Songs From a New Place

Selected poems from Australian poet Sue Cartledge

Category: Poetry

Upcoming launch

My latest news is that my verse novel – Newtown Voices – will be launched in Newtown (Sydney) on Sunday June 4, 2017!

Set in the gritty innercity suburb of Newtown in 1978, we experience everyday life through the voices of four characters – locals Tom and Buzz, and newcomers Jaroslav and Harry. Violence, intimidation, corruption, bombings, wogs, dagos, Abos and Aussies, racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, drugs, and disco dancing. But it’s not all grim – there’s friendship and love, fun and new experiences. And beer and egg & bacon rolls.

Based on true events, this is my first verse novel, and I’m very excited to have it published. It will be launched by award winning Australian poet & writer, Mark Tredinnick.

If you’re interested in attending the launch, or buying a copy of Newtown Voices, please email me.

All Art is Analogy

Stone gods small

This is a poem I wrote about 5 years ago, after having coffee with an elderly painter. He clearly enjoyed having an audience, and was very forceful in his views. I went home and wrote the first draft while the memory of his words stayed fresh.

This poem is in my ‘Talking to the gods’ section of Songs from a New Place. Not that I considered this artist a god—far from it, although he was a skilful portrait painter. But he clearly suggested he was channelling his god, so this seemed the right place for it. All Art (one version was also called Flat People) is another of my “ekphrastic” poems (poetry jargon for poems in response to some art form). You’ll find some more on the Talking to the gods page.

 All Art is Analogy

All art, all language, is analogous, he said.

Nothing we make or say is real, true,

only what’s in here, banging his chest between

the braces over his blue checked shirt. Only feelings are real.

And colours.

because you squeeze them from the tube to the palette,

from the brush to the canvas

without alteration. They are what they are.

 Trust your hand, he said. I thought it should have been

trust your eye.

It’s as well he said hand, for my eyes are untrustworthy.

Blurry and doubled, they lie to me.

Nothing that I see is true. My vision is analogous

to the distortions within, because nothing is real

except what’s here under my ribs, behind

the breasts moulding my yellow tee. Who’s there?

Passion? heartache? loss? fear?

Trust your hand. Bypass the planning mind.

 When the artist and the sitter come together, they create

a new person, he said. A novel offspring from their union:

the artwork.

A flat person, alive in its painted canvas skin.

“I believe in God when I’m painting,” he quoted; then: God

didn’t have time to create flat people, so we artists do the work.

I’m a thinking animal, I replied. No god within.

My flat people crawl out of my brain

onto my page.

They writhe and wrestle with their sorrowful joys,

seeking their truth in the tumbled landscape of my language.

  Yet, nothing I say is true. It never happened. It wasn’t me.

I was someone else at the time. I’m a writer:

can you really trust my hand?

I’m a metaphor junkie, simile needlepricks scab my lines. I’d say

anything for a fix – jokes, puns, lies, mutterings from my subconscious,

the literal bloody truth.

My mouth spurts liquid blossoms across the paper’s sand

black purple, blue-green, bile yellow, rust,

pigments of decay

taken as read.

No Regrets

Gray wolf

This is a poem I wrote a couple of years ago in response to a challenge in a writing class to get into the voice and attitudes of one of the characters from the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. I started writing the grandmother, but couldn’t really get anywhere with her, and then the wolf spoke clearly in my head, and this is what he said:

I plead guilty, yes guilty, to the act

of eating red riding hood and her granmamma.

Furthermore, I’ll admit, not without some pride,

that it was my honey tongue

that seduced the girl – altogether

too trusting, too naïve, too unaware —

so easily I convinced her to stray

from the straight and narrow way to walk

among primroses and strawberries.

And yes, it was that same clever tongue of mine

fooled her granma, silly old biddy,

shortsighted no doubt from years of sewing fine seams

and knitting and cooking up

moral fables to scare the youngsters with.

But I object! I am not the villain

or evil personified — wolf in gran’s clothing

though I may be!

I aver, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls

of the fairy tale reading public — judge and jury all —

that in my defence I need only point

to my lupine nature. I simply did

what a wolf naturally does. Nature

red in tooth and claw, someone has written.

Well, this wolf’s not so bloody. I obligingly

swallowed them, my victims, my prey,

swallowed them whole to spare them the pain

and for my gentleness

was shot, disembowelled and skinned.

And while I plead my case, let me remark

that I am NOT that wolf

that bullied and threatened and in the end

was outsmarted

by those three smarmy smart alec pigs,

(though I believe he was a distant cousin

on my father’s side.)

I know you all clapped and cheered when

the huntsman oh so conveniently appeared

in granma’s cottage to shoot me,

slit me open

and let the ladies out. But please remember

I am just a creature of nature. Any evil

imputed to me is branded on my skin

to serve as awful warning

to those who want to stray.

Let’s hope that pretty little missy

has learned her lesson well!

As for me, I am condemned

to eternal scorn and infamy;

worse, to an ignominious existence

as a rug on the huntsman’s floor

forever trodden under the feet of my enemy.

