Poetry under a March Moon

2019 has, so far, been all work, no play poetry.  Simply not enough hours in each day to write the way I’d like to. Sighhhhhhhhhh.  Still, there has been some movement out ‘there’ in the poetry world … I’m pleased to have a poem — ‘Iris’ — coming out in the next issue of Antipodes, ‘Channelling a wabi sabi world view, for you’ coming out in Meniscus, and have a poem called ‘One Doll Less’ in Issue 4 of the stunning Not Very Quiet addressing the theme of ‘performing gender’. It recalls a vivid memory from childhood.  Thanks to Sandra Renew, Moya Pacey and K.A Nelson, the editors of this issue, and I’m sure, like me, you’ll enjoy reading thought-provoking poems by the other contributors.

It seems to be the season for anthologies — a poem from a few years back  — Mid Life Crisis — was selected for Forty Voices Strong: An Anthology of Contemporary Scottish Poetry, published by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and edited by Patrick Moran. While I no longer live in Scotland (and haven’t for quite a while!) I publish there when I can, and it’s an honour to be represented in this selection of poems. I continue to send poems to Scottish magazines (my favourite is The Poets’ Republic) and the ongoing Scottish poetry friendships mean a lot.

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I’m also very happy to have a poem coming out in a new anthology from the Frogmore Press. This poem is called ‘Blue Door’ and the anthology is Pale Fire: New Writings on the Moon, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first manned (sic!) moon landing. The anthology is edited by Alexandra Loske, also an art historian, who has researched the art, science and culture of the moon in a previous publication (with astronomer Robert Massey) and has another forthcoming publication titled Colour: A Visual History which I can’t wait to get my hands on.

Last night, I read poems at Smallroom — Griffith University Gold Coast’s creative writing and performance meet. The theme really resonated with me — dream/reality. I was one of two guest readers, and it was a pleasure to share the guest spot with Rachel S. Morgan – award winning Australian screen writer and creative writer who read this fantastic blend of sci fi and memoir. Loved it! It was huge fun to be in the thick of the vibrant writing community I work in and among familiar faces — many of the open mic student readings were excellent. Thanks for the invitation to read, Sally Breen.

 

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One of the poems I read was ‘If I Hadn’t’, which was first published in my chapbook Milky Way of Words:

If I Hadn’t

If I hadn’t worked in a bookshop

I wouldn’t have been wearing

the Jack Kerouac shirt

at the hotel tennis courts

and the man in dark glasses

wouldn’t have asked me a question

that led to a love affair

where I became suspicious

of the beauty of camellias

and learnt that there would be

no reward for learning to cook moussaka

but that pain grows poems

and gold doesn’t float.

I’ve sometimes wished since

that I’d worked in a petrol station.

The other major major MAJOR highlight of the last week was emceeing the launch of a retrospective exhibition of my father’s watercolour paintings — Lex Frank: A Retrospective — in my home town of Maryborough. It was a joy to be with family, close friends and artists Dad knew and spent time with. I’m tremendously proud of all he achieved. Dad’s sister Rosslyn McCarthy officially launched the exhibition — 130 works dating as far back as his teenage years.

There’s sure to be a poem somewhere in all of that!

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Long-haul flight after a visit to the Dali Museum

This time three years ago, I was flying back from a conference in Barcelona.  On the flight back, I wrote a poem — ‘Long-haul flight after a visit to the Dali Museum’ — an ekphrastic poem responding to Salvador Dali’s fantastic sculpture, Venus de Milo with Drawers (1936) which is held in the Dali Museum in Figeures, Catalonia (yes, they are eggs on the roof).

It’s a poem about motherhood and travel, and the surge of freedom I felt travelling alone overseas for the first time since I’d become a mother. I’m sure many of you can relate — it was like re-discovering a lost part of myself, and then flying home was about dealing with a whole spectrum of mixed emotions – like drawers shuffling in and out. So, I was delighted to hear today from the editors of a new 2019 Demeter Press title — Travellin’ Mama — that the book, which has my poem in it, is now out! For anyone who is interested in this kind of thing, it’s a book of engaging critical essays, stories and poems with a global outlook that examine the contributions made to travel writing by women.

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takahē and turquoise talk

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I spent yesterday sitting by the ocean at Cotton Tree with boarding school ‘sisters’ enjoying some nostalgia-based therapy over wonderful food and wine, then talking long into the night (wired from a late espresso martini) and am finishing 2018 with feelings of gratitude and optimism! When I arrived home, a package with takahē magazine #94 was waiting for me, and in it, one of the poems from my ‘grief project’ of mid 2017-mid 2018 — ‘Ghost Hill’ (hope you like it Roger). So pleased poetry editors Jeni Curtis and Gail Ingram took that poem as it means an awful lot. I also have a poem up at Stilts Journal (issue 3) titled ‘Old Spells’ — thank you to editors Emily O’Grady and Ella Jeffery.

The last three months have been a time of beginnings — writing courses for the new Bachelor of Creative Industries at Griffith, working as Poet-in-Residence at Loreto College with the dazzlingly-inspired students of year 9 and spending a blissful week writing and walking in Yamba — so, lots of ideas bubbling, poems written or in the pipeline and time to recharge. Wishing everyone a happy, calm, creative 2019!

