‘Menindee Fish Kill’ – Bonita Ely and Melissa Williams-Brown

Having heard the sickening news of the fish kill in Menindee I drove there as soon as I could. Because of the current drought, high temperatures and long term bad, if not corrupt management, the lower Darling River was infected by blue/green algae (a pernicious growth that poisons warm, tepid water). Then a drop in temperature killed the toxic algae bloom. When it dies it decomposes and siphons oxygen from the water, suffocating the fish. It’s estimated a million fish died.

Thinking about it during the long drive from Sydney, having recently re-read Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, I contemplated ways of embedding myself/us, white Australians, into the catastrophe. Maybe push my pale feet amongst the fish carcasses, into the mud and algae-infected water? My hands? Millais’ painting of drowning Ophelia popped into my head but how to photograph myself with no assistant or tripod? Fortunately I met photographer, Melissa Williams-Brown in Menindee who loved the idea immediately, and we worked together to stage and shoot the performance for camera, Menindee Fish Kill.

Synchronicity was the order of the day.

Ophelia’s pose and facial expression were a perfect quotation – chest heaving, she sinks into the water, her hands raised in helpless supplication. Her eyes gaze into the middle distance, her face in shock.  I’m immersed in gross toxic water, dead fish, maggots, a fly on my face. My garment’s paisley pattern – fish shapes/tear drops, but also signals colonial appropriation – the   pattern originated in the Middle East and India. The  Scottish town, Paisley, copied the pattern, claimed and named it.

This appallingly abject image powerfully evokes a complexity of feelings, a sharp reality, haptic, empathic.

 – Bonita Ely, Jan 2019, Menindee

 ———————————————————————————————————-

Australian artist, Bonita Ely’s cross-disciplinary artworks explore environmental and socio-political issues. From the 1970s she has forensically photographed the ecology of the Murray River and its environs, witnessing its decline.  Representing Australia in Documenta14, 2017, her installation in Athens, Plastikus Progressus, addresses the plastics pollution of water’s trans-ecology. In Kassel, Germany’s iteration, Interior Decoration, evokes the inter-generational effects of PTSD as an outcome of war.  Dr Ely is Honorary Associate Professor, Art & Design, University of New South Wales, Sydney. She is represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane. https://bonitaely.com/

Melissa Williams-Brown (b 1970) is an Australian photographic artist and professional photographer specialising in portraiture, documentary and fine art photography. She has been a finalist in several prestigious Australian photographic art prizes.
2012:  (Semi-Finalist) Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize

  • 2015:  (Finalist) Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year (ANZANG)
  • 2015:  (Finalist) William and Winifred Bowness Prize
  • 2016:  (Finalist) William and Winifred Bowness Prize

https://melissawilliamsbrown.com/

Welcome to the Rochford Plateau

Welcome to Rochford Plateau. Here, in this slightly rarefied atmosphere, you will find those articles and reviews for Issue 26 which are time critical – that is they can’t wait until the rest of the issue is loaded in March 2019. Normally you will find exhibition, drama and film reviews here. When Issue 26 is loaded the content of the Plateau will be integrated into the overall issue. As always, if you have want to contribute a review or article to the Plateau, or have an event that could be highlighted, please contact us at submission@rochfordstreetreview.com.

 

A Biography of Place: The Unknown Craftsmen at Everglades c1932-35 #1-3 – Artist Statement

Vivienne Dadour: Biographical Note

A Biography of Place: The Unknown Craftsmen at Everglades c1934 #1-3.
Mixed medium- Digital prints on Hahnemuehle photo rag paper, collage, hand written text, photography by Vivienne Dadour, digital photographic reproductions from Harold Cazneaux 1933-36 photo album, Blue Mountains City Library collections and Paul Sorensen papers, Sydney Living Museums, Caroline Simpson Library collections.
Written Text #1
“During the depression of the 1930’s cheap labour was readily obtained…the number of men employed, or who the individuals were, is uncertain owing to a lack of information in the surviving time sheets…nor is it known where they came from” National Trust report c1963

 

The central component of A Biography of Place: The Unknown Craftsmen at Everglades c1932-35 #1-3 is to uncover and work with public and private archives concerning the complexities of the conditions and forces surrounding life during the Great Depression 1930-36 in the Blue Mountains. These art works  consider some of the social and political concerns that were pertinent then and remain so today- Identity, survival, resilience.

