I went to three sessions on my final day, starting with my second workshop, Embracing the unexpected, with Oz Hardwick.

Oz is from the UK and began by explaining how he prefers to write first thing in the morning without any voices, often short-lived as his wife puts the radio on. So Oz will be busy drafting then get distracted by a word or phrase, which formed the first of a series of exercises. Oz asked us to think about mirrors, be it a physical or metaphysical one, and as we wrote he threw out some words for us to include – head, marching, higher, war, student, ferret. We wrote about crows next, then had to personify them and have them engage with a phrase. It was interesting to hear the pieces shared and the different perspectives. I plan to develop my crow poem.

Making space for poetry

The panel for this session comprised Mike Ladd, Felicity Plunkett, Ross Donlon and Paul Munden, hosted by Jen Webb.

Mike I know from the Adelaide poetry scene, his work is fantastic, coupled with a commitment to sharing words in public spaces. Mike talked about Poetica, his radio program, which ran for 18 years to a mass audience due to its accessibility and the fact this medium is perfect for poetry being based on sound. Mike also shared a project he undertook with his partner, Cathy Brooks, to put poetry on street signs around the Adelaide bus station and spoke briefly about Raining Poetry, coordinated through Adelaide University, where poems are written on the sidewalk so they appear only when it rains.

Felicity works with students, as an editor through University of Queensland Press and a reviewer, adopting a variety of roles. Felicity’s student work involved harvesting words from the environment to prove you don’t have to dredge up words from inside, and shared some images of poetry on stones, in bottles, small forms to put out into the world for people to find. Felicity taught prose poetry to teachers and provided resources to help them deliver it back in the classroom, and spoke about gate-making rather than gate-keeping when it came to accessing literary opportunities, a phrase that stuck.

Ross started a poetry reading in Castlemaine, Victoria and attended an international arts festival every other year where literature wasn’t represented and so pulled together a poetry event, which sold out in days. Ross has also organised poetry readings in Carmen’s Tunnel lit using candelabras and arranged readings at Books Plus, which comprised a 20-minute session followed by questions and answers. Ross created Mark Time, a chapbook press each containing 32 pages, publishing a Shropshire-based poet whose work caught the eye of Carol Ann Duffy and was selected for inclusion in the Laureate anthology.

Paul put poetry and jazz events on as a student in bars, which escalated to integrating poetry in folk music in a daub and wattle venue in York, then onto creating a book of poetry and photos about Castle Howard. The British Council commissioned Paul to compile an anthology on climate change called Feeling the Pressure and Paul has written a poem called ‘Duet’ to mark the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I to be read in Southwark Cathedral. The poem is based on a pair of handmade violins for Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon fashioned from a sycamore branch.

Questions and answers followed, sparking a discussion about how poetry should be paid for. It’s a craft and skill, honed over many years and yes, we do it for love, but this shouldn’t undermine the value of it. So it came as no surprise that poets are the lowest paid of all artists.

Poetry of the senses

My last session of the festival was a discussion between Moira Egan, Oz Hardwick, Ross Gibson and Monica Carroll, convened by Jordan Williams.

Moira is one of the international poets in residence based in Rome, and has smell and colour synesthesia. Moira read from her collection, which is split into halves – one on smell, referred to as her smelly sequence, and the other ekphrastic. Moira read ‘Poison’, about molluscs and purple followed by ‘Le Chambre Bleue’, literally about a blue room. Another poem featured Andy Warhol as “a skinny avatar of cool” and another about a ginger cat sitting on a beautiful piece of fabric.

Oz read from his collection, The House of Ghosts and Mirrors, and began by explaining that the cover image is the place in the room he was born where now stands a round mirror in a window. After his parents died, Oz’s poems became personal, demonstrated by ‘Archaeology’ about a crawl space in the family home. Oz spoke about a psychic geography, peeling back the layers of the house that haunts him, reading ‘Lacuna’ and ‘Emptying the cupboard’, which when he did he found a piece of the original lino.

