DEMOLITION + mid-2021 round-up

Last November, we were finally back in(!) a(!) theatre(!) for a sold-out season of Apocalipstick! at Metro Arts. It seems like both a million years and one minute since that time, but Polytoxic have not rested on their lockdown laurels. They’re back with a brand new show for Brisbane Festival: DEMOLITION. Here’s my (brief) two cents on Polytoxic’s not-to-be-missed new show:

DEMOLITION has all the good stuff you want — feats of strength, mid-air hula-hooping, synchronised intersectionality, a very ascendable set and a microphone in an Ice Break bottle — but is at its best when its high-octane acts turn in on themselves and embrace the uncanny.

This is a very different show from APOCALIPSTICK! (Metro Arts 2020); DEMOLITION is focused on ‘getting shit done — by the tonne’. The Polytoxic crew is unafraid to let its audience sit with — even help lift — its heavier moments. While there’s cheekiness and fun in DEMOLITION, its strongest scenes let the audience do the work, blurring the juxtaposition of feminist send-up with the actual injustice underneath.

Lisa Fa’alafi wears hi-vis gear and holds a nail gun in front of a demolition site.

You’ll find yourself laughing and whooping and then, suddenly, examining what made you laugh and — just as quickly — weeping or raging. The performers make a lot of noise in this show — after all, it’s circus! — but I’ve never heard the scream, the cry, the yawp deployed with such power and nuance.

Co-directors Lisa Fa’alafi (pictured; photo by Joel Devereux) and Leah Shelton kick arse, and Ghenoa Gela, Lilikoi Kaos and Mayu Muto were stand-outs. All DEMOLITION lacks is a little more levity at its denouement; after the thoughtful, affecting rollercoaster of its various feats, the audience needs to be lifted back up just a little more — called to affirmative action, maybe — before we toddle back out into the foyer. (However, once there, you can and will buy 👊-themed stubbie coolers, pins and tees.)

DEMOLITION runs from 4–11 September at Brisbane Powerhouse. 💥💥💥


And, as for the link round-up, here’s what happened while I avoided Zoom during the first half of this year:


Coming up:

  • I’m running a Qld Poetry workshop on the possibilities of choose-your-own-adventure poems in Twine. It’s called WE CONTAIN MULTITUDES and will include re-drafting exercises and a tiny bit of coding. It runs online on 12 and again on 23 September and will be low-key, fun and breakout-room free.
  • In November, Bec and I will be dusting off our evening wear to perform BACHELORETTE: A SONG CYCLE at RuckusFest (just in time to debrief on Brooke’s upcoming queer season of The Bachelorette!).

2020 Round-up

This was, we can all agree, something of a concertina year, in which time contracted and expanded with surreal inconsistency. When are we now? What is yesterday? Did I do anything this year except hand-wash masks? How many more times can we hear the phrase ‘strange and uncertain times’ before it is just meaningless sounds?

Wherever you are, I hope you and yours are safe, and feeling as secure as one can during, well, ‘strange and uncertain times’.


Art Starts Here: 40 Years of Metro Arts

I was extremely fortunate this year to be able to mine the archives of Metro Arts (definitely a COVID-safe zone), and to spend many weeks making art-affirming phone and Zoom calls to artists, performers, producers and arts administrators whose work has impacted Brisbane any time between about 1974 and now. The end result, beautifully designed by Sean Dowling and Ashleigh Jacobsen, is Art Starts Here: 40 Years of Metro Arts. If you’re interested in Brisbane, or artists’ communities, or architecture, or anecdotes about terrifying lifts — this book is for you. I’m very proud of it and very grateful to Metro for letting me steer it as editor.


Recent publications

‘Ghost Light’ (Red Room)
Find the ghost light in a closed-for-good arts centre. (This piece, unsurprisingly, emerges out of my time in the old Metro Arts building and archives.) This psychogeographic poem/piece of interactive literature is best enjoyed in full-screen with headphones. Thank you to Red Room for publishing this piece as part of their 2020 Fellowship shortlistee commission series.

Meanjin: What I’m Reading (essay)
On queered reading, video games, and seeing ourselves in happy endings.

Archer Asks: Katy O’Brian, actor and martial artist (interview)

Griffith Review kindly included my little poem ‘Quince Season’ in their Generosities of Spirit issue. Backslash Lit included an interactive Twine version of my poem ‘Blueprint: Bramble Terrace‘ in their first issue. Earlier in the year, Scum Mag printed two iso poems, Blue Bottle Journal let me wax lyrical about the moon in ‘Eight Phases’, and just recently Overland kindly printed a prose poem called ‘sandwiches‘.


