Nine poems by Geoff Page

1. “The Kelpie’s Back”

2. “The Recipe”

3. “Letter to Toyota”

4. “Three Akubras”

5. “Le Mot Juste”

6. “Pieta”

7. “The Seamstress”

8. “The Sparrows at Brunetti’s”

9. “Collateral Damage”


See also biographical and bibliographical information further down this page.


Some of Geoff Page’s critiques from 80 Great Poems are posted on this website. Read them here:

T.S. Eliot, “Journey of the Magi” –

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Carrion Comfort” –

James McAuley, “Because” –

William Carlos Williams, “This is Just to Say” –

King David, “Psalm 23” –

Les Murray, “The Mitchells” –


The Kelpie’s Back


Of course it’s not allowed, you’re right,

poems about poetry, no,

but even so


it gets quite sad

turning through, say, Walter Murdoch’s

Book of Australasian Verse


(Oxford 1924)

and seeing them go under for

the third and final time.


‘The goal’s oblivion,’ Borges said.

But does it have to be so fast?

The great tradition shakes them off


like water from a kelpie’s back

bounding from a dam, each one ‘a classic

of our time’?


And who of you tonight has read

O’Reilly’s ‘proud immortal’ poem, ‘Stars’,

in which he sang an empire’s reaches


and eulogised ‘the blazing sun

of Shakespeare’s soul’? Women at

small cedar tables,


drovers lonely at a fire,

merchants waving fat cheroots,

clergymen by candlelight


are equally all underground

and helpless to sustain their poems

as one by one they slip from sight.

             © Geoff Page

                   from Darker and Lighter



The Recipe


‘A sonnet tells me nothing but itself’,

as William Carlos Williams liked to say —

somewhat perversely lifting from the shelf

a pattern even free verse must obey.

Your sonnet’s eight and six are sacrosanct;

the greatest chef would hardly dare to alter

the ancient taste for eight lines neatly ranked —

then six from what Italians call the volta.

A rhyme scheme down the side is de rigueur,

Elizabethan maybe — or Petrarchan.

And cooks from Spenser on will all concur

the sonnet is the dish to make your mark in.

By God, we’re there and, yes, you’re doing fine.

And now, like pepper, add the fourteenth line.

             © Geoff Page

                   from Darker and Lighter




Letter to Toyota


‘A poem is a small machine’

William Carlos Williams said.

The reverse, I’m sure, may too apply.


Your spry Toyota 1.3

is very much a kind of poem –

that choir of sixteen little valves


lined up like tetrameters

happy on their breath of petrol,

the torque that shows on long slow hills,


the way it parks on half of nothing

and breezes, effortless, all day

along a reach of freeway.


Your engineers are really poets.

I see them poised there in Japan

dreaming at their robots.


The only problem’s with the name

some Hollywood consultant gave you.

A Starlet smells of celluloid.


I’m calling mine the Haiku.

             © Geoff Page

                   from Darker and Lighter



Three Akubras

Three Akubras in a row

my brothers underneath them

standing at the saleyards there

beside the auctioneer


a yard of vealers at the trot

the best there’s been all morning

level-backed and well filled out

still glossy from the clover.


The auctioneer who sings them up

is lyrical about the grasses;

the buyers quietly pull an ear

or raise an eye to spotters.


What is it that they smile at now,

three brothers in a row?

The wildness of the auctioneer?

The quietness of the buyers?


Or is it just the years gone by

since first they saw the difference?

Or simply at the way the bids

rose freely through the ceiling?


Or are they smiling there at me

across the yard without Akubra

bemused by what I might have been

without my long refusal:


the ache all morning in the saddle

the branding irons, the cutting knife

stockbooks with insects late at night

the seasons of the ledger?


More likely it’s the smile of three

who’ve kept it all together

the upstream and the downstream view

the tensions sensed and settled


as, suddenly, the hammer falls.

The vealers swirl out through the gate

away into the trucks and leave

the high tide of a market.


One smile under three Akubras …

and perched there on the other side

of both a saleyard and a life

I wear a certain hatless pride.

             © Geoff Page

               from The Secret



Le Mot Juste

What’s the word for how they move

these crows out picking on the highway

somewhere to the west of Eucla?

What’s the word for what they do

when the semi like a wayward cliff

is sweeping down upon them?

Saunter could be almost it.

‘They saunter sideways out of range

dishevelled by a wash of air …’

Or strut. They hardly ever need to flap

unless their timing’s slightly out —

or two trucks almost intersect.

Flaunt might be a better word —

but that’s a bit anthropomorphic —

and flaunting what?

The oily dressage of their feathers?

The black so deep it’s just a glisten

fat from what the tyres have scattered?

Saunter, strut or flap or flaunt?

What’s the word you think you saw?

