The Knee Monologues

•June 10, 2017 • 2 Comments

[Older longer poem in five parts. It was a runner up in the Overland Poetry Prize for Emerging Poets in 2008. The title is a play on a famous play called ‘The Vagina Monologues’. The poem started off by my exploring a twinge sensation in my knee and took off from there. Shot the photos for the two collages in a Canberra Mall.]

The Knee Monologues

Coming to receive from us
Knee-tribute yet unpaid, prostration vile.
– Milton, Paradise Lost, V, 778-9

1.

we’re concave convex like the universe all your strength centred in us as long as you’re upright and not a stiff but springing like a jack or jill in the box in the tilting toy shops of life that’s why you go weak in us when lust hits your eye balls you’re neither hot nor cold or you’re falling from a skyscraper as the brakes fail or you get your maths marks we can even flip the fifties into the sixties by dimply flashing ourselves from under the new lift of a hemline at the races like jean shrimpton and bring down the empire of lamingtons white gloves hats doilies smoking picket fences sheila-free pubs and god save the queen at the cinema stand up straight chest out hats off march in line six of the best short back and sides lest we forget the iron knee days the bended knee days the attention stand at ease days the odd tight red tunic topped by a furry pyramid of a black bear hat keeled over on the pavement like christine under a minister as she passes by equally oblivious to her knees that rule the world my brothers and sisters the great kneedom of hinges that silently swing the body’s door midgard between ground and sky until we slowly rust and freeze into walking frames wheelchairs finally flatten our concavity down into the depravity of the homely soil our convex bit discretely embalmed in white silk eyeing off the receding heavens as we fall legless into space

2.

young we bounce children
through the trampolines
of their days

in the evenings
on the nature strip
they squat happily

exhausted
from the exciting
tragedies, timelessness

of serious play
rest their heads on us
breathe in

the sweet smell
of our daily fading
fusion of sweat and bliss

we contain the forgotten
chemicals that bind them
to themselves

3.

growing we closely connect
to our cousins
the elbows

we’re proudly grounded
in ankle, calf and thigh
while our little friends

have just got forearm
biceps and shoulder
to play with

they’re all up in the air
like swings
or air guitars

half the time
the other half
getting calluses

it’s all that resting
heads on tables
and shunting

their determined way
through the hard
jelly of the world

of course to spite us
they say
their concave bit

is especially sexual
but that’s just because
most mouths

seldom come
down to us
to test the waters

of our suppleness
they would be
surprised

4.

of course we too
can be callused
to buggery

you just try scrubbing
floors on us
all your life

for the gentry
to go gliding
over tippy-toe

waltz away
their willed ignorance
of our suppressed

and lowly state
that keeps them
in the largesse

of their powdered
ankles and sexy
soft silks

5.

and just for the record
we were there in 69
on the moon too

felt the impact
of his big leap
for man-unkind

reverberate
up from his big
boofy boot

Armstrong, my foot
strong KNEES
are what landed him

in that fine dust
he later violated
with a flag

Preliminary Notes for a Young Poet

•May 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

[Aphoristic prose poem from seven years ago. Adorno’s quote on art of course also encompasses poetry.]

Preliminary Notes for a Young Poet

Poetry is like life: nothing that can be said about it cannot be equally plausibly contradicted.

Don’t trust any poet over thirty. Don’t trust any poet under thirty.

Trust only your own selves. These are also protean non-selves.

Writing poetry occurs within an ongoing great dialogue of poets that stretches from tribal incantation, Lao Tzu and Homer to Eliot, Neruda, Rilke and rap. Read them.

The more individual your poetry, the more collective. You didn’t make your brain. Your brain is an evolutionary collective artifact, a product of the universe, planet and people.

In a world of war, exploitation and ecocide, poetry for poetry’s sake sucks.

Poetry as propaganda is always a whore and sucks even more.

