As a Fringe reviewer of mental health-themed shows for mindshare, my first was Whiplash last night at the National Wine Centre.

Opening with You know the story; it starts with a date, Scott Wings invites us on his self-exploration, literally, as his heart abandons him on a date, apt for Valentine’s Day. A clever mix of physicality and poetry, there’s some stunning imagery, as Scott relays:

In darkness my heart packs its bags. The streets are all clots. There, an old thought begs for change.

Heart is a person, has a mind of its own, leaves the taxi in iambic pentameter mimicked by Scott. And so he goes inside himself to search for heart while on the date, chats with the café proprietor of his stomach, past his appendix, an old lego brick he swallowed years ago, skillfully personifying each body part. He checks his spine, which asks the cliched have you checked out your sleeve lately? and then dick interferes with a romantic brush of hands as they reach for their wine.

He goes to his tailbone to mess with the monkeys there, encounters the brain ship with its powerful, all-knowing presence, eventually reaching his shoulder blade on which he sits, feet dangling, to watch the date unfold. There’s a tree in his collarbone where he encounters himself at different ages – 16, 18, 25, 28, etc. – masturbating to porn, smoking a bong, until a fight breaks out, with his 30-year-old self shouting none of you fuckers have ever done any of your taxes! And when the wine sloshes down, his discomfort increases as he desperately tries to find something to say.

Scott’s array of emotions and energy is boundless, as he takes us through an evolutionary dance, encouraging audience participation, starting with one cell, which multiplies, becomes a worm, which sprouts legs, becomes a lizard and so on, until the brain ship looms large.

I found this concept particularly fascinating, as Scott’s headspace gets re-arranged with spider-like hands shifting thoughts, questions, worries, culminating in when will anyone prioritise me…?

All this time he’s still on the date until, when it comes to goodbye, she says:

Your stories are great and thanks for sharing, but you didn’t ask me a single question all night

causing his brain to fight with his heart, now returned. The ending is poignant – his six-year-old self appears with a flower and places it where his heart is; together they watch it bloom.

It was an incredible show, up there with some of the best we’ve seen at the Fringe and we’ve seen many. With fundamental themes of self-doubt and anxiety, ingeniously expressed through theatrical gestures and words back-grounded with music and mood lighting, it has something for everyone, go see.

5-stars

J V Birch reviews Glass Life by Jo Langdon

Pleased with this and appreciate the opportunity. The start of something

I knew of Cassandra and Paul, having read some of their work, and met them at the Poetry on the Move Festival in Canberra last year. Garron Publishing have published a chapbook of their poems in their latest Southern-Land Poets series, the launch of which they joined via video link as both were overseas.

An award-winning poet, Paul is head of the International Poetry Studies Institute and Professor of Writing at the University of Canberra. Wedding Dress and Other Poems takes us on a journey of nostalgia, each stop a place of potency with a spectrum of feeling. The majority of poems are prose, with a few in tercets and quatrains, and their literary admiration for one another is clear, with both dedicating a poem to the other. In ‘Peeling (for CA)’, ‘Peeling an existence is easier than it looks’, which continues into an exploration of self, culminating in succinct advice – ‘When words fall from through your mouth listen to what they say.’

The nuances of other relationships are explored from different perspectives. In ‘Holding’, intimacy is balanced with unfathomable distance:

They held each other at slow arms’ length in the morning’s

indistinct light. So many words; a year of feeling their way.

Histories no longer kept known arrangements; their hands

were charged with intricacies of absence.

‘Apartment’ is an atmospheric poem, not just of place, but of the linear connection between people. From the start of something, when ‘their sense of themselves became vapour’ making love ‘against the damp bathroom wall’ to the break – ‘After weeks they knew they’d leave their mutuality there…He inspected the rooms and found no history he could keep.’

Cassandra is a prose poet and passionate about it. Her work has been widely published, she’s judged numerous awards, including the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry, and is the current poetry editor for Westerly magazine. In Pre-Raphaelite and Other Prose Poems, there’s beauty and chaos, an ethereal quality fracturing edges, as Cassandra gives us poems about loss, desire and resolve in various stages. In ‘Bonds’, representing both the brand and the tie between people:

I promise to unbind you and gather you in my arms. Skin on

skin. My sweat will be our glue as I rip off that t-shirt and

bond you to me one last time.

In ‘Plum(b)’, food smears thoughts in a stream of consciousness – plums are kept in the fridge, farmyard animals are too ‘cute’ to devour, chicken, fish ‘and sometimes beef’ are eaten, bringing us back full circle to the drupe:

He doesn’t understand the importance of a big, red, expensive fridge.

He thinks they are just for keeping things cold. Like plums.

Cassandra reciprocates Paul’s dedicated poem with ‘Pineapple (for PH)’, where ‘Pineapple gives me atlas tongue. But I eat it and travel the world on my tastebuds’. A personal favourite of mine is ‘Heartbreak Spondee’ on the opposite page, a powerful piece in two parts in which the first is of a union – ‘We leave the lights off and let the sun trace our bodies on the bed’ – and the second separation – ‘Too many new moons have set without your touch.’ The grief in this piece is palpable.

I don’t do resolutions as a rule, but like to have goals, so this year I’ll attempt some prose poetry, aim to pack a punch, leave a mark, like the work in these collections do. And just to note, Melbourne University Press will be publishing The Australian Prose Poetry Anthology, edited by Cassandra and Paul, in 2020 (work submitted must have been previously published). I’ve no doubt it’ll be a fascinating read.

I was guest poet last night at the Southern Performers Interactive Network (SPIN) Christmas Concert in a jam-packed program of poets and musicians.

