Friday, November 30, 2018

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

Five poems on memory

Here you come, memory,

with your big bag.
Or is it me staggering
hauling the monster treasure?
Or me there inside?
(Just inside my boundaries
waits last year's woman,
behind my nose, her nose,
further inside, the schoolgirl
with her stained finger callus,
holding the baby, the oldest me, in the dark
like a wooden babushka.)

In a flash
St Elmo's fire, the portent,
touches the taut rigging,
strikes, streaks, leaps,
terrifies the sailors.

I wake up struggling with memory.
Tar and feathers, tar and feathers
stifle and stink and thicken
all over this nincompoop
schoolgirl shamed in class
over and over
all over again

Sunlight is timing my days
but behind me the other light
shadows me, shows me
a dark mannikin ahead.
I hurry with arms outstretched
to hold her hurrying
with arms outstretched
past the horizon.

Memory, my good dog, you eat up
the food I have set.
Then we go for a walk.
I have a path in mind;
you have your concerns.
Each course you set
by landmarks I can't discern
hauls at the walk we design

– By Judith Rodriguez (1936-2018)

The Australian poetry world is still reeling – and grieving – after the death of Judith Rodriguez a week ago. She was 82. Her work started appearing in journals and anthologies when she was still a very young woman, so it seems she's been around forever. Not only that, but she was active on the poetry scene to the last; always writing, and sharing her work in print and at readings. She was a generous friend and supporter to many other poets, and was universally loved and respected. A familiar figure behind the mic, particularly in her home town of Melbourne but also all over the country, she attended readings as much to hear other new poetry as to share her own.

Here is a lovely interview and reading from only two months ago, drawing from her last book, The Feather Boy. Do listen! She reads some wonderful stuff. You can read a collection of her poetry on the page – or rather, screen – at her entry in Australian Poetry Library. While you're  there, look up Nu-Plastik Fanfare Red, one of her most popular poems. I think you'll enjoy it too.

A Member of the Order of Australia and the recipient of many literary awards, she was nevertheless completely down-to-earth and lacking in conceit. My personal memories of her are of her energy and humour; her unfailing kindness to me and others; and how clearly and deeply she saw me, even though we were warmly acquainted rather than close friends. That degree of insight must have been one of the gifts which made her such a remarkable poet.

Her entry in Wikipedia is so brief – apart from the long lists of publications and awards – that I'll quote it all (apart from those long lists, which you can find at the link):

Judith Rodriguez was born Judith Catherine Green in Perth and grew up in Brisbane. She was educated at Brisbane Girls Grammar School, and graduated from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Arts. She then travelled to England, where she received a Master of Arts from Cambridge University in 1965, where she met her first husband, Colombian Fabio Rodriguez.

She published numerous volumes of poetry, some illustrated by her own woodcuts, edited an anthology and the collected poems of Jennifer Rankin. From 1979 to 1982, she was poetry editor of the literary journal Meanjin, and from 1988 to 1997 she was a poetry editor with the publisher Penguin Australia. The play Poor Johanna, co-written with Robyn Archer, was produced in 1994 and her libretto for Moya Henderson's opera Lindy, about the Azaria Chamberlain disappearance, was performed at the Sydney Opera House in 2002. She was a recipient of the Christopher Brennan Award and taught at La Trobe University (1969–1985) and Deakin University (1998–2003).
Rodriguez died on 22 November 2018. She is survived by her four children and their father, and by her second husband, Tom Shapcott, who she married in 1982.

[Shapcott is a distinguished poet himself.]

Her death notice in one of Australia's leading newspapers, The Sydney Morning Herald, reads (in part):

She was a fine poet and artist, a loyal and valued friend, teacher and mentor to many and a fierce campaigner for human rights.

Her obituary from PEN International (an organisation which uses letter-writing campaigns to help free writers imprisoned for their work or opinions) says:

Judith dedicated her life to the promotion of literature, and the defence of the voiceless.... Professionally, she combined poetry, university teaching, publishing, and printmaking. She sometimes illustrated her poetry with woodcuts and had exhibitions of her prints in Australia and Paris. 

As that last suggests, she was known internationally too, and had taught in overseas as well as Australian universities.

Hers was a very distinctive poetic voice. She was not a confessional poet. She did sometimes write about herself, but not in confessional mode; more because she loved to explore what it is to be human. She often wrote about other people, whether historical or observed in person, and about other forms of life too – trees, mudcrabs, mountains, lakes, birds....

'I write poetry in order to live more fully,' she said.

