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Writing about experience is extremely cathartic, removing the noise in the head, expressing what never makes it into conversation, and so being a poet it was only natural for me to write about my breast cancer journey, which thanks to Ginninderra Press, forms a chapbook of poems called Venus.

Starting with diagnosis, it charts the path I took – five months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy, six weeks of radiotherapy every day – and still take with daily anti-hormones and a six-monthly bone drug infusion. The outcome was a new me, an alive me, with a different perspective and sense of purpose. (The image on the front by the way, is the pattern from what became my chemo pants, which I’d planned to ceremoniously burn at the end of active treatment, but they’re extremely comfortable!).

I follow in the footsteps of many fine poets who’ve also written about their own experiences – Jo Shapcott’s Of Mutability and Sharon Black’s To Know Bedrock whose launch I attended in London in 2011, plus a fascinating collaboration between Irish poets in Bosom Pals, to name a few. With one in eight women diagnosed with the disease, it’s a common condition with voice.

I’ve given copies to my doctor, specialist and oncologist as I’m keen for it to reach other women embarking on the same journey as a source of comfort, a source of you can do this.

Anniversary

A year ago today my world was smashed
by a man in a suit and wire-rimmed glasses.
His voice was small and grew smaller.

Over the next nine months I lost my aversion
to needles and swallowing tablets
found I preferred my hair short.

So I take my husband out to dinner
like some macabre anniversary
because I feel the need to mark this path

from a place that howled to one made of bricks
where I savour the simplest things –
the sharpness of orange juice in the morning

how fast I can cycle with the wind behind me
watching the sun slip into the sea.

from Venus, Ginninderra Press 2022

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

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.

To celebrate 21 years of publishing, Stephen and Brenda Matthews of Ginninderra Press (GP) held an open day at their house in Port Adelaide yesterday.

Ginninderra is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘throwing out little rays of light’, which is exactly what GP does, by giving voices to so many writers since its inception in 1996 in Canberra, reflected in its philosophy:

We believe that all people – not just a privileged few – have a right to participate actively in cultural creation rather than just being passive consumers of mass media.

A follow on from a similar event in Melbourne earlier this month, it was packed as predicted, with many familiar faces, in their beautiful home that looks out onto the Port Adelaide River and which houses the press. Most attending lived in and around Adelaide, but some had travelled interstate just to be there, a credit to this award-winning publisher.

Stephen kicked off the proceedings before handing over to Brenda to MC the running sheet of readers. I shared a poem from my chapbook, Smashed glass at midnight, the first in GP’s Picaro Poets series and being my debut collection will always feel special.

The commitment, time and dedication Stephen and Brenda put into their work is demonstrated in the beautiful books they publish – ‘A day in the life of GP’ provides an interesting insight into what this entails.

I’m both thrilled and honoured to be part of the GP family, and will always be incredibly grateful, like so many others, to Stephen and Brenda for enabling my work to be.

just happens to be me, which is fab seeing as it’s my birthday month!

Following the successful run of featuring a Pocket Poet each month in the window of East Avenue Books, Ginninderra Press have decided to run through the Picaro Poet series, with my collection, Smashed glass at midnight, up next to entice passersby into the shop.

And once again Stephen and Brenda Matthews have done a wonderful job of pulling this together, including some of my favourite poems from the chapbook.

So if you’re about pop in; immerse yourself in the voices of a thousand and more pens.

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.

I was approached by my publisher Ginninderra Press (GP) a few weeks ago to see if I’d like to be the Pocket Poet for December, which basically means your photo, bio and a sample of your work is displayed in the window of East Avenue Books for the month. Of course I said yes! And collected a copy of the poster yesterday.

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Once again GP’s Stephen and Brenda Matthews have done a wonderful job pulling this together, and are experts at making you feel part of the GP family.  Plus, you know, I’ve never been a pin-up before  😉

So pop along to East Avenue Books to stock up on some stocking fillers; the Pocket Poet series, aswell as the Picaro Poet series, would make perfect Christmas gifts.

It’s the 20th birthday of Ginninderra Press (GP), and to celebrate the milestone of this prestigious publishing house run by Stephen Matthews and his wife Brenda, a weekend of literary events, in which it was a pleasure to participate.

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Saturday saw a full day at Tea Tree Gully Library, MC’d by Peter Bucklow co-owner of East Avenue Books with Joan Fenney, beginning with Stephen chatting to Joan and for someone who rarely enjoys the spotlight, Stephen was captivating.

