A Labour of Love Continues to be Cherished

gallipoli soldiers.jpeg

On Thursday evening, my sister Cate and I caught the train to North Williamstown to attend the launch of The Sons of Williamstown – ‘A Labour of Love’ – the completion of a project funded under the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program.

Sons of Williamstown - VIP Invitation.jpg

We received the invitation after establishing a connection last October, with the two historians researching the projectLindy Wallace and Loraine Callow. Lindy had read my blog post on discovering a relative who was an ANZAC . He came from Williamstown and  she emailed me about their project and we shared information. I had no idea there was an Honour Board with photographs of the 265 men who died in WW1 and a photograph of the elusive George.

Honour Board

George Alexander McInnes is one of the ‘Sons of Williamstown‘, Lindy and Loraine were tracing to make the men who died more than a photograph imprisoned in glass. Their labour of love ‘to conserve, research, document and share the many stories behind the faces on the Williamstown Town Hall Honour Board.’


Thursday evening, a culmination of months of diligence, perseverance, exhausting days, sleepless nights and tears for  the researchers.  I also met Emma Ciolli who worked on the website and she admitted the project had been emotionally draining because most of the men were so young and the grief and loss felt by families and friends still palpable.

Five of the stories are short films on Youtube, but the others each have a page and it is hoped more information will be gathered over time with the exposure of the Internet.

the hardworking team happy
Loraine and Lindy flanked by the website team Riana and Emma.

Lindy’s email last year reveals her wonderful commitment and dedication to discovering more about the 265 men:

We’ve been able to confirm and identify all but 6-7 of them so far.  Because of the number of people involved, we early on decided mainly to stick to documenting service details and then expand on five stories, making them into little videos.  Oh but Mairi we’ve come across some truly beautiful and moving stories and would like to share as many personal stories as possible.  Only two weeks ago someone brought in their relatives diaries for us to read and copy.  Very moving to read his inner thoughts.  He was a poet and wrote a lot of his thoughts in verse (sound familiar?).

Our aim, like you with George, is to make the men more than just a number on their service dossiers and a name on an honour board.  All the while though we’ve been conscious that the stories of the men belong to their families; they’re not our stories and we don’t want to appropriate them.

Poor George McInnes – enteric fever was  terrible and was suffered by a huge number of men at Gallipoli because of the appalling sanitary conditions.  I recently read correspondence from a man describing the conditions to his family – they must have been horrified.

The above images from from The Spirit of Anzac Exhibition affected me deeply because I know there were not enough nurses or resources to cope with the injured or sick of Gallipoli. In Alexandria, where George died, hotels and other buildings were commandeered for the wounded – even the roof of the hospital.

There were two wards with 100 patients each and a ‘small’ ward with anything between 50-250 patients! The workload overwhelming with too few nurses working until they were numbed to not think too deeply of what was happening around them.

Nurses write of the stench of death and putrid wounds. Uniforms covered in blood and excrement, kits and bodies stank, soldiers unbathed, uniforms in shreds, no antiseptics, wounds remaining undressed, only cold water, kero tins converted to foot baths, fly blown wounds and amputations, men so ill beyond nursing… ‘one loses all sight of honour and glory’- these women dealt with the saddest part of the war and yet had to keep a professional detachment.

The manufactured and sanitised newspaper reports have to be read with caution – the primary sources Lindy and Loraine uncovered will be invaluable for future generations of researchers – if harrowing reading for descendants. I weep for fear George died alone and unattended.

No wonder Lindy and Loraine took so many of the stories to heart.

However, with the website up and running and the photographs and Honour Board lovingly restored I’m sure Lindy and Loraine will be looking to devote their amazing expertise and time to another historical project – after a well-earned rest!

research and planning board
A project in the planning

Australia’s fascination with Anzacs and World War One does not seem to diminish – in fact it is growing each year. I know there are many in the community uncomfortable with the money spent on celebrating last year’s centenary but I’m glad I played a small part in the success of this project. George Alexander McInnes was 19 years old and like so many others his future was stolen. Evidence that they lived, worked, and left a family who grieved reminds us the cost of war is always too high.

statistics of war dead
A display in Spirit of Anzac Exhibition – another project funded last year.

Postcards from Gallipoli by Mairi Neil

He survived the assault on Gallipoli
to die an unheroic death
from ‘enteric fever’ in Alexandria.
Weak, miserable, hungry and alone,
the tent hospital overcrowded,
too few nurses overwhelmed.
Our family’s Aussie digger
buried in foreign fields.
His working class parents too poor
to visit his grave
and the body count too high
to return him home.
A nineteen year old larrikin
eldest son farewelled,
a rabbit skin vest, Holy Bible,
and pipe welcomed home.
His war brief,
like his life.
Postcards ‘from the trenches’
sent love to family and friends
missing home, and wishing for peace.
Passed down through generations,
the neatly pencilled sentences
hint at the man he could have been.
A great uncle I never knew.
Each ANZAC Day I think of
George Alexander McInnes
and the thousands like him,
acknowledge the debt owed
to previous generations
for sacrifice, trauma, and loss.
But in the remembering there is
no forgetting the madness
and futility that is war.


When I came to Australia in 1962, I attended Croydon State School, which sat opposite the Croydon War Memorial in Kent Avenue. The ceremonies and wreaths of flowers at the Cenotaph vivid in memory, but my knowledge about Anzac Day scant. And when I discovered George was an Anzac I wondered why his name was not on the memorial, having no idea of the family’s previous history.



It was the era when we observed a minute silence at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month for Remembrance Day regardless of whether you were shopping, working or at school. I can recall being in Myer one day and the announcement to pause came over the tannoy. The elevators and escalators were stopped, the bustle silenced and heads bowed as many people did indeed ‘remember them’.

A minute in the more than half a million minutes in  the year is not too much of a sacrifice is it?

It was only when I went to high school and studied Australian History for my HSC that I began to think deeply about Anzac Day’s meaning and the effects of the war on the Australian psyche.

Since then, visits to The Shrine and the Australian War Memorial and events like The Spirit of Anzac Exhibition have expanded my knowledge.

My final year at school in 1970 also coincided with the Vietnam Moratorium. For several years we had the Vietnam War beamed into our lounge rooms each evening via the television, the tragic scenes profoundly affecting teenage me. I had three brothers, who were potential canon fodder to be conscripted and my parents often talked about their experiences during the Second World War.

Government political machinations aside, the fact conscription was introduced and it was reliant on whether your birthdate was pulled out of a barrel a bit like Tattslotto numbers added to the anger and opposition to Australia’s involvement.

In English, we studied The One Day of the Year a play written by Alan Seymour in 1959. It was banned for fear of offending the RSL and not performed professionally until 1961, and seemed to hit raw nerves again.

This essay by Associate Professor Anne Pender  is worth reading in full:

Anzacs and us
Consider the play today as we find ourselves in a period of intense commemoration of the Great War. We live in a period when thousands of young Australians flock to Gallipoli every year to participate in commemoration ceremonies and to see for themselves the place where many soldiers fought and died in 1915. The resurgence of patriotic fervor and heightened interest in the disastrous campaigns of the Dardanelles reinforces the significance of the play, and offers potential for new interpretations of its themes.

Australia is currently spending $325 million on commemorating the centenary of the First World War, 200 per cent more than the United Kingdom is putting towards its commemorative events, and a great deal more than what we spend on the mental health of returned service personnel (Brown pp. 20, 5; ABC interview). With this in mind, the meaning of the play takes on a new significance more than 50 years after it was first staged.

The central question about why we romanticise war, and why Anzac Day is so precious to Australians is salient. Historians have expressed concern about what they call ‘the relentless militarisation of our history’, arguing that ‘the commemoration of war and understandings of our national history have been confused and conflated’ (Lake and Reynolds p. vii)…

Any play should be considered in relation to its historical period. The context for the original performance, especially its banning, is vital to understanding the play. Equally important is to understand how the context for performance has changed and developed over time…

 Historian Mark McKenna puts the question strongly, asking why after the mass slaughter of the wars of the 20th century we ‘cling to a nineteenth century concept of nationhood: the belief that a nation can only be born through the spilling of the sacrificial blood of its young?’ (p. 34). Why are we fixated on constructing what was an horrific military disaster at Gallipoli as a marker of nationhood? How should we remember the soldiers who fought for Australia, and how do you think a play such as The One Day of the Year in performance should invite an audience to remember them? These are important questions and relate to an even bigger question: what does theatre offer democracy?


Tim Watts MP, the Member for Gellibrand spoke at the launch on Thursday, not only talking about his grandfather who returned from World War One a much changed man, but the effect his grandfather’s behaviour had on his wife and daughter, Tim’s mother.

In hindsight, Tim recognises that his grandfather would have had PTSD – undiagnosed and untreated. He grew up with the family referring to his grandmother as ‘a hard woman’.

Tim now considers what kind of life his grandmother had living with her damaged husband and his traumatic memories.

They say she was a hard woman,’ said Tim, ‘but is it any wonder?’

When I congratulated Tim on his insight and sincerity, he admitted having a speech prepared by his assistants in his pocket, but chose instead to speak from the heart and share his personal story.

Thank you,‘ I said, ‘heartfelt speeches are much better.’

The other speakers added personal stories too – it was that kind of evening. My sister Cate said she’ll remember the relaxed, friendly atmosphere in the room and the warm welcome from Lindy and Loraine whom we’d only met once.

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Snatches of the Mayor of Hobsons Bay Councillor Peter Hemphill’s excellent speech can be found in his informative press release here.