Ross’s poetry is an aesthetic activity before it becomes semantic, sharing a quote by a Welsh poet about how poetry arrives through the intellect at the heart. Ross reads haiku, likening it to being hit on the head with a hammer, which releases a flood of associations. Ross shared a current project on show at a station in Sydney – a series of short phrases scroll as individual words on a 22-metre screen so that from a distance, it seems to sparkle as you try to decipher them, epitomising the city.

Monica talked about touch and poetry, getting us to close our eyes and touch one hand with the other while she read philosophical passages and explained how the object touched is the object touching. Monica then asked us to raise our hand and keep it aloft if we’d ever experienced an orgasm. I don’t believe any dropped. Monica asked us to keep it raised if we’d ever experienced a non-genital orgasm. The majority, including my own, fell, and she said she felt a shift in the room. It was an intriguing experiment.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the festival – made new connections, shared thoughts and ideas, learnt more about the art and of course, returned with more books! I’d highly recommend Poetry on the Move, it will satisfy every poetic curiosity. I wonder where next year will take me…

My third day kicked off with the first of two workshops I’d booked into, Deep reading for better writing, facilitated by Lisa Brockwell.

Lisa is another wonderful poet and having only had online contact, it was lovely to meet her in person. Lisa’s most recent collection, Earth Girls, had been on my wish list for some time now, so it was fab to get my copy signed.

Lisa loves sonnets and introduced us to a wide variety – from the traditional William Shakespeare and Elizabeth Barrett Browning through to the more contemporary Jo Shapcott and Terence Hayes. We explored content, meaning, rhythm and sound, bringing us to the conclusion there’s no such thing as over-reading and one of my favourite statements – sonnets are not small rooms!

I took away an array of poetic terminology I’d not been familiar with, for example, volta is a technical term in a sonnet for where there’s a turn of thought, which made me want to pursue the academic side of poetry further. The workshop also converted me into a sonnet-lover, as I confessed to Lisa after I’m not a fan of this form, but that was before I realised how flexible it can be.

Learning to have lost

This was a poignant session, because we all experience loss at one time or another. The panel comprised Penelope Layland, Paul Hetherington, Dominique Hecq and Oz Hardwick, convened by Lisa Brockwell.

Penelope began with an elegy by Seamus Heaney and discussed how this form employs traditional conventions, such as references to God and vegetation. Penelope read ‘In Miss Haversham’s Garden’, ‘Calendar’ and ‘Inverted Gaze’ from her collection, and explored the more taboo areas, for example, a suicide or the loss of a relationship not sanctioned by society. Penelope also explained how it’s counter-intuitive to write and read something that hurts.

Paul shared how absence is at the heart of his poetry, followed by a quote by Rilke. Paul read five of a six-part poem called ‘Elegy’, about his father who died in 2015, from his prose poetry collection, Moonlight on Oleander, one of many memorable lines being “what is gone, also belongs”. Paul explained if he hadn’t written these poems, he’d still be immersed in grief. He also confessed there is one elegy he can’t write due to the nature of the relationship.

Dominique read four fragments, the first two in French, the second in English, about a mother whose son died at the age of eight, from her collection which is split into colour chapters, this one being in the White chapter. Dominique discussed how loss is global, quoting Margaret Attwood, who believes all writing comes from a fascination with death, with Dominique adding that if musicians can explore death, why can’t poets.

Oz shared six small pieces, including a couple from his most recent collection, Learning to have lost, specifically ‘When he leaves’ and ‘Au’, both leaving an indelible mark, with the latter about a friend who committed suicide 11 years ago, which he could only write about now. Oz talked about David Kennedy’s study of elegy and getting to know your companion (death), and also shared how this art form requires bravery to do it justice.

Pivotal discussion points included whether all poetry is about loss in one way or another and other types of loss, such as the loss of a child’s innocence.

Loss was the focus of my first collection – of the self, another person or the connection between people – so I found this session particularly engaging, albeit infused with a definitive sadness.

