2020 Round-up

This was, we can all agree, something of a concertina year, in which time contracted and expanded with surreal inconsistency. When are we now? What is yesterday? Did I do anything this year except hand-wash masks? How many more times can we hear the phrase ‘strange and uncertain times’ before it is just meaningless sounds?

Wherever you are, I hope you and yours are safe, and feeling as secure as one can during, well, ‘strange and uncertain times’.


Art Starts Here: 40 Years of Metro Arts

I was extremely fortunate this year to be able to mine the archives of Metro Arts (definitely a COVID-safe zone), and to spend many weeks making art-affirming phone and Zoom calls to artists, performers, producers and arts administrators whose work has impacted Brisbane any time between about 1974 and now. The end result, beautifully designed by Sean Dowling and Ashleigh Jacobsen, is Art Starts Here: 40 Years of Metro Arts. If you’re interested in Brisbane, or artists’ communities, or architecture, or anecdotes about terrifying lifts — this book is for you. I’m very proud of it and very grateful to Metro for letting me steer it as editor.


Recent publications

‘Ghost Light’ (Red Room)
Find the ghost light in a closed-for-good arts centre. (This piece, unsurprisingly, emerges out of my time in the old Metro Arts building and archives.) This psychogeographic poem/piece of interactive literature is best enjoyed in full-screen with headphones. Thank you to Red Room for publishing this piece as part of their 2020 Fellowship shortlistee commission series.

Meanjin: What I’m Reading (essay)
On queered reading, video games, and seeing ourselves in happy endings.

Archer Asks: Katy O’Brian, actor and martial artist (interview)

Griffith Review kindly included my little poem ‘Quince Season’ in their Generosities of Spirit issue. Backslash Lit included an interactive Twine version of my poem ‘Blueprint: Bramble Terrace‘ in their first issue. Earlier in the year, Scum Mag printed two iso poems, Blue Bottle Journal let me wax lyrical about the moon in ‘Eight Phases’, and just recently Overland kindly printed a prose poem called ‘sandwiches‘.


Sourdough starter

All things considered, it’s been a huge year. (It just doesn’t feel like it, because the year feels like one, long, never-ending day.) My book, After the Demolition, turned one in September, and this year I received the Wesley Michel Wright Prize for an excerpt from it. Like everyone else this year, I had plans scuttled—I didn’t get to visit the USA for poetry adventures. (One. Day. I’ll. Get. To. The. Dang. Frost. Place. Seminars!) But I’m grateful that I’m able to start over in plotting out 2021: thank you to the Brisbane City Council for allowing an extra year to fulfil Lord Mayor’s Young and Emerging Artists Fellowship plans.

I also got to spend this year working with absolute legends at the Queensland Poetry Festival: Michael, Anna, Angela, and Amanda. It may not have been the year we originally planned! But we delivered nearly 100 online performances and workshops, and got to hang out with lots of amazing poets from our community—and further afield. Poetry workshops are really the best use of Zoom!

I didn’t learn to make sourdough. I did learn enough basic coding (thank you, Yarra Libraries, for amazing free workshops with Tegan Webb!) to spend every bit of spare time this year making poetry toys/text adventures in Twine, and also this poetry oracle Twitter bot (to represent Bec Jessen’s Ask Me About the Future online):


CABARET REVIEW: Apocalipstick

The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived—and it is one or more coats of Apocalipstick.

It was such a privilege to be back in a theatre for the second-last showing of Polytoxic’s latest that I had to write at least a brief review.

Apocalipstick technically sold out twice: once with restricted audience numbers, and again once those restrictions lifted. The energy—the sheer relief—in the room is electric: it’s a long time since we’ve all hooted and hollered like this. No one hesitates when the cast opens the show by leading us in a middle-fingers-up cry of ‘Fuck you, 2020!’

Leah Shelton and Lisa Fa’alafi (by FenLan Photography)

Polytoxic’s Lisa Fa’alafi and Leah Shelton have handpicked the line-up and rotating special guests. On our night it’s Abbey Church, Busty Busty Beatz, Hope One, Mayu Muto, Lana Tukaroa, Nerida Matthaei, Neridah Waters, An(drea) Lam, Chinta Woo-Allcock, and the Brides of Frank. It’s a silver lining of lockdowns that we have all this talent here in Brisbane at one time.

Apocalipstick proves that feminist theatre is in no danger of being diluted by so-called political correctness. Shelton’s drag-burlesque strip from full PVC-and-furs to nothing at all sets the tone for the evening: no holds are barred. This is a knockout night of cabaret that always punches up.