The poem was published in Wolf Warriors II, an anthology of poetry & prose about wolves, published by The National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Jonathan W Thurston, in December 2015.

You can find this poem, with other humorous and light-hearted ones in Treading Lightly.

Dancing with Cats 3

Statue of lion

This is Part 3 of my Dancing with Cats trilogy. As withPart 2, first stanza is identical to the first stanza of Part 1. There’s method in my madness, as you’ll see when you read on.

Dancing with Cats 3

 

Dancing with cats is not an easy manoeuvre

When you consider the disparity in height

Between felines and humans.

Most cats are considerably shorter than me.

 

When you consider the disparity in height,

Say, of a Maine Coon and a Russian Blue,

Most cats are considerably shorter than me.

Dancing with cats is not an easy manoeuvre.

 

Say, of a Maine Coon and a Russian Blue:

The size difference between them and a Siamese.

Dancing with cats is not an easy manoeuvre,

But if you could, what dancing would you do?

 

The size difference between them and a Siamese

Is not to be dismissed when dancing cheek to paw.

But if you could, what dancing would you do?

What would they choose, and which of you would lead?

 

Not to be dismissed when dancing cheek to paw,

The likelihood of romance—of a furry fling, at least.

What would they choose, and which of you would lead?

It raises questions that might be best unanswered.

 

The likelihood of romance—of a furry fling, at least,

Could be considered as a hazard of the dance.

It raises questions that might be best unanswered,

Or, at the least, dismissed as supposition.

 

To be considered as a hazard of the dance,

(Seeming to add a frisson of feline thrill),

Or, at the least, dismissed as supposition:

Who took the lead, who followed in the dance?

 

Seeming to add a frisson of feline thrill,

(fur raised up, eyes richly glowing),

Who took the lead, who followed in the dance?

Cheek to paw with cats can be a risky manoeuvre.

 

Fur raised up, eyes richly glowing,

Feline and human locked in embrace.

Cheek to paw with cats can be a risky manoeuvre.

Forget, at your hazard, a cat is not human.

 

Feline and human locked in embrace

For just as long as the cat wants it so.

Forget, at your hazard, a cat is not human.

A hiss and a spit and it leaps off your lap.

 

For just as long as the cat wants it so

You can embrace them, pet them and coo.

A hiss and a spit and it leaps off your lap,

Disdaining the thought it might actually care.

 

You can embrace cats, pet them and coo;

They’ll take what they want and leave you for nought,

Disdaining the thought they might actually care.

Dancing with cats is not an easy manoeuvre.

 

© S Cartledge 2016

 

 

 

 

Dancing with Cats 2

Statue of lion

This is the Part 2 of my Dancing with Cats trilogy. Don’t be confused by the fact that the first stanza is identical to the first stanza of Part 1. There’s method in my madness, as you’ll see when you read on.

Dancing with Cats 2

Dancing with cats is not an easy manoeuvre,

considering the awkward disparity in height

between cats and humans. Even a Maine Coon

or a Russian Blue is considerably shorter

than me, and I’m only one

hundred-and-sixty centimetres (five foot two) tall.

 

Does it matter, you may ask, just how tall

your partner is in this hypothetical manoeuvre

since this dancing with cats scenario is one

in which you can set your fancied feline’s height

to suit your own, shorter

or taller—or yours to theirs—to swing with the Maine Coon.

 

Some prefer Persians or Siamese to the Maine Coon,

or Burmese, liking their cats vocal, bossy, thin and tall.

Being a human, and a woman built on the shorter

scale, I prefer not to have to daily manoeuvre

or negotiate with a cat taking advantage of their relative height,

to assume the role of the dominant one.

 

So, if I took the opportunity to dance with cats, which one

would deign to dance with me? The lordly Maine Coon,

bowing to me from his (or her) relative height?

I’m not fussed about gender, what matters is our ratio of tall

to short as we embark on this terpsichorean manoeuvre.

If they wanted to lead, should I be the shorter?

 

If, in fact, my partner was happy to be the one shorter,

would that cause me to become the one

to take the lead in this dangerous manoeuvre

Imagine me tangoing with a handsome Maine Coon

Has he shot up to six foot tall

or have I, Alice-like, shrunk to his height?

 

So, again, let us ask how important is height?

Does it matter a jot which one is the shorter,

since no-one at all has a say in how tall

they grow to be: neither humans nor cats, no-one,

Not even the tallest domestic feline, the giant Maine Coon.

My height, or lack of it, is a factor with which I daily manoeuvre.

 

It’s clear the issue of height in this balletic manoeuvre,

While best dealt with by choosing that tall Maine Coon,

still leaves unanswered the question: who’s the shorter one?

 

© S Cartledge 2016

 

Dancing with Cats 1

 

Statue of lion

This is my latest poem, or rather, poems, as  they are a trilogy, the Dancing with Cats trilogy. Here is Part1:

Dancing with Cats 1

Dancing with cats is not an easy

manoeuvre, when you consider

the disparity in height between cats

and humans. Even a Maine Coon or

Russian Blue is considerably

shorter than me, and I’m only one

Read the rest of this entry »