The Recital

Recite: repeat aloud or declaim (a poem or passage) from memory before an audience.

I have committed many things to memory over time—poems, prayers, proverbs and the like. Prayers were recited in church of a Sunday, proverbs to make me look clever and poetry —well, that’s another matter.

The poetry recital occurred just once, at an eisteddfod in front of a panel of bespectacled and aging adjudicators.  The stage was long, deep and bare.  The hall, cavernous.  The crowd, mostly parents whose children were far more talented than anyone else could hope to be, were hostile behind their plastered smiles and deceiving nods of encouragement.

Across the boards I trod to the place marked with a cross.  Centre stage in my pretty brown velvet skirt and apricot satin top. Hands held below the sternum, fingers clasped gently. I began.

Daffodowndilly

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
“Winter is dead.”

A.A Milne

Advertisements

Stories of yesteryear

Joe McSweeney

What a mug a man be
to go fighting in the war over the sea
Half starved, the pay was low
a man was mad to even go.  

Joseph McSweeny

There is an exhibition coming to town – The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience. It sounds like a big event. It is a free exhibition that showcases the story of Australia’s involvement in the First World War. From what I’ve read, there will be a good many stories  as well as photos of Australians who served our country during the war. It’s timely and synchronistic, for me, that this event should be coming to my city.

I have been pouring over some writings and photographs of my great-grandfather, Joe’s recently.  He was a character.  I wish I had known him better, though I am getting a sense of him through his musings. I met him several times when he was old and sick and in no mood for silly noisy little girls. My grandmother and my father have both shared stories of him that have intrigued and me. I knew he was an artist and sign writer. I knew too that he had fought in the first world war. My great-grandfather captured some of his life in poetry. Some of it is long and prose like, some short and snappy, some of it is good, a lot is not.  However, I have learnt much about his life through these handwritten notes.  I have discovered he was a swagman and wandered out west looking for work on various stations, orchards and farms when times were tough. He worked in shearing sheds and in a butcher shop; anything to make a quid.

His writing paints a picture of what it was like to be a soldier in the first world war. He doesn’t go into depth or detail. In fact, he seems to skirt around the edges of the atrocities of war. Often I find the greatest messages lay in the gaps and silences. There are many postcards he collected while abroad and a few he sent home to his wife, my great-grandmother and his daughter, my Nana.  These were short notes but very touching. Among his effects are a pile of vintage postcards with beautifully painted images of women clad in their undergarments. Oh, they are very tame by today’s standards but I imagine they were outrageously risqué in some circles way back when. They are exquisite reminders of a time long ago. A time not forgotten. A time of heroes and ordinary men and women who left these shores not knowing what horrors awaited them. A time when these same ordinary men and women, the lucky ones, returned home to carve out lives for themselves when their whole view of the world and life had been irrevocably changed.

I would dearly love to share some of Joe’s writing about the war with you though I realise now, so many years after it was written, that much of it is politically incorrect and may offend some readers. His poems were written in a different time, when feelings about the enemy were raw. Some things, I guess, are best kept private. Below I have included a short ode he wrote, it gives you an idea of the larrikin he was.

Have you heard the story about sign writer Joe?
He fell on the floor with a heavy sound
It took some time to bring him round.

The butcher rubbed his ribs with greasy hand
and sat him in a chair, he could not stand.
The butcher grinned and laughed outright
Poor old Joe, looked an awful fright.

Back to the job he went once more
His ribs was aching and arm was sore.
Down he got and gave a grunt
Through the door and out the front.

Now dear readers, this is no lie
The poor old bugger
Went home to die.

The Spirit of ANZAC Centenary Experience will be held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from the 17th until the 30th June. You can book tickets online at http://www.spiritofanzac.gov.au

Inspired by Artistic Expression

I have a friend who asks “What inspired you this week?” It’s a great question. Often I have to scratch around and ponder deeply in order to respond. This last fortnight, however, I have been greatly inspired by a number of sources. The energy of these artistic sources have remained with me as daily companions.

I visited GOMA, in Brisbane, where Cai Guo-Qiang’s Falling Back to Earth exhibition is currently showing. I find my thoughts returning to linger over the works on display.

