To be a poet one needs the six P’s – the pencil, the paper, the perception, the passion, the persistence and the unshakable persuasion that the poem is in fact possible and attainable. - Grace Perry

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Now is the Winter of our Discontent

Seeing as I haven't posted any of my poetry in a while, I thought I should share something I've been working on. I think the last two stanzas still need a bit of work. I received some great feedback from a friend at the South Coast Writers Centre, Adam Carr, about perhaps dropping the 'is' in both the last stanzas. As Adam said, with so little syllables it seems a waste to have 'is' in there. Fellow Fellowship of Australian Writers', Southern Highlands chapter, Greg Tome, also gave me some wonderful feedback. Greg liked the suprise of 'squeezing size 8 legs' and found 'the can of bull' a cold contrast to 'dark, warm and melty'. Thank you to both Adam and Greg for their encouragement and advise on this poem. I wonder what others think? I am stuck on 'voluptuous bosoms', I think that sounds a bit cliche, but it is the kind of image that I want to finish with, a woman who is older, more confident, and comfortable in her body, to the point that she can again enjoy the foods that she did as a younger child without the guilt that society places on women to look a certain way.

Dessert First

"now 'really' is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by cheesecake and fork" @PresumptuousBug.

Finger sucking cream,
saliva giggles over
mother’s hand.

Freckles stain your lips,
rainbow on your tongue, in your
hands dark, melty, warm.

Squeezing size 8 legs
chocolate cake is turned away,
for a can of bull.

Now cake is ordered
first, for glorious laughter
and voluptuous

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"My whole life an addiction to country, falling forever for places"

Congratulations Mark Tredinnick for winning the 2012 Cardiff International Poetry Prize. The ‘Margaret River Sestets’ is another example of Tredinnick’s poetic ability.

The word ‘sestets’ in the title suggests that the poem will be sophisticated; few people write sestets (six lined stanzas). Juxtaposing this is the informal, conversational voice that tells of place, flora, fauna and broken relationships. I will get back to the juxtapositions within this poem shortly. The poem begins:

                There’s a continent between us now, taut
  with distance…

The continental distance, with one person on the east coast and one on the west, and their relationship separation is symbolised by the long line length. The expansive lines allow Tredinnick room to explore the separation and the place of Margaret River. As well as, play with clichés like the continental distance, lost love and the Romantic ideal of the poet as at one with nature:

The grasses thrum like a squadron of spitfires, a sound so palpable
I wait for it to come in a cloud across the early summer pastures,
    but nothing’s troubling them except a little light weather
     and nothing’s bothering the grey blueblood mare, either
or the purple-hooded parrot at its post-pastoral repose, but me.

In these lines Tredinnick captures the sound and busyness of nature, positioning the speaker in the poem as disturbing nature.

Without Tredinnick’s clever mastering of grammar the long lines would not flow as they do:

    …Because of the vines, I guess,
and the olives, the lavender and the limestone and the languid yellow light, they tell you it’s like Provence here,
but that would ignore the jarrah and the marri, the black roos and the butcher birds,
         the wattlebirds and white-faced herons, the nasal mutter
of the honeyeaters, the Australian tripthongs of the frogs in the pond, nights,
the black ducks in their black thongs, the throngs of roadside lizards.

Here is a second example of Tredinnick’s use of juxtaposition as he compares Margaret River in Australia with Provence in France. Though the geography and weather of these two regions may be similar, the flora and fauna in Margaret River is overtly Australian and Tredinnick captures this perfectly. This long sentence describes the colour, texture and sound of the place, representing place in the word choice, alliteration and pace. The word ‘limestone’ connotes a roughness which contrasts with the softness of ‘lavender’ and smoothness of the ‘olives’. Alliteration is used to capture the sound of the bush where sounds revibrate through the place, for example in the ‘r’ in ‘yarrah’, ‘marri’, ‘roo’ and ‘bird’. Finally, onomatopoeic words such as ‘tripthong’ are perfectly placed to, again, suggest the sound of the place. The alliteration helps to quicken the pace of a grouping of words, making this place appear vibrant.

