘getting into reputable printed publications’ any more. Nowadays I like the ‘blogging poet’ game and the international poetic community it puts me in touch with. The great treat is that I find myself hobnobbing with poets of amazing brilliance, who are doing innovative things.

Feel free to share your thoughts.

Photo © Rosemary Nissen-Wade 2013

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Acceptance

“I just want to be loved, is that so wrong?!” 
― Harvey FiersteinTorch Song Trilogy

“I had embraced you...
long before I hugged you.” 

― Sanober Khan

“Do not be afraid; our fate
Cannot be taken from us; 

it is a gift.” 
― Dante AlighieriInferno

Midweek Motif ~ Acceptance

Acceptance gets praise and blame:

  1. It leads to complacency.
  2. It is necessary for Forgiveness and Healing.
  3. It is the root of faith.

    Do you praise it or blame it?

    Your challenge: 
    Write a new poem containing 
    a story about acceptance.

    by Robert Frost

    When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud

    And goes down burning into the gulf below,
    No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
    At what has happened.
     Birds, at least must know
    It is the change to darkness in the sky.
    Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
    One bird begins to close a faded eye;
    Or overtaken too far from his nest,
    Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
    Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
    At most he thinks or twitters softly, 'Safe!
    Now let the night be dark for all of me.
    Let the night be too dark for me to see
    Into the future.
     Let what will be, be.

    First they came for the Socialists, 
    and I did not speak out— 
    Because I was not a Socialist. 

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, 
    and I did not speak out— 
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist. 

    Then they came for the Jews, 
    and I did not speak out— 
    Because I was not a Jew. 

    Then they came for me— 
    And there was no one left 
    to speak for me.

    Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below 
    and visit others in the spirit of the community.   
    (Next week Sherry's Midweek Motif will be “Say the Names of the Places You Love.”)

    Monday, July 27, 2015


    My friends, this week we are once again visiting Bangalore, home of several of our poet members, to visit with Vinay Leo R., who writes at I Rhyme Without Reason. I think there could be a Poets United Writers Group in Bangalore, wouldn't that be great? Leo kindly agreed to give us a little peek at the poet at home, so we can get to know him better. Chai tea is hot and spicy and steaming, and sitar music is playing softly in the background as we arrive. Come sit by me, and listen in, while we chat with one of our more recent members.

    Sunday, July 26, 2015

    Poetry Pantry #262

    Arturo de Frias Marques

    Good Sunday, Poets!

    Hope each one of you is enjoying a good weekend. We have great summer weather here; and I am looking forward to fresh tomatoes from my garden soon.  Already have a few zucchini, and am waiting for more.  Peppers aren't doing too well. Sigh.

    Do any of you have photos that you would like to share, ones that I could use in the Pantry?  If so, let me know!  Leave me a note in the comments perhaps.  I do have more New York photos I could share, but I am hoping someone else will send me some.

    Do stay tuned to Poets United this week.  Sherry has an interesting interview with a man who seems (to me) fairly new to Poets United, but I have seen him elsewhere for a while.  I think you will enjoy this interview very much.  (I took an early look.  Smiles.)

     Susan has chosen the prompt 'Acceptance' for this Wednesday's Midweek Motif. Her surgery is behind her now, and hopefully she is well on the road to recovery.  Thanks to all of you who continue to support Midweek Motif!!

    And on Friday you will be 'blown away' by Rosemary's new feature!  It has a catchy title that will immediately capture your attention.  I took a  sneak peak & was really excited about what I found.  We are so lucky to have such a poetry scholar on staff.  I hope each of you will visit and support her in her Friday features.    We all like a bit of support for our efforts!

    If you have Facebook, do think about following Poets United on Facebook.  That way you are informed of each new feature.

    With no further delay, hope that you will enjoy the Pantry today.  We always enjoy it if you leave  a short comment when you post.  Think about it as having a cup of coffee with friends before beginning the work of the day!  Do be sure to visit the links of others as well.  It is sort of like knocking on the doors of others, I think.  When we leave a comment, we let someone know that we enjoy them in the 'neighborhood.'  And the blogosphere IS a neighborhood, isn't it?

    Do have a good week!

    Friday, July 24, 2015

    The Living Dead / I Wish I'd Written This

    Honouring our poetic ancestors

    A hastily-added note, after reading early comments:
    This poem is sarcastic and satirical and should be read that way. (Qualities which are not always immediately obvious onscreen, particularly if there is no shared background of time and place.)

    Watching the Treasurer
    by John Forbes (1950-1998)

    I want to believe the beautiful lies
    the past spreads out like a feast.

    Television is full of them & inside
    their beauty you can act: Paul Keating’s

    bottom lip trembles then recovers,
    like the exchange rate under pressure

    buoyed up as the words come out—
    elegant apostle of necessity, meaning

    what rich Americans want, his world is
    like a poem, completing that utopia

    no philosopher could argue with, where
    what seems, is & what your words describe

    you know exists, under a few millimetres
    of invisible cosmetic, bathed

    in a milky white fluorescent glow.