  • Who were the Craftsmen at the everglades c1932-35? Migrants, relief workers, unemployed, skilled or unskilled, age, address, family ties, religion?
  • How did they survive? What were their working conditions like?
  • What was required to keep working in the face of despair?

 

A Biography of Place: The Unknown Craftsmen at Everglades c1934 #1-3.
Mixed medium- Digital prints on Hahnemuehle photo rag paper, collage, hand written text, photography by Vivienne Dadour, digital photographic reproductions from Harold Cazneaux 1933-36 photo album, Blue Mountains City Library collections and Paul Sorensen papers, Sydney Living Museums, Caroline Simpson Library collections.
Written Text #2
“The dry- packed ironstone walls were built from specially selected and hand shaped stones, most of which were the locally collected iron rich sandstone. The walls exhibit an extremely high quality of workmanship: in their massive stability, the skillful introduction of tubular stone foundations and in their aesthetic result. The physical labour required to create the walls and planting was daunting. Fortunately for the Everglades, the depression was at its height and manpower was readily available.” National Trust report c1963

Reports from the National Trust archives Everglades booklet, 1963 states that ‘The Unknown Craftsmen at Everglades’ hired by Van de Velde during the Depression to work on his house and garden came from cheap labour that was readily obtainable, from the large number of unemployed… the number of men employed, or who the individuals were, is uncertain owing to a lack of information in the surviving time sheets and to the possibility of Van de Velde having paid some of them cash in hand…nor is it known where they came from…

A Biography of Place: The Unknown Craftsmen at Everglades c1932-35 #1-3 aligns with the political sub-texts often found in my artwork where I incorporate documents, photographic archives and contextual materials to reveal important social and political issues that may be obliterated, ignored, hidden or obscured by the passage of time.

 

A Biography of Place: The Unknown Craftsmen at Everglades c1934 #1-3.
Mixed medium- Digital prints on Hahnemuehle photo rag paper, collage, hand written text, photography by Vivienne Dadour, digital photographic reproductions from Harold Cazneaux 1933-36 photo album, Blue Mountains City Library collections and Paul Sorensen papers, Sydney Living Museums, Caroline Simpson Library collections.
Written Text #3
“A team of 14 Scottish master stonemasons constructed the exterior stonework under Paul Sorensen’s supervision, a French tradesman manufactured the wrought iron onsite, piano makers were engaged for the house joinery, and as many as 15 or 20 labourers were employed at any one time in the gardens.” National Trust Report c1963

 – Vivienne Dadour

 

Vivienne Dadour: Biographical Note

A Biography of Place: – Artist Statement

Vivienne Dadour’s art practice since 1992 has investigated issues that confront political and social issues concerning the complexities of identity and cultural difference. This has led her to seek interpretive strategies that consider ethical alternatives that challenge aspects of mainstream political discourse while encouraging dialogue and fostering tolerance of religious and cultural diversity. In her practice she focuses on specific communities and often works collaboratively with other artists.

Dadour conducted ethnographic and archival research for contemporary art exhibition projects that combined images and text in- Projectdocument : Resilience in Times of Adversity c1939-50 Blue Mountains, Blue Mountains Cultural Centre August 2019; A Biography of Place: The Unknown Craftsmen at Everglades c1932-35 #1-3, Everglades, Leura, NSW, 2018; Correspondence: The War Illustrated c1939-1950 Woodford Academy, Woodford, NSW, 2018; Illustrated: Women, Work and War WW2, Explorers exhibition, Woodford Academy, Woodford, NSW, 2017; Blown Away Articulate Project Space, Leichardt, NSW, 2016; Connections-a Community Project Articulate Project Space, Leichardt, NSW, 2015; Displaced-Greta Migrant Camp, NSW 1949-60, commissioned by Maitland Regional Art Gallery 2014; Instincts, Traditions, Usages: The Syrian Quarter in Redfern, NSW circa 1920, commissioned by the Australian Lebanese Historical Society, Parliament House Sydney, 2010; Invisible Realm: The Syrian Quarter in Redfern, NSW, The Cross Art Projects, Kings Cross, NSW, 2004.