Forget popularity. Contemporary poetry audiences are mostly poets themselves. Good-oh. Society is approaching the pre-literate-tribal and anarchist utopia of a poetical society in which all are creative.

‘First thought, best thought’ (Jack Kerouac). Except when it remains there, self-satisfied, self-indulgent, stuck.

Poetry is craftsmanship: the technology of the human spirit forming air or ink.

Poetry is free breath moving through quanta of modulated breath.

Like microphysical quanta, poems are wave potentials that depend on the wave collapse of a listener’s or readers’ activity.

Like quantum waves they can be contradictory waves and bits forming neurons in two places at once.

Poetry is inspiration plus perspiration, a poet a seer and maker, shaman and engineer.

Poetry is silence speaking through the grammar of the imagination.

Poetry is the 95% of the universe (un)known as ‘Dark Matter-Energy’.

You are the universe but the universe is smarter than you. (Choose your You).

Poetry is the shimmering, quivering, loving fusion of your neocortex with your older mammal and reptile brains.

Your poetic tongue is the scent-laden flowering of your ancient spinal chord.

Poetry is an empty sky in which linear clouds of sound and metaphor appear, move, disappear, appear…

Poetry writing is risk, fail, risk again. Or risk, almost succeed, risk. Or fail.

The Ratio of Female Beauty is the Beauty of Male Ratio

•May 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment

[Sometimes I like making poems out of crap I find. I recommend making found poems to all, very therapeutic. Took the shot in a chemist’s window six years ago in Sydney.]

The Ratio of Female Beauty is the Beauty of Male Ratio. Two Found Poems

1

vertical distance between

pupils & tip of chin
to distance between top of face & pupils

top of face & nose
to distance between nostrils & tip of chin

pupils & central lip line
to distance between lips & tip of chin

nostrils & tip of chin
to distance between pupils & nostrils

pupils & nostrils
to distance between nostrils & central lip line

lips & tip of chin
to distance between nostrils & central lip line

tip of nose & lips
to distance between lips & tip of chin

top of face & eyebrows
to face length

eyebrows & tip of nose
to face length

distance between

eyes to face width
face width to face length

2

when a photo-
graph
of a
woman’s
face is
fed
into the

program, it
instantly
returns a
beauty
rating of
between one &

ten, one use
might be
for plastic
surgery
patients
who were

unsure

Dialogue on Trump

•May 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

[This is a response to an email I got the other day about Trump from a friend of mine who is, or was, a progressive, now retired academic specializing in public health. My friend’s quoted arguments have been extracted and numbered by me. I thought the exchange perhaps of more general interest.]

Thanks for those links, enjoyed them. I’m going to go through your arguments re Trump and try to answer them, try to see where we agree and might agree to disagree. I tend to quickly get too heated face-to-face on such topics, as you know, so the email mode might be a way of quieter and more reflective discussion 🙂

1. “So much of the anti-Trump tirades distracts attention from the systemic problems, making him out to be some monstrous political aberration. Some of it is almost hysterical. Just about all of commentary comes from the political establishment he humiliated, and the mainstream media he made fools of and which show their usual taste for political theatre, trivia, fumbles, gaffes, back-flips etc.”

We both agree systemic problems are paramount, not personalities, and that mainstream media tend to focus more on personalities than on contexts, bigger pictures, systems. At certain critical junctures in systemic developments, however, I would argue that history shows that personalities can indeed make very important differences. In my view, this is one such historical juncture.

Re the media portraying Trump as an ‘aberration’: I would argue that no, he isn’t and yes he is, that there is both continuity and discontinuity to previous ruling elite representatives (cf. below).

Don’t know where you are hanging out online, but in my view the commentary, i.e. critique of Trump, is not at all coming just from the establishment and the mainstream press as you suggest, but from the overwhelming majority of their radical and leftist critics too numerous to list. Nor in my view are the ‘political theatre’, ‘fumbles’ (?), ‘gaffes’, ‘back flips’ just trivial since they reveal things about his mental incoherence, demagogic opportunism, belligerent narcissism. Surely HE consciously makes the ‘political theatre’, not just the media; he is in fact in a narcissistic symbiosis with them.