Polytoxic blend in the greatest hits with the brand new: it’s as much a joy to revisit Fa’alafi’s killer ‘Weave’ routine as it is to be introduced to Andrea Lam’s Bollywood-meets-Youtube-comments ‘Item Number’.

But the real stars of the show are the Hot Brown Homies, the lesser-known brothers of the Hot Brown Honeys—i.e. Busty Beatz and Hope One as our salivating emcees, Big M.I.C. and Young Harrison, promoting their new hit single ‘Ballistic Misogynistic’. The Hot Brown Homies’ reunion tour with 90s boy band Wrong Direction may just have garnered the best laughs of 2020 (shy of the Four Seasons debacle).

The big magic of Apocalipstick is in its queer joy, its (literally) balls-out feminist comedy that speaks directly to its audience. There is no male gaze here, my friends: in fact, toxic masculinity is cleaned up with a spray of ‘Antibac Off’. And, with a well-deployed leaf blower, Young Harrison will have you adding the phrase ‘stroking the Ryobi’ to your lexicon.

Hope One and Busty Beatz (photographed by FenLan)

Apocalipstick is also the first show I’ve seen in the New Benner Theatre at Metro’s new West Willage digs*. The last theatre I saw was at Metro Arts, with Love farewell-to-the-Old-Broad festival in February. I spent the months in between living and breathing the Metro archives—photos, faxes, letters, blueprints, playbills—and interviewing dozens of artists and arts workers (including Fa’alafi and Shelton). (The result—Art Starts Here: 40 Years of Metro Arts—is a pretty neat snapshot of Brisbane arts.)

With its risk-taking, glitter, contained chaos, nudity and BDE, Apocalipstick also proves that the bold energy of Metro Arts wasn’t constrained to the Old Broad. It’s alive and well over the river (with a working lift!!).

Apocalipstick ran from 6 to 28 November 2020 in the New Benner Theatre at Metro Arts.


*Also accessible on the night were Rebecca Ross’s uncanny-domestic Dark Entries video installation and Joanne Choueiri’s Archive of Loss—an installation of obituaries to Brisbane buildings demolished under Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. I recently had the pleasure of interacting with (and exploring inside) a large-scale installation of Ross’s on Chevron Island, Light House, which projected video out through the windows of an abandoned house; I love the way Ross uses spaces like these to make a kaleidoscope of our sense of time. And Archive of Loss is a pretty perfect installation for me: it blends architecture, archive and cemetery to make us reflect on the character of our city (and loss thereof). The work shows how much bureaucratic ‘progress’ often amounts to: many of Choueiri’s obituaries read, ‘[The building] was survived for 12 years by a hole.’

Dark Entries shows in Gallery One and Archive of Loss in Gallery Two until 5 December.

Zombie utopias & other news

Some thanks are in order!!

Alongside the talented Yen-Rong Wong, I’ve won a 2020 Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Award. I’m immensely grateful to the Queensland Literary Awards, Arts Queensland, State Library of Queensland, and of course the judges. Thank you to the family, friends and colleagues who support me – in particular my partner Bec, my mum Kathy, my publisher Kent at Cordite, and treasured friends (especially Justin & Tam, Tim & Anna, Rebecca, Caitie, and the Poet Pals).

Congratulations to shortlistees, Ellen Wengert and Sara El Sayed – and congrats especially to Sara, Anna Jacobson and Amanda Niehaus who won Queensland Writers Fellowships. These awards change lives – and get books written (as proven by the wonderful Mirandi Riwoe winning the UQ Fiction Book Award for Stone Sky Gold Mountain, written during her Fellowship).

The 2020 QLAs winners, as drawn by Kathleen Jennings.

I’m also very lucky and grateful to have received a Lord Mayor’s Young and Emerging Artists Fellowship this year to travel to the Frost Place Poetry Seminars and New York Poetry Festival, among other adventures. Unsurprisingly, those activities have been postponed for this year – and I’m grateful to Brisbane City Council for extending the fellowship timeframe into 2021. I cannot wait to revisit these travel plans next year!


Recent publications

Archer Asks: Katy O’Brian, actor and martial artist (interview)

Katy O’Brian joined Z Nation in its final season as George, a soft-spoken, soft-butch badass who leads post-zombie America towards social unity.The dystopian vibes of the current pandemic seemed like the perfect time to ask: What Would George Do? 🧟‍♂️ 💪 🌈

What better reminder to vote, USA pals.

