Poem: “Graveyard Haibun”

(Previously published in Voiceworks #92 ‘THING’)

On Thursday morning I meet Death. We inherit Sydney’s red-dust storm, and our backyard is thick with it. The white cat with the poodle-cut is now auburn. She cleans herself uselessly, tongue moistening dust into clay.

Six am sun casts every gravestone reflective. I never get up this early. I settle on the hot, steady concrete of a grave, and try to learn silence.

Scarlet beetles skitter through dry leaves. Cicadas hum in hollows. Our raised necropolis is more awake than anywhere in this lidded city.

cemetery
spring’s new crows
let sleeping dead lie

I breathe and watch. For a rare moment, my mind too is warm, dark stone.

I go out to feed my flatmate’s old rat and find that his lungs are full of the desert. I sit on the kitchen floor with him in my lap. He is thin-blooded – an aspirin-thief in his youth. Now, his nose has stopped bleeding for the first time in months. Droplets congeal in the dust on his snout. I feel his body cease.

on the floor
we share rigor mortis

The cats sniff around us. They do not interfere.

I return alone, and enter the wilderness without pith helmet or field knife. Birds own the graveyard, swooping for me to turn back; the dead and I are just guests.

If I am very still, I fade into this place. My shadow thickens into my own ghost, leads me down paths that are only pretending. I wouldn’t mind being lost here. (I am already lost.)

hoop pines rise
from the jaws of skeletons
a final word

YOOF ARTS NEWS

I nearly called this YOOF ARTZ NYOOZ and I’m sorry. Maybe it should have been “They Have It Coming”. Anyway. It’s been a fortnight of arts-work by the young and the restless. This is definitely more of a discussion than a series of reviews. I especially welcome input from others who’ve seen or are involved in these shows.

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD)

Brisbane (a doing word)

Vena Cava has outgrown QUT’s Woodward Theatre; the student theatre company launches its new season in the Judith Wright Centre’s intimate Shopfront space. Here, we meet Matty (Patrick Hayes) and his share-housing frenemies, negotiating their place and purpose as 20-somethings in Brisbane. This coming-of-age story unfolds in pieces, benefiting from writer David Burton’s structural experimentation.

Burton’s characters are painfully relatable but never sterotypes. Claire Christian directs a strong cast; we’ve all lived or studied with these eager, energetic, argumentative people. We’ve probably been them. Overall, a little more polish and restraint will allow Brisbane (a doing word) to deftly handle the sensitive topics it tackles without losing its sense of absurd humour.

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD) ran at the Judith Wright Centre from 20 to 22 March 2014.

PERSPECTIVE/WOOLF PACK

Khalid Warsame at Brisbane's VOICEWORKS Launch

Express Media (or its Queensland representative … me) launched Voiceworks #96, the Perspective issue, at Avid Reader. Voiceworks Mag publishes and offers professional development of the work of Australian writers under 25. This was such a great night with superb readers (pictured: Khalid Warsame). Avid put on the ritz for us — what a wonderful venue. Wine all round! We also launched Woolf Pack, a new feminist zine edited by super-cool Brisbane ladies. Good times.

VOICEWORKS and WOOLF PACK launched at Avid Reader on 28 March 2014.

HOMOS IN KIMONOS

Homos in Kimonos

James Halloran and Will Hannagan’s double-bill cabaret (Melbourne Festival Comedy) has come under fire this week regarding its title, which some feel appropriates Japanese culture in a way that is racist. I’m hesitant to weigh in personally — as a white person I realise my privilege means I have blind spots — but I felt the creative team gave a measured, respectful public response in which they apologised and clarified their intentions. It was disappointing to see uncritical responses on both sides of the fence (personal attacks on the young performers and, on the flipside, tiresome attacks on “the PC brigade”).

I rarely feel qualified to comment, but I think there’s space right now in Australia for lots of context-based, critical discussion on cultural intersection in art. I hope that the show’s run stimulates more thoughtful, respectful discussion and fewer facebook shitstorms.

HOMOS IN KIMONOS runs at Melbourne Comedy Festival until 13 April 2014.

BOY&GIRL

Boy&Girl by Oscar Theatre Company

Oscar Theatre Company presents “a steamy cabaret of musical theatre, contemporary and pop where gender is bent and rules are broken” at Brisbane Powerhouse, after a season at Lightspace. Boy&Girl features 25 talented and diverse cast members with a Broadway/contemporary jazz vibe. Jason Glenwright’s moody lighting sets the right tone for a trip down the Weimar rabbit hole.

Now, I can’t call these thoughts a review, as I did not stay for the full show. For me, the highlight of the first half was a 40s wartime swing rendition of “Call Me Maybe” by three charismatic male performers, followed by an emotive solo covering Rizzo’s “That’s the Worst Thing I Could Do” from Grease. Overall, though, Boy&Girl only flirted with the idea of gender-bending: pronouns were swapped, sure, and the boys (but, curiously, not really the girls) dabbled in drag. The jokes were about as cheap as the lingerie. All up, a pretty conservative affair, with the cast unable to nail the sense of sexy-grotesque integral, in my opinion, to queered cabaret.

But none of this would be a fair reason to walk out. Generally, I think it’s pretty poor form to leave a show’s opening night midway. However, just before the interval, 10 men (plus the male host and four men in the onstage band) performed Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango”. This is a song that deliberately subverts language used against female victims of intimate and sexual violence; its power, humour and sense of the uncanny succeeds because, in the context of the song, women have what is normally masculine power. In Boy&Girl, “Cell Block Tango” becomes a deeply unsettling song about domestic violence. In Australia, where one woman a week is murdered by an intimate partner, loosely “gender-bending” the song puts the power back in the hands of those who already have it. I left because I couldn’t sit with an audience that found that funny.

