Dream: a blog

It’s several weeks ago now, but Vena Cava’s Dream: A House (Anywhere Festival) is still resonating – in a very dreamlike way. This installation took over the whole of House Conspiracy in West End, a sharehouse-turned-shared-arts space.

Transforming an entire building into an immersive experience is an enduring fantasy of mine. On top of that, exploring uncanny Queenslanders is the theme at the heart of my Master’s thesis. I bought tickets so fast I was just a blur with a credit card.

I haven’t written reviews in a couple of years, so this isn’t really criticism. Technically I could’ve squeezed Dream: A House into my recent lit review but never mind that. :| I’m just glad this show had its moment in Brisbane, and wanted to make a few notes that might help me respond to it more creatively in the near future.

Dream: A House was directed by Sarah Winter, who created A Library for the End of the World a few years ago: an uncanny walking tour of West End (guided by audio on headphones), which led to a tiny library of memories. The show ended by inviting you to record a memory of your own to add to the collection. I remember wanting to stay in that library room forever.

library-end-world
A Library for the End of the World, 2014

This new work operates on the conceit that the show is your night’s sleep, and the rooms of House Conspiracy are a series of dreams. Like A Library for the End of the World, it’s a solo experience, and the Dream team take pains to create a sense of safety and ritual before showing you to the front door. Going into a show alone – especially a walking show – is a wonderful experience: without a fellow audience, you can be vulnerable and react without moderating your feelings and facial expressions.

Sarah Winter, Siobhan Martin (production manager), and Rebekkah Law and Samuel Seagrott (stage management team) have put a great deal of time and love into creating a labyrinth of detailed dreams within House Conspiracy. (That house has a surprising number of rooms! I’ve been trying to map out the space – I’ll have to revisit when it’s functioning normally.)

ANYWHERE-DREAM-A-HOUSE-MAIN-IMAGERY

The show is most successful at its most intimate and sensory. I couldn’t bring myself to miss sniffing a single memory in the smell library (legit a dream I would have, too). In the sand room, I felt safe in the mystic’s intimate, attentive gaze. When I slow-danced with the woman in the flower room, I felt we’d known each other a long time – but only just fallen in love. I probably spent too long on the phone in the kitchen shit-talking the Northern Lights. The spaces and characters invite you to engage deeply – and I only wish I’d had more time to do so (and to scribble my secret missive in the bathtub full of books).

The rooms where the illusion was broken were where the dreamy themes were overwritten or overacted – minor issues easily tweaked. I loved the attention to detail throughout – from taking off my shoes at the beginning to finding them waiting for me in front of a chair under the house, swathed in cloud-like clean sheets on lines, which you unpeg your way through to leave. In hindsight I’d have gladly booked out two spots so I could explore the house for longer.

May news

Everything always picks up in May. I spent my birthday hanging out with this crew:

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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”.

As a final treat, I spotted this guy in Noosa:

My patronus.

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Exercise: windows

April writing exercises on suburban Brisbane windows*

Reading “An Ordinary Evening at Hamilton” (Malouf, 1974): “The garden shifts / indoors, the house lets fall / its lamp light, opens / windows in the earth”.

 

outside in

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Shrödinger’s verandah
the house seeding its elements
built-in and building out

everything gone but the fingernails

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after the demolition
just the fingernails

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a lightbulb inside
an avocado

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I seesaw in the skylight
alien in rust and oil
not waving but wavering

* Except for that bloody “hamburger” window, which was in St Marys, Tasmania, next to a discrete window for “savs”.

Remix: Musée de frisson

Erasure / remixed from an interview with Tricky Walsh in Overland, v. 138.

February 2017

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.)

#KR0

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Zen 101

Want to dip your toes into my words? Here are a few of my favourite poems and performances:

I wrote ‘Auf Wiedersehen Spiegeltent’ in response to Cantina, a circus-cabaret show developed by Strut & Fret for the 2011 Brisbane Festival Spiegeltent. This poem won third prize in the 2011 John Marsden Awards for Young Australian Writers.


auf wiedersehen spiegeltent

1.

the circus is gone
big top
stripped to bone

wide-load giraffe
skeleton canters

in smoke and hammers
collapses collapses
ghosts of their shimmering
crushed into clay

at first light we steal glances
carnies disguised as men
unravel canvas

for one last act
The Great Vanishment

2.

we return
to one-hearted one-steps

preacher calls to his lambs
bowler tumbling downarm
and we come

their suicides unwind
from sky-held ribbons

our strongest men
are not strong enough
our women cannot fly

that man is a tin soldier
he is all moving parts
that woman hovers
en pointe en tightrope
their drunken limbs forget
the ways they should not bend

we swallow whole words

and the lion obeys
with a wink in the glint of its fang

we cannot contort
our mouths
back into grins

they fold back into boxes
like costumes like paper
with string and bells secured to their toes


‘Civic Duty’ was commissioned by The Red Room Company for their 2013 Poetry Object Project.

