Arab World Books and ACT Writers' Poetry Evening in Australia
Geoff Page is an Australian poet who has published eighteen collections of
poetry as well as two novels, four verse novels and several other works
including anthologies, translations and a biography of the jazz musician,
Bernie McGann. He retired at the end of 2001 from being in charge of the
English Department at Narrabundah College in the ACT, a position he had held
since 1974. He has won several awards, including the ACT Poetry Award, the
Grace Leven Prize, the Christopher Brennan Award, the Queensland Premier’s
Prize for Poetry and the 2001 Patrick White Literary Award. Selections from
his work have been translated into Chinese, German, Serbian, Slovenian and
Greek. He has also read his work and talked on Australian poetry in
Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Britain, Italy, Spain, Serbia,
Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Singapore, China,
Korea, the United States and New Zealand.
This is a selection of the poems he read in the evening in Canberra.
Why is it dreams are like our history,
two parts pride and two parts shame?
First in the world with secret ballot,
slow to give murder a working name.
Can it be we’re still a dream
disrupting Arthur Phillip’s sleep.
Inside that eighteenth century head
we’re convicts, whipped, who will not weep
or ‘Native Aboriginees’
too primal to salute the king —
who greets us all with half a wave
and hopes that we’re not suffering.
Transported dreams bestowed the vote
and, later, all that kings can give —
but stories done with guns and flags
are where we find we still must live.
The Book of his Addresses
The book of his addresses
is like the mind of God,
older than he’d like,
with some names down the bottom
Too many of its entries
have had a line drawn through —
and so he keeps on losing
the argument with death.
The entropy of God,
it’s clear, is heaven-sent.
Drawing near the silence,
the book of his addresses
becomes more eloquent.
One thinks of those forgotten names
so smugly famous in their time,
masters of the parlour games
as well as of the tricks of rhyme.
They smile at their presumptive power,
Robert Santry, Stirton Giles,
heroes of the day and hour,
masters of the minor styles
that tell you, yes, that spring will bloom,
that God is in his highest heaven
that chancellors will bring no gloom
that dinner must be served at seven.
Such poets rarely die of poxes;
they are extravagantly mourned
then shouldered off in shining boxes
and given tombstones, much-adorned.
Oblivion now sets the pace
and ushers in the newer style.
Cheeks, in weeks, rot off the face
but nothing can destroy the smile.
The stars out there between the towns
reach right down to the edges —
or hang as if thrown up by chance
and casually tethered.
It’s ‘bible-black’ — except for them.
There won’t be any moon.
They’re floating there like funeral flowers
across a dark lagoon.
I have no wish to count them off
or be their registrar.
I’ve seen what’s out there way beyond
the city lights and cars
that flow like complex sentences
too difficult to parse.
I love the carbon compromise,
the smell of coffee bars.
Terminally naive, of course,
we’d thought to meet up later in
our swimmers and a swirl of bubbles;
instead of which we’re in our skin
with men and women separated,
sprawled in pools of varied heat.
We languidly compare ourselves —
and think about what not to eat.
‘Why are Korean cars so big?’
I ask our young Korean friend.
‘Big man, big job, will need big car’
then tacks on slyly at the end:
‘Small man need a big car too
to show off to the other guys.
Our engines, though, quite often small;
we worry more with length than size.’
In all the glory of Linnaeus,
they’re swimming in their free verse world.
They’re like some catalogue of Whitman’s,
a triumph of the wide demotic:
the angelfish, the damselfish
and every sort of wrasse,
the surgeonfish, the triggerfish,
the flutemouths, snappers, fusiliers,
the cardinals, the goatfish,
the Bennet’s butterfly,
in widescreen and in technicolor
through every tremor of the spectrum;
the filefish and the parrotfish,
the clownfish with their whites and orange.
In all the reefs that still survive:
the pufferfish, the barracuda,
the jawfish on the bottom,
the anglerfish, the frogfish
in all their gothic splendour,
the seahorse, too, dealt straight from myth,
the hawkfish, gophies and the blennies,
the burrfish known as spiny puffer …
I saw them once, a small selection.
Unschooled in any Latin,
they swam beyond nomenclature,
rejoicing in their names.
Dancing by the Sea
Peace and Justice,
were meant to be together.
opaque by turn,
they love the salty weather.
How far back
does Justice go
and whose turn is it now?
The brawling boys
are in a queue —
the only question’s how
the local lad
will polish up
to ask her for a dance.
hard-pressed and rare;
he’ll have to take his chance
for both sharp sides
of Justice must
be honoured — then forgotten
as Peace, while waltzing
round the room,
wears only flimsy cotton.
And so our pair of
is dancing by the sea.
In bed together
they dream of you and me.
The sweat dries on
their bodies and
they’re languorously spent.
‘I shouldn’t tell you
but,’ she yawns,
‘you’ve lost the argument.
and gods and flags
can never be the answer.
No girl will ever
sleep with those,
however smooth the dancer.’
Young Justice doesn’t
quite know how
he got her into bed.
Who was it who
And who was it who led?
The boys back home
may spill their beer
and say he’s sold them out
but, now that he
has slept with Peace,
he knows what life’s about.
Their future may not
last the summer;
they have no guarantee.
A moon, though, pales
their bodies and
a breeze blows off the sea.
It’s like a quattrocento painting,
the episode unknown,
some fragment from a vanished gospel.
A white-robed man is borne towards us
shoulder-high by seven more
dressed in what they wore that morning
expecting nothing worse than hunger.
The painter’s frame is dense with gesture,
one arm curved against the sky,
another raised in shock or protest.
Their faces are the timeless ones
old masters always use,
each one with its silent shout —
though one, we see, has tied
a sweatshirt round his nose and mouth
to clarify his breathing.
The colours are composed and careful —
blue shirt to the bottom right,
the sweatshirt’s high and sudden yellow,
that whiteness in the sky.
Top right there’s an edge of stone
ragged like some Roman ruin.
The man in white’s a deposition,
slanted from an unseen cross,
except he’s bald — and still alive.
The face is calm, and half-forgiving.
His feet are pale and bare.
The white he wears suggests the sacred
as does the crimson down his chest,
a vestment with some extra meaning,
until we see, at second glance,
the richness in that redness is
the sunlight in his blood.