Everything always picks up in May. I spent my birthday hanging out with this crew:
I was completely over the moon to be shortlisted for the Red Room Poetry Fellowship this week, alongside this wonderful collection of humans: Elizabeth Allen, Ivy Alvarez, Nandi Chinna, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Stuart Cooke, Michael Farrell, Toby Fitch, Bella Li, and Kent MacCarter. The final announcement is just over a week away!
Cordite launched their No Theme IV issue last week, edited by Judith Beveridge. Here’s one of the poetry “blueprints” I’ve been working on, about the first room I lived in out-of-home, in Toowong. I loved Chloe Wilson’s “The First Four Hours” and Alexis Lateef’s “Procedure”.
Woolf Pack vol. 8 is out and stuffed full of leafy greens! Rebecca Cheers and Talia Enright produce this beautiful Brizzo femzine, which Rebecca launched this month at Festival of the Photocopier in Melbourne. I love Rae White‘s butterfly-plague poem , ‘blizzards expected’. My erasure poem/collage is an actual fold-out in the centre, so I guess you could Blu-tak it up on the back of the toilet door? Pick one up at Junky Comics or download a digital copy here.
I also had a few little poems make their way into the world in January, in Forage (UK/USA), Veronica, and Small Packages. I’m keen as heck to begin my MFA next week at QUT, researching the poetics of urbanism and intimate spaces. (It’s all an excuse to talk about Kentucky Route Zero for a year and a half.)
Each day’s late fee
is one more day
in business. Walk the aisles
making mantras of titles,
shuffle worn carpet,
thumb static horror
blurbs in Papyrus:
finite options; infinite terror.
Stocked with boxed ways
to avoid going out,
our last local refuge of
streetpress dregs and special
We no longer need to flash our card
to revisit films we rented once
or just once more — their covers,
like windows or tombstones.
But one day Civic Video
will close and on that day
there will be nothing:
neon-gone — a glowing
museum set piece.
Whatever killed the dinosaurs
is killing Civics. Already paleozoic,
Blockbuster never saw Rosalie
craft an ark of empty video cases.
A little more home
with each hole punched
in that loyalty card
we never end up
Here’s a performance from the 2014 Queensland Poetry Festival: a visceral poem about a Parisian cemetery exhumed for resources. This poem was published in Ricochet’s Flashback edition.
An oldie, but a goodie: ‘Bathing with Neil Gaiman’, a poem about reading in the bath, included on the 2009 Queensland Poetry Festival Anthology CD.
And, finally, here’s a growing-up-in-Brisbane poem, previously published in Southerly.
unfold the box
first day of school holidays
mulberry hair dye at the chemist
$4.95 for six weeks of tinted revolt
absurd plastic gloves
the first juicy tang of chemicals
the tattered robe skyclad beneath
plum juice beetroot juice
combed to the roots
your mother wipes red from your ears
you stalk the timer’s tick
inspect the oil slick of scalp
metamorphose into grown up
you can dye your hair do anything
in the shower dye bruises water
six weeks pass back at school
brown hair flaunts summer’s last jacaranda
you hope secretly for the detention
Each of these poems is included in Salt and Bone, published by Walleah Press in 2014. A full publication list is available here, with my performance CV here.
At the time of writing, I’m on a train to Berlin. A few seats over, someone’s phone plays the theme music for Fruit Ninja — a game developed in Brisbane. It’s a very clear, warm afternoon out there and the view from my window looks like what you’d design for a model train set or Sylvanian Families. Green, green, green. A windmill. A caramel-coloured cow beside its peaked farmhouse. A valley with a cluster of houses and a big church at the centre.
The other night the Black Forest Writing Seminar group came together one last time to read the our new work in an incredible stone cellar — more a dungeon, really — under bars and cafes in the centre of Freiburg. I read a pantoum I’ve spent the last two weeks bashing my head against and finally got right.
Before the two-week writing bootcamp in Freiburg, my friend Tahnee and I spent a couple of days in Munich and a week in Italy. In Munich we spent long, golden summer evenings on the banks of the Englischer Garten’s little river with friends who’ve been studying there, including a partner I’d not seen in a year. Aussie readers, imagine 1000s of students, families, nude older men and all their dogs cohabiting in the heat at a park, everyone with beer cooling in the water — and everyone behaving themselves? At home, there’d be accidents, glassings, assaults. It seemed freakishly idyllic. Munich’s famous surfing river runs through this garden, but you can also jump in the water and take a free ride along the freezing, rushing water. The first time my friends went in, I sat on a rock in the twilight and watched. The second time I stripped to my underwear, jumped in, and screamed my head off. I emerged triumphant! Now, I’m not a risk taker. I am a spooked possum. So this was a pretty big achievement for me (and sorry to the friends who had to listen to me go on about it for the rest of the day).
