Friday, July 7, 2017

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

The Wishbone

(For Christine)

i wish:

that your little finger
was around the other prong
of the wishbone

that the bone would always
remain supple would bend & move
in the fork to my fingers

my tongue the forever probing
of appetite & never break

& i would like to lick
the small strands of chicken
slowly off the long slope
of bone

peeling the soft strips
of flesh with my teeth continuing
then along your fingers your arms etc

that you could be here
beside me clothed only in the
filaments of poetry

that you would be here &
to the infernal music of saxophone
i would foxtrot you poor chicken

lovely chicken & eat you
& all the Gods would assemble
& in the shadows their animal bodies
would tremble & run wild

& slowly disappear as the lights
fold under & the man dressed like a
penguin plays his tragic saxophone
into the dark

leaving us to contemplate alone
the breaking moons in each other’s eyes

that i could speak to you the soft
poetry of pale chicken meat &
the threadbare tents of chicken bones
nesting in the plate where there
will be no egg

that i could ache & be lonely for
you Orpheus to Eurydice
tormented into infinity & split

forever sweetly into
the chicken halves of intellect &

that you could be here
& would be here & would rock forever
across the flames of uncreated night

knowing never knowing never &
create the phoenix out of

that you would then discard
the filaments of poetry being
wholely what you are poetry & being

& snap the bone off at the root
give in to fire & let the wish
take you

– Rae Desmond Jones (1941-2017)

Rae was the first poet I chose for my Friday column at Poets United, back in October 2011. You can read that post here. It was 'I Wish I'd Written This', which was originally my only topic. The poem was a quietly beautiful ghazal which, like some of his others, might suggest death and dying, though not directly.

Now, Rae has recently become one of our 'living dead' and I choose to pay tribute to him with this poem, which is vibrant with life. I choose it for that reason.

Like a lot of others who knew him, I'm very sad Rae has gone – and just now I'm also quite cross with him for it. I don't want to post any of his death poems, no matter how brilliant they were. (Well, I suppose the Orpheus and Euridyce legend might suggest dying, but that's only a brief mention. The sensuality of this poem is what strikes me.)

I don't mean to imply that we were very close friends; there were others much closer. Although we knew each other for decades, and were aware of each other's work, it was only in recent years (thanks to the much-maligned facebook) that we started corresponding and reading each other's latest. And yet I viewed him as a good friend. There was an easy rapport between us, and I strongly suspect he had the gift of making everyone feel special.

He was a good friend to many: remembered as a poet, a teacher, and for a long period the Mayor of his municipality. The comments and reminiscences that poured in to his facebook page after the news of his death reiterated over and over again what a beautiful person he was. He had great generosity of spirit.

One of his death notices in The Sydney Morning Herald says:

Under the Outré Black Hat, the High Laugh, a Quiet Sense and Sensibility, a Brave and Gentle Gentleman.

The poetry, though, was often hard-hitting, looking squarely at life and people, including things we'd prefer not to see. And he could write very beautiful poems as well. (Many were both.)

You can read more about him on Wikipedia.

The publisher Puncher & Wattmann gives us this bio note:

Jones was born in Broken Hill in 1941, the son of a miner. He left school at 14 years of age and worked in a variety of manual occupations until he entered Sydney University in 1974 with WEA support. Since graduating from that University, he worked for some years in the then Commonwealth Employment Service where his industrial experience was extremely useful. He spent the last years of his employment working as a history teacher in the public education system.

The recent bio he wrote for a site called Red Room Poetry says, a little tongue-in-cheek:

Rae Desmond Jones is a poet much published in the olden days. His most recent book was Blow Out (Island Press, 2009). After many years spent in the wilderness of local government, including a period as the Mayor of Ashfield, a tiny Principality near Sydney, he has returned to poetry. He does not fear death half as much as being boring.

Well, he was never that! In witness of which, this site also features two of his poems which are so intense and surprising they'll knock your eyes out.

A few more of his poems appear at Poem Hunter. And there are others, including another lovely love poem, within this excellent review of his most recent book.

Another interesting review, of one of his last books, appears here.

He was a unique voice, and I agree with reviewer John Jenkins that he was a major Australian poet.

He has his own place in Australian poetic history, and not only for the quality of his work. Recently we had the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Poets Union of Australia – which was part of what has been called the Australian poetry revolution, when small magazines proliferated and performance poets took poetry 'off the page'. Rae was one of the early members of the Sydney Branch of the Union and a leading light in the revolution. In the 70s and 80s he and fellow-poet John Edwards edited an irregular, anarchic little magazine called Your Friendly Fascist – described by Edwards as 'a little mag with attitude'.

Edwards had further interesting things to say about it at the launch of The Selected Friendly Fascist in 2012, to the effect that it gave a voice to a modernism which was not recognised by more academic and establishment publishers. However, he continues:

But we had no agenda. If poets chose to write in rhyming iambic pentameter, that was fine – they too could go to the ball. But not many did. The iconoclasm of the 60s ensured that the Fascist would habitually flout the canons of good taste.

He notes that they managed to publish 'a lot of good stuff' even though they 'could not resist having a satirical dig at much of the pretentious crap that was the “hippie” version of poetry.'

Rae Desmond Jones was also a novelist and short story writer.

Some of his books are out of print now, but you will find several on his Amazon page.

And there's a performance piece on YouTube.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright)


  1. What an interesting poem! Touching all sides of life from enjoying to one's fill to utmost yearning for the unreachable and with humor. Thanks for sharing the wonderful Article Rosemary.

  2. Wow! I feel your grief. You conjured him alive for me. That poem smoothed its way up my arms as well as in through my eyes. It left me breathless and I won't forget its images. I will follow up all the links. Thank you.

  3. What a fantastic man, and poet, he was. He will be missed. Thank you for the tribute, Rosemary. I am so sorry you have lost your friend.

  4. A wonderful tribute...and I felt this amazing poem deeply....I am sorry for his loss.

  5. What an interesting and unique poem, Rosemary! He definitely had talent & a special style. I can see why he would be a major poet, and you were fortunate to be able to interact with him over the years as you did. I am sure he would definitely not be 'boring.' I am sorry for your loss & the loss felt by the poetry world!

  6. You dud very, very good here, Rosemary.

  7. I loved reading about this poet! Thanks for sharing your friend and his poem. You opened the door just a tiny crack and let us look inside of this wonderful poet! What an amazing poem about a chicken bone.....

  8. wow amazing poem I am sorry for your loss


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