Sydney poets on the Australian Psyche

War and Peace: To End All Wars

Sydney poets come together with poems from the anthology, To End All Wars. This title reflects the hopeful, triumphal spirit during ‘The Great War’, suggesting that this might be the last war of all. These words remind us today that armed conflict is always a possibility, a social catastrophe threatening world peace.  This anthology was launched in October 2018 to celebrate the centenary of the Great War 1914 ─ 1918. The poetry addresses the legacy and influence of Anzac Day on the Australian psyche.

Poets from diverse backgrounds responded to the call. Some were inspired by family memories of loss and sacrifice: others from personal experiences in new wars. Poems from Turkish Australians speak of remembered conflicts and the problems they face adjusting to the ‘Anzac Spirit’! The poetry varies from a focus on the ‘Gallipoli’ conflict and its legacy to looking beyond war to a future peace.  

The presentation was to have been an event reading on the inaugural Poetry Sydney poetry festival program, 10-12 April 2020, and curated by Brenda Saunders. It now has a digital platform as a four week showcase.

Poets include: Seher AYDINLIK / Margaret Bradstock / Anna Couani / Kit Kelen / Andy Kissane / Chris Mansell / Norm Neill / Les Wicks

P O E M S

Our country Australia
Is going through bushfires
A very difficult time for us
Our biggest forests have burned down in
And around Australia
Now I am crying, you are crying,
we are crying
For our beautiful country Australia

Some people have awaySome people are injured
Most animals have passed away
Most animals are injured
Many houses destroyed
I am very upset
People are very upset
Animals are very upset
Now I am crying, you are crying, we are crying
For our beautiful country Australia

Now our beautiful country is going through bushfires
Most people can not easily see a doctor
Many people can not easily find a remedy
It’s a very difficult time for our country
Most animals can not find babies and mums and helps
Now I am crying, you are crying, we are crying
For our beautiful country Australia

I love so much our beautiful country Australia
I am very worried about bushfires
I am very worried about our lovely animals
I am very worried for the humans
I am very worried for all the greens
I pray that soon all green come back again
I’m very worried for our air
Smelling not clean
Now I am crying, you are crying, we are crying 
For our beautiful country Australia

Our beautiful country is Going through bushfires
People ask each other
“Are the bushfires over?”
There is no answer…
Now I am crying, you are crying, we are crying
For our beautiful country AUSTRALIA

Seher AYDINLIK
NOW WE ARE CRYING

So this is glory, the chance to die
for your country on some foreign beach
             only we didn’t think of dying
but of mateship, the siren call to arms,
to return like heroes, triumphant
             the war all over in a rifle’s flash.

Training in Egypt, we knew ourselves
        invincible, repelled a Turkish drive
to cut the Suez Canal, our cannon fire
annihilating distant enemy,
           then partied on like gods, enjoying
good coffee, bad liquor, the women.

Gallipoli was a different story,
part of Churchill’s plan to clear a route
        through to Russia, attacking Turkish
defence posts west of the Dardanelles.
But the current took our boats north,
    and the landing was in the wrong place.

The landmarks just weren’t there, instead
a vertical cliff rising from a narrow beach
           like an ancient crusader stronghold.
We scaled those cliffs, using bayonets
       as climbing aids, most of our regiment
gunned down in the mounting. The Generals,

Bridges and Godley, recommended withdrawal,
but Hamilton replied, There is nothing for it
but to dig  yourselves right in, and stick it out.
       So we did, digging trenches, building walls
of sandbags, lobbing grenades across this arid
                                             no-man’s-land.

A ceasefire gives both sides the chance to bury
their dead, the stench of decaying corpses
now unbearable. Soldiers from both armies walk
     together, searching for living men among the bodies.
We can’t talk each others’ lingo but exchange names, 
photographs of wives and sweethearts, share a cigarette.

Johnny Turk is not the fiend of wartime propaganda
         just another soldier, as miserable and exhausted
as ourselves. Then the flags of truce come down
and battle begins again. Sometimes we play games
            a slouch hat or Ottoman helmet on a stick
raised high enough to draw laconic fire.

But light up a cigarette at curfew
              you’ll get your head blown off.
Lone Pine is worse, the loneliest place on earth.
Like one long grave, only some of us
were still alive in it. By December we beat
                    an honourable retreat from this muddle

of indecisiveness. It was cold when we stepped
          into a small steamboat at nearby North Beach
leaving Gallipoli to the Turks. During the subterfuge
of our evacuation, I found Mustafa’s wallet trampled
             in battlefield mud, his photographs −
my friend, the enemy.

