Geoff Page is a Canberra-based poet who has published eighteen collections of poetry as well as two novels, four previous verse novels and several other works including anthologies, translations and a biography of the jazz musician, Bernie McGann. He retired at the end of 2001 from being in charge of the English Department at Narrabundah College in the ACT, a position he had held since 1974.
He has won several awards, including the ACT Poetry Award, the Grace Leven Prize, the Christopher Brennan Award, the Queensland Premier's Prize for Poetry and the 2001 Patrick White Literary Award. Selections from his work have been translated into six languages. He has also read his work and talked on Australian poetry throughout Europe as well as in India, Singapore, China, Korea, the United States and New Zealand.
Among his more recent books are: Agnostic Skies (Five Islands Press 2006), Eighty Great Poems from Chaucer till Now (UNSW Press 2006), Lawrie & Shirley:The Final Cadenza: A Movie in Verse (Pandanus Books 2007), Seriatim (Salt 2007) and 60 Classic Australian Poems (UNSW Press 2009).
Dearest daughters, Jane and Sarah,
You’ll read this only when I’m dead.
I’ll leave it with my cheerful lawyer
who, with her very well-trained head,
has seen how things might be arranged
when I am truly ‘done and dusted’,
about what goes to whom and who
might, at the end, be truly trusted.
She’s got the clauses all drawn up
in fairness to you both, I’m sure;
she had me there in knots for hours
on who got less and who got more,
on what might just survive a challenge
and what would best defy a judge
who thought my will too mean by half
and just the product of a grudge.
You will have seen the will by now,
resolved your curiosity;
and seen how providence ensures
a certain reciprocity.
I won’t go into niceties;
the story’s there in black and white;
checked thoroughly (at no small cost)
to see that, legally, it’s tight,
Of course, the two of you, I know,
have several times declared you’re sorry
for how you carried on while I
was ‘sleeping’, as you say, with Lawrie
eleven years ago this autumn
and then through Europe in the spring,
that sweet cadenza to his life,
a duet only love can sing —
and, yes, OK, you’ve eased off when
I neared the age that he was then —
eighty-one and less than mobile,
an age at which you wonder when
and how, precisely, fate will strike.
Cancer? Broken hip? The heart?
In dodging one you find another;
that’s the most frustrating part.
Of course, in my case, it’s the hips
that finally have let me down
and dropped me off here — minus car —
though not yet in my dressing gown.
Enough of that! The jury’s out;
we don’t know what the verdict brings.
The subtle powers of entropy
are generous with their offerings.
Are you sitting down and ready?
What purpose can this serve? you think.
Of course, you are annoyed and if
it’s after three you’ll need a drink.
‘But why,’ I hear you start to ask,
‘do you insist on using rhyme?
Isn’t that a sad, old-fashioned
relic of another time,
an age we barely touched in school,
some guys, I think, called Pope and Swift,
the age before the age when moderns
cut such chiming well adrift?
Don’t forget you’re getting old
and in an “aged facility”.
Wouldn’t prose be better suited
to your new docility?’
Docile? Maybe, darling Sarah,
and no less so my sweetest Jane,
but I’ve discovered that small rhymes
can do big wonders for the brain.
You do recall that class I took,
Bring Back Scansion! Bring Back Rhyme!?
A very pleasant man, he was,
not long after Lawrie’s time.
He’d followed Whitman when quite young
but as his books rolled out he found
that free verse wafted off a little;
rhyme stayed closer to the ground.
Two years after Lawrie died,
that freeze-frame of the heart and trees,
I found myself recovering,
day by day in small degrees.
We’d known all through it would be brief;
that fate, not you, would make it so.
Head-on elm with autumn leaves
is quite the clever way to go.
Even now I see them falling,
yellow through the shattered glass
and Lawrie at the wheel beside me,
dead, but exiting with class.
Not for him the happy humdrum;
nor the steady diminutions
in a wheelchair down the lino,
the slow farewell of institutions.
I tried back then without success
to seal that moment in a poem.
I thought to run it past the tutor
but, in the end, I didn’t show him.
There was another, set in Venice,
that wonder tourists can’t quite spoil;
Lawrie, me, the vaporetto;
I couldn’t bring it to the boil,
to catch the feeling there between us,
up and down the Grand Canal;
the rocking of the gondolas
kept on turning out banal.
The four-stress or the five-stress line
couldn’t quite get Lawrie right;
nor do much to shift the grief
that lay beside me every night.
It took three years and nothing less
to settle all that in the past
and see, no disrespect to Ted,
that Lawrie was my first and last.
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