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). This photo of Judith, Copyright © Di Cousens 2016, was taken at the launch of her book Flares in that year.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Morning Poem

A monk sips morning tea,
it's quiet,
the chrysanthemum's flowering.”—
Matsuo Basho


“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”— Khalil Gibran

   Midweek Motif ~ Morning Poem

Capture the time in your lines when the day is new and you are out of your slumber.

Isn’t it always a good morning whether it’s bright, gray, cloudy or rainy? Or is it not?

A few lines from Langston Hughes:

Bad Morning

Here I sit
With my shoes mismated.
I's frustrated! 

Today’s motif is Morning Poem. Let’s see where the morning takes you J

Morning Poem
by Mary Oliver


by Emily Dickinson

'Morning'—means 'Milking'—to the Farmer—
Dawn—to the Teneriffe—
Dice—to the Maid—
Morning means just Risk—to the Lover—
Just revelation—to the Beloved—
Epicures—date a Breakfast—by it—
Brides—an Apocalypse—
Worlds—a Flood—
Faint-going Lives—Their Lapse from Sighing—
Faith—The Experiment of Our Lord 

One O’Clock In The Morning
by Charles Baudelaire

Alone, at last! Not a sound to be heard but the rumbling of some belated and decrepit cabs. For a few hours 
we shall have silence, if not repose. At last the tyranny of the human face has disappeared, and I myself shall be the 
only cause of my sufferings.
At last, then, I am allowed to refresh myself in a bath of darkness! First of all, a double turn of the lock. It 
seems to me that this twist of the key will increase my solitude and fortify the barricades which at this instant 
separate me from the world.
Horrible life! Horrible town! Let us recapitulate the day: seen several men of letters, one of whom asked me 
whether one could go to Russia by a land route (no doubt he took Russia to be an island); disputed generously with the editor of a review, who, to each of my objections, replied: 'We represent the cause of decent people,' which 
implies that all the other newspapers are edited by scoundrels; greeted some twenty persons, with fifteen of whom I am not acquainted; distributed handshakes in the same proportion, and this without having taken the precaution of 
buying gloves; to kill time, during a shower, went to see an acrobat, who asked me to design for her the costume of a 
Venustra; paid court to the director of a theatre, who, while dismissing me, said to me: 'Perhaps you would do well to 
apply to Z------; he is the clumsiest, the stupidest and the most celebrated of my authors; together with him, perhaps, 
you would get somewhere. Go to see him, and after that we'll see;' boasted (why?) of several vile actions which I
have never committed, and faint-heartedly denied some other misdeeds which I accomplished with joy, an error of
bravado, an offence against human respect; refused a friend an easy service, and gave a written recommendation to a
perfect clown; oh, isn't that enough?
Discontented with everyone and discontented with myself, I would gladly redeem myself and elate myself a
little in the silence and solitude of night. Souls of those I have loved, souls of those I have sung, strengthen me,
support me, rid me of lies and the corrupting vapours of the world; and you, O Lord God, grant me the grace to
produce a few good verses, which shall prove to myself that I am not the lowest of men, that I am not inferior to
those whom I despise. 

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The mist has left the greening plain,
The dew-drops shine like fairy rain,
The coquette rose awakes again
Her lovely self adorning.

The Wind is hiding in the trees,
A sighing, soothing, laughing tease,
Until the rose says "Kiss me, please,"
'Tis morning, 'tis morning.

With staff in hand and careless-free,
The wanderer fares right jauntily,
For towns and houses are, thinks he,
For scorning, for scorning.
My soul is swift upon the wing,
And in its deeps a song I bring;
Come, Love, and we together sing,
"'Tis morning, 'tis morning." 

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—
                (Next week Susan’s Midweek Motif will be ~ Surprise!)

Monday, November 26, 2018


This week we are flying to India again, to visit Amit Agarwal, who blogs at Safarnaamaa... सफ़रनामा...  Amit has participated at Poets United for a long time, but somehow I have not yet interviewed him, so I rectified that immediately. Pour yourself a cup of tea and draw your chairs in close. You won't want to miss a single word.

Sherry: Amit, we were so happy to see you pop up again at Poets United.

Amit: Thank you Sherry, the pleasure is all mine to be associated with PU, a great platform where I have been showcasing my work since past many years.

Sherry: We have much catching up to do. Tell us a bit about yourself, Amit, where you live, your family....... Anything you’d like us to know, to give us a sense of the poet behind the pen.

Amit: Okay, I live in Meerut a mid size town near New Delhi, India. Apart from its mythological connections with The Ramayana and Mahabharata, the town is distinguished as India’s fight for freedom started here in 1857, known as ‘Sepoy Mutiny’. It is the second largest cantonment in India. The Himalayan foothills and the world famous Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve are about 150 kms from my place.

