Posts tagged 'poetry'

highlightThe Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowships, supported by the Readings Foundation, help writers to find time and space to work on their writing, by providing a desk for two months and a $1000 stipend. This week, we’ll continue to publish a series of extracts from the work created by our last intake of Hot Desk Fellows during their time here.

Meaghan Bell’s Future Summer is a series of poems investigating the apocalyptic outcomes of global warming and climate change. The aim is to develop a series of 13 poems which will then be made into a chap-book. While there are many depressing visions of a dystopian future, this series reflects possible utopian visions, which engenders hope and a desire to act.

blood_on_the_caldera04-1

blood_on_the_caldera04-2-rs

blood-on-the-caldera-3_rs

blood-on-the-caldera-4_rs

Topics:

Posted:

03 December 2014

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

Paul Mitchell is the author of a short fiction collection, Dodging the Bull (Wakefield Press) and three collections of poetry, Minorphysics, Awake Despite the Hour and Standard Variation. His poems, stories and articles have appeared in various publications, including the Age, Good Weekend, the Australian, Sleepers Almanacs, Best Australian Poems and Best Australian Stories (Black Inc.), Meanjin, Griffith Review and Crikey.

We spoke to him about why ‘just keep writing’ is bad advice, why you should never believe what your friends and relatives say about your work, and his son’s lucky escape from being named ‘Valjean’.

highlight

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

It was a poem called ‘The Five Teens’. I was in Year 12 English class and there were five of us talking about the meaning of life. As we spoke, a piece of fluff floated past and we kept it aloft with our breath. I wrote a poem about the experience and it was published in the school’s yearbook. People still quote it to me. I ignore them.

What’s the best part of your job?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a job so I have to make do with freelance writing and sessional tutoring! The best part of my non-job is that I can answer questions like these without feeling like I’m stealing time from the boss. It also means that, if I want to and the bank balance seems okay, I can do some bank balance-diminishing creative writing in the middle of the day when I’m awake.

What’s the worst part of your job?

See first sentence above. The worst part of my non-job is the bank balance. Mainly caused by putting time into bank balance-diminishing creative writing.

low_res_coverWhat’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

Career? Hmmm, more like careening over the writing landscape. But the most significant moments in my careening have been publication of my first poetry book and first (and only, so far) short fiction book. Both of these events deluded me for a while into thinking I was a ‘writer’, rather than just someone who wrote.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

‘Just keep writing.’ As if that alone can make you good at it. I mean, I could just keep baking cakes, but if I did it for 20 years without looking at recipes or learning from other cake bakers, I’d end up making 20 years worth of what my daughter and I created one day: Anzac biscuit flan.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

This year, two people have told me that my writing has changed the lives of people they know. Not their minds for a few seconds, their lives! I’m still gasping with disbelief – and I should have put this answer in the ‘most significant moment of your writing career’ above. Whoops.

If you weren’t making your living by working with words, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

A lot more teaching. My freelance writing – scripts, copywriting, etc. – brings in enough money to ensure that not too many uni or school students have to put up with me each year. If I wasn’t doing anything to do with writing, I’d probably be working as a journalist (that’s a joke – what I’m saying is I’m not trained for anything else. My hopes of becoming a professional sportsperson have faded, though if I just keep playing snooker …)

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I can’t see why there’s a debate. Of course it can be taught. Just like music, painting, sculpture, dance, etc. Yes, some people have innate ability, but anyone who just keeps writing … and reading and learning from other writers and drafting and editing and keeping their sentences snappy can improve.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Don’t do it. If you absolutely must, then make sure you have a job. Never believe what your relatives or friends say about your work. And remember: only one person in about six billion is born with the name J.K. Rowling.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

I go by price and convenience. I have bought my last five books from Book Depository (two), the Kobo store (for, yes, my Kobo e-reader), the Melbourne Uni bookstore and Readings Carlton.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

I read Les Miserables just before my son Hugo was born. He is forever thankful I didn’t name him Valjean. But I’d like to have dinner with Valjean and just ask him how he managed to be such a good bloke despite having Javert on his tail his whole life. If he wasn’t available for dinner, I’d like to chow down with the cop character from Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men and see what we could learn about good and evil together.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

I have to answer the ‘life’ and ‘work’ questions separately. The book that has most affected my work is Flannery O’Connor’s non-fiction title Mystery and Manners. It has helped me believe that writing could be a valuable use of our limited time. And the one that has had the most significant impact on my life is John’s Gospel. The mystical Gospel, it proposes more strongly than the others that the divine is in all of us, and the world would be better if we gave it more room to move.


Paul Mitchell’s latest book is the poetry collection Standard Variation.

Topics:

Posted:

20 November 2014

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

Five Islands Press is offering its inaugural Ron Pretty Poetry Prize this year, named in recognition of its founder’s contribution to Australian literature through his own poetry, his teaching, and his publication of 230 books of poetry by other poets. Ron was the founder and managing director of Five Islands Press between 1986 and his retirement in 2008.

Sydney poet Brook Emery, whose first three books of poetry were published by Five Islands Press, sat down to interview Ron about his publishing and poetry careers – and his ideas on what makes a good poem, the place of poetry in Australian culture, and the pleasures and frustrations of poetry publishing.

highlight

Ron Pretty

Ron, I’d really like to talk to you about poetry rather than publishing but there are some things we should touch on first. What were the pleasures and frustrations of running the press?

How long have we got? There was a great deal of both. The pleasure of bringing new work to the market place, work I enjoyed, whose quality I was confident about. Quite a lot of this was by poets I felt had been unfairly neglected – I published some terrific older poets for instance – or because they were working in unfamiliar territory, or because they were new poets struggling to find a publisher for their first book. The New Poets Series was a particular pleasure for that reason. So many of these poets have gone on to become significant figures in our poetic landscape. Frustrations? Oh God. Never having enough time to do things properly, especially in publicity and marketing. Looking back on it, for much of that time I was publishing too many books each year, but it was hard to say no to fine poets who seemed to have few other publishing options. The difficulty of getting reviews and the occasional bitchy one that came along. The parochialism that meant that it was hard to get an audience for a Western Australian author in Sydney. The constant battle to stay afloat financially … I could go on …

Let’s move away from Ron Pretty as publisher to Ron Pretty as reader and writer. How long have you been reading poetry and how did you come to start writing it?

As in most things, I was pretty much a late starter. I can remember being caned in third class for not being able to recite the second stanza of ‘I Was a Pirate Once’, and I don’t think any poetry made much impression on me again until I reached uni. My main interests in those early years were history and fiction, in that order. I was writing short stories, some of which made their way into school magazines … but when I got to Sydney Uni – after a couple of years teaching in the bush – W.B. Yeats opened my head with a meat cleaver. ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ is still probably my favourite poem. And for a number of years afterwards I was writing bad imitations of him. He is still probably lurking in some of what I write. But after uni I went to Europe, and for a year in Greece I was reading the Europeans – Seferis and Cavafy, Brecht, Pasternak, Rilke, Supervielle … That year was when I really started writing seriously. When I got back, I caught up on some Australian poets – Fitzgerald and Stewart, Tranter and Forbes, Gwen Harwood (she was a terrific poet). Then there was Neruda and E.B. Brathwaite – his trilogy Rites is stunning. Lately I’ve been working my way through Carolyn Forche’s anthology Against Forgetting and the Ecco Anthology of International Poetry – terrific anthologies, both of them.

What do you look for in a poem? What excites or impresses you?

So much could be said about this. For me, I want the poem to surprise, but I also want it to satisfy; the surprise should be neither facile nor imposed, but come naturally from the area of experience being explored. I want the poem to challenge me. I want the language of the poem, the imagery of the poem to be lively, fresh and appropriate to the subject matter. That’s not just a matter of avoiding clichés (of language, of emotion, of experience), but of finding new angles, new ways of exploring the experience, new ways of expressing the results of that exploration. I want the poem to have unity so that the language, the imagery, the tone, the movement and structure of the poem all reinforce one another. I want the level of difficulty in the poem to be appropriate to its concerns: I don’t want it to be simplistic or facile, but neither do I want it to be obscurantist or difficult for its own sake. If the poem is layered, I want the layers to be consistent with one another and supportive of one another. I want the poem to open out to me. If it is challenging, I am prepared to read it several times, even many times; but as I read I want to find new insights, new connections, so that in time I will understand it, even if only viscerally. I am not satisfied if I come away from a poem perhaps appreciating its brilliant language or structure or sound patterning, but having only an imperfect sense of what the experience is that is being explored. And I want some variety in the poems I read: I don’t want every poem to be deadly serious; I want playfulness sometimes, and humour, and whimsy as well as satire, irony, anger, elegy, distress …

How do you work?

Since we moved back to Wollongong, I’ve developed a set routine. Three or four nights a week I go out onto our back verandah to write – it overlooks a cemetery, Kembla Grange Race Course and Lake Illawarra. I have a pad, a fountain pen, a bottle of red and, if it’s a still night, some candles. I wait till something, usually a line, comes to me, and I follow it. And I write three or four first drafts a night, sometimes. In the morning I read over what I’ve written and usually discard a lot of it. Anything that looks as though it might have potential I’ll start re-drafting; I usually have at least six or seven drafts, sometimes more than twenty. And even then, when I come back to the poems a week or so later, I still find I throw a lot of them away. It’s a wasteful method, but every now and then you get something worth keeping; and there’s always the surprise, the pleasure of discovery of what’s hovering there, that’s what keeps you going even if, later, it turns out to be not much good.

How many poetry books have you written? This might be an impossible question but do you a favourite poem or two of your own?

I’ve written six full-length collections and four chapbooks. I don’t know about favourite poems. Sometimes I think I’d like to put out a ‘Selected’ of no more than about 20 poems, but I get bogged down when I try to work out what they should be. I’ve got a soft spot for ‘Night of the Bonfire’ because it was the first poem I published – in Southerly – but it’s a bit ragged around the edges … ‘Theseus at 80’ and ‘Da Capo’ probably would be among current favourites, but it changes with my mood …

And finally, the Czech poet Miroslav Holub said somewhere that he dreamed of a day when people read poetry as naturally as they read the newspaper or go to the football. Do you have a hope for the future of poetry?

In your dreams, Miroslav. I am frustrated by the fact that there is so much poetry happening at present, but most of it is hidden from the majority of Australians. I don’t think poetry is so much an unpopular art as an unknown one. So many people don’t know how to respond to it because they’ve had so little exposure to it since they left school, where many of their experiences with it were not happy ones. There’s plenty of poetry on the web, of course, but only those who know about it go looking. Wouldn’t it be nice if every newspaper carried a poem every day, if every radio station read a poem morning and night, if television featured it as a matter of course. It’s a dream, of course: that the commercial imperative will somehow, some day, be transformed into a humane one, but it’s a dream I’m happy to share with Holub.


The $5000 Ron Pretty Poetry Prize will be awarded to a poem of no more than 30 lines. The closing date for submissions is 30 November 2014. There is an entry fee of $20 for the first poem and $10 for subsequent poems. The competition will be judged by Ron Pretty. Details and entry forms can be found at the Five Islands Press website.

This conversation between Ron Pretty and Brook Emery was conducted in September 2014. An extended version can be found on the Five Islands Press website.

Topics:

Posted:

06 October 2014

Comments:

There are 2 comments so far
Back to top

highlightThe Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowships, supported by the Readings Foundation, help writers to find time and space to work on their writing, by providing a desk for two months and a $1000 stipend. This week, we’ll be publishing a series of extracts from the work created by our last intake of Hot Desk Fellows during their time here.

Aurelia Guo’s The Weather Report is a performance poetry series of found and self-authored fragments, taken from the internet, daily life and social interactions. Here are two of the poems she worked on during her time as a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow.

rsz_1rsz_1weather_report

rsz_indoor_cat

Topics:

Posted:

23 September 2014

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

Samuel Wagan Watson is an award-winning Indigenous poet and professional raconteur. Born in Brisbane in 1972, he is of Munanjali, Birri Gubba, German and Irish descent. Samuel’s first collection of poems won the 1998 David Unaipon Award. His fourth collection, Smoke Encrypted Whispers, won the 2005 NSW Premier’s Award for the Book of the Year and the Kenneth Slessor poetry prize. His latest collection is Love Poems and Death Threats.

In a delightfully innovative response to our usual ten series of questions, Samuel has written a thoughtful and enlightening piece that answers them all, and traces his development, inspiration and approach as a writer: being inspired by Marvel Comics, falling into poetry, weird critical responses, and his background as a working-class writer within a family of writers.

highlight

Thank you for sending me these questions because your timing is brilliant! I’m currently a writer-in-residence at the University of Canberra; Faculty of Arts and Design, and I’ve been answering questions like this all week in these awesome surroundings. The air is chilly but the environment is incredibly warm. I’m not sure if it’s the spring wattle blooming everywhere, like the sun started dropping bits of skin into bushels of trees, or that maybe this academic environment is spiked with an air of truth serum, because I’m feeling completely honest at the moment.

Poetry is not my passion. Poetry is simply the only component of my writing that is apparently viable for publication. My prose, in the early 90s, was simply ‘terrible’ according to the editors of some of Australia’s leading literary magazines. The first short story I had published was back in 1983 in an anthology of the best writers in Queensland primary schools. The editors of the anthology, though, felt my work was also abysmal. My teachers at the time kind of agreed, but I was the only kid in that senior year who kept a journal.