Sourdough starter

All things considered, it’s been a huge year. (It just doesn’t feel like it, because the year feels like one, long, never-ending day.) My book, After the Demolition, turned one in September, and this year I received the Wesley Michel Wright Prize for an excerpt from it. Like everyone else this year, I had plans scuttled—I didn’t get to visit the USA for poetry adventures. (One. Day. I’ll. Get. To. The. Dang. Frost. Place. Seminars!) But I’m grateful that I’m able to start over in plotting out 2021: thank you to the Brisbane City Council for allowing an extra year to fulfil Lord Mayor’s Young and Emerging Artists Fellowship plans.

I also got to spend this year working with absolute legends at the Queensland Poetry Festival: Michael, Anna, Angela, and Amanda. It may not have been the year we originally planned! But we delivered nearly 100 online performances and workshops, and got to hang out with lots of amazing poets from our community—and further afield. Poetry workshops are really the best use of Zoom!

I didn’t learn to make sourdough. I did learn enough basic coding (thank you, Yarra Libraries, for amazing free workshops with Tegan Webb!) to spend every bit of spare time this year making poetry toys/text adventures in Twine, and also this poetry oracle Twitter bot (to represent Bec Jessen’s Ask Me About the Future online):


CABARET REVIEW: Apocalipstick

The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived—and it is one or more coats of Apocalipstick.

It was such a privilege to be back in a theatre for the second-last showing of Polytoxic’s latest that I had to write at least a brief review.

Apocalipstick technically sold out twice: once with restricted audience numbers, and again once those restrictions lifted. The energy—the sheer relief—in the room is electric: it’s a long time since we’ve all hooted and hollered like this. No one hesitates when the cast opens the show by leading us in a middle-fingers-up cry of ‘Fuck you, 2020!’

Leah Shelton and Lisa Fa’alafi (by FenLan Photography)

Polytoxic’s Lisa Fa’alafi and Leah Shelton have handpicked the line-up and rotating special guests. On our night it’s Abbey Church, Busty Busty Beatz, Hope One, Mayu Muto, Lana Tukaroa, Nerida Matthaei, Neridah Waters, An(drea) Lam, Chinta Woo-Allcock, and the Brides of Frank. It’s a silver lining of lockdowns that we have all this talent here in Brisbane at one time.

Apocalipstick proves that feminist theatre is in no danger of being diluted by so-called political correctness. Shelton’s drag-burlesque strip from full PVC-and-furs to nothing at all sets the tone for the evening: no holds are barred. This is a knockout night of cabaret that always punches up.

Polytoxic blend in the greatest hits with the brand new: it’s as much a joy to revisit Fa’alafi’s killer ‘Weave’ routine as it is to be introduced to Andrea Lam’s Bollywood-meets-Youtube-comments ‘Item Number’.

But the real stars of the show are the Hot Brown Homies, the lesser-known brothers of the Hot Brown Honeys—i.e. Busty Beatz and Hope One as our salivating emcees, Big M.I.C. and Young Harrison, promoting their new hit single ‘Ballistic Misogynistic’. The Hot Brown Homies’ reunion tour with 90s boy band Wrong Direction may just have garnered the best laughs of 2020 (shy of the Four Seasons debacle).

The big magic of Apocalipstick is in its queer joy, its (literally) balls-out feminist comedy that speaks directly to its audience. There is no male gaze here, my friends: in fact, toxic masculinity is cleaned up with a spray of ‘Antibac Off’. And, with a well-deployed leaf blower, Young Harrison will have you adding the phrase ‘stroking the Ryobi’ to your lexicon.

Hope One and Busty Beatz (photographed by FenLan)

Apocalipstick is also the first show I’ve seen in the New Benner Theatre at Metro’s new West Willage digs*. The last theatre I saw was at Metro Arts, with Love farewell-to-the-Old-Broad festival in February. I spent the months in between living and breathing the Metro archives—photos, faxes, letters, blueprints, playbills—and interviewing dozens of artists and arts workers (including Fa’alafi and Shelton). (The result—Art Starts Here: 40 Years of Metro Arts—is a pretty neat snapshot of Brisbane arts.)

With its risk-taking, glitter, contained chaos, nudity and BDE, Apocalipstick also proves that the bold energy of Metro Arts wasn’t constrained to the Old Broad. It’s alive and well over the river (with a working lift!!).

