Friday, October 12, 2007

Introduction to Austin

First posted June 2006

I woke at 6.30am, my usual waking time at home, but lay in bed luxuriously until 8.30. ‘I don’t do jetlag,’ I told people in response to solicitous enquiries over the next couple of days.

Halfway through the morning, Neil — snapped here at a poetry reading a few nights later — knocked on the door and suggested we go to a local restaurant for lunch. Dorsey was away a few days in connection with her work. I saw her
photo in ‘my’ quarters and warmed to her wide smile, which lit her eyes as well.

They had originally offered me the use of one of their cars but when I saw their big four-wheel-drives I declined. The thought of managing something that big in a strange city, driving on what was for me the wrong side of the road, was too daunting — though I kept forgetting I was in America and heading for the driver’s side of people’s cars. I thought I would get around in buses and taxis. I hadn't counted on the splendid Texan sense of hospitality, which meant that the poets I met there all regarded themselves as my hosts, and between them arranged to drive me everywhere. They were so gracious about it, it was only later that it sank in how pampered I was.

On our way to lunch, Neil pointed out the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, with over 130 sculptures, drawings & paintings by Charles Umlauf (1911-1944). I glimpsed a number of the garden sculptures. Neil, who was originally from Canada, had never been inside. We agreed we’d go check it out some time before I went home. I was so busy with other engagements that this never happened, but after I got home I found the website with detailed photos of every sculpture — works ranging in style ‘from realistic and abstract expressionism to lyrical abstraction’. Now I want more than ever to visit it if I return to Austin, to see these wonderful pieces in three dimensions.

Lunch was good — the first of many excellent Texas meals. There may be Texans who live on junk food, but everywhere I went the food was both healthy and tasty. There’s a strong Mexican influence, and many places serve Tex Mex, the popular local adaptation.

Neil was easy to talk to and soon felt like an old friend. He told me about Dorsey’s Voice Dialogue work, which involves interacting with various parts of the self. Neil has also trained in this and assists with her teaching.

That evening we were invited to drinks and nibbles at Patricia Fiske’s, another Austin poet to whom Thom had introduced me via email. There I also met poets John Hawke and Eric Fredlund, and Patricia’s neighbour Kathleen. Patricia wanted to hear people’s latest poems, and graciously suggested that, as the guest, I should go first. I was taken by surprise as I didn’t have my book with me, but thought I could do something from memory. ‘Do you want a rude one or a polite one?’ I asked. They opted for rude, naturally, and I launched into my famous C*** poem
— a four-letter word meaning female genitalia, just in case you haven't figured it out — only to forget what came after the third line. How embarrassing! I’d had two glasses of wine by then, which was enough to make me go blank. (Always a cheap drunk.)

I did my Volkswagen piece instead, which I could probably recite in my sleep. In Australia it’s been done to death but in Texas there was a whole new audience for it and it went over well.


It’s just like one of those weeds
that swallows insects.
And it’s hungry! It seeks to feed.
I’ll swear it reaches out with its big side-flaps
and stretches and sucks —
you can hear the air retreat
in front of its jet funnel,
its ruching of in-drawn petals.
It puckers to an arch kiss,
pouts, plops like a fish,
flops to a loose pocket.
It gapes, it salivates, it wants your juices.
You tickle its hairy leaves and it gasps —
you are so pretty.
You are a winged thing,
and here is this coarse slobberer —
stop, take pity!
Only stroke it. Watch how it widens.
Oh yes — it’s sticky! It grasps, fastens,
clamps: magnet.
And the fierce little eye in the middle
goes red, goes wild, throbs blindly, sizzles.

Bites, tightens till you shrivel.

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 1974
from Universe Cat, Pariah Press (Melb.) 1985
First published (earlier version) Compass

The Day We Lost The Volkswagen

During a momentary lull in her head,
the poor old thing lost her grip.
The boat she was towing towed her instead
ponderously down the slip.
backwards into the water.

For a swirling moment she almost floated,
she thought of setting sail.
But her bum tilted, her britches bloated —
she was heavy in the tail —
and the sly seaweed caught her.

I thought even then she might make a try
(she seemed to be righting her flank)
but she spun gravely, one eye on the sky,
gave a dignified splutter and sank.
The sea frothed briefly.

I don’t know — she wasn’t the kind to drift,
much less come apart at the seams.
But the sails and the clouds that day had a lift,
and perhaps she had some dreams.
It was a damn nuisance, chiefly.

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 1974
from Universe Cat, Pariah Press (Melb.) 1985
First published Nation Review.
Also in:
A Second Australian Poetry Book for Children, Oxford
Secondary English Book 3, Macmillan
Off the Record, Penguin
Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets.
Secret Leopard: New and selected poems 1974-2005,
Alyscamps Press (Paris) 2005

1 comment:

  1. "Poetry tour of Texas: Introduction to Austin"
    1 Comment - Show Original Post

    Collin said...

    Good to see the blog is up and running...and of course to read your work! I'm adding a link to my blog. Hope you're well. :)

    1:27 PM