With the woman from your office that you left her for
away at a weekend conference, you found yourself
at a party staring at your ex-girlfriend and her
new boyfriend, and deciding that the new boyfriend’s
jumper was the kind favoured by train spotters or
watchers of birds (the sort that fly without any help
from you) repaired to the bedroom set aside for coats,
got as close as you could to the dressing-table mirror,
and practised saying For old times’ sake with your eyes.

But you didn’t know that on the evenings you were
working late, she had put off going home to an empty flat
by browsing in a bookshop near the station, and read
in the poetry section that hope is the thing with feathers
and in the natural world section that ninety per cent
of bird species are monogamous compared with
three per cent of mammals, and bought herself a pocket
guide by Bill Oddie and binoculars one lunchtime from a
sports shop, and waited for the day when you would leave.

So when you approached her at the buffet table
your “come to bed” look didn’t register and you found
yourself demanding Who’s the fucking jumper?

Refilling their glasses in the kitchen her new boyfriend
picked up that stunned silence in which he could have
told you about the day on Hackney Marsh
when from his hide he saw her walking towards him,
a new variety that he couldn’t name, who wanted to learn
everything he could teach her and had him describe swans
mating for life again and again and again, and how much
she loves his jumpers, particularly this one,
bought by her and worn by him to repel birds of prey.

– Lorraine Mariner


Once in the 40’s

We were alone one night on a long
road in Montana. This was in winter, a big
night, far to the stars. We had hitched,
my wife and I, and left our ride at
a crossing to go on. Tired and cold–but
brave–we trudged along. This, we said,
was our life, watched over, allowed to go
where we wanted. We said we’d come back some time
when we got rich. We’d leave the others and find
a night like this, whatever we had to give,
and no matter how far, to be so happy again.

– William Stafford


Someone spoke to me last night,
told me the truth. Just a few words,
but I recognized it.
I knew I should make myself get up,
write it down, but it was late,
and I was exhausted from working
all day in the garden, moving rocks.
Now, I remember only the flavor —
not like food, sweet or sharp.
More like a fine powder, like dust.
And I wasn’t elated or frightened,
but simply rapt, aware.
That’s how it is sometimes —
God comes to your window,
all bright light and black wings,
and you’re just too tired to open it.

– Dorianne Laux

Home to Roost (extract)

I don’t remember any of what happened.
Just those howls, like dogs, as we drove out.
The fields and trees all black and green.
Perhaps some of the very first rounds.
But nothing else.

I had to pick it all up second hand,
as my hearing came back in the chopper,
and then again in Bastion.

How when my driver had reversed
he’d hit a roadside IED.
How the explosion had hit a fuel tank, or ammo tin
right under me.
Shot me out, like a jack in the box,
60 feet. And then how it had all kicked off.
Rockets, grenades. The lot.

They took me straight to Rose Cottage.
A special room in the medical centre
deep among the tents and containers of Bastion.
A room for the lads or lasses who’d taken a hit,
which even the surgeons on camp couldn’t fix.

It was manned, back then, by two blokes,
staff sergeants Andy and Tom. It was them
who took me in, off the ambulance,
and into their room. It smelt of sweet tea.
“That scent,” Andy said to me. “It’s the Eau de Toilette. Rose.
The Afghans insist we spray it on their guys.”
“Don’t worry though Arthur,” Tom added on my other side.
“You’ll soon get used to it. We did.”
And then they laughed. Not for themselves
but for me, I could tell. And they carried on talking too,
chatting me through all they’d do,
as they put what they’d found of me onto a shelf,
saying “sorry it’s so cold Arthur”,
which it was, like a fridge.
Then they said “sleep well” before sliding it shut.
My first night of three in Rose Cottage.

I saw them again just before I left.
When they slid me out into the light again,
still passing the time of day
as they placed me in the coffin
that would carry me home.
Always calling me by name.
“Not long now Arthur.”
“You’ll be back in no time.”
Gently, they lowered the lid
then, like two maids making a bed,
they unfolded, smoothed and checked for snags,
before draping me in the colours of the flag.

– Owen Sheers

Self Portrait

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace,  even
the gods speak of God.

– David Whyte

Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Return to Vienna

Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn,
or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me….
– The Heiligenstadt Testament

Three miles from my adopted city
lies a village where I came to peace.
The world there was a calm place,
even the great Danube no more
than a pale ribbon tossed onto the landscape
by a girl’s careless hand. Into this stillness

I had been ordered to recover.
The hills were gold with late summer;
my rooms were two, plus a small kitchen,
situated upstairs in the back of a cottage
at the end of the Herrengasse.
From my window I could see onto the courtyard
where a linden tree twined skyward —
leafy umbilicus canted toward light,
warped in the very act of yearning —
and I would feed on the sun as if that alone
would dismantle the silence around me.

