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I went to the launch of Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain on Wednesday, a stunning collection edited by Heather Taylor Johnson, and the first of its kind in Australia from UWA Publishing.

Launched by Peter Goldsworthy, this is an exquisite book; to be absorbed, examined, shared and treasured.  In his foreword, Peter explores poetry as a cathartic process, the ‘cleansing of emotional wounds’, with ‘much hard-earned wisdom and hard-wrung poetry in the pages that follow.’

A plethora of diseases and conditions are represented – cancer, mental health, disability, postnatal depression, ageing and dementia.  Heather herself suffers from Ménière’s disease, an imbalance of the inner ear, and one she writes about here.  But what makes this anthology so special is its structure; three poems from each poet preceded by a narrative describing their illness and the impact it has.

And Heather has gathered together some fine Australian poets – the likes of Fiona Wright, Andy Jackson and Stuart Barnes alongside those who read at the Adelaide launch – Gareth Roi Jones, Ian Gibbins, Rachael Mead, Rob Walker and Steve Evans.

Gareth suffers from migraines, a debilitating condition painfully conveyed in his poem ‘aching’:

hours when simply standing up

is a pickaxe

when the growling dog

won’t let you through the gate.

Ian is a neuroscientist so knows about the body, how it works and how it doesn’t, demonstrated by his brilliant performance of ‘Cataplexy’, a poem which explores this rare condition where extremes of emotion trigger a switch from consciousness into a waking dream-like state.

Rachael was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, states eloquently expressed in ‘What lies beneath my skin’, which opens with:

The ringing telephone ratchets me into tension.

providing an insight into her daily management, when walking the dog offers some relief:

I put myself in the path of wildness

let it fill my long and hollow bones.

Rob’s condition is chronic osteoarthritis, a degenerative bone disease, where in his poem ‘radiology’ (composed with Magdalena Ball), ‘holding our future in nervous hands, we come with X-rays’, likening this process to ‘reading the stars within’, an ‘internal astrology’, a captivating image.

Steve suffers with temporal epilepsy, experiencing Alice-in-Wonderland-type moments of surreal forgetfulness.  In the ‘Body Electric’, he shares what it feels like:

My body is short-circuiting.

a tumultuous journey culminating in the final stunning lines:

And my words are brittle copies

Of what I used to do. My fingers fail.

I just can’t make a fist of this.

These snapshots are enough to tempt anyone living with chronic illness and pain to seek the bigger picture captured in this collection.  And they need not be a fan of poetry to be able to appreciate the unequivocal raw beauty of the afflicted self.

is today! In the US and Canada but you know, nothing to stop us from extending it everywhere!!

Copyright @ http://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org 2017

Initiated in 2002 in New York as part of its National Poetry Month celebration, Poem in your Pocket Day is designed to encourage people to select a poem, unknown or a favourite, and carry it around with them for the day, sharing it with others throughout.

So, let’s get sharing; be it in your office, a bookstore, local park or simply on the sidewalk. If you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #pocketpoem. For those more traditional folk, reach into your pocket and read out loud!

Seeing as I’m going through a Plath phase, I’ve put ‘Morning Song’ in my pocket to whip out and share on the train or during my lunchtime walk or more interestingly, in a meeting at work…

is today! Initiated by UNESCO in 1999, the aim is a simple one – to honour and promote poets and poetry around the world, and to recognise poetry as an international language with the ability to unite.