Z Nation was such a fantastic series – a real genre standout as a zomcom with a diverse cast, centred around friendship, compassion and mercy. I’m a big fan of the whole cast – what a kind bunch! – but the introduction of George gave me the courage to finally get into boxing/growing biceps. Katy is a lot of fun on instagram, as are fellow cast members Kellita Smith, Anastasia Baranova, Keith Allan, Russell Hodgkinson, DJ Qualls and Ramona Young.

I’m also all about letting people know that you don’t have to be a stacked powerhouse to be able to defend yourself and that women can be strong without bulging muscles or, conversely, appearing fit at all. I think it’s important to show a variety of bodies manifesting strength on the screen. A great character hopes to inspire through resilience and perseverance, and not physique.

Katy O’Brian (Z Nation, Black Lightning) in Archer Magazine

‘Blueprint: Bramble Terrace’ (interactive edition)

Explore an abandoned house in Red Hill, Brisbane before it is demolished. Created in Twine, this interactive poem was recently featured in Backslash Lit (and originally commissioned for Red Room Poetry). 🤖🏚


Art Starts Here: 40 Years of Metro Arts

Now that Metro Arts has moved into its new West Village home, I’m thrilled to say that the history book I was privileged to research and edit (and which Sean Dowling and Ash Jacobsen designed) will be available from 11 September. Featuring the voices of over 40 Metro community members, Art Starts Here: 40 Years of Metro Arts charts the living history of Metro Arts, from its gutsy DIY beginnings to its bright future. As a teaser, here’s a photo I took at 109 Edward Street just as Metro moved out, capturing the light and warmth of those studios:

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QPF2020 Film+Poetry Challenge

I hope all you poets, filmmakers and filmmaker-poets will send a video poem or two into Queensland Poetry Festival’s new* Film+Poetry Challenge. There’s a total prize pool of $2800 and we’ll screen ’em and have the best time. (*Technically this prize is a reimagining of Francis Boyle’s wonderful video poem prize of QPFs past – and I’m glad it’s back!) Entries close 10 October.

Iso-poems

It’s only a matter of time until someone releases an anthology called In Strange and Uncertain Times. Still, in these, uh, strange and also uncertain times we’re somehow all busier than ever — this is keeping my brain Very Active (for better or worse). Here’s some news:


Recent publications

Yesterday Scum Mag kindly included two new poems, one about iso and a fun one about queer joy. I also have a little poem about grief included in Writ‘s new issue. Thank you to the editors. 💗

Red Room Poetry have created a wonderful thing in In Your Hands, an anthology of work by writers whose 2020 gigs and book tours have been affected by COVID-19. It’s free to download, share and enjoy. (My poem ‘Conversations at the Mojave Phone Booth’ is included.)


After the Demolition

After the Demolition was recently shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry. This blew my mind — to be shortlisted alongside Peter Boyle, Lisa Gorton, Joanne Burns, Natalie Harkin and David Malouf was a dream! Congratulations to winner Peter Boyle.

Each poem in this collection demonstrates cerebral questionings of what it means to occupy, and destroy, space. Frost is unafraid of gaps and the poems often find their strength in what is left unsaid.

Judges’ comments

Tony Messenger at Verity La and Kylie Thompson at Reviewers of Oz have each written generous reviews of After the Demolition.

After The Demolition is a collection that opens with an ode and closes with love: the centre of the opening poem ‘before/ now’ being ‘\\oh//‘ and the ending a rejoicing ‘/sing//‘; and the closing poem, ‘Peripheral Drift’, telling us ‘you can still pash in a graveyard / at 28’. This is a breaking down, a demolition, of the daily grind, and a rejoicing in relationships, past and present. As Bachelard says: (When the peaks of our sky come together/ My house will have a roof).

Tony Messenger, The Houses That Hold Us

Ask Me About the Future 🔮

In a flurry of iso-nervous energy, I collaborated with geniuses Shastra Deo and Bec Jessen to code a bot to represent Bec’s new book, Ask Me About the Future (UQP) on twitter. The AskMe_Oracle generates tiny poetic fortunes from words and themes in Bec’s book, and will reply with either a personalised fortune or straight-up lesbian flirting if you @ it. Thank you to Cheap Bots Done Quick for the infrastructure and to Shastra for making the Magic 8-Ball logo (as well as a fortune-dispensing Instagram filter!).


