Bricolage, Shmicolage – Haikubes will change your life


Dear reader, I am very excited! Thanks to a generous friend, I am now in possession of the secret at the heart of modern (and postmodern) poetry composition : Haikubes !

Take an oddly proscribed set of words, print them on the faces of 61 dice-like cubes (giving each cube one blank face into the bargain), use two extra cubes to produce a writing prompt (e.g. ‘a tirade about’….’my family’), shake, stir, compose in the time-honoured 5-7-5 format, et voila !

For years I have puzzled at my inability to produce work with the opaque, gnomic quality I see everywhere in journals and award-winning collections. Now I know I am not a failure, I simply lacked the correct tools. Happy days! My future is suddenly assured.

First Forays

Here are my favourites from my adventures in Haikubes so far. I have removed the writing prompt information for each poem as I think this satisfyingly increases the obscurity level.

Your fantasy screwed.
Thunder calls over a dead
body : stay inside

This journey home looks
smooth. I travel as a wise
biting finger point.

My god eats his charm.
His smooth lurid cheeks must love
the precious surface.

Pluck what the flock left,
that mouthful of sweet, spat leaves
we shape sleep behind.

Dead moonlight dripping
right into your livid room,
we switch promises.

Before your sour nerve
slips behind you  I switch it
for full, wise watching.

One brother happy ;
next dancing. My empty hand
a return of peace.

She sang her doctor :
Waste, et cetera…
Window too, please. There.

A following grace
Light under the swimming pool
We, last of many

All the way and then some

I even did a sequence where I attempted to use every Haikube. They get sillier as the sequence goes on and the pool of available words shrinks. At the end I had four words left, which I made into a three word poem with a one word title at the end.

Haikube exhaust sequence

It looks logical,
his science of ritual.
Desperate spiral.

Clever stick torture
leaves me flying home ugly,
lips under water

Screwed, I consume peace,
mouthing a villain moonlight;
revolting the heart

He hoped to shiver
through our wild candy surface.
Fortune slips. Sleep, baby.

Cover smooth fortune
with slimy et cetera.
Who sang next ?


Next generation

And then, my five year old went beyond us all: ‘I’m going to compose a nothing poem, mummy’. And he made a robot shape out of the blank faces of nine Haikubes. Is that the ultimate embodiment of ‘the failure to mean’, or what ? Clearly time to pass the baton and stand well back. Oh, and he called it ‘Robot 1’.


But have you considered …?

Don’t think I haven’t noticed that some of the above works are actually quite interesting. This post is not entirely satirical in intent. But am I really the author of these poems, and are they really literature ?? We need a few footnotes to deal with that one (and at least one mention each of Ern Malley and Bricolage).

Language Warning

I should also give a heads-up to any readers considering purchasing their own secret poetry career supercharge weapon….I mean…box of Haikubes, that some of the words are quite filthy. The game is clearly designed to be played between wine time and bedtime. For a further discussion of this aspect of Haikubes, see here.

Your Turn

Whatever their literary and theoretical status, I think we can all agree that Haikubes are fun. Why not try composing your own, and leave them in the comments below ?

Not the Botany Bay song


Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

A bit of fun this week. Try singing the draft poem / song below to the tune of ‘For we’re bound for Botany Bay’ (an old Australian popular song about the convict days, for those of you from other countries). 

The thing that got me started writing this little ditty is the thought that, in my humble opinion, having a child with autism is not so much like a trip to Holland, as like being hauled against your will to an inhospitable wilderness with a bunch of strangers, dumped there and left to survive on short rations and daily floggings.  You make friends with your fellow prisoners, you adapt, and after a few years you can even see how to make a life for yourself in this strange new land – but you can never go home again…

Anyway, not meaning to get all depressing or anything – the following is meant to make you laugh, as well as say a few things ASD parents and carers are not ‘allowed’ to say. Enjoy, and comments welcome.

Not the Botany Bay song

         : A Sea Shanty for ASD Parents and Carers

Farewell to the high life forever
Farewell to my suits and my heels
For my child’s on the autism spectrum:
my career juggernaut’s lost its wheels.

Singing echo-lay, echo-lay, la-li-a
Singing meltdowns as public disgrace
Singing though we might live in Australia
It can seem we’ve been shot into space.

There’s the doctors, the psychs and the speechies
There’s the OTs and physios too
Yet not one of these qualified specialists
knows what we poor parents go through.

Singing maybe this thing is contagious
Singing I used to think I was fine
But now all of my best friends are therapists
– or they’re parents of children like mine.

‘Taint the unscheduled detour I cares about
‘Taint the fact that I still don’t know why
But it feels like we’ve both turned invisible
as the rest of the world rolls on by.

Singing mindfully making the best of it
Singing gazing from gutters at stars
But the heartache and stress and the rest of it
feels like being ‘transported’ to Mars.

Well our home is all plastered with visuals
and we never have guests as a rule
and the unstructured horror of holidays
means we can’t wait to get back to school.

Singing Floortime and Musical Therapy
Singing PECs and Lovaas ABA.
Singing snake-oil and rebirth and mercury
– for those shysters can smell desperate prey.

Then there’s friendships and hygiene and puberty
and employment and learning to lie.
It’s a long row to hoe, that’s for certain sure
– and then who’ll step in when you die?

Singing once I was witty and erudite
Singing once I had beauty to spare
Now I bang on about intervention plans
and I think I’ve got lice in my hair.

So I s’pose we should make ourselves comfortable
’cause the voyage will last many years,
so let’s chuckle along with our cabin-mates
because where there’s no laughter there’s tears.