If the media didn’t draw attention to his flagrant backflips, self-contradictions, incoherencies, nepotism, venality etc. they would be failing in their duty. We’d then be back in Trump’s own Orwellian ‘post-truth’ land where China is/isn’t a currency manipulator, NATO is/isn’t obsolete, ‘draining the Wall Street swamp’ means filling it with Wall Street people, ‘isolationism’ means bombing Syria and Afghanistan etc. (as in Orwell’s 1984 and its ‘War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery…’).

‘The mainstream media he made fools of’, you say? Surely it’s all pretty transparent, isn’t it (?): when Trump isn’t outrightly quarantining, banning or viciously attacking journalists and the media as ‘failures’ etc, his ploy is that anything he doesn’t like in media reports he just calls ‘fake news’. His delirious followers seem to love it.

(In your disparaging use of the phrase ‘mainstream media’ in general and their reporting of Trump in particular, I get the sense of a lack of differentiation, as if there were no difference between critical-liberal, investigative media which now and again, however partially, ‘speak truth to power’ and provide much needed information on the ruling order-givers and the state of the world versus the tabloid/Murdoch media and their manipulative and sensationalist ‘prolefeed’ (Orwell). Where would we be without the former, I wonder, at Breitbart ‘News’ or other right-wing, conspiratorial websites and Fakebook perhaps? Would you not also distinguish between a leftist critique of mainstream media a la Chomsky and a right-wing one a la Breitbart/Trump? Cf. below my comments on your non-distinction between left and right critiques of globalization.)

2. “The fascist threat in the US came with the rise, under Bush, of the neo-cons, with their ideological commitment to free markets and the American Empire. They continued to be influential under Obama. I read that the neo-cons’ preferred candidate in the last election was Clinton, and when Trump won, they began to plot to replace him with Pence. I’ve ready many pieces warning of the slide towards war between the US and Russia, with the US as the aggressor and Clinton as more dangerous than Trump. The latest Trump moves in Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea suggest the neo-cons have pulled him into line – although there are other possible explanations.”

The ‘ideological commitment to free markets and the American Empire’ goes way back before Bush’s neo-cons. Probably at least back to Truman-Kennan in the late 1940s. But if not on Trump, I think we can quickly agree on Obama (and not just on his targeted killing program); my radical critiques of Obama (and many progressives’ usual double standards about such liberal-social democratic leaders) from 2012 can be found at my blog here:

https://peterlachnewinsky.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/obama-won-hooray/
https://peterlachnewinsky.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/friendly-fascism-are-we-there-yet/

I also see the ‘fascist threat’ arising strongly after 9/11 (with its seeds much earlier in post-war US of course), with a systemic shift to ‘post-liberal’ states in the west, gradually moving towards some form of ‘friendly fascism’ (Bertram Gross), ‘friendly’ only because compatible with globalisation, consumerism, the leaving in place of constitutions, commercial media and the legal apparatus etc.

In contrast to you, however, I see Trump in no way as a possible ‘alternative to TINA’ but rather as marking another significant, authoritarian, mass-demagogic shift towards that ‘friendly fascism’. As his cabinet (Goldman-Sachs, Exxon, military etc) and ‘policies’ prove, Trump is the new face of Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and now the regressive fossil-fuel (anti-green capitalist) faction of the ruling elites, not their nemesis.

I wouldn’t put all that down to the old Bush-neo-cons, but see it more systemically as a global shift to the extreme right (a la Bannon, Le Pen) under mounting systemic pressures (economic, ecological, demographic) and a global economic-imperial shift from Atlantic to Asia-Pacific. Trump himself just mostly seems to be totally out of his depth (‘I discovered how big this all is’) and, with his usual bluster and deflections, more or less making it up as he goes.

