Civic Duty & other poems

A splash of November news:

  • The Red Room Company commissioned me to write a poem about an object dear to me — so naturally I wrote a love poem to my local Civic Video. You can read it here.
  • In 2014 (and beyond!) I’ll be helping out Five Islands Press, serving as their consulting poetry editor for Queensland. Their annual submissions window for poetry manuscripts closes on Nov. 30.
  • Voiceworks Magazine launches “Prime” at the 2013 Express Media Awards on Dec. 5. VW is always stuffed full of wonderful stuff. Broede Carmody (2013 Booranga Prize-winner for fiction; Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize finalist — such talent very babe wow) edited a poem I was lucky enough to have included. It is possibly my only successful sexy poem.
  • Tincture Journal launches its fourth issue on Dec. 1. Tincture is a fantastic digital publication — in fact, it has been nominated for the Express Media Award for “Best Project By/For Young Writers”. Nice one! They’ve kindly included a couple of my poems in the new issue.
  • A poem of mine has been included in the inaugural Jean Cecily Drake-Brockman Prize Anthology. Hooray! I think this is the first time I’ve been anthologised.

Today's mail

Au revoir, Kendra

In 2000, I was 11. We’d just moved back to Brisbane from Cambridge, UK, and I had failed to get my Hogwarts letter. I can’t say Year 6 was great. It was my fifth primary school across three countries. I was a busty nerd with an English accent; I spent a lot of time in the library. I did have a couple of friends. One, whom I doted on, gave me two things to remember her by: a pair of old black sneakers (which I wore, worn and repainted and worn again, until Mum binned them) and a kitten.

Kendra and siblings — she is in shadow, second left, looking straight at the camera.

Late in 2000 that friend’s moggy found herself in the family way. These are the little dudes that emerged: four boys (I think), and two girls. Mum let me choose one. I met them when they were three weeks old, eyes barely opened. There was a little grey girl with apricot patches and a tinier tortoiseshell. I’m a pretty indecisive person. I deliberated at length. I tried to talk my parents into letting me have both — it seemed cruel, anyway, to separate them. In the end, though, I think I pitied the tortoiseshell runt. I named her after the short-lived slayer-with-the-dreadful-accent who fought alongside Buffy in season two: Kendra.

Kendra on the stairsKendra was a difficult kitten. She drove my mother mad by shitting exclusively behind the TV, all over the cords. She climbed the blinds. She licked powerpoints. It seemed she had the deathwish of her namesake. But she had an enormous head on an impossibly-tiny body (see Exhibit B, above); she won us over pretty quickly.

Kendra had a taste for adventure early in life, but time made her a homebody. We had to chickenwire the fences in her first year to prevent her running out onto the busy road in Hamilton. I remember her darting up the jacaranda out the front, only to come face to face with a pair of crows, who just laughed at her. I had to pry her claws off the bark; she had just frozen there.

Kendra as a teenWhen I was 13 and Kendra was two — the first year of high school — we moved into a house my parents designed and built in the true suburbs. (It features a park built on the grounds of a demolished abattoir/tannery. Lovely!) My parents have a wonderful and beloved native garden. Kendra’s favourite spots were under the frangipani, on a warm paver hidden in the palms out the front, and close — but not too close — to the pool. Inside, she preferred the diamond-shaped motif at the centre of the foyer tiles, her old pink chair, and wherever Mum is.

Kendra 05

Around 2008, Kendra struck up a rare friendship with a very handsome Cornish rex from across the road. (He was intelligent enough to answer my question — “Where do you come from?!” — and lead me to his front door.) His name was Romeo. (I’m serious. It suited him, too.) He was charming enough that my parents didn’t mind him dropping by, strolling right into the house, to hang out. (It’s unfortunate I can’t find his photos — he looked like Hipster Simba.) He was an adventurous tom; it wasn’t long before we heard he’d met a car on the adjoining road.

I remember taking a couple of photos of Romeo with Kendra around to his family. Grandma and about four young children answered the door; Grandma eyed shaved-headed me with suspicion and gave me a talking down for mentioning that the cat had died in front of the children. “He has gone on holiday.” She handed the photos to the youngest of the children, who wandered outside and dropped them in a puddle. They shut the door in my face.

The remainder of the neighbourhood’s tomcats were less friendly. Kendra stopped going outside, except for essential garden visits, a while after that.