The event was co-organised by Julia Wakefield who I met at a writing workshop earlier in the year. It was a wonderful evening of entertainment, alternating between poetry and music, with the first half MC’d by Maria Vouis and Steve Evans.

Lindy Warrell opened the set sharing some of her Australasian poems amongst other countries, one of which was old age. Rose between Thorns stepped up next performing an excellent cover of ‘Alice’ and ‘Wicked Game’, aswell as some of their own music, followed by the fab Jill Gower who read entertaining poems about a man she met on a train in Europe and a room comparison with a friend.

Then it was my turn. I shared poems from my three chapbooks, giving a little context before each, and one from my first full length collection due out next year. Sharing the endometriosis poems was quite timely as this was the focus of a recent Insight program, so most in the audience knew about the condition.

After the break, guest musician Tim Saunders took to the stage playing a song called ‘Seflie’ on guitar and a Vivaldi rendition on flute amongst others. Steve Evans was up next, another great poet, sharing ’12 Days of Audit’ and ‘Dating Quiz’, both of which drew laughs from the crowd. Street Owls followed, playing covers of ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and ‘Runaway’, which got us singing along, and Samuel Summer closed the first half who’s recording an album for a Year 12 project and has an amazing voice.

An open mic session followed, which I unfortunately had to miss being exhausted from a ridiculously busy week! But I thoroughly enjoyed myself – caught up with some fellow poets, made some new friends, sold some chapbooks – all in a welcoming and supportive environment. Hoping to spin more in the future.

This morning I recorded one of my poems for PBA FM’s ‘Well Versed’ Program, to be aired during next year’s Adelaide Fringe as part of Salisbury’s Secret Garden.

pba_logo

PBA FM is a community radio station offering a diverse range of programs, giving voice to those who may feel excluded or find it difficult to participate in social, cultural and political aspects of everyday life.

One such program is ‘Well Versed’ devised by Joanne Baker. Poets were invited to submit work to be broadcast as part of the program and those selected by the judges, invited to record their poem in the studio. Joanne was keen to have poets read their own work rather than an announcer, so listeners get the true interpretation of the piece. Joanne also hosts ‘Words Out Loud’.

It was a great experience, a first for me, and wonderful to meet others who are passionate about getting poetry out there. A CD will be compiled of all the readings available to buy, with each being aired next February/March. So as well as hoping to be a reviewer again, I’ll be a Fringe artist, yay!

Last night A bellyful of roses was officially launched by Jennifer Liston at the Broadcast Bar and what a fab evening it was.

This is my third collection of poems from Ginninderra Press with a focus on endometriosis and Jen did a wonderful job of launching it for me.

I shared a few facts about the condition, explaining what it is for those who weren’t familiar with it, and rued not bringing some slides and a pointer!

The poems cover a variety of aspects – diagnosis, fertility, surgery, medication – and a number of people came up to me after saying how they knew someone with endometriosis, buying a copy for them. Indeed, I was overwhelmed by how many attended and copies were sold. Hopefully it helps to raise awareness.

If you’re looking for a launch venue, I’d highly recommend the Broadcast Bar with its cool vibe and intimate performance space. I read five poems, so here’s the last to see if you’d like to know more.

 

Cycle

 

And there’s a certain drawing down & I’m a child again,

fascinated as my nan hooks the chimney’s tongue

 

to pull breath from outside, tall the fire taller.

The creature in me burrows deeper, gnaws as if trying

 

to treasure my bones. I fever every layer of skin,

on turning leave a glistening trail like something in peril.

 

There is nowhere I can be, tremble in the in-between

when stars are being blinded by a melodramatic morning.

 

Seismic shifts curl me undone, river my youth,

the promise of it falling wordlessly, reaching to be held.

 

Copyright @ J V Birch 2018

The MeToo movement started as a hashtag in October last year to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, empowering women to speak and be heard. Poetry gives voice, gathered and shared in this astonishing anthology.

Published by Fair Acre Press and edited by Deborah Alma, it’s a rollercoaster of emotion in print, leaving you with fistfuls of tears and nothing to hide. Split into seven parts, each bear witness to different states:

  • ‘silly lasses’
  • ‘my ordinary walk home’
  • ‘I see myself lie quiet as snow on rail tracks’
  • ‘Domestic’
  • ‘They can’t help it’
  • ‘I said I was the proof’
  • ‘make for the light’

akin to the grieving process, because here too there is loss, shock, denial and anger, with closure in a realm of its own.

From banter to rape, these are powerful poems from brave women – Emma Lee, Helen Ivory, Kim Moore, Katrina Naomi, Zelda Chappel, Pascale Petit and Holly Magill to name a few – who had the courage to revisit a place they’d rather not go. And I’ll leave you with a particularly poignant one by one of my favourite poets, because I believe this speaks to many.

 

The Library of Broken People

 

is catalogued by injury: the fractured;

the ruined from hunger; the raped;

 

the hammered shut. Some are clumped

together as “lost souls”; only the librarian

 

can retrieve those. There’s no ABC to damage,

they litter the alphabet ad hoc. If you browse

 

the catalogue they gift their injuries, lay

themselves flat. Last week two girls displayed

 

their abdomens to a first-year student,

bickered over abuse, spoke of neglect,

 

said life’s an unworkable toy. Other victims

are quieter, don’t talk so much, even when

 

the library’s shut. They drop to the back

of an index, all seal pup eyed, bones skittering

 

at the slightest flex. I survive amongst them,

wear a long jumper, drag sleeves down wrists.

 

Copyright @ Abegail Morley 2018

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.

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