No, not quite, as this all took place in the latter half of last year, but the new one prompted me to look back on the changes I’d made, the impact they’ve had and thought I’d share them with you.

It actually all started the year before, so 2016, when I went to the doctors to discuss the side-effects of the medication I was on for my endometriosis (I believed they were making me short-tempered, moody, etc.), however, she explained that due to the low dosage of each of them, it was unlikely they were the cause.

She then asked me if anything had changed in my life recently, to which I replied I now work part time and use Fridays to focus on my writing, had joined three poetry groups, started an online course and was finalising my second collection. She pointed out that in actual fact I work full time and had taken on additional commitments, and I thought, well yes, if you put it like that (isn’t it funny how it takes someone else to point out these things and the different perceptions of writing as work?)

Anyway, it got me thinking, and I concluded that I only get stressed, ratty, etc. when I try to do too much, and the only person putting pressure on me, was me. For example, I like to exercise three times a week and if I didn’t achieve this, I’d feel guilty. One of the days I exercised was a Friday followed by the whole beauty regime (you know what I mean), doing some washing, tidying, making appointments, responding to emails, etc. so that before I knew it, it was nearly lunchtime. What was I doing…this is my writing day!

Still on the topic of exercise, I used to drive into work on the days I did it because I thought it quicker, so typically Mondays and Wednesdays to complement the Friday. Driving into the city from where we live at peak time is extremely frustrating (yes, even here). A 16km trip can take over an hour. And so I’d rush in, struggle to find a park, work, rush home, exercise, cook dinner, eat and then have little energy to do anything else before bed.

So, over the months that followed, I gradually made changes. I now exercise on a Saturday morning instead of a Friday, freeing up the latter to do what I should be doing, poetry.

I no longer drive into work. I cycle to the train station some ten minutes from our house (so exercise in itself albeit small), store my bike in the locker I rent and take the train in, where I can read, write, check messages, listen to music, even nap if it’s quiet enough.

We’ve started using Hello Fresh, a meal service which delivers the ingredients to make three meals a week to our door, which in turn avoids that age-old question “what are we having for dinner tonight?!” and eating the same thing.

I’ve also negotiated to work from home every Wednesday because with access to systems, I can do my job anywhere. This, I feel, has been the biggest change and is helping me to manage my endometriosis (i.e. less travel, less rush, less stress), which appears to be flaring up again annoyingly.

Small changes have made a significant impact. Coupled with taking things easier and not trying to do everything at once (because who is chasing me for it – no one!) has made me a happier, less stressed, more balanced person (cue sigh of relief from husband). So, my message to you? It’s your life, make of it the best you can.

This is an exceptional award-winning collection of short stories by an exceptionally gifted writer. The sort you never want to end. And when they do, they stay, having made a remarkable impression.

Published in 2016 by Jonathan Cape, part of Penguin Random House, the synopsis sums up the book beautifully:

The Fen is a liminal land. Real people live their lives here. They wrestle with familiar instincts, with sex and desire, with everyday routine. But the wild is always close at hand, ready to erupt. This is a place where animals and people commingle and fuse, where curious metamorphoses take place, where myth and dark magic still linger. So here a teenager may starve herself into the shape of an eel. A house might fall in love with a girl. A woman might give birth to a – well what? English folklore and a contemporary eye, sexual honesty and combustible invention – in Fen, these elements have come together to create a singular, startling piece of fiction.

Each story is unique, exquisitely and lovingly rendered. ‘Starver’ and ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’ bookend the collection. In the first we find Katy, the eel-girl, her transformation told by her sister as Katy refuses humanistic needs to become something else:

They kept giving her oxygen. I wanted to tell them it wouldn’t work, it was no good. She was drowning in air. At night I brought her bowls of water, lowered her face in, watched the bubbles, saw how she came up just about smiling.

‘The Lighthouse Keeper’ returns us to water, where the keeper discovers an unusual being one day while out on the rocks trying to retrieve an umbrella:

The fish came cresting up. It was narrow-bellied when it rolled to curse her, the dark flesh sliding off to white before it reached the stomach; the eyes, when it lolled frontwards and ogled her, round as marbles. She stood watching the lope of it, the way it surfed up to jaw wordlessly at her.

In between, the richness continues. We meet further fantastical creatures, some human, others not so much, but all with a sense of purpose, an allusivity made real and gleaming you want to pocket it and keep it. This is, without a doubt, one of the best short story collections I have ever read. Makes me want to explore turning poetry into another way of being.

Tuesday evening saw the launch at The Howling Owl of the second series of chapbooks from Little Windows Press; a small local publisher with ‘little books, big horizons’.

Launched by Jill Jones, an extremely talented and acclaimed poet herself, these chapbooks are exquisite – pieces of art in their own right – and in this limited-edition print run present work by Ali Cobby Eckermann, Kathryn Hummel, Jen Hadfield and Adam Aitken.

Ali read first from The Aura of Loss, a collection of poems exploring the stolen generation and its impact on those survivors who carry its grief. Ali is a Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal poet and author of seven books, including the verse novel Ruby Moonlight. Her poem ‘My mother’s love’ is a painful insight to maternal absence – ‘her touch is devoid and I am frantic’ – followed by a peeling of the self until ‘my fingers now bones dipped in blood I etch the lines of my first poem’, a haunting final image.

