Friday, September 15, 2017

I Wish I'd Written This

Your Ground
Its tongue
is the only thing moving
A striking distance
from your face
Sharp arc of snake
head flared with venom
A totemic weight
posted darkly in
suddenness of
grizzled air between you
Your body in mirrored freeze
still on your knees
swiveled from a lizard
you were attempting to capture
on a fistful of phone
Your jaws both clamped
over a rising silence
Wind is a litany of hiss
through grass and it arrives
at your eyeballs and the blink
brings release
snake melts toward the earth
its wilding light
shines and slides
A spilled surface of black
slick on the grit
The anthropologist
you were walking with
is bounding up behind you
and again the snake rears
yellow belly showing no fear
withers into twisting away
through underscrub
like an escape but slower
The luminous trance stays
for more than months
(you still can't remember
The psychologist says
your ego died (for
a few unsplit seconds)
Your friend, an elder
from Broome explains the snake
is your guardian
painting its likeness in repose
on bark you once fed a red
tailed cockatoo from
You hang it above
your writing desk
 And for a while
it all makes sense
The brute matter
how dangerous you are
how safe
the circuitous journey
Then one morning you get it~
That paired wisdom
 your bodies made

Snake says
Be still
Stand your ground
It’s the only protection
we have

– Amanda Joy

I first met Western Australian poet Amanda Joy ten or so years ago on MySpace, where we were both among the numerous poets there, many of whom managed to connect and interact, forming a sort of loose international community of poets. (Now a lot of us are on facebook instead, though that doesn’t work in quite the same way.)  It was a delightful forerunner of more organised online poetic communities such as Poets United.

She lives on the outskirts of Fremantle, Western Australia and is the author of two chapbooks, Not Enough To Fold (Verve Bath Press 2008) and Orchid Poems (Mulla Mulla Press 2001) 'Almost Pause/Pareidolia' was highly commended for the 2013 Blake Poetry Prize. Her poem ‘Tailings’ won the 2016 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. 

Amanda and I have never met in person, as Western Australia is a long distance from the east coast where I live, but I’ve always loved and admired her work and was thrilled to discover her first full-length book in my local library recently. It’s published by UWAP (University of Western Australia Press) and is called Snake Like Charms – well named. The poems are extraordinary and varied, with a magical/mythical flavour about the whole book.

The landscapes she writes of in this book are very recognisably Australian: a thing which pleases this little Aussie, and no doubt many others. It’s good to have one’s home reflected back to one.

She says that her favourite bio-line comes from (Sydney poet) Robert Adamson, who described her as a “poet alive with the wonder of her vision”. The poem I’ve chosen to share with you here is certainly very alive and immediate. (And what a clever way to make it a shape poem, a snake-shape, by aligning right.)

Australian snakes are mostly venomous. Having had some close encounters myself – though not as close as the one described – I can certainly relate to the experience, and know that freezing is the first and best response. (Then, as in the poem, one or both parties move away from the mutual threat.) At the same time, I think snakes are beautiful beings, and have been told that Snake is one of my guardians too.

Though there are echoes of my own experiences, the wisdom arrived at in the conclusion is all Amanda’s own, albeit conveyed by the snake – and what great wisdom it is. Something to remember in troubled times … and at all times.

She was patron of the 2017 Perth Poetry Festival last month, and her Keynote Address can be read online. In it, she has thought-provoking things to say about poetic language – inspired by and expanding on the ideas of Fay Zwicky, whom I featured here recently in The Living Dead. She goes on to quote wonderful poems by Zwicky and others.

A woman of parts, she is also described in various places online as visual artist, sculptor, installation artist and songwriter.

You can find more of her poems at Poetry FoundationRochford Street Reviewand at her (discontinued but still accessible) blog, Little Glass Pen.

Her chapbook Orchid Poems, is still available from mulla mulla press.

Snake Like Charms is available from UWAP.

Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.


  1. WOW! I'm there, and I'm here:
    "The luminous trance stays
    for more than months."
    I will not forget this poem or poet! (The title is perfect.) I've saved the links for another time.

  2. This poem drew me in from the first four lines and did not disappoint. This is a poet I would like to read MORE of! Thanks, Rosemary, for this.

  3. Beautiful & Breathtaking!!....Thanks for the share Rosemary.

  4. "how dangerous you are / how safe / the circuitous journey" brilliant! A wonderful poem and poet, Rosemary. Thank you for sharing. Her work is so alive and immediate and I love the bio description of being "alive with the wonder of her vision", the best way to be. Just wonderful!

  5. This is such a wise and talented poet. I am enthralled with this poem, the way I am enthralled by snakes. (I've had several who like to live outside my house from time to time. Have learned to respect their nature.). Thank you for sharing, and how nice that you've known Amanda for years.

  6. I add my thanks, Rosemary.

  7. Thank you so much Rose Mary. Wonderful!!!

  8. An intriguing poem, and another interesting introduction to a new (for me) poet, Rosemary. I agree that the right alignment of this poem is compelling and works so well with the content - adding to its impact on the reader. I will keep it in mind. Thanks for this!


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