My pre-election theses on right-wing populism in June last year predicted that he, like all right-wing populists, would move away from his ‘lefter’ demagogic campaign promises to more right-wing positions once he got in power, simply because that is the necessary historical trajectory and political logic of all right-wing populism (cf. particularly Nos 16 and 17):

https://peterlachnewinsky.wordpress.com/2016/06/11/thirty-theses-on-right-wing-populism/

3. “On immigration more generally, global capitalism, having got the free movement of capital and goods it wanted, is now going for the free movement of labour; the left seems to have left it to the nationalists to challenge this.”

It is inherent in the notion of Capital that it has always gone for free labour mobility, not just now, as it increases labour competition and thus decreases costs and thus increases profits. The left did not ignore all this and ‘leave it to the nationalists to challenge’ as you suggest. You might remember (?) massive leftists global anti-/alter-globalization movements with tens of thousands of participants from Seattle 1999 to about 2006-08 (World Social Forum). These movements were seeking NOT a nationalist/protectionist/populist rejection of all globalization but rather an alternative, non-capitalist form of globalization which would be socially and ecologically just for all, internationally. That is the essential left-right difference and the difference to Trumpism, Hansonism, French National Front.

Interestingly, the outsourced and de-industrialized working classes in the west did not significantly join these transnational and internationalist movements. Instead in Australia we had working class support for Hanson’s protectionist and xenophobic nationalism as of 1996 and then similar ‘Howard’s battlers’. The US working class also did not greatly support Bernie Sanders’ national-social democratic version of critiquing globalization but instead chose Trump’s. Why? I would hypothesize perhaps because of Trump’s reality-TV, authoritarian, Big Boss appeal and his xenophobic appeal, and maybe also because they actually envy his ‘American Dream’-wealth and bling. Many of them, I’d hazard a guess, since firmly wedded to the individualist American Dream, might tend not to revile the famous 1% (like Bernie) at all but actually envy them.

4. “The protests against Trump downplay the legitimate causes of popular disaffection. They embrace the same identity politics, focused on minority interests, that contributed to the Democrats’ election loss and has weakened the left everywhere. Trump’s ‘politics of hate’ may be cruel and his climate change policy mistaken, but progressives should applaud some of his policy positions. It is the left who despaired at the widely accepted doctrine of TINA: that ‘there is no alternative’ to neoliberalism and globalization; Trump might provide one.”

What a strange reading of the protests against Trump and the ‘left’ in general. Progressives and many of those supporting Bernie Sanders’ campaign, which in fact very much attempted to address the social ‘causes of popular disaffection’ (a ‘political revolution against the 1%’, ‘socialism’ etc) , are now the same people protesting against Trump. They certainly did not and are not ‘downplaying the legitimate causes of popular disaffection’. Many of those are also of course women, blacks, Latinos and the LGBTQI community, activists of what is broadly called ‘identity politics’. Why their disparagement as ‘weakening the left everywhere’? Their ‘minority interests’ are central to any inclusive, positive vision of the future, no? I also wonder why you downplay Trump’s demagogic xenophobia by putting ‘politics of hate’ in quotes and as ‘may be’ cruel and his climate denialism/drill baby drill/fossil fuel-favouring as merely ‘mistaken’ (rather than, say, ‘catastrophic’)?

Trump as a possible ‘alternative’ to neoliberalism and TINA? Wow. At the risk of again pointing out the obvious, a progressive ‘despairing’ at the neoliberal TINA doctrine does not mean an accepting of a right-wing, xenophobic ‘alternative’ to neoliberalism in the form of Trump, Hanson or Marine le Pen. You say ‘progressives should applaud some of his policy positions’. I think a key difference between us here may be that I think you don’t seem to see the absolutely radical difference between a left/progressive/democratic/internationalist and a right-wing/xenophobic/protectionist critique and alternative to neoliberal globalization, or do you? (Cf. my comments above on your seemingly Trumpian use of the phrase ‘mainstream media’).