Dadour has exhibited her work nationally and internationally being included in many public and private collections including Australian War Memorial Museum, Campbelltown Arts Centre, New England Regional Art Gallery, Maitland Regional Art Gallery and NSW University Art Collection.

http://www.viviennedadour.com/

Rochford Street Review in 2019 – Come on the Journey!

Photograph: Mark Roberts

2018 has been a period of transition: Rochford Street Review was put on hold for a period of time while we examined options at making it more sustainable and engaging. The outcome is a new format and renewed sense of excitement as the Review heads into 2019.

    • Rochford Street Review will look a little different in 2019. Since the beginning of 2012 we have published 25 on-line issues, with close to 800 reviews, articles and discussion pieces and we have had over 180,000 visitors from around the world. We think this is a pretty impressive achievement and one which we can build on, but it also needs to be sustainable, especially if we continue to be ignored by the various funding bodies. So from Issue 26 we will look a little different.
      .
    • At the start of each quarter we will call for submissions and the journal will be published at the end of the quarter over a week to ten-day period. The call out will be for reviews and articles, together with creative work (poetry, prose artwork etc). We will continue to be a Journal of Australian & International cultural reviews, writing, art news and criticism. If you are interested in contributing reviews, articles, launch speeches, artist talks or creative work please contact the editors at submission@rochfordstreetreview.com
      .
    • We recognise, however, that there are some things that have an immediacy, that can’t really wait until the issue comes out (reviews of exhibitions or films for example). Items that are time sensitive will be published as appropriate in a new on-line feature called The Rochford Plateau and incorporated in the Review at the end of the quarter.
      .
    • We will be reviewing our current system of subscriptions. While these have provided valuable support to us over the last two years they have barely covered our costs (we have just, for example had to pay out around $250 dollars for Web hosting and domain registration for 2019) and have made it difficult to pay contributors. While access to the review will remain free we be will looking at how to “suggest” to readers how they could subscribe to the journal. We will also be actively perusing other models of funding including crowd funding models to support payment to contributors etc. Meanwhile please feel free to donate to us at  https://rochfordstreetreview.com/supporting-subscriber.

Now sit back and browse through over 800 reviews, articles, poems and artworks and please support us as we enter a new year.

Issue 25 Index. October – December 2018

Version 2

Lisa Sarp, Les petits morts (12 little deaths), 2016 chalk gesso and beeswax on 12 French muslin teabags with copper wire and bamboo embroidery hoops, dimensions variable as installed 52 x 73 x 4 cm (photograph by Lisa Sharp, 2016)

 

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A Personal Sense of Place and History: Mark Roberts reviews ‘Bloodroot’ by Annemarie Ni Churreain

Bloodroot by Annemarie Ni Churreain, Doire Press 2017

I was in Dublin in the week leading up to Christmas 2017 and went shopping for some contemporary Irish Poetry only to find there had been a “Christmas rush” and a number of titles were in very limited supply. Coming from Australia the notion of a pre-Christmas rush on poetry came as a bit of shock, but I eventually managed to track down most of the items on my list (as well as a few extra). One of the titles I eventually had to mail back to Sydney in order to avoid excess baggage charges was Annemarie Ni Churreain’s debut collection Bloodroot.

It took me some time to get around to reading Bloodroot, but the experience was well worth the wait. This is an extraordinary connection, finely crafted and rooted in place, politics and history. While obviously written from an Irish perspective there is much here which also has an immediacy for an Australian reader. The poems about institutional child abuse, the forced separation of mothers from their children and reflections on the same sex marriage debate will all appear familiar.

The simple dedication “for my Foremothers’ hints at the power of some of the poems to come and, indeed the opening poem ‘Untitled’ is unexpectedly complex and compelling. The title of the poem takes on added significance in the context of the rest of the collection – it is not just the poem that is untitled but also the speaker/poet. The unnamed poem searches for an identity as did the children separated from their mothers by the church controlled state:

The first time
a tree called me by name,
I was thirteen and only spoke a weave of ordinary tongues.

 – Untitled

The poem ends with a hint of discovery:

Come Underground, they said.
See what you are made of.

– Untitled

The poem ‘Penance’ which is dedicated “for a girl in trouble 1951” is one of the most direct poems in the collection. There is an anger here woven into the finally crafted words which has only been made stronger by the passage of time:

‘Shame’.
……..Use this word when you speak of love.

A man of cloth will come,
Your new home is among brides.