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Mary P and me.

I’m just back from three days in Maryborough — it still feels like home! — and I can never get over how the rich history and natural beauty of the river setting combines to infuse the streetscapes with a nostalgia and charm that I haven’t quite felt anywhere else. I took some long late afternoon walks, usually along the Mary River and through the gardens to the Wharf Street precinct. The writer P L Travers — author of Mary Poppins — was, of course, born in Maryborough and is celebrated there each year with a wonderful festival.  She was just a little older than my grandmother and I often wonder if they might have crossed paths when stopping to look at the birds and animals in ornamental cages on their own walks through the Gardens as children:

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Here is a selfie of Mary Poppins and me. Unknown

Owls and Artworks …

September has brought poetry blessings!

I’m euphoric about having two poems — ‘From the Attic’ and ‘Pointillism Workshop at Gootchie, 1976’ published in Not Very Quiet – an online journal for women poets. The talented Lisa Brockwell guest edited this issue (issue 3) and set the most inviting and absorbing provocation — a quote about colour by Australian artist Grace Cossington Smith, together with her painting Interior with Wardrobe Mirror (1955) and a quote about poetry and hope by Australian poet Fay Zwicky.  I admired and enjoyed each and every poem in the issue (from poets in Australia but also elsewhere) and feel proud to be associated with this outstanding publication.

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I’m not sure if anyone reading this remembers the years in the early 1990s when Roger and I lived in a rickety cottage down a narrow Paddington Street? Tonight my poem ‘Mort Street, Paddington’ (which refers to this colourful time) appeared in the excellent Algebra of Owls which is also very exciting! Thanks so much to editors Paul Vaughan, Nick Allen and Alicia Fernandez. There’s something very intriguing and inviting about this poetry e-zine — maybe it’s the name? I like anything about owls. Have a special fondness for tawny frogmouths — a family of frogmouths used to nest, every year, in the gum trees at the end of my grandparents’ garden, and for a while, we even had one in our frangipani tree here in suburban Brisbane.

Sydney in Spring!

It was a buzz to read my poems at The Heroine’s Festival in Thirroul south of Sydney on Saturday! I read ‘Embroidered Map’ about the life of Elizabeth Cook — the poem that appears in Heroines: An Anthology of Short Fiction and Poetry (Eds. Sarah Nicholson and Caitlin White, Neo Perrenial Press, 2018, p 83) , and ‘I Ask Isis’ — a poem about the Egyptian Goddess of the sky and death, and wishing. The festival program was thought-provoking, featuring excellent in-depth interviews with novelists and film makers focused on telling women’s stories. I was pleased to meet Aislinn Batstone who has a speculative story in the anthology and, it turns out, also spent some of her early life in Maryborough, Queensland!  Here we are waiting for the train back to Sydney!

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While in Sydney, I took in the John Russell exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW which was breathtaking, rich and beautifully curated. Being there prompted a poem, which I penned on the plane home. Sydney was sparkling in sun, and the food and wine at Radio Cairo on Saturday night was nothing short of amazing.

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I came home with a copy of Storyland by Catherine Mackinnon — another writer at the festival — a novel spanning four centuries and five lives set on the banks of Lake Illawarra. Stunning cover incidentally! I’m always drawn to books about place — just finished Danielle Wood’s The Alphabet of Life and Dark mostly set on Bruny Island, Tasmania (I found a copy of it in The Hobart Bookshop earlier this year – it won the Vogel back in 2003) which has a powerful sense of place, and of objects that belong to places. Her writing is both elemental and subtle. It will stay with me.

I also read poems recently at Couplet in the Brisbane Square Library with T J Wilkshire in August – thanks Lucy Nelson at QPF for the invitation – and was guest poet at Poetry@Clancy’s on Tamborine Mountain in July.  I had a fabulous night — love the infectious enthusiasm of the poetry community up there — and drove back up the Mountain again soon after for the launch of Jena Woodhouse’s new book of poems Green Dance: Tamborine Mountain Poems, the first offering from newly established Calanthe Press.

A lot has happened since I last posted here — my monograph about the International Book Town Movement — Regenerating Regional Culture was launched by legend of Queensland publishing Laurie Muller at the State Library of Queensland in April. I have also had poems published in Pressure Gauge, The Lake, morphrog, London Grip, and in two consecutive editions of Popshot Magazine – ‘Satellite’ in the Romance edition, and ‘Turning Point’ in the Truth edition — very exciting as Popshot commissions artists to respond to your work. I picked up copies today from my local newsagency, so it is definitely ‘out there’. In other poetry news, I have found out my dinosaur poem — ‘Brontosaurus Backlash’ — is being included in an anthology for children called Dragons of the Prime (Emma Press, 2019) — fun! The Emma Press books are quirky and beautifully illustrated, so I am delighted. I also had my poem ‘Pockets’ selected for the last issue of The Poets’ Republic in Scotland (guest edited by Hugh McMillan). Here it is:

