GOLDEN LANGUR INTERVIEWS MAUREEN CLIFFORD
GL: What first inspired you to write? Was it the work of a poet? Or was it a particular place or experience? Please share some details.
MC: I don’t think I was inspired to write as such – but just wrote. I have written poetry since I was eight years old, according to my Mum. I can only vaguely remember doing so, probably just for fun, or probably about horses as, like most teenage girls, I was horse mad, but I really started writing continuously and cataloguing my work after a very messy and hurtful marriage break up over thirty years ago, and then got stuck into writing with a serious intent and writing bush poetry about ten years ago when another relationship was going belly up. So, it would appear from that comment, that poetry is therapy. Must be the longest therapy stint in bloody history that being the case. Over thirty years worth. 😆
GL: Would it be right to describe you as a Bush Poet? What is it about this particular genre that inspires you? Could you name some of the Bush Poets whose writings have made an impact on you?
MC: I think I am just a poet, but I have a strong leaning towards and love of Bush Poetry.
The beauty of Australia and its history inspires me. It is a hard land and people here have to be tough to live within it – although not so much physically tough now days as their forebears did. It is a land where the ANZAC spirit is still strong, the spirit of mateship that always comes to the fore in times of natural disaster. That spirit has run through our people since our convict beginnings, has seen Australians acknowledged worldwide as brave fighting men through many wars. It is our ability to speak up and speak out for the underdog and, of course, luckily our freedom to be able to do so. It is the Australian sense of humour, our ability to have a dig at ourselves as well as others, to always see the humour even in a terrible situation. So many things that describe the people and this country need the words that Bush Poets use. Brevity of verse cannot tell the story.
I lean towards Banjo Paterson as a favourite Australian poet but also enjoy the work of Dorothea Mackellar, she who loved a sun-burnt country, as do I – trite but true.
To be fair, I also love a lot of the work that our own modern day Bush Poets write and find them totally inspiring. Within the Australian Bush Poets Association, our own Glenny Palmer is a fabulous poet and always willing to mentor newbies. Kym Eitel and David Campbell, Will Moody – there are too many to mention, but they are all excellent Bush Poets and always give freely with their help and assistance.
GL: Have you published your bush poems? Please share an extract of one such poem.
MC: I personally haven’t published any of my work but have had work accepted by several anthology publications, and have another one about to be released, Life Love Laughter Ink which was spawned as a result of Cyclone Yasi.
Several magazines and overseas sites have accepted my work. Probably the two of which I am most proud being The Top Ender magazine, which is a tri-services military publication that comes out of Darwin for our service men and women and their families, and I am thrilled that the American site, Cowboy Poetry at the Bar D Ranch, have also taken some of my work for display, one of them being Brush off the Dust.
BRUSH OFF THE DUST Maureen Clifford ©
An open paddock miles from ‘Nowhere’.
A picket fence in disrepair.
Red dirt road winding through low hills.
All around I feel despair.
Old slab hut with timbers crumbling,
sagging roof and rusted tank.
Fence post’s down and wires broken.
Another victim of the bank?
Withered flowers brown and crumbling
lie limp and faded all alone.
I wonder why? And who would leave them?
Brush off the dust . . . a child’s tombstone.
Roughly carved, not made of marble
just humble sandstone from the creek,
with a name, a date, and ‘love you’,
all inscribed. The words that seek
to depict a Mother’s anguish
and reflect Fathe’rs despair.
How their hearts must have been broken
when they were forced to leave her there.
Brush off the dust and pick fresh flowers.
Wattle, Bottlebrush and Thyme.
Place them gently on the headstone
just as I would if she were mine.
GL: You have emphasised on the particular rhyme scheme of this Bush Poetry, which is quite challenging. Is Bush Poetry changing in any way, for instance in the less restrictive use of the rhyme scheme, or perhaps in the focus of its themes?
MC: No – in fact as far as retaining the rhyme and metre goes, as opposed to free or blank verse, we as a group are more determined than ever to keep it. One of the aims of the ABPA is:
The objective of the Australian Bush Poets Association is to foster and encourage the growth of Bush Poetry in Australia. By definition, Australian Bush Poetry is metred and rhymed poetry about Australia, Australians and/or the Australian way of life.
As far as the themes of Australian Bush Poetry goes, we write about anything, not just the bush because a huge percentage of Australians these days have never even been to the bush – and a huge percentage drive 4WDs that never get off the bitumen. We retain the name ‘Australian Bush Poetry’ as a link with the type of poetry our forebears wrote, but as long as your poetry is about Australians and the Australian way of life – an Australian flavour so to speak – and is rhymed and metred poetry (you could be writing about the test cricket at the MCG. and I’m sure we have), it is considered to be Bush Poetry.
GL: How important is the Australian landscape for your writing? Could you please give a few examples where you use landscape?
