Vandemonian (Arc, 2013)

Tasmanian Tiger

Vandemonian (Arc, 2013) focuses on Van Diemen's Land and its inhabitants - human and animal, newcomer and Aborigine. - to piece together a fragmentary history of Tasmania, together with sequences about the life and death of Ned Kelly, and "The Shoal Bay Death Spirit Dreaming", an elegy after The Napperby Death Spirit Dreaming by the aboriginal artists Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and his brother Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri.

"a humanist vision of nightmare handled with great wit and linguistic exuberance, erudition brought to life with the full force of feeling. A remarkable and somewhat shaming read.” William Bedford in The Warwick Review

“a thrilling, fascinating collection of poems; read it in one sitting for the most intense experience of the voyage.” Kay Syrad in Envoi

“One of the striking dimensions of Forshaw’s book is that, whilst acknowledging his source material, he writes in a manner that seamlessly and organically presents themes, subject matter and historical detail in an original fusion that communicates a fascinating story of cultural collision […] a finely fettled piece of poetic art.” Michael Woods in Iota

on the Ned Kelly Hymnal section:
“The ‘Hymnal’ poem achieves real dignity out of its mix of filmic, modernist detail and grave statement.” Ken Bolton in Jacket

For further details of Vandemonian, together with fuller reviews, poems and a film of Cliff reading, please see the Arc website, where you can also order the book.

For a recent Australian radio broadcast featuring Cliff's poems about the Tasmanian Tiger visit Shadows in the Scrub at ABC.

Click here to see the ex­tin­ct Thylacine or Tas­manian Tiger on film
Tasmanian Tiger

Loop (62 seconds of the extinct Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger on film.)

Within the box, it growls, it twists,
scowls through its repertoire of tricks,
ignores the camera — or gurns up close, turns
again, to flop, to gnaw that paw-trapped bone.

It paces out its trap of light; one hundred reps
while hindquarters zither bars of sun;
claws cage’s mesh, hangs stretched
as if to take the measure of itself.

You saw. You see. And what we’ve got is what was shot:
short clips, fragments caught and stitched
together in a loop of black and white.

Nine lives? Not quite. It’s down. It’s out.
It’s on its feet and born again. Like a repetition
compulsion, like… like reincarnated light.

Old Hairy

And here he is, ‘Old Hairy’,
red and skinny, tough as boots,
four thousand years old if he’s a day;
forever flat out and in pursuit

of . . . whatever. The chase goes on and on.
That endless prey’s his last: the one
that’s slipped its skeleton through a crack in stone,
a white shadow in the rock that’s worn him down
to skin and bone. That’s skin? That’s bone?

(To the south, earth shifts, Tassie breaks free:
distant cousins in cold high woods, cut off by sea.)

Dry as parchment, brittle as sticks:
Mummified mainland thylacine,
found base of shaft, Nullarbor Plain, ’66.

In inverted commas

Others are Disney-flat, out-run cartoons
who’ve failed to burrow into tarmac,
who’ve found it far too hard, too black.
At this one’s mouth, a speech-balloon
where asphalt’s slick and almost pink,
as if someone’s scrubbed long and hard at red
daubed words, the rumour’s near indelible ink.

Haunches, muddied pelts, dithered paws,
little fangs gnawing on the camber;
snouts punctuated by inverted commas of claws:
irony or speech marks, a question mark of tail,
rising like the intonation you get round here.

So politely put. But a question nonetheless.
Demands sometime, sometime quite soon, you answer, “Yes.”

Ned Kelly

from A Ned Kelly Hymnal (after Sydney Nolan)

That’s him, that awkward shadow, that black, that’s Ned.
He’s painted out as if already dead.

Sometimes, it’s just a blank, that slit for eyes.
You look right through the man to clear blue skies.

Sometimes, that void’s red-tinged with fire or dawn:
the burbling billy-can, the day’s first yawn.

Sometimes, the clouds in that gash blush with dusk:
sky buries its burning cheek down in the dust.

Sometimes, there’s a flash of silver, say sardines:
that peeled-back strip you’ve keyed along the tin.

He has no eyes in the back of his head, of course.
Sometimes, he rides away (Black gun. Black horse.)

into another picture. What’s forged by smith
from black’s still fire-lit then, and riding into myth.

No Text

from A Ned Kelly Hymnal (title poem)


     Helmet or bucket?
     Kick it. Fuck it.
     What’s it matter when
     eight thousand pounds
     press on four men’s heads?

Forget the Bible. Swords
beaten into ploughshares
are crook to what’s hammered
out of duff ploughboards.

The twist that scragged
earth’s arse got blunt;
now it’s cheeky, bent
to a new job.

Helmet, chestplate:
riveted, rough
as rock-snagged half-acre,
but ready enough.

Hard to work the thick
plough-shares. Tested.
Proof to ten yards
with a Martini Henry round.

Not quite what you’d expect?
A quarter inch of iron;
lappet hanging heavy
from its leather strap.

     Now constables come and go.
     Down in Melbourne,
     where the Yarra’s too brown
     to drink, too thin to plough,
     the rumours grow.