The only place I’d been before in Italy was Venice. As a child, Venice in winter was very mysterious and beautiful. Naples and the Southern Coast are very different — less mystery, more sunshine. I loved it. We stayed on a lemon farm for five days, eating food grown and cooked on the farm by three generations of family. Swimming on the beach down in Sorrento, full of Campari sodas, was amazing. I didn’t anticipate how much swimming in the sea off Capri would top that. Definitely filing those memories away as moments when my mind felt exactly like the water: clear, safe, cool.
We also took a day trip to Pompeii, which fulfilled my child-archaeologist dreams. I never realised it’s a whole damn city. Thousands and thousands of people choked on ash or had their brains pop in their skulls like popcorn. You can touch the stone they touched 2000 years ago. In the Naples National Archaeological Museum, I saw this wonderful momento mori from Pompeii:
We stopped in briefly in Rome. Thousands of years of history and ruins are right there. Buildings from all eras rub up against one another. We didn’t have much time in Rome, but I got to visit the cat temple — a refuge, cat hospital and sterilisation program built under an ancient Pagan temple, so I got to pat about 30 cats. Seasoned travellers might question my choice of “one place to see in Rome”, but I was very happy.
Freiburg was a complex experience. The city itself comes as close to a perfect place as I have ever been. The locals were incredibly helpful and my fellow writers were a zingy, clever, generous bunch. I’m sure I’ve made a few firm friends. Unfortunately, on my second day in Freiburg, I heard that my friend, editor and an incredibly talented, bold writer and feminist Kat Muscat had passed away. That first week of the seminars was swallowed up with feelings. My memory’s full of weird gaps. I’m especially grateful to the people who looked out for me during that time. Then, in the second week, I got a cold Zen-style, which means bronchitis and extreme fatigue. I nearly gave up. But I pressed through, managed to read all the things and write all the assignments, and I’m glad I did.
I didn’t get to explore Freiburg as well as some of my comrades, but I ate a lot of blackberries, wandered around the fairytale-esque old town, cooled my feet in the Bächle, and flexed my high-school German. We had one night in the Black Forest itself, where I found a little fluffy dead sightless shrew and a huge orange-speed-striped slug. I ate wild strawberries and raspberries. And there was a cat to hug. And I’m proud of the poems and essay I wrote, holed up in my hotel room overlooking the Dreisam River. Adrianne Kalfoupolou was a wonderful, challenging poetry tutor who went out of her way with our little group. And, of course, studying with Roxane Gay, even via Skype, was pretty cool.
So, back to the present. I’m about four hours into a six-hour train journey to Berlin, where Tahnee and I will meet up again at a hostel in old East Berlin. Let me tell you: I will be glad to see a familiar face. On the 14th we’re getting tattoos together from a Brisbanite-in-Berlin and then on the 15th we fly home, arriving on the morning of the 17th. I’m looking forward to coming back to my drafts and texts from BFWS — and putting pen back to paper in Brisbane. But I’ll be coming home to a Kat-less Australia, which is strange and sad and full of echoes.
Naturally, my immune system has sensed that I’m on holiday and gone on a holiday of its very own, leaving me with a pile of prescriptions to take overseas. Typical.
Aside from a hearty regime of being a doona spoonie and topping my PB on Theme Hospital, I have been writing. Lots. I’m very privileged to have the guidance (and inventive writing prompts) of poet Warsan Shire via her online workshops, so I’ve been challenging myself to write in new ways: to music, to films, or by recording furious rants onto my iPhone (thanks KP for that tip) and seeing what can be salvaged. Taking risks in poetry sometimes feels genuinely scary, which probably means the experiments are worth it even if the end results fizzle out. We shall see.
More excellent challenges ahead: two weeks in Freiburg for the Black Forest Writing Seminars (which I continually mix up with Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs), bookended by adventures in Munich, Naples, Sorrento, Rome and Berlin. Eeeeeeeee. One person in my life isn’t very impressed, though:
I have ArtStart to thank for these incredible opportunities. As a direct result of Brandis’ massive arts funding cuts and restrictions, ArtStart grants no longer exist. I want other people to have these opportunities too! If you’re bummed about the government’s stranglehold on arts funding, you can join the fight to Free the Arts.
I look forward to checking in from the University of Freiburg, where I’ll be taking Adrianne Kalfopoulou’s poetry workshops and Roxane Gay’s nonfiction workshops, and hopefully writing and writing and writing, eating a lot of spätzle, and flexing my high-school German. I’m travelling with a bestie and with the protection of this little Brisbane friend:
We’re nearly half way through the year! May brought all sorts of adventures, including two of my favourite-ever poetry line-ups.