The best thing about being a full-time writer is that my environment changes weekly and I have the opportunity to meet and work with people who are at the coal-face of our industry. This week I’m in Canberra and the positiveness of the faculty stands out in the students. Everyone here has a manuscript in progress. This faculty’s staff are mostly working-writers who seem to have a literary life away from academia. So, I’m blessed to be in such a place.

Which leads me, mid-way into answering a question, to look into another question… Can writing be taught? I don’t believe it can be. You either inherit the skill or you are mentored. Mentoring is very different from teaching. Here at CU, there seems to be more of a taste for mentoring. I’ve spoken with young writers who carry an air of someone who has been nurtured and not indoctrinated in the ABC’s of Shakespeare!

The worst thing about my job has struck me while here, though. I’m a freelance writer, which means I’m basically my own boss, which means that I do struggle a bit compared to a salary earner. And no one whom I’ve worked for in the last month has paid me yet! Usually when I’m broke, the old-school working-class spirit that I was born into makes me put the pen down! Here though, I’ve been well kept and have seriously put some dints into reams of paper with a fine-point pen.

love_poems_and_death_threats So, the interrogations here have been wonderful. Everyone keeps asking me how I write and I tell them honestly… I don’t know? The only book to have ever made a true cognitive smash to my cranium was a Stan Lee/Marvel Comic back in 1988 – The Punisher War Journals! I was a kid who was finally handed the keys to the sacred chest of creativity. I spent a good deal of my meagre fortnightly wages in Brisbane’s comic and music stores. I also remember bringing home a copy of The Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia. I was like Dr Frankenstein hiding in my room with headphones on, covertly conducting dark experiments of creativity.

I grew up in a relatively cool household, so I don’t know why I felt the need to hide my music and comics from Mum and Dad. Dad is a published author and playwright and my sister is also an award-winning writer of crime fiction. Back when I was a kid, though, in a working-class high school, we were taught that anything artistic was effeminate and a trait within yourself to be ashamed of. That’s probably the worst advice I’ve ever been given by a so-called teacher.

The best advice that I received at that time was to keep a journal and to this day I’d have to say that it has helped me maintain a good pace in the writing game.

I wouldn’t even start to contemplate how to live my life in another way though. Between 2008 – 2010, I suffered a couple of brain haemorrhages which left me partially paralysed for around six months. And even though I couldn’t speak properly and had to learn to hold a pen again, I never once thought that the game was up! I perceived my predicament as a ‘holding-pattern-phase’ and an obstacle that was just in the way of writing another manuscript. I could still type with one finger, so I could maintain my work as a copywriter in radio. I got better … fathered a beautiful little boy … and published another manuscript. At the time it seemed like the only sensible thing to do.

When I wrap up my residency here at CU, I’m flying home to Brisbane and jumping on a boat to North Stradbroke Island. My brother has become chef-de-cuisine in a nice little place overlooking the Pacific. To research my next book I’ve volunteered as his dishwasher for a week. So who knows; when the writing ends, I could have a great career as a kitchen hand?

My diary for the next year is almost full and I wouldn’t mind lending some more hands-on work in my role as an ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which is an incredibly cool cause. (I think I learn more from the kids about my writing than they learn from me?) And I think, even as an established writer, that it’s healthy to keep learning. I wasn’t ready for university when I was in my 20s and basically I’m ashamed that I wasted the time of the English department at a university whose press now publishes my work. The ethic here at University of Canberra really impresses me and I feel I am ready to achieve a degree and hopefully become a qualified mentor in creative writing. Mind you … I’m still to find a writing style of my own that I can be content with. And that is a warning to other aspiring writers – You all have the ability to become your own worst critic!

While we’re on that note, the weirdest thing a critic has ever said about my work is that one of my poems ‘clearly illustrated my sexual ambivalence’(???) WTF? I wasn’t even getting sex at the time when I wrote a poem about the sad remains of a crow on a stretch of desert highway in rural Queensland. Do I have any sexual ambivalence now as an established writer … I still don’t know. So to wrap this up, I’m not a literary gourmet, I’m more a gourmand, and would put a comic book before me any day over Tolstoy. I like bookstores and dislike the way e-books have really wrecked a few of my own books for the audience, as my poetry is lineated differently on a Kindle. If I had the chance to catch a hearty meal tonight, on one of my last nights in Canberra, with any of my favourite characters, it would have to be with Bender from Futurama. I’d take that Teflon-coated sinner to a bar where all of Canberra’s right-wing journalists drink and spur him-on to ask them all to kiss his shiny metal ass!

Amobarbitol has been used by certain governments and regimes as a psychoactive medication to obtain information from subjects who are unwilling or unable to provide information otherwise. My last piece of advice to writers is that you don’t need anything to capture an audience but pure, fresh ideas and that an audience needs to be listened to … in our game, the customer is always right!


Samuel Wagan Watson’s latest collection is Love Poems and Death Threats (UQP).

Topics:

Posted:

18 September 2014

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

highlight Sarah Holland-Batt was announced today as the new poetry editor of Island. She is a lecturer in creative writing and literary studies at Queensland University of Technology. Her first book, Aria (University of Queensland Press, 2008) won and was shortlisted for several major awards, including winning the Thomas Shapcott Prize for Poetry. She writes poetry, fiction, and criticism.

We spoke to Sarah about writing terrible poetry in high school (we’ve all been there, right?), why the freedom of thought universities represent is more important than ever in Australia right now, and the sense of discovery and novelty she feels about her new job as poetry editor of Island.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

A terribly ambitious – and just plain terrible – long dramatic poem I wrote when I was still a sophomore in high school in Colorado. It mashed up my obsessions of the time – Eliot’s ‘Prufrock’, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, snippets of Wallace Stevens –and turned them into an incomprehensible farrago. At the time I thought it was brilliant. Somehow, miraculously, it was published in a magazine for high school students out of Delaware. Hopefully all copies have since been destroyed in a hurricane or similar.

What’s the best part of your job?

Academic life has its pleasures and its pitfalls, all of which have been comprehensively immortalised in campus novels since the 1950s; those tropes hold reassuringly true. And while the Jim Dixons and Pnins and David Luries may still wander the halls of humanities departments – I couldn’t possibly comment – the truth is that working at a university is a great privilege and a gift. Given the current anti-intellectualism and philistinism pervading our politics, we need universities and the freedom of thought they represent more than ever in Australia. As Coetzee said recently, ‘such institutions are, in ways that are difficult to pin down, good for all of us: good for the individual and good for society.’ So the best part of my job, really, is knowing that I am part of the great tradition of critical enquiry in the humanities – a tradition that has given me a lifetime of thought, argument, and joy in language and ideas in return.

I’m also incredibly energised by my work as the new poetry editor of Island. There’s a clandestine thrill in reading important new poems before they’ve been aired to the world. There’s also the imminent possibility that the next Harwood or Slessor is lurking somewhere in the slush pile, so my editorial work is always infused with a sense of discovery and novelty. It also helps that Island is a brilliant and serious magazine; it’s wonderful to work for a publication that makes such a significant contribution to our national culture.

What’s the worst part of your job?

As a poet? The endless, unassailable doubt.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

Working on the manuscript of my second book with Sharon Olds when I was living in New York and studying at NYU. Sharon’s a brilliant and fearless poet, and spending time in the company of her audacious, freewheeling intellect was an invigorating thing.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

‘Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.’ – Virginia Woolf.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

I’m with Capote: I don’t care what anybody says about me as long as it isn’t true. Although I’d add the caveat that I prefer stories about me to be interesting too.

If you weren’t making your living by working with words, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Conducting opera. Maybe composing. Opera is, to me, poetry’s closest cousin, and my other great love.

Sarah_Aria There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

Well, I work a lot with young writers in my job as an academic, and I think you can unquestionably teach techniques of creative writing, elements of style and structure, critical literacy and thought, editing, etcetera. I do, however, also take on board the critiques of Elif Batuman and others – the concern that ‘programme fiction’, as she calls it, can become homogenised and prescriptive – and I guard against it. I’ve got no interest in making writers in my own image or in being an aesthetic gatekeeper.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

I like the (possibly apocryphal) story about Nabokov, who when a student came to him with a similar query, pointed out the window at a tree and asked the student what kind of tree it was. The poor pained student didn’t know. Nabokov replied, with characteristic acidity, ‘You’ll never be a writer.’

The morals of that story are twofold: 1) never turn to Nabokov for reassurance about anything, and 2) be ferociously curious about the world. If you’re not curious, you’ve got no hope.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both, although I prefer to buy them in a good independent bookshop. In Brisbane, I love Avid Reader; in New York, Greenlight, Book Culture, the secondhand stacks at The Strand.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?

I particularly adore the irreverent tearaway William Beckwith from Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library; I have a strange fascination with wayward aristocrats, and if his narration is anything to go by, he’d be dazzling company. I’d happily let him prattle on about his Byzantine world of the bathhouses and luncheons all night. But by far and away the character I feel most kinship to and affection for is January Marlow from Muriel Spark’s mostly-forgotten bravura novel Robinson. She’s plucky, prickly, wildly outspoken, coolly logical, deadpan hilarious, assertive, judgmental, and deeply unsentimental. She also teaches a cat to play ping-pong on a mysterious volcanic island somewhere in the Azores. What’s not to love?

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Probably the most important moment in my reading life was when I read T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at fifteen. I remember repeating Eliot’s talismanic lines about the hyacinth girl to myself over and over again: ‘Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden, / Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not / Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither / Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, / Looking into the heart of light, the silence.’ They echoed in me then, and they echo in me still. To me, they are just about as mysterious and affecting as lines of poetry can stand to be. Stevens’ ‘Sunday Morning’ had a similar effect. Those pungent oranges and bright green wings! Both those poems made me determined to write poetry.

Around the same time that I discovered Eliot and Stevens I also read the novels of Nabokov and Toni Morrison for the first time – two towering intellects and master prose stylists. Both helped shape my conception of what literature was capable of. Pale Fire in particular set me alight. It pillories poets, critics and academics, of course – but so light-footedly and cleverly, and god knows we deserve it.


Sarah Holland-Batt is the new poetry editor of Island.

Topics:

Posted:

28 May 2014

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

Next Tuesday, the winners of the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards will be announced, in five categories: fiction, poetry, non-fiction, writing for young adults and drama.

Each day this week, we’ll focus on one category, sharing excerpts of our reviewers' responses to the shortlisted titles.

Today, it’s poetry.

Liquid Nitrogen, Jennifer Maiden

Reviewed by Penni Russon

highlight The immediacy and intimacy that technology has brought to politics reverberates in Jennifer Maiden’s astonishing collection, Liquid Nitrogen. The personal is political, but for Maiden the political is personal; she draws us into the lounge room of politics. Maiden unstrands the individuals from the state.

… This is poetry very much of its time, an organic, human approach to the world we live in, to the collective consciousness that is the internet, and the deeply individual, personal existence we each lead within this collective.

Read review in full (scroll down).

Autoethnographic, Michael Brennan

Reviewed by Luke Beesley

Brennan-autoethonographic-cover_Size4 Autoethnographic, Michael Brennan’s third collection, is a wild flirtation with a version of now. We (as readers) witness our language (and culture) taken to some kind of amnesic limit. It’s not so much an apocalyptic, sci-fi future-world, but a possible version of what’s familiar – the culture of now taken to some kind of inevitability. It’s a world traumatised by what’s referred to, in the poems, as “The Great Forgetting”.

… The Australian vernacular his never been placed in such a deliciously vivid, contemporary context. Autoethnographic is an ambitious and wonderfully realised book jambed with oddity, ideas and humour.

Read review in full.

Travelling Through the Family, Brendan Ryan

Reviewed by Jacinta Le Plastrier

Travelling_cover_Size4 Brendan Ryan’s fourth collection of poems continues the exploration of his experiences and heritage as son of a western Victorian dairy-farming family, memoried through the eyes of a now grown man who didn’t become a farmer, instead a school teacher and poet.

… Biographically, Ryan has been linked to Australian poet Philip Hodgins (1959-1995). They share a dairy-farming origin. There is also in Ryan a similar intention to use plain-language speech and a laconic, rhythmic delivery to explicate rural experience without sentiment.

Read review in full.

Topics:

Posted:

21 January 2014

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

highlight Luke Beesley is working on his fourth poetry collection, American Typewriter. His third collection, New Works on Paper, was published by Giramondo in August this year. Luke is currently one of our Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellows.

We spoke to Luke about the ‘hysterical popularity’ of poetry, loving his publisher, and learning how to live off very little money.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

I had a poem published in the Brisbane street press, Rave Magazine, in 1998. There was a page called ‘The Rave Page’ that published 2-3 poems each month by young and emerging poets. It was when I met Brisbane poet Paul Hardacre, who was the editor of the page, and who was a little further into his career. You got a cheque for $30! My poem was called ‘Banality, Everyone is Using It’. The poem was about as good as its clunky title (I think I’d just learnt what the word ‘banal’ meant the day I wrote the poem). Paul ended up starting a press (Papertiger Media) eight years later and my first book, Lemon Shark (2006), was one of the first three books they published.