No Text


Memories of the Mollies:
our blacksmith’s turned
seamstress; learned to sew
a dress of wild colonial iron.

Vanity, vanity, stitching rivets
through the bodice, lacing
glowing ribbons
through neck and sleeve.

No greave-plates, chain-mail,
gorget or visor.
They move heavy as iron-clads,
augur the tank.

Helmet or a bucket?
A veil of ore, bride’s bonnet:
travesty, travesty,
that’s married them to dark.

Inside it's loud and hot:
breath, beard rustling iron
against the blush
on each hidden cheek.

Four heavy morning suits
worn once only, at Glenrowan,
by Kelly, brother Dan,
Steve Hart and Joe Byrne.

     And who will sing the ballad
     of the Hotel Glenrowan?

No Text


Stopped at the Inn. Thin walls,
spinsters, Victorian wallpaper
pinned like a summer dress
to a mannequin.

Breastplate. Iron corset.
In the backroom,
a rifle’s barrel
rests against a spindle.

Remember, some time back,
a beard in a frock:
Steve, cross-dressed, saddling up,
spurs catching at his hem.

And now the clumsy
groin-piece has gouged
a blackgum furrow
along a lacquered table.

Ninety-seven pounds
of imperturbability.
Each movement pondered,
in all its awful gravity.

Blinkered. Stare straight ahead.
That pull of earth.
Heaviness finding sweat
beneath the long oilskin coat.

It’s not that heavy Drizabone
that’s come unstitched,
but something closer worms
along your inner seams.

Some hidden thing unknits
the suit of bone, unskins,
turns inside out
the underthings of flesh.

Light through darkness,
could be Sunday coming in
like a bright silk sampler
on the walls of the Glenrowan.

     No choirs yet, but organ stops,
     rumble, clacker of heels in aisles;
     knees hit boards; hymn books,
     hard-backed; pews creak. Begin.

No Text


They’re banging in
great long nails of light,
might as well be outside,
see if those suits stand up.

Nowhere to run. No need to hide.
Shootout. Returning fire.
Shot and shot and shot, re-
load and shot and shot, re-

lentless trochees, spinning barrels,
heavy recoil and stink of cordite.
Slugs on flesh and ¡pang! on iron
as they take aim, go for legs.

Crossfire. Blug! is leg hit.
Joe Byrne killed.
Woodcrackle. Smokesmell.
Dan Kelly, Steve Hart dead

as hotel burns.
Flimsy underthings alight
and shining through its stays.
And Ned? And Ned?

Captured, they cut
the boot from his foot;
took it as a trophy
along with his Colt.

Hotel smoulders, locals
fossick for keepsakes:
spent cartridges, hooves
cut from their dead horses.

     Filched from embers,
     something to remember them fellas by.

     Knot a square of wet linen
     around your nose and mouth.
     Smoke still stings your eyes,
     as bandannas turn sightseers bandits.

     Laid out in whitestuff, shifts.
     Spooked by sheets. Too late
     for wound-dressers now.

No Text


A photo of Kelly
the day before he’s hanged,
shows he’s casually arranged
a paralysed left arm:

hooked the dead meat
into his belt,
while his right’s
nonchalant on his hip.

He’s hip alright,
with a cool and oily quiff:
big-bearded prophet meets
an Elvis avant la lettre.

He stares the future out
— not going to fall
on his face or to his knees.
Glimpse some support

near the shackles
round Ned’s ankles,
but it’s still the eyes alright
that pull

that dead man upright,
to his feet,
free of all
that weight.

No Text

Alternative Ending

Sidney Nolan’s “Death of a Poet”, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Death of a Poet was what they called it:
head hung in a branch; roughed-up paint;
wristy little vortices where rag
scrubbed board, twisted bark
right through flat mid-blue.
Bush. Heat-struck head hung
against a cloudless dumb forever.
Archaic. Stark.
                       Not hard to see why
(a sniff of lemon leaves, a fierce Greek sky?)
the municipal Victorian neo-classical Walker
saw Orpheus. No lyre. Alternative ending:
his ripped silence after frenzied stalkers
had torn him limb from limb.
Forget downriver. There’s no water;
here’s what became of another him:
head tossed sky-high, caught in trees.

But what we’ve really got here’s dead Ned’s head.
So odd to find, in Liverpool,
his face for once — at last his naked skin.
Yet though he’s out his box, escaped his tin,
and all around the bush is blasted through
to ripolin blue enamel skies
the one thing you can’t see here is his eyes.

Tight shut. Not really him at all.
Death-mask or bust. Kicked the bucket.
Right now he’s just something in the trees,
round as a gourd, shiny on top,
bald as baked clay, a terracotta pot.

Or one that’s bloomed, blown, grown scratchy dry;
breeze-rustled beard ready to fall to scrub,
dead-headed by some passer-by.

A Ned Kelly Hymnal, chapbook

A earlier version of the Ned Kelly sequence appeared as A Ned Kelly Hymnal ( A Paper Special Edition, 2008).

Tiger chapbook (happenstance, 2011)

An earlier version of the Tasmanian Tiger sequence first appeared as Tiger (HappenStance, 2011).

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