handstanding at FUNerals

10 days ago, Deb Dawson, a great friend & generator of much laughter in my life, died. It was after a return of the cancer she first had diagnosed 14 years earlier. Though I teased her often about her age, she was still relatively young.

Deb & I met, just six short years ago when I joined a local youth circus as the General Manager.  She was already working for them as their Workshop Coordinator. After many years working in administration roles for a range of businesses, including a long stint at a hospital, Deb had finally found her spiritual home among the freaky world of carnies.

In my role as one of the executors of her will, as well as friend to her to children, I have been primarily responsible for the planning & delivery of her funeral, in consultation with her family. I want to talk about this process a little more after we get through the poetry side of things.

Two of my poems were performed as part of the service, Baby Elephant Blues & It. It helps getting them on the bill when you’re the booking agent for the gig. But in all seriousness, both poems had a special meaning to her; & the first one, more broadly to her family.

After numerous requests from a range of people who attended asking for copies of one or both poems, I decided sharing them through my blog was a nice idea — taking what, originally, were two quite private poems, out to a wider audience.

I’ve written several poems for Deb over the past few years. She liked me reading my latest effort to her (even ones where she was not the subject matter :) ), I’ve read dozens in her pink bedroom where she spent so much time recently; but she especially enjoyed ones about her.

One of these, concentric circles or: “we have you surrounded” was a finalist in this year’s Mindshare Awards — she was thrilled by that, although annoyed with me for not winning.

That’s not the one I’m going to share here (though here is a link to it, the formatting isn’t perfect – but oh well).


The first I am sharing is Baby Elephant Blues. [clicking on the image will enlarge it]

BE Blues.jpg

Though Deb liked my poems, she once asked why don’t you write rhyming poems. I said they weren’t really my thing. She said. I like rhyming poems. They’re easier to understand. She was being funny — she usually got what the non-rhymers were about, & if she didn’t, that was more likely my fault for trying to be too wanky.

Anyhoo. I spent last Christmas Eve at the Dawson Menagerie. I was due to arrive between 6.30 & 7. About 5 o’clock I get a phone call from her daughter’s boyfriend saying I’ve bought a book for mum & I want to put a poem in the front. Is there anything you’ve written I could use. Maybe something about elephants. I said, not really. But I’d give it a go. Sometimes adversity produces great results. This wasn’t one of those times. Actually it’s ok. It’s not my best poem by a long shot. But it was the poem that made Deb cry the most.

It was Christmas morning last year. She had been given her book. The poem had been read to her, & she had cried. At first, she didn’t even realise it was about her nor that I’d written it.  When Deb realised it was about her, she asked me to read it again & she cried even more. For while everyone around her all knew our Deb was wonderful, she so often doubted that … & found it very hard to acknowledge how many people loved her.

It certainly seemed to hit the mark as it opened the proceedings on Friday. [Though, like any poet worth their salt, I have tinkered & tweaked it, even since then.]

Note: Although this poem depicts an elephant in a circus (it blends two of Deb’s loves), please be aware I don’t condone the use of performing animals in modern circus. I justify it via the excuse that the poem is metaphorical & that no animals, except the poet, were harmed in the making of the verse.


The second is It. [Remember, click to enlarge]

It was the last poem I ever read to her.



The final thing I want to say is this. Deb was a quirky, glorious, crazy lady. She was determined that her funeral was going to be a celebration.

It was, though I hesitate to use the word but it was, ‘fun’ planning her funeral. Obviously, I would have preferred not to be organising it, but if we were gonna do it, we were gonna do it right. She wanted a celebration hey, alright then, challenge accepted. It felt like Deb was egging us on — if we thought, is that idea too much, we responded — what would Deb want … & we went for it. [Perhaps I have created a new career for myself, Funeral Entertainment Coordinator.]

To this end, the service began with an acrobat tumbling & saulting down the centre aisle, followed by 3 hula hoopers. So many people told me afterwards, it was at this point that they knew, they weren’t in Kansas anymore …

6 pall bearers followed, carrying Deb’s coffin — resplendent with a striking black & white print of elephants on the African savannah round right the box & a hot pink lid. Her entrance was accompanied by the “Eye of the Tiger” belting its base through the sound system.

We had the regular moving eulogies from friends & loved ones; but we also had a SPONTY — spontaneous handstand competition, a homemade video consisting primarily of blurry photos with the subtitle OOPS, a range of props, a round of applause & cheering for her life. Yoda. We had 4 talented acrobats perform a 3-high via video from Europe. We laughed. A lot. We cried. A lot. We had a professional actor who moonlights a civil celebrant deliver her lines with the perfection of scripted play. We didn’t have any dusty old hymns no one knows the words too & even less people sing along with. We didn’t, I’m not sorry to say, have any hollow words from contradictory & hypocritical “Holy Books”. We did, however, talk about how elephants care for their babies.

At the end, we invited the ‘mourners’ to come & take, in memory of Deb’s glorious laughter-filled life, one of the 150 figurine elephants that had previously occupied almost every shelf & flat surface in her house. This was one of Deb’s personal suggestions.

Finally, she was carted out again, after an hour of laughter, tears & reminisces & driven off very slowly in the hearse to the tune of “Another One Bites the Dust” (again her choice) to the, at first, incredulous looks of everyone who had come to wave her off, before they gradually got the gag, & realised it was one last joke from the Dawson repertoire.

Oh, & did I mention, her favourite colour was pink — & everyone had been instructed to attend wearing a little (or a large) splash of it. Looking over the audience was like looking at a rose garden.

Now I’m not saying everyone has to have a service like this. For one thing, circus performers don’t come cheap.