What’s the best part of your job?

I like daydreaming and a slow breakfast – I like the pace of a writing life. Before my partner and I had a child I used to watch a movie most mornings, over breakfast – that was pretty good.

Editing can be rewarding, too – realising you can strip a page of text down to one or two lines. I’m more disciplined, now, than I used to be. I tend to write most of my new work on 3-4 days solo writing stints in the forest, and its a busy but meditative time – I love it.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The hysterical popularity of poetry really erodes your privacy, you know?

But seriously thanks to funding and awards and fellowships and things I have stints where I can write full-time. But mostly it’s part time, with a part-time day job. I love the routine and immersion of full-time writing and the worst part – cue violins – is that I can’t always do that.

NWOP_higher_res_sm2 What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

The most significant moment – and I feel I have to pinch myself sometimes – is probably the publication of this book, my third collection, with Giramondo. I have loved Giramondo’s books for many many years. The books are lovely art-objects, and many of their writers – Gerald Murnane for example – have influenced me greatly. An Asialink residency in India, six years ago, also had a huge influence on my life and writing. I’m still writing and thinking about my time in India.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

David Brooks, in an essay which I think is called ‘The Blood of Jose Arcadio’ wrote something along the lines of – and there’s some shonky paraphrasing here – try writing like your favourite writers, because when you fail, which is likely, what you might have left is your own voice. I guess I’ve never consciously tried to write in the voice of my favourite author, but I like the freedom of the idea – to just write and write to discover your own voice. That your voice is a little unstoppable and out of your control and could be an accident.

If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Sadly my dreams of winning Wimbledon faded quite quickly. Probably painting. Don’t laugh! I feel like a painter who writes poetry instead.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what do you think?

I see creative writing courses/classes as mentorships, really. I think people get confused and think that they are these classes were students are forced to write in a certain way. Most creative writing courses, I think, offer a place for feedback and mentorship, essentially, and that environment can help to nourish a writer. You learn the main parts of writing by reading in the genre you want to write in, and then going and writing a lot. I see creative writing courses as a space to advance the core writing skills which are gained by reading.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

I guess everyone’s different, but perhaps just read a lot and write a lot and allow yourself to develop a routine around reading and writing a lot and figure out how to live off very little money. Also, when you’re ready, somehow seek honest feedback. You’ll probably want to punch the person who gave it to you, at first, but you’ll eventually be grateful.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both. I confess to somewhat guiltily buying some books from that big crazy-cheap online bookshop – you know the one – but I buy a lot of local poetry at book launches and from local bookshops. I don’t have a huge budget for books (see advice about wanting to be a writer, above) so I borrow books from libraries, too. I buy more books than I used to. Physical books are very precious to me. I never read e-books etc and can’t ever imagine reading from a kindle or e-reader.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?

Perhaps Edith Wharton’s Newland Archer and I could go out for Vietnamese – Lam Lam in Northcote is good – and we could talk about that trip to Asia that he was contemplating. Or we could just chat like dilettantes and make each other feel cleverer than we really are, talking about art very broadly and in a melancholy way. I wouldn’t tell him I named my band after him. We’d both find that pretty embarrassing.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

My first real experience of literature came quite late, really. I was 21 and more and more interested in words – in the lyrics of the bands I was into Pavement, Silver Jews, Sonic Youth – which lead me to a copy of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. It floored me. Those long, beautiful, rhythmic sentences. I guess in hindsight the first novel to seduce me could have been any number of stylistic literary novels, but I had that novel with me while I travelled all around Europe for a year, and I wanted to stop people on the street and say listen to this sentence! That brought me to literature generally and Michael Ondaatje’s novels and eventually the first poetry book that I ever loved – Ondaatje’s The Cinnamon Peeler – which I found after returning from Europe.


Luke Beesley is one of our current Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellows. His latest book is New Works on Paper (Giramondo).

The Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowships are designed to give writers space to work on their projects, and made possible by the generous support of the Readings Foundation. In 2013, twenty writers were offered a $1000 stipend and a workspace in the Wheeler Centre over a two month period.

Topics:

Posted:

28 November 2013

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

highlight Kevin Brophy has had 13 books of poetry, fiction and critical and personal essays published. His latest book is Walking: New and Selected Poems (John Leonard Press). In 2009 he was awarded the Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay. He teaches creative writing at the University of Melbourne.

We spoke to Kevin about why the worst part of writing is writing, starting up the literary journal Going Down Swinging, and why his favourite characters are best left in their fictional worlds.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

The first piece I remember having published was a short story called ‘In Print’, published by a small magazine called Inprint. It might have been the late 1970s. I have a photo somewhere, of me and Myron Lysenko holding up that issue of Inprint because we had both been published in it. This was after a decade of rejections, each rejection making me more determined, more focused and more pessimistic about my choice of obsessive passion.

What’s the best part of your job?

Job? Do you mean writing? If you mean writing, which isn’t a job, but a practice, then the best part of it is almost impossible to write about or speak of because it has to do with stepping out onto a track that leads me on, curving round a roughly treed hillside into a world that is not quite this one but points to this one.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The worst part of writing is writing. What a despairingly infinite and inadequate production it is. The writing can’t happen, though, without it, so you do it.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing and publishing career so far?

Getting published in Inprint after all those years of rejection is one of them. The other moment lasted 14 years, and that was the decision to start up a small literary journal called Going Down Swinging. From 1980 to 1994, with friends Myron Lysenko, Nolan Tyrrell, Carol Carter, Lyn Boughton, Lauren Williams, Brendan Hennessy and many others, the little magazine introduced me to some of Australia’s most exciting new writers, made an editor and writer of me, gave me RSI, and changed my life. I can’t recommend the Gestetner too highly to any ambitious young writer out there.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

walking The best advice I have come across is, ‘Read’. In fact Donald Barthelme suggests that aspiring writers need to read everything. Best if you give up eating and sleeping in favour of reading. I didn’t need much encouragement.

Of course the worst part of your ‘job’ as a writer is to read work that you wished you had written yourself, or more worst still, to read something you always intended to write but didn’t have the courage to write. I have just finished reading a work of fiction called A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard, and it is the book I thought I might write one day but have been too timid to sit down and do. This is very painful, but the book is beautiful.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?

One reviewer called my first novel Australia’s first novel of smell.

If you weren’t working in writing and publishing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Reading, most likely. Difficult to know what I’m good for apart from reading and writing: too small and weedy to be a labourer for long, too dreamy to be entrusted with anyone’s health, too uncertain about everything to be anyone’s counselor or councilor, too short-sighted for military endeavours or hunting or truck driving, too fond of my sleep to be a musician, not smart enough to be an engineer or an academic (though I do pose as one most days), too few needs and desires to work as a real estate agent or stockbroker, too easily bored to watch birds.

What I would like to be able to do is to paint beautiful pictures.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I have contributed to raising a family on the income from teaching creative writing, so of course I consider it a noble enterprise. Teaching creative writing is no different, in essence, from teaching history or English literature or philosophy. You are teaching a practice that has a long and complex history, and must be challenged and renewed by each fresh generation of practitioners. Not all students of history become historians, but hopefully they do become appreciative of what is involved in writing a book of history. Same goes for students of creative writing: hopefully they read with appreciation for the work of writing.

Writing does not come naturally to us as a species, and creativity is a cultural practice and cultural value. So, in fact, it is surprising that creative writing has only relatively recently emerged as a discipline within education. My guess is that it has always been taught, but mostly through teaching what was once called reading-and-writing. I didn’t do a creative writing course (there were none), so who taught me? I was taught by Enid Blyton, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Thomas Hardy, Capt. W. E. Johns, G. K. Chesterton, H. G. Wells and the rest of those men with double initials. They were good teachers. There were some real live English teachers among them from my secondary schooling too. So, creative writing can only be taught. It is a skill, and yes, some people have a facility for learning it, while most people (I am among them) find it takes a long time to get the hang of it.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

See above, and above that too. No harm in re-reading all of it.

There are many kinds of writers and many reasons to write, so no single piece of advice can be applicable to everyone. I went to a workshop by John Marsden one night. He was experimenting with running a workshop that involved parents writing with their children. I was there with my daughter and it was a strange experience. In introducing himself, he said that there are two skills involved in being a writer: knowing how to use words, and knowing how to tell a story. He then said that you only need to have one of these skills to be a successful writer.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both. About half and half now. So far it is only physical books that I buy, but I can imagine one day the books will be virtual and everything will fade before my eyes into the shape of a thin, glowing tablet.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

The characters I love (Ahab, Holden Caulfield, Radion Raskolnikov, Anna Karenina, Frodo Bagins, King Lear) are best kept in their fictional worlds. I would not like to be confronted with them in my world. Besides, all they could do would be to quote themselves.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream (1970). It came along at a moment when I needed a way out of an emotional impasse, and at a time in my life when I was reckless enough about myself to put myself into a soundproof room and see what happened. It’s not necessarily the great books that have the most impact.

After that, Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex, Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology, Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip, Henry Handel Richardson’s Fortunes of Richard Mahoney, Peter Carey’s Fat Man in History, Hilary Mantel’s Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, and all books by James Tate, Gwen Harwood and Billy Collins.

Topics:

Posted:

09 October 2013

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

highlightJacinta Le Plastrier is a Melbourne-based writer, poet and editor. She is blog editor at Cordite Poetry Review, publisher at John Leonard Press, curator of the Gilgamesh Modern Salon, and recently completed a Hot Desk Fellowship at the Wheeler Centre. Her new book of poems, The Book of Skins, will be published early 2014.

We spoke to her about dealing with writerly doubt, remaining open to helpful advice about your writing (and immune to praise or criticism), and why writers are like athletes.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

My first pieces of journalism were on music when I was 17 at the Melbourne Herald where I was a cadet – it was Melbourne’s former evening broadsheet, later subsumed into the Herald Sun under Murdoch. My first published poems (paid) were in Meanjin in the early 1990s.

What’s the best part of your job?

Being able to say what I want to say, through writing. I consider it a privilege. I also write across genres – essays, poetry, feature articles, and on activist issues – so I feel, nearly always, personally, diversely and mentally engaged with what interests me, and usually, passionately.

What’s the worst part of your job?

At times I have suffered a terrific, disabling, inner experience of doubt about being a writer, especially of poetry. Now I am steely with myself about this. I’ve developed – as I think most writers and artists need to – what I call a psychic toughness towards this nervous energy. Doubt is useful, it keeps you open to always attempting new ways of using language. I also think you can approach the writing act like a dedicated athlete trains for competing or a dancer trains for performing. You train, psychically, to be ready to write, and then do it, no matter what, little by little – or sometimes via an unexpected leap – to new levels.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing and publishing career so far?

It would be a series of moments – a particular publication, getting a fellowship, writing a new kind of piece – a growing clarification about what I want to do with writing. As part of this, I have become intent with myself in making writing (alongside caring for the ones and issues close to me, obviously) the priority in all that I choose to do.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

‘Bum on seat’ – William Burrough’s advice on writing. To ‘turn up’ at the desk (or where it is you write) – and write. Balancing that, you also develop a sense of a piece’s energy flow; if it ebbs, it’s good to turn away for some time, even a few hours. I often go to bed then. The painter Renoir was very attuned to this creative energetic flow. He said you also have to ‘loaf around’ a bit. But stamina, being able to sustain and remain with the flow of a piece of work when it is present, is also very important.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

I have never really been surprised by anything. I think it’s optimal to remain open to helpful advice or editing about a piece of writing, to accept what might assist it – while also being aware that people’s ‘advice’ can sometimes be masking an unconscious rivalry or intention to undermine your writing. So I try to be immune to praise or criticism, while remaining open, as I said, to what others do genuinely offer as positive assistance.

If you weren’t working in writing and publishing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Writing is my passion, it’s a life-force for me. So I don’t think about an alternative.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

Writing, in my view, is a co-creation between the writer and the force and energy of language. Writers love words, tenderly, I believe. For me, this relationship approaches an intimacy, with patterns of change, maturation and challenges, which mirror the relationship with your human beloved. The act of writing, like an intimate relationship, is a co-creation. Can this be taught? Absolutely – but the seed of that kind of passion for language has to be present in both the student and the teacher.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Find your own way, find your words to express what you want to say. That way you have the opportunity to write uniquely. Above all, become crystal clear – I would say, even, ruthless – that you will do nothing else, no matter what the challenges are.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

I am terribly old-school in my support for physical bookshops; I know the wonders of e-technology and online ordering, but I still am able to make do with ordering books into favorite bookshops, precious to me, such as Melbourne’s Collected Works. I also read books at the State Library of Victoria; for example, you can source multiple translations for the same book, if that interests you.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?

I’m not very good with the fictional. I read poetry and non-fiction almost exclusively. To be honest, I am blessed by relationships with some extraordinary ‘real’ people. I would always prefer to have dinner with them – and we would talk, as usual, about writing, art, love, things that matter, I believe. Oh, and AFL, athletics, and sport too. I am passionate about sport – and see many parallels between elite athletes and writers. You can have the gift to write, but you also have to have guts – and do the long hard yards of training.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

There’s not a particular one. I think we are constantly choosing to read books that are apt for a particular time – that we are being significantly impacted all the time, hopefully. I tend to have a handful of books that sit near my bed, or which I cart around, that infuse what I am trying to learn at that time. They are like talismans, too.