The honour board is a truly special memorial – it is one of the few honour boards in Australia that has photographs as well as the names of those who died in the Great War.

The brave men who enlisted from Williamstown came from all walks of life: they were butchers, bakers, lawyers, architects – there was even a piano maker.

The honour board was put together by former Williamstown City Council Mayor Bill Henderson. Between 1917 and 1924, Cr Henderson went around to visit the families of the men who died during the war, seeking photographs of the fallen soldiers.

These were mounted on a blackwood honour board with doors opening out.

The work of Councillor Bill Henderson to track down most of these photographs was quite extraordinary. While it was truly a ‘labour of love’ for Cr Henderson, it also exposed him to the extraordinary grief being felt in his community by family who had lost fathers, sons or brothers…

Some of the gold paint lettering naming each photograph had stuck to the glass covering the honour board and the deterioration meant some soldiers’ names could soon be lost forever.

Expert conservator Jude Shahinger did an amazing job restoring the lettering and the beautiful woodwork in the honour board.

Local historians Lindy Wallace and Lorraine Callow researched each of the men to find out their service records and the stories behind some of the men. They sought information from the Australian War Memorial, Australian Infantry Force records and newspaper plus that from today’s families of the soldiers.

Confusing the research was that some surnames were misspelt and one had a surname that did not match the one the honour board.

This work has been extraordinary and quite an emotional experience for both researchers.

…professional photographer Rob Lawler photographed the images of the soldiers during the restoration process.  Most of the photographs collected by Cr Henderson are not held by the Australian War Memorial, so this project will benefit the national collection.

not stone monnuments

The President of the Williamstown RSL also spoke to lead the very moving and well-known recitation: The Ode before we listened to the Bugle Call.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

He shared personal reminiscences too and mentioned a conversation when his son finished university.

How old are you, son?’

‘Twenty-two and a half.’

‘Do you know what I was doing at your age?’


‘I had just come home from Vietnam.’


If his son has watched the recent series on SBS I can imagine his reaction would add a few ‘expletives deleted’ because the grief and loss from the Vietnam War is still occurring as Vietnam veterans struggle with ongoing physical and mental health issues and the emotional pain of feeling the lack of reverence and gratitude so often given to World War One and Two veterans.

The Sons of Williamstown website and videos, the documentaries, memoir, novels, poetry and song testimony to the power of individual stories. They add to the larger narrative to give others a better understanding of war and I hope communities across Australia will continue to value them.

aftermath quote

On Monday, there will be many dawn ceremonies commemorating the landing at Gallipoli, but for most people it will be a time to remember the fallen of various wars – including the ones Australian troops are currently fighting.

In the words of ex-prime minister,  Paul Keating:
Out of the Great War came a lesson of ordinary people that were not ordinary. They did extraordinary things.

His sentiment can be applied to all conflicts and peace keeping assignments. The most enduring symbol of remembrance for most people is the poppy and projects like the ANZAC quilt blocks my sister was involved in and the 5000poppies catch the public’s imagination in a world where the images and news of conflict is incessant and instant.

Being able to take part in or make a physical symbol to show care, compassion and empathy is important for many people. For me, being creative is to make a statement for peace, to find alternative ways of affirming values and beliefs other than death and destruction.

Tim Richardson MP, the member for Mordialloc sits amidst some of the poppies that volunteers knitted, sewed or felted. Some of the over 250,000 poppies, were displayed at Federation Square as a tribute to all those who served in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

The poppy project is ongoing as is my family research.

Lest we forget!

Do Nuns Wear Knickers? Tales From School Unleashed.

book cover do nuns wear knickers.jpg

In the midst of returning to classes after the holidays and farewelling my daughters on their overseas trip, the arrival of the latest anthology from Melaleuca Blue Publishing was a pleasant surprise. I mentioned in a previous post, that one of my poems had been chosen. However, a delay in printing meant the expected February arrival of my copy was delayed until April.

last day at primary school inside bookjpg.jpg

For me, seeing something I’ve written accepted for publication is always thrilling – a vindication that just maybe I can write what others like to read, and someone believes it is worth printers’ ink.

It’s why I love producing anthologies for my students, albeit the print run is only for them and their friends or families. Writing and publishing go together like paint and canvas, cameras and developed photographs.

I consider the tangibility of holding a book, a painting or photograph one of the delights of the creative process. I’m looking forward to meeting the hard-working Kari O’Gorman (this is the third collection of life stories she has produced) and some of the other contributors at the launch/celebration in August – our ’15 minutes of fame’ moment.

The other stories and poems in Do Nuns Wear Knickers? a cross section of memories from schooldays in Australia through several generations and from the point of view of student and teacher.

… a collection of memories from award winning Australian writers expressing the joy, pain, humiliation and humour of growing up and attending school from the 1940s to the current century.

Discover why nobody uses surfboards, how to bust your teeth on a piece of fabric, what really happens on school camp, how ink wells help beat boredom, the thrill of certain library books, how coins leave callouses, why rah rah and loose bras are dangerous, how to know when to retire as a teacher, and whether or not nuns really do wear knickers.

There are stories to make you laugh and others are poignant reminders of how tough growing up can be and that some teachers were friends and mentors, others tormentors.

Sister Elizabeth’s weapons consisted of an acid tongue and a long wooden ruler which she would crack on the desk as a means of control. By the end of the day our self-esteems were as crushed as our school tunics.

The expectations we have and the pressures put on teachers captured too, especially the introduction of new technology and demands of extra-curricular activities.

Teaching staff entered the theatre, sinking into padded seats, eyes drawn forward, voices whispering, ears gossip tuned, lights dimmed… another damn after-school meeting!

Lost in semi darkness faces peered expectantly at the Power Point presentation of a Headmaster’s dream, encompassing the master plan for the much vaunted 90s IT revolution in schools…

The honesty of reflection admirable, revealing how tough transition from child to teenager, to adult can be and showing that regardless of which decade you attended school issues, idiots, inadequacies and ideas appeared.

At school, I was always the dunce trying to be king, the nerd trying to be liked. I wanted to wear the brands everyone else wore like Rip Curl and Billabong. I wanted to have the toys everyone else had like Tamagotchis. I wanted to listen to the music everyone else listened to like No Doubt. I wanted to style my hair the way everyone else did with a messy bun, butterfly clips and tons of bobby pins.

The stories remind me of my own school days, discussions in writing class with students older than me, and the reminiscing of my daughters who are twenty-somethings now.

The book is enjoyable reading and the stories trigger memories, more stories and ideas on how to write them. One of the great takeaways provided by anthologies for writerly readers.

Congratulations to Kari  – a great result and a lot of effort. This being number three, no wonder she has decided to take a rest from publishing and will concentrate on her own writing for the next year or two.

A decision I applaud and hope to emulate with no plans to produce another anthology for the Mordialloc Writers’ Group until I finish a couple of my own writing projects!

croydon primary school 1963.jpeg
Croydon Primary School Grade 5 1963 – I’m the last one, second row(RHS), teacher Miss O’Toole

I had sent a couple of pieces for consideration. They didn’t make the book but I’m glad I took the time to write down some memories.

The Road to Enlightenment…
Mairi Neil

It’s funny what or who we remember from school days. For me, characters stand out more than events, although the memory usually links a person with an incident.

1963 – I arrive in Australia from Scotland in December 1962 so enjoy the long summer holidays before starting term one at Croydon State School.

Although nine and half years old I’m promoted to Grade 5 because I know Long Division and LSD (money sums not the drug!).

The teacher, Miss O’Toole has tightly permed black hair and wears a pleated grey skirt every day with different coloured twin sets, favouring red the most. She sits on the corner of the desk swinging one of her stockinged legs in such a way we sometimes see the tip of her suspender belt and the fleshy top of her leg. This causes giggles and jokes from the boys in the playground.

I like Miss O’Toole because she has the same Irish accent as my Mum and shares lots of interesting stories about books and places she’s travelled.

A new friend, Nola Tickner leaves school early every day because she sat on a needle and BoxHill Hospital is monitoring its passage through her bloodstream. It eventually comes out through her big toe!

croydon primary school 1964
Croydon State School 1964, Mr Stuart the teacher. I’m front row 3rd from left – worrying that if the wind changes will my face stay like that!

1964 – Mr Stuart, the Grade 6 teacher likes to strap, but thank goodness girls are exempt! He wears a grey suit, but his jacket is tight over a portly frame and never meets to button. He sometimes wears a waistcoat and tie. When he laughs his belly wobbles. He lets us put on a play I’d written after listening to the ABC Radio school hour. It’s about the three field system in Medieval England. We have a lot of fun dressing up. I play the Lord of the Manor because it was my idea. I wear a pair of pince-nez glasses that belonged to my grandmother and think I’m the ‘bee’s knees’.

pince nez spectacles.jpg

Sally Joffey has bright red hair and soft white freckled skin.  She comes to school one day with a face matching her hair except for white rings around her eyes. She looks like a strange panda and confesses she spent too long under her older sister’s sun lamp because she wanted a tan. It took weeks for her skin to return to normal.

1965 –  First Form at Croydon High School with Mr Lurajud who has a moustache and hairstyle like Hitler’s. We cruelly whisper ‘Sieg Heil’ behind his back. I’m Form Captain and at a class fundraiser, I take a plate of Tablet my mother has made. This very sweet Scottish fudge enchants Mr Lurajud, who tastes one piece and buys the whole plate for himself!

