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Thomas Moody

“A History of Blue” by Ella Jeffery & “The Blue” by John Forbes [Introduced by Thomas Moody]

In Australia, especially on the east coast, the color blue is inescapable. The sky is a deeper, wider blue than you will find almost anywhere else, mirrored by the blue of the ocean and harbors around which almost all life takes place. It’s a blue that’s used to sell the country to international tourists; a blue that facilitates our “sunny” national character. We have bluebottles, blue-tongue lizards, and the deadly blue-ringed octopus. The size and intensity of the blue sky can be overwhelming: I remember once returning home to Sydney from a lengthy visit to northern Europe and feeling both supercharged by the expanse of light and color, and also somehow claustrophobic by the sheer distances this blue suggested. 

“the sky’s huge blue hand pressed / against the windows” is how Ella Jeffery captures this paradox of feeling penned in by a vastness of sky. “A History of Blue” opens with the “Brainscan blue” of the pre-dawn sky, a slight nod to Eliot’s etherized evening, and goes on to offer a compendium of some of the most surprising and compelling ways one can describe a color. The “drowsy” blue of the grandfather’s tattoo is my favorite; you can almost see the old, fading blue-ink yawning and sliding down the skin as if slinking into bed.



Ella Jeffery’s debut collection of poems, Dead Bolt (2020), won the Puncher & Wattmann Prize for a First Book of Poems and the Anne Elder Award. She is a recipient of the Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Award and her poetry has appeared widely in journals and anthologies.


A History of Blue


Brainscan blue of the horizon’s edge

before dawn. That is the blue

of indecision. Five blue lights blinking

the plane through metaldust sky

while the Pacific lilts like aquarium-plastic

around some humid or hypothermic blue latitude.

Look closer. Here’s Stradbroke Island

in shades of blue-ringed octopus,

blackblue crabs on rocks like moving bruises.

Drowsy blue of my teetotal grandfather’s tattoo

and the blue book of his brain

that remembers all birds by their Latin names.

Blue guts of swimming pools, blue-tongues

scrummed in one shady corner. First and last:

the sky’s huge blue hand pressed

against the windows. 

“The Blue” illustrates two of John Forbes’ greatest talents as a poet. The first is his ability to take the transcendent and reduce it down to the domestic and routine in an image that perfectly reflects back to us the banality of modern life. In this case, it is the blue of Sydney which is “built-in like / a modern appliance / at my fingertips” suggesting that the color’s sheer accessibility cheapens its effect. The second is the propulsion the poem gathers and where Forbes chooses to interrupt it. Reading the poem aloud, we are thrust irresistibly forward until an anticlimax arrives with the lines “I can’t mix up love / with the weather & / feel better,” wherein a pause occurs and we are allowed to gather our breath, only to be launched again into an impelling force, driven by the repetition of “sky” and “only” and landing at a closing line that is at once exasperated, resigned and proud.



You can read more about John Frobes here and here.


The Blue


The blue in Sydney 

has nothing to do 

with yachts or ideal 

ways of life, it's 

built-in like 

a modern appliance 

at my fingertips & 

far out beyond the 

scenes & decor 

days blue as pencils 

pass by & even cut 

to tears on a cold 

blue empty morning 

I can't mix up love 

with the weather & 

feel better / the sky 

is only the sky & 

that's only a symbol 

of fucking Sydney 

or the wide blue 

yonder I wouldn't 

live anywhere else


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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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