Deny
the child inside you is the child you dream at night

and when they cut short your hair,
watch the cuts fall

like the soft fur of an animal
held still by threat.

 – Penance

This them is continued most powerfully in the title poem of the collection ‘Bloodroot – at the Castlepollard Mother and Baby Home:

Behind the gates, a black awakening of trees.
Were you made to kneel here too, Mary Josephine, Bernadette?
…………………..If I call you by your house-names will you speak?

Torn avenue and pillars either side,……….I am here for the girl
who had birds in her eyes.
…………………..If I render a wing may she speak?

 – Bloodroot

I did a little research on the Castlepollard Mother and baby Home and discovered that it was run by the Order of The Sacred Heart for 35 years from 1934. During this time the Order never employed a doctor or nurse, only a single mid-wife as required by law. During this time 3,763 babies had their births registered. It is estimated that over 500 babies died and were buried in shoe boxes in a small piece of land down a lane way. After reading this I reread the poem and felt the anger and sadness rise in me as I remembered our own Royal Commission into institutionalised child abuse, a court case I cannot comment on and the Lost Generation of Aboriginal Children.

The power of these poems comes not just from the subject matter but from the fact that these are finely crafted and realised poems. They are driven by the strength of the imagery, the internal rhythm of the poems and even how they appear on the page.

Central to the success of this collection is the sense of place and history Ni Churreain conveys. Some of this history, is of course the history of the abuse of women and children at the hands of the Church/State, but there is also an older history here vitally connected with space:

………

This hill is pagan
This hill is Hill.

It will answer in bog-tongue
and occasional fire,
burning back the earth
along the heather-stream

despite bald heels of rock,
despite the kissy mink,
despite a saintly air

until the stream runs dark
with what needs
to blacken out of you.

 – Bog Medicine

And again in ‘Doire Chonaire’, which is dedicated “for a grandfather unknown”, we once again get this break in history and a striving to make connections:

To you I owe my thirst………For a name
gets passed down through the spear side
in the underland streams that pulse with clear meaning
and thrive towards the lips
……………………………………………..A name is how we match
our tongues to the source and taste our own sediment.

 – Doire Chonaire

There is much to enjoy in this poem, the long lines that break just when you think you might be reading a prose poem, the gaps and spaces in the poem which suggests the break across generations and the use of words such as “spear side” and underland” all add to the depth of the poem.

Place returns in poems about India and Florida. In ‘Where We Come From’ we learn:

This is the Florida I will remember,
a hooded place where the moss hangs

like a lamp-lit silk, peeled from the body
and discarded among the boughs.

– Where We Come From

This is a very different world to the “underland streams” but the strength of the imagery is just as strong.

The poetry in this collection is so finely crafted and alive with language and meaning that it hard to believe that Bloodroot is a debut collection. I am hoping that there was another run on it in the bookshops of Dublin leading up to Christmas 2018.

 – Mark Roberts

 ————————————————————————————————————-

Mark Roberts is a founding editor of Rochford Street Review and lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. His latest collection of poetry, Concrete Flamingos, was published by Island Press in 2016.

Bloodroot is available from   https://www.doirepress.com/writers/a_f/annemarie_ni_churreain/ 

Annemariw Ni Churreain appeared in poetry Irish Poetry feature:

 

 

 

Rochford Street Review: A New Year, a New Format

Rochford Press and Rochford Street Review wish everyone a happy and creative New Year.

2018 has been a period of transition: Rochford Street Review (RSR) was put on hold for a period of time while we examined options at making it more sustainable and engaging. We also looked at the role of Rochford Press, the publisher behind RSR, a series of chapbooks and the very occasional P76 Magazine

The outcome is a new format and renewed sense of excitement as the Press heads into 2019.

