I’m pleased to let you know that feminist/inclusive press Girls on Key Poetry will be publishing my next book, This Shuttered Eye in 2021. Thanks Anna Forsyth and team! This is a book clustered around the experience of looking – of paying attention to the natural world as well as the world of visual art (hence the Turner image) – and what might happen when that external world, or canvas, or text… is mediated through our own point of view. The eye of perception and interpretation: shuttered, opening, closing, letting in and making sense of.
Thanks to Anne Elvey and Plumwood Mountain for publishing my review of Martin Langford’s new collection of poetry and prose, Eardrum: poems and prose about music (Puncher and Wattman, 2019). A topic that’s very close to my heart!
Here’s a poem of mine which also works to find the shared language of music and poetry:
This is the nature of things this dense fabric
these threads of what thrums true
in my sternum call it melody
the simultaneity of harmony where threads of pitch or
timbre might intersect surfaces tumbling and
touching each other notes that lean close then
yearn apart suspended shimmering somehow
held together here is
marshalled for a short time in the generosity
of what is beautiful
cradled in the phrasing of an idea
this pattern a language that strikes
or glides or quivers reverberating
through bodies or wood or silver the hollowed bellows
of its making scribed on air
this is the way the world turns the recurring question
My dear friend Phillip Hall has, with Jillian Hall, just published the first issue of the e-journal burrow.
I’ve been fortunate enough for them to publish a pandemic poem of mine ‘Unleavened: Easter 2020.’ What do we hang on to in such a time of loss and dislocation? And yet there is a persistence, a desire to continue; Easter is one way of telling that story.
This pair of poems – two faces of response to the pandemic we are living through – has just been published in Mensicusliterary journal. https://www.meniscus.org.au/Vol8Iss1.pdf. Thanks to Jen Webb and Shane Strange.
Somewhere around early April we travelled down to our weekender to bring supplies to our daughter who was in quarantine there after returning from overseas. Coming out of the cocoon of home, I was almost surprised to see that the beautiful balmy world of autumn was still out there, patiently waiting for us, maybe wondering what we’d be like when we emerged and re-entered it.
Isolation in Melbourne: April 2020
‘I love our house…It’s probably a bit of a dump to some or a castle to others, but for me it’s a light-filled container full of people I love.’ Sarah Watt
The sanctity of this marked out space
this collective turning inwards
the quiet comfort of walls angle of stair
our bed creaking as we turn
ripening of garden figs in afternoon light or
voices drifting down a corridor –
while streaming away like photons dissolving in air
the further world still lies
bemused and utterly beautiful
beneath a creamy sun
its fields and stony
rises streets and verandahs all tipped
skywards and slipping
gently from summer’s ferocious grip
waiting for us – as though
through a frosted pane
we had never really seen it before
rolling out its carpets of recurrent green
never stood amongst the low thrumming
of unfolding seasons or travelled
its wide and gusting territories of shift
and hold and shift
 Sarah Watt and William McInnnes, Worse Things Happen at Sea: Tales of life, love, family and the everyday beauty in between,’ Hatchette, 2011, p.244.
This season of easter and of passover comes in the middle of the corona virus pandemic. Apart from the sad fact that, as in Narnia, all holidays are cancelled, it’s not a bad time to think about these narratives and traditions which concern the human relation to death and our persistent desire to somehow overcome it. It is a relationship certainly characterised by anxiety and grief; yet, at our best, we can glimpse the possibilities of change and acceptance, those small transformations of shift and slip.
1666. Bubonic plague devastates London and Isaac Newton retreats to his family home at Woolsthorpe Manor. Self-isolation, long months of being in close quarters, no external stimulus – just the quiet world around him and the rising, creative life of the mind. Quite a combination as it turned out.
What can you see, what new constellation of elements – as the noise and frenzy of the great world slows, as the quietness of garden, autumn sunlight, the passing of hours, comes inexorably into view?
First published in Plumwood Mountain, a poem from my second collection Unexpected Clearing (UWAP 2016) – certainly more prescient than I could have known.
