Friday, July 28, 2017

Thought Provokers

This week I'm turning my feature over to Jeltje Fanoy, one of the founding members of the Melbourne Branch of the Poets Union of Australia, which has now long been known simply as Melbourne Poets Union.  

In this post I share what she said at the 40th anniversary of that founding, a few weeks ago, including some of her own poems which she read.

I was another founding member, but as I no longer live in or near Melbourne, I didn't attend these celebrations. Jeltje kindly sent me her notes for my interest, including the poems. (Pity I can't give you the accompanying guitar performance too!) She graciously agreed to my immediate request to share them with you, along with a photo of her taken on that occasion.

What happened in Australian poetic history 40 years ago is probably only of passing historical interest to those it doesn't touch directly. However Jeltje raises points which are still relevant, I believe, to poets everywhere – e.g. about the notion of 'the genius poet' (a rare and exalted breed, apparently) and what is or isn't fit subject matter for poems. 

I particularly like what she says about treating poetry as a craft to be learned.

Note: When Jeltje speaks of 'neo-liberalism', below, she refers to this phenomenon.

Aside from her thought-provoking speech, the poems she included are thought-provokers themselves, both in style and content. (That's intended as a compliment, of course.)


40 years of MPU 
– Jeltje Fanoy (founding member)

My name is jeltje, and I’m a founding member of the Poets Union, and collective effort press.

Poem: I died in…

He came & went, like an advertisement for
Unemployment. Everyday the same: no house,
no job, no car, no fancy food. While he said: No,
advertisements screamed: YES! For FAST CARS! YES!
for HOUSES! YES! For expensive trips overseas!
Life had become a duality of YES! and NO,
(& nothing much in between)

did SHE have a job?
did SHE have a job TO GO TO? (everyday, or:…eh…
from time to time… saying YES! from time to time)
Yes Sir, Yes Madam, Yes Car, Yes House,
Yes Fancy Food, Yes Trips Overseas (No’s for Nobodies),
Yes! Is for US! (No’s for Them)
Yes! Is for the LIVIVG! (No is for Them,
their bodies a question mark? an afterthought?)
after YES!?

Did they exist anymore? She wondered,
SOMETIMES, in between advertisements

(self-published in Poetry Live in the House and, also, by Melbourne Poets Union)

Many moons ago, the Poets Union was dreamed up by poets all over Australia, to give poetry more of a community focus, and I happened to be alive in those times…! 20 years ago I was asked to cut the cake for the Sydney Poets Union 20 years celebrations, during the Sydney International Poetry Festival. It’s great to be here tonight celebrating Melbourne Poets Union 40th!

I think the main idea behind setting up a poets’ union was, for me, to do away with, once and for all, the 19th century concept of the genius poet… reducing 99.99999 % of the population to silence or, at their best, second-rate class poetry citizen status. This was a feminist pre-occupation, in the seventies: I had poet friends who put up signs above their kitchen sink, with” Hey Genius, do the dishes…!”  It was like:  everyone could have a go at writing and performing and (self)publishing their work, and be justly rewarded for their efforts. The emphasis was on effort, and commitment, and working hard at your craft.

I guess I saw myself as being engaged in learning a craft, and, as time went on, becoming better at it.

Poem: when all of this started…!

when all of this
we didn’t
know that,
when we started,
we didn’t
know that’s when it started, that, when it
started, that this is what it was, when it started
was it the start
of hearing each other,
did anyone see us,
the first time, in public, I don’t know,
they saw a flyer,
were they
there, for us, or just
to be there,
did anyone know any
one, did we, ourselves,
know each other, at all,
well… well… well…well

(published in Unusual work 22, collective effort press)

Who were “we” when we set up the Poets Union? 

I think the general feeling at the time was that performance poets were involved in the project of “freeing” poetry from the clutches of Academia, away from stuffy self-importance and expensive private school and university college peer group approval.  Poets, no longer striving for upper-class endorsement, needed their fellow workers to support them as fellow Poets Union members.

