Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Emotional Blackmail, Religious Style

Today I received this forwarded email (verbatim; only lacking the cutesie-pie, kitschy pictures):

Read only if you have time for God

Let me tell you, make sure you read all the way to the bottom. I

Almost deleted this email but I was blessed when I got to the end

We try to keep God in church on Sunday morning...

Maybe, Sunday night...

And, the unlikely event of a midweek service.

We do like to have Him around during sickness...

And, of course, at funerals.

However, we don't have time, or room, for Him during work or

Play...

Because.. That's the part of our lives we think... We can, and

Should, handle on our own.

May God forgive me for ever thinking... That...

There is a time or place where..HE is not to be FIRST in my life.

We should always have time to remember all HE has done for us.

If, You aren't ashamed to do this... Please follow the directions.

Jesus said, 'If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you

Before my Father.'

Yes, I do Love God.

HE is my source of existence and Savior.

He keeps me functioning each and every day. Without Him, I will

Be nothing. But, with Christ, HE strengthens me. (Phil 4:13)

If You Love God... And, are not ashamed of all the marvelous

Things HE has done for you...

Send this to 10 People and the person who sent it to you!

Now do you have the time to pass it on?

Easy vs. Hard


The friend who passed it on to me is a lovely, open-minded woman who would not have dreamed of giving offence. She simply can’t have been thinking. So I nearly let it go.

But in the end I didn’t. It rests on so many false assumptions! Just because our nation is nominally Christian, just because that is still the official religion, must we ignore the many other religions that are practised in our multi-cultural society? And what about atheists, agnostics, rationalists, humanists? Why should any of us be badgered like this?

What I object to most is the emotional blackmail in the language. Even if I were an orthodox Christian, what right has anyone to try and shame me into sending out emails to declare it? What right have they to accuse me of moral cowardice and spiritual ingratitude if I don’t comply? I say that the promulgators of this pollution are selling their Jesus very short. I, a Pagan, have more respect for him than that.

So I sent off a hasty reply to my friend, copying it to the person who sent it to her, a mutual friend whose name was still on the email:

That's the beauty of being Pagan - God is always part of daily life, every breath we take, and part of all we do. We don't just keep HER for special occasions. And Jesus is my wonderful friend, wise teacher and loving brother. :)

[Please excuse my tone of spiritual superiority, dear readers. It’s a trifle contagious!]

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Kind of Orgy

When I was younger and richer, and had more room to add to my book collection, I would sometimes take a day off from both motherhood and paid employment, go into Melbourne to my favourite bookshops (yes, this was long ago when I lived in a suburb of that city) and have what I called an orgy, coming home with an obscene number of luscious, hugely desirable tomes. The favourite bookshops, of course, stocked poetry and other capital-L literature, and the esoteric.

These days, I have managed to considerably curb the book-buying – though there are always some that one MUST own, regardless of overflowing shelves – in favour of borrowing. The local library service is excellent. I try not to go overboard there, either; but last week I went mad, all alone in the Bookmobile, and had an orgy. Oh, it was good! I’ll have to do a lot of fast reading now, and hope I can renew everything at least once.

I came home with:

Life’s a Witch! A Handbook for Teen Witches, by Fiona Horne
Of course I am not a teen, but her other books are very good – clear, sensible, entertaining – and I thought I might learn some new spells at the very least. I’m not disappointed. In fact it’s so good that I’m planning to discuss it in more detail when I finish it. (I started with this book and am still reading it.)

Revolving Days, by David Malouf
I first fell in love with Malouf as a poet. I love his fiction too, but was thrilled to find a new book of his poems (2008). Actually it’s a “selected” which is even better, as I hadn’t come across all the volumes of poetry from which the pieces are taken. I actually started with this one, come to think of it – but am picking it up and putting it down as the mood takes me, not reading all through in sequence. It’s a good one to have in my handbag when I go out, too – not too big. Though not a very slim volume either, I’m glad to say; lots of delicious reading there.

