I have hallucinations about roofs falling on whole families, a car running over a child, a stray bullet hitting right into a heart… Those events show glaringly that we are mere objects. Nature has its unavoidable laws.

Light is blinding, is the enemy. Desiring desire: that’s when a body disintegrates, and contaminates every river it has ever known.

Lines of trees lining a dry land form a line of pilgrimage. There’s a beyond-ness to words.

Nothing matters besides the little town’s yearning to go to sea, to never return.

A cool summer’s breeze is different from a winter’s same temperature.

Night is a subtle rain, wetting body and soul.


[Read in Night, published by Nightboat Books]


A passenger is boarding a ship. Let’s live before dying.

At times, an appetite for death creates a withdrawal into the nature of heat, turns the world into a blur.

A woman mourns her dead lover while everything buckles under her sorrow’s pressure. Her days are going to grow longer.

I can hear the night’s pulse. Divine will circulates around its edges. A precocious summer lies on a granite wall. The ocean is my land.

Disastrous are disasters. Paradise is such a lonely place that we are doomed, anyway. But at the meeting point of its rivers the horizon is always enlarged, the imagination, unleashed.

In the courtyard, the sun is scribbling shadows on the fading roses. I’m spending hours waiting for the next hour.

Love creates sand-storms and loosens reality’s building stones. Its feverish energy takes us into the heart of mountains. Sometimes, a frozen moon illuminates frozen fields.

There’s so much life around me, and I will have to leave.


[Read in Night, published by Nightboat Books]


So we really like the colour of the wood.
Or pause to marvel at the pearl lodged
between Grandfather’s lips – supposedly
to illuminate footpaths in the netherworld.

I peer at the clean, pressed shirt and wonder:
Is this the same one he wore to my brother’s wedding?
Then exclaim his hair hasn’t turned all-white or fallen out –
in joyful premonition on my generation’s behalf.

Red candles burn, as we celebrate
the passing of Grandfather at a ripened age:
92 years, and sufficient months to surpass
even his own mother’s longevity. But

Does it mattes? Death comes
and we go. If we imagine it is mechanical,
no tears would be required at this funeral.
Still I regret I couldn’t wring out more woe

As if there should be only one prescribed response
for a filial grandson: A raging sadness enough
to rattle the petals off the wreaths. Not ambling
after the departing cortege on steady feet.



Grandfather’s walking stick
(the one I’d bought him)
leans lone-legged
against a corner of his room…

I figure, if I stare long enough,
even the floor would ripple
like the skin of a pond of water
from the dipping point.

[Read in The Viewing Party, by Yong Shu Hoong, published by Ethos Books.]

The road keeps accepting us.


That is the first, and most memorable, line of the poem – because that is exactly what the road on a long journey does. I struggled a bit with the volume this poem is from, PLACE, which won the 2012 Forward Prize: I don’t think I had the time to give it that is needed if one is to enjoy its unfolding images and associations, and my experience of the first few poems in particular was completely out of step with the transformative experience promised in the quotes used in the blurb. And in that blurb itself, this: “a book of poems written in the uneasy lull of a world moving towards an unknowable future.” I’m sure the blurb writer was pretty pleased with that sentence, but the future is never knowable, and the description could apply to any number of poets. However, there is a real treat at the end: the penultimate poem Lapse, readable here. It has a clarity of subject that much of the collection lacks, and real tenderness.

[Read in PLACE, published by Carcanet Press.]

The yorks have front wheels rivet-straight
so steer from behind, lean into the weight
like when you hang out from a boat against
the wind. Collect from where they sort the drifts
of mail off the troughs: swivel out
the full sleeve, and Eric’ll tell you about
bar codes (to scan quantity: don’t overfill).
After that, there’s primary, roads 1
2, 3 and 4, and sky road, which is mainly Scotland.
The trolleys form arcades; the function of
the space depends on how they’re ranged.
I’ve grown fond of how their cages catch
the light and line it up, low and level –
across the tops of all of them you see
the shuttered drum of the machine: it sifts
the inbound stuff and flicks it round the loop,
it leaps like fish. The way these trolleys pivot
makes me think of doors in floorplans,
geometry of entry, so the lino here’s
a blank of unrecorded draughstmanship.
If you’ve ever seen those clocks which seem to write
the time across the air, with a ticker like
a metronome but strobing out 04:10
with LEDs – I’d say it’s quite like that,
a blur but somehow sense is made.
With us all running parallel, surface tension
makes the link and mail gets through,
just how a drop holds slide and cover slip
together, both the focus and the glue.
Ask Pat: she comes back every year for Christmas.