Sound is important to Tredinnick as he responds to place, writing poetry which is rooted in an experience of a particular place. As Tredinnick stated in an interview on the 2nd of July 2012:
…if we are not attending to rhythm structures, if we are just focusing on content than we are going to miss half of the subject that we are concerned with… we have to write more with our ear and less entirely with our brain. I think that’s always, if not more important, when trying to write / listen to ideas about country, because if you miss the jazz of the place then you are playing some other goddamn tune because we’ve got a bunch of ideas in our head, we are actually not listening, we are projecting onto it.
Here Tredinnick articulates just how important sound and musicality are to him when writing of place.

I have suggested that the sophisticated architecture of the poem contrasts with the relaxed narrative voice, however there is also a philosophical element to Tredinnick’s poem.  This can be seen in the phrase “…post-pastoral repose…”. John Kinsella argues that all Australian poetry can be “…defined through or against pastoral models… models have not imposed themselves well on Australian cultures and landscapes, and… variations on a form are always outcomes of it” (2008, p131). For Kinsella all poetry in Australia must be seen as a variation of pastoralism, and within the Australian context the variation must be titled antipastoral. This is due to the harsh and dry qualities of the Australian landscape, combined with the underlying dispossession that is behind every pastoral pursuit, as Kinsella states, “…the Australian landscape is not the European… it is really the storm that belongs[,] Australia is a place of extremes[, f]urthermore, a sense of belonging is marred by guilt, that the European rural is laid over the Aboriginal land…” (1996, p37). Brendan Ryan disagrees with Kinsella’s antipastoralism, stating, “…to suggest that traditional pastoral idylls are no longer possible in Australia, denies the possibility of change and adaptation within the pastoral form” (2001, p26). The tranquillity of Tredinnick’s post-pastoralism appears to be closer to Ryan’s understanding of an Australian pastoralism. However, within this poem the Arcadian pastoral of Australia is disturbed by human presence. The line “…the trees we don’t call blackboys anymore hang out…” suggests that the persona is non-Indigenous. In this sense perhaps Tredinnick’s post-pastoral is similar to Kinsella’s anti-pastoralism. The non-Indigenous human presence is always going to exist in this place now, and so therefore the Arcadia will always be disturbed.  

‘Margaret River Sestets’ is another powerful exploration of place by Mark Tredinnick and can be viewed in full at

Friday, July 13, 2012

Linen Tough as History - Julie Chevalier

I have to agree with Michael Sharkey, "I’d like to steal a lot of Julie Chevalier’s ideas, even words. She has an enviable take on the world that makes me wish I’d said half the clever things she says about it" (2012).  

Linen Tough as History hits you with Chevalier's wit right from the first poem. She has an amazing ability to use language and imagery as commentary on contemporary life in Australia. 'ms marbig No. 26 16' jokingly critiques the sexism and misogyny sometimes found in the office. The sound of this poem captures this scene, with the 'click-clacks his documents'. The short lines resonate with the fast pace of office work. The shortness of the poem symbolises not only the female office worker's demise, as her boss is no longer satisfied with her look, which has become old and tired, but I like to think is also a metaphor for the short skirt that the boss desires. She has become:
...past your use-by-date, he
exposes her in public
whips her back into an angry V.
her rust assistants jam
printers, shredders, fax machines
The sexuality of this poem, captured in that 'angry V', exaggerates and emphasises the misogyny of the boss. What a pig!

The second part of this book is a series of ekphrastic poems. 'Untitled (Old woman in bed) 2000' is a poem written in response to Ron Mueck's sculpture. The poem is written in a block shape, a subtle suggestion that Chevalier is not an admirer of this sculpture. There is nothing gentle and fluid about the shape of the poem and there is nothing gentle about the content of her poem as she concludes:
Whose family does she belong to anyway? Why are
they  letting  her  die in an art gallery? Whoever they
are,  they are not taking care of her properly. I hope
she  is  buried  in  art  storage  before  my  next visit.