Of course universities are far more inclusive than they were, when we started the Poets Union. However, the “genius” aspect of poetry still seems to be a populist perception. With the rise of neo-liberalism and subsequent diminishing opportunities of being published, and being paid for it, there is a tendency of seeing only a very tiny number of people as being successful at making the grade, and the community focus of poetry eroded.
In opposition to the 19th century Romantic genius poet, I write about everyday things, finding common ground within a post-colonial context. In the early years, some MPU members considered me a “dangerous” feminist and I was confronted by angry, self-righteous male poets at public readings, but this seems to be, thank goodness, all in the past.      
The following are two migration poems, and a poem I first performed for Marietta Elliot-Kleerkoper, a past President of MPU, for her birthday.
I’ve asked Sjaak de Jong to play with me, on guitar, for the last two.

 the empty streets (Melbourne 1960s)

The many snapshots   don’t really   in any way         tell the whole story there’s us        opening           presents       from relatives     flash     from far                    away            the many            cards      the Christmas tree

I recognize       an elderly    relative        looking exhausted          after the long         journey          but     still smiling     and  sitting      finally at                   our table             we’re   all   caught smiling    like maniacs

I remember how             at first            only            in Collins Street            a couple of                 couples here         and      there         sitting outside a café   coffee       and cakes         dressed                 in their Sunday Best

escaped     toasted sandwiches all around       from some sort of     curfew   that was never talked about    we      emerged together               in greater numbers  like   in Paris  underneath   branded    sun  umbrellas

painted into a corner
(for our refugees, on Manus)

painted into a corner  not letting go  it’s a form of torture  without a name  and holding on  not letting anyone down  th humbled shoulders  and driven there  th language hurts  th crying eyes  someone holding on to something
not letting go 
without a name 

not letting anyone down 
and driven there  th crying eyes 

not letting go 
not letting anyone down 

th crying eyes  not letting anyone down  not letting anyone down

painted into a corner  not letting go  it’s a form of torture  without a name  and holding on  not letting anyone down  th humbled shoulders  and driven there  th language hurts  th crying eyes  someone holding on to something
it’s a form of torture 
not letting anyone down

th language hurts
it’s a form of torture  it’s a form of torture

painted into a corner  not letting go  it’s a form of torture  without a name  and holding on  not letting anyone down  th humbled shoulders  and driven there  th language hurts  th crying eyes  someone holding on to something
without a name 
and driven there 

without a name

(published in Unusual work, 20, collective effort press)

Life-saving innuendos

The whistle on a lifejacket

The solid mass of posterity

Resistance to a chaotic mess

Our life-force, intermittently

The Earth’s rumbling interludes

A traffic island in a traffic jam

The curtain going up, just one more time

Summer beach infatuations

Life-saving innuendos

Sun-dried emotions, on a slice of toast

Sunny gold-coin donations

The past catching up in a gust of wind

Lines engraved on the palms of hands

Immodest dreams of peace

(published on Audacious 2 CD, Melbourne Spoken Word)

Material shared in “Thought Provokers’ is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Finding A Sanctuary

“Our listening creates a sanctuary for the homeless parts within another person” — Rachel Naomi Remen


“So as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all of the horrors of the half-lived life” — Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Midweek Motif ~ Finding A  Sanctuary

In the din and bustle of daily life all need a little sanctuary to rest, heal and revive; a space to de-clutter stressful thoughts; a moment to usher in a glimmer of hope; a Tahiti, to take care of the soul, and find one self in safety, comfort and peace.   

Write about finding such a sanctuary.

You might also look at a wildlife sanctuary or a sanctuary for political refugee or a sanctuary for the homeless. Possibilities are many.

Walk us to this isle of grace today:

by Dorothy Parker

My land is bare of chattering folk;
The clouds are low along the ridges,
And sweet’s the air with curly smoke
From all my burning bridges

by Elinor Morton Wylie

This is the bricklayer; hear the thud
Of his heavy load dumped down on stone.
His lustrous bricks are brighter than blood,
His smoking mortar whiter than bone.
Set each sharp-edged, fire-bitten brick
Straight by the plumb-line's shivering length;
Make my marvellous wall so thick
Dead nor living may shake its strength.
Full as a crystal cup with drink
Is my cell with dreams, and quiet, and cool. . .
Stop, old man! You must leave a chink;
How can I breathe? You can't, you fool!

by Jean Valentine

People pray to each other. The way I say 'you' to someone else,
respectfully, intimately, desperately. The way someone says
'you' to me, hopefully, expectantly, intensely ...
—Huub Oosterhuis

You who I don't know I don't know how to talk to you

—What is it like for you there?

Here ... well, wanting solitude; and talk; friendship—
The uses of solitude. To imagine; to hear.
Learning braille. To imagine other solitudes.
But they will not be mine;
to wait, in the quiet; not to scatter the voices—

What are you afraid of?

What will happen. All this leaving. And meetings, yes. But death.
What happens when you die?