My wife is a Professor and Head of the Department of English in a college. She is a wonderful cook and host, and a gifted singer. My elder daughter Atisi, a qualified Interior Designer, and a fine Madhubani painter, lives in Pune a town in West India near Bombay, and owns a business with her husband who is a Lighting Designer. 

An example of Madhubani Folk Art
by Amit’s daughter, Atisi Amit

My  younger daughter Aditi, a qualified Handicrafts Designer (Luxury Lifestyle), and an avid photographer lives in New Delhi. Having interned with a couple of established business houses she is now working to create and launch her own label.

Photography by Aditi Amit

As about me, well, I taught at college level for a short while before I joined the corporates due to circumstances beyond control and worked with them for many long years. Then I started my own venture which did fine for some years and then nosedived. In spite of best efforts my partners and I could not revive it to a satisfactory level and as of now it is in a bad shape. So, to be honest I would say I am out of business and unemployed at the moment.

Sherry: We are sorry to hear that, Amit. It happens in today's volatile market. When did you first begin writing poetry?  And what is it about poetry that caused you to choose it as your means of creative expression? What do you love about it?

Amit: I started composing rhymes at a very young age but those cannot be categorised as poetry now. My serious initial writings were in my early twenties, mostly off the cuff, and usually thrown around carelessly. I like to write ‘something’ to release the upsurge of emotions and feelings (mostly sad and melancholic), and give vent to the uncomfortable notion of suffocation within me, and a poem is born! I write effortlessly without devoting too much time or effort to diction or presentation, because I like to keep it simple, like my own self..ha ha JJ

I chose poetry as my preferred means of creative expression due to its power and capacity to contain volumes in a couple of stanzas or just a few lines..and being an easy going person I leisurely pour myself out in a relaxed way through a poem!

It is difficult to specify what I love about poetry. There are too many  to count, like there are numerous poets with different styles and manners. I particularly love lucidity, fluidity, musicality and succinctness in a poem, and as a result keep mine pithy and concise. Elaborate high flying words are a no-no for me for they kill the joy of reading, and obstruct the flow of something within..I give preference to convey exactly what I want to, and sometimes even go to the extent of using archaic or rustic words.

Sherry: Do you have a writing practice? A time of day set aside for writing? Or do you write when the inspiration moves you?

Amit: I don’t follow a set routine in writing or in poems are  sudden outbursts of intense response to deep felt emotions..or call it inspiration if you like!

Artist  Atisi Amit

Sherry: Is there someone in your life that you feel was a significant influence in your becoming a poet? 

Amit: Well, it’s not ‘someone’ but it’s ‘something’.. It is anguish, the pain within! My sensitivity is a bane..I suffer in distress even when things are seemingly fine (as they say), am never at ease. I am a loner and it seems there is a deep rooted ache within my being.. I am intrinsically lonely and sad at heart; but nothing to worry about, God made me like that.

I am and was encouraged by the appreciation and love I received from my readers. Unfortunately I did not have a very happy childhood and hence don’t have any treasured memories, I rather try to forget things from the past and wish to live the moment, for which I practice meditation. There might be an inherent factor for my fondness of poetry: that I am a Libran, and love aesthetically appealing things around me, poetry being one perhaps.

Sherry: I think many poets share a melancholic nature. It fuels our poetry! Do you have a favourite poet? What do you love about his or her work?

Amit: Oh yes, by all means! I adore the 19th century English poet John Keats. What to say about Keats? It would be like showing a lamp to the Sun! His romance, sensuousness, love for beauty and nature.. uff.. he is The Ultimate! Unsurpassable! He died at the tender age of 25 years and none has written like him in these 200 odd years.. To me he is the God of poetry. I worship him.

Sherry: He was brilliant indeed. When did you come to the world of blogging, and how has it impacted your work?

Amit: I created my blog some eight years back. It has definitely given me the intended results: lovely and sensitive readers from around the world! I speak two languages: Hindi and English, and write in both. My bilingual blog posts reach a good number of readers and their love and appreciation keep me going.

Sherry: Blogging is such a wonderful forum for poets! You were away from the blogosphere for a time. What drew you back?

Amit: As my business went bad and could not be revived I took a hiatus and have gone to stay in an ashram deep into the Himalayas where there is mostly no phone/internet signal; am working with an NGO as a team member where we are planting Apple and Walnut orchards with an Indo-Dutch company who are expert consultants in the field.

In fact I was never away from writing or photographing all these months. I have done both, only could not publish them due to the aforesaid handicap.

