Interview with Australian Writer Zenobia Frost

Blogger Geosi Gyasi interviewed me for his blog, Geosi Reads:

Geosi Reads

Credit: Raw Bones Credit: Raw Bones

Brief Biography: Zenobia Frost is an Australian writer and editor whose debut poetry collection, The Voyage, was released in 2009. Zenobia (Brisbane) is the assistant editor of Cordite Poetry Review. Her work has been published in Voiceworks, Overland, Southerly, The Lifted Brow and Rave Magazine. Zenobia was shortlisted in the 2013 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize and won second place in the 2013 John Marsden Prize for Young Australian Writers. Her debut collection, Salt and Bone, is forthcoming from Walleah Press.

Geosi Gyasi: Between Page and Stage, which one is your first love?

Zenobia Frost: Page, I think. Writing poetry was how I learned to be happy with my own company. I can fiddle with one line or one piece of punctuation for hours on end. Sometimes, when I write a new poem, I’m excited to wake up the next morning just to see it with fresh…

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Poem: “Varuna”

 

five days in
dark rooms begin
to lose their menace

alone or close enough
domestic ghosts
nowhere to be seen

but in the hum
of unfamiliar stillness

this country house
listens
more than speaks

takes notes
stretches out its tall spine

in my room
the ladder to widow’s walk
sighs in upward slumber

there is so much here
of you, Eleanor

this thoroughfare in veneration
of your work

the first book I choose
has your impression

I thought once that I saw you
by the fire

but we aren’t introduced
to one another

and in this quiet
I am looking for stories

 

In 2012, I spent a week working on my manuscript at Varuna (once the house of Australian author Eleanor Dark), courtesy of CAL.

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

not that poetry is a trap but prayer

I’ve just finished reading Nathan Curnow’s half of Radar, a 2012 Walleah Press collection shared between Nathan and Kevin Brophy. (The title of this post comes from “Gently Against the Grain”.) Great way to spend a spare sliver of a Tuesday. I should be reading more. Great poetry always reminds me I should be reading more. On to Kevin’s half!

I have some thrilling news I’ve been struggling to keep quiet: a poem of mine has been shortlisted in the Overland Judith Wright Prize for Emerging Writers. It is a wonderful feeling to be included on this list, alongside 11 very talented poets, especially as this is a personally significant poem. Our house-Francis (aka Jeremy Thompson) was shortlisted for this same prize back in 2011; he’d actually forgotten until today, so now I’m doubly pleased. May the odds be ever in our favour, shortlisters!

I’ve been darting back and forth between New Farm and everywhere else this week, with World Theatre Festival on at Brisbane Powerhouse. Thus far I’ve managed to catch All That Fall (Pan Pan Theatre), JiHa Underground (Motherboard Productions) and She Would Walk the Sky (Company 2). Here’s my review of the latter for The Guardian UK (the show is on its way to London after Brisbane) and here’s my friend Nerissa’s Arts Hub review. And here’s an overview/preview of WTF14 Tahnee Robinson and I cooked up for Theatre People.

Make sure you catch at least something at this innovative festival! I’ve never experienced anything like All That Fall, which I think I’d categorise as “listening theatre”. Audience members sat together in rocking chairs (I took the photo above to show you) and listened to Samuel Beckett’s first radio play commissioned for the BBC. I’ve heard The Great Spavaldos is a unique experience, putting you in the role of trapeze artist via, I presume, immersive science-magic. She Would Walk the Sky experiments with Brisbane Powerhouse’s wonderful and challenging spaces (read both reviews above to read some contrasting thoughts on that).

In other news, I have an essay on consent and ethical nonmonogamy included in the upcoming Sex Issue of The Lifted Brow, which you can pre-purchase here (or, if you’re in Brisbane, at Avid Reader after March 1). There’ll be launches in Melbourne and Sydney early in March, too. 88 pages of awesome writing by awesome writers (and also me). Woooo!

Zen x

P.S. I have bought a stack of crafting supplies and I am super excited to start creating horrifying regresty-able works of art for friends (and maybe also some poetry crafts). Stay tuned for BROOCHBACK MOUNTAIN.

