Read This and Be Smarter

Read This and Be Smarter with SLWA

Selected poems from:

Burnt Umber by Paul Hetherington

Paul Hetherington has previously published 12 collections of poetry and six poetry chapbooks. He won the 2014 Western Australian Premier’s Book Award (poetry) for Six Different Windows (UWAP, 2013) and the 1996 Australian Capital Territory Book of the Year Award for Shadow Swimmer, and was shortlisted for the 2017 Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry in the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards for Burnt Umber (UWAP, 2016). He was a finalist in the 2018 international Aesthetica Creative Writing Competition (UK) and the 2017 international Bridport Prize Flash Fiction competition (UK); commended in the 2016 Newcastle Poetry Prize, and shortlisted for the international 2016 Periplum Book Competition (UK). In 2015-16 he undertook an Australia Council for the Arts Residency at the BR Whiting Studio in Rome and in 2012 he was awarded one of two places on the Australian Poetry Tour of Ireland. In 2002 he won a Chief Minister’s ACT Creative Arts Fellowship. His poems have been published in anthologies, journals, magazines and on websites, nationally and internationally. He is Professor of Writing in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra, head of the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) and one of the founding editors of the international online journal Axon: Creative Explorations. He founded the International Prose Poetry Group in 2014.

UWAP Poetry celebrates contemporary Australian poetry by bringing together established and emerging voices in a dynamic list established in 2016. Enter POETRYFREEPOSTAGE at our checkout to receive free shipping on this and all of our poetry titles.



Painting 1: Burnt Umber

The clock blanks, and blanks again.
Paintings step from walls,
moving into the room.
Ticking stops; paint spreads
like a bordello’s red light.
I’m part of a scene
where a man in bowler hat
pats a green dog.
There’s a turquoise mist,
a slug on a window
and barking as the man nods “hello”.
I look back towards the bedroom—
it could be my wife
but the image is blurred.
The painting flattens me.
The slug trails slime;
the dog drags at my trouser leg
and is turning blue.
A burnt umber grin eats its mouth.



Painting 2: Gunship

His face might be frowning
or briefly possessed
by spasms of knowledge,
his arms akimbo
like a tightrope exotic
wheeling past crowds.
There’s an asphalt road
reaching toward
a knot in the hills—
five children climb
to a mosque or small church.
A gunship is circling.
A splash of black paint
explodes in a cornfield.
There’s no goodly view
to throw this scene
into stable perspective.
A man near a shop
faces the wall
with white, skewered arms.



In later days
doctors marvelled
at the prevalence of self-harm; people uttered
unwieldy lamentations;
guards escorted men
to noiseless rooms.
Days flattened into textures
of threadbare cloth;
children stared
at unkempt horizons.
The law said
they were to be emptied
and despatched to islands;
rote statements of process demanded that letters
be blacked out or burned. Regularly herded
into antiseptic rooms,
shifted between compounds, some made appeals
but judgments
crowded them like warders. Often when they woke at night they saw obliteration
like a beast
examining their prospects.


Three men with names
that guards can’t pronounce—

close, intimate syllables
with which their parents
caressed them.

And they won’t give
those syllables away
even though their identities have been shredded
like unwanted documents; even though others
are carried away
and brought back.

They have travelled from places where people traded in markets and children stood on tiptoe pointing at sweets.

At night they sense
someone bending over their beds.

In the morning they know
they have five more times to die.


His daughter became silent
as if an intolerable gesture
had climbed into her eyes.
She neither looked at him
nor towards distance,
dancing a few steps
for hours at a time.
No-one joined her
for fear that the rhythm
would graft to their bodies.
Guards ignored her, doctors agreed

“there’d been some trauma”. Week by week she unravelled

in abrasive circles
as men sewed their lips
to protest. She was in the yard when someone pushed her, trying to undo
her goading
travail of movement.

There was never an explanation
as to why he walked into the river, took hold of a log
and floated away.

They found letters
but the love he expressed
in sometimes obsessive detail was no explanation— except, the coroner declared that perhaps it indicated

“a lack of a grasp”, etc.
Someone who saw him pass by said that he was waterlogged; another said he sat upright,
as if triumphant, and was singing; a third (unreliable) party
stated that he rolled and turned and was having trouble breathing.

The coroner said that “unless a body”, etc. And, certainly there was a report
that he had, after all, survived;
had walked out of the water

near a remote village.
“It sounds implausible,” the witness said,

who was rather bedraggled himself

with downcast eye,
“but he seemed to be smiling,

if shaking a little—
and appeared to be looking at something not so far in the distance.

You know, like a thought can sometimes hold a man.”




The State Library of Western Australia promotes literacy for all ages. To this end the ‘Read this and be smarter project’ has been developed, providing a short piece of writing from Australian publications every Monday to Friday to read on your commute or lunch break.