The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry, ed. by John Kinsella
This is a big thick volume, published this year. I consider the editor our best living Australian poet. It covers two centuries, includes Aboriginal and ethnic Australians, and many of my contemporaries. I’m not in it. But then, I wouldn’t have expected to be. It’s partly my own fault for keeping such a low profile for most of the last 16 years. John Kinsella wasn’t around when I had my heyday, and has no reason to be aware of my existence. Whether he would have selected me in any case, I can’t of course know. Such a book, as he acknowledges in his Introduction, must leave out numerous works of equal merit to those included. (Begging the question of whether my merit is equal, lol.) And he is clearly attempting to convey a flavour of Australianness – though very deliberately seeking to subvert old clichés. I’m pleased to see the inclusion of some old cronies who weren't always appreciated by editors and compilers. I’m comforted for my own omission by the omission of several others whose work I very much admire. But anyway it’s a treasure trove. I discover exciting poets and poems I hadn’t encountered before. And I find old friends, old loves: decades old. John Shaw Nielson. Mary Gilmore. Michael Dransfield. Bruce Dawe. Judith Wright. And David Malouf is here too, as he should be. They all should be, those who are. I could practically have an orgy with just this one book!

The Long Hot Summer: A French heatwave and a marriage meltdown, by Mary Moody
An Australian memoir which has been popular with both public and critics. I wouldn’t have thought of it if I hadn’t seen it under my nose, but it’s one of those books that you think you ought to read because everybody else has. A rather lukewarm reason – but I fully expect to enjoy it tremendously.

Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote, ed. by Gerald Clarke
Not a brief book, however, so I hope the treat will also prove substantial. I haven’t read a lot of Capote, nor even seen the recent movies about him yet; but, like so many others, I fell in love with his book Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which I read after seeing the Audrey Hepburn film. Both book and film remain favourites. I am hoping to enjoy this book in a different way. I hope it’s entertainingly wicked and bitchy. A quick dip into it suggests it might be syrupy instead. Oh dear!

Making Waves: 10 years of the Byron Bay Writers Festival, ed. by Marele Day, and others.
Byron Bay’s just down the road but I’ve seldom been to this particular festival, and then only to selected events. By the time we came to live here I was a bit festivalled out. This book hasn’t really much to do with the Byron Festival as such; writers who have been featured there were invited to contribute to the book by addressing the things that mattered to them as writers and Australians. Well, I guess that’s a version of what writers do at festivals, after all. Anyway, should be interesting. (I note via facebook that the latest Byron Bay Writers’ Festival is about to start, on August 7th. But on that day I’ll be hosting Thom the World Poet – these days known as Thom Moon 10 – and the Cathouse Creek Duo at a special workshop for my WordsFlow writers’ group.)

In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, by Carl Honoré
My life seems to have got faster and faster, and I can hardly keep up with myself any more. I thought I might NEED this book.

Mandalas: Symbols of Harmony and Peace, by Sandra Rix Joran. (No, I don’t mean “Jordan”.)
I love mandalas, and went through a phase of drawing them. This is a book of beautiful mandalas created by the author in mixed media, with brief commentaries on the symbolism in each. A treat for eyes and soul!

Tantra: the way of acceptance, by Osho
I love Osho’s wisdom, humour, and ability to cut through the crap. And I’d like to know more about Tantric philosophy. This book is full of beautiful photographs of nature, along with his illuminating words.

Sum up Your Day in the Form of a Haiku

This is a game from a networking site.

Ten days ago (15/7/09) I wrote:

still in warm nightwear
should be transcribing Minutes
it's too cold for work

I've decided to do more of these – every day would be a bit much, but sometimes. They're more like senryu than haiku, and maybe not much like either, but I like the summing up aspect and I think they fit better here than in my haiku blog.

Today's effort is:

wrestle computer
eat, walk, shop, talk to husband,
wrestle computer

(it's old and it's slow
and being that way myself
too much frustration)

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Farewell: Reminiscences of Uncle Tom

Here are my cousin Elizabeth's reminiscences about our dear Uncle Tom, which she shared at his funeral. [In square brackets my own explanations of some points, which you'd have to be in the family to know, and which needed no explanation for those attending the funeral.]

UNCLE TOM – SOME STORIES

1911. Uncle Tom was born in Bridport in Tasm
ania, spending his early years on Flinders Island.

1930. At school in Warburton, aged 11, he told his mother he was in love with a little girl called Isabel. Although forbidden to do so, he continued to walk her home from school. She walked on the path and he walked o
n the riverbank. She received birthday cards with a red rose on them for the rest of her life.

1939. He enlisted in the 2nd AIF in Tasmania, with his two favourite cousins. He says a sparrow saved his life, by pecking his forehead as a teenager, and blinding his right eye. He was a good shot, but was made a medic, and his cousins died in their first week.