The first session of my second day was Living Poetry, which focused on experience and biography by a panel comprising Andy Melrose, Kerry Nelson, Ross Gibson and Andy Jackson, hosted by Cassandra Atherton.

Andy Melrose is a songwriter who doesn’t consider himself a poet, having recently produced a song for an exhibition, which explored the very topical subject of immigration and being removed from one’s origins. Andy shared the song, ‘Your mama’s music box’, on guitar, a haunting piece with three narrative voices.

Kerry uses vernacular in her work, informed by her grandad who listened to Banjo Patterson and C J Dennis, as well as collaboration and humour. Kerry worked in Aboriginal Affairs and shared a poem called ‘Palm Island Kids’, in which children warned Miss about the “hairy man”, be it literal or symbolic.

Ross spoke about how biographising changes the person being written about as well as the writer, and stressed the importance of finding a bearing, using the example of Henry Thoreau who could recognise a person from across a field by their gait. Ross is currently working on a redact project, which explores the concept of the omitted centre.

Andy Jackson I’ve met before and whose work I love, with his most recent collection, Music our bodies can’t hold, being a series of 46 portrait poems about people with Marfan syndrome. Andy explained how a poet needs to inhabit other people’s lives and to do this, he thought of people as houses, tried to find a way in, sometimes ending up in the garden.

I’ve recently had a collection published about endometriosis, comprising poems which explore different aspects of the condition from personal experience. This session got me thinking about a potential next step.

Speaking in Tongues

Four international poets – Eileen Chong, Omar Sakr, Ravi Shankar and Jen Webb – were brought together for this session, convened by Anita Patel.

Eileen was born in Singapore and is another whose work I admire, reading a poem called ‘Chimera’ from her most recent collection Rainforest, having explained how the characters depicted on the cover are the symbol for rain over forest. Eileen feels a connection to Chinese poetry, but has only ever read them in English, despite being forced to learn Mandarin at school. A point that struck me was how Eileen thought herself a person before moving to Australia, after which time she became an Asian person.

Omar read two poems, one of which was ‘A beautiful child’, a very powerful and moving piece. Omar’s mother is Lebanese, his father Turkish, but having been raised by his mum, his heritage is predominantly Arab. Omar spoke of ruptured belonging and unbelonging, about being happy in his unbelonging space with shards of broken prayer, turning to Arabic when scared. I particularly liked Omar’s observation of language being the least favourite daughter, a powerful statement in patriarchal cultures.

Ravi began by sharing a yoga transcript, followed by his translation, and a poem called ‘Exile’ from his latest collection Many uses of Mint. With South Indian parents who emigrated to the US, his country of birth, Ravi found that responding to languages not understood turned him to poetry. As a student, Ravi both embraced and rejected his heritage, translating work with a colleague, producing multiple versions.

Jen hails from South Africa and grew up in the apartheid, viewing language as political and changeable, speaking both Afrikaan and English. Jen spent some time in New Zealand, which she compared to living with your lovely aunt, and has been in Australia for 26 years, with the belief people aren’t of land, they are not planted, rather moving constantly like water. Being multilingual and bathed in many languages, Jen finds she often picks a word or phrase from a language that suits her at that time.

This got me thinking about my own heritage, which is, as far as I’m aware, just English, albeit infused with my preference for French at school and having a German husband.

Poetry reading

Tonight’s poets were Bella Li, Jill Jones, Paul Hetherington and Sholeh Wolpé.

Having recently purchased Bella’s latest collection Argosy, I was looking forward to hearing her read from it. Bella read parts two and three from ‘Lost Lakes’, the last sequence in the book, followed by three pieces of microfiction, encouraged to fruition by Cassandra Atherton.

Jill’s work I’m familiar with, she’s an amazing poet, reading from her vast array of collections – from Brink, her latest back to Ash is Here and So Are Stars, one of her earlier ones.

Paul’s poetry I wasn’t familiar with it and enjoyed it immensely, as he read from his latest prose poetry collection, Moonlight on Oleander, including the title poem, in which “the moon sits on the horizon like a serious word”.

