A Fine and Curious Beast

Last year I posted a Facebook status update explaining I was going to publish a 200-line poem in the two hundredth issue of Overland. It was a joke. I admired my own audacity in publicly thinking such a thing. Two hundred lines is a lot, about seven A4 pages worth. Who would give you that much space to play with just for a poem?

But here it is. ‘Before Elapsing’ is not a poem entirely written by me (and I am glad of this). The poem is a collaborative piece, written by twenty poets from across Australia: Adam Ford, Zenobia Frost, Rebecca Giggs, Susan Hampton, Stu Hatton, Kelly-lee Hickey, Hal Judge, Dan Lee, Carly-Jay Metcalf, Scott-Patrick Mitchell, Ella O’Keefe, David Prater, Jaya Savige, Bel Schenk, Andrew Slattery, Amelia Walker, Louise Waller, Benny Walter, Fiona Wright and me.

I chose these poets and then invited them to take part in the enterprise. I did have a few criteria in mind: I wanted good writers, I wanted both genders and I wanted writers from across Australia (at least one from every state and territory). I think I have managed to achieve this.

These are not writers I have worked closely with before. It is fun to work with a new group of people, to curate and present their writing to a reading public.

The compositional method involved was relatively simple. Every poet was asked to compose a ten-line piece – the loose prompt being ‘on a role’. The goal was to encourage poetry that looked at the role of the poet in the past, in the present and in the future. Any kind of anniversary issue suggests this idea: a look at what has been done, what is being done, what can be done.

I knew we weren’t writing an essay on the state of Australian poetry. We were presenting a poem, something necessarily more allusive. I forged the 200-line poem out of the raw material. I cut lines into tiny strips of paper and remixed. The result is ‘Before Elapsing’.

I believe this poem is timely. The idea of ownership is perhaps a consumerist notion that needs to be unpackaged, something that is happening in contemporary poetic practice. In recent issues of the online journal Cordite, contributors have remixed and re-published versions of other contributor’s poems (indeed, the next issue will be published under a Creative Commons licence). So I feel this 200-line poem does communicate what is going on now. But also by so obviously saying now with this creative act, we implicitly bring up the past (was there something more golden about the golden age?) and the future (can we surpass the present?).

I suspect people will love this poem and people will hate this poem. I do commend it to you. It is a fine and curious beast; there is a lot going on within its numerical boundaries. The remixing of lines was basically a process of finding thematic threads, sonic harmonies and lines that flowed unexpectedly into others. But from within this simplicity, our wider concerns emerge.

Before Elapsing

Most words are the same but
Nobody has the right to sleep.

Those poètes maudits are walking in the dead river’s crockery,
a crumpet smell wafting the gulch of then, so saliently. Believe this:
we are all the doom inverse, distilled in the reaching of ants on a cardboard spout.

I am leaning lobe-side, skull-wide, sloshing.
Vulgar realism. Klein’s women smeared with
Kerry O’Brien’s smile, knowing our access
curves towards & away from a single
point, as per television’s ‘routings’, as astride
teeth catching words before they tumble out of my mouth.

      how there can still be men

All that the moon writes of us.
of the cockatoos

A grey tornado, we saw it in the distance,
you see the triangle. I’ve prepared much more & earlier though.
Still wet, the concrete sky is setting now,
paper birds settling in the ink, resting, &
No writer knows how to work with people.
Now you/me/insert name here.

Heavy fringes of lightning bruise the sky as a storm skulks across the welkin,
above the valley empty. They’ve /
Rearranged. We read them like pretty poems, then
beneath a fuselage of memory, I spit;
                           my kiss was a note about not feeling (lousy/ratshit/mal)
all of this as I snap the wet tea towel for a mark out of twenty.
(The Director of Victory kept the future in mind.)

The passing cars reverberate. Brick crumbs on my clothes.
Swimming into a humid silence, the aperture of your eyes slit with complaint,
someone pointed, mouth chasming. There it was:
light stretched across the wooden day.
But civilization goes on: flat-packed, ingenious, affordable.