I had purposely not read anything about the exhibit prior to attending not wanting reviews to interfere with my experience. I was not prepared for the grand scale of each of the installations.

The cavernous space of the gallery itself usually overwhelms me but it was perfect for this exhibition.  On entering the first room, to view Heritage, I felt as though I was transported to another time and place. Interestingly, I think everyone else felt the same. There was an incredible hush in the room despite the number of people in attendance. There was almost a reverence with which we viewed the waterhole and considered the circumstances under which all the animals would have come together at that one place.  I felt very blessed almost to be in attendance at what appeared, to me, to be a sacred gathering of the worlds’ animals at the waterhole.
image

I was initially disgruntled at seeing a large, uprooted tree in the open space between galleries and realising part of my admission ticket was for the pleasure of viewing this ‘piece of art’. My melancholy dissipated very quickly and I was immersed in observing the magnificence of this mighty tree. It’s textures, colours and form, not to mention the surreal nature of having a fifty metre tree, suspended horizontally inside a sleek, modern gallery.

The final instillation was again of gigantic proportions. On entering the room I was immediately drawn to the smooth, almost graceful loop created by close to one hundred wolves. Each wolf unique in its expression was also part of a greater community working together to achieve a single goal. Sadly, it seemed, they were misled and the goal unattainable.

The size and scale of the installations were both mind boggling and impressive. But the deeper statements about humanity behind each piece, the artists skill and talent in bringing such pieces into form and the thoughts and emotions each piece stirred within me have been nudging and poking and prodding my mind these last two weeks.

In last week’s blog I shared my excitement at having heard Elizabeth Gilbert talk on her creative process. Snippets of her talk keep rolling into my waking moments on gentle waves. I’d say I was inspired, wouldn’t you?

I read a novel this week, Left Neglected by Lisa Genova, purchased for three dollars at the local op shop. I literally inhaled it. I could not put it down. I was inspired by the protagonist for overcoming the obstacles she faced and the author’s brilliance at taking on such a formidable topic and engaging, educating and evoking great emotion in the reader. Not only that but I found myself questioning the decisions I’ve made and the consequences of my choices. “Is there another way to live that is more fulfilling?”

image

I was awestruck too by the words of Rumi shared with me by a friend, who herself is an inspiration. She is an alchemist, a wise woman and a spiritual teacher. Her own words move me to seek deeper levels of knowing and understanding. On this occasion the words of Rumi she shared struck and stuck at my core. I have attached the poster below for your enjoyment.

image

It has been, without a doubt, a magical fortnight. Full of great and inspiring people, creativity and thought. I feel moved, moulded and changed as a result of not only my initial contact with each source but by the lingering impressions each have made on me.

What inspired you this week? I’d love to hear!

Walking with Robert Frost

The road less travelled

The chosen path

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

On my walk in the forest this morning I came to a fork in the path and was faced for a moment with a decision. Which way will I go? Almost without hesitation I took the road to my right. Neither path appeared less trodden, less traveled, they both looked fairly similar in terms of use and of scenery. I forged ahead on my chosen path without a second thought of what wonders the other path held. Instead, I found myself exhilarated by the journey, the sense of adventure that lay in the unexplored.  I was intrigued by the details I encountered – the small flock of finches humming their throaty song, the vibrant glow of the morning sun on my cheek and the deeply satisfying smell of the eucalypt, that always signifies home to me.

I sit now, with warm tea in hand, and  ponder Frost’s dilemma.  I do not wish to grow old, reflect and always hold that sense of loss for the path not taken. I do not wish to question, or second guess, nor do I wish to hold feelings of regret or remorse for what might have been.  There is no right or a wrong decision, no right or a wrong path. Instead, living a life of acceptance and gratitude; living life with a sense of reverence and wonder for the beauty and opportunities that are revealed  is, for me, far preferable than regret.

I will not sigh for moments lost, I will not sigh for what might have been. I will rejoice for opportunities taken and given, I will be grateful for the magic, mystery and wonders my path has held. And let’s be honest, what’s stopping me from hiking back and changing direction if I change my mind?

Wishing you a day filled with wonder.