Copyright @ Slideshare.net 2017

Love it or hate it, poetry is an important historical instrument, an invaluable form of expression, which can challenge, heal, humour and change, but above all connect us to our very existence. Here’s this year’s message from Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO:

Poetry is a window onto the breath-taking diversity of humanity

So I want to share one of my favourite poems by one of my favourite poets with you. Having recently revisited her work, Sylvia Plath is undeniably one of the world’s finest poets and below is one of many reasons why. Plath wrote this poem a month before her separation from Ted Hughes and just six months before her death:

For a Fatherless Son

You will be aware of an absence, presently,
Growing beside you, like a tree,
A death tree, color gone, an Australian gum tree —-
Balding, gelded by lightning—an illusion,
And a sky like a pig’s backside, an utter lack of attention.
But right now you are dumb.
And I love your stupidity,
The blind mirror of it. I look in
And find no face but my own, and you think that’s funny.
It is good for me
To have you grab my nose, a ladder rung.
One day you may touch what’s wrong —-
The small skulls, the smashed blue hills, the godawful hush.
Till then your smiles are found money.

Copyright @ Sylvia Plath 1962

So I urge you to write, read, speak and share to help celebrate all things poetry, not only on this day, but every day.

I went to the launch by Carol Lefevre of Jean Harley was here last night at Dymocks bookshop.

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This is Heather Taylor Johnson’s second novel, Pursuing Love and Death her first published in 2013 by Harper Collins, a domestically rich story with the protagonist suffering from Meniere’s disease, a debilitating condition of the inner ear causing vertigo and tinnitus, which Heather herself battles with. So Heather’s second novel has been hotly anticipated.

Published by the University of Queensland Press, it explores love, relationships and the impact of absence. Jean Harley – wife, mother, lover, dancer – is sunshine in the lives of those around her, but when tragedy strikes they are forced to continue without her. Despite a little unravelling and a few storms, Jean leaves a powerful legacy to abate them. I’ve heard it’s a tear-jerker

Heather is first and foremost a poet, with a number of sole and collaborative collections to her name, and her lyricism is reflected in her exquisite prose.  I recall Heather sharing an extract from the draft of this book last year at a reading with other poets, which has stayed with me, and Heather’s knack for scene-setting is like an intimacy shared, demonstrated by the excerpt she read yesterday from the chapter “Emotional Fishing”. Here’s a snapshot:

Charley sat as far back as he could, feeling out of place, though that was nothing new. His bald head shone under the fluoro lights and the back of his neck itched – an eczema problem that flared up when he was nervous. He kept smoothing his long beard to a point – another nervous tic. One might think he was made of tougher stuff because if this was an eye-for-eye world, here was a man who’d seen things that should’ve blinded him, a man who’d done the sort of things people don’t talk about at the dinner table but read about in newspapers over breakfast…”

Quoted as being “a book to savour” by Hannah Kent, it’s clear this will be another stunning read from an extraordinarily talented writer. A visceral narrative with complex, relatable characters, Heather offers us a world to get lost in, absorb, making us ponder our place in our own.

I went along to the launch of Paint the Sky by Kristin Martin last night at Henley Beach.

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Kristin writes poetry and fiction for children and adults.  This is her first full length poetry collection for adults published by Ginninderra Press. Launched by Lynette Washington, the room was packed and thankfully air-conditioned in the forty-degree heat!  Lynette began by reeling off Kristin’s many roles – wife, mother, daughter, teacher, writer and poet – and it’s with the latter hat on that she ‘untangles the world with her words.’

Lynette then read four poems from the collection – ‘Time and Space’, ‘Never Happy with the Weather’, ‘Belonging’ and ‘In the Back of Emily Dickinson’, the most poignant of the four, where even during labour a poet will fight pain to scribble down words that also vie to exist.

Kristin also shared four poems – ‘She Paints the Sky’ done ‘when the stresses of her days on earth press between her shoulders’, ‘The Shed’ a witty fictional poem about her dad, ‘Whistling Kites’ previously published in a Friendly Street Poets Anthology and then possibly my favourite in the collection ‘The Catch of the Evening’, where we find a young Kristin playing cricket with her family in the backyard and competing for catches, the ending simply brilliant:

‘Then, as the mosquitoes herded us indoors,

I turned to grab the stumps and saw the uncontested winner:

our blue gum. It had caught the moon

and was holding it triumphantly

in the crook of a branch.’

