Convent Mermaid

Rod Usher’s third collection, Convent Mermaid, is full of wit and sadness, love and loss.

Many of the poems spring from his long experience as a journalist, novelist and from years of living and working in Europe.

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Rod Usher’s third collection, Convent Mermaid, is full of wit and sadness, love and loss.

Many of the poems spring from his long experience as a journalist, novelist and from years of living and working in Europe.

As Les Murray has written, Rod´s poetry inspires both tears and laughter. He’s equally at home in poetic conversation with Emily Dickinson, David Bowie and Federico Garcia Lorca, in revisiting Cro-Magnon Man, or portraying the to-and-fro of love and sex.

His poems find their feet in Australia, Spain, England and the U.S., their rhyme typically embedded rather than obligatory, though he bows to the tight rules of haiku.

Rod Usher

Rod Usher is the author of three novels, two poetry collections and three non-fiction titles. His novels A Man of Marbles and Florid States were published in 1989 and 1990 respectively. Florid States was short-listed for the MIND Book of the Year Award in the UK. Poor Man´s Wealth appeared in 2011. His first poetry book, Above Water, was self-published and illustrated by Geelong artist John Druce. His collection Smiling Treason was published in 1992. Since his third novel Rod has returned to writing poetry, and has been published widely in recent years, particularly in Meanjin, Island and Quadrant. His poems have also appeared in The Age, Overland, and Going Down Swinging and in anthologies including Australian Love Poems 2013, The Best of Quadrant 2000-2010, Aesthetica Magazine Annual (UK), Flood, Fire and Famine and The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry (2014). His non-fiction books are Sleep: All You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Too Tired to Ask, Images of Our Time and Their Best Shots; 21 Years of the Nikon Awards. He has worked as a journalist in many countries and is a former literary editor of The Age, former chief sub-editor of The Sunday Times, London, and former senior writer for TIME magazine in Europe. He currently lives in Spain, making frequent trips home to Melbourne.


First Hotel

Here in the deep red dark, the warm dark
there is no language, no sight,
no touch on skin, whatever that might be.
Within, merely sounds of plumbing
muted vibrations…notes?
obsessively these nine months.
Sometimes the craft does lose way,
as though we’ve been through a star-storm
and this sense of zero gravity,
the buoyancy, it falters;
we jerk from scheduled orbit.
Say she’s eaten avocados again!
Or, leaving aside wine and smokes,
some mechanic palps, pokes,
often catching me shadow boxing
or training for the Tour de France
and I take a stance, put my foot down.
Then one day, happily napping
after an in-flight re-fuel,
these kitten eyes lidded,
bells start ringing and, frankly,
it’s like the end of the world.
Apparently it is the start
but picture a tennis ball being forced
down a garden hose!
The drag on ears, the flattening nose.
Traumatic memories, those. I’m told
they fade as in an interrupted dream
but if so, how do I still have them?
The so-called primal scream?
I didn’t say moo at the time,
the noise was all coming from Her,
caught between dilate and delight.
Here I’d ask, if I might, is it kosher
to clasp a fellow’s ankles quite so hard?
to have one’s peach-sized bottom slapped?
that mean clamp put on the fuel line?
and then to be wrapped
so tight in a rasping straitjacket?
This small packet
was wanting to shout blue murder
in the fluorescent-lit substitute ‘room’.
Maternity, I’ve since been told,
comes to soothing rescue quite soon.
All I can report first uncoordinated hand
is that when the light hit, smells hit,
my sound barrier smashed,
senses waving like an anemone,
some kind soul laid me on a full pillow
and a warm bumpy device
– without the required addiction advice –
was gently inserted between thin new lips.
This and that the first word to enter
ears once wonderfully deaf in wet silence,
the in-the-beginning word is:
Some of the shocks were pleasant
– if you’ve not gulped milk, gummed nipple –
but if anyone had taken the bother
to ask, I’d have stayed on
in the all-included, five-star
Hotel Mother.

If Not More

Beauty is one of the few things about which
Cromagnon man knew as much as we do.
– Arthur Koestler in Drinkers of Infinity

Our cave here is comfortable enough
sandy floor, dry walls
danger of rockfalls
but the Dordogne weather isn’t too rough.

All our children wear well-cut bison flay
the wife does good fire.
I’d like to retire
but she says I’d only get in the way.

So it’s keep on clubbing, set trap and snare
long days in the woods.
I know all its moods
its smells, sounds, small changes in the air.

My favourite time is Muyt, when the leaf dries
and comes down the tree.
It is telling me
light one day won’t open my dawn eyes.

The wife points out some leaves stay green all year:
‘Life might continue
at least for the few
who obey Sun and Moon laws while we’re here.’

I’m not much of one for such discussion:
water where it flows
fire to warm toes
a wall for art, tight skin for percussion.

The offspring want us to move up a rung
modernise the cave
like the neighbours have
cook with clean wood, not dried buffalo dung.

I preach to them, as any father ought.
Beauty, I explain,
dwells not in the brain:
By a deer, by snow, by sunrise be taught.

Note: He lived about 20,000 years ago, according to the remains found in 1868 in Cromagnon Cave, France. His large cranial capacity is said to make him analogous to today’s European.


When haste meets dilation
rising from well, soft fontanelle
risking headbutt to firstlight.
Spineup book on midnight quilt
Finisterre click of bedside lamp
glutting the room with dry ink.
Mendelssohn’s violins
vibrating Sunday air
as do hawks, or virtue.
Homecoming penis
in vagina’s warm embrace,
innermost of outer space.
Coffin parked on trolley
awaiting the jolly build of degrees
in the oven not for cakes.

