Annual 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.

Advertisements

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.

IMG_0238-1.JPG

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?

Bachie_giraffe.jpg

 

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:

IMG_8820.JPG

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.

View this post on Instagram

🌿☀️

A post shared by Zen Frost (@zenfrost) on

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.

20180414_bwagner_Festival2018_PoetryWalkingTour_105

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.

IMG_7920

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.

 

Review: Disney’s ALADDIN

No Disney magic is spared in the touring adaption of Broadway musical hit, Aladdin, based on 1992’s blockbuster animation.

Friend Like Me_Photo By Deen van Meer_sml

The first stars of the show are set designer Bob Crowley and costume designer Gregg Barnes. There’s enough glitz in Aladdin to completely re-sand the South Bank beach with glitter and crystals. No detail goes un-bedazzled, and the result is a spectacle that overwhelms like, well, the proverbial Aladdin’s cave. The pyrotechnics are quite literally dazzling, and even my cold, miserly heart lights up for Jim Steinmeyer’s illusion design.

It’s no surprise; Aladdin is delivered by the studios with perhaps the world’s tightest hold on their brand. Yet Disney leaves wiggle-room for some local touches – delivered with wit by our fourth-wall-defying Genie – that warm the audience right up. (“Where do you think I’m from?” he asks Aladdin. “Ipswich?”)

Aladdin successfully translates rather than replicates the film. In fact, the theatrical production gives the show a New York rags-to-riches feel, blending big band and tap into the mix. Instead of Aladdin’s monkey pal, we have three loyal buddies: Kassim (Adam-Jon Fioentino), Babkak (Troy Sussman) and Omar (Robert Tripolino). These guys have great chemistry – their numbers together are a blast (particularly “High Adventure”). It’s a shame most of Babkak’s characterisation comes back to fat jokes.

Aladdin and Lamp - Ainsley Melham_Photo By Deen van Meer.jpg

Hiba Elchikhe and understudy Graeme Isaako are perfectly plucky as Jasmine and Aladdin, and they fill the big shoes of their filmic predecessors in sweet duets like “A Whole New World”. George Henare is an endearing Sultan, and understudy Dean Vince demonstrates that English accents always sound more evil, but it’s Aljin Abella as Iago who really steals the show with his comedic timing – and wicked laugh. Genie is such a charismatic character, and we can forgive understudy Anthony Murphy when his shrill-camp dialogue and singing is often hard to understand. Murphy sure looks the part, and Genie is certainly the character whose freedom we’re rooting for with the most vim, and who earns the biggest applause.

The ensemble deserves kudos, too, as a tireless, dynamic bunch under the supervision of director/choreographer Casey Nicolaw and a team of associates.

Arabian Nights_Photo By Deen van Meer.jpg

Danny Troob’s orchestration is a highlight, led by music director Geoffrey Castles. There’s plenty of nostalgic earworms from Disney past, with the most striking new songs coming from the original team (music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, with book and additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin).

It will likely not shock you to know that Disney still has a gender problem (not to mention, famously, an exoticism problem). Where Aladdin’s monkey is replaced with three men with distinct personalities, names and songs, Jasmine’s tiger companion is replaced by nameless women from the ensemble, who march off to leave her alone in her room with an unwelcome intruder. I was disappointed, given the number of thrilled kiddos in the audience, to see Aladdin tap his cheek to request a kiss and tell Jasmine, “Don’t you owe me something for showing you around?” Why not take the opportunity, when you wield such epic influence, to normalise language that supports a culture of consent and nurturance? Shout out, by the way, to Milagros Medina-Cerdeira (make-up design) and Natasha Katz (lighting design) – the only two women listed in a creative team of 22 people.

Aladdin and Jasmine - Disney.jpg

It all works out okay: Aladdin gets a new tragic backstory and in the end Jasmine’s dad tells her she’ll be equal ruler once she’s married. These aren’t new criticisms. I might not know how Aladdin’s magic carpet works (no, really, it’s going to keep me up at night!), but the structure of a Disney production is a tale as old as time. So it goes. Ol’ Walt sure puts on a hell of a show, and it was fun watching parents trying to unravel their children from reams of gold streamers.