Apocalipstick ran from 6 to 28 November 2020 in the New Benner Theatre at Metro Arts.


*Also accessible on the night were Rebecca Ross’s uncanny-domestic Dark Entries video installation and Joanne Choueiri’s Archive of Loss—an installation of obituaries to Brisbane buildings demolished under Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. I recently had the pleasure of interacting with (and exploring inside) a large-scale installation of Ross’s on Chevron Island, Light House, which projected video out through the windows of an abandoned house; I love the way Ross uses spaces like these to make a kaleidoscope of our sense of time. And Archive of Loss is a pretty perfect installation for me: it blends architecture, archive and cemetery to make us reflect on the character of our city (and loss thereof). The work shows how much bureaucratic ‘progress’ often amounts to: many of Choueiri’s obituaries read, ‘[The building] was survived for 12 years by a hole.’

Dark Entries shows in Gallery One and Archive of Loss in Gallery Two until 5 December.

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).

The 2020 QLAs winners, as drawn by Kathleen Jennings.

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!


Recent publications

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? 🧟‍♂️ 💪 🌈

What better reminder to vote, USA pals.

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:

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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.

Winter news

It’s finally chilly enough to cart a jacket around on hot busses all day in readiness to look cool in the evenings, so you’ll see a lot more of me out and about. There’s been so much great poetry on in Brisbane recently, with folks like Rae White, Ella Jeffery and Shastra Deo at Saturdays; Pascalle Burton and Mindy Gill at Riverbend Books; and, just last week, Bec Jessen and Jarad Bruinstroop (below) at Couplet:

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I also loved hearing Claire Keegan talk hypnotically about short stories at Avid Reader — on “the elegance of knowing when you have enough”.

I have a poem out this month in Rabbit‘s new LGBTQIA+ issue, in extremely good company. This is a really worthwhile issue to have, with work by many of the poets mentioned above (Rae, Bec, Jarad), as well as Stuart BarnesPam BrownQuinn EadesToby FitchMitch Tomas Cave and Rory Green (my ol’ Toolkits pals), Angela Gardner, Jessica Wilkinson, and many more.

I also have a poem, “Civic Duty“, in Red Room Poetry‘s POEMS TO SHARE II. This educational resource features 40 poetic activity cards to spark imagination and creative writing. Inspired by original commissioned, student and educator poems from Poetry Object, this interactive resource is designed to enliven poetic learning through language, literature and literacy.

Coming up in worryingly few weeks (where did the year go?), my QUT postgrad poetry pals and I will be reading work responding to Gertrude Stein at QUT Art Museum’s Salon de Fleurus on 19 June, from 6.15pm. Salon de Fleurus is an artwork, a contemporary reconstruction of Gertrude Stein’s Parisian salon that existed at 27 rue de Fleurus from 1904–34.

 

It’s a month ago now, but I spent my birthday very pleased with myself at Taronga Zoo, and thence became a blushing fan of both Sydney’s Newtown and our president, Eileen Myles. Carriageworks was a sublime venue for a writers’ festival, made all the better by being visible from our AirBnB window. I also found out that Sydney green-thumbs grow some truly great pot plants, as below.

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🌿☀️

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Entries for the Newcastle Poetry Prize close soon, on 11 June, while all of Queensland Poetry Festival‘s poetry prizes are open until July.

Review: Disney’s ALADDIN

No Disney magic is spared in the touring adaption of Broadway musical hit, Aladdin, based on 1992’s blockbuster animation.

Friend Like Me_Photo By Deen van Meer_sml

The first stars of the show are set designer Bob Crowley and costume designer Gregg Barnes. There’s enough glitz in Aladdin to completely re-sand the South Bank beach with glitter and crystals. No detail goes un-bedazzled, and the result is a spectacle that overwhelms like, well, the proverbial Aladdin’s cave. The pyrotechnics are quite literally dazzling, and even my cold, miserly heart lights up for Jim Steinmeyer’s illusion design.

It’s no surprise; Aladdin is delivered by the studios with perhaps the world’s tightest hold on their brand. Yet Disney leaves wiggle-room for some local touches – delivered with wit by our fourth-wall-defying Genie – that warm the audience right up. (“Where do you think I’m from?” he asks Aladdin. “Ipswich?”)