This year, that would have included Albert Camus’ book on Algeria (The Algerian Chronicles), Rilke’s Duino Elegies (Leishman translation), Francis Webb’s Collected Poems, Tolkien’s Return of the King, Sylvia Plath’s Ariel collection. The through-line would be an interrogation about how humans have the potential to reach into and integrate higher principles of character, endeavour and love.


Jacinta Le Plastrier’s new book of poems, The Book of Skins, will be published early 2014. She blogs at www.jacintaleplastrierofficial.blogspot.com.

The Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowships are designed to give writers space to work on their projects, and made possible by the generous support of the Readings Foundation. In 2013, twenty writers were offered a $1000 stipend and a workspace in the Wheeler Centre over a two month period.

Topics:

Posted:

03 October 2013

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

highlight Mark Tredinnick, winner of the Montreal Poetry Prize (2011) and the Cardiff Poetry Prize (2012), is the author of The Blue Plateau, Fire Diary, and nine other acclaimed works of poetry and prose. He is also a creative writing teacher and the author of the much-used writing guides The Little Red Writing Book and The Little Green Grammar Book.

Most recently, Mark is the editor of Australian Love Poems 2013 (Inkerman & Blunt), a collection of 200 poems by 173 Australian poets, including Les Murray, Judith Beveridge, Cate Kennedy and exciting new writing talent.

He shares his wealth of writing advice (and reflections on his writing life) with us.


What was the first piece of writing you had published?

I probably had a story or an essay published win the school magazine. I began to send short stories around to journals in my twenties, but I never heard back. Around 1993, I had an essay, based on some qualitative research I did as part of an MBA (on why people read), published in a journal of library studies; and a little after that, an essay on leadership found its way into the journal of the Company Directors Association. None of this counts; none of it’s poetry; none of it’s literary. But it meant something to me, and I can see the beginnings of my writing life in those publications.

My first poem was published in 2005. It surprises people these days to learn how late I came to poetry. Since 2002, I’d been starting a lot of poetry and finishing none. Finally I saw the first ever ABR Poetry Prize advertised (it’s now called the Peter Porter Poetry Prize) in 2004; I finished a poem (by 2 December, as I recall), and sent it in, and it was shortlisted. I didn’t win, which would have been too much to expect, but I got my poem published. My first published poem.

What’s the best part of your job?

Writing is work. It’s quite hard work. And beautiful. But it’s not a job. For a start there’s no pay and conditions. And although money comes in – royalties, permissions, prizes, grants, teaching fees, appearance fees, grants – because I write; although I believe we should pay writers far more than we do for what they do; although I like the cheques when they come in; and although I afford my life and my family’s life through what my writing earns … money has nothing, and should have nothing, to do with the making of a poem.

australian-love-poems-2013-edited-by-mark-tredinnick So poetry is work: it’s labour and it’s calling, it’s profession and it’s practice. A poet makes art, and art, though it earns money sometimes, is not really an economic proposition. The usual economic model doesn’t fit poetry. So you earn most of your money (such as it is) in other ways; you use the money you earn in other ways to fund the silence on which the poetry depends.

So I’d say the best part of writing poetry is the miracle that I get to do it at all. I value tremendously the freedom involved in, and necessary for, creative work. Long ago, I worked for organisations – as a lawyer and a book publisher – and I have tried to work more recently as an academic, and I found that kind of working life intolerably constrained. I’m a sociable anchorite, as I put it in a recent poem, but I have a temperament well suited to writing, to poetry in particular. I can sit with myself for hours on end; nothing in me craves the alleged sociability of the workplace.

When I’m not writing, I’m talking or teaching. I’m good with people, but I’m not especially tolerant or collaborative. Which creative is? You don’t become a poet if you need or want to workshop every phrase. So I love the solitude and the depth of living poetry allows – not only the writing that allows me to get done but the soul-making (as Keats put it) that entails. And I guess I love it when I hear from readers that something I wrote – a book, a poem, a line – has touched them, made life richer or clearer or more bearable. Poetry, like all arts, can evoke strong responses; when they’re positive, the ‘job’ satisfaction you feel is pretty high. It makes you feel you might be living the right life.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The price of creative freedom is insecurity – I mean mostly financial, and everything that flows from that; but I also mean that poetry is spiritually demanding and emotionally and intellectually taxing. So one gets to be exhausted and short-tempered and poor in spirits more often than one would like, and for no reason that counts for much to the rest of society.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

The most recent poem that stays written nearly always feels like the most significant moment in your writing life. You’ve made a new thing; you’ve probably pushed yourself into new terrain; you’ve proved that you still have it in you (a constant doubt).

‘Career’ makes about as little sense for a poet as ‘job’. But if I were a product, you’d say I suddenly have decent brand recognition, a thing that’s only happened over the past two or three years. A dozen books and a few prizes have helped that; so have 20 years teaching writing; so have my three books on the writing craft, especially The Little Red Writing Book (2006), which is in its eighth reprint now.

Every book, every prize (large and small), and every class has helped my career along. But when, in 2011, I won the Montreal International Poetry Prize, at $50,000 the world’s richest and biggest for a single poem, two things happened. One was that something in me relaxed. If I had harboured a hope to see my work published and recognised by my peers (preferably in my lifetime), that hope had manifestly come good. A writer has never made it; the moment she feels she has nothing more to learn or make, she’s finished. But I do remember thinking: if I go down in a plane now, I will know, as I plummet, that in this respect at least, I spent my time well; I got some good work done. This shift inside has helped me take more risks and bear up against the inevitable despairs and disappointments since.

The second thing that Montreal did: it carried me up several flights in the tower in which contemporary writers dwell in the minds of people who care for literature at all. No offers yet from Alfred Knopf; but plenty of people, here and overseas, much happier to take my calls; and offers like the one that came to me this March to appear at the Oxford Literary Festival, where on a snowy day I met Seamus Heaney.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Best advice. When I was 18 and writing poetry that need to do a lot of growing up, a neighbour, James Tulip, said to me: you need to read some William Carlos Williams and some Robert Gray. When I was doubting my poetry, just about the time I wrote the poem (‘Walking Underwater’) that won the Montreal Prize, Kim Stafford said: keep doing what you’re doing. When I said to my friend, Judy Beveridge, one of our finest poets, ‘I wish I could write poems like yours’, she said: ‘no, we need you to write more poems that only Mark Tredinnick can write’.

Other advice from writers that helps me daily:

Norman Maclean: ‘All good things come by grace, and grace comes by art, and art does not come easy.’

James Galvin: ‘Write what you don’t know about what you do know.’

James Galvin: ‘You need to read Charles Wright.’

E.B. White: ‘Creative writing is communication by revelation; it is the Self escaping onto the page.’

William Faulkner: ‘I write to please myself, and I make myself very hard to please.’

Ernest Hemingway: ‘Never write anything the way you’ve seen it written before.’

Jane Kenyon: ‘“Snow blanketed the field.” Not good enough.’

Winston Churchill: ‘The short words are best, and the old words, when they are short, are the best of all.’

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself, or your work?

More than once – though less these days because my voice and forms are becoming more recognisable – my poems have been read blind (in competitions) as the work of a woman. I like that very much, but it’s a shock at first.

I was surprised to learn from one reviewer that I was Christian. It seems such a strange reading of my work – a misreading of a spirituality and mysticism.

I hear from time to time that I am too self-referential, and I probably am. But we are a long way out of kilter with our selves in Australian culture. I am one instance of life, of human life; my heart is any human heart; my life, any life. And I want to add, quoting Jan Zwicky (fine Canadian poet): If you cannot find the self, how can you ever give the self away?

Oh, I’ve heard some strange things and some mean-spirited things, but I tend to forget them.

If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

If I weren’t a writer I’d be leading somebody else’s life.

When I was young, I imagined myself living on the land, riding a lot of horses, sitting on a balcony in the evenings, listening to the night, smelling the earth and the coming rain. It never happened. An acre near Bowral and a studio in a retired cowshed is as close I was supposed to get to that dream, I think: I can ride horses, but I’d have been hopeless at mending fence and repairing pumps and anything much at all beyond the looking from the veranda.

There are many people in many jobs I admire, but I’m old enough now to know how few of those jobs I could handle. There’s just too little else I’m any good at. So I’m glad I can be a writer. Though, since this is about all I can do, I worry desperately when the words aren’t coming.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

The_Little_Red_Writing_Book_by_Mark_TredinnickI’d sum it up the way Basho did (for life and for writing): Learn the rules; forget the rules. You can’t teach anyone what tale they need to tell, but you can teach them a lot about how to get the telling done. Authentically. Like themselves at their best. Suggesting you can’t teach a writer anything about writing is like saying you can’t teach a composer anything about music or composition – or a painter, anything about painting, or a dancer about dancing, or a lover about loving. A fair bit of creative writing, as in those other fields, doesn’t come naturally. It can be, indeed, it has to be, learned. And teaching it is one way to induce the learning.

Turns out that the art of getting out of your own way, so that you sound on paper like your own true self, is hard work, and it’s achieved by mastering of a bunch of disciplines. As in yoga or meditation, the purpose of the rules is not mastery of the rules. The purpose is to free yourself and your writing – from distraction and chatter and banality and superficiality. What you can teach, what no writer can do without learning, are the technical matters that have their equivalent in other human arts and sports and pursuits: sentence craft, the things White and Hemingway and Kenyon taught me; grammar and punctuation; the ageless elements of style; and in poetry several thousand years of wisdom about prosody and form, metaphor and meter, sense and sensibility and the music of speech.

Of course, you can learn it all from reading well and by trial and error. It’s how I’ve learned whatever I’ve learned, by the way. But it can be taught in books (like mine and the ones I read), and it can be taught in class. I’ve seen it happen.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

All of the above. And: read a lot, and very widely and across all cultures, and start to notice what great writers do, sentence by sentence, line by line. Get outside: the human story is a small and beautiful part of the whole story, part of a much larger geography. Become place literate Learn the names and habits of the birds. Listen to a lot of music, especially Bach and Debussy and Beethoven and Brahms and jazz. Listen to how people speak. Make more drafts: eight, nine, ten … Practise tough love on yourself: be tender but demanding. Refuse all clichés: never write anything the way you’ve seen it written before. Gather as many words as you can. Verbs especially. Write with your ear as much as with your eye: how it sounds is what it is.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

I get them wherever I can. I’m buying more and more online: you can be much more certain that you’ll find the kind of books I want online than in most bookshops. Poetry, especially. And anything more than a few years old. But, I love bookshops and buy lots of books there, too: especially when I don’t know what it is I’m looking for. And when I’ve left my shopping, as ever, too late.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

It’s the writers I want to meet. Pasternak more even than Yuri or Lara (yes, even than Lara); Ondaatje, more than Katharine or Almasy; Tolstoy, more than Anna or Andre; Austen, more than Elizabeth; Fitzgerald, more than Gatsby; St Exupery, more than the Little Prince … But this is why I am a poet, I suspect. The stories are great, sometimes, but it’s the voices of the tellers I fall for – the language worlds the writers make with sentences, the country of their minds and hearts. And I lie: I don’t always even want to meet the writers, though many I would. You often get the best of the writer on the page. But since you asked about characters, I’ll choose Harriet Vane, from Dorothy L. Sayers’s mysteries, and see if she won’t leave Lord Peter for me.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Oh, this is way too hard. The list is so long I always forget what’s on it. But if you’re asking me tonight, I’m going to choose two books 20 years apart – Robert Gray’s New & Selected Poems from 1983 or so because it taught me what poetry was for; and Charles Wright’s Appalachia because Jim Galvin was right – I found the kind of habitat my grown-up voice needed to dwell in, when I pulled Charles Wright off the bookshop shelves in Eugene, Oregon in 2003.

I’ll choose different ones tomorrow: The Hobbit (the first book I read to myself), John Berger’s Photocopies, Milosz’s A Book of Luminous Things, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, Tolstoy’s War & Peace, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Anne Sexton, Rumi, Basho … Reading them, and a hundred equally important books took me apart and put me back together different, made the world wider and put me down deeper in it.


Mark Tredinnick is the editor of Australian Love Poems 2013 (Inkerman & Blunt), available now.

Topics:

Posted:

05 September 2013

Comments:

There are 3 comments so far
Back to top

Joel Deane is the definition of a multi-tasking writer. He’s a poet, novelist and a short-story writer. And he’s been a professional journalist and speechwriter, including a stint working for Steve Bracks when he was Victorian Premier.

He has published two poetry collections and two novels, most recently The Norseman’s Song.

We spoke to Joel about the tyranny of the blank screen or page, why writing – at its best – is like a drug, and why you should be harder on your work than anyone else.

highlight

Joel Deane: ‘Every time I start a new piece I’m an absolute beginner.’

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

That depends whether you’re talking about journalism, speeches, poetry or fiction. My first published piece of journalism (about apartheid) appeared in The Sun News-Pictorial in 1987; my first speech (for then Health Minister Maureen Lyster) was delivered in 1992; my first published poem (‘Under Westgate’) appeared in Imago in 1993; my first published short story (‘The Great Wall of China’) appeared in Overland in 1995.