Having heard Sholeh speak on one of the panels, I was also looking forward to her reading, which she did so with passion, sharing poems from her schooling in Trinidad to a catholic boarding school in Southern England, where “home is a missing tooth”.

This was a rich and memorable line-up, both contrasting and complimentary, one of many credits to the festival.

Having decided to treat myself to a poetry festival a year, this time took me to Canberra for Poetry on the Move hosted by the International Poetry Studies Institute, University of Canberra.

With a focus on Inhabiting Language, it offered an eclectic mix of poets and perspectives, a fantastic few days of being immersed in pure unadulterated poetry. Heaven. Due to the amount of sessions, I’ll summarise those I attended and in the absence of some photos, illustrations are curated from my travel snaps over the years in an ekphrastic attempt!

Lines and shapes

My first session looked at form, the panel comprising Cassandra Atherton, Lisa Brockwell, Owen Bullock and Lisa Gorton, convened by Paul Munden. Each poet shared their thoughts before questions from the audience were invited.

Lisa Gorton spoke of an inward principle of growth, a place where line breaks come up against silence, unformed time and vacancy, structures of hesitation. Owen shared a quote by Lyn Heinjin – form is not a fixture but an activity – there’s link and shift, internal line breaks, a song in the narrative. Lisa Brockwell has a strong preference for the sonnet, finding its metre and form liberating rather than confining, allowing her to access a wilder part of her imagination. Cassandra is a prose poet and passionate about it, sharing the concept of the free-line from Sally Ashton, where stand-alone sentences run from margin to margin separated by a skipped line, using Ocean Vuong’s poem ‘Trevor’ as an example of this.

Jill Jones initiated an interesting debate by saying a poem never really ends. Shane Strange asked if it’s better for a poet to just read their work rather than introducing its form, e.g. ghazal, pantoum, sestina, etc., and Cassandra asserted she can identify a prose poem by how it’s delivered.

To conclude, form is organic and follows content, which it most certainly does for me, unless I’ve been set the task of writing in a particular form.

In between sessions, my neighbour asked if I was studying poetry to which I replied no, I’m a poet! In hindsight I thought what an arrogant response. Of course I’m here to learn and will never stop.

Poet to Poet

The next session was a dialogue about the art of translation between Iranian writer Sholeh Wolpé and Keijiro Suga a Japanese literary scholar, facilitated by Melinda Smith.

Sholeh has translated Attar’s work, The Conference of Birds, a piece comprising over 5,000 couplets, one of which is ‘a morsel of lover’s pain is better than the lovers’. Sholeh wants to be known as a writer, not a translator, as she recreates pieces in which nothing is lost, comparing it to using a scalpel; it must cut to the bone. With poetry building bridges, Sholeh is very keen to share the pearls of Iranian work, otherwise it will continue to be regarded as just a terrorist state.

Keijiro didn’t start writing poetry until his fifties and shared a Japanese translation of the poem ‘In a Country where December is Mid-summer’. Japanese society is monolithic and encourages self-declaration, and so for Keijiro, the word identity is bothersome as he feels country doesn’t define who you are, juxtaposing this with his interest in indigenous work. Keijiro explained how, by having to meet deadlines, he doesn’t have the luxury of thinking.

What I took away is that translation can be flexible. You can bring in elements of yourself and your own interpretation, provided the reader ends up feeling the same way.

 

is a collection of poems about endometriosis, a debilitating condition affecting one in ten women, with an average diagnosis time of seven years from onset of symptoms.

Endometriosis occurs when the tissue lining the uterus, the endometrium, grows in other areas of the body, typically over ovaries, fallopian tubes and in pelvic tissue. During menstruation, the endometrium in the uterus is shed. The endometrial cells that have grown outside the uterus can’t be shed, causing pain, infertility and adhesions.

