Songs From a New Place

Selected poems from Australian poet Sue Cartledge

Category: Poetry

Paris Pantoum

V's fountain

Back from my all too short Italian holiday, and back into the swing of everyday life, a little slower than usual.

This poem deals with travel, but it’s not about Italy. I’m still waiting for my experiences there to percolate into poetry. This is one I wrote as an exercise a couple of years ago, when I was taking a master class in poetic forms and styles. It’s a pantoum.

I found the pantoum form rather annoying with its strict scheme of repetitions. However, it’s always good to challenge yourself to try something a bit demanding. Although I probably wouldn’t write a pantoum as my first choice of poetic form, (my preference being free verse), I was reasonably satisfied with my 6th attempt at this.

The image is a sketch my daughter made many years ago of one of the fountains mentioned in this poem, the one in Launceston’s Princes Square (Tasmania). Strangely enough, the Launceston fountain is identical to the one on Boston Common, which she was surprised to see when she moved to Boston.

Fountains have become a running joke for us. Whenever we come across a new one – especially an ornate one – we send each other photos of it.

Paris Pantoum

My daughter’s gone to Paris for a week.

She went with her spouse and a lover,

(His lover, not hers, you understand),

To see Paris in the springtime.

She went with her spouse and his lover,

(An apparently amicable affair),

To see Paris in the springtime,

Where she had not been before.

An apparently amicable affair,

The threesome went round together

Where she had not been before.

It was all new territory for her.

The threesome went round together:

Museums, cafes, la Tour Eiffel –

All new territory – for her

To see Paris in the springtime.

Museums, cafes, la Tour Eiffel,

With her spouse and his lover she went

To see Paris in the springtime,

An apparently amicable affair.

With her spouse and his lover she went

Walking the streets and boulevards,

(An apparently amicable affair).

They came upon an ornate fountain.

Walking the streets and boulevards,

Where she had never been before,

She came upon an ornate fountain.

She sent me a photo of this fountain –

Where she had never been before –

In a little park on the Rive Gauche.

She sent me a photo of this fountain:

Similar to those in Boston, Launceston.

In a little park on the Rive Gauche,

She strolled among trees and flowering shrubs –

Similar to those in Boston, Launceston –

Although she had never been there before.

She strolled among trees and flowering shrubs,

Alone and at ease in the little park,

Although she had never been there before.

She sent me a photo to show where it stood.

Alone and at ease in that little park

On the Rive Gauche with its ornate fountain,

She sent a photo to show where it stood.

No spouse or lover appeared in the frame.

On the Rive Gauche with its ornate fountain,

She took photos of trees and flowering shrubs.

No spouse or lover appeared in the frames.

My daughter’s been to Paris for a week.



Sounds of Newtown

Dog's eye view2

I wrote this poem to enter in a competition for poetry about your local neighbourhood. It didn’t get anywhere in the comp, but I was quite pleased with it.

The last three lines need some explanation for people who haven’t lived in Newtown (Sydney, Australia).
1/ The Post Office clock has been stopped at 25 to 3 (2:35 pm) for the 22 years I’ve lived in or visited Newtown. There may still be some elderly residents who can remember the clock chiming the hour and half-hour.

2/ Unlike other inner-city, Inner West suburbs, Newtown doesn’t suffer from aircraft noise. When the second runway for Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport was built in the late 1990s, the flightpath went directly over several inner western suburbs. Here in Leichhardt, I get the squeals, whines and roars of take-off and descent roughly ten times an hour. Newtown, being slightly to the east of the flightpath is overflown by planes at cruising altitude drifting silently overhead.

Sounds of Newtown

I hear the carillon’s chime as I walk

in the early morning through the uni grounds;

in the park, the fountain tinkles, ducks wake with a snort

pigeons chatter and magpies, aping angels, give praise

traffic roars down Broadway, sirens blaring

dopplering towards, then past, as bus brakes squeal

I hear footsteps clattering on the pavement:

high heel boots rattatat, sneakers patapat, ugh boots flop

the flip-flap of thongs

the whine of a bike wheeling swiftly by

a scooter’s squeal, soft rumble of a pram

pedestrian lights chittering go go go!