Looking back, the poem, ‘Under Westgate’, is where it all begins for me because, first and foremost, that’s how I see myself first – as a poet. ‘Under Westgate’ is a narrative poem I wrote in one sitting when I was 18. It’s long, rhythmic and cathartic, and I still don’t know how I wrote it; it just fell out. It’s one of my better poems.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best thing about writing is experiencing moments of grace. You see, writing is physical. You have to push that boulder up the hill every day. Some days, though, all that work pays off and you feel you’re outside yourself and beyond the limitations of words and everything is at your fingertips. It’s like a drug.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The tyranny of the blank screen or page; every time I start a new piece I’m an absolute beginner.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

There’ve been three significant moments.

The first was the publication of my debut novel, Another. I’d been in San Francisco for six years. It had been, to paraphrase Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times, and I hadn’t published anything for nine years. It felt as though I’d been underwater for the best part of a decade and, just when I was about to drown, that book gave me air – brought me back to life. Saved me. And, no, that’s not an exaggeration.

The-Norsemans-Song-670x1024 The second significant moment was the writing of my second collection, Magisterium, and second novel, The Norseman’s Song. Both were written at the same time and came out of a period of all-consuming grief and anger. They were my way of saying, ‘Fuck you’ to the world. I didn’t care what anyone thought. Still don’t.

The third significant moment came a few months ago when I finished a very long poem that still doesn’t have a title. The reason that’s significant is that I had a stroke last year. It could’ve killed me, but didn’t. I’d recovered, but didn’t know whether I’d still be able to produce high-end writing – poetry and fiction. That poem answered the big question for me: I’m not extinct yet.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

I’ve never had a teacher or a mentor and therefore never received any advice. For better or worse I’ve been a loner and made it up as I went along. Along the way I’ve just set myself a few rules: don’t repeat yourself, and be harder on your work than anyone else.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

One review of my first poetry collection, Subterranean Radio Songs, made the assumption that I’d divorced my wife Kirsten. I hadn’t. I thought it was funny, Kirsten didn’t.

If you didn’t write for a living, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Nothing good. Writing has literally saved my life.

There’s much debate on whether writing can be taught – what’s your view?

Journalistic writing can be taught. So, too, fiction. Not poetry, though: you either have the music in you or you don’t.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to work as a professional writer?

Read.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both. I love Collected Works, the Paperback and Hill of Content in the city and Readings in Carlton.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

Without a doubt it would be Marlow, the narrator of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Chance and Lord Jim. Heart of Darkness is the novel I’ve read more than any other. I’d love to sit in the dark and listen to Marlow – the sailor and alter ego of Conrad – talk all night, telling me one dark story after another.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

The books that made the deepest impression on me as a young writer were Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Robert Frost’s second collection of poetry, North of Boston, and the collected works of Emily Dickinson. What those works have in common for me is the catalytic effect of the language. Each of them gave me a physical reaction; made me shiver, shudder, shake. That’s what language can and should do. That’s what Edgar Allan Poe was talking about when he spoke of the ‘unity of effect’ of a literary creation. That’s what I want. Nothing more, nothing less.


Joel Deane’s latest book is The Norseman’s Song (Hunter Publishers).

Topics:

Posted:

22 August 2013

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

highlight Following on from yesterday’s article – in which Phoebe Tay explored the world of Deaf writers – today we’re inviting you to experience Auslan writing first hand, so to speak.

These two previously unpublished pieces by poet Walter Kadiki tap into the frustrations of living in a mostly hearing culture, and the prejudices and challenges Deaf people often face.


playTile

Watch Walter Kadiki’s two poems in Auslan, followed by a brief background exploration of his writing. Includes voiceover interpretation and captioning in English.

Acknowledgements

Produced by the Wheeler Centre with the assistance of Fiona Tuomy – Mentor In Residence for Write-ability, a partnership between Arts Access Victoria and Writers Victoria. Thanks to Auslan interpreter Maxine Buxton, and to Jodee Mundy.

Topics:

Posted:

14 August 2013

Comments:

There is 1 comment so far
Back to top

By Kelly-Lee Hickey

highlight Kelly-Lee Hickey has often felt insecure about her status as a regional writer. For her, success has meant taking advantage of opportunities to network with like-minded writers from around Australia (both on social media and in real life) – and, most importantly, being herself.

In this extract from The Emerging Writer, she traces her journey as a regional writer making it on the national (and international) stage.


Catching my breath between tech runs for the 2010 Australian Poetry Slam Finals, I was approached by one of the other finalists, a middle-aged woman with mousy brown hair. As I introduced myself she looked me up, down and through.

‘You’re one of the NT finalists.’

I nodded.

‘I wouldn’t be disappointed,’ she said. I looked at her quizzically, but had a hunch where this was going.

‘If you don’t win,’ she explained. ‘I mean, most of us have had to go through a number of heats to get this far. Heats with LOTS of people in them.’ She strung out the word for effect. ‘How many did you have up there?’

I cleared my throat. ‘Just two. One in Darwin, one in Alice. I won the Alice heat.’

She went on, ‘And how many people competed in that one?’

‘I dunno,’ I said, ‘About ten.’

‘There you go then,’ she shot me a look of smug pity, ‘Just don’t get your hopes up love.’

The truth was I wasn’t there to win. Watching YouTube clips of finalists from the other states, I was intimidated by their hip-hop stylings and comic repertoires. I’d been ‘doing’ spoken word off and on for the best part of ten years. After a decade of experimentation with spoken word and performance I’d found my niche telling the only truth I knew. I decided to make the most of my two minutes alone with a few hundred Sydneysiders and a microphone to give a personal perspective on one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in contemporary Australia – the Emergency Intervention into Aboriginal communities.

After I won, she came up to me and apologised, ‘I never realised. I just assumed that you wouldn’t be any good without the competition and opportunities we have in Sydney.’

Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world, with most of our population huddling along a thin strip of the East Coast. Pop cultural iconography pedalled for tourists still paints the rest of the country as a barren expanse filled with derogatory stereotypes about beer guts and native savages. Urban-centric assumptions about the quality of work in the regions are a hangover from a colonial mindset that fears the ‘savage frontiers’ and equates the urban centres with civilisation. This cultural narrow-mindedness doesn’t just exist in the arts; it pervades every aspect of Australian culture, from our systems of political representation to patterns of employment. It’s frustrating, but easier to handle if you remember that it’s not personal.

TEW-Cover-shot The road from country to city is well worn; Australia has some of the world’s highest rates of rural youth migration. I think it’s important to link up with the urban centres, and technology now affords us regional folk a number of ways to do this. Facebook groups, blogs and Twitter fests are all important inroads, but nothing beats actually rocking up to a writers’ festival in the big smoke and meeting as many other young and emerging writers as you can. Sure it can take a few deep breaths to still your anxiety before you can actually talk to other writers, particularly if you’re like me and wear your insecurities on your sleeve. It’s totally worth it though – through the National Young Writers Festival and Emerging Writers Festival I’ve made friends and allies who’ve believed in me, and given me the heads-up on opportunities and feedback on my work. Most states have quick response and travel grant schemes which can help finance your way to these events. Grant applications are a style of writing essential to the regional author’s repertoire.

As a dear friend and mentor of mine once said, ‘Contrary to popular belief, writing is not a lonely game.’ Social networks are pivotal to sustaining you; they encourage you when you’re doubting yourself, and give you new perceptions on your work through feedback. Giving feedback sharpens your critical eye, and teaches you what you like, which in turn helps you when you go to self-edit your work.

In my hometown, music and visual arts reigned supreme; as a young writer, I was somewhat of an anomaly. The middle-aged women at the writers’ centre had kindly passed on some Voiceworks magazines, so I knew that somewhere out there were other young people who were like me. But it wasn’t until I went to the This is Not Art festival in 2001 that I realised I wasn’t a freak and that writing could be cool in the way that playing in bands was back home. That year I met some of the crew who have stayed with me on the writing journey, like the long-haired angel Daniel Watson, from Paroxysm Press, who aside from publishing my work, let me sleep on his couch for weeks. I went home drunk on zines and spoken word, convinced that I’d found my path and that it burned straight down the Stuart Highway.

Moving to Melbourne in 2003 I felt like every caricature of a country bumpkin; being from the tropics I didn’t know how to layer my clothes until I read about it in a zine, I didn’t know how to find the good bars, or strike up a conversation with the hipsters at a warehouse party. Coupled with that I’d gone from being a big fish in a small pond to being a minnow thrown to and fro in the ocean. My ego transformed from a bulbous helium balloon into a pair of lead shoes; I was drowning in my own preconceptions of how important and unique I was.

Sitting on the editorial committee for Voiceworks magazine for a year was one of the best things I ever did for my writing; I made some great friends who continue to inspire me to this day and got hands-on learning about the editorial process. I learnt what made a submission stand out from the pile, how close acceptance and rejection can be, and just how many knockbacks a writer can get before they are published. It was also one of my first pathways into advocating for other regional writers; I was able to fight for others whose voice I recognised as important, just as previous members of the editorial committee had fought for me when I was starting out.

Despite all the networks, support, and publication and performance opportunities I still harbour an insecurity about being different from what I perceive as a ‘real writer’. Sitting in a cafe in Ubud for the 2011 Readers’ and Writers’ Festival I shared my doubts with an author friend.

‘But I’m not really a writer,’ I whined, fiddling with my drink.

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘I mean, I’m not educated. I don’t have a Masters in Literature from Melbourne Uni. I haven’t read half the books that most other writers rave about. Postmodern prose poetry makes no sense to me.’

He scoffed. ‘It’s not qualifications that make your work interesting. It’s you and your unique experiences. That’s what makes the work engaging and makes you compelling to watch when you perform. Own it.’

And that is some of the best advice I’ve ever received. Own it. Let the work speak through you. Don’t try to be something you’re not. One of the most powerful illustrations of this happened when I was working on the National Young Writers’ Festival. My co-director had recruited a number of big names to the festival, including Anna Funder and Shaun Tan. I took a punt and programmed a panel called ‘Smarter than Your Average Bogan’; writers from working-class backgrounds talking about how their cultural perspective informed their art. We all wore fake handlebar moustachios and drank cans of bourbon and Coke on the stage. To my surprise the Sunday afternoon session in the festival club was packed. Even more surprising was the glowing review of the panel published in The Monthly.

There is a market for regional writing; a trade publisher with decades of experience told me that books about the outback are one of her house’s biggest sellers. That’s not to say that you should back yourself into a corner and mimic the iconoclast, but it does demonstrate that there is an audience in Australia interested in something beyond the urban sprawl. One of the most powerful aspects of any creative practice is that it can illuminate the unseen by creating connections between disparate ideas. Regional writers therefore have a special role in the creation of Australian culture; to peel back the layers of cultural stereotypes and illuminate the complexities of life outside the city limits.


This is an extract from an article that appeared in The Emerging Writer.

Kelly-Lee Hickey’s acclaimed performances have toured across Australia and Asia. This year, she will be appearing at the Byron Bay Writers Festival, Darwin Festival and Queensland Poetry Festival. You can visit her at kellyleehickey.com and follow her on Twitter at @kellyleehickey.

Topics:

Posted:

03 July 2013

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

Most of the news we hear about publishing these days is pretty grim, to say the least … it’s all about bookshops closing, sales plummeting and jobs being lost. So, it’s especially nice to hear the good news of a new Australian publisher setting up shop.

Donna_Ward

Publisher Donna Ward

Donna Ward is the brains behind Inkerman & Blunt, a new Melbourne publisher that will publish its first book this year, and is already planning more. Donna was the founder and editor and publisher of Indigo, a renowned West Australian journal of creative writing. She moved back to Melbourne from Western Australia in 2011, following the closure of Indigo in March 2010, after six volumes. Since then, she’s been busy organising the Poetry for the Soul events series and editing Sotto Magazine, the online magazine of Australian Poetry Limited, among other activities.

‘I’ve had a publishing company in the back of my mind for a little while,’ she told the Wheeler Centre. ‘I’ve been getting it together over the past couple of months.’

Donna has gathered a great local team to help her, including award-winning designer Sandy Cull, who will provide graphic design and writer and blogger Angela Meyer, who will publicise Inkerman & Blunt’s first book, Australian Love Poems 2013 (edited by Mark Treddinick). The company’s second book will be a chapbook of flash fiction, written by Angela and currently scheduled for 2014.

We spoke to Donna about her plans and inspiration for Inkerman & Blunt – and why she believes that Australians secretly love poetry.

What drives you—what made you decide to start a publishing company?

There’s nothing quite like the moment when a book comes together. I don’t mean when the printer drops it off at your door, I mean that moment when the manuscript begins to take shape. When all the chaos of words and images, design features, the details for the imprint page, the title itself, when all these things stop swirling around in the space just behind my shoulder and put themselves in the right order in a Word document, that’s the moment when a book comes together. The exhilaration is simply galvanising.

All the news these days is about how publishing is in decline. You’re going against the tide somewhat by starting a new enterprise. What are your thoughts on this?

