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

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Books I have read - Red Bird by Mary Oliver

I had heard so much of Mary Oliver's writing from Mark Tredinnick,  Monica (Mon) Markovina and Phillip Hall (my Dad).

Mid last year Mon pressed Oliver's collection, entitled Red Bird, into my hands. Mon told me that I had to read it!

It has taken me a while... but finally, I have read the collection. Now that I have finished it, I wish I had of read it sooner. Mark, Mon and Phillip are right, Oliver's poetry is wonderful to read!

I read Oliver's collection in one sitting. That is unusual for me; I generally only tackle about five poems in a sitting.

There is a simplicity to Oliver's poetry. Oliver uses simple language and images, with often a conversational tone, to explore multiple themes.

She frequently writes about nature, as in the title poem 'Red Bird', where she writes of her devotion to birds and her particular admiration of the red bird:
Still, for whatever reason—
perhaps because the winter is so long
and the sky so black-blue,

I am grateful

that red bird comes all winter
firing up the landscape
as nothing else can do. (1)
The colour and warmth found in this poem is beautiful. Maxine Kumin has described Oliver as a “indefatigable guide to the natural world”. Indeed, as Kumin has identified, Oliver gives a great deal of attention to the natural world within her writing. In the poem 'Red Bird' Oliver paints a picture of the colours found in nature, of the passing of seasons and of the birds.

As well as this celebration of nature, Oliver describes a relationship between that world which we deem to be human and that which we view as animal. There is a human persona within the poem and it is through their eyes that we are viewing the red bird, as they feed all of "God's" birds (The entirety of 'Red Bird' can be read here).

Here we find another dimension to Oliver's poetry, in her exploration of the spiritual world.

One thing that I have enjoyed about Oliver's poetry is that while the spiritual that she explores is a Christian Spirituality, it is often able to be interpreted as spirituality with a little 's'. As it is a non-denominational spirituality that I believe in, I like that her poetry can be interpreted through this lens.

When Mon lent me this book one page had the corner folded over. Mon had marked the poem 'Percy and Books (Eight)'. Oliver has written a series of poems about her dog, Percy, where she again delves into a discussion about the relationship between the so called human and animal world.

Within this particular poem, Oliver humorously represents the relationship between a dog and its owner. The dog in this poem wants to be immersed into the splendor of the world outside, while the owner desires to dally in the world of books.

The poem begins: "Percy does not like it when I read a book" (29). It then describes the dog and the weather and sounds of the natural world, that can be heard from where both dog and owner sit. The owner pleads with the dog: "But Percy, I say. Ideas! The elegance of language!" (29). Without ruining the joke, the dog is not convinced of the value of books.

While the simplicity of Oliver's imagery and language make it easy for a reader, or at least for me, to loose them self in the ideas and pictures that she has captured, is it enough to explore nature as beautiful?

I have had many discussions with Phillip Hall and some with Mark Tredinnick and Mon about just such a question.

In the 21st Century we are being faced with global warming, environmental disasters (both natural and human made), and the endangerment and extinction of various plants and animals. Is it, therefore, enough to celebrate nature and explore how the perceived 'natural' and 'human' world interact, or should representations of nature be exploring the bigger issues of global warming and the threats facing both the natural and human world?

In asking the above questions I am not suggesting that Oliver should necessarily be doing these things with her poetry, or that there is not a place for the celebration of nature in poetry, but I am questioning what is poetry's role in the world?

You can buy a copy of Mary Oliver's Red Bird from Amazon here.

Here is a great interview with Mary Oliver, exploring another of her poetry collections, A Thousand Mornings.

Here are some links to Oliver's poems that can be read, for free, online:

Mary Oliver reads three of her poems here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The process and the poem: An interview with local poet Rhiannon Hall

Bellow is a lovely write up of me, by my friend Chloe Higgins. Thank you Chloe for offering to interview me and for representing me and my writing so well!

This interview first appeared in Tertangala: UOW's Student Magazine: The F-Word (2013)

Who do you write for?”

A couple of days earlier, I had sent Rhiannon a list of more than 15 questions. She sent me her response shortly after. It totalled over 2,000 words.

As we walked through Wollongong’s Botanical Gardens, I realised a question had been missing.

“For myself,” she answered.

Three things came to mind.

The first was an earlier conversation with Rhiannon. I had asked where she got her inspiration. Her response came in the form of a short story about a man and his goat.

There was once a man who regularly came into the butchers where Rhiannon previously worked. Each time, the man told her the same story: his goat was driving him mad. So he tied it up. He got it under control.

At first, she dismissed the story as idle chat. But the man kept coming into the butchers. And he kept telling her the same story. He had a goat. It was driving him mad. So he tied it up.

Eventually, when she didn’t know what else to do with the man’s story, she made it into a poem.

A Retiree and Goat
for alex
First appeared, in an earlier version, Seeking the Sun: Australian Poetry 2012.

