Use what talents you possess:
The woods would be very silent
if no birds sang there
except those that sang best.
-Henry Van Dyke
Writing love poetry is as instinctual as birdsong. Even the least literate and most awkward adolescent is likely to venture a poem or two when first stirred by that potent mix of hormones and heart. Of course, the poets whose work appears in Poetry d’Amour are far past that beginning stage. The collection contains many poems of great literary sophistication, as well as a range of more plainspoken folk poems – each well wrought according to its type. It’s a perfect paradox: poetry is at one and the same time the most rarefied and arcane of writing arts — and the most democratic. Neither aspect should be denied, rather let us embrace and enjoy both these forces that makes us human. Love and poetry – but the greatest of these is love.
This anthology is divided into eight sections, loosely grouped around a central theme illustrated by a quote from one of the poems in the section. Section One: “The world offers a choice” contains poems where love is writ large on the landscape. From mountain to ocean, from Earth to across the universe, these poems journey towards vast horizons in the name of love.
Paris has always prided itself on being the self-proclaimed City of Love — so it’s no surprise when the French capital makes an appearance in more than one poem in Section Two of the same title. But love can be found anywhere from Prague to Perth – and on any anonymous city street between, as these poems show.
The nature of love is always deliciously ambiguous. Innumerable daisies have been dismembered to the chant of “He loves me” or “She loves me not”. Section Three: “Love . . . maybe?” traces these brave, uncertain, chimerical loves in every register from the baroque to the austere.
It’s noteworthy that in works as diverse as the Sapphic fragments and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets, to name just two, letters and music have always sounded the keynote to love. In Section Four: “Love notes” the poems explicitly explore the music of love. All manner of love notes are sent via all manner of media. Be they traditional or twenty-first century, the message remains the same.
No anthology of love poetry would be complete without a full and frank exploration of the physical manifestation of desire. Unabashed Eros arrives in Section Five: “The crazy fingering thing” and the poems get down to some serious acts of passion.
Alas, we cannot venture passion without risking pain. So Section Six: “The stricken heart” covers all manner of lovers’ anguish, grief and guilt. There are poems from the heartbroken and poems from the heartbreakers. All have their tale to tell.
It’s fitting that Shane McCauley’s prize winning poem “Early autumn at Bell’s Rapids “ is the signature for the small but significant Section Seven: “This place spurns time”. His gritty integration of love and land is the very antithesis of sentimental. It does not deny harshness or time or distance. All of which makes this poem’s affirmation of love’s transcendence a powerful triumph. Each of the poems in this section offers us grace notes celebrating love’s endurance.
It’s an old tradition in poetry anthologies to include a selection from the less dramatic end of the poetic spectrum. It’s a good tradition, because the playful, silly and humorous are as much a part of love as the deeper, darker passions. So Section Eight: “Ouroboros” presents some poems to leave you feeling light hearted.
In this third collection of Poetry d’Amour it’s clear that the woods are riotous with love songs in all keys and cadences. Poets from across the nation have sung their hearts out. The anthology contains many new voices together with more complexly orchestrated harmonies from professional poets.
Listen to each with an open heart.
Dr Liana Joy Christensen
———Early autumn at Bell’s Rapids
———Darling, let’s say
Heather Taylor Johnson
———After an argument
Rural, Regional & Remote WA Award sponsored by Stephany Durack
———Who knows the names of the clouds?
Peel Region Award sponsored by City of Mandurah Libraries Culture & Arts
———Stepping to me
Back to top
Early Autumn At Bell’s Rapids
Blotched, aged, uninviting: hard to imagine
this river bed covered by its foamy mattress.
But you said: Wait and see – in spring
there is white water teeming with canoeists,
hillsides adorned with wild flowers hanging
like festival lanterns, new growth everywhere.
We made our own bed of sorts on hardened
ground, feeling sticks give way before us,
aliens in an organised world of ants,
shed skins of snakes, butt of a crow’s
passing laughter. You said: In spring I will
come here to remember you and the new life
you have flowered in my heart.
In this desolate and sun-haunted place
contemplated by the bare granite hills
our wills faltered for a moment, bodies like cloud
as we held and poured each other into
the afternoon’s silence. You said: Look how
this place spurns time, holding in its bowels
the germy secret of regeneration, knowledge
that nothing lasts, everything lasts.
Can we outlast, too? I said, framing
the living river of your hair, seeing
myself like a gaunt tree in your eyes.
Sheep bleated and stumbled near the sun-dried
corpse of this landscape. An ant ran
like chased evil across your white arm.
You said: Do not think that you are other
than this surrounding land. Your head, too,
is a chaos filled with stars and skies.
You dream me as the wattle root dreams
rain. Long sleep lessens pain but not
desire. The waterfall to come dreams not overlong.