Well if I’m going against the tide, that’s a good thing. I believe that going against the tide is one of the greatest things we can do in life. Going against the tide is following your own heart, your own desire and my desire is to be in the presence of something new. There are two things I love in life: making a beautiful book and discovering a new idea expressed in an exquisitely turned sentence. Publishing gives me the opportunity to do both and share these two things with the world.

But honestly, I don’t think publishing is in decline; it’s in the heat and angst of a paradigm change. We all still read, and with the onset of the digital age we probably read more than we ever did, and we write more than we ever did in the everyday course of our lives. It’s the way we read and write that’s changed.

Before computers, a lot of my writing was done by hand and given to a secretary to turn into a beautiful document. Now I make the documents myself. Before email, most of my work was done in conversations over the phone. Now I send people (often people I hardly know) a little note in an email. Before the internet, e-books and online magazines, I read reports, maps, self-help books, instruction manuals and airplane novels in hardcopy; now I read those standing in line at the supermarket, from a backlit screen. I don’t even look up the telephone book anymore. It’s almost out of existence, but the publishing of it hasn’t disappeared, it’s just transformed into websites like True Local and White Pages.

Publishing, these days is about making books we curl up and read on the couch then put them on our bookshelves, and it’s about making e-books that people can download onto their phones, tablets and computers to read (and, maybe, delete). The books we love will be the ones we keep. I imagine these will be books of poetry, or extraordinary fiction, or confronting non-fiction, or a book on the history of tennis. I could be wrong, someone may want to buy a hardcopy of the White Pages and keep it on their bookshelves to show their grandchildren how things used to be.

To me, the making of books is transforming and I’m as excited about making e-books as I am the real thing. But, it’s the way we read and buy books that’s changing, so it’s not publishing that’s in decline, but the sales and distribution part of the publishing industry that’s changing. Bookshops and distributors are the ones experiencing the raw end of change.

Your first two books will be a collection of love poems, edited by Mark Treddinick, and a chapbook of flash fiction by Angela Meyer. How did these projects come about?

I’d love to tell you about Angela’s new book but that’s a tale for the next time we meet. Suffice to say it’s coming out in March next year and it’s going to be fantastic. I do want to tell you all about Australian Love Poems 2013, though. It’s a project that has been growing in me for years now.

highlight I’m completely intrigued by the fact that we Australians are awkward when it comes to both love and poetry. We seem to think it is gauche to express love with little more than a hearty slap on the back accompanied by an utterance that includes the word ‘mate’. When it comes to poetry we spend more time denying any association with it than admitting we secretly read it, or go to poetry readings, or have a favorite poem. Did you know there are at least twelve Australian publishers completely dedicated to publishing poetry? And, it’s my estimation that on any night in Australia over 200 people will be sitting in a pub or a cafe or standing in a bookshop listening to a reading of poetry. And while bookshops say poetry doesn’t sell, what they don’t seem to be aware of is the significant underground market for poetry that accompanies these readings which no one admits attending. And, did you know that here in Melbourne, in this poetry eschewing country, we have the biggest poetry bookshop in the Southern hemisphere – Collected Works?

When it comes to both poetry and love, the great Australian cultural cringe takes over. But this cringe of ours is a bit of a myth. In my journey through publishing I’ve discovered that, like bird watching, the appreciation, writing and performance of poetry is one of the great leisure occupations of Australians.

With Australian Love Poems 2013, I want to bring Australians out of the closet on love, and on their love of poetry. What better way to do this than create a book of love poetry? This book is not going to be a history of love poetry written by Australians; they will be poems by poets writing about love right now – this year, or last year, or the year before. They will never have been published before. So Australian Love Poems 2013 will reveal our own Australian language of love.’


Submissions for Australian Love Poems 2013 are open now. Visit Inkerman & Blunt to find out more.

Topics:

Posted:

28 February 2013

Comments:

There are 7 comments so far
Back to top

highlight Pip Smith is currently poet-in-residence at The Lifted Brow. She has had her poems and stories published in HEAT, Meanjin, Voiceworks, Going Down Swinging, Island and Pan Magazine, and also runs the monthly short fiction night, Penguin Plays Rough, for which she has just compiled and edited its first book: The Penguin Plays Rough Book of Short Stories. She was a co-director of the 2012 National Young Writers' Festival, and has a chapbook of poems, How to Reason with Snakes, available through Picaro Press.

We spoke to Pip about battling self doubt, writing and publishing a poem a day this summer (at the Brow) and why the idea of turning your writing into a small business makes her vomit.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

I think I had a very earnest poem about capital-R Racism published in the school magazine when I was in Year Seven. Some obsessions, it seems, never change.

But the first piece I published that had any chance of being read was a short story called ‘Double Magic Girl, Pheromone Man, and the Many Half Lives of Madeline’, which Voiceworks agreed to publish after re-writing half of it (I think the original version had every section starting with a chemical equation of the half-life of uranium, but after checking the story with a Real Chemist, the editor found that none of the science actually made any sense). It was a weird, messy story. I am now trying to kill off the perfectionist in me, and reach back towards some of the energy contained in that messiness, even if the story was not super great.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Battling with my own self doubt. I’m currently undertaking a Doctorate in Creative Arts at the University of Western Sydney, which is both the most incredible opportunity (it’s basically a three-year grant to write that One Ambitious Project), and a terrifying attack on a person’s confidence. Every day I stare the fact I really have no idea what I’m doing, or where I’m going, right in the ugly face. This is made more uncomfortable by my constant and unnecessary reinvention of the wheel, and my stubborn refusal to model my project off anything that has come before. So I spend my days committing to chunks of the thing, when I know that there is an 80% chance I’ll have to throw that particular chunk out. But really, I love the challenge. So the worst part of my job is also the most invigorating. Right now, I am circling around the challenge by writing a poem a day for the Lifted Brow until summer runs out.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

There have been a few, and I refuse to make them compete for your affections! So I will tell you about two of them:

1) The decision to do a M Litt (creative writing) at the University of Sydney in 2007. Not everything about the course was helpful, but being given permission to write, make mistakes, and keep writing was exactly what I needed to kickstart what has been six years of jerky momentum.

2) The residency I am currently doing with the Lifted Brow has been excellent. It came about quite accidentally one afternoon when I texted Sam Cooney with a pitch: would he let me post a poem a day on the Brow website throughout all of summer? He took a few hours to reply, and in that time I was worried he was flashing my text around, laughing at how narcissistic the suggestion was. Strangely enough when he did reply it was with an emphatic yes.

Not only has he let me post a poem a day, but he has been committing the poems to a rigorous editorial process, changing all my ampersands to proper ‘ands’, challenging me with his own suggestions (which I reject most of, but it’s good to be challenged) and giving me encouragement when I need it. He is the most generous of editors!

This random experiment has given me a kick up the backside, and has helped me let go of things I would have otherwise fussed over for a year. Posting links to the poems on social media has helped bridge the often gargantuan divide between writer and reader, and the speed with which the poems are accessible online means they can respond to current events as they happen.

It has me thinking about the gated community we often put poetry in. Journalists are expected to churn out articles on a daily or weekly basis. Why shouldn’t we encourage our poets to do the same? Imagine if Fairfax published a poetry daily! Reportage on factually true, subjective experience! That’d be so great. I’d actually read that, and not just pretend that I do.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Best advice:

Write because you love good writing and need to write, not because you want to get published.

Worst Advice:

Turn your writing into a small business. (urgh! vomit, vomit)

Don’t ever write dreams into a story. (WHY? Dreams are the best movies our brains can come up with in the dark. Why would we deprive our stories of such good material?)

Worst comment I have heard made to emerging writers:

‘If you write a bad cover letter, people will remember your name and you will never get published again.’ (This is simply hairy bollocks.)

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

The most surprising thing I have ever read about myself was actually said by myself, when, after giving a 40 minute interview, the only quote the journalist selected was something along the lines of ‘what the f*** is a real story anyway, man?’ I felt slightly ridiculed. By myself, and the journalist.

If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Oh so many things! Things I still want to do! Before I started this DCA I was teaching English as a Second Language at Sydney Uni, which is something I found hugely rewarding. More recently I’ve been thinking about studying medicine and researching mental health systems more effective than our own hulking beast choked on red tape. I’d also like to be a theatre director, or a foreign correspondent. There’s still time for all this, right?

If there isn’t, then I will take solace in the fact that out there in the multiverse infinite Pips are doing all these things and more. This way, I can keep this writing caper going until the scholarship and then the grants dry up, and I’ll know that the other fantasies are being taken care of elsewhere.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I think it depends on what you understand by the word ‘taught’. You can be self-taught, but even then you are probably reading articles about writing, or interviews with writers you admire, or are talking about writing with friends. Choosing to study writing is just like doing all of this in a structured environment where you pay for someone to invent tasks and deadlines for you. Some people (myself included) need this. I like being bombarded with opinions and ideas on how to capture the world on the page.

If you choose to study creative writing, you are also paying for someone more experienced than you to give you their honest opinion on your work. For this reason, if you choose to study, I think it’s really important to study under someone you respect, who both challenges you and is respectful of what you’re trying to achieve. I had this in Judith Beveridge, who read my poetry and offered considered feedback for three years. She helped bring out my own voice, and did not impose her own on me. For this reason, and many others, I think she is an exceptional teacher.

The downside of studying creative writing at university is the increased likelihood you may end up treading water in a kind of writing that does not reach out to anyone beyond the walls of a tertiary institution. I think all kinds of writing are vital and necessary, but I hate seeing brilliant writers never publish anything outside an academic journal. It’s like never leaving your desk for fear of not being understood by the outside world.

Surely this is why many of us write: to swim around in the world, to try to understand it, and be understood.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Write, fail and write some more.

Make the most of every opportunity.

Send stuff out to get published even if it isn’t 100% perfect.

Read at Penguin Plays Rough!

Always have more than one project on the boil, so that if something fails, it isn’t the end of the world.

Follow your pedagogical bliss.

Write about what obsesses you most.

Study and read what interests you the most at any given time, not what others tell you to study.

Sharpen your bullshit meter.

Always be honest.

Cut out all the frilly bits.

Know when your fears are getting in the way.

Stay open.

Don’t listen to people who tell you what their rules are.

Every writing rule has been broken brilliantly by someone, and if it hasn’t yet, it will.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both! Most of the hardcopy books I buy are poetry books, and the only bookshop I’ve come across in Sydney with anything vaguely resembling a halfway decent poetry section is Gleebooks, but even they don’t have all the latest and greatest titles. It turns out to be much cheaper and efficient to order through Book Depository.

Otherwise, if I can, I always try and download an e-book version of a title. Books are chunky. I’m sick of losing them and lugging them around with me when I move. Unless a writer or publisher has made an effort to make a beautiful book that screams CHERISH ME, I probably won’t.

Also, you can highlight and take notes in e-readers, and travel with a gazillion books right in your backpack. E-readers make sense to me. The point, for me, is to absorb the ideas communicated by the writing, not to get nostalgic over objects, unless the object factors into the reading experience the writer is trying to create (Chris Ware’s Building Stories, for instance).

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?

Ye gads. ANY fictional character? Um. The guy wearing the cape made out of radios in Donald Barthelme’s ‘The Dolt’? I would ask him how he wove the 200 transistors together, and he would probably respond by tweaking the knobs on his radios so that they said the words he wanted to say at all the right times.

OH NO WAIT! Orlando. I would ask her how she managed to be alive for so damn long, what was the Russian princess like in bed, and how on earth did she manage to change her gender without getting attacked by journalists at the Guardian.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

I’d say the most significant works have been plays. Does that count? When I experience an incredible play, I feel high for days. Most recently I had that experience with Declan Greene’s Pompeii, LA.

It might be a bit naff and predictable to say so, but I think studying Shakespeare at school, and then playing Ophelia in Hamlet for the Australian Theatre for Young People when I was 19 were the most significant exposures to what written language can do to a person’s nerve endings. I love the irreverence with which Shakespeare treated the English language. If there wasn’t a word for something he wanted to say, he’d just make one up. In Hamlet, my favourite of his plays, there is a perfect synthesis between the wordplay he so clearly got off on, and a dark, existential current tugging at the words, which makes many of them still resonate with us today. There are still so many lines in that play that I turn over in my head from time to time. This is still so romantic, it gives me chills:

‘What wilt thou do for her? … drink up eisel? Eat a crocodile? I’ll do it!’

Crocodile? Why on earth was Hamlet thinking about crocodiles at a funeral in Denmark?

Shakespeare, your imagination is weird and I love you for it.


Pip Smith is currently poet-in-residence at The Lifted Brow, where she will publish a poem a day throughout summer.

The Lifted Brow is launching its latest issue tonight, at The Worker’s Club in Brunswick (7.30pm). Features Johnny Telafone.

Topics:

Posted:

17 January 2013

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

It’s unusual for a new collection of poems to have an introduction. They often appear in a collected or selected poems, serving to frame a writer’s life and work; but I don’t recall seeing an introduction to an individual collection before John Mateer’s Southern Barbarians. The usual convention is that, aside from the obligatory blurbs, a single collection will autonomously speak for itself. The inclusion of Brian Castro’s introduction – in reality, an extended blurb – suggests a desire for sympathetic contextualisation, an anxiety wholly understandable in a culture which often seems wilfully deaf to its poets. It’s worth investigating, because it faithfully reflects the self-presentation of this most self conscious of books.

