Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Iambic pentameter by Patricia Sykes

I watch myself     how I use my voice     how
much I give away     rebellion weighs
against obedience     prayer against fantasy
rote against the thrill of words that lately arrive

It was hearing a girl recite Ode to a Cabbage
that made me want to write verse myself
I hide my poems like hoarded love
the taste of secrecy is delicious (Nun-

the-Big-Irish gives the girl curry
when she catches her kissing my cheek)
now Mother-of-the-Blackboard 
proving with chalk that poetry has feet    

ˇ/ ˇ/ ˇ/ ˇ/ ˇ/
If a thing is not prayer why must it be sacrilege?
We are children of rhythm as well as of God
I am learning body worship from a girl who
walks beautifully     where else but here

could I rejoice such things?     Father,
are you listening? I'm your little exile no more
You would not know me     I am metric now
My feet are my own     how you will miss me

Posted with permission from Patricia Sykes. From: The Abbotsford Mysteries, Spinifex Press, 2011
TP editor this week: Catherine Bateson.

The Abbotsford Mysteries is a collection of poems which give voice to the complex and varied experiences of girls housed in the Abbotsford convent. As Skyes notes in her acknowledgements, the convent was divided into three 'classes' - St Jospeh's (the orphanage), St Mary's (for country girls and later for migrant girls) and the Sacred Heart (for 'wayward girls' and older women). The stories of these women, gleaned from interviews Sykes conducted with over seventy ex-residents, weave through this powerful collection. But it is also a personal narrative as Sykes and her sisters were placed in the convent after the death of their mother. The poems are vivid, intense and fierce and the language moves easily between wry intimacy and lyrical evocation borrowing its register and intensity from liturgy. You can read another poem from this collection here.

Patricia Sykes is a Melbourne-based poet and librettist. Her poems have won various prestigious Australian prizes including the Newcastle Poetry Prize. She has collaborated with Australian composer Liza Lim to create Mother Tongue, a piece for soprano and 15 instruments, and The Navigator, a chamber opera. These works have been performed both in Australia and in festivals overseas, including the Huddersfield International Contemporary Music Festival, the Festival d'Automne and the Chekhov Theatre Festival. Her two previous poetry collections, Wire Dancing and Modewarre - home ground, were both published by Spinifex Press.  

The Abbotsford Convent Foundation is now a not-for-profit organisation committed to fostering creativity, culture and learning. As well as regular events such as festivals, conferences and art and craft markets, over 100 artist studios are housed there.


Hub Editor: Catherine Bateson is a poet and writer for children and young adults. She is currently working on a novel based on her time in Paris, on an Australia Council for the Arts funded residency programme. Her most recent poetry collection, Marriage for Beginners, was published by John Leonard Press. 

Don't forget to check out the other Tuesday Poets via the sidebar - an inspirational start to the week!


Michelle Elvy said...

Thanks for sharing this poem and the commentary. I've learned so much and I found myself enjoying a wander from one link to the next, exploring poetry and music and postcards and other creative projects. I am so intrigued by the collaboration between Sykes and Liza Lim. Fascinating.

And in this poem, I really admire the challenge the poet has set up for herself: there is such strength in the rhythms and images. I love how it opens with such determination, and how the voice follows a path (poetry has feet -- marvellous!). I feel the strength in the voice and narrator growing as we progress through. And the closing is perfect -- esp "I am metric now/ My feet are my own" leading to that final hard statement.

Amazing poem and poet -- thank you.

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Mary McCallum said...

Thank you Cathy, Patricia and hub sub Michelle - for this poem. Ah some days you're moseying along and then a poem jumps up and slaps you on both cheeks - or, like the wasp that got stuck in my hair the other day, silently drills into your scalp - and this poem is one of them. So much to think about here... the stuff of poetry as something that is of the body (with its own feet) and at the same time of the spirit (a conversation with that side of ourselves ....) - and the story behind the poem and the collection it's from is inspiring too... Brilliant! (Better head off on my walk now and will avoid the wasps' nest ... had enough drilling in my scalp for one day!)

Rethabile said...

Quite startling in imagery, and the cadence makes it a good pleasure to read. A good gift for the morning with coffee brewing and the weekend looming.

Cherie said...

I really enjoyed this poem! I am a huge fan of free verse poetry and I found this poem very insightful, especially in your first stanza. I started my own blog about free verse poetry and in it I touch upon the idea that how we, as poets, use words and think about how to write a poem is both wonderful and sometimes taxing. Go check it out for yourself! http://poetryfreefromconvention.wordpress.com/