Travel Poems by Graeme Philipson
GP fancies himself to be something of a poet. He has published a book of his poetry, and is currently working on a book of verse about monsters and imaginary beings.
This page contains some of his travel poems. These things are never planned - they just happen.
Small and gentle in Tokyo
My home in Japan
Rain will fall tonight
It will wash my blood away
Where is the mountain?
It reappears tomorrow
Fuji-san is here
I love Japan. I have been there many times for business and pleasure. The little undiscovered suburb of Monzen-Nakacho, so close to central Tokyo yet so unknown to tourists, is a wonderful little place. I have stayed there often.
But I did have a bad fall there, on Eitai-dori, the big street that runs through the middle of the suburb. I tripped on the median strip while running across the road to beat the traffic lights, and fell heavily on my face, cutting my lip and forehead. I was not following my own advice – “Never jaywalk in a foreign country!”
These three pieces all written on a trip in 2011.
Dorothy Parker, she once said
There’s no “there” there, I say instead
There’s no “there” here, nor glass of wine
Nor nip of gin, nor beer in stein
No shrunken head, no orang-utan
Nothing here for beast or man
Nothing made from force of will
There was more to do in - Invercargill.
I went to a conference in Brunei in 2009. It is the stupidest place I have ever seen – there is no alcohol and the whole place is devoted to glorifying His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah.
It is boring as shit. Don’t go there.
On Loch Ness, Winter 2015
(To be recited out loud in a Scots accent).
Inverness is monster town, they make a big thing of it
Like the Kiwis with their Middle Earth and Orcs and Dwarves and Hobbits
I’m never one to laugh at such, I don’t like to inquisis it
But when I stood there on the shore, the Monster came to visit
She was quite nice, and very large, all black and round and finny
I’d never think that she could live in a place so cold and windy
They’ve said for years she lives up there, in the loch up in the heather
In the howling winds and biting frost that in the Highlands they call weather
We gave her food, a piece of bread, and a small brown ball of haggis
And a piece of fruit and a shortbread cake and a little plate of tatties
She wolfed them down, in lizard style, then splashed away with glee
For monsters rarely eat enough, and not like you and me
Some say that Nessie’s just a myth, a phantasy of man
A made up thing, a fairytale, an imaginarium
But she’s real, she’s there, she swims about, she’s of the female gender
So don’t you listen when they say she’s like Charlie, a Pretender
The loch is dark, the sky is bleak, the land is fierce and barren
But deep beneath the waves there lies a monster-laden warren
With Nessie eggs, that soon will hatch, and banish all the doubters
When the Monsters swim about in droves and play upon the waters
On the Somme, 2003
I wandered through the poppy fields
I could never say just what I feel
I could never feel the wounds would heal
I just can’t make it real.
It makes me sick what they went through
So many died, we don’t know who
So many gone, they left a few
To say what we can’t do.
Through cannon fire and bayonet
Machine guns swept the barbed wire net
Mowed down like grass and even yet
There is no point to get.
In Albert the church’s steeple fell
In Peronne still the tales they tell
In Pozieres they know too well
The folly of it all.
In pretty Villers-Bretonneux
They’ll always know Australia
They say they know what they died for
But I’m not really sure.
For King and Country, Empire’s pride
Millions killed, God on our side
Butchered, slaughtered, crucified
Not knowing why they died.
Gott Mit Uns 1914-1918
“Gott mit uns” Gürtel anschnallen
“Gott mit uns” wir sind gefallen
“Gott mit uns” die große Lüge
So viele grässliche Betrüge.
Wer weiß warum wir sind genommen?
Wer weiß woher wir sind gekommen?
Ich weiß nur daß wir sind verloren
Und seh’ nicht mehr das gold’nes Morgen
Das Leben fliegt mit keine Gründe
Seit den frühsten schlimmste Sünden
Ich liege hier in völliger Stille
Das ist mein Los, und nicht mein Wille.
‘Gott Mit Uns’ (God is with us) was inscribed on the belt buckles of German soldiers in both World Wars.
My only ever poem in German. Not easy, though the Germans say theirs is the language of poets. And it is – read Goethe or Heine. And the language does have similar rhythms to English, which made things a little easier.
I wrote it after the Somme poem, for a bit of balance.
