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).
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!
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? 🧟♂️ 💪 🌈
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:
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.
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 7.2, Stylus, Pressure Gauge Press, Red Room Company, Scum, Woolf 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.
(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.
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.
Queensland Writers Fellowship
I’m writing to you through the gentle fog of a well-earned hangover. I’m still in stunned disbelief, but I have the certificate now, and it says I won a Fellowship at the Queensland Literary Awards.
This is absolutely life-changing stuff. Let’s be real: I’m a postgrad student writing poetry in Australia. Making ends meet and saving energy for creative work is a challenge, especially in what has been a varied and strange year. But through 2017 (I guess I’m allowed to toot my own horn on today of all days?), I feel I’ve been writing bolder, sharper poetry – my best yet – and I’m so, so grateful (and relieved and amazed and flabbergasted) to receive a prize that both legitimises my work and buys me real time to write in 2018.
It’s especially wonderful to be recognised by the Queensland Literary Awards – Brisbane is the most consistent character in my writing. This prize means I’ll actually have the time and means to make the various daft paeans to my city I’ve been desperately wanting to: poetry travel guides to lost and uncanny Brisbanes across zines, collages and digital artefacts. I can finish my second manuscript. And I am going to find that damn Dragoncoaster.
Last night was also the night I felt like I finally “emerged” after several years of occupying a strange grey space between “emerging” and “established” writer. Thank you so much to the QWF judges for thinking of me as a grown-up, and thank you for helping me pay my rent and go to the dentist so I can write in a room of my own, with all my teeth.
Congratulations to my fellow winners and finalists of this year’s Queensland Literary Awards. I hope you, too, are eating cheese jaffles in bed with your cat this morning. (Pictured above are my co-Fellows, Linda Neil and Mirandi Riwoe.)
Many, many thanks are due. Each of these thanks comes wrapped in a very sparkly ribbon, but if you hold it in your hand it is cool and has weight, like a river-stone:
- The Queensland Literary Awards and State Library of Queensland;
- Sarah Holland-Batt and Rohan Wilson, my champions and cheerleaders at QUT;
- Francis, the best and most precious of all humans, whose voice got me (and gets me) through this year;
- My loving parents, Kathy and Derek, who put Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants in my young (probably sticky) hands;
- Tamryn Bennett and the Red Room Poetry Company, who’ve always supported my work;
- My long-time collaborator and beer pal, composer Timothy Tate – it has been a pleasure to share each success over 15 years of friendship;
- Woolf Pack‘s Rebecca Cheers, Cordite‘s Kent MacCarter, and my Voiceworks Magazine editors and co-editors;
- The QUT poetry crew, with special congratulations to my fellow Fellow, Mirandi Riwoe, Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Award winner Mindy Gill, and finalists Emily O’Grady and Anna Jacobson (who was also shortlisted in the Emerging Writer Manuscript Award);
- Sally, for the impromptu writing residency in your home (and perfect NY woods) earlier this year;
- Kentucky Route Zero and Cardboard Computer, for expanding and challenging the way I think about poetry and space (and working-title inspiration); and
- Every friend, support person and cat who has believed in me. You keep me afloat.
Here, as a reminder to myself forever, are the judge’s comments:
It was the ambition and design of Zenobia Frost’s proposed poetry collection A Museum of Dwellings that impressed the judges. The collection aims to examine some of the most pressing concerns in our relationship with space and place in the 21st Century, including psychogeography, travel, urban development and displacement, and this with a very Queensland focus. Frost’s poetry is both elegant and philosophically sophisticated and the panel agreed she is likely to produce a work of lasting significance.
Philosophically sophisticated! Me!❣️
Here is a final important gif expressing my feelings today:
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”.
As a final treat, I spotted this guy in Noosa:
On the Hogwarts Express
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.
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.
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:
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:
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
lemon peel heating up,
I hang washing
and, with each breath,
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
3. West Batu Parhat, January 1942
as pantomime trees
his first enemies pass by,
close enough to challenge.
You said (and you never said
much) you were more concerned
than reporting them.
That day you realised
you’d been left talking
to the dead
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.