This is a comprehensive debut collection brimming with family, love and loss, and fellow poet Rob Walker’s review on the back sums it up perfectly – ‘Kristin Martin reminds us that rare moments between ordinary people are precious gems, and lovingly holds them up to the sunlight.’

I planned to go along to Poet’s Corner Monday evening to hear fellow poet and friend Cary Hamlyn read, but unfortunately couldn’t make it.

Attending this event would have been a first for me, which runs six times a year at the Effective Living Centre in Wayville.  A guest poet is invited to read, share their poetic journey and any particular creative process they follow.

Cary is a wonderful poet, who I got to know through the Lee Marvin Readings, and after chatting to her a few times found out she was relieved to now know who the girl in the green coat is!

I heard Cary captivated the audience and the event was well attended, more so than when Cary read at Lee Marvin.  And I’ve no doubt Cary shared some poems from her debut collection Scraping the Night published by Ginninderra Press in their Picaro Poets series, and what a fine first collection it is.

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Cary’s poems explore pertinent themes – psychology, humour, loss, love – and in the title poem ‘Scraping the Night’ there is much to admire.  Essentially about a couple making out, ‘moonlight leers through the car window etching the valley of your cheek’ while ‘outside the stars open and shut like clams’; such vivid images.

So I’ll be keeping my eye out for who the next guest poet is, as it sounds like a wonderful way to spend an evening.

Last night I went to the launch of Heather Taylor Johnson’s new collection of poems, Meanwhile, the Oak, at The Mockingbird Lounge.  This is Heather’s fourth book of poetry, this time published by Five Islands Press, with the cover photo by Rachael Mead.

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The collection was launched by Alison Flett, another brilliant local poet, who spoke about some of the themes in these poems; family, pets and most noticeably the belly, a symbol of health and fertility.

Heather stepped up to share just two poems – ‘They said’ and ‘This old house’ – the first for her three children who did an excellent job of bookselling and the other for her husband, whose home brew proved very popular.

‘They said’ is an expertly crafted braided poem, weaving Heather’s thoughts with those of her children to give us a snapshot of their lives:

‘Crawling beside me, a tiny question mark

in uncertain darkness says

There was someone in a box

It was raining

It was in my dream

And then later, to reinforce the parent/child dynamic:

‘Because I hold fear in my teeth like old fillings, I listen when they say

It’s scary at night, so dark.

I wish the moon would sleep with me

‘This old house’ is essentially a love poem, but the kind that has thorns as well as the flower to really make you feel.  It’s bursting with passion, movement and heat:

‘In the living room / let’s rub together like carpet and shag.

Let’s read each other in the study.

On the woodpile / let’s aim for splinters.’

And the final lines are simply stunning:

‘On the veranda / let’s be stars and go oooo and ahhh as we shoot off in

every direction.’

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Heather’s work always draws a big crowd because it’s visceral, gritty, absorbing. Imagine gorging on a piece of fruit, the juices running down your chin, the tang in your mouth, the colours in your head.  For me, this is Heather’s poetry; in the moment, unabashed, full of life, sharing the very essence of herself and what it means to be human.

I was thrilled to find out a couple of months ago that two of my poems were selected for inclusion in Driftfish.

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This is a Zoomorphic anthology of poetry, prose and pictures about marine life – to celebrate it in all its fantastical forms and to commiserate it in its dwindling numbers. Hundreds of submissions were received from around the world and I was lucky enough to be one of its international contributors, thanks to poetry editor Susan Richardson.

Driftfish is Zoomorphic’s first print anthology in which they aim to convey the magazine’s core principle: “to defend non-human species, we must reconnect our imaginations to them.”

The launch was yesterday at ONCA in Brighton, UK as part of its current exhibition Do you speak seagull? and I was one of four to Skype in to read. This was a first for me and unfortunately, no doubt due to our temperamental connection, I wasn’t able to hear them and had to go by visual prompts to begin reading! The main thing however, was that they could hear me perfectly, and I was shown around the room to claps and waves afterwards thanks to Ellie, ONCA’s tech guru.

