In the latter half of 2016 I set about writing a poem for each Australian prime minister, past and present, for a collection called P(oe)Ms. Connecting each of the poems in the collection was the formal constraint that each be a beau présent, or beautiful inlaw; a poem in which the only the letters from the subject’s name may be used.
I conceived the project as a way to better inform myself politically, and as a means to explore the potential of a non-fictional, onomastic poetics. I was fortunate in it finding a home with Rabbit’s Poets Series, who published it in 2017, and reprinted it just a few weeks ago, at which point it remained up to date.
I returned from the Perth Poetry Festival, where I had (perhaps in poor taste) performed the poem for Harold Holt via the breathing apparatus of a snorkel, to see memes speculating that in the current climate, it would be no shock to see a dripping Harold throw a damp towel in the ring. Had he done so (no easy task at 110; our oldest prime minister was Menzies, who left office aged 71 years and 37 days, and no one that has held the top job has ever made it to 100; Whitlam is the closest at 98 years, 102 days) my book would mercifully have remained up to date. As is stands we have yet another new prime minister. So I had the task of composing another p(oe)m.
Get a new prime minister that renders your only recently reprinted collection of P(oe)Ms (one for each prime minister [up until 24 August]) outdated.
Isolate the letters in the new PM’s name:
Scott John Morrison
List some words you can make using the letters, giving special consideration to those with a utilitarian grammatical value (this/no/is/I) and those with a particular resonance with the subject (crim/con/christ)…
coin toss (H/T)
Research to decide a theme that will provide a poetic framework informing narrative, subject, or form.
In 2015 nearly 300 alumni of Sydney Boys High School wrote an open letter protesting Scott Morrison’s presence at a fundraising event, asking how a man who ‘so flagrantly disregarded human rights’ could be a special guest. The poem could take the form of a similar letter. But it’s difficult to write school, or any equivalent with the available letters. Could open the letter To Scott, but is it addressed to him (easy enough…) Or the school (not so simple)?
Very religious – can write ‘Christ’… Maybe a prayer or psalm of some sort…
Child actor. What advertisements was he in? Unconfirmed rumours of one for Vicks VapoRub. He performed as the Artful Dodger (both fitting and not, he is largely artless, though any judgement passed on this particular performance would be pure speculation…) in Oliver alongside his father as Fagin in a church musical society production. Find scripts for an erasure/black out poem?
I remember a primary school production of Oliver – I was in kindergarten or first grade, an urchin/extra in the chorus. I had taken the role seriously enough to tear a recently purchased dress shirt to threads and punch it into dirt to sort my costume. Mum was furious. I remember Food, Glorious Food, or those three words of it at least, sung with gusto. I seem to remember it being performed in Willoughby Town Hall, though that makes little sense for a public school located more than a half hour drive north of there, and in particular the geometric wooden protrusions projecting out from the walls around the stage. I remember some very broad character sketches. I was sure this was the best fit. Morrison, one-time treasurer as the Artful Dodger. Perfect!
And yet I couldn’t adapt any of the Dodger’s lines with the available letters. The set-up seemed to skip too quickly to the punch line. After some failed attempts at even a line or two, I was forced to admit there was no poem to be had with such an approach.
The Artful Dodger.
Treasure. (A treasure map?)
The coin toss represents the absence of voter agency in a leadership spill. The 50/50 toss gives a illusion of choice, but even this so often feels like the freedom to choose between, to paraphrase Stan Marsh, a giant douche and a turd sandwich.
The coin toss suits a treasurer who voted against a Banking Royal Commission more than twenty times during his tenure, who was similarly resolute in his refusal to increase Newstart Allowance rates. A prime minister who this week unveiled a front bench in which no ministers were named for financial services or superannuation.
In a further reflection on and engagement with the Australian democratic process the poem is participatory (Fill in the blanks! Relive the confusion! The uncertainty! The questioning! The deep disappointment!) and performative.
Scott John Morrison
H – Sortition
T – Schism
H – Is Scott
T – Is not not Scott
H – Scott M
T – S Morrison
H – Christ’s Thorns
T – Chris’ Horns
H – This Criminal
T – This Con
H – Shit
T – Shit