Southerly Buster

I recently had my poem, ‘Southerly Buster’, included in a fabulous initiative, Spirit of Sydney – Poetry Alive, organised by Australian poet Les Wicks.

For those who’ve not experienced one, a Southerly Buster is a weather phenomenon synonymous with long hot Sydney summers. After days of increasing heat, powerful cold fronts charge up the New South Wales coast, bringing abrupt and extreme drops in temperature, strong winds and rain. These dramatic events have been part of my Christmas holiday season since childhood, and I love the climatic atmosphere they bring!

Which made it all the more fun to write this poem, and all the more satisfying to have it included in Les’s inspired poetry project. Twenty poems written about Sydney were performed at a group poetry reading at Manly Art Gallery, surrounded by the glorious artwork of legendary Australian artists Brett Whiteley, Lloyd Rees and Elisabeth Cummings. It was a great honour to be part of the event and to read my work alongside some of Australia’s finest poets.

My poem, ‘Southerly Buster’, is a found poem sourced from the novel ‘Seven Poor Men of Sydney’ by one of my favourite Australian writers, Christina Stead. You can read my poem below, and the other poets’ excellent work here.

Wishing you a peaceful holiday season, whatever the weather brings!

Southerly Buster

A bloody sun rose through misty veils —
another steaming white day.
Morning smoked on the red roofs
swarming the hills,
the barren headland
curled like a scorpion in the blinding sea.

At the wharf
people burst out of the turnstiles
flushed girls in floating dresses
twisting in streams through the streets.

Cicadas skirled from the foreshores,
trees rose up to dissolve into light
and picnickers deliquesced
in the cool pools
of deep green between the pines.

The afternoon, wearing on,
shone copper, the whole ocean
rolling in molten motion toward the land,
meteorologists singing up a storm
as the people, waiting, wilted.

Dusk gathered, houses shadowed,
the eight o’clock ferry
trailed its golden lights out of the wharf,
street lamps yellowly came on…

In the gloaming, the wind charged in.

Dusty leaves twisted and blazed
the grass reared itself with a pugnacious thrust
rats streaked up from the waterfront
cockroaches scuttled into cracks.

The sea was running high
gathering force in mile long rollers,
a howling parliament of waves plunging
booming into the caves
then draining hissing back off the rocks.

For hours the squall drove from the south,
battering at the window panes
chattering at the doors,
and bursts of rain rang like blasts of shot.

Then, an imperceptible illumination:
in the west, a faint low glimmer
announcing the setting of the moon;
in the east, dawn breaking behind the black clouds,
the pale contour of the Heads emerging
like a somnolent lover’s limbs.


* A found poem sourced from Seven Poor Men of Sydney, by Christina Stead




15 thoughts on “Southerly Buster

  1. Merry Christmas, Michele!

    Such a treat to read your work. I love the alliteration in this piece–my favorite line is “flushed girls in floating dresses.” I am teaching a poetry unit after break and I want to do found poetry. My question for you: Do all of the words come from the other text? You create such powerful pieces from other works.

    Hope you and your family are doing well.


  2. Merry Christmas, Michael! We’re doing OK, thank you. I hope you and your family are well also?

    I miss your blog! Any books in the pipeline for you?

    Thanks for your kind comments on my poem ~ that’s my favourite line too! I like the way it feels on the tongue.

    Yes, when you write found poetry generally all the words, punctuation etc have to be lifted from the original text. There’s some good explanations and example at Found Poetry Review, which could be a good resource for your teaching:

    I was thinking that your students might also enjoy trying some erasure (or blackout) poetry. Have you tried that? It can be done with a newspaper and a sharpie, or on an iPad. One of the best known poets working this way is Austin Kleon: Check it out!

    Take care


  3. Just read this one, Michele, and again I am struck by how much animal imagery there is. I wonder if your eyes are attracted to those images particularly, amongst Stead’s words? And I love that word deliquesced!

    Les Wicks never seems to rest, from the number of times I see his name attached to things. (Poems, mostly!)

    • Penelope, I had to seriously go back and re-read my own poem to find those animals! When I read you comment I was thinking, animals, what animals? You’re right, it’s full of them! Some strange unconscious shenanigans going on in my mind…

      Les Wicks is indeed indefatigable!

      I also wanted to let you know that I have a few poems coming up soon in Rochford Street Review (Mark Roberts has kindly made me his feature poet for the next issue) and one of them is dedicated to you! It’s the poem you inspired me to write for the ACU comp, about peace. (I never entered it, didn’t think it had much chance, but I still quite fancy it!) It’s a poem that will also appear in my book, Engraft, coming out with Island Press in a few weeks. And it’s about – you guessed it – an animal! I shall leave you in suspense….

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