Combat in our final years, assembling the fence. Spying
the goat contriving, flaunting her power,
to expose frailty,
                         kicking up her heels.
Watching wearily, tomorrow I will toil
with fence posts and wire.

Watching from the window she remembers a time
when I was attentive to other passions. Snagged on a nail
yellow dress slipping
                                  off pearly shoulders.
A time when fencing could wait, just to
touch breast, navel, thigh.

Retirement meant more time embracing our passions.
Time that we dreamed of. We found novels, movies,
individual lounge chairs.
                                     I fight with the goat.

The second thing that came to mind was another earlier exchange we had. I had asked which of her poems was her favourite.

Demokratizmi,” she said.

I asked her what it meant.

She told me the title is Georgian for democracy. The poem was written in response to an imprint created by Gela Samsonidse. She explained that the imprint was Gela’s attempt to express his identity and explore language. He starts by writing words in Georgian script, and then scribbles over them until he can longer make out the words.

Rhiannon wrote Demokratizmi by looking at the imprint, allowing words to flood her mind, and then cutting out words until she was left with the small number that make up the poem. She never did decipher the actual words that Gela wrote.

I re-read the poem.

after an imprint by Gela Samsonidse
First appeared South Coast Writers Centre website, July 2012.

(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.

I asked her if she showed Gela the poem. She said she hadn’t. He wouldn’t like it, she explained. He doesn’t like his artworks to be made political.

I asked her how she felt about people misinterpreting her poems and she laughed.

“I misinterpret people’s poems all the time.”

We continued walking through the gardens.

I reminded her of the two stories she had shared and repeated her answer to the question of who she writes for, back to her, in the form of a question.

“So you write for yourself?”

She laughed softly, “Yeah, I guess…”

When we finished walking through the gardens and parted ways, I re-read over her responses to the questions I emailed her. When asked why she writes, her desire to create comes through strongly.

“I love the feeling I get when I know that I have written something half good. I feel like I have really achieved something. Having a creative outlet has been really important for me, particularly while I was doing my honours research last year. I can’t dance, paint or sing, so writing is the only form of creative expression that I get a real buzz from.”

She went on to talk about her process.

“Often the words appear in more of a trickle than a splash. But, there is always something that stimulates and inspires me, like a painting, a piece of writing, an event, my surroundings, or a combination of these things.”

A sense of silence and space came through strongly.

“I need a lot of time to write. I have to be able to slow down and forget about work and uni for a bit. It is kind of like a meditation, once I am calm, I can devote myself to pondering over the ideas that have been bouncing around my mind. I always have ideas for a poem. I pick ideas up from work, uni and everyday life, but it is not until I am able to remove myself from these things that I can concentrate on one image.”

Rhiannon’s responses seemed only to further the idea that she is a woman who very much writes for the other, cares for the other, wants to observe and understand the other.

One of her poems in particular, Café Rosso, paints a picture not just of women with windswept hair, lovers leaning across tables, cocky men and stout women waiting to pay, but of a woman, sitting in the background, immersed in observing and understanding what is going on in the world around her.

Café Rosso
First appeared Sotto, August-September 2012.

grey thunders Bowral skies
two women with windswept hair
warming over cannelloni, their cappuccinos cupped.

Lovers lean across tables, faces almost touch;
Order seafood - Grigliato Misto, white wine.

Big men, cocky as  sunshine yellow parrots,
chucking back macchiatos; riffling work schedules,
envy  every casual diner.

Waitresses flitting across the room,
enjoying sweet meringue aromas,
the delicate perfumes
of stout women waiting to pay.

The poem speaks loudly of the quote Rhiannon has posted at the top of her blog homepage:

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

The third thing that came to mind when Rhiannon said she writes for herself was a quote by George Steiner.

“There is language, there is art, because there is the other.”

I mention the quote to her and she shrugs, “I guess I have never really thought about it before.”

Rhiannon Hall was a café poet with Australian Poetry and has been published in Seeking the Sun: Australian Poetry 2012, Sotto, the UOW LitSoc Zine, Tertangala, Unfolding (an art exhibition catalogue) and on the South Coast Writers Centre's website. 

An Interview by Chloe Higgins.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Rumour

Kelman, A, Hooper, J, Sanchez, N, Prokop, R, and Lee, V (eds.)
Tide, 9th Edn, 2012, 115pp.
Available at:

Every edition of the Faculty of Creative Art’s journal, Tide, sparks rumours of greatness. For those of you who have not heard of Tide, it is a literary journal produced by third year creative writing students. The 2012, 9th edition of Tide showcases a quality of writing, imagination and vision that I was not prepared for when Ashleigh Kelman proudly presented a copy to the South Coast Writers Centre.

Kelman, and all of the 2012 Tide team, had every reason to be proud! This edition has it all, from poetry and short stories about love, war, popular culture, drugs, death and much more, all connected by the central theme of ‘endings’.