Kendra 03Kendra seemed determined to get past her runty beginnings. No matter how strict the diet, Kendra continued in her quest to become the roly-poliest of cats. Belly-rubs were pretty much currency in the Kendra Frost household. I wish I could find the photo of her sitting at the set dining table, evidently awaiting dinner with the rest of us [edit: found it!]. Her favourite foods were: anything. She even ate vegetables on occasion.

Kendra was extremely affectionate. She was the apple of Dad’s eye and seemed to have a knack for knowing when Mum was unwell. Given her bad knees and kidney and stomach troubles, she was a good contender for best tempered in a family of chronic pains. (Though we did have to whip out the Kitty Valium to get her into the bath.) She won over (most of) my partners as the years wore on. She was pretty good at giving (or denying) the tick of approval. If she liked you, she’d snuggle in behind your knees when you slept.

Kendra ready for dinner

I saw her three days before she died, and she was very happy to see me. I scooped her up and carted her around the house for a longer-than-usual while. She had a sort of pleasant vastness. (She made a great pillow.) We had started to worry she might be running out of time — she’d been making a lot of trips to the vet — but it was an abstract idea. Who knows what “soon” means?

My parents found Kendra on the tiles close to their bedroom door. She died during the three hours they were at Cloud Atlas. Mum was bewildered — just that day she had washed all of the kitty blankets at once. They buried her with one of them — one of my baby blankets — in the patch of garden where I’d planted sporadically successful rosebushes years before. I’d had an overwhelmingly good day; my parents decided to wait until the next day to tell me. Kendra and I had been friends for 13 years. I guess I would’ve liked to have seen the body. But I appreciated my parents’ gesture, and it couldn’t be helped.

zf_ kendrawbouganvil

This weekend we planted daffodil bulbs over Kendra’s grave. I spend a fair amount of time in cemeteries, but I don’t typically know anyone in them. Even as an adult it’s hard to get your head around the idea that your friend is under the ground.

Now, I know you few readers are good folks who understand it’s only a token gesture to give a measly 1000 words to a cat you spent half your life-to-date with. (I once had a boss belittle me repeatedly for grieving the death of a pet rat.) But it’s funny — we humans, or most of us, spend our lives trying to do stuff that might make our lives memorable. Domesticated or not, animals don’t have that goal and most don’t get that chance. Kendra wasn’t the first cat in space and nothing about her was meme-able. She doesn’t have a tombstone. She wasn’t even registered with the council. But my parents’ house seems horribly empty now. And we love her a lot. So here we are.

Kendra Frost
1 Sept. 2000 – 11 Mar. 2013
Died at Brisbane

Dear Stilts

On Sunday night, a friend prodded me with a link. “Have you seen this? You have fanmail.” I thought it best to reply to Aimee Lindorff in kind.

Dear Aimee,

I’m glad you made it to Riverbend, despite the rain. My reasons are selfish: I really needed your letter this week.

When the page first loaded on my phone and I could see my name at the top, it was a strange thing indeed. What was I in for? My first thought was that I was, in the abstract sense, In Trouble. Perhaps it’s a full name thing. (I don’t have a string of middle names for a parent to invoke.)

At the time your letter arrived, I was making pizza with my boyfriend. We stopped to read and I absent-mindedly worried a hole in the wrong end of the packet of pizza bases. Maybe I shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. But it’s not every day someone I don’t know writes me a review-letter and publishes it in a literary journal (read: never), so blast it. I’ll make a big deal.

Earlier this week I sat down with my manuscript with the aim of making revisions before sending it to the next publisher. I may have had a tiny tantrum. Pages may have found their way, haphazardly, all over the room. There were plenty of factors at work leading to this little game of 72-poem pick-up, sure, but above all it was one of those moments where this whole art thing seemed pretty pointless.

I’m not saying that writing is really a lofty spiritual calling — it isn’t — but damn it was good, great, brilliant to hear that my poems had brought someone such pleasure. Even better, it was a privilege to read your eloquent reaction and your memories of Toowong and its cemetery. Every time I reread the address, it’s a warm, fuzzy shock.

I am going to print it out and stick it near my desk. Possibly also on the fridge. Thank you.

Zenobia

P.S. I am glad you liked my cat-lady dress.

Seeya, 2012

It has been a mixed year, but somehow we packed a lot into it. Like a small bottle overfilled with the makings of gingerbeer; if we shake it up too much tonight, the whole year might burst out and overflow into 2011 and ’13. (2011 deserves everything it gets, but I’d like 2013 to have a shot at a fresh start, thank you.)

