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.

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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).
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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.

Please Wake me up When September Ends


I know it’s Father’s Day today, but my lovely daughters bought me flowers and took me out to lunch at Abbey Road, St Kilda where a background of songs from the 60s and 70s and a delicious roast dinner with ‘Yorkshire Pud’ (their father’s favourite) reminded us of the happy times when John was alive.

As my youngest daughter MJ said this morning, “September is a crap month – it starts off with Father’s day and ends (21st) with the anniversary of Dad’s death.” I’m sure many people who have lost ones they love, for whatever reason, feel the same. There’s even a song to encapsulate how we feel:

Wake me up When September Ends
Summer has come and passed, the innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends
Like my father’s come to pass, seven years has gone so fast
Wake me up when September ends
Here comes the rain again, falling from the stars
Drenched in my pain again, becoming who we are
As my memory rests, but never forgets what I lost
Wake me up when September ends

Summer has come and passed, the innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends
Ring out the bells again
Like we did when Spring began
Wake me up when September ends

Summer has come and passed, the innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends
Like my father’s come to pass, twenty years has gone so fast
Wake me up when September ends
Wake me up when September ends
Wake me up when September ends

Green Day

Of course in this hemisphere, September is the month of Spring and Summer is still ahead, but the Neil household relates to this song.  Waking up to sunshine and evidence of new birth as  flowers in the garden begin to bloom may help lighten the mood, but the gloom of despair still lurks.

I try to be buoyant and focus on Nature’s beauty: inhale the sweetness of the roses and geraniums, the camellias beginning to bud, the rosemary and lavender blooming. I know we are fortunate to have a nice home and garden and to have each other.



And this past week,  the media has been filled with horrific pictures and stories. My grief has paled beside the enormity of what refugees face. It is hard to go about normal business never mind be happy when you know there are so many desperate people fleeing tragedy.

The scenes in Europe tragic, but also inspirational. People have lost loved ones, their homes and their jobs, but thank goodness they still have their spirit and a desire to survive and start afresh.

The worst and the best of humanity on display. Well done to Angela Merkel of Germany for showing leadership and humanity  and shame on the heartless people who turn their backs and the fascist demonstrators  who abuse the desperate people on their journey to a better life.

I only hope the shift in attitude from some of Australia’s political leaders will mean the end of official policies here of mandatory offshore detention and denying citizenship to people seeking asylum if they arrive by boat. Despite the political spin being mouthed by Government, our record on this issue is appalling. The hypocrisy being shown is astounding.

If the current crop of politicians believe what they are saying we have thousands in detention on Christmas, Manus and Nauru Islands that would benefit from compassion and release into the community.


I’ve written poems and stories about asylum seekers and refugees over the years. One of the ways I cope with what seems insurmountable odds and inexplicable human behaviour.  ‘Man’s inhumanity to man’  first documented by poet Rabbie Burn’s  in ‘Man was made to mourn…’ As writers often all we have is our words to save us from going insane.

International Odyssey
Mairi Neil

The trees cling to fragile foliage
like mothers reluctant to let
their children go.
The winter sun radiates
white light promising a day
of autumn glory…
It is Melbourne after all.

A blue sky pockmarked by fluffy clouds
reflecting a sea of shimmering blue
But beyond the benign bay
tragedy intrudes
fear and desperation meets
fear and distrust.

No need of Siren’s song
to lure the mariners to their death.
The monster from the deep is
dressed in political spin and
ideological hubris.
Christian charity in short supply.
To seek asylum deemed illegal

It is Australia after all.

At 30th June there were 945 men in detention on Nauru. 41 have been granted refugee status, but it is too dangerous to go anywhere else in PNG and they’ve been put in a transit camp waiting for freedom. On Nauru there are 88 children, 114 women and 453 men. All there more than 2 years.

Recently, on the ABC  7.30 Report they interviewed a doctor speaking about the dreadful abuse of children offshore. He had tears in his eyes describing the number of children with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and meeting a six year old girl who tried to kill herself!

As a nation we must seriously ponder our humanity – what brings a child of 6 to a decision life is no longer worth living?

Australia takes 109,000 net migration including those coming for business or family reasons. There is 60 million displaced people in the world – the greatest humanitarian crisis on record. About 59 million of those just want to return home and be safe.

Flotsam And Jetsam
Mairi Neil

In Australia politicians choose
Who we bring home
And who we turn back

A procession of hearses
Carry innocent victims
Of a plane explosion.
Collateral damage of war
Becomes a television spectacle.
Families plead for privacy
Pain and grief is not a story.

In Australia politicians choose
Who we bring home
And who we turn back

International Refugee Conventions
Ignored and challenged.
A boat-load of asylum seekers
Floating in crowded detention.
Collateral damage of xenophobia
Government silence deafening
Pain and grief is not a story.

In Australia politicians choose
Who we bring home
And who we turn back

The death toll in Gaza grows
Lives ruled by the noise of sirens
Rockets decide who dies
But humans take aim.
David and Goliath a myth.
Palestinian pain and grief
A never-ending story.

When a child asks ‘why?’
The truth garbled white noise…
Whatever gods we choose
To worship and obey
Are not to blame
For human shame.

In Lebanon 260 per 1000 of population are refugees living on their border. Even if we increased our intake to 50,000 it would be only 2.4 per thousand of Australia’s population. It is time all of us who call ourselves writers put pen to paper to give desperate people a voice. If enough people send emails or letters to those in power who can make decisions and demand a stop to abuse in our name, there will be change.

Seeking asylum is not illegal and fleeing from war, poverty and persecution is perfectly natural.

Operation Sovereign Borders
Mairi Neil
(a found poem from Refugee Week leaflets)

Refugees and asylum seekers
wanting safety
a new life
cross stormy waters
with courage
seeking justice
and a welcome
from Australian society.
Young and old
with amazing personal stories
of darkness, bribery, corruption
challenges faced
uprisings survived
prisoners of conscience
student leaders
from Afghanistan and Burma
seeking resettlement
and freedom
seeking to celebrate and contribute.
Their hopes crushed
basic human rights violated
harsh lessons in cruelty
as the innocent
are locked up.
In limbo
on Nauru and Manus Islands
detention not freedom
We can do better
Stand up, Speak up
refugees and asylum Seekers
Welcome here!