Michael Farrell: When Arse is Class

  Michael Farrell

  When Arse Is Class, or

  Australian Poetry

Bending over in forever shorts, Australian poetry
can remind us more of a country and western song
than a rap: its urbanity’s been overrated. A rock
dove drops a straw, plastic admittedly, and flies
off in a huff, no nesting today. The muse has gone
and left me and the wifi won’t connect, they’ll
find me floating in that billabong. For example
Mary had a little sheep station, and when it died
she was painted holding it in her lap, like a mon-
opoly set ruined by an overflowing washing ma-
chine. Sometimes a poem’s problems stare us in
the face, like it’s talking to the police about bud-
gies, who rarely cause a disturbance, even when
out of their cage, high on fermented seed and pre-
tending to be bigger, uglier and scarier. Enough
birds? You can’t laugh till you’ve heard a crow
looking down on your pram below, while you re-
fuse to share the view. But you do, anyway. The
love of the shonky, and the daggy, dares to speak
its name in diction, in line, and even in Quatrain
a once notorious Sydney suburb. Surf’s up as they
say in the hotels along the coast. Perth’s sharks are
part of it, Albany’s whales are part of it, but that’s
a human-sized perspective: better to talk of sharks’
Perth and whales’ Albany, or wildflowers’ Albany
and bicycles’ Carlton. There they drink more bikes
than they do espresso. That’s where I go when some
poetry hater kicks my wheel and slashes my tyres
through, and brake cables, well it only happens once
and the tragedy is I’m stronger than the vandals and
don’t move back to St Petersburg after all, but leave
my teapot and lights in Fitzroy and get a spare stanza
in Watson, Canberra, where I can hear the galahs
more clearly. Well no one can sum up Australia
or its poetry, so we’ll just keep riding along till one
of us conks out. I’ve never been to Darwin, so I
don’t know how beautiful it is. But I look out the
window at the light and there’s the air that owns
us all, coloured blue and gold and smelling like an
unwashed sand company that hasn’t paid their
yachting tax. A company’s too complete to be a
person. A company doesn’t know what a koala is
Fur has depth, something it takes a life to realise
A rank feather falls out of a garbage truck’s back-
side, like it wants poets to keep up with the landfill
But that hasn’t been possible since the Romantics
I know what you’re thinking. Your mouth stencils
the grain of the atmosphere like you’re a band of
rubber gloves gone wrong. I was born in a tent so
I can’t close the sugar bag, and when it rains I get
all lamington devotional. I get all gumleaf dis-
positional and build a canoe from scratch, like I’m
a pastry chef and the weather’s a TV audience
Well, the bush is a kind of orchestra if you’ve ever
seen one of those looking for a public toilet on St
Kilda Road at twilight? And getting confused by
the dazzle of the artificial waterfalls and the coins
thrown by tourists who probably think all our animals
are aquatic anyway? And if you press your ear a-
gainst the Opera House you can hear Uluru they
reckon, but their mother was a big lump of cement
in Goulburn and their father was likely a bottle of
strychnine. There used to be Aboriginal shepherds
in the district to play cards with, but they all left
for casino pastures and now there’s just a servo feat-
uring red, hurting numbers on a sign. The radio
station plays Rimbaud and Mallarmé by request
you can probably guess who’s called in, and the
black and white nuns sing, Walter de la Mare, de
la Mare. He will not be rooned as long as we keep
Australian poetry off the air, but if we hide it the
kids will find it and love it the more, all the better
for not having it smeared on their bread every mor-
ning. ‘Alice Springs Eternal’ is a song on You-
Tube: I was the third view. Christopher Brennan
was never considered reading matter for Simon
and Garfunkel, and Dorothea Mackellar danced for
the horses in Trafalgar Square, but nobody cared
No more socialites and no more sun-done postcards
for us they said, yeah? But she understood the code
and sneered straight back, and they were retired ear-
ly due to a word she had in the Horsemaster
General’s ear later that year. She was only trying
to talk to Gordon’s bones with her shoes she told
reporters when it all came out. The lyrebird will be
the last to care if you steal its song, it has millennia
of practice ahead of you; you will never outdo its
show and if a fancy instrument was fashioned after
its tail, let the newfangled bloom with the old (even
the whisper of its feet sing cut and paste, cut and
paste). Poetry is cheap and will fly to the moon if
it thinks it can get free rent. The Berlin moon to be
precise. Poetry knows it can know too much, and
it takes a lot of toe-dipping and staring into the faces
of mullet to realise that education’s a way of accu-
mulating holes and string and practice in tying knots
in everything. Like my grandmother said, give a fox
a choc laxative and read your own chooks lullabies
by poetry’s matriarchs. The world mightn’t turn
into heaven’s embassy, but it might improve. Imagine
eggs, speckled tenderly, with fox-written poetry

Michael Farrell’s recent books are Cocky’s Joy and Writing Australian Unsettlement: Modes of Poetic Invention 1796-1945. He edits Flash Cove magazine and co-wrote the Dick Diver single Waste the Alphabet.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.