Andrew Burke’s first poetic influences were liner notes on the back of jazz LPs in the late Fifties and early Sixties, mixed in with a little Milton, Gerard Manley Hopkins and TS Eliot. Early Australian influences were Bruce Beaver and Dorothy Hewett. He has always believed poetry is an essence not a form, and so it may appear in many shapes and guises. His current title is Undercover of Lightness: New & Selected Poems, published Walleah Press 2012. (Available Collected Works, Red Wheelbarrow Books, Crow Books and direct from )
His website is

from Shikibu Shuffle
A collaboration between Andrew Burke and Phil Hall
Inspired in part by Murasaki Shikibu (973—1014)
Ornette Coleman (double quartet experiments, 1960)


Whistling without charts

I praise all swoops and calls

old red-throat has come back
the gentle violin-maker to the countryside

a left-footer’s choir
all language metaphor

I air my tongue
and dream of placid jaws

bawdy songs once belted



As boustrophedon
vines whisper Ashbery

to my Basho

I’m light on
the distortion pedal

before pulling out all the stops
and switching to rock’n’roll organ

telling it
like it TI is


Worldly opinion
runs in the backdoor

God must be a boogie Man
and out the front door

then walks in
through the wall
and sits on the floor

scant help to me
playing in my sandpit

looking for myself


White-bait, those tiniest sliver
of silver words, swim into
my mind from dark nights
when Mother would feed
the surprise guest brought home
by Father with one too many
drinks in him. Many times
they would mumble apologies
while mother speared a tin
of King Sound White-bait
and started toast cooking.
Father brought home
interesting people, men
who had caught his ear
at the yacht club or the
Naval & Military Club:
American film actor,
CSIRO scientist, touring
Italian pianist, war hero
with tin legs. Mother would
heat whitebait slowly in
cream sauce, and when
the toast popped-up (we had
a modern kitchen), she would
say, Sit down, sit down,
and all the white-baits’ eyes
would look-up at
my father and his guest
swaying like sailors
just come home from sea.

Writing on a Brown Bag in Freo
i.m. John Forbes

I write on a brown paper bag,
The Collected Poems of John Forbes inside.

See, over there,
a young man in everything black
waves his guitar, present tense,
at the traffic in Freo’s High Street.
He crosses to New Edition. Perhaps
I bought the book he wanted
to spend his busking money on.

How our days are The Collected,
our faces in the street, poems
pinned to each page
reverently. I want to put
coffee rings on each one, a little
weed here and there, sprinkle
a proprietary pharmaceutical line
over all …

Our busker doesn’t have
a guitar case, his strings open
to the weather, face grimacing
at the exhaust of buses before
a night playing in human exhaust.

In our exhausts of life we had
furniture removal in common –
mattresses, beds, wardrobes,
jarrah drawers, even old Frigidaires
with their round shoulders and weird handle,
too heavy for the wages.
Already the myths need regassing.

So now I write on a brown paper bag,
John Forbes inside. I shake him
like a rattle: echoes spill, click-clack rhythms
of the heart. I take The Collected out, put
the bag to my lips, fill it with air
and burst it on my knee.

The birds are still in flight. Believe the birds. ~ Jack Spicer

Tuesday morning, 10.45am, Northbridge is dead.
The Deen, partiest pub on a Saturday night,
is a silent, empty shell. A Chinese youth
cleans down the window ledges
and door entrances – scrubbing,
rinsing, pushing sudsy water to the gutter.
The weekend news on television
and the front pages of the press
are often filled with images
of this pub’s brawling patrons and
forensic close-ups of dried pools of blood.
Now, all is silent, except a light chirping,
a skipping note whistled from
a tiny beak. I look up at the top windows
and the old awning fixtures long disused.
There a small finch hops and darts
delightedly between perches, hop, dart,
tweet, a single note whistled
over and over like she is singing
to herself, imagining a new nest
and little ones within it,
tiny beaks tweeting in
morning sunlight.


I enter, not knowing who
I’m going to see :: dead, living,
actors slipping into their roles
for theatre. I greet all I meet
with a face reflecting
the intelligence of a decorated biscuit
at a birthday party. Down
long corridors of light, I’m facing
her face and his face, upside down,
clowns taking me for a ride. They
stop and shift me to a serving tray.
Soon I am floating in liquid air
where I keep my true self, mid-deep
in a lake where naught swim but I.
I am their balloon to pump, then
pop with their sharp knives.
I surface to play my role, an impro
where parts are tagged and we
create our own diurnal dialogues
and midnight monologues to those
playing torchlight nurse. My balloon self
sags in a field where the tent is up, a circus
of before nows, yesterdays, and dead ones
who have stayed for one reason or
no other. Once they circled, smiling
as they came into focus before
their skin flaked off and blew away
in a silent breeze. Again I am
in their hands, again I float from
their theatre to my circus domain –
now my mother approaches
with a friendly grin made all
the more horrific by her death. It isn’t
about her – it’s about me. Yet
I still don’t understand, as I return
with my laughing biscuit intelligence
fresh from the baking fire.


Notes on the poems:

Shikibu Shuffle was published as a chapbook by above / ground press, Ottawa, Canada, in 2012.
White-Bait was included in Undercover of Lightness: New & Selected Poems, pub. Walleah Press, 2012
Writing on a Brown Bag in Freo was first published in foam:e, later included in Undercover of Lightness.
Birds are still in flight. Believe the birds (Jack Spicer) was first published in Southerly’s Long Paddock, then included in Undercover of Lightness.
Anaesthetics was published in Best Australian Poems 2012, ed John Tranter (Black Inc)

My sincere thanks to Andrew for sending me these wonderful poems, some of which make up some of my favourite work, and allowing me to republish them on here.


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