In 2012, I’ve travelled more than ever: overseas once, and interstate three times (to Vic., NSW, and SA) and all around Queensland with the QPF Regional Roadshow. At Varuna, in November, I finished an 80-page poetry manuscript (I hope you’ll see it soon) and sent dozens of new and edited poems Continue reading

Midyear News

What a week.

Last Friday I finished my final exam for the degree I’ve been whittling away at for six years. In 2007, I started a BFA in “Creative Writing Production” at QUT (now “Creative and Professional Writing”). Chronic ill-health and wanderlust took their respective tolls, and I QUiT to work and travel, returning to study at UQ in 2009. Here I am with (almost) a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature/Writing. BAs in English might be a dime a dozen, but mine was hard-won and it is surreal to finally be finished.

What none of us expected this week was for Rave Magazine to meet its doom. The news devastated Rave staff and contributors. Whenever I remember suddenly what I’ve lost — in losing Rave — it feels like a kick to the chest. We loved this magazine, and as a publication I loved it for its integrity, high editorial standards and commitment to the arts. I can only hope I’ll get to work with and for such excellent people (Chris Harms and Jody Macgregor especially) again one day.

Thanks to Rave, Brisbane’s performing and visual arts have — frankly — taught me more than any degree could have. I have fallen so deeply in love with Brisbane and its mettlesome artists. Rave leaves a big hole in our hearts, and all I can do now is try to find new ways to stay in touch with communities that have been so good to me. (If you have any ideas on how a new publication should support Brisbane arts, let me know!) We’re all very grateful for the kind messages flooding Rave inboxes. At the very least, I will have the arts listings out somewhere on time next Tuesday. I’ve already started them.

None of us knew till after Issue #1047 went to print on Tuesday that it would be Rave’s last. It was surreal (again) to troop down to Civic Video (another dying breed — the Rosalie one survived the floods, and is the only video store left near me) to complete rituals: pick up Rave, rent a terrible movie, buy chocolate/samosas/chocolate samosas. Seeing this humble pile of deathbed Raves undid me all over again.

That’s enough melancholy for now. I have to trust that a whole aviary of phoenixes are currently gestating in the ashes of what Queensland has recently lost and might soon lose. Keep your fighting trousers pressed and close to hand.

SlutWalk Brisbane — May 19, 2012

The second annual SlutWalk, a march against rape and against slut shaming, will take place in Brisbane on May 19. That’s in a week.

With its contentious name, SlutWalk caused quite a stir when it first became a thing last year. Lots of people were — quite reasonably — confused about its aims. At that time, I wrote about what SlutWalk meant to me; it’s probably a good time to revisit that article: Why I Walked the SlutWalk.

I’ll be back there this year with my loved ones alongside me. Even if you don’t march, it’s a good time to think about the issues at hand: victim blaming and slut shaming. Let’s replace those with enthusiastic consent and sex positivity.

Placard in the crowd says, “Consent is sexy.” Photo by Matt McKillop.

Dolly, Mr Boots, and Other Good Things

Mr BootsI am listening to Lion Island. They are the perfect soundtrack to a lazy Sunday on which I’ve got nothing much done, but feel quite, quite content. They launched their debut EP at Ric’s bar on Friday night, and it’s a cracker. They’ve come so far so quickly, and they deserve it. I’m biased, I know — my sisterthing plays trumpet (“and when she’s not playing the trumpet,” says one reviewer, “she’s playing the smile”), but they’re really, really worth a listen. And when you’ve finished listening, you can pop along to the uncharTED website (they’ve been short-listed for an amazing award), and vote them all the way to the Big Day Out.

There’s been lots going on in the world of Zen. I moved out of home just over a month ago, and my new place is a haven on the hill, overlooking Brisbane. It fits me perfectly, and my housemates — both fuzzy and unfuzzy — are quite lovely. The humans in the house bake a lot, so it always smells good, and the cats in the house are eccentric and aristocratic.

I went on tour a few weeks ago, courtesy of Arts Queensland, the Qld Writers Centre and the Qld Poetry Festival. It was wild. Adventure stories to come. In a minute. Promise.

My new place is a short walk from Toowong Cemetery, and I’ve become a bit obsessed with it and its 127 000 quiet inhabitDollyants. I’ve started planning out a rather large project: a book of poems in which history and whimsy overlap, and we meet the cemetery’s earliest dead. There are so many gravestones there that can only barely be read, now, and I want to write their stories before they disappear. In the 1970s, the council removed about a thousand old memorials – I fear this might happen again, to make way for the newly deceased. Thus, my quest begins! I am on the hunt for stories about Brisbanites buried between 1971 and 1950, in particular.