    ‘on second thought, i decided to act like a hivemind,
    – a blur, no time for searching skies, distant or otherwise – until
    other lips. you could chart whether i’ve drooled words all night,
    slouching toward sweden, towards an ikean poetics,
    so many kinds of death. i wonder, &
    clean up afterwards. this, i leave to you – & to fate.’

Rolling heat clots my hair, salting my scalp.
You trawl the sonic green sea for bytes and pisces –
in these tales detail how some
Progress only led to more mess.
It was coming. We waited.
Pushing seconds from the minutes of indigestible hours
every instance a broken tooth on the field. But okay,
you find her in the kitchen and your lungs empty.

A parent’s knee / a boy begins to lie

True ruthlessness is effortless;
with smoke breath Julia Gillard rolls the grass before the game.

no solids till teeth cut

as if he might correct himself
talk less politics, a mark of respect, one waived later,
all churchy & austere (such hubris
devoured, never grumbling
              for thoughts about  (the soil around the biscuit tin
 no longer confined to election years)      to snub

They hired an understudy to their frustration.
Shortly before electrification. When I was young,
             by the ribbons of the late-night whodunit video stacks.
I am scattered crumbs dumb, grinning skyward.
They ran the website and loaned out their tears
so that even before the stock-route vowels, the poètes maudits broke
over the inner suburbs,
condensed themselves in pictures.
One to the other and down and up, peristaltic spoon industrious,
little remains at track. The graded bed has grown creeper-dank and soft;
and replaced with yours and mine.
Where the present will be un-

Wrapped in words and versions, we got caught up
on old pebbles by the road. I draw you
forever wrongfooted, a series of tangential
nudes. Magritte’s Rape. Dada’s incendiary
foreign mouths have left this poem out here, to wreck and rust.

searching for the truth?
hiding has less guilt.

-thing is said. embellish, fed
from milky breast to Sunshine
while days away you circle over the chassis wondering whose
wings wonder? this begins by
that stain there. the window is open.
soon, the names will be crossed out.
this is the room where they cornered the fox,
after dry hours split with nerve, they abandoned the vehicle.
because everyone was the only one who truly understood it.

is awakening difficult …

Sections of supporting walls remain at street.
I sift the ballast, where sour-milk weeds hang their roots.
now being the new black; or white. Speaking of post-
subconscious beings … Goya’s nightmare of
crows arrive – their cries fall
and strip the Chinese elm.

when I raged against the latrine, nobody bothered to
follow. swallows bury memory
/modern conditions, like a pompous twit I recall that
on the rail where she split her head, the blood
window. earth’s amber bridge glows. pops, sparks, yawns … loose.
stand still & envelop. night’s will
has frozen before it could stain. your legs try.

I curled my fingers off my ticket-stub, smelt soot in my hair for days.
His eyes like steel-capped boots crunching pixel gravel
bits. How to measure its worth? Other dawns exist, they settle on
/or exhibit signs of a new dispensation: i.e., exclusion
of such duplicities is inconsistent, fleeting,
Duchamp’s nudes descending. Modigliani’s
screaming pope of Bacon. Tanguy’s
smoked paprika crusts the stove. I write a factional poem &
time moves the air around my bed. Words jiggle in books. Two
took the shuddering gulch, completely fucking their suspension
down to their hipbones in sky and ate salt straight from the Sunhead.
To the soul’s echo chamber, a ping pong ball on a string
gathers prayers and demands like granules of dust.

The warm and the cold of the trees.
autotuning the postapocalyptic Cher Venus
urgently waving their umlauts, for a plane or any kind of eye
down through the cries
that your brothers crushed into unsealed wood,
and apples, stewed-
lunatics. Tinguely’s edible machines.
we eat to ward off the cold
2 paces in and I’ve fallen behind on the passeggiata, already forgotten
to turn you. The volta catches in your throat.
Over teeth to tongue for omniscient surveillance of divine gullet.

a super-conscious eye patrolling wild perimeters, my
hundred pages fall where the floor is. darkness paces curiosity.
then (and this is the strange part) I began to display &
file them somewhere (anywhere)
Sour as fear. You never looked
for it, braced for it, dreaded, dreamed and lusted,
You found it in a thrift store. Gwen wrote her wobbly note to Jean.
action plans : 17 ways to Q-U-I-T ennui // 5 NEW METHODS

The moon’s bad luck gave the writers a tool.

