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Critics Nightwatch -- Gwen Harwood

Guest poem sent in by Michelle Chapman
(Poem #1399) Critics Nightwatch
 Once more he tried, before he slept,
 to rule his ranks of words. They broke
 from his planned choir, lolled, slouched and kept
 their tone, their pitch, their meaning crude;
 huddled in cliches; when pursued
 turned with mock elegance to croak

 his rival's tunes. They would not sing.
 The scene that nagged his sleep away
 flashed clear again: the local king
 of verse, loose-collared and loose-lipped.
 read from a sodden manuscript,
 drinking with anyone who'd pay,

 drunk, in the critic's favourite bar.
 "Hear the voice of the bard!" he bellowed,
 "Poets are lovers. Critics are
 mean, solitary masturbators.
 Come here, and join the warm creators."
 The critic, whom no drink had mellowed,

 turned on his heel. Rough laughter scoured
 his reddening neck. The poet roared
 "Run home, and take that face that soured
 your mother's lovely milk from spite.
 Piddle on what you cannot write."
 At home alone the critic poured

 gall on the poet's work in polished
 careful prose. He tore apart
 meaning and metaphor, demolished
 diction, syntax, metre, rhyme;
 called his entire works a crime
 against the integrity of art,

 and lay down grinning, quick, he thought,
 with a great poem that would make plain
 his power to all. Once more he fought
 with words. Sleep came. He dreamed he turned
 to a light vapour, seeped and burned
 in wordless cracks where grain on grain

 of matter grated; reassumed
 his human shape, and called by name
 each grain to sing, conducting, plumed
 in lightning, their obedient choir.
 Dressed as a bride for his desire
 towards him, now meek, the poet came.

 Light sneaked beside his bed. The birds
 began their insistent questioning
 of silence, and the poet's words
 prompted by daylight rasped his raw
 nerves, and the waking world he saw
 was flat with prose and would not sing.
-- Gwen Harwood
For me this poem captures the ineffable magic of poetry - that no matter how
desperately you try, it will not be forced. It may fool others but the
writer will always be aware of the gap between the object and the ideal.

We see the critic dissecting the poet's work with clinical precision yet
failing to pin down the spark of life. This inspires him - he is certain he
can do better - and in his dreams he does. The illusion is fleeting. He
wakes to find his mundane self unchanged, unmagical. His prose is polished
and careful. He cannot share in the carefree drunken flights of poesy and
yet he yearns to do so... I believe anyone who appreciates poetry has
moments like this - where the absolute delight of a poem's song in your
heart cannot quite shoulder aside your jealousy - why can't I write like
that???

There are several ways to read the poem - was Gwen reacting to criticism of
her own poems by mocking the critic... was she sympathising with those of us
who can never quite seem to pin down that spark (those who can, write, those
who can't, criticise).... or was she exploring two different aspects of her
own personality as a writer???

Schelle

PS. Here are some biographies of Gwen Harwood:
[broken link] http://dargo.vicnet.net.au/ozlit/writers.cfm?id=346
http://tarnish.net/gwen.html

Unfortunately her poems are under-represented on the Internet.

34 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Chellappa Mallika (Mallika) said...

Sorry - I could not resist this

Testers Nightwatch
Once more he tried, before he slept,
to rule his ranks of cases. They leapt
from his test plans, uncouth and inept,
out of their test harnesses; crude;
huddled in invariants; when pursued
turned with mock elegance to intrude

upon his state machines. They would not run!
The scenario that nagged his sleep undone
flashed clear again: of obfuscation
the coder was the king; the geek, unkempt,
Making , it seemed, a last attempt
To show his enduring contempt,

For testers! in the tester's cubicle.
Bereft of manners, not a particle,
"this Tester is like a barnacle
clinging to the software ship
Always shooting from the hip"
Shouted he, with slobbering lip.

The tester reared his head. Rough laughter
Turned his stiff neck red
And the coder said thereafter:
"Run home, and take that plan with you
You break what you can never do.
The only good tester is a dead

One". The tester worked with a will
He tore apart the module, unit,
Worked with might and main to kill
The program - pure as driven snow.
For the coder had proved, you know,
Of decency he'd not a whit.

All through tha day and night he worked
From his plan, his fsm, his driver and stub
Never before had he felt so irked
By a program that failed to succumb
To his art; Then at dawn, he was nearly struck dumb,
Had he found a defect? Or was there a rub?

Once more he studied the scenario
And his model, his state machine
He'd worked it out in Columbus, Ohio
He'd worked at it in Aberdeen
He'd worked at it eating his chow mein
And now it was his, he could preen!

He pored over it - it really was perfect.
To the Project Manager he went.
To ask if he had found a defect.
Said He, who'd ne'er a tough job shirk
You're right the function does not work,
But, guy, that's the problem statement".

-- Mallika Chellappa

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