But maybe it really is time we reconsider the rituals we use to farewell our loved ones. Having attended a few funerals now in the past 18 months, it does feel a little bit like we are stuck in a drab sepia-coloured, perhaps Victorian-esque photograph of what a funeral should be … & maybe it’s time we moved into a more modern, more joyful, more vibrant HD multimedia-VR-holographic celebration of what it means to have lived …

… always the bridesmaid :) *

Updating my blog  yesterday reminded me that I have been meaning to announce a few close calls I’ve had in the last two or three months, but have never quite got round to.

So in the order they’ve happened …

glamoured” was Highly Commended in the Interstellar Award for Speculative Poetry (see here for judges comments, 4th paragraph)

interstellar heron” was Shortlisted in the Interstellar Award for Speculative Poetry (shortlist announced)

full moon feast” was Commended for the 2014 W B Yeats Poetry Prize for Australia

slumber” was Commended for the 2014 W B Yeats Poetry Prize for Australia

concentric circles or: we have you surrounded” was Shortlisted for the 2015 mindshare Poetry Awards

Click on the links to take you to where the poems have been published online.

I’ll keep plugging away, & hopefully be able to share news of a wedding or two soon.



* by bridesmaid i mean, just out of the $$$ round (which — like most people — is why i got into the poetry game, for all the big bikkies you can win, bwahahahahahahahahaha)

† 2014 is correct, even though it was announced in late 2015

The Poem That Stops A Nation (*Cough)

We have a horse race in Australia which, allegedly, “stops the nation”. For the past three years, it certainly stops me. Because since 2013 I have played a wee linguistic game (potentially only of interest to me) involving the names of the horses that compete — kind of a found poem with benefits.

Normally, the race runs at 2.30 (my time), I wait for 30-45 minutes or so till the full order listing is posted on the internet, I then furiously try & craft 24 unrelated phrases into some sort of logic … before racing into the city & reading the result (at around this time or earlier) at a monthly poetry gig to the confusion & consternation of many, haha. (Coincidentally, this reading always occurs on the first Tuesday of the month, & the big race is always the first Tuesday of November, which is how the game first started.)

However, last night, owing to an incident of unnecessary & alarmingly over-the-top pettiness (not involving me I hasten to clarify), I chose not to stay at that reading. So only my friend Sarah got to appreciate/was forced to endure me reading it to her as we scoffed our respective dumplings.

I subjected her to a personal reading, because, of the three poems I have created in this fashion, this is the one I feel works best (with the caveat being — ‘works best’ is a very loose description in a situation where one tries to wrangle 24 horses names into a poem … in the order they finished the race … taking a few creative liberties where necessary) & was disappointed not to get the chance to share it last night.

Only today did I realise I could post it on my blog … (well der, just cos I haven’t posted anything since June — doesn’t mean the blog has disappeared. My excuse: The 24 Poetry Marathon obviously took it out of me :) )

So, for those of you interested in such indulgences, I present …

[24 names in order]

the evil Ivan Prince of Penzance
used the Max Dynamite allowed
according to the Criterion
on his terrorist Trip To Paris
& so — the Eiffel Tower disappears
in a Big Orange Gust Of Wind

the CIA agrees it was Excess Knowledge
& a Quest For More that ruined Our Ivan—howe
he got the dynamite & Who Shot Thebarman
Sertorius & whether the two events
are connected, remains a mystery

needless to say, everyone understands
it’s a Fame Game in The United States
but when Agent Hartnell runs along Bondi Beach
chasing Hokko (Brave whistleblower)
while that bastard Senator Almoonqith Kingfisher
(Republican, Texas) through some secret
Preferment is proclaimed Grand Marshal
we know the 1% are winning comfortably

meanwhile, the rogue spy, codenamed
Sky Hunter, drifts through a Snow Sky
searching for the Red gifts
that sadly, failed to arrive



NB for those who wish to check I didn’t cheat. Here’s a link the final results :)

(Hour 24) 9.30-10.30pm — #37 “A flea in heaven”

fleas in heaven

i hope there’s fleas
in heaven

cos all dogs
have fleas

& if heaven
has no dogs

then heaven
is no place

i want to be


Well, thank dawg!

That last one was easy (careful, it’s deeper than it looks!) ((It’s not, it’s just an end point, huzzah!!))

The card above got the most number of hits, but no bingos sadly. I got 3 x 3 in a rows overall. A pretty sorry performance by many bingo-ers expectations. But I’m pleased enough. & so to bed … :P.

(Hour 22) 7.30-8.30pm — #74 “Candy Store”

Candy store 

every adult still harbours
a child who hankers after
the candy store of their youth
an old world style lolly shop

whether it was a Willy Wonka
wonderland or Harry Potter’s
Honeydukes — or just the local
deli down the cornershop

nothing tastes that good again
though the chance to timetravel
back before everything got hard
is most likely the sweetest treat


#3. Second last one. OMG

(Hour 21) 6.30-7.30pm — #30 “Dirty Gertie”

Incomplete, more drafting necessary; but no time available. A shower & clean teeth helped, but already the steam is fading.


16 feet of very nude female
bronze ; on her toeballs ;
arching on her own ball of earth
sword aloft ; a colossus in V ;
grand scale commemorative art ;
celebrating war ; shouting victory ;
triumph ; black silhouettes the sky
somehow towering above
the surrounding scrapers.

locals have a colloquial ;
as Dubliners do for
“the Floozy in the Jacuzzi”
& “the prick with the stick”.

hence the symbol of German
defeat, Paris’s protection ;
becomes “the Wicked Woman” ;
& “Dirty Gertie” ;
all stemming from a time
when bus passengers asked
to disembark at the stop
next to “the Naked Lady”
when buying tickets …


#74. Oh dear.