Expecting a sudden dustpan, the brush
traced its outline – so clear –
blue paint. Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde.
Night as day’s corollary.

The evidence is in: Oswiecim classified us to death
by repeating himself, coming over
in the distance, grey as ever, clearly over. We traced its outline.
The fox that panicked through the hall in the storm,
                            sweetly psychoanalysing your luncheon choice …

We graft our time, combing our skins, crimped like an over ripe orange
ending. Hands fill; remember
crossfading the dramatic string section initiating Lateline,
long crackled to cloud static – irrelevant FORMATS : Marple in the bushes
in the throat; wild oats
home grown fruit, sometimes
-wrapped, like a bubble, popping

Milk and salt, set full like payloads.

white cockatoos form squadrons
evergreens are all puffed up. nothing grows
as DJ Archi remixes all our terrible Ohrwürmer
manifestos. yes sir, deviant and dangerous.
or heaps a mouthful of ash sludge onto my pillow.
The paint flakes scab against my fingers and sun scrambles for the girders:
                                             valid passwords, left trails of undetected evidence,
nose, slack mouth. push a weighted stretch into night’s panorama.
freaks play with dream and with fire. i churn its bulk, cross to the
formula mixed with water
guts aching
while someone’s Dad cries ‘Have you seen the allen key?’
nosing over your shoulder in the self-help section of  trapezoidal
They were moving against the pull of tragedy.

They must get tired of this; the snakes
swung their Sandman Panelvan off the dust suppressant and
here’s stardust viewed through the lens of failed projects. poignant no?

from the bones of the fox. Dishcloths are stiff
after a three week residency next to the vase. I am simply unable to trash them.
reading prosperity into the arc: nozzle, carpet, stainless steel –
The burnt paintings of Botticelli. Caravaggio’s
role akin to that of those who first rejected me, namely
Ofili’s expression in elephant dung. The
Message received. Birthday. Happy. Day.

nostalgic re-readings of your secret anglophile fantasies unstuck
on the orchard floor. A bird returns to the nest, just as a foal
turns stars, disaffection, off. the twittering parts.
. accents nostalgic for a future
wrote songs and painted pictures, argued
in the back of the head. the dead
: exclude some, & keep the others looking busy. but

They wrote for tabloids and stick mags
not sleep or sleeplessness. Fever an alphabet in my head. Blocked,
singing nowhere in the air.
What to do when this lego aesthetic just won’t click?
Your sensibilities a rippled knot of muscle peeled away by a brush of wind.

In early survey lines about the poètes maudits, the poètes maudits
found their timber perches,
and waited for an end to Victory.

The money was endless where they lived.

Or is it easy?

You are young; your voice not yet the sound of steel and still warm of breath.
Ever vacuuming up ‘now’ with the other fridge magnets &
from your Pages to the windows,
I am ink dispensed, like a low thin cloud in spring. Evidence
runs from its mother – the same way I lost you in the light of our goodbye.
exposing the evening, the sky
and other spirits.
for so long, caught

Adam Ford, Zenobia Frost, Rebecca Giggs, Susan Hampton, Stu Hatton, Kelly-Lee Hickey, Hal Judge, Dan Lee, Carly-Jay Metcalf, Scott-Patrick Mitchell, Derek Motion, Ella O’Keefe, David Prater, Jaya Savige, Bel Schenk, Andrew Slattery, Amelia Walker, Louise Waller, Benny Walter and Fiona Wright

Derek Motion

Derek Motion lives in Narrandera where he writes and works as an Arts Development Officer. He was the winner of the 2009 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize; his first collection lollyology was published in 2012.

More by Derek Motion ›

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