Aladdin runs until 3 June at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC. You can also enter a lottery, Broadway-style, for cheap tickets throughout the season.

Photos by Jeff Busby.

 

 

 

Forever – is composed of Nows –

My QLA Queensland Writers Fellowship year is already a whirlwind.

I wrote more poems than ever before in 2017 — avoiding my exegesis is great motivation – and published 14 poems, in States of Poetry, Australian Poetry Journal 7.2StylusPressure Gauge Press, Red Room CompanyScumWoolf Pack and more.

This year I have a forthcoming commission for Moving Words (a QPF/QAGOMA/Commonwealth Games Festival collaboration), called Bathers, after a Robert Bunny painting in the Aus. Collection at Queensland Art Gallery. There’ll be an Auslan-interpreted live poetry walk through the gallery in April, where an excerpt from the poem has also been installed.

bunny_bathers-1

(I saw a lot more Bunnys on my trip to the Gallery of South Australia, and expect I might continue writing queer revisionist poems about them.)

I also have poems printed or forthcoming in Woolf Pack #10, Rabbit and Foam:e, with a poem recently shortlisted in the Judith Wright Overland Poetry Prize. Congratulations to Evelyn Araluen and Rae White on their much-deserved wins.

I’m particularly proud of a recent review I wrote (on the plane back from Adelaide) of Dickinson’s Room. This one’s up on Daily Review, but you’ll find my scrappier, on-the-fly Adelaide Fringe Reviews here. (I was meant to be on holiday.) Please go see it, if you’re in Adelaide — and please tour everywhere, Bad Neighbour Theatre.

Emily [Dickinson] is no madwoman in the attic; Bad Neighbour Theatre realise her as a complete and complex woman.  Just as Dickinson made her solitude rich and full, we experience how expansive she made her life in this tiny space.

I’ve joined the editorial team of a refurbished Stilts, with Ella Jeffreys and Emily O’Grady. The journal has a wonderful history, and we’re proud to bring it back to its Brisbane roots and refocus its attention firmly on Australian poetry. The first issue of Stilts is curated from commissioned poets (future issues will be open subs), and we have a truly fine crop of poems to share soon. All the action begins soon; keep an eye on the Stilts website or facebook page for updates.

Longstanding Brisbane femmo zine Woolf Pack will launch its 10th (!!) issue in March – keep an eye out for their next event. WP #10 (founders Rebecca Cheers and Talia Enright pictured below) features poems by Rebecca Jessen, Rae White and moi, plus heaps of gorgeous art and prose.

bectaliasticky

Somewhere in all this, I’m working on my manuscript and MPhil at QUT, and watching a lot of soothing renovation shows (and finding there’s not a dry eye in the Queer Eye house). Pray 4 me.

Adelaide Fringe: The Institute of Invisible Things and Glittery Clittery

The Institute of Invisible Things

We genuinely stumbled across this one, in Adelaide Central Markets. We happened to arrive 15 minutes before the Institute opened, so we grabbed piroshkis and waited with Karen, the installation’s gatekeeper.

The Institute of Invisible Things is a free, pop-up experience open only three hours a day during Fringe Festival. It’s also my favourite encounter this week. The show is a 10–15 minute miniature – the haiku of theatre, perhaps – which you enter alone, leaving your bags (and baggage) at the door.

Presented in three “chapters”, The Institute of Invisible Things asks you to contemplate nothingness, light, and connection. Creators Sarah John and Emma Beech guide you through this experience, set in a tiny gallery in a quiet corner of the Adelaide Market, the bustle of vendors just outside.

scaled_lyshus13-web

The Institute makes powerful, tender use of very little: strong, concise writing; resonant imagery; and gentle participation. Sensory touches – a warm bowl of tea placed in my hands – are grounding and genuinely meditative.

