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The Poetry Shed

It’s been a week of books through the post – even though I moved house they still managed to track me down. Looking forward to Siegfried Baber‘s book after Robin Houghton was able to join us for supper on a writing week (our own visiting poet) and talked about the press, as well as doing a reading. Martin Malone describes Baber as “an Armitage for Generation Tweet”.

bearJ V Birch‘s pamphlet, Smashed Glass at Midnight winged its way from Australia and is part of Ginninderra Press‘s Picaro Poets series. Hailing from the UK, Birch has recently moved to Australia and has a host of poems in magazines over there.

Then there’s The Very Best of 52, from Jo Bell‘s project to write a poem a week, selected by Jonathan Davidson and published by Nine Arches Press. Described by one group member as a “mixture…

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Tuesday night’s Lee Marvin saw Shannon Burns flying solo and having heard Shannon read before, I went along to hear him again, grabbing a copy of the free booklet he had put together for the event.

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Shannon’s writing spans many genres – poetry, short story, essay, academia – and in 2009 he won The Adelaide Review Prize for Short Fiction. And so Shannon treated us to a range of pieces, beginning with a poem published in Southerly a couple of years ago called ‘Greek’. Set in a summer garden, there’s a real sense of place as he describes an interaction with ‘an olive-skinned man with dark eyes and a flat face’ with an undercurrent something is about to happen.

Shannon’s second piece was a satire about memoirs written in the voice of a professor of comparative literature. ‘His Memoir’ explored the professor’s view of this form, how some are endurable but those produced by the lower class are just not readable, a very witty, ironic piece.

Before reading the first story he ever had published in Wet Ink, Shannon felt it got out there too early and too easily, which I think many writers can relate to, myself included, when they look back at a piece and maybe even see how it could be improved. The short story described the adoption of his new stepsister and how after, he splashes her at every puddle opportunity.

Shannon went onto read ‘In the Year of Our Lord’, again a humorous piece about his experience at university, although not the protagonist but his friend Shaun, followed by a poem about the rapper Kayne West, being an ardent admirer and describing him as a truth-teller not always telling the truth.

I enjoyed Shannon’s poem ‘A Hobby’ looking at the impact, literally, books can have and then was captivated by ‘Needing and Burrowing’, the third piece of a larger body of work describing an attempt to draw language out of a being with hands, ‘drumming her nutshell so it seems to purr.’

Shannon finished his set with ‘Australian Crawl’, a short story published in Overland a few years ago that provided a snapshot of Thomas Brown, a teacher trapped in a life he longs to swim away from which he finally does, a piece that Shannon said made him a readable writer.

Listening to Shannon was fascinating, being shown the different facets of his writing mind, my clear favourites being ‘A Child in the City’ and his last piece, both left an imprint.

not to blog about, literally! A huge parcel greeted me when I got home from work today and inside, this!

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My runner’s up prize for my poem, ‘Great grandma’s house’, appearing in the July edition of Writers’ Forum. I put the pen there to demonstrate its size, all 1114 pages of it to hold 420,000 synonyms and antonyms. Wow! And it’s packed full of little extras too, my favourite being a section called The World Lover’s Gallimaufry (now there’s a new word!), which has useful tidbits like 30 words to sound more posh, e.g. ‘frightfully’ and ‘awfully’, and 23 words and phrases to avoid in politics, such as ‘big society’ and ‘fit for purpose’. And then did you know there are 19 ways to tell someone to hurry up and 15 ways to express enthusiasm?! The best though is 40 words to use to sound more poetic – ‘daystar’ (the sun), ‘fuliginous’ (sooty) and ‘periculous’ (dangerous). Think I’ll be slipping some of those into conversation.

So a huge thank you Sue Butler, poetry editor of the monthly magazine, for publishing my poem and for this fifty pounds worth of thesaurus, which at 2.2kg couldn’t have been cheap to send to the other side of the world. I am ‘agrin’ (the act of grinning).

Well I got me some done. Mainly because I was getting fed up of writing my details on any scrap of paper to hand, plus I do think it looks a little bit professional, don’t you?

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So far I have parted with only a few – the obligatory one to the husband, and then a couple were given out at my recent trip to the Mildura Writers Festival, including one to Eileen Chong.

I do have more readings, festivals and workshops booked in to attend and participate in, including the launch of my first chapbook Smashed glass at midnight, so plenty more opportunities to spread the word of my own  🙂

And so the second session I attended at the Mildura Writers Festival was an insight into the work of Eileen Chong and Anthony Lawrence facilitated by Judith Beveridge.