Panacea Poets

Queensland Poetry Festival has, like many arts orgs, taken the show online during iso. I’ve had the pleasure of curating Panacea Poets, a YouTube series of short readings (twice a week), and Couplet Poetry Online (monthly). Panacea Poets drops a new video on Mondays and Thursdays and features poets from Australia and beyond:


2018 Round-Up

What a busy year for poetry! I could not have done it without the Queensland Writers Fellowship from the QLAs, which gave me space and time to work. Thanks to these funds, my next manuscript is just about done. A little trip to Varuna at the start of 2018 should polish it off! Watch this space. 😏🚀💫

But it’s also been the trash-fire year in which I lost my Dad, which has been a strange and lonely time. (Though I’d say that organising a funeral while writing/rehearsing a spoken word show is probably the most uncanny feat my stress hormones have ever performed.) Thank you to the loved ones who’ve supported Mum and me. I’ve played a lot of Stardew Valley in the months since.

READING TO ZEN_SML

Here is this year’s haul of printed poems. I hit some milestones that I’m proud of, but wish I could tell Dad about. So it goes. Thank you to the lovely editors, poets and readers who keep these journals humming along:

Congratulations to Emily O’Grady and Ella Jeffery on the continued success of Stilts this year. Check out Issue 3, which recently launched. And hearty congratulations to Bec Jessen and Anna Jacobson on their contracts for upcoming poetry collections with UQP. Warm feelings to Rebecca Cheers and Talia Enright as they shut up shop on Woolf Pack.

Wishing you a breezy festive season in gentle company. Be kind to retail and hospo folks! Here’s hoping 2019 has lots of good stuff in store.

Halloween and spooky poems

It’s been a hectic little time both for spooks and for poetry. I’m currently drowning in a pile of Trolli Halloween candy courtesy of my housemate and a lack of trick-or-treaters. Is it any coincidence that my cat (Sable) looks exactly like Salem, but more Australian – i.e. more goofy than gothic? I think not.

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She is, indeed, chilling.

Anyhow! Today (Nov 1) the Digital Writers Festival begins, with so many amazing online (and telephonic!) activities to read, click, listen to, play with, and learn from. I took part in Poem Phone, a dial-a-poem phone number you can call for the duration of DWF. I can’t wait to get my claws into my favourite kind of festival (one I don’t have to leave bed for) over the weekend.

You can call 07 3184 4332 (or +61 7 3184 4332 from outside Australia) to hear poems by Claire Albrecht, Alex Creece, Norman Erikson Pasaribu, me, Harry Josephine Giles, Leyla Josephine, Karen Rigby, Nhã Thuyên, and Rae White. My poem is about the Mojave Phone Booth – something I’ve been wanting to write about ever since I listened to the 99% Invisible episode of the same name.

In poetry news, I recently had a poem published in Meanjin for the first time, called “The Tophouse”. You can read it in the Spring 2018 edition. As well, Overland recently printed a love poem of mine called “Peripheral Drift”. Thanks so much to the editors for including this work.

I have a collage poem called “Chivalry’s Not Dead (It’s Just Been Criminalised)” in Cordite’s TRANSQUEER issue (out today!), using text from a Miranda Devine column of the same name. This issue has an overwhelming list of amazing poets included, from Eileen Myles to the late Candy Royale. Congratulations to the guest editors Stuart Barnes and Quinn Eades. I started reading as the issue launched at midnight and now, at the time of writing, it’s well past my bedtime. I started with Broede Carmody’s poem for Kat Muscat (“Blue“) and couldn’t just stop there; I felt too many big feelings.

This Friday’s Couplet is a special queer edition to celebrate this month’s anniversary of marriage equality in Australia. This event features Kate Mackie, Lucinda Shaw (Silver Sircus), Torrey Atkin, and a special excerpt from The Bachelorette: A Song Cycle from Bec Jessen and I. (While we’re here, shout-out to Bec for being nominated by Impossible Archetype for a heckin’ Pushcart Prize!)

I just nearly signed off “kind regards”, so it’s clearly time to finish up here. Belated happy Halloween!

QPF 2018

Somehow it is August, which means Queensland Poetry Festival is upon us.

I’m thrilled to say that at opening night last night I won the Val Vallis Award! Thank you so much to judges Alison Whittaker and Angela Gardner, and extra thanks to the Auslan interpreter who had to sign the puns/filthy bits. I’m so excited for Anna Jacobson, very deserving winner of the Thomas Shapcott Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript.