MC: It’s important because it is what Australia is: a land of contrasts, strong colours, harshness of deserts, softness of wooded glens, pristine beaches, white sand and the dirt and despoilment caused by mining. I use landscape a lot in my work. An example:
One Hell of an Island
She has plains like the Nullabor – treeless and flat
with the surf pounding one side and no welcome mat
from the desert. One stretch, part of the Eyre Highway
runs seventy miles, dead straight all the way.
She has snow covered mountains, long beaches of sand,
some fringed with coral and some that demand
respect, for they’ve captured far too many souls
on their hidden sharp rocks and their dangerous shoals.
He dreamed a dream
If he should tire of visions of far hills misted and grey,
and the fields of yellow corn that in the breezes dip and sway.
When the blossoms of the prickly pear seem just a shade too red
then he should recall red tail lights on grey city streets instead.
When he gets a tad exasperated with sheep that won’t flow
into yards, but tend to balk at gates and dither and won’t go,
he needs to think of gridlocked freeways five days out of seven –
go take a reality check for this place is pure heaven.
GL: You have written about your experiences on a farm. Would it be correct to say that you principally write about rural Australia?
MC: No, not at all – I write about anything and everything. Some of my best work, I think, has been my military-themed poetry and my Aboriginal-themed poetry.
GL: You’ve described a recent poem which was a Pick of the Week, All Dressed Up in His Bag of Fruit and Looking Like Fred Astaire, as ‘a bit of Aussie rhyming slang’. To quote from another recent seasonal write, Santa’s Christmas Wish:
His nose was red, his jeans too tight, in his head flashing lights.
Coughs and splutters everywhere he really looked a fright
Shouting ain’t no use at all the elves don’t care a fig
and outside on the forecourt restless reindeer danced a jig.
How central is humour in your work? How would you describe your use of humour? Is it a tool for exploring difficult issues, thus provoking discomfort and serious thought, or is it purely for amusement? Freud noted the use of humour to anesthetise an emotion. Do you use humour to tackle painful experiences?
MC: Humour is part of the Australian make up, IMO. It is irreverent, aimed at anyone and anything including ourselves. I use it a lot – often slipping a quirky line into a serious poem to just perhaps break the atmosphere – but that is something that Australians do anyway as a matter of course. Even when your house is being flattened by a cyclone around your ears and every minute could have been your last, some wag somewhere would have been making a comment about what a bloody shame it was that the beer was getting hot, because the fridge had blown away.
GL: You refer to the ‘Australian spirit’ in your writing. Could you please describe the ‘Australian spirit’?
MC: Indomitable, irreverent, irrepressible, cheeky, courageous, tough as nails.
GL: In the poem titled Past the Use by Date – Beloved Amber you write about Australian Waler horses in the battles in the Middle East. Here is an extract from your notes for the poem:
According to popular belief, the men had two choices: either shoot the horse or give it away to the Arabs. To do this would have left a horse that had given his all to a life of misery and neglect, and so most men chose to shoot the horse that, in many instances, had saved their lives. This didn’t sit well with the men, and the emotional ramifications of such a foul deed went with the men to their graves.
This poem centres on horses and the war experiences of the Australian soldiers. How important are motifs like these to your writing? Are these references based on your own experiences?
MC: I’m not that old, GL, so personal experience of war or war-related atrocities, nil. I hate putting down animals but accept that if it has to be done, so be it. The welfare of the animal must come first. I abhor animal cruelty of any description so use my writing as, hopefully, a voice for the animals if I feel a need to bring a situation into a public or political arena.
GL: Your writing frequently alludes to Aboriginal beliefs and traditions. Do you feel any contradictions between your own white origins and the experiences of the Aborigines from which these myths derive?
MC: Not so much perhaps in beliefs and traditions, although of course they are different, but I actually relate to the Aboriginal beliefs more than the conventionally held beliefs. Sadly our history, both past and present, IMO, shows glaring discrepancies in the general level of treatment between the white people and the Aboriginal. There are wrongs on both sides – whether they can ever be addressed and remedied, I don’t know. I would like to think they can be, for when all is said and done we are all Australians. I see no reason why they shouldn’t be, but am realistic enough to sadly realise they probably won’t be, or at least not in my lifetime.
GL: You have written prose, mainly non-fiction. For example, a recent piece, A Strange Friendship, in the General Fiction forum. Have you considered writing fictional short stories or perhaps even a novel?
MC: Not really – don’t think I would have the patience to do so. I love reading. I am an avid reader. Also a great believer in horses for courses – let them who can, do.
GL: You have recently been writing haiku. What in particular inspired you to try this form? Which aspects of haiku do you enjoy and which do you find difficult? Would you like to share a couple of your favourite haiku?
MC: You inspired me to write Haiku, GL. I like the concept of less is more, which is also what is the most difficult thing to do for me. I think my favourite haiku is this one I wrote – because it embraces my own philosophy on life:
a good belly laugh
is the anti depressant
GL: Thank you, Maureen. Your generous spirit and humour has made this interview a pleasure.