For William Watkin
I have been rethinking the idea of elegy
I have been questioning if there is
each day I think about the difference between poetry and prose
Derrida implied that he never came to terms with mortality
She cried ‘you’ll leave all that behind’
but it has to beckon to someone
I wonder why some people
every time I saw Hilary
The reader is at a bus shelter waiting for a bus.
I try not to stand in his way
His appearance does not stand out.
is wayward and distracted.
The bus arrives
the automatic doors begin to close
I can only keep my eye on it and catch.
All day the longing to redirect yourself has been puffing out its cheeks. You need to change the wind direction. You need a touch of ventriloquism. You need to visit a place that is not expecting you, and doesn’t even know you exist.
Writing! Why are you always over the water, out of my reach?
My heritage, though you may not realise it, is tantalisingly mixed. I have a few loose ends in Lithuania. But I’ve never travelled there, and couldn’t find my way around if I did.
She sank into a void where they only spoke an alien tongue. She could not follow the street signs, or go to work, or shop. So she starved and took to lying in bed, and waited for the end. But then, as death came debt-collecting, the foreign terms jumped out of her mouth. They tumbled down the stairs like unexpected guests. She was saved but had known she would be: it was the same as when she wrote. She couldn’t, and she couldn’t, and she couldn’t, and she couldn’t, and then suddenly she always found she could.
The translator sits at his table, turning over cards. He does not know the rules of the game, but can invent whatever he likes. He can choose any card that takes his fancy or chase cards from other packs. He can load the dice, refuse his turn, or show his hand to history.
A good poem is untranslatable, it depends on how one language needs to speak. In this way, poetry lags behind music, which says everything and nothing, usually in the same endurance-testing breath. Next to music, poetry is a little heavy, a little debased, a little awkward. But while music comes clean about this, poetry pretends it has definitive things to say.
Visitors from several countries came to him one night, dressed in brightly coloured rags. They danced for him and after that they started to undress. He said, I don’t want you naked, but please try on each other’s clothes. Don’t be shy or fearful! Chose colours that you don’t particularly like, don’t feel you have to mate and match.
So they all took off their rags and exchanged, and exchanged, and exchanged. They kept it up till dawn, when they decided to depart. Everyone left fully dressed, but no one claimed the clothes they owned.
An ambassador came to meet me with a large hat and pointy shoes. He was on a world-wide promotional tour. He said, I am sure we can come to an agreement, and it is this: you will use our words in your country, then you can travel free in ours. I said, get lost, you unctuous imperialist, don’t make me laugh. We aren’t that short of cash, you know. It’s not just words, it’s everything they carry with them. He got up and quietly left. You can deal with these people easily, by throwing language back in their laps.
One day when I am old, I will lose my memory. It will be like a field with nothing in it, or strewn with too much junk. I will look at one object and then another, and I won’t know how they interrelate. But the past will flow downstream while poetry tends its pitch. And maybe I will wake one day and find I can speak Chinese.
Hazel Smith is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Creative Communication, University of Canberra, and a member of the Sonic Communications Research Group. She is author of The Writing Experiment: strategies for innovative creative writing, Allen and Unwin, 2005 and Hyperscapes in the Poetry of Frank O'Hara: difference, homosexuality, topography, Liverpool University Press, 2000. She is also co-author of Improvisation, Hypermedia And The Arts Since 1945, Harwood Academic, 1997. She has published two volumes of poetry, three CDs of performance work and numerous multimedia works. She is a member of austraLYSIS, the international sound and intermedia arts group, and has performed her own work extensively nationally and internationally. A web page about her creative work can be accessed at www.australysis.com.