When I am gone. . . I said. The blossom
of your hand pressed lightly on my mouth.
You said: When we are gone think but
of this river bed – blotched, aged, uninviting –
create a spring in your heart and watch
it fill. From different sides of this world
we will watch green joy unfold.
Back to top
Darling, Let’s Say
Let’s say you were dazzling
when like an idling taxi, smoking frost
I spotted you across Kings Park
your shoes springing diamonds from dewy grass.
You were scrambled eggs, perfect coffee.
You were cinnamon dusted let’s say that.
Let’s say that first warm weekend
after walking the hillside trail
you were Chablis, fresh bread, pate.
Veiled by wattles, lapped by murmurs
then wrapped in slumber, we were sated.
Let’s say all of that.
Let’s say it was high summer
under river blue sky
toy boats cut out on sky blue river
the only clouds, balloons of salt
to this boy, each scoop of weed, every dip of sand
Let’s say you were fish and chips
you were my soothing river
Let’s say you were my roving boyhood, long past.
Let’s say on shining paths
you’ll be patrolling my stormy shore
and when I’m busted, grumpy after rain
I’ll be a grounded coot
torn off leaves from a London plane.
Let’s say, with the end in sight, I’m flustered.
Let’s say you’ll be a warming, tawny port
an elegy with words deep as the lake.
Grey haired Darling, may we say that?
Back to top
up close your eyes are hot oh they are and tropical enough to fold my petals back and back I am the heart of a flower pressed flat against you
or put a room say or a table between us the terrain changes the heat more the magnet of surfaces that is your voice or arms or the way we watch each other drink wine
but away from you and I am a high falcon monitoring patterns in the vineyards and all the places I can’t go is this cyclone country and should
I love you
as if the world offered a choice
Back to top
I have no need for love
since my veins already run with honey
although the owner of the best cafe
still pockets his komboloi
to catch hold of my hands
his ardent thumbs seeking
the elusive fish of my cool palms.
He searches my eyes
like a knife to an oyster shell
and when I do not open
and brings a slice of sky
studded with pomegranate seeds
which he feeds to me
from a small silver fork
until my eyes are pearls
on his komboloi.
komboloi — translates from Greek as ‘worry beads’
Back to top
After an Argument
This morning, a man who is broken into many pieces
slouches until his nose touches the sand.
Still, sunlight shines through the cracks of his body
so that we pause, as water cannot pause, to imagine death.
You say to me: even jellyfish are subject to time.
I say even snails have tales to tell, birds are drawn
to shells, energy melts around your body
then jumps back up to surround you again.
Later, in the garden, on brightly painted chairs
we still smell salt seducing air and know
that it will win. Our love is in this breeze
where we squint the glint of light shining
on the new horizon we have made from Riesling
in a glass. You say to me: even the lighthouse
rose to the sky. I say: even nests
with holes make lovely homes.
Heather Taylor Johnson
Back to top
To you, sweet Claire,
of the moon and violin:
It took me too soon to realize
my life in a daze,
I’ve only fourteen minutes
to see you and take off
to where the wolves aren’t dancing.
If you couldn’t look my way
my heart would surely sink,
and once again I’d go into the
fields of the homeless,
into the fields of the drunks.
Once again I’d take the words
to your lips, carry the words up
the stairs to your heart,
hoping, needing, like I saw you dancing,
or kissing a stranger.
Once again the hope in me would twirl
like a lonely chorus line, awake and downtrodden,
like a cat playing the mandolin.
To you, sweet Claire, whom I may never know,
the years have locked me into this yearning.
Dancing awake like a mad king,
I’ve every reason to want you.
The swirling sheets are
maids at your door.
Take me singing once again into your army.
Your lips are like the legs of the night.
Take me once again into the armchair of your smile.
You are the princess of the golden harmonica.
When you wink, the earth slides into holy rapture.
I’ve come here to be closer to prayer.
No one saw you dancing,
but I saw you dancing.
Back to top
Rural, Regional & Remote WA Award
Who know the names of the clouds?
It is all too common to find a man
who can offer the world
through google or wiki
but I have found a man
who names clouds
at dark fall
I name constellations
and stars by their pet names
without the use of apple apps
in the quiet of heartbeats
we map the nebulae of souls
when he tells me
of the ice dreams
I know we will not be unmade
until we have seen them
in the rising sun.
Back to top
Peel Region Award
Stepping To Me
time crosses my palm with a touch of fear
I reach into my heart pull out an image
turn it sideways
wanting you to be there
sliding behind my eyes
you step long from the songline
hum syllable after syllable down the highway
between forgotten and us
voices and faces taste your skin
the future shrouded in blue chill
I’ll post a thousand rhythms in your eyes
shimmer your heart count words
letters you didn’t understand
trace the slow tune of your breath
place it in the spaces you step between
and the song that fell around your feet
will shine for a moment