Rochford Street Review

  1. Rochford Street Review will look a little different in 2019. Since the beginning of 2012 we have published 25 on-line issues, with close to 800 reviews, articles and discussion pieces and we have had over 180,000 visitors from around the world. We think this is a pretty impressive achievement and one which we can build on, but it also needs to be sustainable, especially if we continue to be ignored by the various funding bodies. So from Issue 26 we will look a little different:
  • At the start of each quarter we will call for submissions and the journal will be published at the end of the quarter over a week to ten-day period. The call out will be for reviews and articles, together with creative work (poetry, prose artwork etc). We will continue to be a Journal of Australian & International cultural reviews, writing, art news and criticism.
    .
  • We recognise, however, that there are some things that have an immediacy, that can’t really wait until the issue comes out (reviews of exhibitions or films for example). Items that are time sensitive will be published as appropriate in a new on-line feature called The Rochford Plateau and incorporated in the Review at the end of the quarter.
    .
  • We will be reviewing our current system of subscriptions. While these have provided valuable support to us over the last two years they have barely covered our costs (we have just, for example had to pay out around $250 dollars for Web hosting and domain registration for 2019) and have made it difficult to pay contributors. While access to the review will remain free we be will looking at how to “suggest” to readers how they could subscribe to the journal. We will also be actively perusing other models of funding including crowd funding models to support payment to contributors etc.

Rochford Press

You may have noticed that Rochford Press has now dropped the ‘Street’ from its name. Following the move of the Press to the Blue Mountains, the physical connection to a street in inner Sydney became purely nostalgic, besides, when Mark Roberts came up with a name in 1982 for the Press while living in Rochford Street, Erskineville, he modelled it on Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press, so-called as they lived in Hogarth Place at the time.

For the past few years the Press has mainly been concerned with publishing a series of small, hand-produced chapbooks. While we will continue to produce these chapbooks into 2019, we will also be looking at other projects of literary, cultural and political importance. The first of these will be the publication of Rae Desmond Jones’ final collection of poetry The End of the Line. Rae worked on this collection during the last year of his life and we are particularly proud to be working with his family and friends in publishing this very important and uniquely curated collection.

The End of the Line will be available for prelaunch sales within the next week or so if you want to be added to a mailing list to be advised on available and launch details please email contact@rochfordstreetpress.com

We thank you for your support in the past and look forward to an exciting 2019 and beyond.

 – Linda Adair & Mark Roberts

 ———————————————————————————–

Dogs and their Spirits: Mark Roberts Reviews Louise Kerr’s ‘Faithful and Wild’

Faithful and Wild, an exhibition by Louise Kerr at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, 30 Parke Street Katoomba until 13 January 2019.

Blue Girl with Yellow Dog, Louise Kerr, 2016. Soft Sculpture

I have been surrounded by dogs for most of my adult life, most of them strays or rescue dogs and all unquestionably faithful with just a touch of wildness occasionally showing through. But the dogs in Louise Kerr’s exhibition, Faithful and Wild, at first seem completely unrelated to the old small, blind dog resting silently on the coolness of the wooden floor as I write this. Kerr’s dogs appear almost as extra’s from a Mad Max movie – post-apocalyptic canines if you like.

In her essay in the exhibition catalogue, Kerr hints at a possible source of this almost shamanistic view of dogs. She writes of being fascinated as a child by “small exotic sculptures”. Interestingly her father, a trader, brought home small carved wood sculptures and woven baskets from Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Solomon Islands.  These images obviously had a great influence on the form Kerr’s work would take. But while this may explain my initial reaction to the exhibition there is something deeper running through Kerr’s work as it is firmly rooted in the landscape of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.

The Warrigal or Dingo have lived and co-existed with humans in the plateaus and valleys of the Blue Mountains for thousands of years and the presence of the dingo runs through this exhibition. In many of the individual pieces, the ‘heads’ and ‘figures’, the dog takes on human characteristics. They become almost “spirit dogs” with names like “Dog Gods”, “Bone Keeper” and “Dog Ghost. In other pieces, such as ‘Blue Girl with Yellow Dog, and ‘Dog Owner’ the relationship between humans and dogs are explored.

The exhibition can be divided into three main groupings: The individual pieces which include the ‘Heads’, “Figures and ‘Packs’, The Drawings, which are almost mechanical at times, hinting at the possibility of a robot dog future and the Landscapes (or dogscapes) in which local Blue Mountain landmarks are redefined in terms of the dogs, and their spirits, which have inhabited them over time.

For me these ‘dogscapes’ were the most impressive part of the exhibition. ‘Howling Dog Ridge’, for example suggests an alternative coat of arms, ‘Mount Warrigal Landscape’ with its hidden and, possibly, spirit dogs and, my favourite of the exhibition, ‘Wild Dog Mountains Map’, a large three dimensional piece which evokes a sense of place and implies a complexity not apparent in conventional maps.

