Tuesday Poem: Impertinent To Sailors – Now Set To Music


Curved over islands, the world
dragged me south in a talkative year

slipping Southampton
as the band played a distant farewell.

It was better than steerage,
that assisted passage: ten pound Poms

at sixpence the dozen, promenading
in sun frocks, gathering for quoits,

angling, in an understated way,
for a seat at the Captain’s table —

while I, a child, roamed decks, became
impertinent to sailors.

And the heat! My dear, there never were
such days — rum, romance,

the rudiments of ska. Panama beckoned,
locks pulsing like the birth canal.

We passed through, to be rocked
on the swells of the quiet ocean,

its long unshaded days
of trade winds, doldrums, Equator —

then a cold shore,
a bureaucratic harbour,

and the half of a world
it would take to say goodbye.

Credit note: “Impertinent To Sailors” was published in JAAM 27 (2009), edited by Ingrid Horrocks, under the title “Over Islands”, and is included in my new collection Men Briefly Explained.

Tim says: I’ve run “Impertinent to Sailors” as my Tuesday Poem before, and I don’t usually repeat them – but there is a special reason to do this week. “Impertinent To Sailors” has been set to music as a choral work, “Brighton to Bondi”, which will premiere at a concert of the same name at the Sydney Town Hall on Friday 16 September.

Here is composer and conductor Brett Weymark’s account of how he wrote “Brighton to Bondi”.

I was delighted when Brett got in touch, having found my poem online when it was previously posted as a Tuesday Poem – so thanks go to Mary McCallum too, for getting the Tuesday Poems rolling in the first place!

I hope the concert is a great success, and I also hope that this will not be the last time “Bright to Bondi” is performed.

You can check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem Blog – this week’s hub poem in the centre of the page, and all the other Tuesday Poems on the right.

8 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: Impertinent To Sailors – Now Set To Music

  1. I'm sure I've said this before – but the mark of great poetry is enjoying it more and more on subsequent readings – this is yet another poem of yours that hits that high mark.

  2. Thanks, AJ, Helen and Orchid!Helen, I would love to be there to hear the premiere of \”Brighton To Bondi\” in person, but unfortunately that isn't going to happen. I hope to hear a recording of it one day, or if not, it might be time for a quick 'Kiwiaisation' – \”Brighton to New Brighton\”, maybe?

  3. I love this poem, Tim. It's a travel tale, a tale of change and shifting perspectives. Such wonderful detail, such images across oceans. Glad to see this here; I'll come back because I agree with AJ Ponder.

  4. Thank you, Michelle! I do feel particularly fond of this one, and I'm glad I chose it to open \”Men Briefly Explained\”. Emigrating to NZ was arguably the most influential event of my life, yet because I was only two at the time, I can't remember doing it – this poem is an attempt to recover the experience.

  5. I do like this poem and the way it captures the terminal nature of migration – \”and the half of a world/ it would take to say goodbye\” is especially resonant to me. I also appreciated \”Curved over islands…\”, a lovely turn of phrase. I've just come back from a trip to my birthplace and for the first time started to call it by name and to describe New Zealand exclusively as home.Thanks for a fine piece.

  6. Thanks, Martin! My parents used the word \”Home\” to describe England for many decades – in fact, I don't think my Mum ever stopped; though neither of my parents found the transition from New Zealand to England easy, she found it harder because she missed her family and friends so much, and those were the days in which a return visit to England was a formidable, and expensive, undertaking.

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