Mr Butler, the headmaster frightens us at Monday morning assembly warning of the ‘red menace’ waiting to invade Australia from Indonesia. He urges the older boys to join the Army and fight for freedom in Vietnam. Later, when an ex-student is one of the first national servicemen to die in Vietnam after stepping on a landmine, I wonder if Mr Butler regretted some of his scary speeches.

Home from Croydon High School at lunchtime

1966 – Mr Wilson the balding Geography teacher always behaves as if he’s slumming at the school. Class handouts have to be coloured in, but he never stipulates a colour, rather just states Derwent Number 12 or Derwent Number 32…

One of six children, I don’t own Derwent pencils. I ask what colour to use and Mr Wilson lectures, ’Derwent pencils were on the booklist. Your parents should have bought them.’ Mum bought cheaper pencils at Croydon Market and I blush with shame. I learn a valuable lesson. It’s not a crime to be poor and children will never forget how you make them feel.

(Years later, I  buy my daughters Derwent pencils when they start school, not that they were asked for but because I can and because I want to give them something I couldn’t have.)

Mrs Fear, the Sewing teacher lives up to her name and ensures I hate needlework for years. My older sister finishes class projects for me and I get high marks. When my sister hands in her own work she almost fails. Not a good teacher or seamstress Mrs Fear resented my sister because she knew more than her.

1967 – Mrs Walker is a fabulous English teacher. She’d been a journalist in England and encourages me to write with the warning that journalism is not a glamorous occupation. ‘You’ll be asked to cover the local cat show as well as an exciting crime!’

She’s trying to give up smoking and chews gum all the time – her excuse for chewing in class while insisting pupils can’t do the same.

Neville Purchase’s bicycle is hit by a car on the way to school. Rumours fly around the playground he’s dead, but at a special assembly, the headmaster announces Neville has lost a leg. When Neville returns to school we must be considerate and not stare at his prosthesis. It’s the closest I have ever been to someone who has lost a limb.

1968 – Mrs Hurst wears pencil skirts so tight the boys titter about seeing the outline of her suspender belt. Mr Barouma, our French teacher had been a Landscape Gardner and survived real-life exploits living in WW2 Occupied Holland.

On hot summer days because there’s no air conditioning Mr Barouma takes us outside to sit under the trees and read. In classes straight after lunch, he tells us to put our heads down and power nap for 15 minutes. He’s Mr Popular!

water fights a feature on hot summer days
water fights a playtime feature on hot days

1969 – English teacher, Fred Carstairs, the glamour boy on the Staff payroll sports an all year suntan like an Olympian. One day, he leaves a student teacher in our clutches. The young blonde with curly hair begins writing on the blackboard. He foolishly asks if he’s spelt ‘their’ correctly.

Like scavengers fighting over a carcass we soon work out he’s not a confident speller. Even when he writes a word correctly someone tells him differently. Mr Carstairs returns to a blackboard full of misspellings. The student teacher is called Charles Dickens. The irony of his name not lost and compounds our glee.

European History teacher, Mr Jones, a proud Welshman, never lets us forget his origins. He takes us to see the film Oh What A Lovely War. A scene in the movie has a couple of privates refer to the commanding officer as ‘that Welsh bastard’.

A wave of titters floats down the rows of seats at the cinema. On the train journey home to Croydon, the boys repeat the line ad nauseam within earshot of Jones but insist they’re just discussing the film.

Croydon high school oval
the school oval only completed in 1965-66

1970 – Dr Saffin (PhD Eng Lit) my teacher for four HSC subjects. A brilliant man, who could be teaching at university but chooses to work in a state school. He has a horrific stutter and warns new students not to sit in the front row unless they wear a raincoat.

He acts out scenes from Shakespeare and his stutter miraculously disappears. Because of his teaching I win a Commonwealth Scholarship and a place at the Australian National University as well as the Victorian Shakespeare prize.

He challenges pupils to always question texts and accepted beliefs. Tells us to research answers for ourselves. He believes education is not the cramming of knowledge but the nurturing of the desire to learn. He more than any other teacher inspired my lifelong love of learning.

It’s called Croydon Secondary College now.

Most of the above photos of Croydon High taken from  Friends of Croydon High’s Facebook. It’s depressing how little the school has changed from the outside – I just hope the inside of the classrooms has fared better over the years!

Schooldays from Myopia to Utopia
Mairi Neil

I remember the days of chalk and talk,
They seem such a long time ago…
Some memories vivid, others faded,
Some memories happy; others not so.

In the 50s and 60s corporate punishment
Considered discipline and acceptable force,
Breaking rules or challenging authority
Meant the strap, ruler, or cane – of course.

We sat in rows, faced the front of class,
Teachers used their pointers like spears.
We recited grammar, chanted times tables
Copped many a clip around the ears.

At all times you paid undivided attention
To avoid dreaded lines – or detention,
Teachers often demanded written lines,
‘I must not…’ scrawled hundreds of times.

School desks with lift-up sloping lids
Sweets and secret love notes easily hid
But no moving without permission,
Until the bell signalled intermission.

We wrote in ink with fragile nibs and pens,
Blotters, jotters – rostered ink monitors then
Teachers omniscient, few encouraged discussion
Questioning authority invited concussion.

Originality met with ‘stick to the topic’
British Empire curriculum deliberately myopic,
School uniforms ensured our regimentation
Some playgrounds practised gender segregation.

Mastering reading paramount, by phonetics,
Rote lessons repeated until they’d stick
Mental arithmetic standard daily fare
Holidays longed for, days off so rare.

Our playground at Croydon poorly equipped
We had marbles, ball games, and we skipped
Sent outside at recess whether rain or sun
Kiss Chasie could be dreaded, or was fun!

Tunnel Ball, Tag, and swapping cards galore,
Crossball, Netball, British Bulldog and more.
The boys relished their footie competitions
Girls loved ‘Chinese Elastics’ positions.

Compulsory folk dancing only some enjoyed
Holding the sweaty hands of girls and boys
I remember a boy who had horrible warts
Another’s jumper his handkerchief of sorts.

Bottles of milk delivered to drink for free
Left out in the sun it soon soured for me
Drink ‘for your health’ teachers would say
But I recall many days vomited away.

On Mondays, we assembled to honour the flag
This ritual patriotism made shoulders sag.
Promising obedience to the Law and the Queen
Regular indoctrination – no sincerity seen.

Marched into classrooms by fife and drum band
Pupils’ enthusiasm transient like sand
Migrant kids from a host of different cultures
Their lunches targets for unfriendly vultures.

School toilets always stuck up the back
A lean-to roof on an old wooden shack,
No soap or towels, a sink, nothing more
‘Holding on’ damaged bladders for sure!

Lunchtime litter duty came around each week
Lolly papers and food wrappers we had to seek
Before vying for the right to empty waste bins
Incinerator flames dancing as rubbish poked in.

Today’s resources include technological wizardry
Different attitudes serve a multitude of needs
But the most important gift has never changed
Thank your primary teacher if you can read!

Anniversaries and Birthdays Come too Soon

mum 16 years old.jpeg
Anne Brown Courtney 1937

My mother would have been 95 years old on April 15th but she died in October 2009, six months after her 88th birthday. I often think of her – not just on her birthday – but this April, a milestone in more ways than one because it is the 75th anniversary of the Belfast Blitz, an experience Mum never forgot.

In December 2003, when I asked Mum to talk into a tape recorder and share stories about her life, it was obvious the despair and devastation of that night in World War Two had left traumatic memories.

In Easter 1941, Belfast was blitzed and like the incendiary bombs dropped that night, the damage Mum witnessed forever seared in her mind and heart.

belfast's darkest night.jpeg

As mentioned in a previous post, I researched Korean poetry because I have a new Korean-Japanese student. I discovered a Korean form called Sijo, which has particular syllable rules and a three-line, or six-line, songlike structure.

NaPoWriMo prompts may be by the wayside, but I’ll still make attempts to write poems.

Belfast Blitz a Sijo by Mairi Neil

Lord Haw Haw, delivered his big Easter Eggs as promised
The bombs pounded; buildings collapsed, land mines exploded
Belfast aflame. That destructive April, the people sacrificed.


Mum’s Memories:

I joined the army in October 1940 just after Dunkirk, but my eyes took bad. I developed iritis among other problems and the civilian doctor advised me to resign to get my eyes fixed. ‘If you want you can rejoin the ATS but don’t trust army doctors.’

He advised me to take my discharge and the day I received confirmation a rule was passed in parliament about conscripts. However, as a volunteer I was able to get out of the army on medical grounds.

I arrived back in Northern Ireland from Scotland on Good Friday in 1941. I went out to the farm with my brother, Tom and stayed with Uncle Arthur and Aunt Mary at Saintfield.

Everybody was warned to get out of Belfast because Lord Haw Haw had said Hitler was going to give Ulster their Easter eggs. Lord Haw Haw often came on the radio. He talked through his nose and had a distinctive drawl. ‘We’re going to give the people of Ulster their Easter eggs,’ he said.

Well, Belfast emptied – those who could get out. Some of them had to work Saturday. Good Friday wasn’t a holiday in Belfast or Scotland, only in England. But Glasgow and Belfast got Easter Tuesday, so we had Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday off. We were expecting the planes but they never came.

There had been a raid the week before.

The Luftwaffe launched its first attack on Belfast April 7th and 8th. They attacked the docks. That Dockside Raid was a shock. The government thought we were too far away for the Luftwaffe to reach. We’d had 22 air raid siren alerts – each one false – people were careless about the blackout curtains or going to bomb shelters.


