This week’s featured poem is “Prickly Moses” written by Simon West.
The progress of a previously planted Acacia Verticillata in its second year.
Our loose-limbed wattle, our lounger up heights
is steadily climbing up the ladder
of lesser trees
and has struck this spring
The initial discovery of gold, is releasing small branches.
roam like tendrils and clamber light like a rope.
We slacken the eye in your pool of green
needle after needle, evergreen, monogreen,
The artist continued to fill in the empty spaces with crosshatching until it became a challenge.
to botanise a branch with a fuzz of petioles
Choose a Green Knight with a red wall visible.
As I reflect on the length of time I disregarded your name.
to marvel at ash and oak and elm,
It seems we have not yet reached the Promised Land.
had no rights to the lands they occupied — “Back in the day, our ancestors who were not from this country did not have any rights to the land they lived on.”
Your commonly used name was created by someone who cannot read or write.
Trimming the mimosa tree to the height of Moses.
and reckoning your type by laying hands on a limb
you need to first select
In order to obtain a sapling for a fishing rod, the first step is to choose one.
You were discovered to be lacking in knowledge about locally-sourced timber.
You continue to develop no matter what. You acquire, imbalanced.
the enlightenment of well-pitched things, your equilibrium a wry smile
Smiling at the weathered face of an elderly man,
As I walk past you on the trail below.
“Start at the bottom of the stairs.”
Begin from recognition.
This passage is taken from the book “Prickly Moses” written by Simon West. It has been republished with the authorization of Princeton University Press.
Simon West is a poet with a strong fascination for trees and their dual connection to the past and future. He was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1974 and received his education from the University of Melbourne, where he currently teaches. He also spent several years living in Italy. West has written five poetry collections, as well as a translation of Guido Cavalcanti’s poetry from Italian. He has also published a book of essays titled “Dear Muses? Essays in Poetry.”
In his discussion of “historical depth”, the author argues that this depth can be seen in both nature and human experiences. These ideas are reflected in the themes and style of the book Prickly Moses. The poems combine traditional structures such as rhyme and stress patterns with a more fluid and expansive approach to line breaks, allowing for exploration of both Australian and Italian landscapes. The words themselves create journeys, as seen in the title poem which centers on a plant known as Prickly Moses, a type of acacia.
The acacia is also known as “wattle,” as mentioned in the first line. The poem avoids providing too many factual details, but upon further investigation, it is discovered that Australia has a wide variety of acacia plants, with the golden wattle being the national floral symbol. This plant can grow to the size of a large tree, and the poem initially focuses on its successful growth. The plant seems to be outgrowing the smaller trees around it, which are unintentionally providing support like rungs on a ladder. The plant is casually flourishing and has begun to produce its first flowers, resembling a gold rush in the springtime. In the third verse, the poem directly addresses the plant, but from a more distant and aesthetic perspective after first contemplating “green thoughts in a green shade” like the poet Marvell. Further contemplation reveals more intricate details, ultimately suggesting that a painter might prefer to capture the sharp contrast of a “Green Knight with red wall poking through” rather than trying to decipher the “puzzle” of green needles and petioles. It is possible that this Green Knight refers to a specific type of plant, such as haworthopsis limifolia, but it could also be a reference to a character from the poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.”
The significance of the Mosaic name is brought to attention and contributes to the poem’s exploration of history. The speaker reflects on their previous focus on the impressive trees of Europe’s past and remarks, “I suppose we still haven’t reached the Promised Land.” The origin of the name Prickly Moses is attributed to a “squatter” who lacked education and wit, but was responsible for the tree’s common name. While Indigenous people were aware of the tree’s diverse uses, the squatter, in search of a fishing rod, deemed the sapling inadequate for his own purposes.
The Prickly Moses is persistent and carefree, always growing. The poem’s tone and language reflect its relaxed nature and appreciation for elaborate visuals without becoming pretentious or overly intricate. The parable at the end is also gentle in its delivery.
Throughout the poem, the tree continues to grow, and its moral significance expands. In the second-to-last verse, the Prickly Moses achieves a state of enlightenment, reminiscent of Buddha or JS Bach. It now appears almost human and shares a smile with the poet whenever he passes on the path at the bottom of the stairs. As fitting for its name, it proclaims a first commandment, differing from that of biblical Moses but still related: “begin with acknowledgement”. This acknowledgment goes beyond simply acknowledging a living being, whether human or tree. While it does not discount such greetings, the more crucial advice for the exile, settler, or poet would be to not underestimate the local environment, no matter how unpromising it may seem. Investigate without bias and embrace the joy of naming names.
Prickly Moses is a fine floral emblem of West’s key landscapes, forms and ideas. Readers who are new, as I was, to this writer’s work, will surely enjoy the quiet originality of his fifth collection. I’m motivated both to look back into the earlier books and anticipate the next.