While on New Britain, he competed as a gymnast against the Americans, and won.

After the Armistice, he helped a Japanese doctor save a patient with head injuries, and received a letter of thanks, and a painting. They corresponded for some years, and the original letter and a photo survive. On leave from the war, he discovered that Isabel had married. He met Ev at his mother’s boarding house and they corresponded, and fell in love with each other’s letters and similar sense of humour.

1946. Back from the war, my cousins and siblings and I fell in love with Uncle Tom. He could ride a bike with no hands, walk on his hands over the furniture, speak Japanese, eat flies [swallowing them out of the air], play the mouth-organ, and had an invisible dog. I remember crying in the yard at Grandma’s place in Northcote, and he soothed me on a swing. I was lucky enough to visit that house and backyard earlier this year, and I also paid a visit to the Melbourne Shrine, to see cabinets he had made for the Remembrance books. [Uncle Tom was a carpenter by trade.]

1949. John was born, and Tom and Ev attended John’s school functions together. They attended a sports day and won the Parents’ Piggy Back Race. It brought the house down when Ev [a large lady by then] threw [the slightly-built] Tommy on her back and took off.


They also took in and cared for
Uncle Ossie’s two children, Rosemary and Denis while they attended Melbourne University. [i.e. my younger brother and me. Denis first finished High School while living with them, before going on to university.]

In the sixties they moved to Perth, a move never regretted by Tom. John worked with him for a few years, at his shop called The Place, and loved to play practical jokes on his Dad. Tom kept diaries all his life, and continually wrote of his concern and love for John. [John was born intellectually impaired and has always had the mental age of a young child, but is "very well socialised" as a doctor once remarked, complimenting Aunty Ev on her excellent mothering]. We still meet people from all walks of life who remember Tom from The Place. Isabel had j
oined him in the business, and they had 11 happy years. She taught John how to choose frames best suited to his posters. Two years ago, we took Tom to visit her older sister, in her late eighties, and still going on field trips to paint. We were able to pass on Isabel’s paintings and a photograph album to her daughter, who is an artist in Daylesford. She was very grateful, as all her family photos were destroyed in a house fire.

After Isabel’s sudden death, Tom had a brief second marriage, and several other short loving relationships. We are very grateful for the long and loving companionship and care given to him by Kathy Ivers, and her d
aughter Trudy.

Geoff and I had always tried to visit Tom when in Perth. He had visited us in Melbourne and loved our Junk Shop. I became much closer to him when I moved alone to Bassendean; I met Tom’s friends from all walks of life. He loved to call himself a Philosopher, and belonged to the Rosicrucian order. He always said we were friends first and family second.


For many years he had succinct and witty letters published in the West Australian, and one friend, Pamela Klacar from Onslow, was still sending letters up to the day he died.

The Caring Years. It was wonderful to be able to do something for Tommy, to enjoy his quirky sense of humour, and his love. We have many stories of the last few years. Sometimes he called Darryl a Dictator, usually for something I had done, but many, many times he thanked us and told us he loved us.

He was very happy with his 90th birthday, and the motor-bike ride [in sidecar]. He also loved his fish and chips with us and John and th
e ducks and seagulls, on the Murray River, for his 91st birthday.

We are happy that John was able to live in the same place, and keep him company for his last years. Sometimes Tommy pulled the plug on John’s computer. Sometimes John frog-marched him out of the room. Many times John helped Dad to feel settled and at home.


The staff at Tanby have many lovely stories and photos of Tom, and we can’t thank them enough. He had a special conn
ection with Tanya, and loved being photographed with funny hats. He played his mouth organ to them, and only three weeks ago I was amazed at him singing What a Wonderful World.

John was very attentive in his last days, organizing nice music and checking his breathing. He chose to-day’s music, and he is delighted to be able to list all the family in heaven, holding out their arms to Dad.

[Then the family member who conducted the service read my poem "Favourite Uncle", (posted in my previous blog) on my behalf, as I was unable to be there.]


This is what Elizabeth told me when I asked if I might blog the above:


Dear Rosemary


Of course you may blog the Tommy notes. I keep finding things I could have mentioned, but all went well and the service w
as long enough with all John's music selections, and [Tom’s cousin] Stan Hart's memories.