The theme that I am most engrossed by is that of rumours. The literary virtuosity found in the poetry and stories of this edition can only be interpreted as a rumour of the success that awaits these emerging authors and poets.

Elizabeth Stevenson’s story ‘Devotion’ is a cold tale of cause and effect, which details a sibling power struggle and eventually a murder. It ends with the same ‘tap-tap-tapping’ sound that it begins with, but the perpetrator is no longer Michael’s sister, but Michael himself. The story begins:
“She sat on the divan, eyes narrowed and cold, looking down at him… tap-tap-tapping her fan on her smirking lips. They were painted a deep red. Red like the wine. Red like blood” (36).
The tapping at the beginning of the story does not only contribute to the cause of the final murder, but is also a rumour of the kind of anger that lies within the downtrodden Michael, the kind of anger that leaves a man seeing ‘red’. The repetition of colour and sound invites a reader to sympathise with the murderer and positions the victim in the role of the antagonist.

Tide has set off a series of causes and effects, encouraging many of these emerging writers to further experiment with their form and to search out more publishing opportunities. Thus, the ‘tap-tap-tapping’ continues.

Nicholas Brooks is one writer whose work continues to grab my attention. His story ‘Drew’s House’ opens up a families suffering, allowing a reader to view the bubbling rawness of grief, as the characters struggle to accept Drew’s condition.  Brooks has a way of beginning his stories; after the first few lines my blinkers are up, and I have eyes and ears only for the story. It is in the simplicity of his descriptions, and in his short, concise sentences, that I am mesmerised. The combination of these is found in ‘Drew’s House’, which begins:
“Drew’s dad is watching television when I walk in. Something loud, mindless. A cigarette rests in an ashtray on the arm of the couch; smoke rises towards the ceiling” (69).
The pain, confusion and anger that are felt by the characters are expertly suggested, if you will, rumoured in the noise and haze of these first three sentences.

Whispers of Brooks’ determination and skill can be found in dark corners of the internet. I am a proud follower of his WordPress blog ‘readingroomofhell’. Brooks’ voice can also be heard at the Literary Society meetings and at the South Coast Writers Centre’s fiction writing workshop.

I am excited for the writers who were published in Tide 2012, because I truly believe that they are all very talented. I am looking forward to following all of their writing careers.

Samantha Lewis’ poem, ‘Means’, is another piece of writing that details a series of cause and affects. Lewis’ capturing of the events and emotions experienced by a young man fighting in a war in Afghanistan, to an older man, still traumatised by the events of his youth, is powerful. It is a real credit to Lewis that she was able to successfully portray this character. Her poem constructs a moving antiwar argument.

There are so many other poems and stories that I could write about, but I will leave you with a rumour, the rumour that the poets and authors published in Tide 2012 have exciting literary careers in front of them.

This article was first published in Tertangala: University of Wollongong's Student Magazine: The F-Word (2013).

Friday, April 12, 2013

ABC Open 500 Words

On February 21st, Sean O’Brian held a seminar at SCWC. The seminar focused on ABC Open – a website that seeks to publish the photos, videos and stories created by regional Australians. Sean spoke about 500 Words ABC Open’s latest theme, ‘A Scary Moment’, and gave tips on how writers can make the most of their stories published through the website.
  • It’s all about the title – Short, catchy titles are what gain attention. If you name your story after the theme or use something generic-sounding, you may not get as many readers as you would with something original. For example, a title such as “The Journey” may not get as many readers as a story entitled “Never Listen to Your Mother”.
  • Images catch eyes and readers – Finding an appropriate and interesting image for your story can help draw people to your story. A great website for finding original images is Flickr. However, be aware of copyright; only use images if they are in Creative Commons or if you get permission from the photographer to use their work. Focus on picking a strong image that conveys one element of your story simply. If you cannot find an image, Sean can choose one for you.
  • Keep summaries simple – Grab a reader’s attention by using a good summary. Questions can be provoking and stimulating.
  • Take care when submitting – If you submit to ABC Open by pasting your story from Word, be sure to click the Word button on the submition page in order to retain your formatting. To make your story easier to read on the internet, make sure you have short paragraphs and sentences. A single sentence can be its own paragraph. Using brief grammar and language can help make your story more reader-friendly.
Sean provided much insight into the broader ABC activities and his encouraging attitude inspired many. He says that if anyone has issues with using the site or uploading their stories, they can contact him at for help.

ABC Open’s ‘A Scary Moment’ category already has 500 published submissions. As all submissions are published (unless there are legal issues) and all writers retain their copyright, anyone is welcome to send in their work. You may also respond to previous themes, but keep in mind you will get less readers.

As the current theme comes to a close on February 28th, writers are encouraged to come up with their next story, centered on the theme ‘I Was There’. You can browse other stories and guidelines at the ABC Open website

By Rhiannon Hall and Ashleigh Kelman