Pockets

Keep something safe
Draft a pattern of yourself
During all those hours spent twirling round a post
While your mother looks at pattern books 
Index finger to tongue, the pages turn
You turn; see things in the heat  

Fold your fabric in half and cut 
two pocket bag pieces
The shape you need will be a teardrop 
but with one straight side
You are elsewhere but you turn slowly on the chair
Your mother speaks to you with pins in her mouth 
He doubled you today on his bike
It is the colour of plums

Pockets. Always pockets
You need a seam allowance on all sides 
If done properly, the inside of the pocket design 
Shouldn’t show when you are wearing the garment 
Pockets more private than your skin 
A letter in the one on your right 

Mark where the pocket will go with chalk
Pin the side seams together 
You wear the culottes to the break-up dinner
Chambray with a matching vest 
Red hair ribbons

Use scraps of fabric to play around with colour 
Add something unexpected
Red rickrack trim on the pockets
Where his hands are as they announce the prizes 
You can’t remember whether he had pockets 
You will not see him again
Your mother found the letter 
Stitch the pocket in

This weekend I’ll be hard at work writing my next entry for the New York Midnight Flash Fiction Competition. My last story made the top #15 in its category — my prompts were: genre – historical fiction; place – a printing works; and object – a bone! Who knows what I will be given on Friday inthe next round… the adrenalin certainly kicks in because you are only given a 48 hour window to get the story finished!

In the meantime, Spring is a wonderful time for poetry!

 

… the thing with feathers

The most incredible poetry book (or book for that matter) that I’ve devoured this year so far is Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (Faber and Faber 2015). Just as its cover advertises, it was vivid, dark, hilarious, surprising and unforgettable. Reading it was an important step in trying to make sense of my father’s death from leukaemia in June. If I hadn’t been able to write most days, I’m not sure I’d have made it through the months before and after either. I read poems to Dad in hospital (and played him Edith Piaf, Dave Brubeck and The Girl from Ipanema), played cards and talked, talked, talked about living and dying and childhood and watercolour painting and gardening and places he’d been or we liked, and beautiful or obscure things that had occurred to him as he spent long days and nights looking out at the Brisbane River but wishing he was home and his wonderful life could go on.

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This is the poem I read at the end of my eulogy.  I wanted to capture Dad’s optimism.

Orenda

I want to get home to paint the trees, you say

they’ve been there right in front of me

for years and it’s time I did –

you hear the mana rustle in their leaves

Pan-vital even now against the white sheets

in the sterile room –

long ago you told me the wisteria

was bonsai-like because clay clogged the soil

but you have the painter’s orenda

bad blood won’t stop the flow of blossom

to the last branches

or the sun dancing always

at your back.

I’ve had a few poems published this year (and very late last year) – and I’m ashamed at how long it is since I posted any updates. They are Nostalgia in Australian Poetry Journal, Nothing Bad in Deep Water Literary Journal, By Return In Pressure Gauge, Still Life with Captions in foam:e, Why Do Sea Otters Hold Hands? in Imbolc Best of Print Anthology, Dark Room in Grey Sparrow, The Fernery in Antiphon and most recently, two poems – The Bells and Complication in Poetry Salzburg Review.  My grateful thanks go to the editors of these publications. These are silver linings in what has been the hardest year so far. But speaking of silver, here is one more poem about Dad that I was reminded of as I walked to Elephant Rock (and on to Currumbin Rock!) each day during the past week with my boys. This is how I remember Dad back 40 years in that place:

Pentimento

for my father from Tugun Beach

Is this heat dripping

through the tube to you

as well as blood,

into those arms

that tunnelled sand

and rode breakers?

I see you at the shoreline,

shoulders square,

beaded in silver,

a salt god

counting waves in sevens.

It’s not the sun playing tricks:

you are vivid beneath the glaze.

 

A Christmas Tincture …

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It’s been a little quiet on the poetry front (well, mine, anyway) so I’m so pleased to have a new poem – Replanted – in the latest edition of the excellent Tincture Journal. Thanks so much to poetry editor Stuart Barnes (and do read the interview with Stuart in this issue, btw, where he talks about his new poetry book, Glasshouses, and all things poetry).  Buy a Tincture for Christmas if you are looking for stimulating fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction over summer …

 

 

Poems in Shetland Create

Thanks so much to Angie Spoto and Kirsten Boswell for publishing my poems in SHETLAND CREATE Issue #1 Home (Mangold Press, Glasgow). The work featured in this issue explores the many nuanced meanings of home. I’m always happy to keep my Scottish connections active!  It does seem strange, somehow, to have a poem about the cane fires that were such a colourful part of growing up in Maryborough, Queensland included in this collection but I’m delighted about it.

Cane Fires

Childhood was burnt winter air,
smoke-hazed sunsets,
the rush to remove clothes from lines
as soot rained like black snow.
An angry front raged across the river,
devouring fields, tinder-dry,
bandicoots and snakes fleeing
only to be scooped up by birds.
We danced with charcoal feet
under cold skies, ash still falling.
Later with skin scrubbed pink
I’d watch embers through glass,
last orange specks
against a scorched silhouette,
forever a slave to sweetness

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