Hazel Smith

The Poetics of Discomfort

the microfictions of your life
are walking awkwardly

she balances on crutches
slowly shifts her weight

feet trail their east
and west protuberances

props herself against a post
and shakes her phone out

you wonder if you should
you hesitate and wonder

everyone is ignoring her
and you know what it’s like
to be ignored

do you need assistance?
No, followed by a full grimace
shrieks silently
‘you patronising bastard’

a mistake is more made knowingly
a booing crowd demands refunds

you are angry with yourself and
irritated with her for being irascible

returning home
a disability activist on TV
admonishes the very kind
of heinous act you’ve
just been perpetrating

along with others
or their more felicitous inversions —

the deaf speaker
lip-reading your question
from the deep north of the lecture theatre
then lithely returning it

or years ago in class
you didn’t know
whether to ask the girl
with cerebral palsy to perform
her poem out loud

an ordeal for her and for the class
agog at your insouciance
their mute cheers spurring on
this literary paralympian

pleased or displeased to have
read the poem out

slow to respond
when you ask her
can I publish it?


the barristers of reality don their wigs obliquely
each conviction the child of previous acquittal

‘it was a different social climate then’
‘at the time they weren’t legally guilty’

‘what they did was wrong then and is still wrong now’
‘no atonement beyond self-pity’

she flinches from
harassment of the past
but she also backs off from
pragmatic smothering

               she had never been abused
               or had she?

                              she runs the rusty algorithm
                              pours the dried-up potion for the assay

there was the man who touched her up in the queue, the man who stood outside her room waiting for her, the man who took her outside and threatened to kiss her, the man who put his hand down the back of her blouse, the man who pushed himself against her on the tube, the man who was teaching her to drive and put his hand on her knee.

there was the piano tuner who demeaned her, the decorator who bullied her, the colleague who insulted her, the flashers on the underground and on the other side of the street

                              the parameters were still adjusting
                              wayward beyond statistical averaging

                              sniffer dogs on the scent
                              of sixties messed up liberalism

               she had not been abused

               Or had she?


the well-crafted poems you despised are suddenly lacerating tradition

armpits are talking body language to each other

a poet reports a breakthrough in postponing winter weather

a gorilla and a human shift syntax by mirroring each other

meanwhile the nation turns its eyes to lip reading not literacy

as the cube revolves, she finds she’s standing on the ceiling

an angry listener invades the stage, snaps the musician’s fiddle

wordplay dips its pen into the blood of severed grammars

Hazel Smith is a research professor in the Writing and Society Research Group, University of Western Sydney. She is author of The Writing Experiment: strategies for innovative creative writing, Allen and Unwin, 2005 which was shortlisted for the Australian Publishing Association Awards for Excellence in Educational Publishing and Hyperscapes in the Poetry of Frank O'Hara: difference, homosexuality, topography, Liverpool University Press, 2000. She is co-author of Improvisation, Hypermedia And The Arts Since 1945, Harwood Academic, 1997, and co-editor with Roger Dean of Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts, Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

Hazel is also a poet, performer and new media artist, and has published three volumes of poetry, three CDs of performance work, and numerous multimedia works available on CD Rom and on the internet. Her latest volume of creative work, with accompanying CD Rom, is The Erotics of Geography: poetry, performance texts, new media works, Tinfish Press, Kaneohe, Hawaii, 2008; her next volume will be published by Giramondo Publishing in 2015. Formerly a professional violinist, she is a member of austraLYSIS, the internationally active sound and intermedia arts group, and has performed her work extensively in the USA, Europe, UK and Australasia. Hazel is co-editor with Roger Dean of soundsRite, a journal of new media writing and sound, based at the University of Western Sydney. Her website is at www.australysis.com.

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