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Having graduated from Cambridge with a ‘fascination for books’, Stephen shared his journey into publishing, a path deterred by his career guidance counsellor who suggested teaching instead.  So after taking his advice, and from there into bookselling and eventually into editing, Stephen pursued his desire to ‘give manuscripts a place in our culture’.  He explained how getting published has literally changed peoples’ lives (I can vouch for that) and how print on demand has helped to secure the future of books, and indeed his workload.

Next up was the launch by Debbie Lee of Rays of Light: Ginninderra Press – the first 20 years compiled by Joan Fenney.

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This is an enchanting read, learning how Stephen’s brainchild has established itself firmly in contemporary Australian literature spanning all genres – non-fiction, poetry, fiction, short stories – by publishing ‘little pieces of art’.  Since the inception of their chapbooks in 2014 – the Picaro Poets and the Pocket Poets series – GP has sold 6,000 copies in two years, now that’s impressive.  This book is an invaluable record created by Joan after 15 hours of interview, with eight chapters written by GP authors, as well as a compilation of quotes from members of the GP family.

And then it was time to launch First Refuge: Poems on Social Justice edited by Ann Nadge, in which I’m thrilled to have a poem.

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Former SA Premier and now ordained minister Lynn Arnold had this privilege and did so eloquently.  These poems from 88 GP authors explore social justice reaching into uncomfortable spaces – war, domestic violence, refugees, isolation – leaving nothing unearthed, resulting in a somewhat emotional journey when reading it from cover to cover.  To quote Ann, this is ‘a small book with big teeth, where language has power’.

After lunch there was a session about being a writer, editor, reader, a panel discussion with Jude Aquilina, Zenda Vecchio and Brenda Eldridge (aka Brenda Matthews) facilitated by Louise Nicholas.   Jude used to be a telegram writer and then pursued her passion for poetry by giving workshops, readings, judging competitions and editing manuscripts.  Zenda only became a writer recently, enjoys telling stories and believes ‘reading and writing to be two strands of the same rope’.  Brenda does what she loves every day, is flexible with her time and energy, and knows when her head isn’t in the creative space, deadheading roses makes more sense.  When asked what their definition of a professional writer is, their answer was when you make a living from it, with reading an essential component.

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The next session looked at the impact of modern poetry – accessible or too obscure?  Graham Rowlands shared some useful insights and read a poem by Michael Farrell, a poet regularly published in national broadsheets and whose work can often be difficult to decipher due to its ambiguous nature.  Ian McFarlane shared some of his own work, explaining how it has helped him personally and how he prefers to connect with an audience rather than confuse it.

The last session of the day was about how and where writers, specifically Tony Fawcus, Jill Gower and Helen Mitchell write, facilitated by Maureen Miston.

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Tony is a self-confessed poetry addict who writes continuously, reaching blindly for his notebook and pen in the dark so as not to wake his beloved.  Jill likes to write sitting at the table of a café using beautiful notebooks to encourage her to do so, sharing how the likes of D H Lawrence, Ernest Hemmingway, Philip Roth and Jodi Picoult prefer to write.  Helen writes in her study but finds inspiration outside, carrying a Sony recorder with her and using eavesdropping as a skill.

This was a jam-packed day covering a variety of thought-provoking topics, one I left happy to prep for the following day’s readings from the social justice anthology at East Avenue Books.

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As usual the bookshop was packed yesterday afternoon, with Peter once again hosting proceedings, introducing Ann to explain how the anthology came about.  Several poets read their poems, including me, and I felt honoured to see my poem quoted from in the introduction.  The anthology is a riveting read, one for anyone interested in social justice issues and the varied perspectives evoked.

And this concluded the celebrations.  There was also a dinner cruise in Port Adelaide, home of GP, on Saturday evening which I unfortunately couldn’t make but heard it was wonderful, made more so by the appearance of the local dolphins.

has just been published in the Pocket Poet series by Ginninderra Press!

What the water & moon gave me cover image

What the water & moon gave me is 20 poems about exactly that; how the moon and different bodies of water have inspired my work since moving to South Australia. And I only discovered this after one of Bill Greenwell’s Poetry Clinics last year, when I realised that the majority of poems I had submitted for feedback either featured the moon or sea. So I delved into my archives, found similar themed poems, edited, developed a few more and voila!

Once again Stephen and Brenda Matthews at Ginninderra Press have done a fantastic job of pulling this together, and in a short space of time too. They make a brilliant team and I feel very proud to be part of the GP family. And I’m rather pleased with how the cover has turned out too. This was a photo I took during our last trip to Robe, which captures the beauty of both rather well I think.

So if you fancy reading some poems about the moon and water (sometimes both), head on over to Ginninderra Press or alternatively, let me know and I can organise a copy for you.

Now onto the next collection…

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