VW Flashback: Write of Passage

A few issues ago, I wrote an ed-comm-itorial for Voiceworks #93 “Cell”. Voiceworks publishes the work of writers under 25; in a couple of months, I’ll be forced to make my own way in the big world, elderly and alone. Not really — but I have had my last ever things published by VW. Gonna miss ’em. Stumbled across my recentish editorial today, so here’s a flashback. Sorry-not-sorry about the title pun.

 

Write of Passage 

In writing, as in life, the first cut is the deepest. Baby, I know. My first time was online. On a poetry critique forum. Some punk who didn’t even understand my poem thought they could tell me, the author, how to improve it. Hot damn! That first dose of red ink can sting.

I was sixteen and top of English. I was used to my poetry taking pride of place on my parents’ fridge. Yet someone out there thought my writing could be better. Much better. I’d like to say that was the day I left the comfort of LiveJournal and became a Writer-with-a-capital-W, but in reality I was too busy making my school-friends troll this anonymous butcher who had applied his untrained scalpel to my perfect poem.

First Critique can be a significant and habit-shaping event; it can separate the diarists from the crafters. It’s an experience many of us share—perhaps even an essential writers’ rite: to undergo the painful epiphany that accompanies extreme butthurt in the face of criticism. It didn’t sink in that exact day, but it was a step towards realising that first-drafting is only a small part of writing.

That poem was titled ‘Narcissism and Existential Lust Backstage at the Con’. Seriously. I wrote it while skulking around with my trumpet in the eerie blue lights backstage at the Brisbane Conservatorium, waiting for school band dress rehearsals. Dressed in yellow crepe, I mostly gawked at a hot sound guy who looked enough like an Anne Rice vampire for me.

So I wrote a poem for our sound tech Armand, employing ultra-subtle addiction metaphors because, at sixteen, I was pretty worldly (read: drank Absinthe once):

I can’t shoot up sense
I can’t see my veins
I’m floating in opium blue
there’s no substance abuse
there is only you.

I think I may even have tried to hand-deliver a copy. Bad habits start early.

That First Critique, perhaps, sets writers apart from musicians and sports players. While other kids take piano lessons and go to soccer training, few young-’uns are sent to poetry class or writing lessons. (Start more Dead Poets Societies in schools!) In ice-skating class, the first thing you learn is how to safely fall down—but most young poets, untutored, forge their own ways in cossetted, private notebooks.

Looking back, that critic’s advice was firm, but kind—and asked me questions, rather than directed me or rewrote my work. I had to realise I’d willingly entered a workshop forum where the aim was not so much to showcase as to practise. And one of the best ways to get better as a writer is inform your editing with readers’ feedback.

Of course, the critiqued poem doesn’t exist in a vacuum and neither does the poet’s response. I empathise with each new writer struck with the revelation that Plath and Neruda didn’t just pop those poems out fully formed. The nature of First Crit can bubble-wrap, buoy up, encourage or scar a new writer.

If you, dear reader, are one whose formative First Crit is far in the past, I urge you to think back on that experience and be considerate. But the real trouble is something much more insidious: beyond the boldfaced anonymity of online critique groups, serious peer feedback can be hard to find. Be considerate, but do still be critical. The only feedback worse than ‘You suck’ is ‘Don’t change a thing!’

The poems and stories you’re about to read in this issue have all been edited in collaboration with their authors. Works that didn’t make it in this round will receive feedback, too. Voiceworks is the only publication I know of that does this. Last issue, Chloe Brien discussed the monikers writers instinctually take. I’m a poet, but I think I’m an editor first.

I submitted ‘Narcissism and Existential Lust Backstage at the Con’ to Voiceworks in 2006. It was my first national publication—but more than seeing my name in print, I remember the thrill of working with an editor who knew my poem could be better. If only we’d taken the scalpel to that title.

Voiceworks #93, 2013.

Thing[s]!

Voiceworks Magazine #92 — Thing is out now. It contains one of my favourite ever VW poems: “Matisse Blue Nude II” by Jake Dennis. And I have a poem in there too: “Graveyard Haibun”. I’ve been working on this one for some years now, and I’m delighted it has found a home. It was the very first Toowong Cemetery poem!

Here’s the Thing:

Inside Voiceworks #92 you’ll find stories about two little fishes, a father wrapped in wool and musings about flies. Poetry of silhouettes becoming blueprint, detectives contemplating marriage and graveyards (but like, good poetry about graveyards). Nonfiction exploring gender, mysterious red chillies and what it’s like to be a white guy who really wants to ‘get’ hip-hop. Visual art and comics that will melt your brain in a way you know you want it to.

It only costs 10 monies and you can buy it at Avid Reader (if you’re in Brisbane), order it online, or buy an e-copy for five bucks. Voiceworks supports young Australian writers and also the whole committee is smokin’ hot.

Today’s second piece of news is that my review of Paul Summers‘ latest collection, Unity, is up on the Queensland Poetry Festival Blog — just in time for his reading at Riverbend Books next week. These events are always something special, and I’m really sorry I can’t make this one — so make sure you get along for me.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing Summers perform, you’ll read these poems in his low, lyrical Northumbrian voice. His accent permeates the metre; form or not, each poem writes its own rules of rhythm. They chant, rather than sing. Thus Summers weaves a spell of the senses.

Riverbend Poetry Series II is at 6pm, 23 April 2013. Tickets cost $10.

Tales from the Gutter

It’s going to be a busy year. I’ve penciled in a nana nap in for November—so you know now not to disturb me then. Preferably for the whole month. Until then, a lot of black tea is going to pass these lips. And words.

On February 10th I’ll be reading some Bukowski-inspired poems at Spoken: Tales of a Dirty Old Man. This is a gig seriously outside of my comfort zone, and I’m researching, reading and writing this week. Who knows what might happen! Come along and find out. Here’s the poster: SPOKEN.

I’m delighted to announce I’ll be joining co-poetry editor Jessica Alice on the editorial committee of Voiceworks Magazine as something of a Brisbane representative. Express Media have supported my poetry for years, and I’ve always wanted an opportunity to help out–but Melbourne is even Down Underer than here is. Now we have the Internets and Skype and magic!

So far I’m sticking to my resolutions: write often, submit often (to journals and stuff, that is!), and read more. (I’m reading Damon Galgut’s In A Strange Room, Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All, and Krissy Kneen’s sensual and touching Affection. Oh, and Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs for funzies.)

Otherwise, I’m hermited away in my office writing grant applications and working away at freelance projects. This weather transforms our lower storey (i.e. where I exist) into a damp, chilly cabin in the woods, and “home office” comes to mean “in bed with hot water bottle, laptop, and giant octopus plushie.” But it works, and I have the company of Delirium and Sigmund, betta fish who determinedly blow bubbles at me when they’re happy.