The show’s epilogue asks you to contemplate sonder – both the loneliness and unity of realising that everyone who passes by is living their own complex life, with its own. For this moment, you’re the solo audience member at the Institute’s front window, looking into the theatre of the living market.

The Institute of Invisible Things runs until 3 March at Adelaide Fringe 2018.

 

 

Glittery Clittery: A Consensual Party

The Fringe Wives Club seem to be an institution at Adelaide Fringe – several friends and colleagues recommended their cabaret show at the Garden of Unearthly Delights. Glittery Clittery is part musical, part stand-up, part game show and all feminist comedy. They call it performance activism – “for the greater, glittery good.”

Playing at 10pm, this is a party worth staying up for. Tessa Waters, Rowena Hutson and Victoria Falconer sparkle – both literally and figuratively – as they sing about the sexism of pockets (and their absence) in women’s clothing, mactivist men, and how feminism is so hot right now. In all the fun, the Fringe Wives also acknowledge the show’s limitations – but there’s enough patriarchy-fucking in the show to get the audience very fired up indeed.

IMG_7259.JPG

For the game show Lagoon of Mystery, named for Carrie Fischer’s euphemism for the vag, Hutson appears dressed a huge, plush vulva. Three audience members compete to answer anatomical trivia. (My inner Hermione kicks in as I regret not volunteering and stick my arm up anyway to answer how many nerve endings a clit has (8000, cheers).) It’s edutainment at its finest, but also a gloomy reminder of how bad our sex ed. is. (Folks, it’s not too late to learn!)

Glittery Clittery is such a joy that I nearly bought a glittery bum-bag. I’d definitely buy a soundtrack. Tessa Waters and Victoria Falconer each has a solo shows running at Fringe, too – check them out if you can. Fellow critic Jane Howard has been tweeting about the disproportionate representation of male comedians at Fringe. Help address the imbalance while also learning more about the lagoon of mystery or, as I prefer, breakfast of champions.

Glittery Clittery: A Consenusal Party has recently been nominated for a Green Room Award for Best Ensemble. It runs until 18 March 2018 at Le Cascadeur at The Garden of Unearthly Delights as part of Adelaide Fringe Festival.

Adelaide Fringe: Fallot (FÄ-‘LŌ)

Fallot is a circus-infused physical theatre work about the eponymous heart defect, Tetralogy of Fallot, as experienced by circus artist Marianna Joslin. Company 2 directors Chelsea McGuffin and David Carberry produce Fallot, performed by Joslin, Phoebe ArmstrongOlivia PorterCasey Douglas and Jake Silvestro.

The show had a developmental run at Brisbane Powerhouse during Wonderland Festival 2017; I missed Fallot then, so I was glad to catch up on my Bris-circus during Adelaide Fringe. In the intimate Empire Theatre tent, I love that you can see more of the physical work of circus by sheer proximity. There’s a lot of muscle and control in Fallot, perhaps fitting for a show that explores the heart muscle’s control over the function of body and mind.

In this particular run of Fallot, Joslin’s role in the show is limited by a recent injury, so she becomes the narrator and shadow of her own story. Joslin has experienced the physical and emotional trauma of several open-heart surgeries, and Fallot is at its strongest when its performers use their physical strength to show the vulnerability that comes with being at the mercy of doctors, anaesthetists and nurses.

The show has a fantastic, uncanny look: screens turn theatre into operating theatre, with freaky robed surgeons contrasting with beige lace and medical corsetry. White hospital sheets are a recurring motif, used as tissu to climb, rope, or costuming. The female performers each embody aspects of Joslin’s experiences, centred around a black operating table on wheels. A standout scene has Douglas and Silvestro, as doctors, shifting their co-performers on, off and around that table, using subtle versions of Company 2’s signature toss-the-girl manoeuvres to rob them of their agency. Another sees nurses weave hospital sheets around Armstong’s legs before hoisting her to the ceiling to float in the limbo of anaesthesia.

