Songs From a New Place

Selected poems from Australian poet Sue Cartledge

Category: Poetry

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.

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 »