John was magnificent and dignified. He love
d the Power Point Presentation which Darryl did. He had earlier identified the body at the funeral parlour, and signed that it was Dad. He stared for ages, then sat and looked around, and said it was such a nice chapel, that we should have held the service there.

It rained and even hailed as we arrived at the Cemetery, but 19 people attended. Staff from the Hostel came. Many of them shed a te
ar when he died, and all had anecdotes about him.

John chose The Old Rugged Cross, Just a Closer Walk With Thee, and The Lord's Prayer. I chose What a Wonderful World with Louis Armstrong, as our arrival music. Tom sang it beautifully a week before he died. We had an Aussie flag plus a single red rose on the coffin, and we had extra roses to place individually. The Last Post was played too. We closed with Time to Say Good-bye.


I think Tommy would have said it was all unnecessary, but the ritual was for John (and us).



90th birthday bike ride

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What a Day!

What a mixed day yesterday turned out to be. At Tanka on Tuesday, to explain why I wasn’t there until Wednesday, I wrote:

Tuesday’s departed
young goddaughter who lives far
here for just one day
then my old uncle’s passing
peaceful farewells with soft tears


The nicest bit was a visit from First GodDaughter*, on her way home from a trip to the Gold Coast. First GodDaughter is now 19. I hadn’t seen her in person since she was 13, although we’ve been in touch and I’ve seen plenty of photos. Like most of my other godchildren, she lives in Melbourne – where I too once lived, but it’s far from here.

We
picked her up in Tweed Heads. The poor girl had to catch two buses and travel for an hour, but we were busy with other commitments in the morning. If we‘d afterwards driven all the way to where she was staying, we’d have had little actual time together. It seemed best to meet in the middle. We brought her back to our place for lunch and she spent the afternoon with us. We’d had notions of taking her out somewhere but it was miserable weather. Instead, in the course of getting to know her, Andrew became interested in her experience of cochlear implants and asked to tape an interview with her. First GodDaughter was born profoundly deaf, and at the age of 12 was the first person in the world to be implanted with the second type of “bionic ear” ever invented. (There has been a third kind since.)

In her young life First GodDaughter has been through some major traumas not related to her deafness, and has learned to deal with them intelligently and courageously, so the interview ended up running for 90 minutes and was very inspiring. After that I gave her a Tarot reading which was similarly moving. We both ended up in tears, but in a good way.

Then she had a message to say that her mother (my dear friend), just off the plane from a holiday in Peru, had been taken to hospital suffering from gastro. Then she had another message, from a woman in her neighbourhood, to say that First GodDaughter’s kitten kept visiting her and she didn’t know what to do about it. "Well, I'm in New South Wales," said FG, "and my Mum's in hospital." She texted her boyfriend (whom she prefers to call partner) to go and take custody of the kitten until she got home later that night.

We got her to the airport in plenty of time for he
r check-in and were sorry to see her go. But before that I received an email from my cousin Elizabeth over in Western Australia, which made me cry. First GodDaughter, a compassionate soul, gave me a big cuddle. The email said (in part):

Uncle Tom died peacefully last night about 10.30 or 11. … The staff at the Hostel had put lots of happy photos of Tom on the walls of his room, and all have little stories to tell about him. He was well loved, and still making jokes almost to the last moments. They also made sure he had a red rose, which has been something he has always used as a special symbol.

Uncle Tommy was 91. He was my father’s youngest sibling. There were seven of them, four boys and three girls. Now they are all gone. At such an age, and going peacefully, it can hardly be considered a tragedy. But he was my favourite uncle since I was a very little girl, when he was a young soldier on leave during World War II. He and my Dad were favourite brothers, even though Dad was the second-eldest in the family.



Tommy left; Oswald aka Rob (my Dad) 4th from right

When I was 17, he and
my lovely aunty took me and my little brother in when I needed a home near Melbourne University and he just needed a nice home. We were recovering from two years with an alcoholic stepmother who hated us. Their welcome was a blessed antidote. They moved to Perth (W.A.) some years later. The marriage broke up and he reconnected with his childhood sweetheart and true soulmate, who sadly died too young – but not before they had shared much happiness. He never forgot her. Yet he and the darling aunty (who has now outlived him) remained best friends.



With his lifelong love, Isobel

I last saw Uncle Tommy when I visited him in Perth
in 2003, a joyous occasion for us both. He called me his “beautiful niece”. Not long ago my cousin told me that his eyes would light up whenever she mentioned me.