At first I raged. Then music raged in me,
rising so swiftly I could not write quickly enough
to ease the roiling. I would stop
to light a lamp, and whatever I’d missed —
larks flying to nest, church bells, the shepherd’s
home-toward-evening song — rushed in, and I
would rage again.

I am by nature a conflagration;
I would rather leap
than sit and be looked at.
So when my proud city spread
her gypsy skirts, I reentered,
burning towards her greater, constant light.

Call me rough, ill-tempered, slovenly — I tell you,
every tenderness I have ever known
has been nothing
but thwarted violence, an ache
so permanent and deep, the lightest touch
awakens it. . . . It is impossible

to care enough. I have returned
with a second Symphony
and 15 Piano Variations
which I’ve named Prometheus,
after the rogue Titan, the half-a-god
who knew the worst sin is to take
what cannot be given back.

I smile and bow, and the world is loud.
And though I dare not lean in to shout
Can’t you see that I’m deaf? —
I also cannot stop listening.

– Rita Dove


I used to think the land
had something to say to us,
back when wildflowers
would come right up to your hand
as if they were tame.
Sooner or later, I thought,
the wind would begin to make sense
if I listened hard
and took notes religiously.
That was spring.
Now I’m not so sure:
the cloudless sky has a flat affect
and the fields plowed down after harvest
seem so expressionless,
keeping their own counsel.
This afternoon, nut tree leaves
blow across them
as if autumn had written us a long letter,
changed its mind,
and tore it into little scraps.

– Don Thompson

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

– Phillip Larkin

the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line

The inclusion of Poetry in my first blog was something I was a bit ambivalent about. I sat on the edge for quite a while before taking the plunge. In retrospect other people’s verse was one of the better parts of Goodbye Albatross. This is more or less what i wrote the first time around:

I’ve been debating with myself about adding a new category to Goodbye Albatross, a tag reserved just for Poetry.
The world of Art today is the world of the egotist. Painting, Film, Music, Performance all seem to be at the mercy of the appropriatonists. Post-modernism is the thugs life; the argument that is won by yelling over the top of everyone else. Much of what proclaims itself as modern leaves me feeling deflated. Conned, cold and cheated! But Poetry, good Poetry can stand like a bulwark against the theft that passes itself off as creativity. Perhaps it’s the abysmal hand that poetry has been dealt. So diminished in stature for so long, that it no longer seen as cool, if it is even seen at all (gone the way of the Thylacine and Mandolin Orchestras).
Which places me at odds with the 21st Century because I still see Poetry very clearly and believe it still does matter.
Yes, it is a slow conversation. I’ve read the argument that it is no longer relevant; replaced by the all too torturous lyrics of Popular music.
But as George Szirites wrote in a small but excellent article I came across in The Guardian;
“Poetry is not a pretty way of saying something straight, but the straightest way of saying something complex”.
So … (deep breath) … the whims and vagaries of popular culture be damned.
Too the arbitrators of style, whomever you may be – “go fu*k yourselves”.
My reputation come trail behind me in tatters
but poetry is going to become a regular feature of this Journal!

No such dilemma the second time round with MadeofWhite. Poetry will be appearing regularly on these pages. The plan is to drag across all of the old poems from Goodbye Albatross. Not only to clean that blog up and realign it with it’s original purpose but also because those poems were some of the best ever written and I shall enjoy reading them again.
Rosemary Dobson’s verse was the one I started with and here it is again:

Friends die one after another;
each time a dark disorder
A ceaseless banging of shutters

Upstairs there in the mind;
Beating of wings, loud weather
Days, nights together

To force on the mind order:
Journeys taken on maps,
Attentive delving into

The roots of language.
A search for the true invention
Of form by line in drawing.

Also renewal of linen –
Keeping the old customs
Putting sides to middles.

Thus, mind and hand stilled
And with a gentler grief
To draw down the blind

The white holland blind
Like a banner of love
Against that wild confusion.

– Rosemary Dobson.

That poem found me as a clipping snipped out of the Sydney Morning Herald 30 years ago.
I think it stuck with me because of the echoes of ‘Becket’ in that “draw down the blind” stanza.
However I don’t want to be starting a new with something old. So here is where I’ll start this time around:


From other
angles the
fibers look
fragile, but
not from the
spider’s, always
hauling coarse
ropes, hitching
lines to the
best posts
possible. It’s
heavy work
fighting sag,
winching up
give. It
isn’t ever
to live.

Kay Ryan.