It’s a chronic condition with no known cause or cure. Diagnosis is by laparoscopy. Treatment is with medication, surgery or both. I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis at 31, which had been masked by the contraceptive pill I was prescribed for heavy painful periods. After laparoscopies, removal of recurring endometriomas and finding the right combination of medication, mine is currently manageable.

And so these 19 poems, thanks to Brenda and Stephen Matthews of Ginninderra Press, explore different aspects of endometriosis, mixing my own experience with those of others, which I hope will help to raise awareness of the condition, albeit a little.

I’ve attended two workshops recently organised through Writers SA – Mark Tredinnick’s The Little Red Writing Workshop and Rachael Mead’s Writing the Landscape.

Mark is an award-winning poet and widely published, however this session focused on craft and technique that can be applied to any style of writing. Participants ranged from academics to creative writers, who were given a crash course in Mark’s fifteen rules and received a copy of his book in which they’re explored in more detail.

Mark shared his extensive knowledge and experience, along with some memorable quotes, such as E B White defining writing as the process of the “self escaping onto the page”, which can apply to both the writer and reader. We looked at structure and rhythm, language and voice, being urged to copy a well-made sentence and examine how it’s constructed. Mark’s message was “writing better means getting out of your own way”, write from rather than of the self and master punctuation to help your audience breathe your story.

Rachael is also a widely acclaimed poet whose work I admire and her session explored eco-poetics – an activist way of writing nature poetry in that it has both agency and impact, providing an ecological rather than humanistic perspective, the essence of her latest collection.

Rachael introduced us to four approaches, explaining that eco-poetry is a challenge to dominant discourse, chipping away at anthropocentrism. We read work by Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver and Judith Wright, poems grounded in place with biological, cultural and physical forces at play. Personal and sensory aspects are fundamental to eco-poetics, macro combined with micro to produce a multi-layered piece that seeks an emotive rather than intellectual response. Rachael’s workshop spanned a morning, but there’s enough material to easily fill a day.

And so I’ve acquired new skills to flex and drafts to develop, and a new awareness of self – the impact it has on writing and the world in which both exist.

Every so often I review my subscriptions to refresh and spread the financial love as it were. I have my constants – Mslexia, Poetry Salzburg, Magma – but it pays to explore other publications, which is how I found SLICE.

Published twice a year out of New York, SLICE combines stunning visuals with themed fiction, non-fiction, poetry and interviews. This issue’s theme is ‘Borders’, be they personal, geographical or meta-physical.

I have a confession – rarely do I sit and read a magazine/journal from cover to cover in one sitting. This one I did. Bookended with engaging fiction – from ‘August’ by Aja Gabel, about a woman post-affair to whom a neighbour’s dog takes a shine through to Tara Isabel Zambrano’s ‘New Beginnings’, describing the delicate dance between a couple who first met at an Indian grocery store – there’s much to absorb to find or lose your own lines.

The poetry’s good too. In Josh Bettinger’s ‘Still Life with Bridge as Handshake of Lands’, inanimate objects are given life existing among us and in ‘Night Water’ by Josie Schoel, people are cyclical trying to connect from within their own orbits.

A gem is the ‘Exquisite Corpse’, a game where one writer drafts the first part of a story with their final line being passed to the next to continue it (I remember doing this at school!). Four writers were asked to play, with their words translated from Arabic, French, Swedish and Catalan to create a unique stitched story, which centres around an Institute given four facades.

So, if you’re looking to subscribe to something new, I’d recommend SLICE, because the images speak too, inspiration for that next writing project perhaps…

How can poetry speak to us if it does not take risks, say something bold and new, make adventurous leaps with language and form?

This was the synopsis of the online course I’ve just completed through the Poetry School.

 

Facilitated by Jennifer Wong, an engaging and insightful poet from Hong Kong, students were encouraged to explore unknown territory, step out of their comfort zone, to experiment with form and technique. Jenny shared work by Emily Berry, Ocean Vuong, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Christopher Reid, Naomi Shihab Nye, David Clarke, Karen Solie and Mimi Khalvati as inspiration, and also provided an extended reading list for those who want to fall further.