A copy of the anthology is swimming its way to me as we speak, so if you’re interested in the stunning life the oceans hold, grab a copy and dive in!

Last night was the launch of the Southern-Land Spring series from Garron Publishing at the Halifax Café.  And the place was bursting at the seams, with people flocking to hear the latest work from some fantastic poets – Mike Hopkins, Alison Flett, Steve Brock, Judy Dally and Louise McKenna.

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MC’d by Gary MacRae from Garron Publishing with Sharon Kernot on book sales, which incidentally went like hot cakes, Mike Ladd introduced the line-up, another outstanding local poet.

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First to read was Mike from his ingeniously titled Selfish Bastards and other poems, a collection described as a ‘parody of parodies’ and so naturally Mike read the title poem, which required audience participation.  My favourite line has to be ‘Poets at poetry readings who go over time with their boring bloody confessional poems about their boring bloody tragic lives – Selfish Bastards!’ (shouted by the audience).  Mike’s work is clever, witty and engaging, and there’s a very poignant poem in the collection called ‘My Father’s Blood’, which won a first prize at this year’s Salisbury Writers’ Festival.

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Next up to the mic was Alison reading from Vessel and other poems, and again like Mike Alison read the title poem, two of its three stanzas, which I’ve heard Alison read before and just love.  The poem is about a girl, with each stanza marking a different chapter in her life, beginning with ‘She is small.  The sky does not yet come down around her.  It is still contained in a blue strip at the top of the page’, epitomising childhood.  Alison reads like a dream, fashions poems brimming with feeling and soul, which both haunt and enrapt with their quiet beauty.

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After a short break, Judy shared some poems from Lost Property and other poems, a collection about her late father, her relationship with him and the impact it has on their family dynamics.  Judy started with ‘My father on a January morning’, where we see him ‘hunched on the sea wall’, hiding, ignoring, clearly not wanting to be there, ending with ‘refused an ice cream, cast a shadow’.  Judy’s poems belay the quite often heartbreak of parental relationships, lives spent, moments lost, asks the question, how did we come to this?

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Steve read next from Jardin du Luxembourg and other poems, a collection about travel and his time spent in Europe.  In Steve’s poem ‘Still Life’, he compares writing poetry to ‘a bowl of lemons’ where ‘you need the optimism of the lemon’ and ‘the ability to lend yourself like the humble lemon to season other parts of your life’.  A clever thought-provoking piece, leaving us poets with a literally tantalizing image – that ‘one day you have enough lemons to live off alone.’

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To finish the set Louise read from The Martyrdom of Bees and other poems, which draws on her nursing career.  Louise also started with the title poem and like Alison read two of its three stanzas, where a bee ‘alights upon his arm, testing for sweetness on the inside of it, as if it is the pale throat of a flower before the white hot pain’ and then later, they become ‘airborne tigresses, poised to kill.’  I particularly liked ‘A Nurse’s Meditations in the Sluice Room’, where ‘ your contempt is like a needle waved in my face’ to the final stunning lines – ‘I have carried my anger in your bedpan – now I open the tap, rinse it away.’

These chapbooks are exquisitely rendered pieces of art, both inside and out, and once again provide perfect poetic snapshots, a credit to the South Australian poetry scene.   

Another fantastic series from a fine publisher

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The launch of my chapbook  “Selfish Bastards and Other Poems” will take place at the Halifax Cafe in Adelaide on Thursday, October 6th, 2016. I am in the illustrious company of Alison Flett, Judy Dally, Louise McKenna and Steve Brock, the other poets in the 2016 Garron chapbook series. It could be a big night.

If you can’t make the launch, you can order copies of “Selfish Bastards and Other Poems” here, and I will post to you as soon as they arrive from the publisher.

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