Friday, March 21, 2008

New England poet Peter Skrzynecki's Summer in the Country

Browsing around I came across a reference to a joint show done by New England poets' Peter Skrzynecki and Julian Croft. I mentioned Peter in passing in a post back in 2006 in an early story on New England writers.

Still browsing, I came across this poem on Neil Whitfield's English site.

Summer in the Country

Summer in the country

was brushing away
flies from your face
and wiping sweat from your eyes—

The flies, always a plague in sheep country. Hiking with the scouts, with packs flapping on backs, clouds of flies would be attracted by the salt in our sweat.

watching grasses and grains
shimmer in paddocks
or sheep and cattle
grazing beyond a windbreak of pines

Pines are a common windbreak on the New England Tablelands and immediate slopes..

Galahs clanged over the homestead.
A windmill turned
when a breeze sprung up.
Cockatoos screeched from the pepper tree

Windmills were a common sight, tall metal structures clanking in the moving air. Whereas the normal gum provides light shade, shade from pepper trees is dense. A self-sown one grew in the chook yard at home. We used to rub the leaves between our fingers to get the pepper smell.

Only crows frightened me
with their sorrowful cries
and the way they flew slowly
like black crosses.

There is something very lonely about the crow's call. On hot days when everything else is still, the call echoes across the paddocks.

The old slab-split shed
was a treasure-trove
of harnesses, bridles, farm
machinery, forty-four-gallon drums—

To a kid, these sheds are a treasure trove. The forty-four gallon drum or, earlier, the kerosene tin, was used for many things. In our case, cut in half with holes in the bottom, for catching yabbies.

its walls covered
with cobwebs that housed
unimaginable spiders
but where it was cool inside.

I hate spiders! Their webs were everywhere in those old sheds.

I didn’t miss Europe
like my parents did—
nor a Christmas without snow
I’d hear them talking about.

Poland was a long way from Australia.

Summer in the country
was being given a glass of cold lemonade
and falling asleep
under a red-gum’s shade.

The verse does capture the nostalgia of the past. Still, speaking from my own experience, the ground is bloody hard without some form of blanket!

Somewhat later

Neil suggested that this memories of childhood poem was probably set in the Parkes area rather than New England since Peter's early years were spent at Parkes.

I think that Neil is right. Still, like many good poems, it can be translated to another area and set of experiences. However, I needed to make the correction.

A post on my personal blog, Saturday Morning Musings - literature, locale and license, extends my overall analysis on New England writing.

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