Saturday, May 24, 2008

Purple Gorilla

Further to my previous post: Here's the poem Kate Jennings read out in her session at the Sydney Writers' Festival. I'm not melancholy our mourning anyone or any thing right now, so it's no expression of me. It's just that I really liked the poem when it was read:

by Matthew Dickman
New Yorker 5th May 2008

When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla
you must count yourself lucky.
You must offer her what’s left
of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
you must put aside,
and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed,
her eyes moving from the clock
to the television and back again.
I am not afraid. She has been here before
and now I can recognize her gait
as she approaches the house.
Some nights, when I know she’s coming,
I unlock the door, lie down on my back,
and count her steps
from the street to the porch.
Tonight she brings a pencil and a ream of paper,
tells me to write down
everyone I have ever known,
and we separate them between the living and the dead
so she can pick each name at random.
I play her favorite Willie Nelson album
because she misses Texas
but I don’t ask why.
She hums a little,
the way my brother does when he gardens.
We sit for an hour
while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been,
crying in the checkout line,
refusing to eat, refusing to shower,
all the smoking and all the drinking.
Eventually she puts one of her heavy
purple arms around me, leans
her head against mine,
and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic.
So I tell her,
things are feeling romantic.
She pulls another name, this time
from the dead,
and turns to me in that way that parents do
so you feel embarrassed or ashamed of something.
Romantic? she says,
reading the name out loud, slowly,
so I am aware of each syllable, each vowel
wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
the sound of that person’s body
and how reckless it is,
how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other.

Sydney Writers' Festival

I don't like poetry much. High school english classes dragging over Browning's work for endless hours quashed any joy I could find in the format. But today was different. In the Wharf Theatre, overlooking the harbour through louvered glass, swimming in sunshine so bright I had to wear shades, 3 poets offered their work in The Sydney Readings. Each poem focused on aspects of Sydney personal to each poet.

Peter Kirkpatrick read a poem he had written for a friend's wedding. I leant back and closed my eyes against the sun while Kirkpatrick read the poem. I assume I am a lazy poetry reader - I just don't get the magic of the words when they are in front of me, ink on paper. But being read by their creator? A few simple words created a thousand images. My untrained mind drifted in and out, like when I try to meditate. But when the wild pony of my imagination did stop to rest on Kirkpatrick's words they had such resonance. Non-cliched expression leapt about, the format of poetry and gift of the poet giving freedom. He talked about familiar city scenes, of a little chapel overlooking the ocean where the 'wild pacific ocean thrust it's cold wet nose between the couple as they spoke their vows'. Well, it was something like that, but better.

I'm not a poetry devotee, but sometimes it just gets me.

Brook Emery was the second poet to read - a beach bum of the poetic kind. His work was about the ocean, he talked of the 'the fear, uncertainty and isolation that is part of the surfing experience'. His humility and talent were endearing, but it was the images he painted in his poem about Gould's Bookstore in Newtown (from his book 'Fingers dug into the sand') that was best received with loud guffawing and applause from the audience whose humour he had tickled. John Tranter was the third poet. He has a lot of accolades but the haiku style of his poetry he selected to read didn't tickle any part of me.

I love the Sydney Writers' Festival. Two years ago it was on when I was between accepting and starting my current job so I was able to spend days wandering around and dipping in and out of authors talks. Last year I was so busy with work that I wasn't able to take any time off to go to the festival and it depressed me that I couldn't even spare a day for an annual event that I get so much from. So this year I took Friday off, against the odds, and will return to work on Monday refreshed, inspired and the better for it.

On the subject of poetry - I saw the inimitable Kate Jennings yesterday talking about grief and the catharsis of writing. Jennings read a poem from pages she tore from The New Yorker - an enchanting poem about grief being like a big purple gorilla. The poem spoke about how death seperates people into lists between alive and dead. The last line of the poem spoke about how reckless it is that some people end up on the wrong list. If I didn't believe in poetry before, the economy and power of that last line gives as good reason a reason as any to believe.

PS The hessian bag in the photo is the souvenir festival bag which comes free when you buy a book - this year from Vintage publishers.