My most recent book of poetry, This Shuttered Eye (Girls on Key 2021) has been launched! Courtesy of Melbourne’s #4 Lockdown we weren’t able to gather in the Open Studio as planned – but we still had an excellent evening on zoom. The book was superbly launched by poet and colleague Anne Elvey to a ‘full gallery’ of poets, friends and family – and some open mic readings added terrific energy and variety to the evening. Thanks to Girls on Key for the event and to the wonderful Michele Seminara who edited the book – a great experience of close reading exchange. Signed copies of the book are available here.
Visual artist Sharon Monagle and I were thrilled to open the exhibition of 2020 Shelter in Place last week and to launch the book of this collaborative project – a beautiful publication by Liquid Amber Press (available at the gallery or available here).
This was a project based in individual and collective/communal responses to the challenges of 2020 – we’d love to have your company to hear me read through the year’s seasons, surrounded by Sharon’s wonderful art work: Saturday May 1, 2-4 at the Kingston G3 Art Space in Parkdale.
This Shuttered Eye – now available from Girls on Key here
I’m pleased to let you know that feminist/inclusive press Girls on Key Poetry are 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
of depth its opaque archaeologies finding
the updraft the prospect of
of the falling away
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 Mensicus literary journal. https://www.meniscus.org.au/Vol8Iss1.pdf. Thanks to Jen Webb and Shane Strange.
clutches like a virus
at surfaces the warm vulnerability
of membranes it hangs
heavy in air
droplets of contagion impossible
to see chasing at shadows
filling my time frantic
with the wrong things
or maybe the wrong things I can’t
tell presentiments of doom
weigh on me a vice that grips
like a headache
something is proliferating
a wild cacophony pounding
at the fragile borders of this body
seeking its own path
trying to get in
is a tall tree
a searching filigree of roots a steadiness that
reaches risky into changeable air while
leaves like open palms signal
to a restless world
I see you
and it’s possible to
rest here a short time
in the deep pulse and dance of shadow
grass sweet with summer rain
under the arch of my arms
this flickering cathedral of green
In remembrance of my dear mother – and in acknowledgement of the complex work of mothering.
You came back
she said her hands
fluttering around her face abroad in the air
between us they are brittle wings unfolding in that scrubbed
corridor when she looks up from her wheelchair suddenly
ecstatic weeping you came back
from where? I come out of the day
flurried my own worn hands catching
hers stroking I will always
come back to sit close to walk quiet streets together
under plane trees their generous leaves
until I remember how I first left her flush
with the hubris of youth and how she stood on the nature strip
vulnerable trying not to touch me or hold me just asking
me to come home but I went anyway my face
turned resolutely in a different direction
it was years too many before
I looked back properly before I saw her a good person
living her life tending hydrangeas cradling
generations of children moving
like all of us through uncertainty and pleasure
toward the always unexpected dark fields this slow
drift into clouded water
I came back just
as she unmoored
this island this fragile
territory where I have always been
This poem, published as ‘Further, or Autumn Isolation 2020,’ has now been published in Text journal, special issue 58, The in/completeness of human experience.
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.
Easter, during the Pandemic
like an egg into a pan
its yellow eye & spill
of visceral white
this seasonal story of catharsis
hurricane of catastrophe beating
on this bowed back
one human body
& hammered until it is
a vanishing point of fall & grief of where
the splintered edges can never be made
no going back only
ahead where Lazarus slides without reprieve
into inexorable death the heavy curtain
of descending quiet –
a first morning unspeakable &
then a second
at last a third & life creaks on
jolting us forward
into the only world possible
its narrow frame
its flickers of meaning
our persistent hearts
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.