Even London didn’t think we’d be a target and had told Stormont to build air bases. We only had 200 air raid shelters for a population of 500,000. When more than 500 Luftwaffe bombers and escorts took off from northern France – heading for Clydeside and Greenock no one expected eight bombers to veer off to Belfast.

They dropped about 800 incendiary bombs on the dock area. That shook everyone up! Workers lived near the factories and docks, they were sitting ducks. Lots of homes were destroyed. Incendiary bombs set fire to large timber yards. Harland and Wolff dockyards were hit and the Rank Flour Mill. Thirteen people were killed and the Germans discovered how weak our defences were.

However, that Easter weekend we thought we were okay. Everybody returned Tuesday night to start work on Wednesday morning and the beggars came around 11 o’clock Tuesday night.


It was one of the longest raids of the war. They started about 10.30pm, actually. The first bomb fell before the sirens went and got the main water line in Royal Avenue coming from the reservoir and shortly after 2.00am they got the other water line so there was no water.

About 150 to 160 Luftwaffe bombers dropped over 200 tons of explosives. They targeted the city’s waterworks. At first we thought that the reflection off the reservoir had fooled the pilots into thinking that they were near the docks. But they were no fools. The waterworks were deliberately hit.

The water pressure was so low fire crews found that their hoses were of little use. It was an inferno. It was fire that damaged Belfast – fire did most of the damage.


It was after 6.00am before the all clear sounded. In the morning when I first looked out Belfast seemed to be surrounded by fire, there were still blazes burning.

Later people said Dublin had warned the politicians the bombers were on their way. Dublin wasn’t in the war but they wouldn’t do anything against us. I don’t know what we would have done without them because things would have been a darn sight worst.

They could see the fires in Dublin and were asked to help and said we’re sending you up fire engines and tanks of water. They sent up every available fire crew about 70 men and 13 engines and they fought the fires for 3 days without rest. They were relieved by fire crews from the Clyde and Liverpool.

I don’t know what we would have done without those volunteers.

“In the past, and probably in the present, too, a number of them did not see eye to eye with us politically, but they are our people–we are one and the same people–and their sorrows in the present instance are also our sorrows; and I want to say to them that any help we can give to them in the present time we will give to them whole-heartedly, believing that were the circumstances reversed they would also give us their help whole-heartedly …”
Eamon De Valera President of Ireland after the Belfast Blitz.

We were four houses down from the top of our street where a landmine landed. A shop stood alone with little damage but there was nobody in there. Nearby two houses took a direct hit.

market street mortuary.jpeg

One of the houses was empty but in the middle house two daughters and their mother were killed. The father was a guard in the gaol down the road and the brother was in a granary sheltering with the boys brigade so they were saved. The mother had been across the road visiting but when the siren sounded she saw a tiny light through a crack in the blackout curtains and knew that her daughters were home.

Oh, the girls are home I better be with them.’ She rushed out as a landmine fell and the house was demolished. Her body was discovered atop a lamp post and the girls crushed and killed inside their home.


My stepmother went to Comber to her folk and my uncle pleaded with us to stay with them at the farm until Wednesday morning but Tom said, ‘Oh no, my mammy said we had to come home because she was coming home.’

Well, we got home about half past eight or nine o’clock but she never arrived until nearly half past ten. We had to sit on the doorstep because she wouldn’t give us key.

We had just got into bed and the sirens went so of course it was panic stations. We made our way down the stairs, but before we got down they dropped the landmine at the top of the street.

Our two front and back doors blew in and some of the windows shattered although they weren’t too bad because we had sticky tape on them. We had a Yale lock, plus a big ordinary lock on the door and we had a bar across, yet the door was blown in.

We got down below the stairs and huddled together. We never had a back garden and the nearest air raid shelter no one would go in because it was stinking, dogs peed in it and everything else. It wasn’t kept in good repair at all.

The bombing went on until half past six in the morning.

We always sheltered under the stairs. It was a funny thing although houses were bombed it worked out under the stairs was the safest place to be, and many people survived.

I’ll never forget when I came out of the house and looked out. We lived at a bit of a height and the city seemed to be ringed by fire.


Annadale street.jpg

There were unexploded bombs all over the place and this little lad came down the street – he was eleven or twelve years old – and he had some of his belongings over his shoulder wrapped in a sheet that had once been white, but was now dirty grey.

He held a canary in its cage. ‘Were are you from son,’ I said.

Oh up from the Bally streets.

These streets were at the top of the Old Park Road. Four or five streets: Ballyclare, Ballymoney, Ballywalton…Ballymena. They ran to the Clifton Park Road.

Those streets bombed because the Germans were actually aiming for Aldergrove Airfield and the RAF, which was on the other side of the hill called Devil’s Mountain. The RAF boys told us it was easy to confuse from the air because the way the tram lines ran they look like runways and the houses looked like huts.

On one side of the Cliftonville Road was the football ground and the other was the cricket ground so the Germans thought they were bombing the airport but they were on the wrong side of the hill.

The wee boy said, ‘Missus, there’s hardly a house left standing, the Bally streets are flattened.’

‘Oh my goodness,’ I said.

‘I don’t know where my parents are,’ the wee boy cried, ‘they were at the Crumlin Road pictures and they haven’t come back yet.’

Where are you going?

I’m making for my aunt’s down the Shore Road, York Street East.’

I often wondered how he got on because that street was badly damaged. I wonder what happened to that wee boy and so many others like him. It was a terrible night. Around 56,000 homes damaged or destroyed. Nearly 1,000 people were killed and 1,500 injured. 400 of those were seriously and 100,000 homeless.


War is ugly. I would hate to see another world war. Australia should never have been in Vietnam and should keep out of other countries. Too many innocent civilians suffer.

Two hospitals were hit that night in Belfast, so bodies were lain out in St. George’s Market to be identified. Some were never identified and were buried in mass graves.

hospital blitzed.jpg


Ronnie Finnegan’s father was the groom at Wilton’s Funeral Parlour and my friend, Mrs Calvert, said she would never forget to her dying day the squeals of the horses.

The hay took a direct hit and they only managed to rescue a couple of the horses because there was no water to fight the fire. They were the most beautiful horses you could ever see.

They were Belgian and kept in beautiful condition. They shone at funerals, coats gleaming. Ronnie said his father never really got over the loss of the horses because they were like his children.

Aunt Martha ran all the way, through streets of unexploded bombs, from Armagh Road to Albertville Drive to plead with us. ‘Please get out to the farm.

She then went on up to Woodville Road to ask Aunt Minnie to leave. She’d run all that way and was so insistent, we packed to go. Tom had a canary and asked what to do with it.

Take it with us,’ I said. We were about ready to leave when the canary died – delayed shock.

Tom was breaking his heart over the bird when my stepmother grabbed it and flushed it down the toilet. She was like that – a heartless woman.

Of course, there was little public transport because lots of the road had been damaged. We walked to a shortcut we knew to see if there were any buses. Passing Mr and Mrs Scott’s place we noticed their boys had come in from their dad’s farm, which was just above our family farm.

The boys had come in to get Mrs Scott because she was a widow. Bob Scott was dead and they had come to evacuate their mother who said, ‘I’m sorry we can’t take you because there’s no room in the car.’

We understood but asked if they could take our bags. ‘Oh aye, we can squeeze them in the boot.’

What a relief to get rid of the luggage because as we walked downhill everywhere was thronging. The smell of burning flesh, clothes, furniture – everything – clung to our nostrils. We managed to get a bus out to the farm and stayed there for most of the war.

I never went back to Belfast until much later because I got a job in Saintfield and worked there until my eyes took really bad and I had to see a specialist who saved my sight.


Without Mum, another Sijo

Mairi Neil

Without Mum, the world is sadder
Without Mum, wisdom is diminished
Without Mum, hearts are crushed
Without Mum, life is less appealing
A mother’s love potent and powerful
My mother’s love not broken by death



Is It A Poetry Day? Ask NaPoWriMo – I’ve Lost Count.


My classes resumed this week and because I like to concentrate on poetry in Term Two  in the lead up to producing the fund raising calendar at Godfrey Street Community House we started off the term with an exploration of What is Poetry and how poetic techniques can improve our writing.

Nick Staikos MP and President of Godfrey Street and Manager Helen Howells
Nick Staikos MP and President of Godfrey Street and Manager Helen Howells.

I planned my lessons and thought what serendipity – April is National Poetry Writing Month, albeit mainly celebrated in America, I’ll take part and hone my poetry skills.

However, being brought up in a house where the poetry of Rabbie Burns was often quoted, I should have known “the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.

I’m still taking part but keeping up with their particular prompts will be for another day. And when I completed my first lessons this week, to say the announcement to concentrate on poetry got a mixed reaction was an understatement!

Oh, No – Not poetry!
Mairi Neil
What is poetry to all of you? I ask
Ponder the question, then write
Producing a poem, today’s writing task.

Responses cold, fearful, many a frown,
Disappointment, mumbles, sighs too
Shoulders droop, pens freeze, eyes down.

Okay, Let’s discuss this aversion
What poems can you remember?
Any leave a favourable impression?

Poetry is a hangover from childhood
Memorising lines, reciting to please
Most of my experiences not that good!

I remember a powerful poem from school
Men in the trenches of World War One
Life can be sad and death oh, so cruel.

I remember a rhyme, I was in Grade Three
About honey, seeds, a camel I think
The teacher, not the poem, inspired me.

I don’t know poems, they’re songs to me
Rhythm, rhyme, rap – different styles
Traditional rules continually set free

I think of Leonard Cohen, – what a man
His words depress some but for me
His verses profound, his lines scan

Discussion over, the class starts to write
Pens scratch and laptop keys tap
Like the phoenix imaginations take flight.

