Poems, Imitations & Translations


Canberra Tales (2016-17)

Dianne Firth: Canberra Tales (2017)

Canberra Tales

Dianne Firth's 2017 art exhibition 'Poetry and Place' consisted of a series of textile works inspired by poems commissioned from 14 Australian and International poets who attended the 2016 Poetry in Motion Festival at the University of Canberra. The poem printed below was my contribution to the show. As you can see from the image above, Dianne's four works (like the four parts of my poem) form an interconnected whole.


The picture is sepia-toned
like the not-too-far-distant war

the need to stay silent at mealtimes
so her father can hear

every radio news report
the need to pose paramount

in the stiff lines of this schoolgirl
reaching out a tentative hand

to the strangest of beasts
in the latter stages of dementia

my father removed her photos
replacing them with snaps

of his militaria
I don’t think she understands

what we see in this picture
the meekness before authority

the gentleness of the pose
the dark fringe of trees

in a faraway world
where my mother

has just been told
to pretend to feed

a wallaby


My father and my grandmother
crossed the Tasman

in a flying boat
for my uncle’s graduation

from Duntroon
they took off from Mechanics Bay

my father said of Canberra
there was only tenuously

a city there
even by Auckland standards

a building
trees and fields

far off
another building

like Brasilia


They held a faculty reception
at ANU

for the visiting professor
Frank Kermode

said my buddy Claire
and somehow she

got seated next to him
she asked

d’you see that mountain over there?
he allowed he did

I just ran up and down it seven times
really? why?

to become iron woman!
bemused look

no doubt a story for
High Table

back in the real world


Somebody snaffled my cab
that first morning

at the Premier Hotel
I’d rung up to order it

half an hour before
But after sitting stumm

in the lounge
I just had to ask

it’s coming any moment now
said the man on the desk

(hastily ordering it)
but when it did turn up

the cab-driver wouldn’t let me in
it was reserved for Paul

he said
(who turned out to be

the guy on the desk)
he’d got into trouble that way before

at one of the bigger hotels
two punters

both with the number seven
that one turned quite nasty

he said

[24-25/3; 16-17/9-4/12/16]

“Canberra Tales.” In Dianne Firth, Poetry and Place: Catalogue for the Poetry and Place Exhibition, Belconnen Art Centre, 25 August – 17 September 2017. ISBN 978-1-74088-460-0. Canberra: University of Canberra, 2017: 10.

[Bruegel the Elder: The Tower of Babel (1525)]

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