5. “If, as his critics claim, Trump is really intent on further entrenching and concentrating wealth, privilege and power, then, as the current wave of political protest and mobilisation demonstrates, he will provoke even more public outrage and so re-invigorate democracy (The Atlantic, which hates Trump, has conceded this). If Trump precipitates a crisis of political legitimacy in the US (and other Western democracies), it is what we need.”

Surely Trump is not about to ‘precipitate a crisis of political legitimacy’, but rather this legitimacy crisis long predates him and he is in fact the ultimate reaction to, and demagogic expression/continuation of, this very crisis. I do hope that ‘democracy’ (?) might be ‘re-invigorated’ by social movements against the Trump fiasco, but, given the perennial problems of joining the dots in popular consciousness, I wouldn’t bet on it. When the general level of consciousness is so low and fear so widespread, crises can very easily result in chaotic breakdown, state violence and authoritarian regression (e.g. outright fascism, nuclear war, ecological collapse) rather than in popular consciousness-raising, self-empowerment and breakthrough. The former would definitely seem more likely at present.

Finally, what I find a little strange is not only what you say about Trump as a possible positive ‘alternative to TINA’ but also all the stuff that finds, at least here, NO mention in your views on Trump at all, as if it were irrelevant to evaluating Trump, or as if you were actually choosing to ignore all this. Thus what are your attitudes, if any, to things like the following (the list could be extended), I wonder:

• his views on women and the global women’s march against him and all he stands for after his inauguration (or is that just the much maligned ‘identity politics’ ?)

• his stereotyping-racist views on Mexican undocumented migrants as ‘rapists’ and on Muslim ‘bad dudes’ and the concomitant rise in attacks on scapegoated and vilified sections of the US population? (ditto?)

• his belligerent strong man, autocratic big boss and demagogue persona (Iike Putin, Duterte, Erdogan etc) appealing to non-democratic, authoritarian-fascist personalities (just ‘trivia’?)

• his totally garbled language indicating garbled incoherent thinking with perpetual self-contradictions and flip-flops over time and sometimes even within sentences (or is that that just the mainstream media’s jaundiced view of his ‘fumbles’?)

• his extreme look-at-me-I’m-the-greatest narcissism, envious outrage at the slightest perceived slights (size of hands compared to Latino candidate’s, size of inauguration crowd compared to Obama’s, quality of his own The Apprentice show compared to Schwarzenegger’s etc) and bullying, aggressive-competitive impulsiveness (a worrying role model for kids and culture or all just personality ‘trivia’?)

• his choice of Bannon, his choice of cabinet, his nepotism, his ‘policy’-by-twitter, his many corporate meetings and pro-corporate neoliberal policies (deregulations and tax cuts)?

Peter

Tellumbuggerum Farm Tour

•April 28, 2017 • 2 Comments

[Poem on the ‘joys’ of small farm life in Australia. ‘Tellumbuggerum’ = Oz way of saying ‘tell them, bugger them’. ‘American foul brood’: a serious and contagious disease of bees. ‘Myxo’ is myxomatosis, a virus spread with the intention of killing rabbits, Australia’s number one introduced pest animal, now no longer effective. The shot is of the exiled old man boss kangaroo mentioned in the last line.]

Tellumbuggerum Farm Tour

Twenty three years working & walking
& I know every inch of the place.
Put on your boots. Let me show you where

the startled goshawk dropped the startled rabbit in mid-flight

the maggots returned the fox to the soil with a fine necklace of bones

I looked into its soft eyes & shot the roo with the broken leg twisted into the fence-wire

the seedling walnuts I’d carefully raised all died when planted out

the cabinet timber blackwoods form-pruned for my grandsons snapped in the westerlies

the carefully designed wind shelter of pioneer wattles eroded the slope

I gassed & buried my new bee hive dripping with American foul brood

small hive beetle armies destroyed the honeycombs & disappeared my bee colony

the storm-enraged overflow swept my neighbour’s new fence into our creek

a failed potato patch is now glum grass again

the shade-tree roots sucked the life from our terraced garden beds

Stan’s seven goats got under the fence & ate ten new tenderly tended hazels

the rabbits outfoxed the myxo & moonscaped the slope with despair

the exiled old boss roo limped his way into dying & drying down by the water tank

Infinite Wealth

•April 23, 2017 • 4 Comments

[Poem I wrote seventeen years ago, in one of those moods we may all have now and again as the world burns. One of those rhyming, more accessible poems that could probably be put to music.]