Class attempts at poetry produced to share
Angst, humour, memoir, homage to Dr Seuss
Poems unlocked, they didn’t know were there!


andy warhol  electric chair painting.jpg
One of Andy Warhol’s paintings of the electric chair that challenges beliefs, encourages thoughts  and emotions

When the class read back the results of their splurge writing and we shared thoughts and ideas I’m glad to say the sick feeling in my stomach eased slightly.

Sometimes the lessons we plan work and sometimes they don’t get the reaction you hoped for and so it’s a relief when you can salvage something from a perceived disaster!

Splurge Dirge
Mairi Neil

Let’s agree poetry is a way
for words to live in print
Wordsmiths have their say

Sometimes it’s a bit of fun
doggerel, childish ditties,
satire, irony, – even a pun

Practicality can be boring
romance is better in verse
poetry sets emotion soaring

Memories collect and grow
nostalgia breeds a poem
subverting what we know!

Terse verse a picture paints
limericks, clerihews, lunes
ridicules sinners and saints

Messages in greeting cards galore
Quatrains, rhymes, free verse
jingles, psalms, songs and more.

I can’t imagine poetry’s demise
this wonderful chameleon genre
Its devices will always surprise.


I have my homework cut out convincing some students how valuable poetry is to improving all of our writing regardless of genre but will have some fun in class trying.

I have a new student from Japan – her background Korean-Japanese with a grandfather brought over as indentured labour to work in Japanese coal mines.

A practical person who prefers essay writing, she admitted to knowing little about Korean or Japanese poetry. I aim to surprise her next week with some Korean poetry- the traditional Japanese Haiku and Haibun already planned for down the track.

Hopefully, as in previous years, many of the students will be ‘turned on’ to poetry. They’ll appreciate and value the words of the thousands of poets who add richness to many cultures – not just our own.

I was fortunate to have parents who valued poetry because I have to admit there were some teachers at school who seemed to spend their time destroying it! Unfortunately, I’m not alone in that experience and so no wonder any announcement of ‘we’re going to write poetry’ is met with a groan.

Fingers crossed, I won’t put any reluctant writers off the genre but spark their interest instead. Poetry is anything from nursery rhymes to song, romantic verse to narratives and ballads. There is even prose poetry – yes, we’re going to have fun, failures, fantasies and fabulous successes because we are in writing class!

Why I Love Poetry
Mairi Neil

Poetry is verse, stanza, word pictures…
letters arranged on the page
side by side, jostling, juxtaposed,
or ascending, descending in
straight or haphazard rows.
Disparate, complementary, unusual,
sensual, harsh… familiar words
sad, happy, angry or joyful…
Powerful, mood altering lines
oozing tears, encouraging grins
prophetic, nostalgic, absurd
onomatopoeia, assonance, dissonance
alliteration, metaphors, similes, even
split infinitives included.

Across and over the dreaded block
Words whisper, waft, snap,
scratch, glide, massage, tickle, tempt,
caress, choke, chuckle, slap,
shock. They bang not whimper.
Keep me awake or
Soothe me to sleep
Prick my conscience…
nettles in the grass,
a menacing migraine or
short tap on the head,
they comfort like Mum’s cuddles
demand action like Dad’s pipe band music
The too jocular ‘rise and shine’.

Poetry is a voice, but also an ear
Other poets persistent, persuasive
what they feel and think, opinionated,
the ‘agony and ecstasy’ of their hearts
Poems remember what hurts
what inspires, what’s observed,
anger, outrage, compassion, acceptance…
They worship Mother Nature,
bless the sun, adore the moon,
cherish the flowers trees
people dance with joy
beneath sunny blue or stormy grey skies.
Pose questions and explore answers.

Poetry can revere a creator,
fear the wrath of gods or God
celebrate his or her love
pay homage to the miracle of birth
be awed by the inevitability of death.
Through verse, stanza, lines
random or planned arrangement
Poetry adds to the rich tapestry of life
Writers of various genres
assemble and disassemble
the jigsaw of ‘the human condition’

That’s why I love poetry.

view from train between LA and San Fran 2012.jpg
View from the coastal starlight train as I headed up to San Francisco from LA 2012

NaPoWriMo Begs For a Cluster of Poems

poetry quote Ai weiei.jpg

Yesterday, I spent a wonderful day with my daughters visiting the National Art Gallery in Melbourne and immersing myself in the art of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei.

happy a and mj with balloons

I’m sure in quiet moments I’ll think over the nuances of the day and be able to write several poems such was the richness of the experience. Being allowed to take photographs and download information will definitely trigger memories and boost any forgetful senior moments! Thank you exhibition curators.

entrance rulesjpg.jpg

However, another NaPoWriMo (optional) prompt/ challenge swirled in my head and although I’ve given up publishing a poem a day I’m still motivated to write and share  work I feel ready to share. The editor in me can’t publish stream of consciousness, preferring to use that as a tool rather than an end result.

I’m a plotter not a pantser when it comes to writing. Plus, even when work is polished and published, the perfectionist in me wants to rewrite and change it. What is it they say – those who can, do and those who can’t, teach! Or, maybe I’m just a normal writer – we’re often called a weird bunch.

Indecisive thoughts play in a loop and my confidence believes the ‘Wednesday’s Child is full of woe’ prophesy –  woe translated as dejection and trouble.

Never thinking my work is good enough, I might as well add more ‘P’ words: plodder, procrastinator and pessimist. And being a contrary writer, let’s throw in rejection!

writing and feelings Ai weiWei.jpg

Reading about Ai Weiwei yesterday, his motivation for an amazingly varied number of installations and projects, his unapologetic declaration that art must be political and that his social activism can’t be separated from his art, was food for my soul.

When I have a purpose for my writing, especially poetry, I feel more fulfilled. He’s inspired me, as I often am by paintings, film and sculpture – we creative types linked by our interpretation of the everyday. And some of Warhol’s paintings and photographs triggered memories of the 70s – especially my trip to China in 1979. But that is writing for another time (or poem).
andy warhol quote about writers.jpg

The Waste Land,” by T.S. Eliot  declared that “April is the cruelest month.” But NaPoWriMo 2016 asks is it?

Poets are  challenged to think of a month they personally perceive as ‘cruel’ or perhaps joyous, and write about why the month’s been labelled so!

For inspiration they featured Vietnam’s Nguyen Do.

Known for the musicality of his work, Nguyen considers his poems “somber,” but not necessarily “sad.” Cerise Press has made available dual-language versions of several of his poems – see here, here, here, and here. Nguyen is also heavily involved in translating other Vietnamese poets’ work into English, working with Paul Hoover to produce an English-language version of the selected poems of Nguyen Trai, and an anthology of contemporary Vietnamese poetry, Black Dog, Black Night.

I’ve written before about why September is the cruellest month for me because that was the month John died. The love of my life and father of the girls desperately fought to stay alive, but unfortunately asbestosis, emphysema and cancer meant his lungs, in his own words were ‘ well and truly stuffed.’

‘Cruel’ is an apt word as I remember watching John fight so hard to stay with us despite the ravages of illness, but there is joy too in a lifetime of memories – albeit a life cut short  .

September Sometimes Sighs
Mairi Neil

In Melbourne, September serves
Spring sunshine, spreading delight.
School holidays sauced with laughter,
Generous helpings at the Melbourne Show.

Happiness like Mum’s delicious
Homemade buttered scones.

But September also bittersweet
When Spring wears a mask –
Nature and nurture full of surprises
The joy of new life stifled.

Buds ‘neath unseasonal heat
Shrivelled by a searing sun.

My September a cruel month
Grief and lost dreams haunt
A month where the world wilted,
A tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

Day and night unbalanced in 2002
The vernal equinox hidden.

Instead the blackest of days revealed
Time shuddered and stopped –
Childhood beliefs challenged
A once vibrant spirit shrunk.

The centre of my celestial sphere
Sought his place in the Cosmos.

The world tilted and crashed
Upon the inevitability of death.
The family ship floundered,
Survivors flailed, clung to Hope.

Love struggles to stay afloat
In waves of sorrow

September’s perennial Spring song
Promises renewal and abundant life
But in my heart a cold wind stirs
Memories of the blackest of days.

Days tasting of salt.

Did You Know Marilyn Monroe Was a Poet?

MM statue bendigo 2016.jpg

It’s day six of NaPoWriMo 2016, and as one of those who has ‘fallen behind’ in the challenge I hope to catch up over the weekend. Today, I’m revisiting Day Three when I substituted a different poem for the challenge to:

write a poem in the form of a fan letter to a celebrity. Now, this could be a celebrity from long ago, and needn’t be an actor or singer (though it could be). You could write to George Washington or Dorothy Dandridge, Marie Curie or The Weeknd. Happy writing!

I wanted to write a poem tribute about Marilyn Monroe after visiting the special exhibition Marilyn at Bendigo Art Gallery. This comprehensive display comprises of authentic artefacts, clothing and other memorabilia belonging to, or worn by Marilyn.

There are more than 20 original costumes from some of her greatest films with clips from the movies and interviews with Marilyn playing alongside. She is stunning in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, Love Nest and of course the infamous moment when she sang ‘Happy Birthday Mr President‘ to JFK.