Sherry: How wonderful to be planting trees in the Himalayas! That is awesome. I so admire that you are doing such good work. 

"Nirvana" by Amit Agarwal

Amit: The Rham Jhula bridge (above) is used for pedestrians and two-wheelers. Jhula in Hindi means a swing, and since bridges in the hills have no pillars or reinforced concrete base, they are called 'jhulas'.  It is close to the world-famous Lakshman Jhula in Rishikesh. I have crossed it hundreds of times on foot. Legend says that Lakshman, the brother of the Hindu deity Lord Rama, crossed the river Ganges 10,000 years ago on jute ropes where the Lakshman Jhula is today, hence the name.

Rishikesh is the gateway to the great Himalayas, the journey to the charming, mystic and spiritualistic hills starts from here only. It is barely 150 miles from my home.  I have been here more than 50 times in the last thirty years.

Sherry: That is so interesting, Amit, and your photo is beautiful. You are fortunate to live so near the mystical Himalayas. They have called to my soul for a lifetime. I read many books about the Himalayas. 

Are there three of your poems you would like to share with us? And tell us a bit about each one?

Amit: Oh sure, I am delighted and would love to! But request you to excuse me for not explaining. Let the readers decide.

The poems I present herewith have been selected to demonstrate versatility / fervour / flavours. They go like this:


Will the Ganga defile
If I end
My life in it
To reunite with Thee?

Why no my soul
Is too pure
To pollute it
For the moments it remains
In there..

And the biodegradable body
Will satiate the fish
Within couple of hours.

Ah but for the stent
In my heart
And the ache!

Paris blasphemy

The ping of bullets
lulled the tinkle of Champaign flutes
Took over the lilt of violin
the booming  guns

The red wine oozed
out of burgundy lips
To mahogany ceiling
the caviar flung

chanel No.5 reeked
of blood smoke
Stunk of burnt flesh
Pour Homme

The half written poem
Dried in fingers
The song in throat
got strangled

Breath in breath
Whirring hearts
Abrupt silence..
Paris blasphemy!


I vulnerable
Naked stark
You fascinate
In frills intricate.

Showing bits
You intrigue
I chase.

 Fruit forbidden
You offer
Hesitantly though
I oblige.

You elude
Since then
O life
Me Tarzan you Jane!

Sherry: Each poem has such impact, Amit. I especially resonate with the poem about the Ganga, and the ache in your heart. Thank you so much for sharing them with us. What other interests do you pursue when you aren’t writing?

Amit:  I write Haiku in Hindi and wish to write in English too, which, due to technical reasons I have not attempted as yet. I understand that the new norms are relaxed and give freedom from the classical syllable count, but the idea somehow doesn’t appeal to me, that is why I do not call my three liners, Haiku. Although I write poetry in blank verse but when it comes to Haiku I feel its charm lies in perfect syllable count.

Besides Hindi and English there is one more language that I wish to learn some day and that is ‘Urdu’, it’s an amazingly beautiful language..very sophisticated and delicate. There are no synonyms of some Urdu words in any other language of the world. I do use Urdu words in my Hindi poems whenever possible and take delight in doing so.

I am a published writer (in print media, that is) and have a solo collection of Hindi poems and a contributory anthology of English poems to my credit. I am often published in Indian/ International journals of contemporary literature, art and culture. My poems keep appearing regularly in a good number of cyber magazines.

I am a seeker with a deep interest in spirituality and metaphysics. I keep experimenting with different philosophical theories and mystical ideologies.

The Plaza de Espana in Seville, Spain
photograph by Aditi Amit

Sherry: Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

Amit: I love you Poets United, and thank you for everything you did for me.

PS: I’m embarrassed with the I’s and my’s in this interview, so kindly pardon me and blame it on Sherry.. ha ha J J whose questions made me, a reticent and reclusive person, come up with so many detailed, candid responses.

Sherry: Thank you, Amit, for giving us this chance to get to know you better. And thank you for keeping on coming back to Poets United. We value our long-time members, and appreciate your loyalty.

Amit: I sincerely and genuinely thank you Sherry for giving me a chance to be featured on your prestigious space, I am highly obliged and feel honoured! 

Sherry: It was truly a pleasure. Thank you for saying yes!

Wasn't this an interesting visit, my friends? Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Poetry Pantry #430

This totem was carved and gifted to the Village of Tofino by local 
Nuu chah nulth carver Joe David, who said he wanted the town
to have the face of his people represented locally. The totem honours
Nuu chah nulth chiefs. The child on the bottom represents
hope for the future. I visit it often.

