a prose poem
(cover photograph: Ursula Cliff)
A6 32pp ISBN: 987-0-9808656-4-6
$9.90 each including postage
A prose poem in a wry observational mode, Vanuatu as seen by Cliff is as strange as any place on the planet, or possibly, off.
This long poem is in two books: Vanuatu Moon Book 1 and Vanuatu Moon Book 2
Paul Cliff lives in Canberra, and is a poet, playwright and editor.
He has published three collections of poetry: The wolf problem in Australia (Five Islands Press, 1994); Backpack Despatches: Travel Poems (Kardoorair, 1998); and The Impatient World (Five Islands Press, 2002).
His work has been widely published in many magazines, journals and newspapers, in Australia and overseas, and online, over the past 25 years and he has won or been short-listed for a number of prizes, including the Mattara Poetry Prize, David Campbell and Rosemary Dobson Poetry Prizes; Braidwood two Fires Poetry Festival prize and the Shoalhaven Poetry Prize. His worked has also featured on buses, under the ACT’s Poetry in ACTion program.
His work has been published in a number of anthologies, including Footprints on Paper (English-Chinese trans, 1996); Poets Choice anthology, 1996; Mattara prize, 1987; Anthology Modern Australian Sonnets (Geoff Page, 2003); Open Boat: Barbed Wire Sky, Poems for Refugees, 2003; and on the CD: Australian Poetry: Live at Chats, 1999.
His experimental play, Deadline: A Manual for Hostage-Taking, won the Canberra Playwright’s Award for 2000, and received a production at Canberra’s Theatre 3; another play received professional workshopping at The Street Theatre, Canberra.
For 14 years he worked as Senior Editor for the National Library of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia Publications sections. For the National Library he was compiling editor/writer of three books: Acquired Tastes: Celebrating Australia’s Culinary Culture, 1998; A Sporting Nation: Celebrating Australia’s Sporting Life, 1999; and The Endless Playground: Celebrating Australian Childhood, 2000. The latter received an honourable mention in the Centre for Australian Cultural Studies Awards 2000.
For the National Library he also edited the biography, TW Edgeworth David, a Life, by David Branagan, which was a finalist in the Inaugural Prime Minister’s History Prize (2007). He was compiling editor of two poetry anthologies: The Little Book of Childhood (Poems), and Birds: Poems by Judith Wright (a new, supplemented edition of this collection, 2003).
He has also produced a manuscript, ‘The Angel In It’: Les Murray at Bunyah — A Critical Cartography, (developed from a Masters at the University of New England), sections of which have been published in journals and online.
Kava Bar Blues
Kava (Tongan/Marquesan): lit. ‘bitter’. Intoxicating beverage produced from the crushed and fermented roots of the shrubby pepper, Piper methysticum
Kava bars abound round-town: little shanty-shacks tucked away by day, to walk the streets by night — like this wall-less, packing-crate-&-palmwood thing set in grassland by the bay.
A small plastic bowl of the kind you’d eat your breakfast muesli from, dipped into a tub of beige brew, costs 100 Vatu. ($1 Australian, approx.) At a table outside, I tip it back clasped in both hands. It savours of dishwater squeezed from old skanky dish rags, laced with a Tabasco kick. And tingles the length of my tongue, slowly numbing it to the root. When my wife inquires as to the effect, my speech seems vaguely slurred.
You could imagine that, like the legendary mandrake, the kava’s root would scream too, when wrenched from the earth: curse you, up-down-and-sideways; black-blue and chartreuse. Yet the plant is held sacred here, so you show respect: swill two more small, dutiful mouthfuls before reaching discreetly undertable to tip it out. Thus returning the root to the ground from whence it came — was coaxed, jerked, manhauled; or crawled and strongarmed itself out of its own accord.
Please let this bowl pass from me, Vanuatu, and not pass my way again. Beige brew with its ‘alkaloidal active ingredient, contrived from the powdered roots and basal stump of several varieties of the native pepper, Piper methysticum’. May the root reconstitute itself, and re-inter itself even deeper in the ground than before, as far as I’m concerned. Amen … and with respect.