Margaret Bradstock
My friend, the enemy                      
– Gallipoli, 1915.

Ξ

my Polish grandfather refused to volunteer
in The Great War
said it was an unnecessary war
long before the Lusitania evidence
some kind of understatement
spoke English with a Scots accent
happily contradicted patriotic Aussies
in the town

his father had been teaching Polish
in the Russian partition of Poland
and exiled inside the country
the place was a mess
well the war cleared that up

Stefan age 15
set out with nothing before the war
tripping through Europe
and ending up in Scotland
came under the influence of Bolsheviks
somewhere
in the days of The Wobblies

ended up in Australia
in that small town
where I remember
a pathetic granite wall
with names of the dead
carved and with gold leaf

the lines of Dawe so apt
“the spider grief
swings in his bitter geometry”
about the Vietnam war
and that pointlessness
and periodically, sadly
after Anzac Day or Armistice Day
I guess
a pathetic wreath would appear
wilting in the blazing sun
across from the railway station
where Grandpa, alive
waited in his taxi on the taxi rank
and behind that in the park
we swung on the tall swings
in the cold emptiness

Anna Couani
Grandpa alive

Ξ

voice of the soldier settler

the hey dad years are all away
and now the work’s

among trees of my truth
each animal telling

you could be with them some days
down the back I mean, where it’s scraggly

all up with the sky, you could imagine
we were the first… that no one had ever lost this land

you’d think it had drifted to us in a dream
as in when we weren’t looking

God, why are we here in paradise?
why must we leave so soon?

nowhere to go but that single uncertainty
one proof lacking against all that is known

in the orchard, at the place of the fountain
sweet waters run with the stairs

a trench for blood and the ghosts will come
all these years from Ilium

the war still in your head
look up through branches so you see

we followed orders
brave death we are

isn’t this any-sky our flag?
all unfamiliar stars

because our skins
are like a song

and that was just the trouble
how we were faithful to a fault

and couldn’t see the you for me
but now – as one ghost to another

let us sit to tea together
I haven’t got your language

I read your face as you read mine
take my hand, take your end

of the conversation
we won’t have need of words

Kit Kelen
after Gallipoli     

Ξ

Each day in hospital I wake
to a reading from The Book of Screams.
It comes, apparently, from the bathroom
situated two-thirds of the way along the hall.
No one talks while the screams linger.
I pass the time by counting in my head.
Thirty-five. Seventy-two. One hundred
and nine. Two hundred and thirty-one.
The screams are high-pitched and continuous,
as if she has been chosen for her ability
to hold the note, to produce abrasive chords
when her lungs must be almost airless and empty.
The ruckus shakes the thin partition around my bed,
it rattles the cups and saucers in the kitchen,
and threatens to shatter the high frosted panes
of glass that leach feeble light onto the floorboards.

At midday and again in the evening I reluctantly
listen to recitals from The Book of Screams.
Afterwards, the ward is sombre with silence.
By the third day, I cannot bear it any longer,
I leave my game of solitaire and march down
the corridor to see for myself, drawn to
the noise the way iron filings are attracted
to magnetic north. Two nurses cradle
a young girl, supine, in a bathtub.
Her eyes are closed, her lips collapse
into an involuntary O that corresponds
to the coordinates of her mouth. Her skin,
though I am not sure you can still call
it that, is the black of newly laid bitumen.

Impossible to comprehend agony—
to understand how one scream seems
to necessitate another, to grasp how a voice
can travel over rice paddies and rubber plantations,
under jungle canopies and down boulevards
resplendent with French architecture, before lifting
into the flying arches and buttresses of the mind,
until we are all dwelling in a cathedral of screams
whose substantial form cries out for mercy.

But I have no mercy to give. I gaze
in dumb horror at her right leg, where
the white ghost of her femur shines
through murky water, at the charred
oozing mess of a knee. Her body is
no more than a diaphanous veil hanging between this world and the next.

Later, they tell me about the morning
of the bombing and its aftermath.
Now, when I hear the word napalm,
I remember that girl’s face,
her eyes opening as I turn
to leave, her raw cries staying
with me and spiralling outwards,
forever travelling, like radio waves
rolling end over end
into the windless chasms of space.