    From ‘Collected Poems 1969-1999’

    The subject of the poem, Paul Keating, for those who don't know, was Federal Treasurer of Australia from 1983 to 1991 and Prime Minister from 1991 to 1996. Although he did many good things during his time in politics, he also master-minded 'the recession we had to have' which, amongst other effects both wide-reaching and personal, helped send me and my second husband bankrupt. So you can imagine that I have some sympathy with John Forbes's poem!

    But I also apply it to our present Treasurer, albeit he is from a different side of politics and has his own agenda. Change the name, and every word of the poem could just as well apply to him. I strongly suspect the same would be true of other so-called 'first world' countries.

    So although John Forbes is, sadly, among the 'living dead' after a heart attack at the age of 47, and I always give you poems I love and admire from our poetic ancestors, this one I also very much wish I had written!

    I suspect Forbes is little known outside Australia. Here, he had great impact during his short life and poetic career. (His friend Ken Bolton tells us that he ironically styled himself 'a major-minor poet'.) But I may be wrong. It is Poetry International which says of him:

    Forbes’ work is frequently deeply funny, fueled by a use of irony and satire that is tough and socially aware, and determined by vulnerability or self-deprecation rather than elitism or pretentiousness. It is knowledgeable without being in any way defensive or pompous. Carl Harrison-Ford noted  that Forbes was “distrustful of even a whiff of high seriousness”, and yet his poems, with their humour and staggering twists of thought and image in narratives riddled with similes that confound as they illuminate, are serious in intent and application while remaining demotic and familiar.

    and also notes that:

    In February 2008, family, poets and close friends of his generation, along with those who only knew John Forbes through his writing, gathered at Gleebooks in Sydney to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death. The event was packed in a way that events for few living poets would be and was clear testimony to the enduring admiration, respect and love for Forbes, both as a person and as a poet of vital and enduring importance.

    He was an original. A review of his last (posthumous) book, by the distinguished poet, editor and publisher John Tranter, is perhaps the best place to gain an understanding of his writing (with examples thereof).

    Most of his books are now out of print. His 'Collected', from which this poem comes, is available from Booktopia's ebay store. (I was lucky enough to find a second-hand copy for $1, being tossed out as 'old stock' by our local library. Philistines! But I shan't complain.) 

    You can read a selection of his individual poems at the Australian Poetry Library (click the link on his name, above) and there is a selection available in pdf from PoemHunter.


    We have a new column for you next Friday, and thereafter on every fifth Friday of the month when that happens, which is irregularly, about four times a year — something a bit different from anything we've offered you so far. 

    And the week after that, on August 7th, Sumana will feature another great poetic ancestor: one dear to her heart. (Can you guess who it will be?)

    Wednesday, July 22, 2015

    Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Unity


    “All for one and one for all.” 

    ― Alexandre DumasThe Three Musketeers

    “Pit race against race, religion against religion, 

    prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! 
    We must not let that happen here.” 
    ― Eleanor Roosevelt

    “If everyone helps to hold up the sky, 

    then one person does not become tired.” 
    ― Askhari Johnson Hodari

    Midweek Motif ~ Unity

    How wonderful when it is true marriage (union); 

    How stunning when it overcomes differences (accord);

    How amazing when it is paradox  (oddly true). 

    Your Challenge: Let your new poem reveal Unity.

         by Jelaluddin Rumi

    I am dust particles in sunlight.
    I am the round sun.

    To the bits of dust I say, Stay.
    To the sun, Keep moving.

    I am morning mist, and the breathing of evening.
    I am wind in the top of a grove, and surf on the cliff.

    Mast, rudder, helmsman, and keel,
    I am also the coral reef they founder on.

    I am a tree with a trained parrot in its branches.
    Silence, thought, and voice.

    The musical air coming through a flute,
    a spark of a stone, a flickering in metal.

    Both candle and the moth crazy around it.
    Rose, and the nightingale lost in the fragrance.

    I am all orders of being, the circling galaxy,
    the evolutionary intelligence, the lift,
    and the falling away. What is, and what isn't.

    You who know Jelaluddin, You the one in all,
    say who I am. 
    Say I am You.
    "Build me straight, O worthy Master!
    Stanch and strong, a goodly vessel,
    That shall laugh at all disaster,
    And with wave and whirlwind wrestle!"