Aladdin successfully translates rather than replicates the film. In fact, the theatrical production gives the show a New York rags-to-riches feel, blending big band and tap into the mix. Instead of Aladdin’s monkey pal, we have three loyal buddies: Kassim (Adam-Jon Fioentino), Babkak (Troy Sussman) and Omar (Robert Tripolino). These guys have great chemistry – their numbers together are a blast (particularly “High Adventure”). It’s a shame most of Babkak’s characterisation comes back to fat jokes.

Aladdin and Lamp - Ainsley Melham_Photo By Deen van Meer.jpg

Hiba Elchikhe and understudy Graeme Isaako are perfectly plucky as Jasmine and Aladdin, and they fill the big shoes of their filmic predecessors in sweet duets like “A Whole New World”. George Henare is an endearing Sultan, and understudy Dean Vince demonstrates that English accents always sound more evil, but it’s Aljin Abella as Iago who really steals the show with his comedic timing – and wicked laugh. Genie is such a charismatic character, and we can forgive understudy Anthony Murphy when his shrill-camp dialogue and singing is often hard to understand. Murphy sure looks the part, and Genie is certainly the character whose freedom we’re rooting for with the most vim, and who earns the biggest applause.

The ensemble deserves kudos, too, as a tireless, dynamic bunch under the supervision of director/choreographer Casey Nicolaw and a team of associates.

Arabian Nights_Photo By Deen van Meer.jpg

Danny Troob’s orchestration is a highlight, led by music director Geoffrey Castles. There’s plenty of nostalgic earworms from Disney past, with the most striking new songs coming from the original team (music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, with book and additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin).

It will likely not shock you to know that Disney still has a gender problem (not to mention, famously, an exoticism problem). Where Aladdin’s monkey is replaced with three men with distinct personalities, names and songs, Jasmine’s tiger companion is replaced by nameless women from the ensemble, who march off to leave her alone in her room with an unwelcome intruder. I was disappointed, given the number of thrilled kiddos in the audience, to see Aladdin tap his cheek to request a kiss and tell Jasmine, “Don’t you owe me something for showing you around?” Why not take the opportunity, when you wield such epic influence, to normalise language that supports a culture of consent and nurturance? Shout out, by the way, to Milagros Medina-Cerdeira (make-up design) and Natasha Katz (lighting design) – the only two women listed in a creative team of 22 people.

Aladdin and Jasmine - Disney.jpg

It all works out okay: Aladdin gets a new tragic backstory and in the end Jasmine’s dad tells her she’ll be equal ruler once she’s married. These aren’t new criticisms. I might not know how Aladdin’s magic carpet works (no, really, it’s going to keep me up at night!), but the structure of a Disney production is a tale as old as time. So it goes. Ol’ Walt sure puts on a hell of a show, and it was fun watching parents trying to unravel their children from reams of gold streamers.

Aladdin runs until 3 June at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC. You can also enter a lottery, Broadway-style, for cheap tickets throughout the season.

Photos by Jeff Busby.

 

 

 

Web Surfin’ Time

It’s raining poems on the World Wide Web this week (and raining, well, actual rain in Brisbane). This is poor timing for me – our new unit’s NBN is glacial, so we’re struggling to read poems/load gifs while haunted by the smooth white-noise of 1997 modem sounds.

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I’m so glad to have a poem out today with Red Room Company called “Bramble Terrace” – one of my blueprint poems, about a now-demolished house in Red Hill. This was commissioned following the Red Room Poetry Fellowship short-listings, and it’s something I’ve been tinkering with for some time. I seem to have lost most of the the photos I took inside the house, unfortunately, but this was the mosaic in the bathroom:

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#brisbanalia #redhill #mosaic #demolished

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Earlier this week, the Australian Book Review published the Queensland wing of their States of Poetry anthology, now in its second year. Thank you Felicity Plunkett for your deft editing and for bringing us all – Anna Jacobson, Pascalle Burton, me, Sam Wagon Watson, David Stavanger and Liam Ferney – together.

This week, catch poets and writers from all over Australia from the comfort of your own bed at the Digital Writers Festival (if you aren’t reliving ’97 download speeds). Don’t miss Brisbabes Rae White, Rebecca JessenQUT Lit Salon (feat. Emily O’Grady, Rebecca Cheers, Mindy Gill, Annabelle de Paola, and more) – and download yourself a sick new zine while you’re there.

What’re you waiting for? Get On-Line!*

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*It took over an hour to upload these gifs… but Neopets still loads okay. 👌

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.

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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:

scully2bfollows2bher2bdreams