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

Check out these two brilliant poems by Jennifer Liston in the current issue of Verity La:

http://verityla.com/deadspeak-jennifer-liston/

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And do take the time to meet Jen’s rescued poetry http://jenniferliston.com/ (there are some wonderful pieces she’s whipped up and woven using her unique rescue technique).

Inspirational, a skill I intend to explore!

is an exceptional collection by Angela Readman published by Nine Arches Press, one I couldn’t put down for the song calling and still hear.

The Book of Tides is Angela’s third collection of poems, described as salt-speckled and sea-tinged, they lure with their rhythmic magic and ability to weave the other worldliness with the normalcy of now. There are mermaids and fishermen, folklore and loss, love and murder, even a beard of bees:

The swarm began to flow uphill, a dark lace over the apple stuck in my throat (‘The Preacher’s Son and the Beard of Bees’)

each and every poem glittering with a visceral, yet incandescent, quality.

Angela’s work leaves indelible images, the titles alone capitulate these – ‘The Museum of Water’, ‘The House that Wanted to be a Boat’, ‘Our Name in Pebbles’, ‘Confession of a Selkie’ – and with sublime lines like:

Sometimes she stared at wolves chasing the window, landlocked clouds circled the house (‘The Book of Tides’)

and:

My fingers dry and uncurl, flakes fall. I leave freckles on the snow (‘The Woman with No Name’)

and:

The horizon is a closed ballroom where days of the week refuse to dance (‘The Woman Who Could Not Say Goodbye’)

these poems are keepsakes, the kind to net and stow in a sturdy, waterproof box.

The detail in Angela’s work is enviable, as the snippets above demonstrate, down to the quote she selected by Leonard Cohen by way of introduction – “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick everyday.”

The title poem won the Mslexia Poetry Competition in 2013, but I want to leave you with ‘To Catch a Fisherman’, one of several favourites of mine for its sculpted perfection, like the seashell you found as a child whispering wonders:

 

To Catch a Fisherman

 

The Singer grunts another steel shanty.

Mother puts a foot down on fish skins

bucking the light, an ocean in the room.

 

It’s a fine day to catch a fisherman, let

fog spritz a veil over a squirm of tail, shells

cutting patterns in my chest like dough.

 

I can cut a fisherman out of his boat,

if I sit still long enough, dangle the bait of

a song off the rock to a man looking for a story

 

to reel. There’s none who won’t come,

reach out for a myth to writhe in his hands.

I serenade the speck of my house, sad

 

as a woman who can’t dance, wind rinsing

out recollections of sinking in the bath

pretending to be half-anemone, half-girl.

 

The keel of my voice creaks song

of Mother’s bad back, logs aching to be lugged,

a cold foot in bed inching for a warm sole.

 

She catches the lone fisherman in her net,

a sprat of man who sees me strip off my tail,

harpoon licking the hollow in his neck.

 

Together we bundle him back to the house,

Mother’s laugh is a shoal. It slips over us,

a glint of mermaids bringing the silver home.

 

Copyright © Angela Readman 2016

Tim Winton gave a talk at the Adelaide Convention Centre last night – Tender Hearts, Sons of Brutes – as part of his tour to promote his latest book. The place was packed.

Winton is an iconic Australian author. I remember when we first moved here, I wanted to immerse myself in Australian culture and literature, and was promptly pointed in his direction. I started with Cloudstreet and have never looked back. In 2007, he was named a Living Treasure by the National Trust and has won the Miles Franklin Award four times.

The protagonist in The Shepherd’s Hut is Jaxie Clackton, a young boy searching for a better way to be, having learnt everything about being a man from his dad, a brute and a bully, and so has been shaped by, and marinated in, violence, as Winton shared:

I think we forget or simply don’t notice the ways in which men, too, are shackled by misogyny. It narrows their lives. Distorts them. And that sort of damage radiates; it travels, just as trauma is embedded and travels through families.