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I must confess I had never read either of their poems before and so was very keen to be introduced to them. Judith began by asking them how they write. Eileen explained how she allows a poem to ferment and doesn’t normally write until it is almost fully formed. She went onto confess she is a compulsive reader, books, packets, labels, really anything with words, and that she casts around for ideas to find a voice or mood to fit the subject matter. Anthony said his poems begin with an emotion, giving the example of driving from work one day when two gulls angled away from his fender and he knew at that point a poem was on its way. He also explained that he read a lot of lyrical poets, citing Leonard Cohen as one of his favourites (mine too!).

Both read poems about their grandmothers – Eileen about her paternal grandmother in ‘My Hakka Grandmother’ from her debut collection Burning Rice and Anthony read ‘Need’ from his forthcoming collection Wax Cathedral.

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When asked by Judith about the actual process of writing, Eileen said she usually goes straight to the keyboard, whereas Anthony has a passion for paper and fountain pens, making meticulous changes by hand, although did confess that for his new collection he went straight to a Word document for the first time. Judith also explored if either have any particular rituals when writing, to which Eileen replied she has to have a clean house before starting and is not able to write if she’s anxious about something. Anthony said he can write anywhere without need for a formal structure and read a poem called ‘Murmuration’ about the movement of starlings. Eileen also read a poem from her forthcoming collection Painting Red Orchids to be published by Pitt Street Poetry who also published her first.

After hearing Eileen read her work it resonated with me, so I purchased a copy of Burning Rice and asked her to sign it, which she happily did. Having read it from cover to cover there are so many delicious images weaved within, and I particularly like her style of writing, succinct and yet so much depth is shared.

And so my first experience of this particular festival ended with a quick review over wine with two very good poet friends – Jennifer Liston and Louise Nicholas – who opted for the early bird package, something I plan to do next year.

The Mildura Writers Festival – what an amazing whirlwind experience! I say whirlwind because we drove for about 10 hours for me to attend 2 sessions totaling 3 hours, thankfully with an overnight stay! Next year better planning’s required, mainly signing up for the whole weekend but anyway, it was well worth the drive.

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The first session I managed to sneak into just before it started, having totally forgotten about the half hour time difference, was Peter Goldsworthy’s chat with Sharon Olds. Peter began by asking Sharon how she came to write and so she explained at one point she used to speak to her friend in sonnets after studying Shakespeare at 14, and started writing out of love for it along with music and rhythm, soon having a preference for 6 beats per line. Sharon felt she wasn’t suited to become a scholar having failed her dissertation, and would happily give up everything she’d learnt to write poems, adding that she had, in fact, learnt very little! And this was just one example of Sharon’s gorgeous sense of humour collapsing the audience into laughter.

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Sharon went onto confess she only wrote good poetry after writing a lot of bad poetry and had some nasty rejection letters, one from a literary magazine that replied if you want to write about your children, we suggest a women’s magazine a better fit! And that’s what Sharon is, a family poet, writing about a range of human wealth some find confrontational, a bit too close for comfort. When writing Stag’s Leap published by Jonathan Cape in 2012, Sharon explained she didn’t feel she was still under the vow of marriage and so could write about this very personal experience with a poetic rawness. She added it doesn’t matter if a poem makes her feel vulnerable, as long as it has emotional gravity.

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Sharon read a couple of poems during the session and ended with ‘Ode to the Hymen’, a piece that was both funny and poignant generating loud hysterics that ebbed into thoughtful silence. And that is the power and magic of Sharon. Listening to her was divine, she is such a beautiful person and I wished the session had been longer, but I was absolutely thrilled to have her sign my copy of Stag’s Leap and felt she shared with us all a certain sense of peace, quiet in its power.

So this week’s Lee Marvin readers were Tom Sullivan, the host Ken Bolton (standing in for Kelli Rowe who was unable to make it), Irmina Van Niele and Gareth Roi Jones.

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Tom, I found out a while ago, actually works at the same place I do albeit on a different floor, but I have never heard any of his work before. Tom read a number of poems all new, which is really the whole point of these readings, to experiment on the audience. The first was a powerful piece called ‘Threshold’ followed by a 7 part series ‘Vox’, with some delicious lines – ‘drinking desolation like tonic’ and ‘night with its carriages of hours’. Tom also shared a pair of poems, ‘Swoon’ and ‘Blush’ written with fellow writer Gareth also on the bill, and then a further three poems with too many memorable lines to fit in this post, but one of my favourites being ‘unrelenting cutlery of rain’.

Ken read two long (compared to my work!)  narrative poems and began by telling us that he doesn’t like to write a poem if he knows what he’s going to write, which I thought an interesting statement and began thinking if this applies to me…Anyway, the first poem was called ‘Tale of Two Cities’, the setting a coffee shop in which the protagonist mused over the staff and people passing by outside. This was followed by the second part ‘Clocking On’, which began as a response to a friend called Pete. Ken reads well, using the familiar to engage his audience by sharing things they can relate to.