MM entrance to art gallery

There are also numerous dresses and accessories from Marilyn’s personal wardrobe and dresses by her favourite designer Emilio Pucci. She preferred understated style away from the screen and it’s strange to see the grey skirt, plain salmon pink blouse and beige sweater – such a contrast to that revealing white dress adorning the eight-metre-high sculpture, and the white fox fur muffs and gold lamé dress she wore in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

There is a lot in this exhibition to introduce us to a Marilyn most of us don’t know.

Among the many diaries uncovered after she died, there were journals of poetry and long entries retelling her dreams and thoughts and observations about people and events. She kept a writer’s notebook and used her poet’s eye.

There are original scripts with personal notes scrawled in pencil about directions and performance: ‘reveal electricity in dancing’ ‘sparkling face’ ‘didn’t expect success every time’

Monroe was a complex figure, full of paradoxes and contradictions. Her roles seem to define a limited, highly regulated vision of female power and desire, but her performances often subverted and tested these definitions. Shrewd, ambitious, intelligent, vulnerable, politically aware, she wanted to extend herself. She was often anxious and insecure about her abilities, but also determined to do more with them, to take her talents and use the celebrity she understood so well to different ends.

welcome to bendigo sign with MM

In 1953, the year I was born, Marilyn was presented with the 20th Century Fox Award for Sweetest Girl in Motion Pictures, and along with Jane Russell she preserved her hands, footprints and name in wet concrete outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood.

Marilyn was 27 years old and for seven years was portrayed as a superficial blonde bombshell by Fox Studios. In 1954 after a life-changing trip to Korea to perform for the troops she recognised her worth and popularity, demanded a pay rise and better working conditions. Rebelling against the dumb blonde image, she even started her own production company, Marilyn Monroe productions.

She was ahead of her time because not many actresses were successful businesswomen or liberated enough to establish their own company and renegotiate contracts.

But, in 1962 (the year I was 9 years old and my family emigrated to Australia), Marilyn Monroe was found dead from a drug overdose. Was it accidental? Suicide? Murder? The jury is still out and conspiracy theories abound.

How shocking, married at 16 and dead at 36.

The tragedy and legend of Norma Jeane Baker who became Marilyn Monroe was part of my childhood. In the 1960s, popular and gossip magazines proliferated, celebrity news items tumbled out of Hollywood, television brought the big cinematic stars into lounge rooms.

The shops and cafes in Bendigo have caught the Marilyn bug and are milking her popularity:

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I want to be an artist, not an erotic freak. I don’t want to be sold to the public as a celluloid aphrodisiac.

Marilyn Monroe

In the exhibition you see the books on her bedside table when she died: Of Stars And men, Oh, Careless Love, Man’s Supreme Inheritance and Human response to Our Expanding Universe. She had a personal library of over 400 books and prided herself on lifelong learning and enjoying intellectual conversations.

[about reading Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet] I was never told what to read, and nobody ever gave me anything to read. You know — the way there are certain books that everybody reads while they’re growing up? . . . So what I do is — nights when I’ve got nothing else to do I go to the Pickwick bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard. And I just open books at random — or when I come to a page or a paragraph I like, I buy that book. So last night I bought this one. Is that wrong?
… Arthur Miller wouldn’t have married me if I had been nothing but a dumb blonde.

A prized possession was an autographed photograph of Einstein ‘To Marilyn with respect and love.’

Of course, Gossip magazines are there too:
Motion Picture, Screen Guide, Modern Screen, Foto Parade, 3D Movie, Photoplay and many of the headlines and articles are about Marilyn. Her professional and personal life often in turmoil with a string of unsuccessful marriages and affairs.

1960: The very private life of Marilyn Monroe you’ve waited ten years for...
1961: Can Marilyn live down her past?
Marilyn Monroe Life as a Divorcee… Marilyn Monroe Secret Marriage Plans

Overwhelmed at seeing her name in lights and being famous, she stopped the car one day to take a photograph from a distance saying, ‘Somebody made a mistake.’

You-Dont-Need_outline-300x300.jpgShe suffered chronic insecurity regarding her acting ability and performance anxiety made her physically ill. Add the pain of endometriosis and insomnia. She was often late on set and this tardiness infuriated co-stars and crew.

An actor is not a machine, no matter how much they want to say you are. Creativity has got to start with humanity and when you’re a human being, you feel, you suffer, you’re gay, you’re sick, you’re nervous or whatever.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn overcame a difficult childhood. She never knew her father and her schizophrenic mother paid others to look after  little ‘Norma Jeane’ who spent years in care. Shunted from orphanage to foster homes, Marilyn remembered being sexually assaulted and raped.

No wonder she married a neighbour at 16 when her religious fundamentalist foster parents abandoned her by moving interstate. They said they couldn’t afford to take her, but perhaps they were glad to pass the responsibility for their attractive, busty, determined, ambitious charge to someone else.

Visit the exhibition, immerse yourself in the information, objects and atmosphere. Let your imagination loose.

An authentic object that once belonged to an enigmatic star is sure to prompt a frisson of excitement in even the most detached viewer.

Yes, indeed! It prompted me to write a poem.


I decided to experiment with the pantoum form because I had so much information. There were certain facts about Marilyn’s life that repeated like a motif, plus her story and legacy can’t be captured in a few words.

The poem will need more work but if I don’t post now, another day in the poetry challenge is lost. For those who don’t know, or have forgotten what a pantoum is here are the basic attributes:

• A pantoum is a poetry form originally from Malaysia, invented around fifteenth century, using repetition and rhyme woven like a braid. In a traditional pantoum, each line is repeated twice in a specific pattern.
• English-language pantoums often follow the traditional form loosely, “bending” the rules.
• A pantoum may consist of a few stanzas or go on forever! Using four line stanzas, repetition and braiding it works similar to the villanelle.
• Frequently, in a pantoum, the same line or phrase has a different meaning the second time it appears in a poem, either because of slight changes in the punctuation or wording or because of what’s around it.
• The poet may vary the repeating lines so they are not exactly the same – this is the art of writing in a fixed form to avoid an already repetitive form from becoming boring.
• Variety is the key to writing well in form. Tweak the form a bit, play with repetition, line length, metre and rhythm.
• Pantoums are composed of quatrains, groups of four lines.
• The first line of a quatrain repeats the second line of the quatrain before it.
• The third line of a quatrain repeats the fourth line of the quatrain before it.
• A pantoum thus has an interlocking pattern.


Will The Real Marilyn Please Stand Up
Mairi Neil

Dressed in that white dress you set the world on fire
‘The Marilyn Monroe’ – a legacy larger than your life
The personification of womanhood all men desire
Popular pin-up girl, sex symbol, and beautiful wife.

The Marilyn Monroe’ – a legacy larger than your life
What makes you an enduring sex goddess men adore?
Popular pin-up girl ,sex symbol, and beautiful wife
The untarnished ‘girl next door’ archetype no more.

What makes you an enduring symbol for women to adore?
Oozing sensuality, wooing audiences, a photographer’s delight
The untarnished ‘girl next door’ gone, Norma Jeane no more
The childhood sexual abuse, mother’s rejection hidden from sight.

Oozing sensuality, wooing audiences, a photographer’s delight
Glamorous gowns sculpted around a classic hourglass frame
Your childhood sexual abuse and rejection hidden from sight
Privately, you abandoned celebrity fashion; anguished over fame

Glamorous gowns sculpted around your classic hourglass frame
Silks, satins, bugle beads, sequins, sunburst pleats aswirl
Privately celebrity fashion abandoned, you anguished over fame
Marilyn, no calendar girl but an Aphrodite transforming at will.

Silks, satins, bugle beads, sequins, sunburst pleats aswirl
Hiding the scars of endometriosis, surgery, and miscarriage
Marilyn, no calendar girl but an Aphrodite transforming at will
Smouldering siren under floodlights glaring on your marriages

Hiding the scars of endometriosis, surgery, and miscarriage
Unguarded moments reveal your anxieties and desperate aloneness
No smouldering siren when focus on divorces, affairs, and marriages
The singing and dancing blonde bombshell rejected as meaningless

Unguarded moments reveal your anxieties and desperate aloneness
Yet, beneath fragility and addiction, your strong independent mind
Rejecting the singing and dancing blonde bombshell as meaningless
If alive today in a changed world perhaps a sense of self you’d find.

People chose to mock and undervalue your strong independent mind
Marilyn, the educated reader who loved writing poetry and prose
If alive today in a changed world perhaps a sense of self you’d find.
Male power and their fantasies would be declared the real foes

We will not let die the Marilyn you, so wanted to be
Not just the breathy, brainless sex symbol some men desire
But a serious, dedicated actor, seeking to be happy and free
With your talent, as well as beauty, you set the world on fire!

In the early days, struggling to transition from model to actress, Marilyn posed nude for $50. The image in the Avendon calendar was bought for $500 by Hugh Heffner who used it as the centrefold for the first issue of Playboy Magazine in 1953. He sold 54,000 copies!

However, Eve Arnold, another photographer, and a friend captured Marilyn’s unguarded moments…

The legend of Marilyn blossomed like a blast of heady perfume but the smouldering siren was only a pose, a part she played for the very public Marilyn Monroe but couldn’t live…

Nothing Poetic About Sacking Climate Scientists!


On Saturday, along with friend and fellow writer, Glenice Whitting, I joined others at the State Library of Victoria to rally against the savage Federal Government cuts to the CSIRO.

Prime Minister , Malcolm Turnbull and his ministers are stripping CSIRO of the funding it needs to continue critical climate research. This latest attack on climate science and environmental research compounds the untold damage already done to public science and our understanding and ability to cope with climate change.

On 4 February, Larry Marshall, the CEO of CSIRO announced a sweeping cultural change and restructure of Australia’s premier research organisation.