BOY&GIRL runs at the Visy Theatre at Brisbane Powerhouse until 19 April 2014.

Voiceworks launch: Brisbane edition

 

A rare Brisbane Voiceworks shindig — in one week’s time! Helllls yeah! This is editor Kat Muscat‘s and designer Elwyn Murray‘s final issue — and my final spin on the editorial committee — so make sure you come along to raise a toast to the end of an era and the start of a glorious new one. Welcome VW’s new ed, Elizabeth Flux.

Features: VW Perspective contributors James Butler, Sophie Overett, Emily O’GradyKhalid Warsame and Zenobia Frost; John Marsden Prize-winner, Jeremy Poxon; and the launch of new FREE Brisbane femmo zine, WOOLF PACK.

When: 6pm for 6.30pm, Friday 28 March 2014
Where: Avid Reader, West End
Tickets: Bookings essential online or on (07) 3846 3422. $7.50 entry fee includes a free drink.
Share: Invite yo’ friends along via facebook

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.

Express Media: John Marsden Prize

I received some good news this week! A poem of mine, “The Hobby”, was awarded second place in the 18-24 division of the John Marsden Prize for Young Australian Writers. This was my last chance to enter, so I’m pretty stoked! Jeremy Poxon won first place with “The last time I went fishing, it was raining”. (I can’t wait to read it!)

Thank you, Express Media and John Marsden!

I’m fond of this poem. Anatoly Moskvin is such an interesting figure. I have performed “The Hobby” with Richard Grantham accompanying on piano a couple of times — Richard’s music gives it such pathos and humour. Here it is (sans piano, alas):

The Hobby

for Anatoly Moskvin, a cemetery archaeologist arrested in Russia in 2011

I crawl from dust to dust
each Monday morning

I have the teeth of archaeopteryx
and flaking tomes I drew up with the dead

each man must claim one diversion
from corner desk buried
under papers in shrinking faculty

the first dig was the thrill of my career
her skin was perfect, dry as leather
her lips were parted just to whisper
nothings in the words of Cleopatra

I took her home and made her dinner
I seduced her with thirteen ancient tongues
she stayed for breakfast
she stayed forever

the second was more delicate
but her name had struck my linguist’s heart
I dressed her in my mother’s clothes

my bevy, twenty-nine exotic birds
there’s barely room for me against my desk
there’s barely room anymore at home

let me keep the only company I keep
let me have my littlest of rewards
and do not doubt that they will testify

our histories are six foot in all their rot
I’ve exhumed and slept in coffins for this art
I have walked for miles with my chisel
eaten dirt and sipped from graveyard puddles

yet with one bag of much-loved bones
you find me, and you call me mad

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

Stop! Grammar Time!

Stop Grammar TimeKaitlyn Plyley snapped this great pic of me crushing the competition underfoot Grammar Bee triumph at National Young Writers Fest in Newcastle. My Voiceworks co-EdCommer Broede Carmody was the runner-up! And a worthy adversary! Thanks, Quiz-Master Fez and Sticker-King Aidan!

 

That Golden September

“I thought I had found my golden September in the middle of that purple June.”
— Glen Richards, Augie March

A little Stranger Music foreshadowing can’t hurt, right? It’s not quite a golden September yet, but it’s shaping up to be a good ‘un. Here’s some news:

At Queensland Poetry Festival, just last weekend, I learned I’d been shortlisted for the Thomas Shapcott Prize. This is super, super exciting! Congratulations to the worthy winner, David Stavanger; the runner-up, Jonathan Hadwen; and the other shortlisted entrants: Chloe Callistemon, Stuart Cooke and Nicola Scholes. It will be fantastic to have David feature (as Ghostboy) at the Ruby Fizz Salon in October. I also caught fantastic sets from Matt Hetherington and Betsy Turcot at QPF, before I had to dart back to work.

Brisbane Writers Festival, Sunday, 8 September, 12–1pm: Voiceworks Magazine punches the the Red Room’s lights out with wordsmithery and coolness, led by our editor, Kat Muscat. Features Gianina Carter, Daniel Dixon, Zenobia Frost, Tasha Llewellyn, and Sam George-Allen. Check out the event page here.

Voiceworks: Fighting Trousers

Lyre is a new e-journal from Brisbane, and I’m very glad to have had three poems included in the inaugural issue.

Cordite: Masque, edited by Ann Vickery, is out, and includes poems/words by Jordie Albiston, Paul Summers, Santo Cazzati, Kristin Hannaford, and me.

Rabbit #9, the open issue, launches on 11 September, 6.30pm, at Embiggen Books, 197–203 Little Lonsdale St in Melbourne. I wish I could be there! This is my first poem in Rabbit, and I’m very excited to be included alongside Ali Alizadeh and Jordie Albiston.

There’s a plethora of great stuff to catch at BWF this weekend — here’s a list of highlights to help you out. (She Stole My Every Rock and Roll is my pick, for Saturday.) Then there’s Brisbane Festival and the Spiegeltent and wayyy too much coolness. My favourite month! Goldenness ahoy!

x

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.

Avid Reader: Voiceworks #89 Launch

Express Media’s awesome Voiceworks Magazine is slowly working their way to world domination, and Brisbane is next on the map. VW #89 — Space lauches at Avid Reader on July 26, and we’ve got a super-cool trio of Brisbane writers to help us: Michelle Law, Jack Venig, and Alberto Vasquez Sanchez.

Voiceworks publishes the words and art of Australians aged under 25. Come along to learn more, hear awesome writerly talents, buy Voiceworks, and find out how to submit your poetry, prose and non-fiction. Also there will be wine.

Find out more on the FB event page, or follow @Express__Media for updates.

How seapunk is our cover?