    The merchant's word
    Delighted the Master heard;
    For his heart was in his work, and the heart
    Giveth grace unto every Art.
    A quiet smile played round his lips,
    As the eddies and dimples of the tide
    Play round the bows of ships,
    That steadily at anchor ride.
    And with a voice that was full of glee,
    He answered, "Erelong we will launch
    A vessel as goodly, and strong, and stanch,
    As ever weathered a wintry sea!"
    And first with nicest skill and art,
    Perfect and finished in every part,
    A little model the Master wrought,
    Which should be to the larger plan
    What the child is to the man,
    Its counterpart in miniature;
    . . . . 

    Read the rest of this magnificent poem
    HERE at the Poetry Foundation.

    For those who are new to Poets United: 
    • Post your new Unity poem on your site, and then link it here.
    • Share only original and new work written for this challenge. 
    • If you use a picture include its link.  
    • Please leave a comment here and visit and comment on our poems.

    (Next week Susan's Midweek Motif will be Acceptance.)

    Monday, July 20, 2015

    POEMS OF THE WEEK : On Grief ~ from Sumana, Annell, and Rosemary

    This week, my friends, I thought for a little change of pace, since summer is so busy, we might simply enjoy three poems that knocked my socks off in the past few weeks, written by Sumana ( Vision ),  Annell  (Some Things I Think About), and Rosemary, (The Passionate Crone).  Each of these poets is moving through grief and loss, with such grace, faith and courage. Writing their journey, they inspire.

    Turn on the bubble sound track, and take a pause that refreshes, each poem a single drop of peace, falling into the stillest of ponds. 


    The first poem, Sumana's "Trust", really touched my heart with its message of unshakable faith, even after the recent devastating loss of her beloved daughter. 

    I trust my sun who will always rise
    I trust my stars who won't forget to light
    I trust my Ganga* who will ever purify
    and my Himalayas who will pull me to His height

    My soul has taken bath in fire yet not burnt
    My soul has withstood fear-storm undaunted
    Waves of doubt could never blow out Thy name
    The trust in Thou glows in my soul like a flame

    Be my storm, fire, deluge whatever Thou Will
    With faith, trust, love let my heart be filled

    *Ganga is the Ganges

    Sherry: Faith doesn't come any stronger than that. Such an uplifting and inspiring poem! Thank you, Sumana. Your courage humbles me.

    Annell's "A Piece of Yarn", has such a gentle sorrowing beauty to it. Annell is moving through the one year anniversary of her beautiful son Jim's passing last June. Yet this poem offers a hopefulness at its closing, as the poet weaves the words, dries her tears and follows the bread crumb path home.

    A Piece of Yarn

    i opened the door      startled a pair of fly catchers      they flew in unison

    a perfect circle... then another           before they flew skyward

    i ride my weary steed across rough ground             we travel south

    the sun already high in the sky... sunrise /sunset how quickly go the days...

    these words follow me                     reminding me of their truth

    is this the little boy at play      i don't remember growing older       when did you

    it seems only yesterday you were small                    then... you went away

    another summer/fall/winter/spring                    happiness & tears

    one season following another          i did not think i could bear

     yet loneliness & sorrow stand          they are my companions

     i am learning to accept them...

    sunrise/sunset                                                 swiftly fly the years

    blue pavilions rise on the horizon...                     how to keep all that is past

    is it like a piece of yarn          wound on a spool                  to be unwound later

    to read the words written there                          weave into the fabric that is my life

    dry the tears of yesterday...                      follow the scattered bread crumbs home

    Sherry: I am so moved by "loneliness and sorrow stand / they are my companions." Sigh.  This is the way of life, as we move through our losses, incorporate them within, and keep on walking.  Rosemary's wonderful poem, "At The Turning Point",  picks up the journey at the two-year mark, and  says something about the adjustment to her new reality, two years after her beloved husband Andrew's passing.  Her poem really impressed me with how she is learning to keep moving forward, with love, a little farther along the highway of grief.

    At the turning point
    I greeted old friends
    not seen for many months,
    and said goodbye to a new friend
    going for months away.

    At the turning point
    I danced and sang
    with others in a colourful circle,
    then moved to a chair at the edge
    when they gathered speed.

    At the turning point
    I delivered a talk, hiding nerves.
    I had to speak loud, and project
    over an exuberant infant’s joyous whoops.
    ‘Such command!’ they praised. ‘Such a voice!’

    I drove back home with new ease
    around the scary bends
    of the darkening road —
    handling the car with confidence
    at each turning point.

    My angel sat beside me
    only a little while.
    ‘You can do this now,’ he said.
    I agreed, and acknowledged
    the turning-point.

    In the Solstice fire I burned
    old fears, old guilts, old regrets —
    leaving a space for new light
    to begin and grow in me, here
    at the turning point.

    Sherry: I can see him, your angel: "You can do this, now." Somehow we grow our way through these huge changes in our lives.  Bravo, my friend. You are brave. 

    Between the soothing bubbles and these three beautiful offerings, I hope your visit here has been a peaceful and inspiring  few moments in your busy summer day. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

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