Saturday, November 12, 2016

John Bennett #15 Haiku vs Ecological love poem (with death and decay)

Haiku are powerful, as are short lyrics in other traditions from Sappho to Emily Dickenson, but what of the risk and adventure of an epic? Or the range of material a long poem or suite can explore and the intertextuality it can play with? (I’m not thinking of verse novels that typically lack the mitochondria of poetry). 365+1 suits haiku. The electronic screen is no place for a long poem, but no place seems to be where long poems are adjisted.

Today, a new anthology ‘Contemporary Australian Poetry’, is being launched in Sydney – a huge task by the four editors and publisher, Puncher & Wattmann. It is apparently democratic with a large spread of poets (avoiding the anthology skirmishes of the past, Murray, Tranter etc.) Such a publication is a chance for poetry to gleam briefly in the public realm.

My contribution is an extract - 35 lines from 260 lines (a medium sized or short long poem?) True Love for B.R. I write longish poems (a 200 page Antarctic epic being the longest), that’s my problem! Anyhow, here’s the extract the editors chose:

Man is not an end product,                
Maggot asserts.
                                             Basil Bunting

A blowfly sniffs death five miles away. Accompaniment to the natural order
is the sound of wings, death’s moment of triumph greets flies converging
at 200 beats a second; even your extra tail bone cannot whisk  them off

and stop the world invading. Flies feed furiously and pump batches of up to
500 eggs into any wound or puckered / glazed orifice that will bear fruit.
Within a day the first eggs hatch-all-at-once, maggots roam en masse

eating softest first, eyeballs and the inside of nose and mouth,  your face
falls in weeping ammonia. An old philosopher scrawls Ataraxia then blanches
as the insects burrow further through the baroque body using mouth-hooks

to slip through you, feeding, spreading enzymes and bacteria that eat into
your soft lamina, yawing, stretching, tearing the fabric of your structure.
External bacillus like Clostridium (tetanus, botulism, gangrene)

found up or down the garden path, in damp fields and on executive surfaces
burglarise you with a 600 piece toolkit slicing your biopolymers into simple
mounds of rubble. From dusk to dawn your climate cools to touch.

Anaerobic creatures with cadaverous rights emerge from deep time
tolerant of acidic conditions caused by a build up of lactic acid.
Azotobacters bowl along to swell your body with gas and round you,

a ruinous cartoon character wearing your heart on a green sleeve of skin.
Bacteria are oblivious to the boredom of hands, colours of sleep, retched
disgust, or a makar’s urgency, composing love poems with a scented lure.

Putrefaction quickens the pace of gluttony. The world spins on my love
for you, but after all our passion your body starts, gently at first, to heave
and deform, the pale waxy alabaster covering swells and your  suit,

a thousand remakes in a lifetime, shudders, splits and darkens. Slip into
something more comfortable, take Eros dancing or dine with shy young Thánatos,
son of Erebos and Nyx. I would collect all my memories of you, like visas

in imperial passports with hard covers. Remember ‘the Opening of the Mouth’
etched in stone at Deir el-Medina and that older couple in fields further west,
ghosts tending crops pollinated by iridescent insects and colourful birds?



  1. Nice, John. I always like a poem that puts man in his (edible) place! Good on Puncher and Wattmann, tasty extract.


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