The hill — all 250 acres of land there — was first used as a graveyard, the history books say, in 1871 (Colonel Samuel Blackall in January, baby Ann Hill in November, and then another four), and wasn’t officially opened until 1876, and yet I’ve found graves dating back to 1863 (Malynn tomb, pictured) in some of the most overgrown parts of the cemetery. If anyone has any clues as to why this might be, please let me know. (This site says the cemetery was established, as Brisbane General Cemetery, in 1866, but that’s still three years after my earliest grave-find.)

Malynn GraveI anticipate I’ll be spending a lot of time at the John Oxley and State libraries in coming months, and I’ll definitely be getting hold of ‘Friends of Toowong Cemetery’, who apparently conduct free tours. I go gravewalking a couple of times a week; anyone who’d like to come along on adventures is welcome. It’s easy to walk for two or three hours in there and never pass the same gravestone twice. It’s a veritable museum.

Hoop pines rise
from the jaws of skeletons:
a final word.

The Cure and A Strange Whirring Noise

It occurs to me that I’ve posted a lot of advertisements lately, but not many zenrambles, and zenrambles at the very least amuse the Zen.

So yes, I’m listening to The Cure and A Strange Whirring Noise, both of which are coming out of my computer, but one of which doesn’t belong. I wonder how long it will be until this PC pops. Technology hates me. My typewriter never gives me this kind of trouble, but my typewriter isn’t, well, networked.

The Cure best-of/singles collection, The Cure Galore, I bought while wandering round the city this evening enjoying the rain. I like their clean sound. There’s nothing wishy-washy about The Cure. I also think Robert Smith looked a lot darker than his music sounds, which makes me think of Edward Scissorhands.

Edward Scissorhands was made by an American filmmaker. By startling coincidence, I recently travelled to the States. (How’s that for a subtle segue?) I wasn’t going to see Tim Burton, though (we don’t talk much anymore); I was going to see three people: a dear friend in Milwaukee, Fonzie, and Neil Gaiman.

I found all three, and I didn’t even have to go very far.

I stayed with my friend’s family in Milwaukee, and in the first week headed downtown to find the Fonz. Wisconsin buses are like Brisbane buses, and we had to thump the bus stop with the enthusiasm of Fonzie himself to make the bus materialise. We weren’t sure where to get off, either, but again, the Fonz guided us, and—though we pressed the buzzer more or less at random—the bus stopped directly opposite His Coolness. And here he is, standing immortal, Milwaukee’s own bronze Fonz:

Fonzie Milwaukee

Fonzie’s luck stayed with us throughout the day. Later, I found a book dated 1768 in a second-hand book warehouse (like Black Books x 1000000), previously owned by Lady Douglas, Scottish painter. She was 18 at the time the book was published. The book itself, Orlando Innamorato (Orlando in Love), is deliciously bound and ancient and smells wonderful.

Leon's

Back to the 50s. I became quite addicted to cheesy 50s-themed soda fountains, milkbars and diners in the US, and I’m very sad that they don’t abound in Australia. Leon’s, a drive-in frozen custard (oh my! tasty stuff) joint, is said to be the place  that the Happy Days diner was based on. Though I couldn’t see the link, they did do ambrosail sundaes.

But I digress. Neil Gaiman (and how he escaped me!). For my last weekend, we caught the bus down to Chicago and stayed in a hostel in the city’s centre. After getting thoroughly lost (I’ll read the map in future, thanks), we realised our hostel was just down the road from the Printer’s Row literary festival. Nice coincidence. Not only that, Neil, whom I was intending to hunt down somehow, happened to be giving a speech there.

Unfortunately for me, Neil is smart and the event was booked out, so I wasn’t able to talk to him about whether it would be okay for me to take a bubble bath with Amanda Palmer at his house. But I was this close.

Oh, this blog is getting long. My giddy aunt. I should leave it here, and sleep. I was going to tell you about American supermarkets, walking tours of haunted and non-existent Chicago neighbourhoods, Woodland Pattern Books, Riverbend Books, Jeff Harpeng’s glorious poems, my annoying poetry-writing habits, gloves, rat pizzas, pirates, and hat juggling—but these must wait for another time. Let it be said that life is good: the flu is finally clearing up; debts are being paid off; after an uncomfortably long hiatus, I’m writing things again; the Brisbane rental market looks like it might soon be affordable; and I’m making marvellous (and charmingly unrealistic) plans, as per usual.

Spring in the North Woods, Wisconsin