Wide River, Wolf Moon & Wigtown

I’m just back from a few days at Tugun/Currumbin with my boys so there were many wonderful walks to Elephant Rock. It’s a place that ties past and present together for me like nowhere else. We had some overcast days though, so there was plenty of opportunity to write and I sat up late with an almost full moon over the surf each night. Perfect writing conditions.

The poetry stars seem to have aligned over recent weeks! Good things do seem to happen in threes … it was a complete surprise to receive news about making the Wigtown Prize shortlist for a poem called ‘Green Bathroom’—the announcement about winners is at 4:30am this coming Monday morning (Australian time) and I’ll be up early for the online prize giving event. Fingers crossed!

It was also an honour to be shortlisted for the Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize for my unpublished manuscript Wolf Moon at the end of July, and in amazing company. I’m looking forward to reading the winning entry when it comes out next year in book form with UQP. Congratulations to Gavin Yuan Gao for At the Altar of Touch.

A BIG thanks to everyone who shared the launch of Wide River with me on 16 August at Tamborine Mountain—writing friends, work colleagues, neighbours, dearest school friends who made enormous efforts to be there and poetry loving and supportive members of the Tamborine Mountain community. Grateful thanks to Jock Macleod, Janis Bailey and all at Calanthe Press, my friend and outstanding poet Nathan Shepherdson for his very beautiful sentiments as he launched the book and to Janene Gardner at Under the Greenwood Tree Books and Art for hosting the event. It was a very welcome 24 hours of unwinding in the late winter sunshine, breathing in the mountain air and enjoying the generous hospitality at Amore B&B. Such a memorable time. If you would like a copy of the book, you can contact the bookshop or message me as I have a stash of copies.

Since I last posted I’ve had poems published in StylusLit, the Grieve Anthology, Antipodes, The Poets’ Republic and ‘Step Outside the Frame’, a special September issue of the Bengaluru Review. I also read ‘Survey’ as part of Queensland Poetry Festival’s (QPF) Panacea Poets series. Sincere thanks to editors Rosana Licari, Paul Kane, Neil Young/Hugh McMillan, Tuhin Bhowal, Sally Breen, to Karen Crofts, Director of the Hunter Writers Centre and to Zenobia Frost at QPF.

While it’s always a thrill to see poems in print, I’m really just grateful for the calm that writing poetry brings me when so much seems to be unraveling and times are complicated. It makes all the difference to make creative marks.

Wilder

Are the birds louder?
Or shaking off human noise?
On my city lawn, a quintet
of galahs have gathered at dawn
to peck at dandelion.
As we remain imprisoned
behind doors and glass
cautiously animals are exploring,
reclaiming, pushing
back from corners. Sea lions
swagger in Argentinian ports and
raccoons stroll through Central Park.
In India monkeys swarm the streets,
picket the President’s palace.
Whales are steaming into
Mediterranean shipping lanes.
Jellyfish bask in the reflections
of Venetian buildings and bridges.
Ying Ying and Le Le, the giant pandas
in Hong Kong, have finally
found the peace and quiet to mate.
From Lima to the Bosporus
the skies and parks and beaches
throng with beasts and birds.
The days are closing in.
It feels darker in here,
wilder.

It was a lot of fun to be part of Hugh McMillan’s Pestilence Poems Project this week. I love the way this largely difficult time has allowed creative people to initiate significant projects, come together and share their thoughts — both as a way of expressing how this COVID-19 time feels, and as a time capsule for the future. Here is my reading of ‘Wolf Moon’ recently published in The Blue Nib.

Dreaming of Yellow

There’s been a rising tide of poetry during these strange COVID-19 days of living a half-life. As we slowly re-emerge from home isolation, I keep returning to Anne Sexton‘s poem ‘Yellow.’ It’s my poetry equivalent to musical earworm. And it looks beautiful alongside Brett Whitely’s ‘Still Life with Banana’ don’t you think?

There have been some poetry blessings lately. A huge thanks to Denise O’Hagan for profiling four of my poems in The Blue Nib in April. I’m looking forward to receiving a hard copy in the post soon! Such a depth and wide geographic representation. I was also grateful to have a poem in Not Very Quiet – not exactly a theme, this time, but female poets responding to a new year and a new decade. Little did we know when submitting quite what 2020 would turn out to be. Thank you so much to editors Moya Pacey and Sandra Renew as well as producer Tikka Wilson. It was uplifting to hear all those strong female voices in the recordings from poets that made this edition unique. At the end of March, I also had three poems in The Glasgow Review of Books alongside Georgi Gill, Colin Bancroft and Shara McCallum– warmest thanks to poetry editor Samuel Tongue.

Some days I feel compelled to write poems about how I’m feeling, and as a record of things at this disjointed time. Some of them are quite surreal. Other days words completely refuse to materialise. This one is about family really — I’m missing my mother who is three hours north but there have been lots of phone calls, and a time will come soon when life will be yellow again.