The Spirit of Australia
I am the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended
I’m the sunburnt country and the flooded plains
I’m the Barcoo and the Darling, I’m the Yarra and the Swan
I’m the muddy Murrumbidgee after rain.
I’m the sugar cane, the sack of wheat, I’ve made this country rich
From the Golden Fleece that rides upon my back
I’m on the stock route back of Bourke, I'm the station way out west
I’m the six lane highway, I’m the desert track.
I’m the Indian Pacific, the Sunlander, the Ghan
I bind with steel the land beneath my rails
I’m the flying kangaroo, my Long Reach across the lands
I’m all that drives and flies and steams and sails.
I’ve carried Banjo’s stockman, and Lawson’s rouseabout
I’m every horse that Gordon ever rode
I’m the colt from old Regret, I’m the packhorse and the dray
I’m the brumby bush horse from the Overflow.
I’m Lalor at the Stockade, I’m the Breaker on the veldt
I’m Simpson with his donkey at Lone Pine
I’m Tobruk, I’m Crete, I’m Long Tan, I’m the Sydney’s blazing guns
I’m the slave upon the railway on the Kwai.
I’m Dad and Dave, and – strike me lucky – I’m the Sentimental Bloke
I’m the man from where the Snowy River flows
I’m the slicker from the city, I’m the bastard from the bush
I’m Matilda waltzing down a country road.
I’m Brabham and I’m Bradman, I’m a girl called Goolagong
I’m the big red horse they killed in foreign lands
I’m Darcy in the ring and I’m Dally on the wing
And I’m Dougie lofting at the Members Stand.
I am Albert Namitjira, I am his canvas painted bright
I see this land through ageless open eyes
I’m the dreamtime, I’m the dawning, I am older than the night
I am Uluru beneath the southern skies.
You can find me where the mountains tumble down against the sea
Where the wide brown land turns rich from flooding rain
Where the rivers of the inland flow proud beneath the sky
Where the west wind ripples through the golden grain.
From the mighty Southern Ocean to the jungles of the Gulf
From Byron to where Hartog nailed his plate
From Kosciuszko to the Cooper, from Sydney to the bush
I am everything that made this country great.
I’m the Spirit of Australia, I’m the soul of this great land
I’m what rides within and makes us what we are
I am you and me and all of us, I am tomorrow and today
I am the Spirit of the land. I am Australia.
This rather derivative piece won a 'Highly Commended' award in the Blackened Bill competition for Australian bush poetry in 1994. I think it has some nice lines.
Around the World in 34 Verses
It’s nice in France, they have good wine
The life is good, the food is fine
But they get up everybody’s nose
Why they’re like that no-one knows.
In Germany they used to fight
They tried to use their Prussian might
To subjugate their fellow men
But they lost out once, then lost again.
Italians they like lots of parties
And they make good cars like Maseratis
They’d prob’ly be OK if only
They didn’t vote for Berlusconi.
In Spain they spend the day asleep
When not killing bulls and eating sheep
Or thinking of the day they ruled
America and half the world.
The Russian bear he drinks too much
Vodka, beer and wine and such
A viler lot you never met
To think they once were such a threat.
The Greeks invented how to vote
But nothing else, least not of note
They eat real lots of funny food
Which really isn’t all that good.
The Scandos are a funny lot
It’s cold up there, it’s never hot
They hardly ever see the sun
It’s mostly boring, never fun.
The Yugoslavs just fell apart
Made disintegration quite an art
Killed each other left and right
They are a sad and sorry sight.
The Dutch live in a nether land
Mostly built below the strand
One day the sea will come inside
They’ll disappear, gone with the tide.
And England’s sun is setting fast
Its glory days are now long past
It once was great but now is small
There’ll soon be nothing left at all.
The Japanese they eat raw fish
It is indeed their favorite dish
Their wine they make from grains of rice
None of it is very nice.
The Indonesian archipelago
Has lots of islands, don’t you know?
They’re here and there, all in a mess
Too many of them, numberless.
In Thailand they think the king’s a God
You can’t point out that he’s quite odd
The slightest word, and without fail
They’ll throw in a Bangkok jail.
The Indians and the Pakis fight
Over who is wrong and who is right
Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jain
They really are just all the same.