I hear coffee machines spurt and gush

chatter and laughter, clatter and clink

tinny ipod doof-doof, mobile phones, urgent calls

beeps and murmurs from ATMs, beggars’ pleading

car doors slam, dogs yap and yawn, babies squall

I hear no chimes from the post office clock

no roar from the planes high in the clouds

no word from my lover.

© S Cartledge 2011

A note about the picture: the Dog, standing proud atop the public noticeboard at the intersection of King Street and Enmore Road, references the area’s nineteenth and early-to-mid 20th century industrial history. Many of the men living in Newtown, Darlington, Enmore, Erskineville and Macdonaldtown, were engineers, metal workers, and labourers at the Railway Workshop at Eveleigh, which built and maintained the steam, then diesel and electric, locomotives for the NSW Government railway system.

The Workshops closed in 1988, and the magnificent buildings are now venues for concerts, festivals and art exhibitions. The Dog was  designed and built by a former Eveleigh metalworker. Photo © S Cartledge 2005

I write about Newtown in the 1970s in my other blog, Horror Headlines from daggy old Newtown, telling the stories behind the poems in my verse novel Newtown Voices.

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices.



El Cabana

hot-coffee-illustration-id487796658I wrote this poem back in 1994, in happy memory of my sister Elizabeth. She was still alive, but living in Adelaide, South Australia, hundreds of kilometres distant from Launceston, Tasmania, where we both grew up, and where I was still living at the time.

Elizabeth was nine years older than me, the oldest of the three children, and I was “the baby”.  She was the best big sister a little girl could have, and the best time of all was when she was “grown-up” enough to take me on short holidays with her, or to have little adventures together, such as I describe in this poem.

The chorus “Just knock three times…” was taken from a catchy Latin-American pop song from the late 1950s, Hernando’s Hideaway.

El Cabana

for Elizabeth

Just knock three times and whisper low

that you and I were sent by Joe,

then climb the stair and you are there –

you’re in Hernando’s Hideaway. Olé!

When I was eleven and you were twenty

the world began to spin faster

horizons that seemed firmly bounded

began to stretch and waver

shimmering like hot air or a blotchy mirror

as the old shellac 50s ground to a halt

scratching and crackling when the needle won’t lift

and the 60s swung onto the turntable.

Maybe the grownups didn’t notice but you and I

poised on the brink of adulthood and adolescence

caught the scent – coffee!

Just knock three times and whisper low

that you and I were sent by Joe,

then climb the stair and you are there –

you’re in Hernando’s Hideaway. Olé!

On the shady side of the square beyond

the furrier’s rich pelts and condescending airs

above the hairdresser and the greengrocer

climb a twisting stair and you are there

smoky haze hazy lights seductive smell

tiny tables black steel legs boomeranged laminex

ashtrays overflowing half smoked ends

steel Vesuvius hissing gushing dark liquor

sexy exciting threatening italian men

in white shirts tight pants sharp shoes

there was music or was it just the steam spurting

El Cabana.

Just knock three times and whisper low

that you and I were sent by Joe,

then climb the stair and you are there –

you’re in Hernando’s Hideaway. Olé!

Seeking Henry Kendall


The Henry Kendall Memorial, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. Photo copyright AusEmade Pty Ltd.

Henry Kendall

I went to visit Henry Kendall

in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens,

seeking his help with a poem.

His memorial, etched with quotation,

was not encouraging: “All my days

have been the days of a laborious life

“And ever on my struggling soul has burnt

the fierce light of this hurried sphere.”

The seat was wet. I cursed him and left.

Later, in the fernery’s green shade, lines

of my poem slipped out

between the dappling fronds.


This poem is ostensibly about the Australian poet Henry Kendall, but it’s actually about my love of Sydney’s Domain and Royal Botanic Gardens.

Henry Kendall was a much-loved Sydney poet from the mid 19th and early 20thcenturies. To mark the centenary of his birth, in 1939 an Art Deco-style memorial was built in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens. Made of local sandstone, it has a wooden seat backed by a wall with two winged horses framing that particularly gloomy quotation from one of his poems.