This QPF I’m really looking forward to hearing more from poets in residence Yona Harvey and Alison Whittaker, the return of Ray Briggs to Brisbane to read Kinky Sevenlings, the Radical Imagination panel on queer utopias, and the launch of Rae White‘s Milk Teeth.

I’ll be on at The Big Read on Saturday (Alison Whittaker, Tricia Dearborn, Fury The Poet, Laniyuk Garcon-Mills, Stuart Barnes, Zenobia Frost and Rae White). Then, Bec Jessen and I debut The Bachelorette: A Song Cycle on Sunday at Bloodhound Bar. Are you ready to fall in love?

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Winter news

It’s finally chilly enough to cart a jacket around on hot busses all day in readiness to look cool in the evenings, so you’ll see a lot more of me out and about. There’s been so much great poetry on in Brisbane recently, with folks like Rae White, Ella Jeffery and Shastra Deo at Saturdays; Pascalle Burton and Mindy Gill at Riverbend Books; and, just last week, Bec Jessen and Jarad Bruinstroop (below) at Couplet:

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I also loved hearing Claire Keegan talk hypnotically about short stories at Avid Reader — on “the elegance of knowing when you have enough”.

I have a poem out this month in Rabbit‘s new LGBTQIA+ issue, in extremely good company. This is a really worthwhile issue to have, with work by many of the poets mentioned above (Rae, Bec, Jarad), as well as Stuart BarnesPam BrownQuinn EadesToby FitchMitch Tomas Cave and Rory Green (my ol’ Toolkits pals), Angela Gardner, Jessica Wilkinson, and many more.

I also have a poem, “Civic Duty“, in Red Room Poetry‘s POEMS TO SHARE II. This educational resource features 40 poetic activity cards to spark imagination and creative writing. Inspired by original commissioned, student and educator poems from Poetry Object, this interactive resource is designed to enliven poetic learning through language, literature and literacy.

Coming up in worryingly few weeks (where did the year go?), my QUT postgrad poetry pals and I will be reading work responding to Gertrude Stein at QUT Art Museum’s Salon de Fleurus on 19 June, from 6.15pm. Salon de Fleurus is an artwork, a contemporary reconstruction of Gertrude Stein’s Parisian salon that existed at 27 rue de Fleurus from 1904–34.

 

It’s a month ago now, but I spent my birthday very pleased with myself at Taronga Zoo, and thence became a blushing fan of both Sydney’s Newtown and our president, Eileen Myles. Carriageworks was a sublime venue for a writers’ festival, made all the better by being visible from our AirBnB window. I also found out that Sydney green-thumbs grow some truly great pot plants, as below.

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Entries for the Newcastle Poetry Prize close soon, on 11 June, while all of Queensland Poetry Festival‘s poetry prizes are open until July.

Moving Words

Thank you again to Queensland Poetry Festival, Festival 2018, and Queensland Art Gallery for hosting Moving Words — such a warm, welcoming event. I hope we see more inter-arts collaborations in Brisbane — there was so much energy in the gallery, and clearly the stimulus created fantastic work. (It definitely drove me out of my comfort zone; I loved the challenge.) Special thanks to Melinda Busch from Deaf Services Qld for signing our poems.

Moving Words (1)

You can read the ekphrastic poems of Lionel Fogarty, M.T.C. Cronin, Jarad Bruinstroop, Nathan Shepherdson, Theresa Creed, Angela Gardner, David Stavanger (and me) here. I loved hearing the different forms our responses took, and especially enjoyed Jarad’s “Bribie Island, 1965” and David’s “Bad Dad”.

My poem, “Bathers, is in two parts, the first set at the time the poem was painted, and the second a century later.

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Moving Words – poetry walking tour of the Australian Collection, a collaboration between Festival2018, Queensland Poetry Festival and QAGOMA / Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane / April 2018 / Photography: Brad Wagner

We loved having the scaffold-bar at Southbank – like a big deconstructed Queenslander. We even watched a bit of the athletics. The Festival bar set-up should be there always — what a great view. Also digging the Flowstate Jem light installation, which we lay under for close to an hour.

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I’m heading down to Sydney next week to hear Eileen Myles, Carmen Maria Machado, A.F. Harrold, and others at Sydney Writers Festival – my birthday reward for getting a draft of my exegesis sorted this week. (Credit for good taste must go to my girlfriend, who put Myles’ and Machado’s books in my hands recently.)

Huge congratulations to badass writer and Stilts co-editor Emily O’Grady, who won the heckin’ Vogel this week for her novel The Yellow House. I can’t wait to read it.