The Chinese they’ve industrialized
They make shoddy stuff with faults disguised
Even though they try to do what’s right
Two Wongs they still don't make a white.
The plucky little V’etnamese
Dispose of conquerors with ease
The Frogs and Yanks could never win
Don’t try to mess with Ho Chi Minh.
Singapore is clean and neat
So much so, you never meet
Anyone who might complain
That’s twenty strokes of a bamboo cane!
The Filipinos sail their shoddy boats
Between their poor benighted coasts
They often sink into the sea
It’s not the place for you and me.
Nigeria’s a land of gold
It must be – for so I’m told
Everyone who’s on the Net
Has cash for those they’ve never met.
Egypt has the mighty Nile
It flows forever, mile on mile
In Pharaoh’s day the land was great
Now it’s only second-rate.
South Africa’s called the rainbow land
There’s gold aplenty ‘neath the Rand
They’re black or brown or sometimes white
They don’t get on, they often fight.
The Ethiops just run and run
They seem to think it rather fun
But no-one goes there, it’s too far
To distant Addis Ababa.
In Kenya too they move real fast
Sometimes you see them running past
They’ve nothing else to do, you see
That’s why they’re quick as quick can be.
The Moroccans have a strange cuisine
They cook it in a tall tagine
They use all kinds of herb and spice
And pretend it all tastes really nice.
Zimbabwe’s got a funny name
And lots of parks with lots of game
But there’s not enough to go around
Since Mugabe dropped it on the ground.
Africa’s got lots of diamond mines
Giraffes and elephants and lions
There’s lots of little nation states
With tinpot little potentates.
Canadians do ‘most everything
To try to make it int’resting
But in the end, why would you go?
There’s nothing there but lots of snow.
In Brazil the nuts are small and brown
Just like the people, so I’ve found
They talk amongst themselves with ease
In a funny kind of Portuguese.
In the land they call US of A
They do most things a different way
They think their way is quite the best
‘Cos they just don’t know of all the rest.
In Peru the Incas they once said
You’re not alive til you are dead
It’s really not so very nice
To be a human sacrifice.
Mexico is full of drugs
And violent murdering vicious thugs
A shame because the food is nice
Burritos, tacos, beans and rice.
In Argentina all they eat
For breakfast, lunch and dinner’s meat
They eat it ‘cos the land is full
Of cow and heifer, calf and bull.
New Zealand is a funny place
Without a single saving grace
Unless you count their rugby team
And even that’s not what it seems.
Which brings us to the land Down Under
Compared to others, it’s a wonder
They’re all mired in dismal failure
I’d rather live in fair Australia.
I must have been in a cynical mood. I got carried away and wrote this drivel in a couple of hours, fueled by a bottle of good South Australian cabernet sauvignon. I actually like all these countries.
The Love Song of the Otago Albatri
A Fantasy, Dunedin, July 2009
(With apologies to T.S. Eliot, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ern Malley, and Mr Cavanagh in Year Twelve)
On Otago Sound the Albatri are singing.
I do not think they will sing for me.
They call for the wind, for the rain, for the humming cold of the Southland.
I do not think they will sing for me.
On the peninsula the Albatri come and go, talking of other Albatri they know.
The Otago evening is cold and wet, like a penguin etherised within a net.
I cannot wear my trousers rolled, in the Southland that is much too cold.
Or eat a peach, to each his each, the Albatri beyond my reach.
The yellow penguins rub their backs upon the strand
They watch and wait and wonder why they stand.
Unlike the Albatri they cannot fly, nowhere, no air
Nor wonder why they dare, nor do they dare.
The Albatri are free to lift and drop a question on your plate
The Albatri have time to murder and create.
The Albatri have feathers that are growing thin
Their plumage mounting from their wing to back and chin.
On the peninsula the Albatri come and go, asking why the other Albatri are so.
The Albatri a wond’rous pleasure dome decreed
They went with poets at dusk through empty streets
No rime, how ancient nor how free
Can work the mix of Albatri and me.
The white foam flies, the furrow follows free
The poets they write of Albatri and me
But no poem, no rime, no love song can be told
Of how old I grow, how old, how old.
Combing the white waves with their backs blown black
The Albatri fly there and back.
They fly the globe full up and down
Til human voices call them, and they drown.