Faithful and Wild is an evocative exhibition which takes what seems a simple relationship between humans and dogs imagines an alternative reality of spirit and ghost dogs, landscapes defined by gathering of dreaming dogs.

Dingo with Heart, Louise Kerr 2018, Pencil on Stonehenge Paper

 – Mark Roberts

 ————————————————————————————————————

Mark Roberts is a founding editor of Rochford Street Review and lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. His latest collection of poetry, Concrete Flamingos, was published by Island Press in 2016

Faithful and Wild, an exhibition by Louise Kerr, can be seen at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, 30 Parke Street Katoomba, until 13 January 2019. http://bluemountainsculturalcentre.com.au/

The Late Poems of Stephen Lawrence (1958-2012) curated by Aidan Coleman

Stephen Lawrence – Photograph supplied by his family

I met Stephen for a beer the day before he took his life, and for the next couple of weeks replayed our conversation. He seemed calm and cheery. We talked then, as always, mostly about poetry. As he left, he gave me some new unpublished work, most of which I include here, with the permission of his family.

Known to South Australian readers as a columnist for The Adelaide Review, Stephen was building a reputation nationally as a poet and critic. His sharp reviews appeared frequently in Overland, Cordite, Wet Ink, Australian Book Review and Rochford Street Review, among others, and he had recently received news of his inclusion in The Turnrow Anthology of Contemporary Australian Poetry (2014).

Stephen published three volumes of poetry with Wakefield Press: Her Mother’s Arms (1997) – a sequence of poems in the voice of a female medical student – Beasts Labial (1998), and How Not To Kill Government Leaders (2002). He edited the Adelaide-based journal Wet Ink and a number of anthologies, and judged the John Bray Poetry Award for a decade. In 2010 he completed a PhD in Creative Writing. His research, A Poetic of Disunity: Selves and Silence, was accompanied by what proved his final collection, A Spiritual Problem is a Chemical Problem – a title that might sum up his metaphysics.

Stephen’s poetry is dense with allusions to politics, classical and renaissance literature – his Master’s thesis explored ornithological imagery in Shakespeare – and, above all, science. He was watchful for any debasement of the language, and harvested the worst excesses of advertising and government cliché with more gusto than horror. His poems vary widely in length from monochords to monologues, and teasingly elliptical narrative poems, that stretch over many pages.

The bureaucratic and corporate monologues that end How Not To Kill Government Leaders, are a genre Stephen made his own. Set against the backdrop of the rise of digital media in the late-nineties and early noughties, they anticipate the spin and weasel words epitomised by The Thick of It and Utopia:

 

No-one’s going to be performance-managed out of their job. No.
Boy, some days I wish someone’d ask me to retire!
But no such luck.
Sure, systematising your knowledge will mean outplacements.
But that’s good!
You’ll be leaner, meaner and stronger for tomorrow –
Outplacement? No, it’s not sacking.
It’s de-layering.
It’s not forced redundancy.
It’s re-tooling the organisation.
No, it’s not minimising staff numbers. It’s optimising.
No, it’s not Downsizing.
It’s Rightsizing. It’s Redimensionalising.
It’s overcoming your entrenched paternalism, gentlemen.
It’s overthrowing constrictive in-house paradigms.

 – How Not To Kill Government Leaders, (119-120)

Such poems parade a cast of recognisable characters and many of the jokes and sleights are cumulative. Stephen worked in a number of government roles, including communications and speechwriting, and the book’s final monologue, in which the speaker – or “Knowledge Manager” – identifies as Stephen, might hint at some complicity. “THE TOWN HALL MEETING”, included here, is an answer to such monologues, from the other side of the desk.

Stephen also specialised in short forms, particularly haiku and gnomes. The majority of these poems inhabit long sequences: “Hazardous Accumulations” in How Not To Kill Government Leaders stretches to 66 haiku, “Is This Poetry?”, in the same book, to 117. As with the monologues, these shorter forms show Stephen to be a poet of rhetoric more than image.

Emotions stop you
from seeing that they are all
that is important.

 – How Not To Kill Government Leaders (44)

I respect the church
and grieve, for the human thought
that’s gone into it.