The jobs of many scientists will go, ostensibly because a “renewal” of staff was needed to pursue goals of being ‘more innovative, more impactful and aligning more closely with industry.’ This translates as hundreds of jobs lost locally in Kingston, years of important research abandoned or mothballed and homes like mine put at risk because of global warming.

Marshall, a former venture capitalist, said that a “worst case scenario” would see around 350 staff affected. ‘That’s the sort of number of people who will have to adapt, not move on,’ he said. ‘It will be up to them and their abilities if they stay and go.’

In May 2014, 1000 CSIRO staff lost their jobs!

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The CSIRO has built a well-deserved international reputation for world-class science that has contributed much to global understanding of climate change. In a dramatic gesture at the rally, and rolled out like a red carpet, a list of over 3000 scientists from around the world who signed letters of protest about these cuts and offered support for CSIRO scientists. International condemnation of the cuts includes criticism from the New York Times, Former Vice President Al Gore and international diplomat Mary Robinson.

These cuts have achieved unprecedented front page news for Australia across the world and it’s not good news! Not all publicity is good.

Several speakers spoke at the rally, organised by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), CSIRO Staff Association and Australian Youth Climate Coalition. They were introduced by CPSU Assistant National Secretary Michael Tull who called on the Turnbull Government to act immediately and use May’s federal budget to secure the future of CSIRO:

 Australians are deeply concerned at cuts to science and research. If Mr Turnbull won’t fix CSIRO funding in the budget, he should expect the public to seek a solution to the problem on polling day.


  • Iconic Australian actor and activist Samuel Johnson spoke passionately and received the loudest cheers from the crowd.


‘Molly star Samuel Johnson quit acting to raise money for cancer research. His announcement also attacked fundraising cuts to CSIRO, denial of climate science, alternative medicine, and conspiracy theorists who are “stupidly assuming that our scientists would dare allow big pharma to hide their discoveries.

At the rally he joked about being ‘that guy who rode a unicycle’ but his commitment to science research for the public good is unquestionable. After his sister was diagnosed with breast cancer he rode a pink unicycle around Australia to raise money for breast cancer research. It was her third diagnosis since a bone tumour in her leg at age 11 and a tumour in her womb at age 22.

Samuel raised $1.4 million in his first year, that fell to only $800,000 in the second year and $200,000 in 2015, but he promised to raise $10 million for the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. He won’t stop “until we get to that $10M and show those faceless f***ers at the top end of town just how serious we are about research here at ground level.

As someone who has had breast cancer and the recipient of scientific research I too have a personal stake in maintaining the great science for the public good research programs at the CSIRO.

Federal Labor MP Mark Dreyfus QC spoke very well and reiterated many of the points raised at the excellent forum he hosted in Aspendale recently. With the dramatic rise in global temperatures – including the hottest year (2015) on record – we need the knowledge and expertise of Australian climate scientists now more than ever.

Australian Greens Senator, Janet Rice spoke about being shocked when discovering the enormity of the effects of climate change over 20 years ago when graduating from Melbourne University. Determined to make a difference with better policies she joined The Greens and has been fighting for the environment ever since.


We heard from CSIRO workers from laboratories across Victoria, including those from Aspendale and Geelong where the cuts will hurt the most. They spoke eloquently and sincerely about their love of science, their achievements, their hopes, their belief in science projects for the public good. Their fears for the future if science research is only motivated by money and commercial interests.

Climate science – particularly research based at the Aspendale Laboratory – is under threat.

Dr Marshall has also indicated he plans to cut jobs from Land and Water, Minerals and Energy and Digital Productivity which may impact on Victorian jobs.

Planned cuts to CSIRO Manufacturing may result in significant job losses from Melbourne’s Clayton Laboratories.

Amelia Telford (SEED) and Kirsty Albion from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition were the final speakers and it was heartening to hear their commitment to solving the problems of climate change with renewable energy, fighting pollution and raising awareness among young people. Amelia explained how her people, the first people have maintained and cherished the land for thousands of years.


News this week about bleaching of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef being the worst in history is further evidence we need to be expanding the CSIRO and its amazing research programs.


As I left the rally I watched a chess game outside the State Library


Do the participants understand that politicians and government appointees are playing with the country’s future and even making moves hampering other countries in their climate change research? I hope they paid attention to the rally speakers!

Are people so complacent they don’t understand how horrifying the results of these cuts and sackings will be?

Thank goodness we have dedicated organisations fighting for the Environment and hundreds of supporters prepared to take a stand and work for a better future.

Environment Victoria have set up an Enviro Hub in Frankston to ensure voters in Dunkley and surrounding seats like Isaacs, Flinders and Holt are aware of the importance of using their vote for the Environment. The enthusiasm and commitment of the people at the launch gave me some hope that many people are taking this crisis seriously.

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In deference to NaPoWriMo 2016, I wrote a Verbatim or Found Poem on the CSIRO Cuts carried out by our conservative government over the last two years.

Business As usual in Australia
Mairi Neil

Stunned scientists
moved into new roles
unrelated to their specialty
Australia, the nation
driest on Earth
shifts in rainfall
but global research community

young climate scientists
without direction
the situation depressing
climate capability gone
climate modelling cut

This is not about just Australia
readings of CO2
from Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and Barrow, Alaska
confirmation of humanity’s dominion
over the climate.

It is mind-boggling
Australia is ground zero for climate change
1,000 positions eliminated,
science easily commercialised

CSIRO’s management
focus on commercially viable projects
climate change now settled science
basic research no longer needed

Paris last year certain
humans are altering the planet
but Australia’s government
isn’t serious about climate change
business comes first!

(Words found in ‘Australia Cuts 110 Climate Scientist Jobs’, article in Scientific American By Gayathri Vaidyanathan, ClimateWire on February 8, 2016)


Persevering to Produce A Poem A Day


Day three of NaPoWriMo 2016 and I’ve decided to save the challenge ‘to write a fan letter to a celebrity’ until after I visit the Marilyn Monroe Exhibition with some dear friends tomorrow.

I’m rarely overawed by celebrities – they are just human beings  – but I think I may be inspired to write if the Bendigo Art Gallery’s event is as fabulous as the one they did for Grace Kelly.

However, I promised to publish a poem a day and so here is a poem I wrote in 2004 and revisited last night. I was a writing tutor at Sandybeach Centre – my first paid gig.

In this poem, I could be accused of breaking my own rule by using words that cause readers  to reach for a dictionary, or scratch their heads and wonder what on earth does she mean?

On the other hand, I moved out of my comfort zone and researched words and their meanings to understand myself and the profession I’ve chosen and have a bit of fun with words.  So, fair warning – you may need to savour the words, pause, reflect – and perhaps reject my poem, but you may also be inspired to have fun with words.

It is ironic that the journey I travelled playing with words actually ends with one of the ideas I will probably explore in my poem to, or about, Marilyn.

Fingers crossed the inspiration comes when needed.


Who Am I? What Am I?
Mairi Neil

I’m a writer.
A phrase with connotations galore –
author, biographer, journalist, poet,
columnist, editor, dramatist, copyist,
novelist, playwright, reporter,
essayist, wordsmith, hack –
Need I name more?

Writers write!
Unless up against the dreaded block.
They author, communicate, compose, pen,
scratch, sign, autograph, indite,
correspond, create, draft, inscribe,
note, pencil, record, scrawl –
Scribble frantically around the clock!

The literati boast lucubration at escritoire,
manuscripts cause graphospasm,
and corpus oeuvre fill posterity’s chasm,
from palaeography to grammatology,
stenography preparing bibliography ––
Pseudonyms detected by graphology!

Whether freelance or fabulist using
nom de plumes, ghostwriters or epistolary,
thank goodness people of letters
still continue orthography.
Scriveners scribble in scriptoriums
producing poetry and prose to fascinate,
enlighten, entertain and have their say!
Words that uplift, educate – or challenge
even offend –to promote a cause celebre!



To all those struggling with inspiration and taking the challenge – good luck. I’ll be interested to read the results.

A Poetic Portrait -NaPoWriMo Challenge Day Two


I checked the NaPoWriMo website for the daily (optional) prompt, a challenge to write a poem that takes the form of a family portrait.

You could write, for example, a stanza for each member of your family. You could also find an actual snapshot of your family and write a poem about it, spending a little bit of time on each person in the picture. You don’t need to observe any particular form or meter. Happy writing!

I read their poet for the day to see if any inspiration in style could be found – or even an idea of where to start. The second day and I’m already having doubts about whether I should follow the prompts (the challenge part as I see it) or just post a verse inspired each day by random thoughts and experiences.

Our poet in translation for today is Indonesia’s Toeti Herati. Born in 1933, she started publishing in her early forties, and her work is known for its feminist bent, using irony to expose Indonesian culture’s double standards. Very little of her work is available in English, but the Poetry Translation Center has posted English versions of seven of her poems online, and also offers a dual-language chapbook featuring her work.

A Woman’s Portrait 1938 by Toeti Herati

The painting conveys her exquisite taste:
ear studs, bracelets, green and yellow selendang;
the sash conceals her pregnancy.
The death she is carrying can’t be disguised.
The life she carries will grasp and cling on.
Yearning, restlessness and the turmoil of fear
are not recorded in the brush-strokes,
pencil outline of a face
surrendering to the flow of history.

The painting, with its final brilliant gesture,
only fully reveals this face
when it is framed by memory.

July 1989

“It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.”

