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.