Poem: “Brisbane haiku”

accordion’s squall
twisting through bunched streets
crow’s neck distends

unexpected rain
the humid walls exhale
roast queenslander

slick black umbrella
bounces at a snapped joint
fallen bat

toowong traffic yawns
ghost-tram arrives earlier
than council bus

crowded station
arched spines against metal
bare tracks curve away 

backyard mangoes
swell, yellow and fall
in your absence

bushland
ironbarks one by one
telephone pole

Francis Thompson and Zenobia Frost
First printed in Petrichor, 2011

Poem: “Finding/Losing”

This is the land of your poems.
The trees covet sky and water;
droplets leap from miles up
and wash away our windshield.

This road is overwhelmed, bumping
its shoulders with the ankles of trees
who don’t perceive the winding below.
We slip by unnoticed,

too small to be considered
anything but ground dwellers
snuffling for mushrooms.
Really, we are here to gather ourselves.

We pass seven cordoned rockfalls:
a sign to scratch off the seven days
we have gathered like barnacles.
We hide in the scent of the forest,

relearning stillness with a quiet engine.

 

Zenobia Frost and Francis Thompson (in collaboration)
First printed in Petrichor, 2011

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

REVIEW: The Dark Party

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, 28 Nov. 2013
Words by Zenobia Frost

We settle in for The Dark Party up the back, led by the (unfounded, it turns out) sensation that the front row might be a dangerous place. After all, I’d watched journalist Dan Nancarrow have an apple chainsawed off his face for Brisbane Times — and would prefer not to follow in his footsteps. The Dirty Brothers (Shep Huntly, The Great Gordo Gamsby and Pat Bath), three “hobo clowns”, are already shuffling into the audience, distributing ping-pong balls. No explanation is given; in fact, The Dirty Brothers will remain silent, except for their occasional stifled cries. For the next hour, we will squirm, squeal and laugh as they injure themselves in the name of circus.

If I ask you to imagine three men dancing over dozens of mousetraps, you might picture chaos. But the Brothers’ triumph is in their deftly controlled performance — perfectly dishevelled, these three are masters of clowning. Their distinct characters, in monochrome clown makeup, simultaneously capture melancholy, mischief and horror. There’s choreographed elegance in their drunken shambling, lit by sepia spotlights. I couldn’t help but imagine Martin Martini’s Bone Palace Orchestra providing a live soundtrack.

THE+DARK+PARTY+hero

It’s hard to describe The Dark Party without spoiling all the surprises. The Brothers play with staples, bear traps, electricity and fire with a jaded sense of self-destruction. These acts are for their amusement, yes, but they’re reproachful as well; we feel sympathy for the one being hurt, whether by himself, his brothers or the world at large. They draw the uncanny out of everyday activities — one’s morning ablutions and the act of putting on a coat are made strange, perhaps because they are so irrelevant to the world these ruined clowns occupy. My +1 observes, as well, several well-placed tips of the hat to Waiting for Godot (which I’ve not seen to confirm) — “as if,” she says after the show, “Vladimir and Estragon had finally given up on waiting and instead had resigned themselves to setting each other on fire for entertainment.”

I’m endlessly glad that the Judith Wright Centre, with its adaptable performance spaces, continues to support concise or unusual acts that might otherwise be relegated to sideshows and fringe festivals. Cunning segues ensure that The Dark Party — only an hour long — is more than the sum of its parts; it deserves time to be a headliner in its own right.

The ping-pong balls return in a wonderful gag that relies on the audience to participate in the Brothers’ denigration. Their violence is effective not because they make it look easy, but the opposite: their reluctance, their silence and their pain are intrinsic to the act.

Totem

I am the cloaked detective
the silent choir
top of the slush pile

I am sleeping in your pocket
a gatherer of secrets
in my nest of old headlines

I am Icarus, scaling the maze
before flight, and Houdini
with supple spine

I am a mathematician
I multiply

I am looking to master
mischief’s map, wherever
X might mark the spot

(Previously published in Frame Lines, 2008. Revised, 2013.)