Growing up in Tasmania, I knew absolutely nothing of Henry Kendall; we studied English poets and a few Anglo-American ones: WH Auden, TS Eliot. The only Australian poet we read was Henry Lawson. However, I understand that generations of New South Wales schoolchildren have learned and loved Kendall’s poems describing the beauties of the bush.

Since moving to Sydney 20 years ago, I’ve become very fond of Sydney’s Domain and Royal Botanic Gardens as places to walk and meditate in. Kendall isn’t the only Australian poet commemorated here; there is a statue of Henry Lawson on a hillock of the Domain overlooking former naval base at Woolloomooloo. Every year a group of enthusiasts celebrate Lawson’s birthday, singing some of his poems set to folk music, (often competing with the sardonic screeching of white cockatoos).

More contemporary Sydney poets are marked by copies of their poems encased in glass in a grove of young eucalypts, or in parts of the Botanic Gardens referenced in their poems. It would be a huge honour if ever one of my poems was recognised in this way, but I don’t think this one will make the cut.

Over the  years I’ve taken several photos of Kendall’s memorial, but none have turned out useable. It’s remarkably hard to photograph! The photo above is better than any of mine.

I’ve also taken many, many photos inside the fernery, trying to capture the light and shade, and particularly the ripples on the pool. This is one of my better ones.

The typed document you can see at the bottom is a copy of one of Eileen Chong’s poems, about ferns, written in that fernery.



The fernery at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Photo copyright S Cartledge




Déjà vu all over again

I jotted the draft of this poem down early last year, and filed it away until this week, when hearing the expression again reminded me the poem needed finishing. I’d had the radio on as background noise while researching information I needed for the semi-historical verse novel I’m currently writing. When I dug out the research notes this week to check a fact, I found the scrawled poem draft on the back.
Here it is in its current form

Woman enteringa Hindu temple in Udaipur, India


Déjà vu all over again

“It’s déjà vu all over again!” he said

in response to the radio interviewer’s question

about the price of milk in the supermarket, or

the politicians’ expenses, or perhaps about

public servants not caring about the public

they’re supposed to serve. Whatever

It was, despite his comment, he was not
really surprised. He’d seen it all before (before).

Nothing new. What goes around, comes

Around. Etcetera.

He could just as well have said the Iraq War/

Invasion was déjà vu all over again for

Vietnam, which the Koreans could say was

déja vu all over again.

Or, except he was a man, and probably didn’t

think about it, that Indian women being raped

and beaten and blamed for being raped, and

blamed for speaking out about it, was déjà vu

all over again for all other women who’d been

raped and beaten and blamed for speaking out.

Newtown Voices

newtown cover marlie copy small


Back in May 2017, my verse novel Newtown Voices was published, and launched at Better Read Than Dead bookshop in Newtown (Sydney). In September, it was launched in Tasmania at Petrarch’s bookshop, Launceston.

Set in the late 1970s,Newtown Voices looks at life through four characters in an environment of poverty, crime, bombings, corruption, racism and homophobia – and disco dancing. Though Tom, Jaroslav, Harry & Buzz are fictional, much of what they talk about in their poems is based on hard news of day in their inner-city suburb.

Life in Newtown 40 years ago wasn’t easy for anyone, except the ‘big boys’ running gambling clubs and brothels and other illegal activities. Corruption, stand-over tactics, bombings, horrific murders paved the big boys’ way to riches and power.

But for the small fry, the poor, the single mums, the latchkey kids, the homeless, the ‘abos’, and the ‘wogs’ and ‘dagos’ life was a daily struggle. The articles in Newtown’s weekly newspaper that I translated into poetry reflected the social challenges and changes that many Australian cities and larger towns faced through the 1970s.

In a way, Newtown Voices is a series of “songs from a new place”, inspired as they were by my experience of living for 12 years in Newtown, having moved there fresh from Launceston,and falling in love with the place.