Here is what I wrote about him last year, which readers of my poetry may recall:

Favourite Uncle

You walked on your hands
across the floor, up on a chair,
along the dining table
and down at the other end.

And you could whistle
and play a comb and tissue
just like a mouth organ.

You called me Mary Rose,
my Dad’s name for me.
You were his youngest brother.

At 70, grey-bearded,
you rode a motorbike.
90 this year, you requested a party
“small but memorable".

1/08/08






With another dear niece, my cousin Elizabeth



* Note: “First” is not a ranking, but a chronological reference. Her mother was the first to do me the honour of asking me to be her child’s spiritual mentor. There are seven other godchildren now, two of them godsons. I can’t call First GodDaughter "Oldest GodDaughter" because she isn’t. The oldest, though I’d known her all her life, didn’t become a goddaughter until she was a young adult, when all concerned recognised the nature of the relationship. She is Fifth GodDaughter and is years older than any of my other godchildren, including First GodDaughter.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Shrieking for Joy

I received an email recently from the (living) poet I most admire in all the world. (He's right up there with some of my favourite dead ones too.) He’d come across some of my writing online, including a mention of his first book, and wrote to thank me for the mention.

Given that poetry is my greatest, my lifelong passion, this was a very big deal. I opened my mouth and a shriek came out – which startled Andrew, reading the paper in the next room. I tottered in there dazedly to explain, but no words emerged except, “Oh! Oh! Oh!” in a series of shrieks that went on for about ten minutes. We’ve all read of “shrieking for joy”; I think this is the first time in my life I’ve actually experienced it. I doubt if I’d have been more thrilled had Johnny Depp walked in the door – an event which seems only a little more unlikely. “It’s as if God spoke to me,” I told Andrew.


Yes of course I wrote back. This man’s work has meant much to me over the years, in many ways. Poetry – good poetry – is one of my greatest joys. More, it sustains and uplifts my spirit in all circumstances. This particular poet is not the only one who has done that for me, but he’s one of those I return to often, always finding new depths. I was glad of the opportunity to tell him so.


Like all writers he was grateful for the feedback, and wrote again to say so. He also expressed interest in some of the topics both Andrew and I blog about, and I’ll be replying to him about that. It seems I have a new friendship beginning.


As I could guess from the poems, he turns out to be a nice bloke, not conceited, not being the “great poet” – though I think he is – but just human like the rest of us.


I told the story today to an old friend I was catching up with. “He’s been my hero,” I said, explaining what the experience meant to me. My friend is a witch and a feminist; it reminded her of meeting her own hero, the writer Starhawk, and seeing that this wonderful woman was also as human as everyone else. It showed her, she said, that she can be her own hero. I sit with that thought.


My new friend isn’t, of course, God – or only in the sense that each of us is. Still (I told you to watch this space) this is yet another experience that makes me feel astonishingly blessed.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Opportunities for Writers and Artists

Reposting just because I like these guys and what they're doing –

1)

THE SMOKING POET:

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – FALL 2009

THE SMOKING POET publishes flash fiction; fiction; nonfiction; poetry; feature author; feature poet; book and cigar reviews. We publish work that ignites our imagination, inflames our passion, leaves us with a smoky aftertaste. The Smoking Poet also shares an extensive list of links and resources for writers and the cigar aficionado.

Submissions open year round. Send with category in subject line: poetry to Zinta Aistars; fiction/non-fiction and cigar reviews to J. Conrad Guest. Suggestions for "A Good Cause" to Lorena Audra Rutens, A Good Cause editor. For book reviews, please query first, attention to Skye Leslie, assistant editor.

For full submission guidelines and contact information, visit:
http://thesmokingpoet.net

Fall 2009 Issue Deadline: August 31, 2009

Please send your submission to thesmokingpoet@gmail.com. We look forward to reading your best work!

**************************************************************

2)


Please take a look at this new online literary arts magazine, GROUP 1.

You can see it at:

http://groupmag.blogspot.com/2009/06/group-1.html

If you like what you see, you might consider joining The Group, which produces it.

You can find The Group and join up at:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=90620106379

If you join The Group you’ll also be able to discuss the various stories, photographs and videos in the monthly editions on our Members page, and able to submit material for future editions. This would also entail you joining Facebook first.

If you don’t want to join Facebook and/or The Group, you also have the option of becoming a Follower of the magazine on our blogspot page.