And which one now they’re in the mirror

(something) briskly back for more.

             © Geoff Page

           from The Secret




Supported by her two remaining

she’s walking down the aisle

following the coffin

that bumps a little on six shoulders

uncertain of the water.

The two still left, a son and daughter,

by two short measures older

sustain her at the elbows

as though her knees may not quite find

the stiffness that she needs there.

The black she wears

is gathered satin, loosely hung

and from her neck is hanging also

according to her country’s style

a full-size head-and-shoulders

photo of the dead,

her smiling sixteen year old son,

swung there in his

metal frame

about the level of the womb

and ready for the future.

             © Geoff Page

           from The Secret



The Seamstress

The heart beats like a row of stitching,

accelerating when inclined

across a gap from dream to daylight.

The past’s a single heart-sewn line,

the future more a bolt of linen

unrolled in the darkened air.

Who knows how far the heart will take us?

Only the seamstress in her chair.

             © Geoff Page

           from The Secret



The Sparrows at Brunetti’s


The sparrows at Brunetti’s

define the word ‘alert’

perching on vacated chairs,

pesky, preened and pert.


The remnants they have cornered

have fine Italian names.

Before a blonde in black can swoop

they’ve measured out their claims.


Among spent cappuccinos

and empty latte glasses,

the sparrows’ feel for real estate

defeats the middle classes.


Each bird has long developed

a rich, pragmatic taste:

they recognise a crema — and

there’s nothing goes to waste.


As perky cognoscenti

they’ve found their final niche —

on Faraday with students and

a slice of nouveau riche.


The treble of their flutter

makes the day complete.

Edgy as the traffic, they’re

the caffeine in the street.

            © Geoff Page

              from Agnostic Skies       



Collateral Damage


Collateral damage, generals say …

that summer when her parents split

and somehow she got lost between them


unwanted by the new recruits

bringing in their own;

Cinderella, just sixteen,


and sharing with a brother

the ATM and plastic magic

while dad is overseas;


her stripping it as quiet revenge,

the blow-in of the youthful drunks,

the advent of the pushers


as schoolwork now becomes a habit

running up her arm

and everything is loans and lies.


The boyfriend proves a user too.

She dabbles at the edge of sleaze

but lasts a few nights only;


does some running for the dealers

closer to the source,

inscrutables from Cabramatta


who’d never use a fit themselves

but chase the dragon only.

Every day she’s got to have it;


drains each parent, makes them pay

but cannot crack their

perfect circles;


her stories grow

each week more wild

but not unlike the truth  


AIDS syringes at the neck,

hostage in a car.

And always, somewhere, deeper down


the ache of her nostalgia:

those summers back before the split

when everything was high blue sky


and still no touch of difference on her

when siblings strolled up from the beach

hosed the sand from off their feet


and all sat down to lunch,

her father with a Tooheys open

her mother at the bench.


Six months, twelve,

maybe eighteen

she’s disappearing by degrees


into her own mythology,

the jobs that strangely fade away,

the dole that always goes to dealers,


her battles with the clerks.

But now, today, her father’s rung

to ask her to the beach for Christmas


and here tonight in this last house

to offer her some passing shelter

she’s saying like a happy child


Make sure you wake me up, OK?

My dad’ll be here right on nine.

Trying out a smile.

            © Geoff Page

              from Collateral Damage       


Geoff Page, born 1940, is an Australian poet who has published eighteen collections of poetry as well as two novels, four 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 Chinese, Hindi, German, Serbian, Slovenian and Greek. He has also read his work and talked on Australian poetry in Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, India, Singapore, China, Korea, the United States and New Zealand.


Literary works by Geoff Page


A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Australian Poetry (UQP, 1995)

The Secret ((William Heinemann Australia, 1996)

Bernie McGann: A Life in Jazz (Kardoorair Press, 1997)

The Scarring (Hale & Iremonger, 1999)

Collateral Damage (Indigo, 1999)

Darker and Lighter (Five Islands Press, 2001)

My Mother’s God (Picaro Press, 2002)

Drumming on Water (Brandl & Schlesinger, 2003)

Cartes postales (Picaro Press, 2004)

Freehold (Brandl & Schlesinger, 2005)

Agnostic Skies (Five Islands Press, 2006)

Europe 101 (Picaro Press, 2006)

80 Great Poems from Chaucer to Now (UNSW Press, 2006)

Lawrie & Shirley: The Final Cadenza: A Movie in Verse (Pandanus Books, 2007)

Seriatim (Salt, 2007)

Bahn Dance (Picaro Press, 2007)

Long White Cloud & Indian Pixels (Picaro Press, 2008)

60 Classic Australian Poems (UNSW Press, 2009)

Coffee with Miles, CD (River Road Press, 2009)



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