Robert Hess

I searched for a family photograph. I’ve been sorting my collection recently – albums, boxes, envelopes – thousands of pics taken over the years, although I never owned a camera until I was 20 years old!


The Kodak Instamatic, popular in the 70s.

There are probably many albums floating around with badly focused snaps taken from too far away, in poor light and with background and even the tops of peoples’ heads missing. However, the ease of pocket cameras and quick snapshots thrilled a generation introduced to colour photography. The Instamatic a step-up from the Brownie  camera.

I received my Kodak as a birthday gift from my godmother, Ina when travelling in Scotland.  Over the years, I moved on from that little cassette-driven machine that gave me a taste for photography.

I’ve photographs inherited from my Dad who was a keen and excellent photographer. He mainly took black and white film, but also developed, enlarged, and printed the shots at home. I blame him for my photographic bug.

Rather than procrastinate over which photograph to choose, I picked one I came across the other day that stirred a lot of memories. It was taken on my 50th birthday in August 2003.

the girls and me 2003 copy.jpeg

The setting, a surprise party my daughters organised, fulfilling a promise made to their father in one of their last conversations together. John died a month after my 49th birthday, which passed almost unnoticed. He was gravely ill, life was bleak, our household in no mood for celebrations.

However, he’d discussed with the girls that the following year was my ‘big five o’ and they’d give me a surprise party. After he died, the planning to do something to cheer me up and show their love probably took on the proportions of the epic movie Ben Hur!

What a big task for two grieving teenagers!

Mary Jane and Anne were only 14 and 17, for my 50th. Sensibly, they sought help from their godmothers – my older sister Cate and younger sister Rita – but the bulk of the organising was their doing.

They found my address book – an old one as it happened – and sent invitations to everyone they thought should come. Needless to say, many of those folk I hadn’t seen in years, some were acquaintances not close friends, and there were others who should have been in the book but their details were only on my computer, or scraps of paper elsewhere so they missed out!

The party indeed a surprise, the guest list even more so and the reunions, conversations and celebration a surprising night full of even more surprises! Get the picture?

How all the thoughts stirred by this family portrait will become a poem  a conundrum – especially at short notice. I believe in writing, rewriting, editing, rewriting, polishing etc ad nauseum.

Participating in NaPoWriMo a challenge indeed. Throwing raw material to the public is cringeworthy but I’m sure good for improving creativity if done often enough!

Family Portrait 2003
Mairi Neil

The four Neils, now three
Mary Jane, Anne, and me
Staring into the camera lens
Ten months after John’s death
And we smile…

How can this be?

A deathbed promise kept
By teenagers who proved adept
At organising a surprise party
Grief boxed for the evening
to be unwrapped later…

The three of us often wept.

Mary Jane, my Thursday child
Withdrawn reclusive – not wild
Anxious and scarred by loss
The balloons a metaphor
For PTSD and inner struggles

Her hazel eyes undefiled.

Anne, my Saturday child smiles too
Leans towards me with eyes so blue
It could be John staring straight ahead
But we all know our rock is dead
Anne his ‘princess’ masks her grief

Fragile as an autumn leaf.

Behind my too bright eyes
Posed pleasure at the surprise
A wall of stoicism holds firm
The ‘hostess with the mostess’
Never admitting life is grim

The closure people seek, just lies.

Looking at the  adolescent faces
The smiles have banished traces
Of the trauma and sadness of loss
The troubles overcome and still to go
Resilience shines, our love for each other

I’m so proud to be their mother.




Sometimes poems have to be put in context. I don’t like making words or ideas deliberately obscure – the reader or listener should understand what you mean without searching through encyclopaedias or dictionaries.

However, cultural nuances can make the writer’s intentions a mystery and so an explanation for mentioning the days my daughters were born can be found in a nursery rhyme my mother often used to recite to help us remember the days of the week.

The Old English nursery rhyme “Monday’s Child” is a poem based on the days of the week
first recorded in 1838 Traditions of Devonshire.

Monday’s Child …

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace;
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go;
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for its living;
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

Tradition holds that you can predict your child’s temperament based on the day of the week they were born. Numerous versions of the poem exist, with both positive and negative connotations (thank goodness) associated with each day.

In the 1887 version of the Monday’s Child poem, published in Harper’s Weekly magazine,  it is actually Thursday’s child “who works hard for a living” with Saturday’s child having “far to go”.

Thursday children have a long, successful life ahead of them. Sometimes, “far to go” is interpreted as meaning a difficult path, such as children with special needs. However, traditional versions focus on the concept of positive abilities and talents that will take them far in life, rather than attributes to overcome.

Saturday children are hardworking, responsible, and dedicated. Sometimes “hard” is interpreted as difficult or struggling. However, traditional versions view hard work as a positive trait, as opposed to “lazy”, indicating Saturday’s children are passionate about their work and make lasting contributions to the world.

Mary Jane and Anne have all the positive traits of the predictions. Life has provided the negatives, the struggles and obstacles, but they both work hard and will go far and achieve, even more than they have already.

Their close relationship will ensure they cherish each other and me.

I look at the family portrait and the poem and hope I’ve captured our love and devotion. I doubt a casual observer would see any of what I’ve said in the poem but then we don’t always write poetry for the general public.

Please feel free to critique or spend the time rummaging through your own photographs and pondering on the memories or message they might hold.

And pick up your pen and write!


Poetry With A Purpose – NaPoWriMo Challenge


Through an item in my Facebook newsfeed I discovered today, April 1, is the first day of NaPoWriMo 2016. The challenge of National Poetry Writing Month is to write a poem each day for the month of April.

A participant and an optional prompt will be featured daily on the NaPoWriMo website. I’ve never thought of participating before but because I am planning my lessons this term around poetry, I thought I’d accept the challenge for some of the days and hone any poetic skills I might have.

Every day, they will also feature a different poet who writes in a language other than English, but whose work is available in English translation. This will be invaluable to move me out of my comfort zone and improve and enrich my knowledge of poets as well as poetry.

The first such poet is Japan’s Hiromi Ito. And not surprisingly, the first optional prompt is to write a lune – ‘a sort of English-language haiku’.

The lune is also known as the American Haiku. Apparently, first created by the poet Robert Kelly because of his frustration with English haiku.

After experimentation,Kelly settled on a 13-syllable, self-contained poem that has 5 syllables in the first line, 3 syllables in the second line and 5 syllables in the final line.

Unlike haiku, there are no other rules and although less syllables than traditional haiku (5,7,5), it provides a little more freedom with:

  • No need for a cutting word.
  • Rhymes are fine
  • Subject matter is open.

I like writing haiku from images of nature and with the recent news of global warming and the worry that Australian researchers will not be funded, the natural environment and our future, is very much on my mind.

So for the purpose of a “Kelly” lune, I chose this photograph by Olegas Truchanas of Lake Pedder, Tasmania 1971 from the National Library’s, Australia’s Wild Places, by Roger McDonald.

In the 1970s, there was a fight to save Lake Pedder being destroyed for a hydroelectricity scheme. The struggle was lost, but from the battle lessons were learned and when I flew down to Tasmania to support the battle to save the  Franklin River  conservation and the environment had become mainstream concerns.

My experience going up the Gordon River from Strahan and supporting the protesters to stop a dam destroying a world heritage area will live in my memory forever. Since then I’ve trekked and camped in the Tarkine, another area we must save for future generations.

Lake Pedder Tasmania

Tasmania’s Beauty

Mairi Neil

Save the wilderness
from logging
Ancient trees Earth’s lungs.

Poet Jack Collom created his variation, which is a self-contained tercet** with his poem word-based, not syllable-based. It has the structure of 3 words in the first line, 5 words in the second line and 3 words in the final line. And no other rules.

I attempted a Collom lune:

Lake and hills
Reflecting pool of the future
Wilderness or resort?

**A tercet is a poetic unit of three lines, rhymed or unrhymed.

Thomas Hardy’s “The Convergence of the Twain” rhymes AAA BBB; Ben Jonson’s “On Spies” is a three-line poem rhyming AAA; and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” is written in terza rima form.

A terza rima is an Italian form of poetry first used by Dante Alighieri. A terza rima consists of stanzas of three lines (or tercets) usually in iambic pentameter. It follows an interlocking rhyming scheme, or chain rhyme.

Unrhymed tercets include Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man”; and David Wagoner’s “For a Student Sleeping in a Poetry Workshop.”

I sincerely hope none of my students will fall asleep in the lessons I’ve planned, but if they do I’ll just write a poem – perhaps a lune.

My next attempts at the lune challenge were inspired by the painting Breaking Home Ties, 1890 by Thomas Hovenden, an American artist born in Ireland so he understood the pain of leaving home.

breaking home ties copy.jpeg

A Kelly lune is followed by a Collom lune.

Farewelling Family

Mairi Neil

Our childhood must end
mother’s weep
When children leave home

Time to leave
the inner child’s fears frozen
No tears allowed

I didn’t quite make the deadline for the challenge because my clock reveals we are already into April 2.  However, because of the different time zones, I may be forgiven – it will still be April 1 somewhere…

If anyone has taken up the challenge or wants to, I hope they’ll share their lune with me and any other poems the month yields. Writing and sharing our poetry over the next 30 days, or any time, can only make us better poets and maybe friends.

Life often gets in the way of my creative writing but NaPoWriMo, which makes April National Poetry Writing Month is definitely a great way of being inspired and ensuring the ideas, words and pen keep flowing.

Here’s one of my traditional haiku as I wonder what the month may bring…

The child within me
Ponders life and the future
The path a mystery.

Happy writing!