Winton opened the session with an extract from the book speaking as Jaxie, explaining how he now knows what he wants but has ‘been through fire to get here’. For Winton, a novel is not a tool but a toy; something to explore with curiosity because ‘useless stuff resonates, experiences linger’ – ‘useless beauty’ is why he writes. He’d planned to write the story from three or four people’s perspectives, but it didn’t work because all he could hear was the voice of the ‘unlovely boy’ and so gave him the floor.

Having read only six of his twenty-nine books (Dirt Music and Minimum of Two I borrowed from friends), I still have some reading to do. His writing is inspirational with a focus on landscape and place (his novel In the Winter Dark spurred me to write a poem called ‘primordial’ I’m rather proud of and is currently finding a home).

Winton spoke well to a captivated crowd, exploring childhood, identity, poisonous masculinity, domestic violence:

In this airless universe there are no conversations, only declarations and fraught silences

and was humble, describing himself as ‘just a storyteller’, a brilliantly iconic one at that.

Having reviewed her son’s show, Susan Belperio asked if I’d review her photography exhibition, Under the Lens, currently on display at the same venue, The Lab, Queen’s Theatre.

A former medical practitioner and in addition to here, Susan’s work has been displayed in Queensland and the Northern Territory; she also had an image in a human rights exhibition in Tibet opened by the Dalai Lama.

For me, the exhibition comprises three parts, beginning with a stunning black and white photo of Josh either dressing or undressing for his show (it’s the voyeur’s choice), revealing the eight-inch scar travelling his skin. It’s an intimate scene, one of a mother portraying the glittering remnant of her son’s near-death experience.

In the cluster of black and white images that follow, hands and feet feature, snapshots of movement stilled. Two pairs of feet dangle carefreely from a balcony overlooking the beach. A pair of hands are clasped on a lap, the red painted nails the only colour calling. A circle of polished feet appears as if talking and a child’s hands are being introduced to the piano. Interspersed with images of the moon, birds, roads and the sea, they denote a journey well-travelled, be it flying, driving or sailing, elements that lead neatly into the final part.

The colour series is called Life’s a Beach, in which Susan conveys the multi-faceted sea, what it can give and take away. It’s a colour spangled dreamscape with each image expertly placed to both singularly shine and complement its neighbours. Humans are juxtaposed with the man-made and wild – the shadow of a plane over water, a lone feather, a child’s spade in the shallows, the ripples and twists found in the sand and sky. The sea dons day and night, carries time effortlessly, simultaneously evoking a distant longing and home.

Susan has an incredible ability to capture the everyday in a way that is not, to present indelible moments, to stop and embrace life. The exhibition, which is free to view, only runs until 17 March as part of the Fringe, so if you’d like to immerse yourself in some hauntingly beautiful images, I highly recommend a visit.

This took place yesterday in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, as part of Adelaide Writer’s Week, with a spectacular line-up – Alison Flett, Nelson Hedditch, Rachael Mead, Rob Walker and Manal Younus.

Facilitated by Peter Goldsworthy, a stalwart of the South Australian poetry scene, each poet was introduced to share some of their work with a packed audience. Alison was up first.

I love Alison’s work, particularly her fox and vessel poems, of which, among others, she shared both. ‘Liminoid’ is from Semiosphere, Alison’s Little Windows chapbook, and describes an encounter with a fox where there was still all the noise going on around me but there was a pencil line of silence running between me and the fox.

Alison then shared the first part of the trilogy ‘Vessel’, which symbolises the stages of womanhood and opens with:

No one else              has seen inside        this child.

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.

Nelson was up next, a performance poet I wasn’t familiar with, who has a passion for rhythm and words, which punched through. With his collection Never Finish Anything, Nelson began with ‘End to the Means’, which, like any brilliant performance poet, he recited from memory. ‘Homeostasis’ slowed down the pace from a song, ending in the line when I was born, I looked into my dad’s eyes like I’d been here before. Nelson also shared a poem written by his grandmother, ‘Words are dry shells, which presented a series of evocative images. When not poeting, Nelson is a hip-hop artist by the name of Dialect, at which I’m sure he’s just as talented.

