“Human Geometry” (2016)
I’m stoked to appear on the program on Friday, 25 August in the Judith Wright Centre shopfront, alongside two poets I admire so much:
1–2pm Deep North: Poetry Reading
Free event co-presented by QUT Creative Industries
Readings by Zenobia Frost, Red Room Poetry Director Tamryn Bennett and one of QLD’s foremost contemporary poets, Bronwyn Lea.
This event comes after a great-looking panel on poetics in Australia, What Even Is OzPo. For QPF, I’m refining some very Brisbaney poems. I spent a month in NYC recently – went to a slam in Manhattan, bought a lot of books, etc. – but mostly I sat in a rocking chair on the back porch of this house upstate (below) and read a lot. There is so much poetry going on in NY/America at large; I’m really looking forward to this particular QPF panel, after the contrast of seeing how alive poetry publishing is in other places. On which note, have a read of Kent MacCarter’s recent essay on OzPo in Overland.
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.)
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
the circus is gone
stripped to bone
in smoke and hammers
ghosts of their shimmering
crushed into clay
at first light we steal glances
carnies disguised as men
for one last act
The Great Vanishment
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
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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.
It’s real! My tickets to Germany are BOOKED!
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 Homelandsexual has 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.
Over the last year, I’ve been privileged to work with linguist Kit Loke on her collection of poems exploring her experiences with chronic neuropathic pain, spasm, disability, and illness. To kick off 2015, I’m very pleased and proud to help Kit launch her poetry blog, The Invisible Puppeteer. This project was made possible by Access Arts and arts-worker/performance-maker Nathan Sibthorpe.
What I love about Kit’s poetry is the way it engages the reader’s empathy and sense of hope. Ultimately, her work chronicles her decade-long journey to mentally triumph over the chronic pain and illness she experiences.
I hope you’ll visit, follow and share The Invisible Puppeteer.
It’s been a big week — and 2015 has its claws around the door.
I’m thrilled to announce (I’ve been bursting with the embargoed news) that I’ve received an ArtStart grant!
Australia Council’s ArtStart grants can be used to kickstart creative careers. After the launch of Salt and Bone, I’ve wondered where to go next with poetry. ArtStart will help me spend a year learning under awesome mentors: Bronwyn Lea in Brisbane, Warsan Shire in London and Adrianne Kalfopoulou at the Black Forest Writing Seminars in Freiburg.
Holding off on planning till after this crazy Christmas, but I’m excited to share this explosion of exclamation marks with you: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Just dragged my suitcase in the door after a whirlwind week in Newcastle (at National Young Writers’ Festival) and Melbourne (for the Melb. launch of Salt and Bone at Hares and Hyenas). I met so many fantastic writers and readers at NYWF, thoroughly enjoyed lording it as a judge at the Epic Word Nerd Battledome (pictured, with Jane Howard and Adolfo Aranjuez), and relished reading Foreign Soil on the beach.
Hearty congratulations, also, to Scum Mag on the launch of their first print zine. It comes with TEMPORARY TATTOOS. What’s cooler than that? Zero things. The zine fair was a highlight, as was getting up on stage at the launch orgy in a nightie to perform Blood Spells with the Scum gals. (Photo below by Alan Weedon.)
I’m so grateful to ReVerse Butcher and the team at Hares and Hyenas for hosting the Melbourne launch of Salt and Bone. Thank you to everyone who came along. Here are the lovely Broede Carmody’s words on the book (and thanks, Broede, for the launch snap):
“Zen describes herself as an expat of the Voiceworks editorial committee, for which she read and edited poems for a number of years before she turned 25 and we realised she was not just too old but also too disgustingly talented to be involved in the magazine any more.
“But seeing as we’re here for the launch of a poetry collection and not a memoir I should probably talk a little about Zen’s work itself and not just her pretty face.
“I think it’s appropriate that this book is called Salt and Bone because not only does the powerful imagery in Zen’s poetry leave a taste in your mouth but it also affects you physically. Poems like ‘Aftershocks’ deal with sexual assault but importantly use the language of survival. Similarly, other poems celebrate women, sex, polyamory and the queer identity. A lot of poetry out there—particularly the kinds we are introduced to in high school or that are available in book stores—are by old, white men and Zen’s poetry really strikes a chord with me because it’s different. It’s so important that queer Australians see themselves reflected back on the page.
“So with that I would like to say fuck you to the patriarchy, and consider this book launched.”