Poems, Imitations & Translations


Canberra Tales (2017)

Dianne Firth: Canberra Tales (2017)

Canberra Tales

Dianne Firth's 2017 art exhibition 'Poetry and Place' consisted of a series of textile works inspired by poems commissioned from 14 Australian and International poets who attended the 2016 Poetry in Motion Festival at the University of Canberra. The poem printed below was my contribution to the show. As you can see from the image above, Dianne's four works (like the four parts of my poem) form an interconnected whole.

The picture is sepia-toned like the not-too-far-distant war the need to stay silent at mealtimes so her father can hear every radio news report the need to pose paramount in the stiff lines of this schoolgirl reaching out a tentative hand to the strangest of beasts in the latter stages of dementia my father removed her photos replacing them with snaps of his militaria I don’t think she understands what we see in this picture the meekness before authority the gentleness of the pose the dark fringe of trees in a faraway world where my mother has just been told to pretend to feed a wallaby

My father and my grandmother crossed the Tasman in a flying boat for my uncle’s graduation from Duntroon they took off from Mechanics Bay my father said of Canberra there was only tenuously a city there even by Auckland standards a building trees and fields far off another building like Brasilia

They held a faculty reception at ANU for the visiting professor Frank Kermode said my buddy Claire and somehow she got seated next to him she asked d’you see that mountain over there? he allowed he did I just ran up and down it seven times really? why? to become iron woman! bemused look no doubt a story for High Table back in the real world

Somebody snaffled my cab that first morning at the Premier Hotel I’d rung up to order it half an hour before But after sitting stumm in the lounge I just had to ask it’s coming any moment now said the man on the desk (hastily ordering it) but when it did turn up the cab-driver wouldn’t let me in it was reserved for Paul he said (who turned out to be the guy on the desk) he’d got into trouble that way before at one of the bigger hotels two punters both with the number seven that one turned quite nasty he said [24-25/3; 16-17/9-4/12/16]

“Canberra Tales.” In Dianne Firth, Poetry and Place: Catalogue for the Poetry and Place Exhibition, Belconnen Art Centre, 25 August – 17 September 2017. ISBN 978-1-74088-460-0. Canberra: University of Canberra, 2017: 10.

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