Fallot does struggle to settle on a tone. It plays up moments of classic cabaret between pathos-driven scenes, but there isn’t a clear sense of physical narrative between these – it doesn’t quite flow yet. This is most evident in the final scene, a lip-syncing number complete with heart puppets – its weirdness, though not unwelcome, comes from left field. It’s madcap, but inconsistent. Part of the challenge here is that Fallot’s narrative is held together by actual narration by Joslin – some live, some recorded – often overlong and leaning hard on clichés that wind up more tiresome than heart-warming.

Company 2 works with first-rate physical performers, but Fallot doesn’t trust those artists to show (rather than tell) the story. Fortunately, David Carberry’s musical score is a compelling pulse that resonates with the performers and with the beat of our own hearts.

Fallot runs at the Royal Croquet Club at Adelaide Fringe until 25 February.

Adelaide Fringe: Séance

I booked very cheap tickets to Adelaide months ago, not even realising we’d be here in time for Fringe. It’s a happy coincidence, so in between eating a lot and looking at myself in the Gallery of South Australia, I’ve been seeing as much theatre as my wallet can handle (not heaps, but still). Why leave my cosy AirBnB bed during daylight hours when I could write scrappy reviews all day and see shows at night?

To a Queenslander, Adelaide Fringe Festival – particularly the Rundle Park venue Garden of Earthly Delights – looks like The Ekka but for actual art. There’s a good bit of dustbowl Carnivàle vibe thrown in, and plenty to stumble across. We were contemplating Sideshow Alley (my beau has never been on a Ferris Wheel?!) when we found Séance.

It makes sense that Séance is near the thrill rides: it kind of serves as the haunted house of Fringe. Séance is, quite literally, a show-in-a-box – it takes place in a shipping crate, in pitch darkness. It’s only 15–20 minutes long, but we decided it was a far better way to sink $20 each than on dodgems. The show (and, presumably, crate) has been transported from Edinburgh Fringe, but is facilitated by newish Melbourne theatre company, Realscape (in association with Darkfield – a collaboration between Glen Neath and David Rosenberg). Their modus operandi is to present “unforgettable theatrical experiences that captivate and inspire even the sixth sense.”

Inside the container is a long table, with old-fashioned red theatre chairs lining either side. We’re asked to put on noise-cancelling headphones before we’re plunged into darkness. Without wanting to give the game away – especially with such a short show – Séance relies on aural illusion. Using binaural audio, the show takes place inside your head, with your brain extrapolating Foley into reality around you. (For those who’ve never encountered the weirdness of ASMR YouTube, binaural microphones record “3D sound”. It’s virtual reality, but via audio.)

Hands+Seance

I’m pleased to read that Darkfield is an ongoing project – using “actors … binaural sound, pitch darkness and movement … in shipping containers to explore fear and anxiety.” What a damn fine project. Séance is the first in this collection of shows, and it proves that binaural audio and light (or lack thereof) are a fantastic way to create a memorable, affecting experience. As well, the show’s transportable nature calls back to the travelling illusionists and snake-oil salesmen of old.

But, for a show that relies on immersion, the team handling the audience is careless. While I understand the importance and complexity of safety warnings for such a show (e.g. to have someone leave partway would destroy the darkness), there was little effort to set the mood and bring us into the Spiritualist world of the séance itself. We were initiated by a dude in green basketball shorts, as chill and casual as any carnie strapping us into a ride. The show ought to have begun outside the container, not once the lights went out. This isn’t the dodgems; this is a dollar-a-minute theatre experience.

Within the audio of the show, as well, a few key clues busted the suspension of my disbelief, despite the Mulderesque fervour with which I wanted to believe. (For example, perhaps the audio could’ve been rerecorded with local accents.) But all in all, I found myself wanting more. While I get that there’s only so long you can lock 20 people in a dark box, another five, 10 or even 15 minutes would’ve allowed the writers to flesh (or perhaps spirit) out a more consistent, impactful narrative.

I loved the innovations used in Séance, and hope this spooky little show encourages more theatre-makers to push on the potential of binaural audio.

Séance plays in The Garden of Earthly Delights throughout Adelaide Fringe Festival.

Three and a half stars.