Because it’s a verse novel, the poems are all fairly long.  Too long to post in full. Here’s the first part of ‘At the Disco’, told to us by Harry (Harriet):

At the Disco


Newtown RSL, Enmore Rd. Newtown

Saturday, July 1, 1978.

On Saturday night Tom and I went

to the disco at the RSL – ‘the Rissole’,

he calls it, though I’m sure he gives

it a ruder name. We went to see New

town’s ‘Dancing Dynamo’, Terry Dixon,

who’s supposed to be better than John

Travolta, even, showing off his new

Moves. There were comps too for people

who fancied themselves disco devils. I

wore Buzz’s white flares, which I’d taken

to the laundrette with my stuff, a stripy

crop top and my boots—getting shabby

but with a nice high heel. We had a beaut

time. Tom’s a great dancer with a real feel

For the music, and I was really getting off

on the beats. It was huge fun. We came

second in one of the comps. In the break,

while the Dynamo was strutting his stuff,

Tom brought me a beer and some salted

peanuts. We make good team, you an me,

plonking them down and sitting close.

Things get nasty after Tom’s opening remarks, they quarrel about Harry’s “boyfriend” and she rushes off home, weeping.

You can learn more about Newtown Voices, including how to buy the book, at Newtown Voices. And you can read many of the true stories behind the poems at Horror Headlines from daggy old Newtown.


The Wild Ones

Garden  This is a poem I wrote way back in 1990, at a time when I had a huge garden and a beautiful house on the side of a hill, with a view to the eastern mountains. We (my husband & I) were really into gardening then, having just discovered the joys of digging, planting, pruning and picking. And pickling, preserving and cooking with fruits of our labour. We were not so keen on the seemingly endless task of weeding! I have made a few minor changes in this version, reflecting some of the lessons I’ve learned over the nearly 30 years since the first draft of this poem.

 The Wild Ones

The dark soil crumbled beneath her fingers;

she smelt rain in the air and on the grass

as she knelt and patiently pulled the weeds,

feeling their green wildness with her fingertips,

their long white snaking roots

like blind worms

crawling through underground tunnels

to take advantage

of the good soil she had nurtured

carefully, turned and fertilised

for her tame and productive plants.

These were wild things, an urgent life force

that cared nothing for her ordered beds,

for the tameness of being caged in rows, waiting

to be fed and watered and picked.

“Oh, Adam was a gardener,

and God, who made him, sees

that half of every gardener’s work

is done upon his knees,” she carolled,

trowelling round her plants with care,

hoeing and raking and watering,

spreading the mulch, but still

the wild ones came:

caring nothing for her orderly beds,

her pampered plants,

they ran

helter-skelter across the garden,

laughing and blowing raspberries,

thumbing their noses at her,

slipping and dodging

between the rows of upright citizens

that marched rank and file

beside the stakes and twine.

© S. Cartledge 1990; 2017.


White Lines

This poem came to me recently, as I was crossing a busy CBD road some time after a fatal vehicle attack in Melbourne, in which six people were killed and 28 were injured. The car was driven straight at a crowd crossing busy Bourke Street at lunchtime on a weekday as people were heading for shops and cafes. Among those killed was a three month-old baby.

While the driver was later acquitted of being a terrorist, he was convicted of murder and attempted murder and conduct endangering life.

We’ve been very lucky that here in Australia there have been few genuine terrorism attempts. Most of them have been thwarted by security forces before they could be carried out. The rest of the world has not been so lucky. I decided not to add an image this time. I think the words say it all.

White Lines

How brave we are, how

well trained,

well socialised

to believe

a painted white line

will protect us

from trucks, buses, cars,


inattentive drivers.


In London, Paris, Brussels,

Melbourne, some people

drive trucks, buses, cars,


straight at others

crossing the road,

walking on the footpath,

crossing the bridge.


But these are terrorists, who

ignore our white lines,

refute society’s rules. They’re

not ordinary people, ordinary

drivers of trucks, buses, cars;

not people like us,

well trained, socialised

to stay within the lines.

© S Cartledge 2017

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.