Civic Duty

Rosalie, Brisbane

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
favourite-members’ deals.
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
cashing in.


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.

 

early rituals 

unfold the box

first day of school holidays
mulberry hair dye at the chemist
$4.95 for six weeks of tinted revolt

the uniform
absurd plastic gloves

rip open
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

at last
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.

Salt and Bone

On the Hogwarts Express

10.08.15

Time sure is relative. The months between booking my flights and boarding moved like molasses. Then, all of a sudden, we’re a few sleeps from home.

If we’re Down Under, I guess Europe is Up Over. It’s been a strange month Up Over: incredible experiences, brave little adventures — and some really tough days, with the death of a friend back home.

The only thing better than an Aperol spritz is a Camperol spritz. #freiburg

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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).

Conquered the river/my own massive wussiness. 💃🏻

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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.

Churrs from #Sorrento

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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:

Memento mori #pompeii

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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.

Mini Hogwarts

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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.

Tchuss, #Freiburg!

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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.

Actually not super sluggish #forestpals

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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.

Freiburg on My Mind

FIVE SLEEPS TILL EUROPE!

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:

"Europe trip, you say? How about a guilt trip?" – the cat

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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:

Tschüss!
Z.

Ship-Shape

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.

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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.

Even if that word makes you think of Chris Traeger.

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.

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Thank you, also, to Anna Jacobson for the awesome photos.

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.

Of the Moment

1. Blue Mountains, November 2012 

This garden’s fruits
(a continent, and decades
away) are not by any stretch
the fruits of his labour.

Yet under the balm
of afternoon herbs
and snapdragons,
lemon peel heating up,

I hang washing
and, with each breath,
fabricate memories.

 

2. Kenya, December 1941

Here’s the promised adventure, lads.

Against jungle backdrop,
red-fezzed vendors peddle fruit, sewing
machines, sweet grasshopper pancakes,
and (soldiers claim) their wives.

For a while, #5775477
is a boy from Edmonton.

Orchids take in the drunken spectacle
of white men dragging their own rickshaws

to USS Mount Vernon — ark of fresh goods:
papaya, tomato, eggs, sides of buffalo
like piano wire, live monkeys, dogs,
and finally a sailor leads
an elephant up the gangplank.

This elephant would not go on
to Singapore.

 

3. West Batu Parhat, January 1942

Camouflaged
as pantomime trees
and black-faced,
his first enemies pass by,

close enough to challenge.

You said (and you never said
much) you were more concerned
with self-preservation
than reporting them.

That day you realised
you’d been left talking
to the dead
beside you.

 

4. Changi, February 1942

“You are, of course, sole judge of the moment.” Churchill to General Wavell, 14 February 1942

How the quiet
must have struck them in the night,
all documents signed —

70,000 men surrendered.

Tin helmets in a silvery pile
and weapons stripped,
they march on Changi
to erect their own barbed wire
and bury masses of freshly butchered.

This part
Harold never talked about.

 

5.  Tha Khanun, June 1943

A rare scent: meat roasting.

Men who weigh like children
salivate into evening’s prison.

No dinner in sight;
cholera victims
burning.

 

6. Thailand, Christmas 1943

Breakfast: sweet
porridge, two sausages, corned beef,
pork and beans, buttered biscuit,
sweet milky coffee.

Tiffin: rice, curried fish
and veg, jam tart, buttered biscuit,
sweet and milky tea.

Dinner: roast beef, fried steak,
brown gravy, jam tart, pork pie,
fish on biscuit, four different veg, fried
potatoes, Xmas pudding, sweet sauce,
and sweet milky coffee.

 

7. Sydney, February 1946 / October 2012

In your pocket:
a notebook and a photo
of 100 Norfolk men dressed
in the last of their skin.

Decades apart,
our first look at the Harbour Bridge.

You once won
and kept
a cigarette card
with this view.

In ’32, the longest
single-arch bridge
in the world — a great
silver swell across water.

As a child, this seemed
such a miracle.

100 Norfolk Men
Harold Frost, my grandfather, is ninth from the right in the third row

 

Envoi

dredge the bones
from the river

shroud the bodies
in rice sacking

by boat or foot
the years go on


From Salt and Bone (Walleah Press)
Shortlisted for the Overland Judith Wright Prize 2013