‘Going Postal’ is a long-ish series of observations on casual work in a postal sorting office, and won this year’s John Kinsella / Tracy Ryan Poetry Prize. This is the opening.

[Read in The Churchill Review 2013.]

Poems about poems – I am always suspicious of these. But I’m not afraid to make exceptions, and especially not for this piece by Kenneth Koch, which is just so fantastically energetic – and also, in the bumblebees, contains one of the most entertaining similes I know.


At the Poem Society a black-haired man stands up to say
“You make me sick with all your talk about restraint and mature talent!
Haven’t you ever looked out the window at a painting by Matisse,
Or did you always stay in hotels where there were too many spiders crawling on your visages?
Did you ever glance inside a bottle of sparkling pop,
Or see a citizen split in two by the lightning?
I am afraid you have never smiled at the hibernation
Of bear cubs except that you saw in it some deep relation
To human suffering and wishes, oh what a bunch of crackpots!”
The black-haired man sits down, and the others shoot arrows at him.
A blond man stands up and says,
“He is right! Why should we be organized to defend the kingdom
Of dullness? There are so many slimy people connected with poetry,
Too, and people who know nothing about it!
I am not recommending that poets like each other and organize to fight them,
But simply that lightning should strike them.”
Then the assembled mediocrities shot arrows at the blond-haired man.
The chairman stood up on the platform, oh he was physically ugly!
He was small-limbed and –boned and thought he was quite seductive,
But he was bald with certain hideous black hairs,
And his voice had the sound of water leaving a vaseline bathtub,
And he said, “The subject for this evening’s discussion is poetry
On the subject of love between swans.” And everyone threw candy hearts
At the disgusting man, and they stuck to his bib and tucker,
And he danced up and down on the platform in terrific glee
And recited the poetry of his little friends—but the blond man stuck his head
Out of a cloud and recited poems about the east and thunder,
And the black-haired man moved through the stratosphere chanting
Poems of the relationships between terrific prehistoric charcoal whales,
And the slimy man with candy hearts sticking all over him
Wilted away like a cigarette paper on which the bumblebees have urinated,
And all the professors left the room to go back to their duty,
And all that were left in the room were five or six poets
And together they sang the new poem of the twentieth century
Which, though influenced by Mallarmé, Shelley, Byron, and Whitman,
Plus a million other poets, is still entirely original
And is so exciting that it cannot be here repeated.


And it goes on in a similarly joyous, angry vein.

[Read in The New York Poets: An Anthology, edited by Mark Ford and published by Carcanet. Ripped from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/237636.]


So I finally finished Peripheral Light a couple of days ago – obviously it’s taken a while if you look how long ago the first Kinsella poem was posted on this blog. The poems in it aren’t always easy to love, but the highlights are real highlights. I came across a quote from Coleridge today, on the aim of poetry, that seems to sum up the below excerpt: “The best words in their best order.” New Norcia is near Perth; I have no idea what the miracle there might have been.


gaze upon this phantasm, doctrinaire line

months in getting back, against this house freed
from Satan’s urging towards it, as we retell
it, as part of wheatbelt miscellany, our greed

for crossover myths and stories, hard sell
prayers that play their politics, right-wing
politicians on display in the roadhouse, the hotel

with its cells under new management. Sing
psalms to olives and scrub, the blistering heat–
the searing kind that gets under skin, cauterising

and lifting like paint, art patron; that will entreat

[Read in Peripheral Light: Selected and New Poems, published by Norton. The full poem can be read here: http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/kinsella-john/miracle-at-new-norcia-0243089]