Chevalier makes some interesting commentary on the social media and online language of the 21st century, for example in her poem 'droughts and close shaves at the cross':
that's not my real name that's my user name
said pirate waiting for his zane to get a trim.
for when you use people?
for when I use.
bald (bad)ie picked up a com(b)ic
put on his eye patch...
 Here we have a play on the concept of user names, in this case 'pirate' a sly, untrustworthy character. I looked up the word 'zane' which the urban dictionary defines as:
1. Zane

A badass rugged mother fucker who gets ALL them bitches.
Dude, Zane's a badass, he boinked like 5 chicks in the same night
3. zane

Highly intellectual male with enormous hair and little or no social skills. Has relationships bordering on homo erotic with his red headed friends. Admired by the ladies due to his rugged and hairy good looks supposedly enormous genitalia. All round nice guy.
(Friend) Hey is Zane coming to the pub tonight? He is so cool.
(Girl): Oh my God you mean THE Zane. He is such a stud.

I quite like this third definition and like to think that that is what Chevalier intended for the word. As for 'combic' I believe that this is an acronym for Combined Obscuration Model for Battlefield Induced Contamination. Again, I am only guessing that this is what Chevalier intended. If it I am right though, the poem starts with an awkward guy, lost in the world of gaming, or is he merely a sexually driven young man interested in comics? The poem then moves on to describe a small town - 'barbequed bats like sneakers / on power lines', the heat, the small barber desperate for the rain - 'hair grows faster when its raining. The heat and dryness of the town is made real in Chevalier's imagery.
There are so many more poems that I could write about, but I think I will leave it at that for today. Please for anyone who has read this book comment what you thought of it and perhaps your reading of one or more of her poems. There is so much going on in her poetry from the political, as Puncher & Wattman point out, to the ekphrastic poems and her "fresh and feisty" commentary on "...contemporary tensions between the cosmopolitan and parochial, stretching from Sydney down the escarpment to Wollongong" (Keri Glastonbury - comment on back cover of Chevalier's book).

You can check at Chevalier's web page at You can purchase the book at

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Round Table with Anna Kerdijk Nicholson

Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, Greg Tome and Berlio 
Thank you to everyone who joined Anna Kerdijk Nicholson and I at Gilbert's of Mittagong yesterday for a chat about her poetry; the what, how and why.

Anna Kerdijk Nicholson currently holds a position on the Board of Directors of Australian Poetry and was previously an editor for Five Bells. Along with Anna's contributions to the Australian poetry writing community, she has published two books of poetry, the first of which, The Bundanon Cantos, was mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald's Best Books of 2003. The collection of poems which became The Bundanon Cantos began in 1998 when Anna was Artist-in-Residence at Bundanon, near Nowra. Anna's second book, Possession, was published in 2010 and received the Wesley Michel Wright Prize, the Victorian Premier's Prize and was shortlisted for the NSW and ACT Premier's Prizes. Anna told us that the success of Possession was like 'having a child and watching them go off to uni and get a real job', she is amazed at how well received the book has been. Anna has also won the Arts Queensland Award for Unpublished Poetry and has been a prizewinner in The Society of Women Writers NSW Inc. National Poetry Prize.

The afternoon began with Anna reading three of her poems, one of which was 'Terra Australis ... land of the inmost heart'. This poem, like many of Anna's, carries a hard hitting message about the colonisation of Australia. Anna has written:
                       ....The mail-box names down the Dam Road are recent tributes
                       to us coming here to find, by digging the earth, what
                       in our hearts we sought: Eccles, Johnston, McWhirter,
                       Naidu.... (2010, p43).
Here Anna acknowledges that all who have migrated to Australia have come to find a home, a place where they can belong. Many of the poems within Possession, as Anna pointed out, are modern sonnets, this poem included. The modern sonnet holds to the 14 lines, but is not concerned with rhyme in the same way that a traditional sonnet is. It was remarked that within her collection Possession the use of the modern sonnet is a tool through which Anna is able to create a conversation between the ideals held during the time of Captain Cook and twenty-first century, postcolonial Australia. Anna commented that she was once asked if she viewed herself as a 'postcolonial' writer. In order to respond to this she researched the term and was thrilled to find that her writing could be described as postcolonial, but noted that she would not have described herself as postcolonial, as she does not think in those terms when she writes. Though, she does believe that a good poem should always carry some hard hitting message, the politics of the writer, underneath the imagery and beauty of the writing. She hopes that her poetry is able to draw a reader in through her use of language and description, but that they will come out the other end thinking about the political underlying message that is conveyed.