 – How Not To Kill Government Leaders (50)

These, and most others, obey the strict five-seven-five prescription. Every syllable is counted as much as it counts, and poetry is often the butt of the joke:

This line of haiku –
Squelched, squelched, squelched, squelched, squelched, squelched, squelched,
is the longest plod.

 – How Not To Kill Government Leaders (43)

A similar playfulness informs “HAIKU” below. As with the monologues there is a sort of circular movement reminiscent of last century’s absurdist dramas. The metaphorically precise “Fallujah”, is a perfect tanka:

I fire a bullet
at my horse’s head, because
a fly lands on it.

My horse drops dead, and the fly
buzzes off to the next horse.

 –  A Spiritual Problem is a Chemical Problem (89)

Much of Stephen’s work could be described as found poetry: some gnomes – as the John Howard poems do here – use politician’s words (or something very like them); some earlier poems, if not lifted from Hansard, have perfectly mastered its cadences, but such material – where not invented – is trimmed, recast or amped up.

Not wanting to play Bridges to Stephen’s Hopkins, I have preserved inconsistences in capitalisation, and only been bold with the most obvious of typos. I know of no “Gnome 223” but have gone with Stephen’s numbering. Biographical readings should be undertaken with caution – if at all – remembering that Stephen’s is a poetry of multiple voices, and any number of selves.

 – Aidan Coleman

Stephen Lawrence with Dash Taylor Johnson at SA Writers’ Centre – Photograph supplied by Heather Taylor Johnson

Stephen Lawrence: Rochford Street Review

——————————————————————————————

Late Poems by Stephen Lawrence

 

THE TOWN HALL MEETING

Never mind that it was not in the Town Hall.
I found a front row seat. My mind remained open.
My job’s safe. I do not worry.

When the CEO flapped his sportsman’s hands
cufflinks semaphored from his sleeves’ stiff flags
caught the spotlight.

The CEO shook his sportsman’s head.
He gave us opportunity. We were not on the block.
We were not to worry. We did not worry. We listened.

Carl Jung, he sparkled, proudly.
Jung showed the way to accept change.

We were going forward. And Jung gave it meaning.

There were animal pictures used in the focus groups.
They were important to select the path,
the way forward.

Don’t think about it, he told us. I do not think.
The CEO will let me keep my job. I do not worry.

.

Stephen Lawrence – Photograph supplied by his family.

.

MY FAULT

When I say it’s your fault
I don’t mean it’s your fault
I mean [that] it’s your fault
When you say it’s my fault

 

GNOME 221.

Emily Dickinson made
her room the universe.

 

GNOME 222. — Creation

Creation, flawless, evolved
to meet its own end.

 

THE WRITERS’ WEEK FLOWER

This is a sedentary festival. One-way.
Nodding in the same chair for days
papery bonnets and programs
crunch into crepe fist-tissues.
I spoke to a tree far up the slope
behind blurred rows of sun hats.

Electrified, I held their consideration
talking to a pen-thin microphone
of poetry. “Voice makes verse alive:
it is not enough to stroll in gardens
recline in your comfortable trance
on benches, cast out a line, catch
observations; then, fish-slippery
jot them into your notebook,
lay silver words out in rows
like arranging sticks in sand.

Cathartic, not amounting to poetry,
at best half a thought, without
something to animate these words.
What to do” – a wheelchair sneezed –
“is rouse the poem with your voice,
the voice will find a story, have ideas.”
Does the audience have thoughts?

I gave my last minutes to smiling at trees,
fielding questions about earlier books,
the new book, my travels, anything.
An intelligent sun-hat posed this:
flowers are life and conduct us to death.
Flowers from next to her backyard seat.

I answered another question. No return.

Stephen Lawrence – Photograph supplied by his family.

NEIGHBOURS

when they can be heard
we note their bass registers
their percussive life

 

HAIKU

why you no pay me
why you no pay me pay me
why you no pay me

 

IT IS WHERE I LIVE

“Why did she phone here?” asks my wife.
I’ve forgotten. In love with her fair skin,
I try to answer, but now can’t think why.
Tight black curls of innocence engorge me.
No, I have not forgotten, but cannot imagine.
I did think I knew, but have nothing to retrieve.

I am erect with honour and care. Reason aches.
The peace of purity downs me with a punch.
It reveals the culpability of this friendship
with a woman who has telephoned me.
My feeble eagerness breaks forward
into a further moment of innocence.
Moister than parting lips, as clean of conscience
as one who knows he breathes deception.