Tofino Harbour

South Chestermans in Mist

As you can see, I live surrounded by beauty here in Tofino. I am very grateful. I missed being immersed in nature's wildness the years I was away.

To all of our friends in the United States, we hope you are having a wonderful Thanksgiving.  It has been a good week at Poets United, and we look forward to another. On Monday, we are featuring a poet from India in our Life of a Poet series. You won't want to miss it. On Wednesday, Sumana will offer the prompt:  Morning  Poem for our creative sensibilities. Check back on Friday to see what Rosemary has cooked up for us. It is always interesting and inspiring.

Pour yourselves a second cup of coffee and let's settle in to reading some fine poetry. Link your poem and enjoy the offerings of your fellow poets. I am always so grateful to be part of this community of poets, sprinkling our days with poetry. Thank you all for being here, and for keeping on coming back!

Friday, November 23, 2018


[These red dresses were hung in the trees on Tofino's Village Green in 2015, as part of the REDress Project, begun by the artist Jaime Black, in Winnipeg, Manitoba,  in memory of the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women of Canada. Below is Tofino poet Janis McDougall's poem honouring these women, which she presented recently at a local poetry event. The video was filmed by Joanna Streetly, our Poet Laureate, whom you have already met.]

Missing You
   What would a celebration
 of west coast women be
without holding space
for the absence
 of you?  All of you.

You, who were taken
leaving no trace but
the salt of our tears.
It has been years, yet
all the red tape
in the nation
will not silence
this endless grief.

 Her auntie said that red
   is the only colour 
   the spirits can see. So this
is my bleeding
   to attend, to witness, to be
   among celebrated women,
   to know you are honoured,
  to know you are missed.

                  © Janis McDougall

In Canada, over the years, many women and girls have gone missing, some of whom have been murdered, their bodies recovered, many more for whom there have been no answers, no closure. Among the estimated 4,000 Missing and Murdered Women, 60 to 70% have been aboriginal. (This estimate of the missing comes from the Canadian Minister for the Status of Women in 2016.)  Many, (around 40 young women), have gone missing along the Highway of Tears in the north. 49 women from Vancouver's Lower East Side were murdered by one man. 

In 2016, a national inquiry was begun, independent of all government, to look into the missing and murdered women. It has been fraught with difficulties.

Jan is a member of the Clayoquot Writers' Group in Tofino. She has been writing since she was in her teens, encouraged by her English teachers. In 2015, Jan created an arresting work of art to honour the missing women, as part of Tofino's participation in the REDress Project. 

Jan explains, "It seemed like there was just too much red tape. It occurred to me to create a dress with red tape, as a statement piece, for our local installation at the Village Green in Tofino. I had in mind to use red tape that said: 'Fragile, Handle with Care', as I imagined the Post Office might have some for sale. However, I had to use the only kind of red tape I could find in my small town. I applied the tape to a lacy vintage slip. We hung about twenty dresses in the trees by the village green. It was autumn. It was haunting."

The result is in the video above. Two years later, the Pacific Rim Arts Society put out a call for submissions to their 2017 Cultural Heritage Festival Show. The theme was "Celebrating Women of the West Coast".

Jan explains, "I wanted to submit a poem to the art show and was considering the challenge of entering a literary piece into a show traditionally displaying visual arts. Magically, I came up with the idea to honour the women who were absent, the missing women. I mounted the poem on the same dress of red tape. My piece was accepted into the art show, held at the Black Rock Resort in September 2017."

It made, and makes, a very moving statement, wherever it is displayed.

by Jonathan Labillois
[faces of some of the missing]

As I am wont to do, I asked Jan what she loves about poetry. 

"I love the surprise that writing poetry reveals to me," she replied. "I love the challenge of conveying emotion and illustration in a very tight and sparse piece without revealing too much, allowing the reader to participate in the deciphering. I especially love crafting the poem for the desired pattern, rhythm and sounds I want to orchestrate. I take pleasure in reading and puzzling the craft, mystery and surprise in other poets' poetry."

Jan also presents small nuggets of poetry in her unique Poetry Stones. They are favourites of mine, and I have several of them. Jan combines her love of finding beauty in nature with communicating compassion, creating original verses which she writes by hand on smooth stones from local beaches. On her poetry  stones, Jan writes about energy, mindfulness, gratitude, and the ocean, sending the stones out to transfer energy all over the world.

Jan's poetry has been published in two local anthologies, Salt In Our Blood  and Crowlogue, as well as in the We'Moon Date Book and the Sound magazine in Tofino. Her essay, So, When Are You Moving Back?, is in the anthology: Writing the West Coast.

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

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