Neenish tarts, bus shelters, Wagga Wagga and me

Never thought I’d use these four ‘terms’ in the same sentence but there you go – if life was a Venn diagram, there are several shaded areas in which me and neenish tarts would intersect.

For those who’ve been living under a rock for the past century or so, a neenish tart (see picture above) is a delightful Antipodean invention featuring a pastry base, jam and cream filling and distinctive, two-coloured, almost-yin-and-yang-style icing. It’s the kind of cake you’ll find in any halfway decent country town bakery, and one that (courtesy of my mother’s fondness for them) I’ve developed a fair hankering for over the years. Matter of fact, I could murder a neenish tart right now.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Wagga Wagga. It must have been over a year ago that the Booranga Writers’ Centre in Wagga Wagga, Australia (publishers of the magazine FourW, in which I’ve had a few pieces published over the years) put out a call for poems to be displayed on bus shelters in the town. The call for works immeditely ‘piqued’ my interest, as we say in the industry, as I’d spent a fair bit of time in Wagga Wagga as a young grasshopper, either driving through or else strapped into a dentist’s chair.

While my memories of Wagga are not all fond, I wrote three poems and sent them off. The first one (brace-face) was about getting braces in Wagga Wagga. The second one (“Riverina”) was about playing Aussie Rules in Wagga. And the third poem, the one they accepted, was about a neenish tart. It’s called, surprisingly enough, ‘neenish tart’, and for the benefit of all non-residents of Wagga Wagga, I’ve pasted it below:

Neenish tart

There used to be this cafe around here
somewhere – maybe it’s still going, do
you know the one I mean? You could buy
a good neenish tart there, with inch-thick
pastry and an ooze of too-sweet jam. Then
there was cream they must have laced with
sugar and icing to die for. I used to live in a
town to the north of here, it doesn’t matter
which one. What matters is the neenish tart,
the one my mum used to buy me whenever
we drove through Wagga Wagga on our way
home from time trials or footy, it depended
on the season. That tart always tasted good.
I especially loved the icing, it reminded me of
yin and yang. I wonder if it’s still there. One day
I’ll come back and walk down the main street,
ask a few people if they remember the place.

                             Maybe you do?

The sentiments in this poem almost make me feel a little bit teary now – I remember the taste of that neenish tart as if it was yesterday. Recently, I got an email from Derek Motion, the director of Booranga, informing me that

” … the second groups of poems will be going up shortly in bus shelters around Wagga Wagga. We have been able to procure an extra 4 shelters to use for the project, so all 8 poems will be on display at the same time. To celebrate this event we’ve planned another event – a bus tour of all (or selected) shelters, featuring poetry readings on location, with wine / refreshments at the terminus. We will be holding this event on Saturday 14th April, with the bus departing from the Wagga Council Chambers at 2pm.”

While I unfortunately won’t be able to make it to the launch, the idea of a bus tour sounds like a great one and I really wish I could be there. As a kind of substitute, Derek sent me this photo of the bus shelter where my neenish tart poem is currently living.

It’s almost like being there, don’t you think?

sparrow dabang (참새 다방)

Read the Hangul version here: 참새 다방

last night i saw yi sang singing in a noraebang
     sounding just like a little sparrow does going
tang tang tacka tacka tk tk tk tk tang it was
     such a sad little song that the sparrow sang
the kind that nobody else knew the words to
     but don't think that stopped him - no way!
i can hear yi sang  still, on the hanok roof
     going tang tang tacka tacka tk tk tk tk tang

     all day long, in dead silence, like a sparrow. 

then i saw yi sang playing starcraft in a pc bang
     losing badly, screaming at the screen, the air
heavy with teenage smoke and his keyboard
     sticky with grape soda (do you think that stopped
yi sang? never! losing men and energy way too
     fast to ever keep up with his competitors going
tang tang tacka tacka tk tk tk tk tang on
     their worn-out keyboards all night long,

     in networked silence, like a flock of sparrows. 

then (if you can believe this) i saw yi sang
     soaking himself in a jjimjilbang, his hair like
feathers on the head of a sparrow, spiky and
     wet, like a sparrow drinking from the smallest
puddle you can imagine. as if wet feathers could
     ever hold him back! don't believe it! yi sang, wet,
sitting in a pool in the jjimjilbang for hours on end,
     his little heart racing as if he was flying through

     air going tang tang tacka tacka tk tk tk tk tang. 

tonight i'm sitting quietly in a corner of a dabang
     thinking of yi sang and what he would have made
of the new multibang craze. maybe he would have
     liked it, maybe there's a place for a little sparrow
inside a pay-as-you-go multitang, a little space
     that goes tang tang tacka tacka tk tk tk tk tang
all day long if you want, if that's what you want,
     if that's what makes you happy. don't you think

     it's a nice idea? a nice way to re-imagine yi sang? 


& tomorrow i'll be sitting in a dvd bang, watching
     a movie based on the life of yi sang. i won't see
a single sparrow, i won't even hear the sound
     a sparrow makes in a tree in the dark. don't you
know? don't you believe in the sound a sparrow
     makes in the dark? never mind, i can remind you,
it sounds like tang tang tacka tacka tk tk tk tk tang,
     all night long, in a corner of the sparrow dabang,

     and it's the most beautiful, lonely sound in the world.

Sunshine for Kim Dae-jung

on the day you died i heard helicopters
& jet planes flying over seoul's old head 
the sun was shining hot & burning down
teheran-ro & the steel streets of gangnam
were full of young girls holding umbrellas 
by the subway entrance a young man held
the hands of an older man who was writing
something on a small pad, both looking sad 
about something though I knew it wasn't 
you; & as I walked down the stairs into the 
subway station I watched girls coming up 
holding handbags over their behinds to
prevent the up-skirt glances & cameras
i'd recently read were on the increase ... 
i knew that you had just died & so how
could anybody here have that knowledge
but it made me sad in any case to think
about your long & amazing life & the life
of gwangju people that is so different from
that of the girl walking through gangnam 
wearing a face-mask not because of flu
but due to a recent visit to the face doctor
& it's not her fault & I don't know anything
about her life but i wonder what's the point
of all this though i don't expect an answer 
from her let alone anyone here i must find my 
own reasons for life & carrying on within me, 
i have to stop thinking about sad things like 
the photo of you and kim jong-il, hand in 
hand at last, while ko un looked on; i have
to believe in some sphere of freedom where
girls can walk around wearing short skirts
& holding umbrellas to protect their bleached
faces from the harmful old sun's gamma rays 
& boys do not have to do their twenty six 
months & old women don't have to live in 
basement apartments & crawl up the stairs
& no one tries to steal up-skirt glances at 
anyone & tawdry old mats covered with red
chillis spread out to dry can be left in the 
middle of the road; i have to believe in this
road & the reasons for walking alone at night
& so i write & think of you in the past tense 
& know that within hours of your death your
wikipedia entry had been changed to reflect 
the fact & then I knew you were really gone 
& it was all beyond dispute, & your life was no
longer an article that doesn't cite its sources
but rather a song free of kidnappers & enemies 
& crocodiles crying aloe vera tears yes forget
that it doesn't matter now, you'll join mr roh 
somewhere behind a waterfall & together you'll
wait for the rest of us to arrive (one by one like
days of summer filled with moving tears & hands

                        & sunshine