Singing God Bless our good ship The Spectran
may she weather the storm and the swell
and may all who sail in her land safely
though they’ve hair-raising stories to tell.

(c)  Melinda Smith 2011

Love song of autistic husband


Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

Yet another draft autism poem. This one is in the voice of a high functioning autistic husband talking to his neurotypical wife. It is not meant to be a portrait of a particular relationship, but it owes a lot to Edgar Schneider’s book Discovering My Autism and a little to the film Snow Cake.

The poem also explores a particular kind of slightly awkward, repetitive rhythm. I’d be really grateful for any feedback.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways
– Isaiah 55:8

Love song of autistic husband

It is pleasant to see you;
when I’m near you I’m happy –
and if ever you leave me
I will think it a pity –

but my love is not your love.
You assume that your feelings
are a halo around you
I could see if I tried to;

that your heart is a mystery
I could solve if I wanted –
but to me it’s an organ
and the secrets inside it

are just muscles contracting.
I am always a stranger
understanding you sideways
but I’ll always be loyal;

I can’t help being truthful
I remember the housework
and I’m there for the children –
surely these are important ?

Yet you say that you ‘need me
to be much more supportive’
or you ‘crave’ my ‘affection’
but ‘don’t want to be sexual’;

you protest I ignore you
that I’m cold and distracted –
but you might as well tell me
in Icelandic or Martian.

You insist I’m withholding
all my tenderness from you
but it’s not like a river
that I’ve slyly diverted:

it is more like an absence
like a cave or a sinkhole.
When we fight (so you tell me)
you are harrowed with terror

but my anger is over
when my voice has stopped shouting –
it is you seems to carry
little scars for a lifetime.

When I think of the future
I consider you dying:
what will stretch me to breaking
won’t be grief at your going

but the alien business
of the funeral, the lawyers.
My routine will be scrambled
I’ll be sick to my stomach

I will shout at the children
I will leave the wake early
and when later I’m solo
I will balk at your absence

I’ll be frightened and angry
  – but I don’t think I’ll cry.

(c) Melinda Smith 2011

An autistic woman explains the terror of affection


Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

The following draft poem (comments welcome) is inspired by Donna Williams’ book Nobody Nowhere. In the book she describes how, as a young woman with autism, feeling affection and closeness with another person was a terrifying experience for her, and made her fear that she would be ‘swallowed up’. She did, however, sometimes feel closeness with inanimate objects, and objects associated with certain loved people would become very special to her. It is an extremely powerful book – highly recommended.

The draft poem below is also in the form of a glosa (a poem that responds to another poem and uses some of the original poem’s lines as stanza endings in the new poem). The original poem is ‘Circle and Square’ by Edwin Muir, and the bit I’ve decided to start a conversation with (and use the lines from) is the final stanza, quoted at the start. The full poem can be found here.

Give, but have something to give.
No man can want you all.
Live and learn to live.
When all the barriers fall
you are nothing at all.    
        – Edwin Muir, ‘Circle and Square’. 

An autistic woman explains the terror of affection

A rushing of the sea:
your smile is drowning me –
I have to fight to live.
Why can’t you let me be ?
I feel in negative:
Distress is all you give.

Lost as I have been
I dare not let you in
however loud you call.
I cower in my skin
I curl into a ball.
No man must have me all.

You want to show you care?
You will not reach me there,
that is not where I live.
Just barely touch my hair
– that, I may forgive.
Live, and let me live.

Or give me for my own
a button or a stone –
something smooth and small  –
and when I am alone
I’ll feel you through this wall.
But when the barriers fall

I cannot meet your eye;
you stab me when you try
to look at me at all.
To let you is to die.
I’ll go under, I’ll fall –
I’ll be nothing at all.

(c) Melinda Smith 2011

I prefer


Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

Another draft poem. This one plays around with a common writing exercise, where you have to write a series of statements in the form of ‘I prefer x to y’. When you try writing one of these poems about yourself it is almost always BORING and unavoidably solipsistic. Try writing one from the point of view of someone else – say, an autistic child – and the result is, hopefully, more worth reading…

I prefer

serious illness to surprises
computers to my brother
reading number plates to Christmas morning

straight lines
submerging my ears in a warm bath to waterslides
deep fat fryers to matchbox cars

torture to haircuts
libraries to birthday parties
standing ankle-deep in ocean

tenpin bowling to climbing trees
looking at things out of the corner of my eye
Sonic the Hedgehog to family time

death to dentist visits
my mother with her glasses off
plastic wheelie bins to petting zoos

not to see my school friends outside of school
cricket statistics to Toy Story
chewing clothes-pegs to talking

rules to freedom
truth to sarcasm

to be left alone

(c) Melinda Smith 2011

Brain Weather

Here is another draft poem – again I am interested in any comments.


Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

In case you’re wondering, the extra spaces are intentional.

Brain Weather

:autistic meltdown ground zero

Think of                hemispheres:    Western, Left;
the wind-flows                 that connect them; the currents                       of sea; of electricity.

When was  it that             your frontal        lobe
Cauterized          itself against your       will
leaving  you endless       atomised local                   storms
with no way       to blow them    -selves out?

The last words you          said before the clouds came
stutter on            your small           tongue;
settle    in like cat-and    -dog rain, the syllables
hammering down, fixing one      thought with      a dozen stabs of lightning.

The miracle is not that it                stops, but how afterwards you can be so              calm and charming
– and puzzled that the rest of us still        drip and shiver from the rain.