Infinite Wealth

They say we’re all responsible
for screwin’ up the earth,
I s’pose that’s true
as far as it goes
if you keep your sense of mirth

coz some are drivin’ four litre cars
and some are walkin’ by foot
and some are eatin’ caviar
while many can’t get chook

some can fly to Bali
just for a holiday
and some can’t even get a roof
over their heads
coz they can’t afford to pay

and some make the investment decisions
and some just carry them out
and some create useful divisions
and some have all the clout

to destroy millions of lives
with a move of their mouse
to decide to sell derivatives
and empty the family house

to decide to build dune buggies
coz ya can’t make bucks outa the poor
ya gotta feed the greed
not what people need
and you’re trapped in a revolving door

the door’s called the market
a very free system we’re told
it’s even got an invisible hand
that gives more to the rich
and leaves the poor out in the cold

but the market’s even solving that problem
by heating up the earth
so rich and poor can now both fry
as history screams in birth

of a wider human spirit
that sees the other as self
that dissolves all fearful boundaries
and shares, protects, loves, enjoys
the planet’s infinite wealth

Three Elegies for the Unknown Man

•April 10, 2017 • 3 Comments

[Recent poem. The photo of the falling man on 911 in New York is by Robert Drew, the one of the man leaping at the Gar St Lazare in Paris in 1932 is by Henri Cartier-Bresson.]

Three Elegies for the Unknown Man

1

Factory worker, student,
were you coming home
from the specials
when you smelt
the gas & guns,
heard shouting,
screaming
as slo mo as
a dream,
tanks growling
along the Avenue
of Eternal Peace,
stretcher bearers
jogging the dead
& wounded past
the shot plaster
Lady of Liberty
standing surreally
in tatters

when you nonchalantly
went & stood
with you bags
full of vegetables
before a rolling tank?

Eye to eye
with a snarling grey
machine manned
by power & fear
you invented a little
dance step there
in Tiananmen Square
in perfect tune with
the troubled turret
as it swivelled,
uncalmly considering
its options re
this plastic bag man.

Arrested, free,
murdered by firing
squad, in Taiwan,
you’re dead, alive
as a flower
in a gun barrel

2

Sitting on the steps
waiting for the bank
to open, it’s 8.15
when nature ends
in a cosmic flash
of death growing
into a mushroom
above your city
& the Human Age
begins most humanly
with chaos & crime
& all we have left
is the eternal shadow
you left to remind us
of what is utterly
beyond & real

a real a million
cameras caught
& made unreal
fifty six years later
as another
unknown
missing man
leapt from
blazing
plane-sliced towers
in New York
now leaving not
even a shadow
to remind us
of the sheer
unknown nowness
of his unknown
life

3

Were you going home
after a day’s sweat
on the road
on the line
in the office
in the bakery
on the tracks
heading through
the cold drizzle
for a pastis & fag
in the bistro
with Jean & Michel
before Marie’s
warming pot au feu
& a cuddle
with the kids

when you leaped
that sudden puddle
at the Gar St Lazare
construction site
from a supine ladder
like a gazelle
a surrealTrickster
madly echoing
the flapping poster
on the nearby fence
of Josephine Baker
dancing in bananas
& Cartier-Bresson’s
casual camera froze
that wildly
improbable moment
of joy, hope,
suspended
for ever
in the watery
mirror
of the unknowable
now