I followed my usual practice with introductions, and read it after the poems. Castro does contextualise Mateer, or, perhaps more accurately, carefully places him outside several contexts: most notably, the category of ‘Australian poet’. Mateer, says Castro, is a ‘poet of conscience’, a self-divided soul who consciously places himself outside national boundaries. Quoting the poet, he says that writing about Australia is for Mateer ‘to imagine the trauma of this place, to be a poet who could express mourning and the resistance of language in a landscape so populated with irony that it hardly seemed connected to the earth’. ‘This,’ says Castro, ‘was to be condemned to silent reception’.

For Castro, Mateer is the quintessential poet of exile; he is a poet of ‘disembodied irony, travelling to, and coming from, other worlds’, who remains unheard because ‘the [nationalistic] canon is so loud, so threatening’. Not only exiled, then, but embattled, finding in the deterritoralised persona of the poet a refuge and an (ironised and temporary) home and identity.

It’s unsurprising that Mateer should take the great Portuguese poet Fernand Pessoa as one of his avatars. Pessoa invented the heteronym, creating literally dozens of discrete poetic selves with their own names, literary histories and philosophies. It’s perhaps not irrelevant that, like Mateer, Pessoa was raised in South Africa, condemning both poets to that 20th-century curse, the plural national identity. In the poem ‘Pessoa as Photographed Child’, Mateer comments: ‘There is no addressee, only this photo / in which you, as much as I, proliferate.’ Gradually the poet Mateer colonises the photograph of Pessoa until he can claim: ‘You are my Self captured in this photograph / and I am your sole-surviving heteronym.’ This audacious erasure is the modus operandi of the book: the poetic Self John Mateer (not to be mistaken for the actual person John Mateer) invents himself before our eyes, out of the literary scraps of empire.

He relates this process directly to the hallucinatory ambitions of colonisation. In ‘After Returning from a Voyage of Exploration’, he ‘dreams the dream’:

                that one day there will be a poet
named John Mateer, just as there was once,
                off the edge of maps, a monster
called Australia.

The poet, like the ‘monster called Australia’, remains radically unknown and unknowable: like Australia’s terra nullius, it’s a quality erased in the very activity of discovery. In Southern Barbarians, Mateer particularly investigates the Portuguese empire, from the former colonies in Asia to the present poverties of Lisbon, although the dislocations he imagines and reworks splinter to glimpses of Australia, South Africa, Japan, Macau. Here the poet is the translator, an angel-messenger sliding between languages; or, in another recurrent image, a ‘hungry ghost’.

The poems are rich with fragments shored against ruin: glimpses of libraries in ancient cities, antique books, ‘cobbled Roman lanes’. One section, among the finest in the book, gives us reworked lines from Luís Vaz de Camões’s Homeric epic poem Os Lusíadas, ironising the voyages of discovery that Camões celebrated. The major chord is melancholy, the saudades invoked in many of the poems. Saudade is an untranslatable Portuguese word meaning longing for someone or something absent, which implies a sense of irrevocable loss. This is perilous territory, in that at its weakest it falls into an easy, even sentimental, lyricism that Mateer’s irony can’t save:

    …an opiate cloud like a beloved’s dark and floral vulva
  
or the savour of her quick and churning tongue
under those eyes that opened like trapdoors for my double- and my true-self.

More troublingly, I found myself wondering about the poet created in these poems: the poet is always male (although incorporating, as Romantic poets always did, the feminine into the masculine self), the ‘other’ invoked too often female or feminised, and the feminine always sexualised and exotic. Mateer satirises the orientalising of the exotic east, ‘wishing for a life absolutely Oriental: that rhino horn of Viagra and Ecstasy’: but he also exploits it. Nowhere is this ambiguity more troubling than in the poem ‘Pieta: The Allegory’, one of the book’s final poems. It opens with a reference to the war with Angola, in which the poet flees the burning down of his house in South Africa:

              what’s left except
running from one
              curtain of smoke
to another
              finding behind each
a golden whore? …
              a courtesan, compliant,
Eurasian, a small-
              capitalist dream

The poem goes on to recount an encounter with a prostitute, and in particular the poet’s reflections as she ‘sucks’ him, which he relates as ‘THE ALLEGORY OF THE COLONIAL DREAM’. It finishes with an image of an orang-utan from the Perth Zoo, which is displayed in a ‘soundproof room’. The ape, ‘that old man of the forest’, is clearly equated with the prostitute, ‘whose name he had forgotten’: it is a ‘kindly being’ with ‘mournful eyes’, deprived of language just as the prostitute claims that her ‘tongue is not real’; a cipher on which the poet’s reflections and fantasies may be projected. There is no space for the subjectivity of the ‘other’ here.

Of course, its self-labelling as a fantasy of colonisation and a certain poetic of romanticised disgust is this poem’s get-out, but all the same I am really not sure what to make of it. Is irony really a radical strategy if the poem merely replicates the colonial erasure it seeks to expose? Mateer is a poet of considerable abilities, with a strong lyric gift: but the poetic self adumbrated here is too often seduced by its own hallucinations.


Alison Croggon is a poet, critic, literary editor and author. Her second book of poems, Blue Gate (1997) was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry. She blogs at Theatre Notes.

Topics:

Posted:

19 September 2012

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

We’ve recently welcomed our second round of Hot Desk Fellowships, supported by the Readings Foundation, to the Wheeler Centre.

We bid a sad farewell to our first round of fellows: Luke Ryan, Mel Campbell, Julien Leyre, Lorna Hendry, Caitlin Henderson, Christie Nieman and Lorin Clarke. We’ll be looking out for their published work.

But on the happy side, please meet our current Hot Desk residents: Peter Bakowski, Tom Trumble, Adrian Murphy, Ronnie Scott, Melinda Harvey and our Melbourne PEN fellow, Matt Hetherington.

highlight

Amy Tan: Not one of our Hot Desk Fellows.

Peter Bakowski

Peter Bakowski is working on a series of city portrait poems, Personal Weather, to be published by Hunter Publishers in 2013.

Peter has written poems set in St Kilda, Richmond and the Australian outback; during the fellowship, he will be observing (and eavesdropping on) Melbournians in the National Gallery of Victoria, the Queen Victoria Market, the State Library and other public spaces in the CBD.

These observations will serve as ‘seeds’ for a series of portrait poems.

Peter says, ‘These Melbourne portrait poems would complement Melbourne’s vitality as an UNESCO City of Literature and would add to the canon of city poetry as exemplified by Jacques Prevert, who wrote about Paris and Parisians, and Charles Reznikoff, who wrote about New York and New Yorkers.’

Peter has published three collections with Hale and Iremonger. His most recent collection, Beneath Our Armour, is published by Hunter Publishers. He won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry in 1996.

Tom Trumble

Tom Trumble is working on his second book, Trapped on Timor, about his grandfather’s involvement in a secret rescue operation that took place in 1942. It’s contracted to Penguin, who published his first book, Unholy Pilgrims.

Tom writes:

By the end of March 1942, the Japanese laid claim to one of the largest empires in human history. The speed of Japan’s southern thrust left hundreds of Allied soldiers trapped behind lines. One such group, a party of 29 Australian airmen, left behind to keep operational an airbase in Dutch Timor, had their evacuation plans thwarted by the raid on Darwin.

After Timor fell to the Japanese, the group hid along Timor’s rugged northwest coast with little more than emergency rations and a portable radio in the hope of arranging a flying boat rescue. Every man contracted malaria, dysentery and jungle rot, four eventually dying of illness. After several abortive rescue attempts, contact was made with an American submarine at the very moment Timorese villagers betrayed the group to the Japanese. A party of 300 elite Japanese paratroopers was dispatched to hunt down the fugitives. What ensued was a frantic race against time and the most extraordinary escape of displaced Allied servicemen in the war in the Pacific. My grandfather was the 23-year old officer in charge of the airmen.

Adrian Murphy

Adrian Murphy is working on the first draft of a crime novel, Stained Promises.

It’s the beginning of a series, with the hero living in Melbourne. Adrian says it is ‘a hero’s journey of protagonist against antagonist, all set in Victoria’. The plot involves town corruption, drug and meth labs, and girls imported for prostitution.

‘I’m a driven writer and a very fast one,’ he says. ‘That is, when I am in the groove of concentration and becoming at one with my fictional characters. The plot drives my characters forward and who knows what they will do or say next.’

Adrian says that working in the Wheeler Centre, in a books and writing environment, he’ll be able to concentrate on driving that narrative forward.

Ronnie Scott

Ronnie Scott is working on a memoir about pop culture and adultness, beginning in the year 2000 and extending to the present day.

You’ll Never Wake Up looks at twentysomething experiences particular to this century – mainly the web 1.0 to 2.0 shift and the mixing of high and low culture. It traces a decade in the life of a group of young people who are being changed by this new world in unexpected ways.

Ronnie’s book was originally ‘a mix of researchy, cultural essays threaded together using bits of memoir’. He showed it to several publishers, looking for feedback, and they unanimously recommended he turn it into ‘a Gen Y Monkey Grip’.

In his time at the Wheeler Centre, he’ll be turning his document into ‘something that feels like … well, a book’.

Ronnie Scott’s long-form non-fiction has been published in The Believer, Meanjin, the Big Issue and elsewhere. He is the founder (and former editor) of The Lifted Brow.

Melinda Harvey

Melinda Harvey is working on a creative non-fiction essay called ‘Lip Service’, part memoir and part literary criticism.

It will explore the experience of being pregnant and a cancer patient at the same time, using this strange happenstance to ponder the truism that literature offers consolation.

Here’s a taste of the essay’s contents:

Last September Adam and I finally got married. Iris made us do it. She was the size of a lime at the time, so the pregnancy books said, but no less persuasive for being diminutive. We caught the tram to the registry. I held a $7 post of violets in my hands. Adam wore a $15 suit he bought at Savers. Our photos of the day – affectionate, beaming, silly – were taken on our phones. In all of them I have my face turned slightly to the right, for the lump under my lip, more like a blueberry than a lime, was there then too. In fact, we joked about it. ‘C’mon, George Michael, show me your good side,’ Adam said. ‘Lucky I’m no Bridezilla,’ I said.

But the honeymoon was a six-month shuttling from maternity hospital to cancer hospital. At one place ultrasounds showed that everything was going swimmingly considering I was an elderly primigravida, At the other place I was told I was too young and too healthy to have this kind of old man’s cancer. When I should have been counting fetal kicks and moderating my caffeine intake I was googling ‘lip reconstruction’ and doped up on opiates.

I teach literature at university. In a world in which we struggle to account for the value of literature I tell my students novels are like rest areas along a highway, places where you can ‘Stop. Revive. Survive.’ Literature, I told them, offers consolation, never having needed it to give me any. Now, though, was the moment of truth. Was literature going to help me through the bewilderments of growing a child and losing my face that could smile in those wedding photos? What role could literature really play while life had its way with me?

Melinda has been published in the Australian, the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Book Review and many other outlets.

Matt Hetherington

Matt Hetherington is one of our Melbourne PEN fellows. He will be working on translations from the Turkish poetry of Hidayet Ceylan, as well as poetry for his next collection.

‘Over the last five or six years of friendship, Hidayet and I have together translated nine or ten of his poems,’ he says. ‘He has also recently translated one of mine into Turkish.’

Matt has recently written for Cordite about his working relationship with Hidayet:

Despite the fact that we are both ‘amateurs’ at the art of translation, we still manage to satisfy the other in the end. After all, the word amateur itself comes from the root of the French word ‘to love’. We work together in such a way that it’s not truly work at all: I’m learning his language a little – as I don’t speak Turkish at all – but am at least bringing an affinity of his sensibilities to the process, and the ability to write poetry in English. Plus, there’s a mutual discovery in the intricacies and delights of each other’s world-view and the way it’s expressed.

Topics:

Posted:

10 September 2012

Comments:

There are 3 comments so far
Back to top

As 2011 ends and 2012 begins, we’ve invited our resident organisations to consider the year gone by and to share their plans for the year to come.

Australian Poetry has had an exciting inaugural year, launching as an organisation in January 2011 with a charter to promote and support Australian poets and poetry.

Some of its successes have been to deliver a high level publication, the Australian Poetry Journal, establish a website where poets and poetry organisations around the country can upload and promote their own events, run a National Symposium in Newcastle inviting poets from all over Australia to attend, manage a national Poet in Residence, Sandra Thibodeaux, and organise a poetry tour to Ireland for two established poets in 2012, Paul Hetherington and Petra White.

We initiated a Geek in Residence to develop phone applications, online activities and e-publications, established more than 70 Cafe Poets in Residence around the country, sent poets regionally to run workshops and give readings as part of the Omnibus Mobile Poetry program, organised poems on the pillows of the Sebel Pier One Sydney for the duration of the Sydney Writers Festival and run a teen team spoken word competition for high school students, culminating in an electric performance at the Melbourne Writers Festival. What a year!