I am a good man, guileless, without outrage
and so very stupid, without plan or graph.
My wife’s pale downy face entrances me.
The only way she can answer my pleading,
“Let’s kiss,” is to slap me. And she is right.
When the phone rings, I try to kiss her again.

.

Stephen Lawrence – Photograph supplied by his family.

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The Harrowing of Hell

a wristwatch brings light into the tank
my reflected spot travels solar minutes

to strike off glass and become a tiny boil
blisters, plays against their sides, gilding

the fish who have nothing else to live for
but find eye-brain company in this smudge

tagged by the twitching luminous coin-probe
they convulse and lift against their glass wall

this play is to enliven the unnatural sphere
a glum box ribboned with trailing skin-rags,

but I brought Hell to Hell: lucent glimpses
torture hopeless souls in their dwelling

swinging sun-mirrors drill the caged spirits
spray them with flames of unbearable time

the fish gape horribly in drenched air
mop water-clouds with their mouths

the Damned remain mute, strain silent,
my whim of sun twitches away a last time

after the light drops from sight, souls
hitherto unregarded by light and time
have had eternity added to their sentence

Stephen Lawrence with daughter Georgia – Photograph supplied by his family

.

 

HOWARD ON GILLARD

A total failure.
In my view, real people don’t
need to say they’re real.

 

Gnome 224

In my view, real people don’t
need to say they’re real.

 

HOWARD ON ABBOTT

Mr Abbott is
an authentic believer,
a family team.

 

Gnome 225

an authentic believer
A family team.

 

My Last Thoughts

To bring time into the universe.
Four dimensions. Four last thoughts.

I lay, on the slab of city square paving.
Snow eddies. Self goes first.

I lay, dying, cold, on a Budapest square
face receiving the crystal snow.

What is the last last thought? My love?
I’ll leave that until last. Last last last. Ha ha ha.

Snow lava drops enter me, through skin.
Hot is a bad sign.

Each livid burst gouges me from me.

Why is there not room in the universe and (for) me?
Asking is why. Consciousness resist life.

Bits of me are going.
All limbs have been sacrificed to zero.

Are my arms and legs now visible elsewhere?

As my ears and nose and penis burn away
I bring a toe or finger back.

As my brain sleeps against forever
I squeeze my heart awake.

All of me has gone, but each part has returned.

The universe has seen me whole
but over four dimensions.

Saved, by time and logic. Ha, ha.
No, I am not.

Existence needs me all, simultaneously.
I am without function if not at once.

My cock does not imply my brain.
My thumb does not imply my lungs.

Cold zero-one me one-zero.
Or perhaps I have got it all wrong.

Outside looking in, the world has won.

Absolute implies the universe.
I have brought the world to meaning.

At last. Oh, my love.

Stephen Lawrence on Houseboat – Photograph supplied by his family

SHE REFUSED LOOKS

fades, passes from sight
blurs, becomes unseen

vision shapes light
eyes slip from her body

not noting scrutiny
she eludes being viewed

___

not quite a shimmer
a human thought in time

might have snapped
her back into sight

but she was invisible
for not thinking of us

____

the atmosphere allows
tiny breaths to gleam

her radius shifts
a question unasked

leaving her presencePhotograph –
I feel myself inhale

Stephen Lawrence with son Joe –  Photograph supplied by his family.

anchors vision

curled under brush
sale for forty years until now
in full view by the roadside

relying on landscape
to deter human will
from entering this vista

_____

our car mocks solidity
the windows we breathe against
curse their diaphony

a road train bursts by my head
resets the country flow
sound changes forever

a gate now open
white-green scrub muddied
time smeared across space

bushes’ tongues bivouac
shades flattened by perspective
daub and stain pasturePhotograph – 

can no longer be held as knowledge
parsed or thought
into homely understanding

thirsty salt-erect tussocks
take colour from rubbed plinths
erupted out of this instant

behind falling and catching fence-wire
fields of parallax blue
melt apart in two directions

bent in winds lasting all their lives
stands of trees accompany us
for relative time

_____

hills barricade clouds
sky-shapes whittled by geology
carve apart elements

slowly progress away
to dialogue with root and sky
about borders, about time

Stephen Lawrence – Photograph supplied by his family.