Dear friends, we are entering the strangest and most challenging of tunnels. These last few weeks I know that I, along with everyone else, has been frantic – trying to mentally catch up to what this pandemic means, even as it keep changing, scrambling to recreate my working life from home, trying hard to manage the rising anxiety and its different manifestations, reaching out to the people I love.
Poetry has been on the back burner amidst all this. But I thought about Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year (a whole year??) and thought I would try and record some of my thoughts and reflections during this unprecedented time. Please follow the blog – tell me what you’re thinking, respond to what I’m able to put out there. Let’s converse.
As we move into this uncertain time, here’s a poem from my second book Unexpected Clearing (UWAP 2016), ‘Under the Wave’, that speaks to both the risk and the possibility of such a dive:
It’s a great honour to be included in the most recent issue of Westerly. This poem takes me back to my own childhood, to long trips to Queensland up inland New South Wales roads – and the figure of my beloved father, always and still just at the periphery of my vision.
I was thrilled to be part of the amazing collection, The Sky Falls Down: An Anthology of Loss (Ginninderra Press), edited and lovingly curated by Terry Whitebeach and Gina Mercer. It was launched yesterday in Melbourne by Carrie Tiffany (having already been launched in Hobart).
The book is available through Ginninderra Press or at Readings in Hawthorn, where it was launched.
As Mary Oliver put it, ‘Loss is the great lesson:’ if we’re going to be open to loving we need to learn how to be open to and manage loss. The diverse contributions in this Anthology I think are all ways of struggling with this great lesson of being human.
My contribution was a poem about the ongoing experience of loss – written on the five year anniversary of the death of my father:
Five years – and still there are days when I want to pick up the phone and call you; time seeps by, and though grief loosens its cruelest hooks I remain bereft, perplexed – where are you?
Are you still sitting at your computer tapping out the stories of your life – the boy in the Queensland bush, the young man stationed in Darwin, poring over radar?
Or will I see you coming into the kitchen – a cup of tea in the offing – joining us around the table, the arc of your arms still wiry and strong?
And if I could get a line through to you – what would I say? The children are growing, beautiful, I left my job, the old cracks in the family widen and groan like lathe and plaster in the drought – I admit we are all diminished without you.
Most of all, unreconciled, I would ask you to come home – it’s enough now, please come back –
And here it is again: the persistence of that old, mad dream of restoration, when the patience of mourning, the gratitude for all the rich love you left amongst us – gives way to the shocking need for the miracle: the past intact and cupped in the broad palms of your sun-tanned hands.
I had great fun on the weekend reading at this festival event: thanks to a wonderful and receptive audience for making this such a enriching experience.
Here I am -in black and white and in colour – reading amongst some of the terrific art works!
I think maybe the most enthusiastically received poem was ‘Clothesline’ – a poem that comes from my book, Even in the Dark (UWAP 2013). It’s a little window both into the pleasures of doing laundry and the possibilities for that interstitial moment , when we see the ordinary in a different way:
Is there ever a straight path forward? What happens when we wander in the so-called weeds, a ramble of body and ideas?
I’ll be giving a poetry reading on Saturday July 6, 2pm at the No Vacancy Gallery in the QV centre, as part of the women, work and wandering festival. This is a free event, but you do need to register.
As many of you will know, it’s just recently been the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birth – that amazing American poet of teeming cities, meditations on life and loving, and of course that great and terrible experience of the Civil War. My poem, selected for this celebratory collection, Endlessly Rocking (ed Stan Galloway and Nicole Yurcaba), takes as its point of reference, the figure of Whitman as he travelled to the hospitals of the Civil War, horrified by the scale of the suffering and spectacle and beauty of so many violently damaged young men.
The poem is dedicated not only to Whitman himsef, that ‘bewhiskered emissay,’ but to my friend, fellow writer and Whitman -o-phile, Lindsay Tuggle.
Last week I did an inspiring workshop with Mark Tredinnick – a whole day dedicated to listening to, writing, thinking and talking about poetry. He introduced us to the form of the Sijo – a kind of Korean version of the haiku. I think I may have taken some liberties with the form, but here is another I wrote today.
have to go far to feel the kindness of
Light to sit in a well of quiet sun beside the rosemary,
Crush of mown
grass, the heaviness of spent lavender nodding
as I pass.