Poetry in Australia has opened its doors to new poets, audiences and readers and in 2012, AP (the organisation) is excited to provide more opportunities for Australian poets and poetry, developing new partnerships and programs. This will include working with Life Without Barriers to run a poetry program for refugees and Asylum Seekers in various states and territories, building on its publications program, events program and education program.

We will continue to use technology to build the national and international market for Australian poetry and nurture our relationships with partners overseas.

Paul Kooperman National Director

Australian-Poetry-LOGO-Alternative-blue-01

Topics:

Posted:

05 January 2012

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

The literary world has always been riddled with controversy. There’s a couple of controversies doing the rounds that we found of interest for what they say about about a new anthology of American poetry has brought to the fore age-old controversies about the vagaries of taste. A review in the New York Review of Books of the Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry has taken the anthology’s editor to task on several grounds. In reply, the anthology’s editor, prominent poet Rita Dove, has dubbed the criticism, penned by noted poetry critic Helen Vendler, as “sad”. The snarky exchange highlights the challenges of arriving at a literary canon.

Meanwhile, have you ever scanned Amazon book reviews before buying a book and wondered how reliable they are? Have you ever wondered how Amazon comes up with its bestseller lists? Here’s an article on how both the reader reviews and the bestseller lists can be manipulated by those in the know. Another Amazon-related controversy relates to the deal it’s done with public libraries in the US on lending ebooks. Penguin is so unhappy with the deal it recently withdrew ebooks from libraries.

Western countries pride themselves on publishing cultures based on free speech – but is there a case to be made that a kind of self-imposed, market-based censorship exists? The question comes to mind while viewing this comparison of the covers of Time magazine’s US edition to those of its international edition.

Topics:

Posted:

08 December 2011

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

Poetry’s fortunes in the wider world can seem grim at times but for lovers of poetry – its writers and readers – the form is more often than not little less than an obsession. As such, the poetry community can be deeply divided.

Last month, local slam poet Emilie Zoey Baker came into the Wheeler Centre to deliver an impassioned defence of slam poetry. She began by defining slam poetry: “Slam, if you’re not sure, is a short form usually only a few minutes long. It’s a good-natured poetry battle where poets perform their work individually or in teams … It works on the idea that poetry is for the people, that you don’t need a degree or a doctorate to judge poetry. It’s about what you like, what you feel, what inspires you to whoop and cheer.”

In June, Emilie was the subject of a feature published in The Age on how slam poetry might make for good television. The piece provoked Christopher Bantick to pen an op-ed in The Australian in reply, suggesting that slam poetry was a low form of poetry.

As a testament to the levels of passion in the poetry community, Emilie’s Lunchbox/Soapbox video has triggered more comments (14 at the time of writing) than videos we would consider far more controversial. Yesterday, a blog post by Australian poet Alan Wearne published by Wheeler Centre resident organisation SPUNC takes up the cudgels again. Alan is publisher at a new poetry imprint, Grand Parade Poets, whose first publication features the poetry of Benjamin Frater and Pete Spence.

Topics:

Posted:

17 November 2011

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

Next year’s National Poetry Festival is to be held in Darwin from 10 to 13 May. The festival will be held in conjunction with Wordstorm, the Festival of Australasian Writing, which will kick off on 13 May until 16 May. Australian Poetry and the Northern Territory Writers' Centre are seeking an image and a poetic phrase, or a few appropriate words, to describe and promote this national literary event.

The image and phrase will both be used on all promotional material, from program and posters to T-shirts and badges, from websites and Facebook to banners and signage, and will be included in all aspects of thefestival’s national advertising campaign. Original artwork and poetry will remain the property of the artist and poet respectively. Both artist and poet will be credited for their work. Winners will receive $250 each, plus a goodie bag of all promotional material and a handful of free festival passes.

The competition closes Monday, 14 November. Entries must be submitted electronically to: executive@ntwriters.com.au (where you can also request more information) with the subject header ‘Festival Competition’ and include contact details in the body of the email. Entries can be submitted in both categories and can be considered for use together if requested.

Topics:

Posted:

13 October 2011

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

Last week we reported on the betting frenzy surrounding the lead-up to the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The frontrunner was the Syrian poet Adonis, although there were serious pushes for Philip Roth and Bob Dylan too. In the end, the actual winner, announced on Thursday, surprised everyone. Swede Tomas Tranströmer, a psychologist by profession, known for the still, crystalline quality of his verse, is the first poet Nobel laureate since the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska won 15 years ago. Several of his titles are available in English, and – perhaps not entirely uncoincidentally – a new edition of his Collected Poems has only recently been published. In 1990, a stroke left him mute and able to use only one hand. A lifelong pianist, he continued to play the piano one-handed and will perform on the piano, instead of delivering the usual oration, when he accepts the prize in December.

highlight

The poet’s win has seen the hype machine kick into overdrive, delivering lavish panegyrics about a poet who, until last Thursday, was largely unknown outside Sweden. In the New York Review of Books, Tim Parks explains how the Nobel Prize for Literature works, reminding us along the way of “the essential silliness of the prize and our own foolishness at taking it seriously”. In a comparative review essay in the same publication, Helen Vendler finds parallels between the two most recent poet Nobel laureates, Tranströmer and Szymborska.

Topics:

Posted:

10 October 2011

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

By Lisa Dempster

In addition to being a celebration of all things literary, one of the most exciting things about Melbourne being a UNESCO City of Literature is the potential for us to connect with a network of writers and thinkers from our sister literary cities around the globe. Currently there are five Cities of Literature – Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin and Reykjavik – and recently England’s Norwich put in a bid to join them.

Writing is alive and well in Norwich, home to the oldest and best creative writing course in England as well as the world-leading British Centre for Literary Translation. It is also a City of Refuge for persecuted writers and has the busiest public library in the country. And excitingly for us, arising from their bid to join the City of Literature network, there is currently a delegation of poets from Writers’ Centre Norwich spending time in Melbourne.

The three spoken word poets, Tim Clare, Hannah Jane Walker and Luke Wright, are well known in the UK and are in Melbourne following a busy summer performing solo shows at Edinburgh Fringe. Since arriving, they have appeared at the Melbourne Writers Festival and The Red Room Company in Sydney, and have also been getting some writing done at the writers’ hot desks at the Wheeler Centre. In the last few days of their mostly-Melbourne visit they will be performing and running workshops at the upcoming Overload Poetry Festival.

The Norwich poets’ visit to Melbourne is just one of a series of connections and events that Melbourne has benefited from as a City of Literature. During the recent Melbourne Writers’ Festival there was an Edinburgh Unbound event showcasing writers and poets who work from, and are inspired by, the very first City of Literature; a rollicking great night of discussion and performance. And, in a different vein, earlier this year a delegation of Aussies, including Zoe Dattner from SPUNC, were invited to Dublin Writers’ Festival to talk at a seminar on all things independent publishing.

The impact of the connections we have with our sister cities of literature are varied and far-reaching, and the opportunities for learning and exchange immense. I passionately believe that Melbourne, so far geographically from much of the world, should enthusiastically explore the avenues opened up to us by our UNESCO delegation. The opportunity to take our conversations about books, writing and ideas outside of Melbourne and Australia to like-minded friends in far-flung places is something that we should grab with both hands, and cherish.

Overload Poetry Festival is proud to be including the Norwich poets in their program, including the UK Triple Bill at the Wheeler Centre on Sunday 11 September.

Lisa Dempster is the author of Neon Pilgrim and editor of the Australian Veg Food Guide. She is also the Director of the Emerging Writers’ Festival. www.lisadempster.com.au

Topics:

Posted:

06 September 2011

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

highlight

Image of a Lego WB Yeats via Dunechaser/Flickr

Poetry – even poets don’t always like it. Marianne Moore, a major 20th-century American poet, wrote a poem, appropriately called ‘Poetry’, that began, “I, too, dislike it…” But in the same poem she gave us a metaphor for poetry that has become a justification for an entire form: poems, she wrote, are “imaginary gardens with real toads in them”. And that’s the point. Sometimes, there’s nothing more real than a poem.

It’s National Poetry Week this week, and we conducted a straw poll around the office, asking people to nominate their favourite poems. Here are a few nominations:

Wheeler Centre resident organisation Australian Poetry is celebrating National Poetry Week with a different theme every weekday this week. Today’s theme was ‘write’, tomorrow’s is ‘buy’, then there’s ‘share’, ‘live’ and ‘celebrate’.

Topics:

Posted:

05 September 2011

Comments:

There are 7 comments so far
Back to top

Australian Poetry has announced plans to produce an anthology of poems by its members. The Wheeler Centre resident organisation is planning to make the publication a annual event as part of the suite of benefits it offers members.

The anthology will be edited by a team of volunteers that will include David Adès, Libby Hart, Heather Taylor Johnson, Vanessa Jones, Danny Lovecraft, Tim Metcalf, John Pfitzner, Susie Utting, Lyn Vellins and Oliver Quinn Walnn. Eventually, it will be available as both an ebook and print-on-demand publication.

Submissions can be made here and full terms and conditions can be found here.

Topics:

Posted:

17 August 2011

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

highlight

Every day this week we’ll be publishing reviews of each of the Premier’s 21 titles shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. These reviews are not written by professional reviewers though – they’re written by librarians from across the state. Today, we’re publishing reviews of the three nominees for the CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry: Claire Potter’s Swallow, Libby Hart’s This Floating World and Cate Kennedy’s The Taste of River Water. The reviews have been written by Debra Trayler of Casey-Cardinia Libraries, Leonie Clark of Eastern Regional Libraries and Emma Bruty of Darebin Libraries, respectively.

If you’ve read any of the Premier’s 21 titles, we’d like to hear from you too: leave us a snapshot of what you thought of the book, or vote for the book you think should win the overall prize and it might just win the People’s Choice award on awards night, Tuesday, 6 September.

Topics:

Posted:

01 August 2011

Comments:

There are 2 comments so far
Back to top

Advertising agency George Patterson/Y&R are claiming to be the first to create a poem in the form of a website URL. The poem was devised to promote the Byron Bay Writers' Festival, which begins Friday week at Australia’s most easterly point.

Once disentangled from its webby format, the poem reads:

Words like hang out in creepy places. Beware, you can find them skulking around ancient Maya temples, the belltower of Notre Dame, or the belly of GIANT sandworms.

You’ll catch them in a Victorian orphanage filled with dirty clothes, cracked smiles, on wild horses wilder women.

Words LOVE the smell of napalm and the taste of sweat that trickles down your back when you’re knee-deep in ENEMY territory.

They’re passionate about grime, slime and the STENCH of a thousand DEAD rats. Words haunt the nastiest places – just like this.

The poem was written by copywriter Kate Burt, but the line breaks are our own.

Highlights of the festival (which also has the more conventional URL http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au/v2/index.php) include Paul Kelly, MJ Hyland, Richard Glover and Louis de Bernières. The keynote speaker is John Pilger.

Topics:

Posted:

25 July 2011

Comments:

There are 0 comments so far
Back to top

In ‘A Defence of Poetry’, an essay written in 1821 and published posthumously in 1840, English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley defined poets as “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. Since then, one might say poets have become the legislators of the unacknowledged world. As part of its Poem of the Week series, Wheeler Centre resident organisation Australian Poetry is currently taking submissions from members for poetry of 20 lines or less about changing the world. What would you legislate, given the opportunity? Submissions will be accepted until 5pm Wednesday. Email paul@australianpoetry.org – see the guidelines for submissions. Here’s a 2006 essay by US poet Adrienne Rich on how the world needs poetry more than ever.

Topics:

Posted:

24 June 2011

Comments:

There is 1 comment so far
Back to top

highlight

Sydney Opera House 1975, image by Gregory Melle, via Flickr

Sydney is appointing a city poet to sing the virtues of the city in verse. For $20,000 over 12 months, the poet will be required to write six publishable poems. The poet will be based at the University of Technology Sydney in the inner-city suburb of Ultimo. Here’s the call for expressions of interest.

Australia’s most famous city has already been the subject of much poetry, including this by Les Murray. Peter Boyle’s ‘On Sydney’s South-West Line’ is a neat summation of that unique blend of dazzle and tack so emblematic of the silver city.

We applaud the scheme and hope it will be extended. We envisage a poet for every city, every town and even every suburb, or at least selected suburbs (we imagine suburbs like Carlton and Brunswick are already well-versed). However, we do fear the appointed poet will have their work cut out finding words that rhyme with Sydney: other than kidney, the alternatives are pretty much all proper nouns. The Oxford Rhyming Dictionary lists them as Rodney, Sidney (the alternate spelling, probably ruling it out), Adeney (a Shropshire village, very hard to include in a poem about Sydney, although maybe Sydney’s city poet will relish the challenge), Evadne (the name of some rather tortured Greek mythological characters, and also of Wonder Woman’s cousin) and our favourite Ariadne. Good luck!

Incidentally, if Melbourne has an unofficial poet laureate, it may well be Chris Wallace-Crabbe. Congratulations to Chris for his AM, announced on the Queen’s birthday honours list last weekend.

Here’s a video of Les Murray reading from his collection, Taller When Prone, at the Wheeler Centre.

Topics:

Posted:

17 June 2011

Comments:

There are 3 comments so far
Back to top

Site topics


Privacy Policy|Community Guidelines | Site by Inventive Labs.