One poem that is perhaps a bit more hard hitting is 'Canto XX', which explicitly describes the inappropriateness of non-Indigenous Australians presence in Australia:
                       ....I look down on the lands

                       through my telescope -
                       armies are driving
                       across the plains
                       as I watch. I can see
                       spotted-brick encampments
                       and four-wheel drives... (2003, p49).
Our group discussed how the short lines of this poem echo the sound of marching. Discussion of the line divisions here, and of Anna's adoption of the modern sonnet, lead to a conversation about contemporary poetry in general and the forms of poetry that are most popular at the moment. Those present discussed what inspires them to write and Anna suggested other poets that we should be reading, poets who write on similar themes to what we explore ourselves. This is an important point, anyone who enjoys writing poetry, or any kind of literature for that matter, should be reading. Anna herself stated that she reads as widely as she can, with some particular favorites, such as Jill Jones, Peter Boyle and Alison Crogan.

Anna Kerdijk Nicholson deep in conversation with Ken Challenor
We moved on to an exploration of ekphrastic poetry, with Berlio reading Anna's poem 'Studies For a Nude'. The circularity of this poem was noted, with "...the very bare / soles of her feet..." appearing in the first stanza, followed by the repetition of souls in the last stanza, with "...toughness peeled to her / uninhibited, naked soles" (Meanjin, p216). Anna explained that the 'darker work' in the second stanza, asserting "...its alien qualities, andogynous / and defiant..." was a metaphor for herself. Anna discussed how interesting the process of writing from a painting can be, as well as writing from a journal, such as in many of her poems in Possession, which have been inspired by Captain Cook's journals, and some in The Bundanon Cantos, inspired by writings by Arthur Boyd. She told us how she will read a journal and take out the narrative, cutting the journal entry back to one core image, and then select lines from the journal which contain this image, randomly compile them to then gradually chop and build the words, lines and imagery that will become the final poem. This was a process that Ken Challenor was particularly interested in having recently experimented with writing an ekphrastic poem of his own. Ken and I will be reading our ekphrastic poems opening of an art exhibition, 'Zwischenräume - Spaces of Convergence', in the Faculty of Creative Arts gallery at Wollongong University on the 27th of July, from 12.30pm.

Greg tome expressed an admiration for Anna's use of imagery and the way that she is able to compact so many different ideas and meanings within one poem, but it is still able to flow and remain connected. Greg read Anna's poem 'Today the Distance Between the Threads of the Net':
                         Let us imagine it is the width of a chink of light
                         falling near a wife's foot as she passes her husband's door;
                         the worn dip in a butcher's block on the Mile End Road;
                         the width of a carriage rut in the mud in York;
                         the fatness of folded secret orders from the Admiralty;
                         or perhaps as thin as a goose's quill in an ink pot
                         on the St Lawrence River; but how shall it be measured
                         now, and how will we know when it is done? (2010, p51).
Within this poem there is an exploration of gender, colonisation and the passing of time. Jennifer D. Maree was interested in how Anna selects the right words for a poem, it is something that Jennifer struggles with, knowing if a word is to abstract and therefore readers will not be able to grasp the meaning. This interested Anna, who described this struggle as Jennifer's politics. Jennifer wants poetry to be for everyone, accessible for everyone. Personally, while I do think that poetry should be accessible for everyone I would like to stress that a word, if it appropriately captures the image, sound and texture of a poem should not be sacrificed. A reader will be able to learn through their reading, gaining a wider vocabulary, and these days with google it is so easy to look up an obscure word that might not be understood with a first reading. Though I do respect Jennifer's politics and I am interested to read some of her poetry as she informed me that she does have a self published book out.