"... not scatter the voices,"

Drown out. Not make a house, out of my own words. To be quiet in
another throat; other eyes; listen for what it is like there. What
word. What silence. Allowing. Uncertain: to drift, in the
restlessness ... Repose. To run like water—

What is it like there, right now?

Listen: the crowding of the street; the room. Everyone hunches in
against the crowding; holding their breath: against dread.

What do you dread?

What happens when you die?

What do you dread, in this room, now?

Not listening. Now. Not watching. Safe inside my own skin.
To die, not having listened. Not having asked ... To have scattered

Yes I know: the thread you have to keep finding, over again, to
follow it back to life; I know. Impossible, sometimes. 

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—
                (Next week Susan’s Midweek Motif will be ~ Human Trafficking)


Monday, July 24, 2017


My friends, today we are pleased to introduce one of our newer members, Anusha Das, who blogs at  LEAFLET - where words fall in cool breeze . What is very cool is that Anusha is married to one of our long-time members, Amrit Sinha, whom we have featured before here. I love it when  poets find each other and get married. Can you imagine the potential for poetry? Let's dive in.

At Munmar, when wind kisses my hair

Sherry: Anusha, I was so delighted to read on your blog that you are married to Amrit,  and we are so pleased you have now joined him at Poets United.  How delightful. Tell us a bit about your life, won’t you?

Anusha: Hi Sherry! First of all a big thanks to you for your questions, and I feel excited to answer them. I belong from a small town in India named Bhagalpur. My father is a retired Government Bank employee and my mother is a wonderful home-maker. My younger sister is currently employed in an MNC.

The motto of my life is whatever be the situation, you have to wake up, dress up and show up. Some days are bright, and some may look pretty bad. However, even bad has that ‘pretty’ attached to it, and we need to move forward taking that in mind. Also, I believe change is an essential part of life, and we should be ready for any change.

At Hawa Mahal, Jaipur
Me with my hubby Amrit

I am employed in a Government bank, like my father. I am blessed to have Amrit in my life, and we are on the verge of completing 2 years of our marriage. I am also blessed to have caring in-laws, with my father-in-law being a retired Bank Officer, and my mother-in-law a wonderful lady. Our families have known each other since our birth.

In Houseboat at Kerala - 
my first trip with hubby

Sherry: Congratulations on your marriage, Anusha. Your family sounds wonderful. And how lovely to have known your husband since birth. 

I must ask straightaway, how long have you been writing? When did you begin? What caused you to pick up your pen and write that first poem?

Anusha: I started writing in my school days, but I didn’t take it seriously back then. I remember I used to scribble few short poems and two liners in the last pages of my notebooks and wondered whether they were good enough to be read out loud to others. A few years ago when I was struggling to get a desired job, be ahead in competition, and was on the verge of disappointment, I think that was the phase when my poetry oozed out from my wounded heart. My first poem was a sad one and three pages long.

As I mentioned, I have been writing since my childhood, but it was my dear husband and your friend Amrit who made me realise that my poems are good and I should continue writing. It was he who suggested me to start my own blog and turn my hobby into art, for which I will always be thankful to him.

Sherry: We are so happy that you did! What is it about poetry that caused you to choose it as your means of creative expression? What do you love about it?

Anusha: The best part of poetry is the world of the imagination. I love to create my own world where I am the leader, in which I can change, create or curate anything I want. Poems transport me to my own world of dreams. I love the essence of imagination in poetry. They give you the ability to think and create.

"Poems transport me 
to my own world of dreams."

Poems give us the space to express whatever we desire. There are no boundaries. They are limitless. Poetry is a sea of emotion, accompanied by imagination, in which I love to float.

Sherry: What a beautiful description that is! Is there anyone in your life you feel has been a significant influence on your becoming a poet? Someone who encouraged you, told you stories as a child, believed in you? 

Anusha: As a child, my mother used to narrate lots of stories to me and made me eat my lunch. The stories revolved around kings, queens, fairies and a bit of mythology, and they helped me exercise my imagination. My grandmom, who used to put me to sleep, did that with innumerable tales about ghosts and the paranormal, and though they were scary, I loved the thrill they generated. 

Sherry: My grandma told me ghost stories too!

Anusha: In school, I was a regular visitor to the library, reading novels and magazines. These gradually arose within me the desire to write something of my own.

When I met Amrit, he inspired me to write more and helped me start my own blog. He insisted me to give words to my thoughts, and that’s how I began to focus more on my poems. In fact, I had got attracted to him because of his poetry.

Sherry: That is interesting. I always think we can know a poet's heart through his poetry, and it seems to be very true in your case. I read one of your poems about your grandmother, and suspect she is an important person in your life. Would you like to tell us a little about her? Maybe a small story from your childhood?

