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

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Our Literary Heritage: What role do the classics play in our culture?

A panel consisting of Shane Maloney, Wayne Macauley, John Tranter and Susan Wyndham, Chaired by Jane Gleeson-White discussed 'Our Literary Heritage: What role do the classics play in our culture?' at the Byron Bay Writers' Festival.

John Tranter defined the classic, in Latin - classicus, a work of superior literature.

Tranter said that: "classics can change your life".

The panel discussed Michael Hayward's Text Publishing Classics. Hayward believes his 30 books are classics, but they are not on university courses. Tranter believes that when people say that classics should be on university courses they are talking about their bank balances and not about culture.

Susan Wyndham told us that a classic is a story passed down through generations, but there are also new classics like Where the Wild Things Are.

Wayne Macauley asserted that classics are a marketing excercise. Macauley's writing skills were self educated, gained from looking for Penguin classics in books shops, taking books home and reading them. Macauley enjoyed collectiong the black spined Penguin books from second hand book shops and these books formed his writing education.

Shane Maloney said "I wasn't really interested in classics until I was made one".

Hayward has made a Text Publishing series of books he believed had been over looked.

Maloney think it is funny how many 'instant classics' there are out there: "it is remarkable how instant they often are and not classics".

Maloney did acknowledge that he has enjoyed reading the forward in Penguin classics. The forward frames the book. "A death in Brunswick inspired me to write because you know if he could do it any fucking idiot could and that won't be in the introduction".

Susan Wyndham believes that: "literature helps to define periods of a nation. Texts are snapshots to help us see how we've developed over time and it's our own selection that determines how this will look to future generations".

Wayne Macauley agreed, saying: "classics make up how we see ourselves".

John Tranter told us that: "not much international literature has been influenced by Australian classics, except Patrick White - he has had some influence". Malouf told Tranter "the older you get the more you'll realise that you speak with an Australian accent. It doesn't matter where you've been or what you do".

Best quote from this session I think, was Tranter's comment that: "all Australians carry around pictures of poets in their pockets everyday. There are two poets on the $10 note".

Hayward is pushing for a quota of Australian literature to be taught in the universities. Tranter believes that: "if you want to kill a book you put it on a university list - no one likes the books that they are made to study at university".

Wayne Macauley is not convinced that a book dies after being put on a syllabus.

Shane Maloney said that: "in approaching fiction I'm allergic to the notion of instruction. If a book is said to be able to better me, I will steer well away".

Margo Laidley-Scott's blog post on this panel discussion can be read at the Byron Bay Blog site.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Future of Reading

The Byron Bay Writers' Festival session titled 'The Future of Reading' featured James Cowan, Andy Griffiths, Rhoda Roberts and Vikki Wakefield.

Andy Griffiths believes that "all text stories still have their own appeal, and win!" By all text stories Griffiths is talking about children's books that don't contain pictures. He believes that this is because 'all text stories' "allow for imagination!"

I was startled by the figure shared in this panel - "46% of Australians literacy skills are not high enough for daily activities like reading the newspaper".

Vikki Wakefield said "I want people to develop a love for reading. The ability to read is not just a life skill, it's a life saving skill".

Wakefield is a young adult writer and talked about the 'terrible teens' - "teenagers try to find the unoccupied space in their family, by dressing in black, etc, because it is normally that dark role that is available". She said how empowering it is to look back and realise that your family was always there. Wakefield hopes that important messages are conveyed within her stories, such as 'don't run off'.

Rhoda Roberts discussed how literacy skills are lower for Indigenous people than Europeans. She noted that the major cause for this is that there are not many references on TV, in magazines, books, etc. There are few Indigenous characters in texts for Indigenous readers to relate to.

Roberts said that Indigenous youth gain stories for various medias, including digital medias, such as mobile phones and youtube (check out the Chooky Dancers). Roberts told us that Indigenous people tell stories in a broad range of ways.

Roberts believes that there are many issues with the Government 'Close the Gap' policies: "there is no mention of culture or intergnerational exchange of knowledge". Close the Gap aims to ensure all Indigenous people have housing, schooling, etc, but culture will be lost. For Indigenous people literacy is about reading a book, but it also about reading country.

Thanks to the panelists for a great discussion. Some very important points raised!

Callan Brunsdon has also blogged about this session, check it out here.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Poetry Open Mic

"Poetry begins in reading" - John Tranter
All enthralled by Kerry Miller's poetry
As cafe poet at Gilbert's of Mittagong, I have just held my fist poetry open mic today. It was a great day, with good food as always. Thank you to all of the staff for being so supportive of my residency and of poetry.