We drafted portrait poems, found poems, mirror poems, poems about names, historical happenings, ghazals and pantoums. And once again it was wonderful to connect with poets across the world to discuss work, exchange feedback, and share our own creative practice and inner being.

I participate regularly in the online Poetry School community and would highly recommend browsing their catalogue of courses—Jenny’s running another one, Possibilities of the line, later this year—because it’s always good to broaden those poetic horizons.

Last night I went along to Tenx9Adelaide at The Jade having been invited by friends. I wasn’t aware of this concept and what a brilliant one it is – nine people have ten minutes to share a true story based on a theme. Yesterday’s was ‘A brush with…’

Copyright@Tenx9Adelaide

Stories ranged from a brush with death and politics through to the media and fame:

  • a young boy inadvertently helped coppers retrieve stolen goods from a river and appeared on the news;
  • an anthropologist travelled to a remote Inca community and en route got bitten by a poisonous spider;
  • a detailed description of a robber was shared and only at the end did we learn it was Ronnie Biggs (the description, not the storyteller!);
  • another anthropologist told of how his bike was stolen in Boston and its subsequent retrieval;
  • a woman shared how she nearly lost her life in a flat fire after one of her housemates left a candle burning;
  • another told of her geological trip to Nepal where the shipment of apples was more important than backpacks;
  • a former priest relayed his perilous hike in Japan after agreeing to minister a wedding there; and
  • a comedian shared the time he accepted the gig of warming up the QandA crowd before Julia Gillard came on.

You’ll note that’s only eight; one storyteller pulled out, which resulted in an open mic session where two audience members took the stage to share their two minutes stories – one, having lost both her underwear and swimwear, was invited to climb a coconut tree on a tour (but had to decline being knickerless in a dress), while another told of his amazement at being asked a rather inappropriate question by the media during a press conference about a new hospital.

It was engaging stuff; their stories drew laughs and intakes of breath from the crowd. Some read from notes, others without, but all were perfectly timed (else a horn is sounded!).

The next event is on Thursday 19 July with the theme of ‘Because of her…’ and I’d recommend a visit, to either listen or to share. Do you have a story to tell?

is Daniel Sluman’s second collection published by Nine Arches Press; sharp and unflinching work exquisitely rendered to convey aspects of mortality in all its bleak beauty.

Daniel is a UK-based poet with whom I first became acquainted participating in his Poetry of Pain course hosted online through the Poetry School. Daniel suffered with bone cancer when he was young and in these poems, he shares flashes of the trauma endured brilliantly, as well as those places and events no one wants to speak of.

In the terrible, there is pain and suffering, blood and release, acceptance and love, narcotics and knowing, and a frank realisation of the body’s fragility and the life it contains.

In ‘1991-2006’ we’re shown a fast-forward of father and son travelling in ‘a pounded blue ford’, ‘the faces from our life passing like boarded-up doors’. In ‘morphine’ ‘it waits for me to twist the lid’ and ‘dream of a wonderful weight on the chest sinking further towards the stalling heart.’ And in ‘angels’ there’s a bitterness, ‘as we reel the rope to knot around their chests’, pull and wait ‘for the snap of feather-bone & rib’.

The vessel in which we travel can be subject to ‘strange weather’ (a concept explored in ‘doppelganger’) threatening its delicate balance, and so I want to leave you with this poem, a poignant reminder the barely bearable is often shared:

 

& this is love

 

as she goes limp & falls into my arms

like an important looking letter

I help her to the bathroom

 

& sit on the other side of the door

tearing nails between my teeth

clutching the phone like a safety rope

 

& this is love    how we live between

the side-effects of glittering pills

the wads of her dead hair snarled

 

in the plug-hole    the morning cigarette

that shakes in her hand before her kiss

once again says whateverhappens    I ring

 

the ambulance when her head smacks

the floor    & in the crazed flutter of her lids

I see a million lives for us    each one perfect

 

Copyright @ Daniel Sluman 2015

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