You can purchase The Bundanon Cantos at  and Possession at

Sunday, July 1, 2012

By the Estuary

Jonathan Bate writes that “[a] Romantic poem may be regarded as a model of a certain kind of being and of dwelling… the poem itself is an image of ecological wholeness which may grant to the attentive and receptive reader a sense of being-at-home-in-the-world” (2000, p109). In this sense Mark Miller’s poetry could be described as post-Romantic or a reconfiguration of Romanticism. Within his poetry Miller describes the natural world in such a way that the people who are featured in his poems are embedded in their surroundings. An example of this is his poem ‘By the Estuary’, a poem in four parts, where Miller paints images of the activity of one day, from morning till night: “Making the most of the failing light, / a flurry of gulls / scatters like flecks of silver / late children shriek and dive / from the pier into the herringed tide, / down into the lathing currents / before scurring home / with the salt-tang still on their skin /…” (2010). Within this poem the birds, a dead seadragon, moored fishing boats, swimming children and fruit bats are all described in such a way that they all, the human and nonhuman elements, appear natural and ingrained into that place. The majority of Miller’s poetry displays this ‘ecological wholeness’ that Bate discusses, exploring the majesty of life, both human and nonhuman, along the Shoalhaven River. As Mark Miller stated in an interview, “[a] lot of my poems are about place, and although they… don’t have that overtly environmental, or conservation message to them, it’s there inherently or implied through the impact of the environment on me and on my sensibilities” (2012, pers. comm. 1 June). This comment by Miller demonstrates his mission to create a sense of ‘dwelling’ within his poetry, where the reader may take away lessons of preservation through an experience of the majesty of nature, as Miller views it. 

You can buy Mark Miller's Conversing with Stones at

The Secret Life of Poetry

On the 19th of May I sprang out of bed, printed out a selection of my poems and headed to the State Library of NSW. With my precious poems clung to my chest I found my way to the Mitchell Meeting Room and made myself a cup of tea in anticipation of a day workshopping with David Brooks. Fifteen eager poets sat down to learn ‘the secrets of poetry’.

Brooks gave us some excellent advice such as, if you are interested in writing poetry you should be reading it. This is something that my dad has long been telling me and that I indeed do practise. I have been reading Mark O’Flynn and John Watson’s new books which I also discovered at the Sydney Writers’ Festival and am thoroughly enjoying. Watson’s poetry, in Occam’s Aftershave, is witty and fun as he explores the process of writing and the purpose of poetry. Flynn’s Untested Cures… is a beautiful exploration of nature, with imagery such as “…Leeches, loving the rain, turn acrobatic somersaults towards us. / They drop from trees…” (2011, p55).

Another piece of important advice that Brooks gave was that if you want to be published and you want to get your poetry out to the readers then you have to apply for every competition and send off your poems to journals and publications. He told us that you shouldn’t be scared of sending one poem to multiple journals. Just be honest, if someone picks up your poem, even if it isn’t the journal you would prefer to be published in, you must withdraw your submission from any other publications that you sent it to. This is something that I have been terrified of, sending my poems to journals and competitions, but with Brooks’ advice in mind I have been putting myself out there more and I will continue to do so.

An important piece of advice for me was to be careful not to write beyond the end of the poem. This is something that I have a bad habit of doing. It is very difficult to know when you have written enough, but not too much. For example, a poem of mine:

the girl in the bar

smashing of glass, a cry of ‘TAXI!
movement of bodies,
money, drinks.
noise, DJ scratching all of the popular tunes,
poker machines sing,
a woman screams, ‘Bottoms up!

one girl sits still,
silent, sipping cool wine.
she wears blue,
sweat glistens on her forehead
eyes gleam the colour of her dress
her cheeks and lips are flushed.

a fleshy faced, Mitch,
is already entangled in the image.

Brooks suggested that this poem should perhaps end at ‘eyes gleam the colour of her dress’. 

Another brilliant recommendation was to contemplate where to place line breaks and how to effectively use enjambment. In consideration of this, Brooks referred us to Denise Levertov’s article ‘In the Function of the Line’ (1979). Levertov notes that traditional poetry forms such as sonnets do not suit contemporary subjects as well as free verse: “…there are few poets today whose sensibility naturally expresses itself in the traditional forms … [t]he closed, contained quality of such forms has less relation to the relativistic sense of life which unavoidably prevails in the late twentieth century than modes that are more exploratory, more open-ended” (1979). Levertov wrote that “[t]he most obvious function of the line-break is rhythmic: it can record the slight (but meaningful) hesitations between word and word that are characteristic of the mind's dance among perceptions but which are not noted by grammatical punctuation” (1979). This is the best explanation of enjambment I have found so far. Brooks hoped to stress the meaning that a line-break can carry and remind us to be careful that we are not splitting up a single concept, confusing the reader by placing a word at the start of another line, which may not flow from that previous image.

All in all this was an informative workshop and I walked out with my poems still clutched to my chest, ready to test out some of Brooks’ techniques.