Andy Kissane
The Book of Screams

Ξ

do what I say
and you will be free

do what I say
exactly
and you will be free

love me
and you will be free

love me and only me
this way
and you will be free

vote this way
and you will be free

spend this way
incur & repay debt
this way
and you will be free

you in the deserts
you will be free

follow my lead freely
and you will be free

hate these
fight these
and you will be free

work this way
at this time
in this place
in this manner
without complaint
and you will be free

kill these
and you will be free

wear this
and you will be free

suffer and believe
and you will be free

think this way
vote this way
criticise this way
and you will be free

spend and dream
this way
and you will be free

rebel and wear your hair
this way
and you will be free

lie down lie down
of your own accord
and you will be free

give up all thought
of justice
and you will
you will
I promise you
be free

Chris Mansell
the general becomes

Ξ

We didn’t really know what war was; we just presumed
that everybody had one. We weren’t quite sure which way
was east or west but knew exactly where the planes
that grown-ups called the bombers flew. We listened
to the sirens wailing in the nearby town and counted time
between the bangs. We didn’t understand why people
said we shouldn’t wave to soldiers dressed in long grey coats
passing by with others dressed in brown and holding guns,
and did it anyway.

According to the time of year,
we built fat snowmen, danced around a maypole, plaited
daisy chains, picked blackberries on the edges of a field
or jumped on piles of swept-up leaves. And then one day
the bangs and wailing stopped and men appeared in houses
where they’d never been before and children had to call them
dad. We grasped that life had changed, promised to be friends
when we were sent to school and, in our special corner
by the chestnut tree, we talked about the good old days.

Norm Neill
aged four

Ξ

In every county town they wait, watch
behind lace windows, fear the final news
from Gallipoli. There is no hearse draped
with the national flag, no last salute ―
for the sacrifice made for King and Country
No need for cold meats spread at a wake

Absence is now the public face of loss

The scent of rosemary lingers as women
move through empty rooms. Their skirts
shuffle, stiff as crow’s wings. A beady eye
gleams from black jet worn at the throat
a healing stone known to hold ancient fire
rekindles the heart after embers have died

Above the hearth, a young man stands
ready to fight for King and Empire, his cap 
worn with pride, his portrait

— father, brother, son wreathed in black
                                   *            
In every Marmara village, old men sit
silently in taverns, watch the smoke rise
from the cannon fire. Travellers accept
ritza and meze, speak in hushed voices
— of invasion, sacrifice. Thousands of
lives lost defending the Turkish Empire

and the list of casualties from Çanakkale

In back rooms women fear the news
wait for the real war to reach inside 
the family, make widows of young girls
They weep, throw off their brocades
and beads, wear sorrow as a dark cloak 
weighed down with feeling.

There is no coffin to follow in the street
no public place for them to weep, grieve
for a husband, son, the soldier lost

— for men buried on a hillside at Gelibolu

Brenda Saunders          Gallipoli: Gelibolu                                                                                                                             

Ξ

Terry. Vietnam.
That word is enough, they
cured the cancer. Big deal.
With his Seniors Card rode the bus to pick up Nembutal.
For years he felt there was magic yet in his world, plus
he lived near the beach.

Friends will be there
but by obligation “not there” –
this loving called death must legally be done in solitude.
Booked into the Sunshine Motel.

He belongs to a group that helps their members live & die.
Never too much pain, nor much joy
he remembers the boy he was
& apologises at the air.

Medicine can be tougher than the patient.
Lost his way at Falldown Bay.
Never too much pain.
Those who cared flapped about him pesky precious,
orbited his damage for years.

There were pinnacles in his life.
Marlene & her hippy dresses,
she could tea away apocalypse.
Cowboyhat Hannah just got to scootin’
as Daisy went & flowered straight out of the garden.
It’s not that it matters, small tears
in an old t-shirt. They were all so piss-weak
& twice as strong as him.

Not a dole bludger,
that pride above disability.
Mate/employer Davo reckons
he can’t cope without him
(should never have been a builder anyway).
Davo whinges a lot, reckons he’s just a man
fighting depression, custody, bankruptcy but
he  never served.
Terry served, knew a few miracles.
Still shrugs, thinks big deal.

Slipping away, this day
people will drop by around 7pm, check there’s no pulse.
The road to well is sometimes a dead end.
Call box notification to police, because those
hard-pressed cleaning staff aren’t paid enough for bodies.
Terry will be honoured, a forward scout again, trailblazing
in the territories beyond hurt.

Les Wicks
The Love-It-Till-You-Don’t Club, Kingscliff

To End All Wars

Editors:
Dael Allison
Anna Couani
Kit Kelen
Les Wicks

Publisher: Puncher & Wattman 2018
$29.95
ISBN: 9781925780277

Online purchases:
https://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/to-end-all-wars

All rights are reserved and poetry is copyright.  No part may be reproduced by any process without permission. Enquiries should be made to the publisher Puncher & Wattmann.