Third to read was Rachael, another of my favourite poets, sharing some of my favourites too, starting with ‘The wild grammar of leeches’ from her new collection The Flaw in the Pattern, UWA Publishing :

I shed my clothes like an awful first draft, splashing river

on my face and into places used to their own company…

I look down to find my body being edited, its pages

harshly corrected with black punctuation.

Rachael also read ‘Powerless’, an award-winning poem I’ve shared on here recently from the Grieve Anthology along with ‘The dog, the blackbird and the anxious mind’, which was published in Meanjin, where while walking the dog, he drags me like I’m emotional baggage he’s desperate to escape.

Rob took to the podium next, again whose work I admire. He opened with ‘An accident waiting to happen’ from his collection Tropeland, Five Islands Press, which relayed a series of bad things, including I am the scissors in the hand of the running child. Rob also read ‘A Clarity of Smog’, which won Friendly Street Poet’s Satura Prize in 2015 (the year one of my own was shortlisted), followed by ‘radiology’ from his chapbook Policies & Procedures, Garron Publishing, where:

holding our futures in nervous hands

we come with xrays – ikons

in large envelopes with corporate logos…

 

this arcane analysis

reading the stars within…

Manal finished the set, another unfamiliar poet to me, her poise and delivery impeccable. Manal began with ‘Girl’, in honour of International Women’s Day tomorrow, further emphasised by the readings being held where they were. A particularly poignant piece, it compared woman to tree where ‘flowers are bi-products’ culminating in the stunning lines:

The burden is not who you are

but who you are asked to be.

Manal then shared a poem she had performed earlier that day, ‘Colour me in’, at a high school, in which we’re asked to colour me kind, colour me strong and colour me conscience so I see things others do not.

The readings were followed by the essential book buying and signing, so once again, I’ve got me some reading to do!

So I went to review my second Fringe show Friday night for mindshareScarred for Life at The Lab, Queen’s Theatre.

With the headline Man falls off bike, becomes star, Josh Belperio relays the time he flew over the handlebars of his bicycle, ruptured his spleen and nearly bled to death through a series of comical and clever songs on the piano, reminiscent of Tim Minchin.

Josh began by taking us back to when he was little, where he was held back in ‘fun skills’ because of his slight touch of autism, before finding his place at the piano and then falling from it (literally), which won him $500 in Australia’s Funniest Home Videos courtesy of his mum filming it. His first scar came at 15 from running through a plate glass door, severing the tendon and artery, with thankfully no nerve damage.

The day of his accident he was anxious and rushing to the Festival Theatre to workshop ‘The Unmentionable Musical’ as he calls it, approached a roundabout too fast, as did a car from his right. He slammed on his brakes. The bike stopped, he didn’t. And as he gets to his feet he feels strange, as if his body’s trying to process something, all this to terse music.

At home his parents (both doctors) put him to bed and monitor him, until Josh wakes feeling strange again. His mother takes one look at him and rushes him to hospital, not before Josh collapses and asks his boyfriend Matthew am I dying? A CT scan reveals a ruptured spleen, which requires immediate surgery and as the mask comes down, all Josh can think of is all the music he has left to write.

Having lost 2 litres of blood, Josh is transferred to ICU, which is the title of a highly entertaining song through the eyes of the ICU nurse, followed by ‘Sample pack of information for families of deceased patients – spare copies’ where Josh summarises each pamphlet inside. My favourite song was ‘Watching me pee into a bottle’, a tender exchange between Josh and Matthew, in which love and affection grows like my urinal collection.

Towards the end Josh reveals his eight-inch medical marvel (his scar), an angry looking welt, which he thinks ugly, but to Matthew it’s beautiful because it represents how his life was saved. The mental health aspect of the show is anxiety and how Josh manages it – present before his accident and escalating after – to enable him to live the life he wants, to not be scared, to make peace with his scar and most importantly, to get back on his bike. Josh is a talented artist, and gave a funny and moving performance through theatrical song. It’s a show I’d recommend.