Susan Pearce dazzles us all with her talent
Everyone in the cafe today was dazzled by Jared Camilleri, Kerry Miller and Susan Pearce's poetry.
"A poem is something that the heart says to the mind, says to the body - poetry is an embodiment" - Mark Tredinnick
Rhiannon Hall reading a poem at Gilbert's of Mittagong
Thank you to Peter Carmody for organising a sound system for me.

"Poetry is a language awake to its connections" - Jane Hirshfield
Deeply engrossed in Jared Camilleri's poem
Thank you John Brown for taking photos of the event.

I hope to see more poets at my next open mic on the 24th of November. Here's a great blog post by Pip Smith about reading poetry out loud.

Save Ten Lives With a Paper Clip

I recommend that everyone makes it to the Byron Bay Writers' Festival one year! It was possibly the best writers' festival I have ever been to!

Morris Gleitzman, in his session titled 'save ten lives with a paper clip', talked about his most recent series of children's books, set during the holocaust. Gleitzman wanted to explore the power of friendship, whilst providing a bridge for children to experience the real story and real voices of the Holocaust. Gleitzman said that he has found that children don't know much about the period and he believes that it is really important this part of human history is remembered. Writing Once, Then and Now was a personal journey for Gleitzman, as he has a Jewish heritage. His father would have, could have been the main character of the books, Felix, if his grandfather hadn't left Poland as a young man. To find out more about Gleitzman's Felix books click here.

Gleitzman said that his first taste of fantasy was watching the wrestling, "I watched wrestling every weekend with my grandma. It was my first taste of fantasy, of make believe in fiction".

Gleitzman told us of his amazement that children can make snap judgements about history, such as 'before television there were dinosaurs and people eating raw meat in caves'. This is another reason why Gleitzman believes that it was important for his Felix books to be set in a historic setting. Gleitzman likes to show children that history is just a string of normal days for people - yesterday is now history.

Gleitzman said that his books begin in past tense to acknowledge that the story is based on past events. The tense then moves to present in the second chapter so that the characters are more easily relatible for children readers. Gleitzman said that "people don't consider that their lives will be part of history. They just live their lives one day at a time, and this is how it is for the characters in his books".

The characters in the Felix books have obstacles that they may or may not overcome. Due to the setting the biggest obstacle is survival. Gleitzman said "children don't have money or ease of travel, but children do have imagination and stories, and this is how his characters will be able to overcome the obstacles that face them".

The Nazis also told stories, but for different reasons. The Nazis understood the power of stories. Gleitzman hopes to invite childrent o contemplate stories. Stories are the most precious way to convey human relations, but can also be used for the wrong reasons. The most common example Gleitzman gives children of this is the stories told in advertising, where the story hopes to manipluate the audience.

Gleitzman offered some advice for the budding writers out there - "keep on writing until one day you write something better, and don't forget that unsolicitered manuscripts are accepted by the big publishers, like Penguin. Gleitzman also said: "if you can translate a book into Mandarine there's a great website that you can load your novel onto and people can read the first half for free. They then have to pay to read the second half". I didn't write down what the website was, but I'm sure you should be able to find it through a google search. Gleitzman also stressed the importance of making your first page brilliant so that a publisher will keep reading the first chapter and so on.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Southern Highlands Writers Festival

Saturday the 21st of July I headed off to the inaugural Southern Highlands Writers' Festival. It was a great day, with the highlight being Paula McLean's conversation with Mark Tredinnick titled 'Poetry in Motion'.

Paula began the chat describing poetry as like a window to the world, which Mark responded, "well a window is the obvious place for one to observe the world from". Tredinnick then read out his poem 'Catching Fire; or, The Art of Sitting', which is coming out in Meanjin in December. Mark pointed out the squarish, window-like shape of the poem. Mark told us that there is a stillness to 'Catching Fire...', not just in what the speaker says:

And I watch her steal her own silent show, doing
Nothing, immaculately, among the silver leaves.
 but also in the language. You will have to keep an eye out for his poem to find out what was meant by that.

Mark said "poetry can return us to the world by allowing us to remember... return us to the larger than human world by seeing but not judging...". Although he did point out that of course there is always a level of judgement in the language used in the poem.

Mark believes that poetry is 'speech music'; "poetry is an architecture of sound and visual design... You can't write a poem without thinking about the form". Mark quoted Picasso: "the work of art is never finished, it's just abandoned". In other words, Mark said, "there comes a time where you walk away from a poem, when you are over it, and it is time for the next poem".

Mark told us that: "a poem practices in language what meditation practices in silence. A poem is language awake to its connections... language is usually functional, but in poetry it goes beyond this...".

Mark described poets as 'anchorite', "a poet is outside of society and place... a poet is critic and loving observer...".