Rachael Briggs, Eleanor Jackson and I had great fun reading poems about sex and logic beside the picture-books section in the Wynnym Library at Poets Up Late.
The next week, the band got back together for Sophie Tarrant‘s brain-child, Below Deck. Angela Peita, Eleanor Jackson, Ross Clark and I performed, with Rachael Briggs popping up on the open mic. This is literally a list of my favourite Brisbane poets, and that’s not hyperbole.
Angela delivered a heart-stopping performance piece, Eleanor subbed in as my boyfriend for a poem (it was Rachael at Poets Up Late; I move fast), while Rachael and Miranda Sparks battled it out as performers reading from books on pet care. Fuck yeah, diverse poetry spaces! I’m definitely looking forward to next month’s Below Deck.
In the end I had a bit too much fun that week, health-wise, and now I’m back to writing poems in bed with tea. Fortunately, Warsan Shire was able to join me last week (via Skype) for a PJ party/mentorship sesh.
I’m gearing up (and resting up) for my July trip to the Black Forest Writing Seminars in Freiburg. The government’s massive budget cuts to the arts are hugely distressing to hear about; without ArtStart‘s support, there’s no way this chronically-ill weirdo poet would be able to take in this year’s travelling and mentorship opportunities, so it sucks to know that the future of support for artists in Australia is endangered.
I’ve not been to Europe since I lived in Cambridge for a couple of years as a kid. I remember mountains flashing past my Gameboy Colour from the back of rental cars and getting in trouble with security at a castle for fishing coins out of a grand wishing fountain. I was very privileged to also see a lot of art and eat a lot of delicious food. My parents are nothing if not adventurous.
This will be my first time travelling overseas in six years (New Zealand doesn’t count, right?). Thanks to the fairy godmother that is ArtStart, I’m travelling to Freiburg for two weeks in the Black Forest studying poetry. Whaaaaaaaat! I almost don’t believe myself, but now that I’ve paid for real actual existing tickets, reality is finally sinking in.
I’ve been working my booty off at my fave home-away-from-home, Lush, so with my savings I’ll also be able to see Munich and Berlin; go hiking in Sorrento; make limoncello on a lemon farm; and say hi to some dead people in Pompeii. (I had a list of cemeteries and catacombs I dearly wanted to visit, but that’ll have to be next time.) I hit the road (or the air, really) for a month in July.
Meanwhile, back in Brisbane, I’ve finally made my first poetry subs of the year. I’m challenging myself with new themes — fewer graveyard poems this year; more poems about fury and desire. I spent this morning peeling drafts out from under the cat (of course she sat on whatever I was working on), and made breakthroughs with some tricky poems started last year. (Thanks to Bronwyn and Francis for critique time.)
I can also officially announce (last time I mentioned it, it was actually embargoed — whoops) that Salt and Bone was commended in the FAW Anne Elder Awards. Hooray! Congratulations to Cathy Altman for her winning collection, Circumnavigation (Poetica Christi Press). The judges, Anne Elvey and Garth Madsen, had the following generous things to say in their report:
Salt and Bone shows intelligent writing with a brilliant use of metaphor, poems that twist their way and are always surprising.
I’m currently rereading Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry, which for me has always felt like a big velvet poem. Not that you ever really finish reading a poetry book, but Patricia Lockwood’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexualhas continued to be rewarding and confronting. I also read the whole of Kristin Hannaford‘s Curio in the bath a little while back and it was a damn fine bath.
I also finally scored a copy of Woolf Pack‘s fourth issue, celebrating a year in print, and let me tell you it is a gorram ripper of a zine. I especially loved Dashurie’s gorgeous and empowering comic “Rise of the Merbabes”, editor Rebecca Cheer’s confronting personal essay “Vagina Christmas”, K. Queene’s Spice Girls collage and basically any image drawn by Talia Enright. You can find out how to buy a copy here.
This post shouldn’t end without saying I had the immense privilege of seeing Hot Brown Honey Burlesque at the Judith Wright Centre earlier this month. On a personal level, this cabaret burlesque combined exactly the right blend of rage and joy I needed that night. On a critical level, Queensland is so bloody lucky it is to have this performance collective making great art and fighting the power right here, right now. I wish I’d had the space in my work-life that week to write a thorough review (and to see it more than once), but I had cider and a dance-at-the-end instead. Hot Brown Honey Burlesque is technically polished, politically informed and artistically confronting. As always, hell yeah to the Judy for supporting challenging new work.
That’s about all from me. If, by chance, you’re reading this from London, my oldest and probably most genius-y friend, RAM composer Timothy Tate, has a show on at St. Marylebone Parish Church on April 22. Like on the Monopoly Board.