straya

straya is a book of hauntings, a parliament of ghosts, public and private, the story of a small-town Orpheus lost in the brusque shadows of a land-down-under. It's a treatise on grief, atrocity and human tragedy seen through the eyes of a bewildered mourner in exile, a travelogue of land and soul unravelling the complex carnage of our redacted histories, a song-book of love and hate, of sorrow and celebration, of cold despair and stubborn hope.

Cover image: Ian Stephenson, cadenza.

Sample Poem

dear john

somewhere in the vicinity
of an imagined billabong.

somewhere out country,
but in eye-shot of highlands.

somewhere brick-less,
& blandly mono-cultural.

somewhere vaguely halcyon
with a trace of wood-smoke;

both tranquil & idyllic,
in the clarity of winter.

the illusion of welcome.
a spattering of gums,

a plump wattle in waiting,
a black swan mid-preen.

maybe a sheep,
dourly presbyterian,

maybe a spaniel,
gormless & thirsty,

maybe a remnant
of agrarian toil,

perhaps a glimpse
of imported tweed .

you know the one?
you know the place?

that scene recounted
a thousand times

in vapid, naive watercolours
by the effete women-folk

of a red-faced squattocracy;
in pristine photo-realistic oils

by the gentlemen tourists
of the royal academy.

& somewhere near
a scene like this,

the nation reclines
rolls out its swag,

emblazoned with eureka’s
tattered sack-cloth flag,

unleashes the stench
of a journey’s sweat,

of history’s dried semen
& the rust of spilled blood;

beds down for the night,
mouths by rote,

(& without particular conviction)
a litany of futile prayers,

finds a hollow in the dirt
for the curve of its hip,

wrestles the discomfort
of its settler’s pathology,

carefully compartmentalises
its cornucopia of dread.

& the light on the hill
flickers to extinction,

drowns without ceremony
in a pool of its own wax.

& as simple as that,
as easy as pie,

the vision foreclosed,
the word egalitarian

removed from the lexicon
of our jilted ideologies.

any notion of dialectic
lost in the fat rolls

of the obese poor,
in the tear-stained fine-print

of their defaulted mortgages,
in the intricate matrix

of denial & spite
etched in the smirks

of the thin-lipped rich,
in the exquisite apathy

of the middling,
in the sprawling inventory

of their material possessions,
in the blue-lipped silence

of another teenage suicide,
in the bloom of blue bruises

of another battered wife,
the incendiary breath

of a jaundiced alcoholic,
in the shadow of our debt,

the gauntness of the gambler
chasing his own tail,

in drip-fed fears,
in hope denied of means,

enquiry anoxic in the vacuum
of intellectual inertia,

in drought or in flame,
in the face of the other,

in the misinterpreted verses
of someone’s holy book,

in the jingoism of failures
& imperial anachronism,

in the glorious technicolour
of a petrol sniffer’s dreaming,

in the larrikin grins,
in the churches of athleticism,

in the falsity of memory,
in the bell-jar of constraint,

in the tedious four-stroke refrains
of one dimensional masculinity,

in the shark-eyed hypocrisy
of a palsied democracy,

in the desert of insularity,
in the bankruptcy of morality,

in the silence of the dirt,
in the irritating slowness

of our broadband connectivity,
in the glorious intoxication

of our rampant narcissism,
in the hollow psychologies

of the worried-well
& their unremitting fondness

for collectivised trauma,
in the venal self-interest

of the handmaidens of capital,
in the kookaburra’s senseless yakka,

in the insomnia-inducing monotony
of libidinous tree frogs,

in the astounding regenerative
powers of conservatism,

in the white-knuckled grip
of a host of non-specific insecurities,

in the inexcusable lack of craft employed
in the production of the barbecue sausage,

in the entrenched battle-lines
of the history wars,

in the romanticisation of settlement;
with particular reference

to the man from snowy river
& every bush-ballad ever written,
in the monarchists’ voluminous bleat,
in the perfume of the eucalypt,

in the sweet reek of petrichor,
in the unthinking infatuation with tv chefs

& the ritually commemorative,
in the tumorous mass of our hypochondria

& a continued faith in homeopathy,
in the bleached-out coral of a dying reef,

in the unavoidable austerity measures
of our pugilist, neo-con politicos,

in the squalor of manus,
in the stopping of the boats,

in the lame rhetoric of reconciliation,
the insidious dexterity of corporate re-branding,

in the unshiftable stain of patriarchy,
in the burr of a ranter’s red raw throat,

in the steadfast march to homogeneity,
in the nuances of a free speech debate,

in the shadow of our hatreds,
in the disempowered majority,

in the solipsistic ephemera
of the legislator poets,

in the impenetrable sophistication
of the doggedly defended,

in the pungency of bat-shit,
in the stultifying absence

of a rigorous critique
of absolutely anything,

in the caul of this dark,
in the curlew’s call.

the nation sleeps;
untroubled by the hag

perched on its legs.
it grunts, it snorts,
it twitches like a dreaming dog,
dribbles saliva down its jowls,

unconsciously grips
at the mound of its genitals.

& the light on the hill
flickers to extinction;

drowns without ceremony
in a pool of its own wax.

Reviews

‘Paul Summers writes of grief in a language that is spare, exact, evocative and almost unbearably vivid. Whether the subject is political or personal, the dead of the First World War or his own mother, his poet’s eye is unflinching, his poet’s ear unerring. This is a song of protest against the unspeakable, a song of rare courage and skill. Paul Summers sings for us all.’

Martín Espada

‘Summers is a fine proponent for the case that textual countries need to be rediscovered. Much of his writing has been completed on country I have connection to: the soil, the salt and endless horizons feather-rendered. I am often lost but feel very much at home in his pages.’

Samuel Watson

‘Terse, tough, rooted writing that pulls no punches is not easy to achieve. Straya brings this style to the very edge of lyricism yet not quite touching it. The precise gap is cleverly held. No wasted words. The use of the ampersand not some shallow signifier of hipster-mode but an emblem of the force of brevity in the pared-down line.’

Matthew Caley