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;
6. Thailand, Christmas 1943
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.
our first look at the Harbour Bridge.
You once won
a cigarette card
with this view.
In ’32, the longest
in the world — a great
silver swell across water.
As a child, this seemed
such a miracle.
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
Ten days ago I woke to find that Terry Pratchett had died, surrounded by family and with his cat on the bed.
I’ve read stacks of Discworld but I certainly can’t claim to have read them all. When I’m in the library and feel in need of wisdom, wit and lolz, I usually head for “Pr” in the fiction section and choose at random. To me, Discworld books read like nutritious comfort food — that one soup recipe your mum always made when you were sick that was somehow both delicious and good for you.
Despite all this I was surprised to find myself waking to the news of Terry’s death at 5.30 am and weeping. And sobbing and weeping. A fairly stoic friend texted me to say they were sobbing at their desk at work. It felt like the collective sense of loss in the world had magnified itself and everyone affected by Terry and his work was swept up in this shared grief. It was a weird experience.
I got to meet Terry once, at a signing in a school hall. I asked him what must have been a very tiresome question about getting stuck on a plot point — I was drafting a fantasy novel at the time — and he told me about a scene in Monstrous Regiment he couldn’t puzzle his way past, where the main characters are all imprisoned. His advice to me — to himself — was to let the characters figure it out. You’ve given them personalities and strengths; they’ll know what to do. I went home and read that book and that scene, and had the profound backstage experience of imagining Terry at his writing desk giving real agency to the people he’d created.
This was a major revelation to me as both a writer and a reader: writers have the power to create people who themselves have the power to invent and to love. As a reader, I thought about this throughout The Hunger Games recently — travelling with Katniss as she develops and uses her singularly irreverent problem-solving skills. I remember struggling with shame as a nine-year-old whose only friend was Buffy; looking back — thinking of the team of writers and the actor who gave that character life and agency — I was bloody lucky to have such a resilient friend. Terry changed the way I thought about fiction.
At that signing, I gave Sir Terry a copy of a zine I’d made at school called Schrödinger’s Shoe. It was a collection of poems, comics and drawings by me and my school friends (including Bettina Marson). He took it very graciously and I always presumed it’d find its way to the recycling. Years later, my friend and fellow poet ReVerse Butcher travelled from Australia to the UK and visited London College of Communication’s Zine Library. Upon her return, she contacted me with a bizarre story: the very first thing she’d pulled from the huge sliding shelves, at random from thousands of zines, was Schrödinger’s Shoe.
Terry saw enough value in our work — made by 16-year-old girls in Macromedia Freehand — to donate it to a library.
Terry did not go gentle into that good night — and rightly so — but Death is very, very good at his job. Like millions of others, I’m grateful for Sir Pratchett — for the world and people he created and nurtured; for his irreverence; and for the 10 influential minutes he gave me a decade ago.
I tried really hard to make a good pun on “March Hare”, but I failed. I’m so sorry.
It’s been a quiet start to the year. I moved house, fell in love with the neighbour’s cat (Sable, pictured), and have spent a lot of time re-scaping my fish tank.
I received happy news yesterday: Salt and Bone has been commended in the FAW Anne Elder Awards. So chuffed! I look forward to reading the winner’s work. (Last year it was Vanessa Page’s excellent Confessional Box.)
I’ve had the great pleasure of spending time with Bronwyn Lea, my Australian ArtStart mentor for the year. Bronwyn is so sharp, and so lovely; it’s wonderful to have her brain turned towards my poems.
It’s high time I booked tickets for my European adventure. A week or so ago, I put two and two together and realised that the Roxane Gay giving a nonfic/personal-essay course at the Black Forest Writing Seminars, where I’ll be studying poetry, was the one and only Bad Feminist Roxane Gay. I rushed to sign up! What followed was basically credit-card kink; my wallet’s sore from the exercise, but both my wallet and I are prettty satisfied. I can’t wait to learn everything I can from Roxane.
I was so, so sad to hear of Terry Pratchett’s final meeting with Death yesterday, and will be blogging my goodbyes this week after it’s sunk in better.