As a Fringe reviewer of shows with a mental health theme for mindshare, I went along to my first one Monday night; It’s Not Easy Being Green, a cabaret at the Chateaux Apollo.

Written and performed by Karen Lee Roberts accompanied by Mr Sunshine (aka Jeff Usher) on keys, it was an insight into a struggle with mental wellness (not illness) via a series of scenes, opening with Christmas Eve where everything was unravelling. Karen, in character, compared her state of mind to algae – green and always on edge, waiting to be devoured by something bigger – and talked about how depression is still taboo, asking can’t people bear to hear the truth??

Each scene explored acceptable conversation versus reality – the dinner party where she declared the food far better than what she’d received in hospital when mentally unstable; the photos of her wedding in which professionals expertly covered her self-harming scars; and the change in her behaviour when she came off her meds, the dark places she visited trapped by her myriads of faults and flaws.

And each snapshot was framed in song – ‘Problem solver’ and ‘Chameleon’ to name a few, the latter advising to keep your skin, don’t rearrange, a poignant message. Karen had an amazing voice pitched with feeling, all songs self-written to be made into a CD shortly. Then my husband became part of the show being invited on stage to play Daniel, the guy she’d met on Tinder, an amusing interlude to say the least!

The hour offered a raw, honest account of a person stripped bare – juggling demons, meds and their inevitable side effects with healthy eating, exercise and positive action – and revisited the Christmas Eve scene, a clever bookend, where the tree in the distance no longer represented something to hang from, but life itself.

I’m not a big fan of cabaret, so this wasn’t a show I chose to review, but because of its ability to leap beyond comfy mental health, I’m glad I did. Unfortunately the last performance was yesterday (it ran for three nights only), but if it returns next year I’d recommend the experience. Until then I’ll leave you with the closing line – it’s not easy being green, but it’s better than being blue.     

Giraffe is Bryony Littlefair’s fantastic debut collection. Published by Seren Books, it won the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition in 2017 and it’s easy to see why.

Through 19 poems, Bryony skillfully presents everyday life – from ‘Tara Miller’, the bad girl at school who leaves an impression to the lesson of healing in the title poem, where happiness when it comes “will be long-legged, sun-dappled: a giraffe.” We’re pulled into each scene, but it’s the insightful nuances that make these poems shine.

In ‘Dear Anne Monroe, Healthcare Assistant’, Bryony relays her sister’s blood-taking (somewhat apologetically) through the eyes of the nurse:

Sorry for her ratchety stubborn fear,

which will make you late for your next appointment. Sorry, also,

for the 16k a year, for the commute

from Clapham North to Archway

where the light is piss-yellow and everyone is angry.

Coming home early from school in ‘Hallway’, Bryony catches her mother “eyes closed, somewhere else” playing the piano as Bryony:

…stood quiet and uncertain,

shivering like a just-plucked violin string;

washed up in the hallway, wondering at her life.

It’s an absorbing collection – a series of expertly rendered snapshots in which Bryony punctuates conversational tone with poignancy. I’ll end with one of my favourites, for just this reason.

 

Amsterdam, July 2011     

 

I might have stayed, in that lighted carriage,

with its lullaby of whirring tracks, but stepped off here,

where the girls stare out from glass

as though they know your secrets, as though

they are okay with them.

 

The streets sing hymns here. The buildings talk quietly amongst themselves.

You check out early. There is no breakfast. Fuelled

by hunger, you can go and go. The ecstasy

of open space declares itself, and knows

of your relentless need to run roads.

 

Loneliness does not exist here, where every face looks like

one you might have loved in a previous life.

Undrunk vodka. Sky cool in my throat.

 

Like an empty suitcase, my heart flies open.

 

Copyright @ Bryony Littlefair 2017

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