Anusha: Yes of course! She has been an important person in my life. Everyone says that I am a shadow of her. Actually I am a lookalike of her. My grandmother was a sweet lady. Simplicity defines her the best. She was fond of reading newspapers. During our summer vacations I used to nap with her on sultry afternoons. She narrated to me incidents about various people, our native village, as well as childhood stories which revolved around my father, uncles and aunts. Sadly she passed away when I was in my high school. I miss her sometimes, as she could not even witness my marriage.

Sherry: It is so hard to lose our grandmothers. I am so sorry, Anusha. I am sure she would be so proud of you. 

Would you like to choose two or three of your poems to share with us, and tell us a bit about each one?

Anusha: Sure! Here they are.

I sew memories
In that winter sun
Basking in glory
As slowly embers burn

Huddled together
Bundled in awe
In grandma's cuddle
Dreams that I saw

By that wooden log
Orange it glowed
Warm stories flowed
As out snow poured

I sew memories
Sweet and bitter
Of moth smelling sweater
That lovely tender winter

Sherry: I love this poem! It reminds me of sitting looking into the flames of a small gas fireplace, as my grandma told me stories on winter afternoons when I was small.

Anusha: This poem makes me nostalgic. It carries me back to my hometown. It makes me a child once again when during long winter nights we all family members used to sit around the fireplace and giggled in joy, listening to many stories which mom and grandma narrated. I felt so warm in my woollens, a  comfort that no expensive bed in the world could provide. My dad would often bring something hot and spicy to eat which we had together. The above poem is about  my childhood winter nights.

It rained that day
On a haven's bay
A soothsayer with cards
Waited on a barren yard

Those questions on his mind
With greed was he blind
He met the sorcerer's eyes
Like fire striking ice

"Oh you boy
What do you wish?
The cards on a deck
Are awaiting your pick

"But wisely choose your pick
And do not frown
As your fortune lay strewn
By the candle wick"

"'Riches' all I want
Of world and wide
As happiness to me
Is what diamonds provide"

"So be it"
said the tarot wizard
"It will rain gold
Instead of hail and cold"

With excitement he cried
Hopped and danced around
Alas what he found
His hopes down profound

Sad it was a dream
A fanciful whim
He rubs his eyes
None hears his utter cries

Anusha: As I mentioned above that poetry form is a world of imagination and emotions, here I tried to create a world of fantasy and whim. I penned down a whimsical story which children would love to read if ever it gets published. 

Sherry: It would appeal to children, and carries a message as well. 

the thunder the grumble
my heart does rumble
with pain and pleasure
all that I treasure
emotions corked up for long
tears stored for long
sudden struck a lightning
insides blare out
I pour and pour
memories sweet and sour
and as the cloud burst
rain kissed the earth
revealed and healed
soul that was sealed
now open and ajar
peace not so far

Anusha: This poem is about bottled up feelings which people do not share when they are upset. The path of life is stony sometimes but we should share our problems with close ones. Sharing makes the burden lighter. We all have our ups and downs but we should not corner ourselves from the outer world.  Sharing our problems makes us relieved, calm and composed.

Sherry: I so agree. When someone is closed off, others can't know what they are feeling, unless they talk about it.

What other pursuits or activities do you enjoy when you aren’t writing?

Anusha: Apart from writing, I love listening to music and reading novels. Whenever I am stressed I just sing out loud and in a minute I forget everything. Singing clears my heart and I feel lighter. Similarly, reading also makes me forget the outer world and I enjoy it thoroughly. Lately I have generated deep interest in cooking and experimenting with food. In short you can say that I am a jack of all trades but master of none.

My first dance recital competition in school

Sherry: It seems you have mastered many pursuits, Anusha! You look adorable at your dance recital. Do you still dance?

Anusha: Yes, but just casually.

Sherry: Anusha, we want to welcome you warmly to our community. We are so happy to get to know you better. Is there anything you would like to say to Poets United?

Anusha: Poets United is an apt platform for budding writers like me. It gives me immense pleasure to see the comments of other poets on my blog, which motivate me further to write. Also, visiting other poets’ blogs enhances my learning, as I find myself pleasantly surrounded in the midst of poetic art globally. I want to say “Thank you” from the core of my heart to Poets United. Keep showering your love on me.

Sherry: We will! Thank you, Anusha, for this lovely visit. We hope to enjoy your work, and Amrit's, for a long time to come. 

Wasn't this a lovely visit, kids? Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!