Irmina, of Dutch heritage, began by explaining how her writing reflects her artwork and is often a response to particular life events. Irmina read a piece called ‘Mother Island’, in which she described her somewhat difficult relationship with her mother and the influence she had on her in her youth. Again there were many wonderful lines – ‘endless support to my endless mother’ and ‘her madness is slippery’ stood out, as did her reference to her mother as a ‘child mother’. Irmina’s piece struck a chord with me, many parts mirroring my relationship with my own mother. The piece finished beautifully – ‘where there is a sliver of time and she is calm, something can possibly be said’.

Gareth ended the evening reading two poems, the first, ‘Astral Travelling’ he worked on with Tom, which described a regression through his ages, a big picture down if you like. It began with a series of astronomical terms, and again haunting lines like ‘you, the centre of black holes in hearts everywhere’ and reminded us that we live in ‘the driest state in the driest continent on earth’. Ending in his heart, it made you think about how small we are in such a gigantic system of life. Gareth finished with a poetic monologue ’52 Hertz’, about the song of a whale of unidentified species that can only be heard at this frequency.

Tuesday saw words with Caitlyn Lesiuk, David Mortimer, Mike Ladd and Carol Lefevre at the Lee Marvin readings hosted by Ken Bolton, a delightful variety and evening.

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Caitlyn was first up reading a piece of prose, which although based in Melbourne felt like we were being drawn into some kind of Salvador Dali-esque world, with striking images of birthing body parts! An eye, foot, hand pushing their way out of women, such powerful images leading up to the protagonist being hit by a tram but the legs ‘kept on walking’. At the end, despite the almost surreal horror, you wanted more, so hopefully at some point there will be.

David read eight poems, six of which were new and then two from his collection Magic Logic published by Puncher & Wattmann Poetry, one entitled ‘not-being and somethingness’, a nice fit with the evening’s theme. David ended with ‘practical aesthetics’, a sex poem as he calls it, which opened with the beautiful line ‘I kiss your intimate architecture’ and developed into an exquisite abstract of lovemaking.

Mike read a new series of poems called ‘Dream tetras’, which in part relayed colours remembered after waking. These were interesting, thought-provoking pieces and Mike is a wonderful reader, having heard him before at a Words@Wall event reading from his Adelaide collection produced by Garron Publishing. Mike ended his set with a poem about skiing in Dubai, an entertaining piece with the repetitive line ‘so let’s go skiing in Dubai’ throughout.

Carol shared a series of work about her garden, a photographic journal called The Art of the Garden Diary published in SA Life, making reference at one point to Wallace Stevens’ poem ‘Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird’, which I must admit I had never read before (I have now!). With memorable lines like ‘night swallows the deepest colours first’ and vivid images of roses, Carol encouraged us to remember the natural world we live in and must keep alive.

So I finally got round to reading a couple of the writing magazines I subscribe to and reaching p.52 of Writers’ Forum, nearly choked on the tipple I was drinking! (a glass of chilled Nepenthe, very nice).

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How fab is this, what a wonderful surprise! This is a poem I work-shopped during the Poetry School’s online feedback course I took part in recently hosted by Catherine Smith, which I then submitted to Sue Butler, the poetry editor of the magazine, a few months ago.

Writers’ Forum is an interesting read. Published every month out of Bournemouth in the UK, it’s essentially a toolkit for writers, full of articles, tips and reviews to help you along. The deadline for the poetry competition is the 15th of each month and with no entry fee and prizes to be won, I’m sure Sue gets inundated with submissions. So again a little bit pleased, got my happy dance perfected!

Well here it is folks, my first collection of poetry! And I haven’t stopped smiling!!

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This collection has been hovering around for a while, waiting (and not always patiently), to feel right enough to be allowed out. And when it finally does, reads well (I’m biased of course!) and flows, it’s such a wonderful moment, like you’ve finally achieved that elusive whole. Anyway, I digress…

The chapbook contains 20 poems that explore loss – of the self, another or the connection between – which I hope provoke a few thoughts rather than a need to reach for the tissues!

I am so pleased with how it’s turned out, having been beautifully put together by Brenda and Stephen Matthews at Ginninderra Press, who have had the painstaking experience of dealing with a poet and her precious perfections! And I am honoured to be their first of the new Picaro Poets, which I have no doubt will become a fantastic series as it continues to grow.

So I’m taking Brenda’s advice, of giving my chapbook the life it deserves, by arranging a launch (further details to follow shortly), so for those of you interested keep an eye out, while the other one can be reading it  🙂