Hawks and Crows

Crow realised God loved him –
Otherwise, he would have dropped dead.
– from “Crow’s Theology” by Ted Hughes

Hawks ’n crows get more goes
than any other birds in verse.
Here at least Plath and Hughes
saw eye-to-beady-eye
Ted creating a whole Crow book
Sylvia finding angelic muse
out in rainy weather with a rook.

Kestrel, kite and vulture
overpopulate the culture.
The raven ‘spake’ for poor Poe.
Yeats gets scary when his falcon,
Major Tom-like, loses contact
with its ground-controller below.

Another leading talon is the owl:
pr owl, h owl, sc owl
vole to disembowel.
In just three letters
so much vowel!

Many a hovering bard
finds it terribly hard
to do without the eagle
(which lands majestically on regal
though let’s definitely skewer
the next to soar one in ‘the azure’).

Charles Tomlinson and Thom Gunn
are hawk men to a quill
emphasising with elegance
the slightly morbid reverence
so many poets bring
to birds that cannot sing!


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Customer Reviews

1-5 of 11 reviews

  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Rod Usher reminds us why we care about poetry–why it remains relevant and vital–in his third poetry collection, Convent Mermaid. A multi-talented writer with an impressive background in international journalism and several published novels to his credit, Usher’s poetic work is imbued with candor, wit, depth, and tenderness. He engaged this reader with his considerable powers of observation, surprised with rhyme schemes, and inspired with his appreciation of the stuff of life we so often take for granted. Through the beauty of language and the lens of experience, the poet communicates the wonder of it all from the perspective of a citizen of the world who remains accessible. Poem after poem, I found myself thinking, ‘Yes–that’s how it is.’ Beyond reaching the heart, mind, and funny bone, Convent Mermaid illustrates the potential of poetry to not only enrich but to transform.

    – American writer Barbara Taylor

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Rod Usher has authored two previous poetry collections, three novels, and three non-fiction titles. His second novel, Florid States, was short-listed for the MIND Book of the Year Award in the UK, and his work appears regularly in leading literary magazines and anthologies. He has worked as a journalist, is a former literary editor of The Age, former chief-sub-editor of The Sunday Times, London, and a former senior writer for TIME magazine in Europe.

    No surprise then that his third poetry collection, Convent Mermaid (Interactive Press, The Literature Series) is filled with imagery and wit, loss and sadness, themes universal to us all.

    “First Hotel,” opens the collection, taking us on a wild ride from our ‘First Hotel,’ to arrival in the world. “If I Go First,” is the last poem, about dying and what we might hope for those we leave behind.

    Many of Usher’s poems begin in a humorous vein and end on a serious note. One example is, “If Not More.” Here, a Cro-Magnon man enjoys the simple comforts of his cave while thinking of retiring from long days of hunting, though his wife is against the idea because she doesn’t want him ‘getting in her way’ all day. His children want to ‘move up a rung,’ and modernize the cave. The reader sympathizes while smiling – his predicament isn’t so different from twenty-first century concerns – until the final lines, when this husband and father ruminates on the meaning of beauty and we realize there are more important things in life than, ‘moving up a rung.’

    One of my favorites is the deceptively simple, “Hard Rain,” an understated lament of loneliness and sadness over the loss of a pet:

    tongue-lashes the bedroom window
    water talking its way in
    through the unsnug frame,
    pooling on the tile floor.
    I ought to get up, I say,
    do some caulking with the red towel
    that dried the dog before…

    As in all good poetry, Usher’s poems contain more than meets the eye. His sly humor shines often, as in the title poem, “Convent Mermaid.” A modest, convent-bred girl sheds her clothes to swim in the nude. She is far enough from shore that a voyeur cannot see anything of note, but then he calls out with a request to take a photograph. At such a distance, she thinks, what could it matter?

    Guesstimating distance to darkness of pine,
    She treads the wrapping water, shrugs.
    Once more she is supine.
    He clicks before shyness can its shell resume,
    Before Convent Mermaid has time to remember
    Our camera has zoom.

    – Judith Quaempts, The Internet Review of Books

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Also written about the writer:

    Gentle, wry, intelligent…a highly civilised performance. I laughed out loud at times, I inwardly cried at other times.
    – Les Murray on the poetry collection Smiling Treason.

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    The poems are well travelled and modulate from blatant indulgence to the blissed, beat mysticism of driving home to Toft Monks, in Norfolk:

    Centuries of rooted oak and elm
    threaten these seconds
    stoic wood secretly magnetic
    as I burn present into past
    far too fast:
    The dashboard glows like pity.
    – S.K. Kelen on Smiling Treason, Canberra Times.

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Don´t anticipate post-modernist tricks or mirages. But you may well find poems of quiet enjoyment, and a singing voice that moves with a practised but not entirely predictable cadence.
    – Thomas Shapcott on Smiling Treason in Bookseller and Publisher

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Rod Usher´s first novel has an important integrity. Well-crafted, sensitive and speaking of things that matter it is a civilising work of literary art.
    – Rod Moran on A Man of Marbles, Overland.

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    If you´re frozen-hearted, Florid States will thaw you out. Usher makes you care what happens to everybody – even the bigots – and everything in his little community.
    – Mary Rose Liverani, The Australian.

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    What a Terrific novel!
    – Sydney Morning Herald on Florid States.

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Usher takes risks both with language and with his subject matter. He is an important writer who both moves and challenges the reader.
    – John Hanrahan, The Age.

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    It is a clever writer who can balance a love story, a fable and a serious comment on modern life. Rod Usher does it admirably in his latest novel, Poor Man´s Wealth.
    — Mary Philip, Courier-Mail.

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Usher evokes his character slowly with internalisations and one becomes fond of his foibles and his good but wary heart. ..all very gentle, softly comic and entirely charming.
    – Samela Harris on Poor Man´s Wealth, Adelaide Advertiser.

    July 12, 2023

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