"Poetry allows a poet to remember belonging and hopefully assists the reader to also remember". By this Mark is talking about theories of belonging going back to Thoreau and Heidegger's ideas that by belonging to a place people will want to preserve that place.

"A poem is never more finished than a window, so you just draw the blind at the end of the day and re-open it the next day, and then one day you just leave it open. We are given the world and it's through poetry that we give it back".

Please note that all quotes are transcribed and may not be exactly what was said on the day.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

'Prune dear, prune'

Peter Skrzynecki visited the Fellowship of Australian Writers' Southern Highlands Chapter today and gave a multitude of good advice and encouragement. He also shared some of his life story and some of the inspiration for his writing. Of the advice Skryznecki gave the one piece that will stick with me, which resonates with the advice that David Brooks gave in the workshop I did with him, is "prune dear, prune". This was something that Judith Wright told Skrzynecki after she read his first book. What I take from this advice is that a good piece of writing must be well edited. Skryznecki told us how Raymond Carver's first editor used to get Carver to cut a twenty word sentence in half to ten words, while still holding the same meaning. Once Carver had done this the editor would say, 'good, now cut it to five words'. This is an important technique for all forms of writing, to avoid waffling, but I believe it is especially important in poetry. A poem is so short that every word must be essential to the meaning and architecture of the poem.

Here is a little writing exercise, not a poem, but still a fun task. I had to write 100 words on the theme of 'whisper'. I really enjoyed writing this, which I haven't enjoyed writing fiction in a while. Could be the start of a short story.


“What do you want? Well come on it’s not hard. What do you want?” 

He points at the menu, resting his finger underneath ‘steak sandwich $18’. He can taste it already, the rare, finely slithered flesh with just enough hot mustard to create a tickling sensation in his noise, the firm crust of the sourdough, the subtle crispness of the rocket leaves and the smooth oiliness of the avocado.

“You don’t want that. Look at the price, that’s an indicator of how big the meal is. You won’t want dinner…”

He glances over his shoulder, if only she would whisper.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sonnet - Byron Bay

I was back in the cafe this week after a couple of very stimulating Fridays. On Friday the 27th of July I read my poem 'Demokratizmi', which an be viewed here. There was a great turn out. The artworks look fantastic hung, having a very different and larger emotional impact than what they do as small images on the computer screen. The other two poets, Di Barkas and Ken Challenor, read out two very different, but amazingly clever pieces of poetry. Listening to Alena Kennedy and Rike talk about the art theory through which they interpreted the works was very interesting and had a strong correlation to some of the literary theory that I am currently immersed in for my honours thesis.

The first weekend of August I spent at the Byron Bay writers' Festival, which I recommend anyone interested in literature attend. It was a great festival, very laid back, but with some wonderful, successful writers in attendance. I especially enjoyed listening to Mike Ladd, John Tranter and Mark Tredinnick read some of their poetry and discuss the importance of sound in poetry.

So after all of this stimulation you can imagine that I had quite a productive day in the cafe this week. I completed the first draft of my petrarchan sonnet, as Ron Pretty requested for the SCWC poetry workshop. As you can see this sonnet has obviously been influenced by my trip to Byron Bay and not just in the subject of the poem, but also through my reading of John Tranter's Starlight: 150 poems, which is a book of mostly sonnets, many of which deal with similar themes to this one. Before I post my sonnet here I want to again remind you that anything posted on my blog is in draft form, I appreciate any feedback or commentary that you may wish to offer, but please respect the fact that these poems have not been edited into the kind of fine specimens that can be found in Tranter's book.

Byron Bay

The rhythmic drumming draws us to the park
and waves of colour swirl a crescendo
of bohemian pants that bounce, bongos
and marijuana smoke, as cries of ‘Spark
it!’ reverberate in a three year old’s
soft curls and waves that drum the coast retreat,
remeet, melding salt smells with sand and feet.
Our senses hula-hoop as we behold

the self-assuredness we long for in our selves.
The discontent of our lonely and busy
lives is dispersed as grains of sand are lodged            
between our toes, in our hair salt spray delves
unlocking the self we smother only
to fit the social standard. We are freed.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


The following poem, which was generously selected by the SCWC director as the July 2012 South Coast Writers Centre poem of the month, was written in response to Zwishenräume – spaces of convergence art exhibition. I wrote this poem in response to an artwork by Gela Samsonidse (the image on the right).

I have never previously written a poem in response to an artwork, which was an interesting, stimulating and exciting experience for me. I have also never written a piece that experiments with language the way I have here. I hope you enjoy it.

after an imprint by Gela Samsonidse

(democracy) drums,
chanting from the people
mouths widen, marching
mi to the ballot box,
curving in a crescendo
climaxing in October 28, 1990
striking the floor, blood
(სის­ხლი) blood shed on canvas.