P O E T S

Seher Aydinlik was born in 1953 in Turkey and arrived in Australia in 1991. Visual art practice and writing poems were a big part of her life from a young age. During her earlier years as a child care teacher, encouraged and shared her love of art with many children to enrich their creativity. Since 2005 she has been an active member of the Auburn Artist’s Network, sharing her expression of art in many exhibitions as well as volunteering in various roles for the Network. Seher is closely linked to the Auburn community both through her Turkish heritage and as an active artist expressing her creativity and passion in areas such as culture, religion, nature and environment. She has recently won a professional development award for her art work named ‘World Within and World Without’. She is also a much-loved author of Turkish poems and has published several poetry books and CD’s in Turkey. 

Seher AYDINLIK

Margaret Bradstock  is a Sydney poet, critic and editor.  She has seven published collections of poetry, including The Pomelo Tree (winner of the Wesley Michel Wright Prize) and Barnacle Rock (winner of the Woollahra Festival Award, 2014). Editor of Antipodes: poetic responses to ‘settlement’ (2011) and Caring for Country, she won the national Earth Hour poetry competition in 2014, and the Banjo Paterson Award in both 2014 and 2015. Brief Garden is her latest collection published by Puncher Wattmann, 2019.

Margaret Bradstock

Anna Couani is a Sydney teacher, writer and visual artist and has degrees in architecture, art education and TESOL. She also studied Fine Arts, painting (Western & Chinese), video production, photography, sculpture, printmaking and music. She worked as an art teacher for 30 years, mostly in Intensive English Centres in Sydney and more recently for 10 years, as an ESL teacher in high school. She also gave adult creative writing classes at Parramatta TAFE and Bankstown Library.

Anna Couani

Andy Kissane lives in Sydney and writes poetry and fiction. He has published a novel, a book of short stories, The Swarm, and five books of poetry. His latest book is The Tomb of the Unknown Artist (Puncher & Wattmann, 2019). He was joint winner of ABR’s 2019 Peter Porter Prize for Poetry. His fourth collection, Radiance, was shortlisted for the Victorian and Western Australian Premier’s Prizes and the Adelaide Festival Awards. www.andykissane.com

Andy Kissane

Christopher (Kit) Kelen is a poet, painter and recovering academic, resident in the Myall Lakes of NSW. Published widely since the seventies, he has a dozen full length collections in English as well as translated books of poetry in Chinese, Portuguese, French, Italian, Spanish, Indonesian, Swedish and Filipino. His next volume of poetry is Poor Man’s Coat – Hardanger Poems, to be published by UWAP in 2018. In 2017, Kit was shortlisted twice for the Montreal Poetry Prize and won the Local Award in the Newcastle Poetry Prize. Emeritus Professor at the University of Macau, where he taught for many years, in 2017, Kit Kelen was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Malmö, in Sweden. Https://kitkelen.com/

Kit Kelen

Chris Mansell began publishing poetry in the late 1970s and her first collection, Delta, was published in 1978. She has since published some nine further collections. She has also written much short prose, a number of plays, and a children’s book, Little Wombat (1996). Her poetry is noted for its varied explorations of human relationships, philosophies and ethics.

Chris Mansell

Norm Neill poems have appeared in journals, in edited anthologies and in the Sun-Herald newspaper. He has read at various venues, including the Sydney Writers’ and Newtown festivals. He has been convenor of a weekly poetry workshop for a little under twenty years, and is a member of Youngstreet Poets.

Norm Neill

Brenda Saunders is a Wiradjuri writer and artist living in Sydney. She is an active member of FNAWN (First Nations Aboriginal Writers Network) and is a mentor for Black Cockatoo, the Emerging Indigenous Poets site at Verity La.  Brenda has written three poetry books and is completing a new manuscript ‘Inland Sea’ for publication. Her poems and reviews appear in anthologies and journals, including Australian Poetry JournalOverland, Southerly, Westerly and Plumwood Mountain. She has won several awards includingthe 2014 Scanlon Book Prize (Australian Poetry) and in 2018 the Oodgeroo Noonuccal Prize (Queensland Poetry) and the Joanne Burns Award (Spineless Wonders).

Brenda Saunders

Les Wicks has featured in numerous national and international literary festivals.  He has been published extensively in newspapers, anthologies and magazines across 29 countries in 15 languages. He is the co-founder and director of Meuse Press, an organisation publishing a range of poetry outreach projects such as the recent collection, To End All Wars, (2018) released to coincide with the centenary of the World War I Armistice.  He conducts poetry workshops throughout Australia.  His 14th book of poetry is Belief, Flying Islands, 2019.

Les Wicks