Kathryn’s diverse award-winning work spans poetry, non-fiction, fiction and photography, published and performed both here and overseas. Her last collection, The Bangalore Set, delves into her time in India. Among others, Kat shared ‘Wharf’ from her chapbook The Body that Holds, a poem about Port Adelaide where ‘time is a sinew to be thinned between thumb and forefinger’ and ‘rumination has its own magnifying silence.’ With nothing to do, two men wait while ‘between a jacket and its lining a flat light comes’.

Alison read poems from Jen’s chapbook Mortis and Tenon, a fellow Scottish poet whose own work is simply brilliant, while Jen lives in the Shetland Islands. As well as poet, Jen is a visual artist and bookmaker, winning the T.S. Eliot prize with her second collection Nigh-No-Place. Jen has language in landscape, beautifully evident in ‘Two Limpet Poems’ in which ‘above the rockpool everything is tilt or rough glazed in weed like afterbirth’ and where ‘This is no place to turn up without a shell / all that protects us from the press of heaven.’

 

Jill read some of Adam’s work in his absence who lives in Sydney and has had a number of poetry collections published, in addition to short fiction in journals and anthologies. Adam’s chapbook, Notes on the River, are just that; vivid snapshots that explore its nuances as in the title poem where ‘It is not a river but a question.’ A plethora of images flow thereafter, culminating in a favourite – ‘Eels find their way to flood. They dream of babies, stalk the shadows and lay each other down in them.’

With eye-catching covers and painstaking production, these chapbooks really are a gift, and in this series with the wonderful addition of pull out poems to keep handy when you need a little bliss.

Last night The Hearth hosted their ‘Of the Night’ readings at The Jade; an evening of themed writing shared by handpicked local creatives, which I was thrilled to be a part of.

The Hearth Collective comprises Lauren Butterworth, Alicia Carter, Emma Maguire and Melanie Pryor who met as English/Creative Writing PhD candidates and launched a series of themed events based on the old tradition of les veillées – when folk gathered around the fire at the end of the day to share stories, news and company.

Lisandra Linde kicked off proceedings by sharing her firsthand experience of cadavers and a crypt beneath a church in Rome; an interesting piece. Andrew Lee followed who read three intricate poems, which explored who we become at night, providing context after each one. Marina Deller finished the first set with an engaging piece woven with the untimely deaths of both her best friend and her own mum, and meeting her now partner.

After the break saw Melanie take to the stage, one of the Collective’s own, who shared a rather haunting tale about a murder that took place in the vast Australian landscape. I followed with six poems featuring the moon in some way; from an astronomer’s wife to how the moon feels waiting for the sun to set. The evening finished with a short question and answer session, where members of the audience quizzed us on our work, process and the techniques we use to convey ourselves.

Afterwards I was asked by a fellow poet if I had been nervous because it didn’t show. Despite being the last reader and the biggest crowd I’ve read to, I didn’t feel any nerves at all. There’s a certain comfort in art shared by all those there; a beautiful connectivity between readers, listeners, the hosts and a talented musician, Dee Trewartha, who played between sets.

The Hearth Collective facilitated a very memorable evening, so I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open for any further submission calls from them, that’s for sure!

Thrilled to be involved in the upcoming ‘Of the Night’ readings hosted by The Hearth on Thursday 26 October at The Jade on Flinders Street, Adelaide. Maybe see you there…

Meet Our Readers

Just want to share an insightful post by Worcestershire Poet Laureate Nina Lewis, in which she shares some thoughts and poems on mental health (one of which I penned myself)

World Mental Health Day in Poetry

 

Today is World Mental Health Day, and this is an initiative led by Mental Health Australia to challenge the perception of mental health issues and encourage us all to view them in a positive light, in a bid to reduce stigma and enable more people to seek support.

 

 

Mental Health Australia aims to:

promote mentally healthy communities, educate Australians on mental health issues, conduct research into mental health and reform Australia’s mental health system.

And their Do you see what I see? is a clever concept, using strong visuals to highlight that we all see things differently and should work together to find common ground.

Mental health is defined by the World Health Organization as:

a state of well-being in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.

As Beyond Blue states, mental health is about wellness rather than illness.

For me, mental health is a delicate thing to be balanced and weighted against whatever life throws at it. Sometimes it’s tough and exhausting, so I write to help mine and travel, taking time out when I need to.

So, make a mental health promise to yourself today; it’s just as important as the physical one.

 

Just like you

 

She tries to fit in

pulls at her mouth to make it a smile

blinks her eyes hard to clear out the clouds.

 

She even pretends she’s alive

puts a bird in her heart so it chirps with a beat.

 

But she can’t seem to shut up her sadness

it speaks when she thinks that she is.

 

Copyright © J V Birch 2013

Bird watching – J V Birch

is today!  This is all about people connecting in a meaningful way to help anyone struggling with life’s ups and downs, which I’m sure we can all relate to at one time or another.

R U OK? is a suicide prevention charity in Australia, and its goals are simple and things we can all do to:

  • boost our confidence to meaningfully connect
  • nurture our sense of responsibility to regularly connect and support others
  • strengthen our sense of belonging because we know people are there for us
  • be relevant, strong and dynamic

Suicide, like mental health, is a delicate thing not often discussed, so take the time to connect by asking someone R U OK? And not just today, make time every day.

Thrilled to be in the first issue of this journal. In fab company too 😊

uki-nsw-portrait-for-side

The camel and the straw – J V Birch