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Prison Island Poem

I was lucky to be able to go with my younger son and his class on a school excursion to St Helena Island in Moreton Bay in 2018. St Helena was a high security prison from May 1867 until the 1920s, and it’s a fascinating place to wander around and immerse yourself in history. As we were standing at the beautiful (in a bittersweet way) little graveyard on the island — many of the graves those of children — a wallaby stared up at us from among the mangroves on the damp stretch of nearby beach and the expression on that wallaby’s face was front of mind as I later sat down to write a poem about our day on the island.

The experience brought back vivid memories of my first visit there on a sketching trip as a 16 year old — an uplifting day spent drawing the ruins in dazzling sun. It was more overcast on the later visit: the ghosts felt closer. My thanks to poetry editor of Hecate, Jena Woodhouse for including two of my poems in the latest issue, one of them being Night on Prison Island, and to journal editor Carole Ferrier.

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Poetry in Nooks and Crannies

It’s been a frenetic six months of teaching at GU Gold Coast and, more recently, at USC’s Sippy Downs campus but I’ve been squeezing poetry into nooks and crannies along the way which helps keep the blood pressure down!  I’ve particularly enjoyed Mondays with a group of wonderful and talented writers in my Global Fiction class — extraordinary conversations about the writing process, and lots of great reading recommendations!! I just finished Lanny by Max Porter, for example, and enjoyed his experiment with not only different character perspectives but the spray of the words across the page – “a joyously stirred cauldron of words” as one reviewer called it. During the last week of blissful grey days after a barrage of heat, curled up in my favourite chair, I also read Patrick Hartigan’s Offcuts and my friend and colleague Stephanie Green’s new book of prose poems titled Breathing in Stormy Seasons (Recent Work Press). This was intermixed with scribbling a couple of my own poems in longhand – one about memories of rain as a way of recalling personal histories and distant sensations, and another about the distress of the recent fires at Binna Burra and elsewhere that affected a number of people I know well, and was so terribly sad for all of us who love that place.

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Thanks to curator of Bimblebox 153 Birds Jill Sampson for inviting me to read my poem ‘Stitched’ — for the Grey-fronted Honeyeater  — at a recent reading and exhibition at Griffith University’s Southbank Campus. Here is my poem and the beautiful print that it accompanies in the exhibition:

STITCHED  

for the Grey-fronted Honeyeater

Holes are appearing.

Dropped stitches.

We can feel it.

 

We’re cast here,

knitted into the mallee,

our colonies

in rhythm

with the spiderweb,

wattle, spinifex,

the last dusk light of the plains

always fires our yellow feathers:

we’ve kept faith with the earth,

needles clicking together,

turning.

 

On still nights

we fear for the land,

that the bargain

will unravel

 

though the sun,

endless ball of hope,

sends out its skeins

and, for now,

the nectar is still sweet.

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I’m happy to have a poem – ‘Veriditas’ – in the second volume of the Heroine’s anthology (Neo-Perennial Press, 2019) so many thanks to editors Sarah Nicholson and Caitlin White. I’m enjoying the work of the other contributors. Otherwise, I’ve recently had two poems included in the Grieve anthology vol 7 (Hunter Writers Centre) and a poem called ‘Brontosaurus Backlash’ included in a book of poetry for children called Dragons of the Prime, edited by Richard O’Brien (The Emma Press, 2019). The editors of Cicerone Journal kindly published two poems — ‘Loading Zone’ and ‘Camera Obscura’ — I really like the look and feel of the journal. Thanks to editor Lorette C. Luzajic for including two poems in the Ekphrastic Review – one about artist Georgia O’Keeffe and her Ghost Ranch; the other about a place that doesn’t really exist anymore except in memory – the Glenkiln Sculpture Park in SW Scotland.

Another ekphrastic poem titled ‘Afterlife’ and in response to Jeffrey Smart’s 1992 painting ‘The Oil Drums’ tied for first place (with Clare Coleman and Damen O’Brien) in the recent Queensland Poetry Festival’s Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Prize, and was later published in Verity La. Unexpected and exciting! Thanks to editor Michele Seminara who I had fun catching up with at the festival. I enjoyed the parts of the festival I was able to attend, especially the launch of Anna Jacobson’s beautiful book of poems Amnesia Findings (UQP, 2019) and listening to Judith Beveridge’s poems from Sun Music: New and Selected Poems, including ‘As Wasps Fly Upwards’.

In other news – not necessarily poetry related – Hay-on-Wye Book Town founder Richard Booth sadly died at 80 last month and I wrote an essay about him for the London Magazine – many thanks to editor Jack Solloway — and I was also quoted in Booth’s obituary in the New York Times. Quite a moment! Vale Richard Booth. You made a huge contribution to the ongoing worship of books in the Digital Age.

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.

mort street paddington

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.