At Woolsthorpe Manor,
his childhood home,
the famous apple tree –
or perhaps its latter-day descendent,
a gracious Maid of Kent –
still droops its gnarled arms toward the
clottedness of earth,
giving up its wormed and floury fruit to the grass,
to the possibilities of turbulent
and muddy transformation:
Outwitting the plague, he sat for seasons in his quiet house,
its losses and constraints,
the drabness of its close routines;
almost a poet,
with such stillness and
and restlessness –
the quiet world unfolding in his garden;
an ordinary miracle that needs a different eye to see it,
a new tilt of the head, or sudden mood of
equanimity that allows leaves to rustle,
branches to brush the lawn,
a bird to move discretely and even
try out some autumnal singing –
until an apple simply
a muscular movement of energy,
and chance –
and a new constellation of elements
For more on Isaac Newton in the time of plague, see the UK National Trust: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/woolsthorpe-manor/features/year-of-wonders
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:
Slipping under the wave –
that space where even sand
the turbulence that rakes at the roots of your hair
filling it with grit,
yanking it back toward the wildness of the surface,
a kind of reverse gravity,
might yet, like the hand of god, pass over you –
slip under the wave,
you know its towering confluence of tide and wind,
the crushing hammer of its foamy fist;
watch, where the form of your flailing, human body,
with all its intricacies of angle and organ,
might turn its fins in this mottled light,
negotiating an ancient element –
slip under the wave,
make for the sky.
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.
A bit of a bonanza for me in this edition of Plumwood Mountain, thanks to Managing Editor the indefatigable Anne Elvey
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 –
Five years –
and still there are days when
I want to pick up the phone and
time seeps by,
and though grief
loosens its cruelest hooks
I remain bereft,
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
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
wiry and strong?
And if I could get a line
through to you –
what would I say?
The children are growing,
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
Most of all,
I would ask you to
come home –
it’s enough now,
come back –
And here it is again:
the persistence of that old,
mad dream of
when the patience of mourning,
for all the rich
love you left amongst us –
to the shocking
need for the miracle:
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:
To walk between the brightly coloured flags
of washing –
to gently stroke the fall
of drying fabric,
rearranging peg and angle
so that every fold
might find the fullness of the summer air;
to smell the hard-won clarity of
rising crisp and warm in the sun –
is to find a sweet hiatus in the day,
in the linearity of task and achievement –
in case you’re wondering,
this is not masochism,
or some throwback to the rigidity
of ancient roles:
instead, listen –
a faint hum amongst the tomato plants and
the marigolds and
it is possible to hear this
humble poetry of the backyard,
this ceremony of daily love –
for the rich harvest of the basket.
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.
It would be tremendous to see you there.
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.
I hope you enjoy my review in Mascara of Tricia Dearborn’s fantastic new collection, Autobiochemistry (UWAP 2019)
This is from a cycle of poems written in memory of my dear young friend, Sophie Ellis. This particular poem is for her mother, my dear friend Kerry.
For Kerry Dawson
Lay her here,
heavy as stone
across my shoulder, breast, the generosity of lap;
I long for this weight
Let the cataract of her hair fall
over my arms, across my face,
covering my eyes:
Child of my blood and sinew,
beloved daughter of my dreaming,
turn your face toward me
here, into the crook of my neck;
I have shielded you before:
And in the hollows of the night when
my arms lie useless and
desperate for you –
then lean against me again,
returned to me on this crushing
tide of longing,
scooped out of darkness –
be present and
beside the persistent beating of my heart.
On the rise in the middle paddock, grey fantails twirl and
arabesque through morning air dense with possibility, catching
the hands of the leaves and the light and our patient attention.
I wrote this paper a few years ago now in Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledges – but I’ve been returning to this ‘epistemology of wandering’ as evoked so wonderfully by Oliver’s poetic.
‘Drifting in the Weeds of Heaven: Mary Oliver and the Poetics of the Immeasurable’
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.
You don’t have to go far to feel the kindness of the
Light to sit in a well of quiet sun beside the rosemary, the
Crush of mown grass, the heaviness of spent lavender nodding as I pass.
On the rise leading up to the dam
its dense clumps of reed
stirring gently in mud
in amongst the stand of black wattles and soft
grey-green haze of spindly
melaleuca a mob
of cockatoos maraud from tree to
tree ripping at bark burrowing
for insects laughing and
chattering shrieking bandsaws
in the early spring sunlight that
catches at sap shimmers
leaves their bodies are large
black sails flapping and swinging between
branches they rise together
calling into crispness the pungent blue
vivid yellow flashing in
lift of stately wing stirring up small
grey fantails as they go
twirling and diving
in puffs of ruffled air
Thanks to Phillip Hall and Jillian Hall for publishing this poem in Burrow (September 2021)
A reminder that 2020 Shelter in Place kicks off next week at the G3 Gallery in Parkdale. A series of cross-media responses to the various intensities of last year, 2020 Shelter in Place is a collaborate exploration in poetry and paint. from me and visual artist Sharon Monagle. Please also note that you will need to register for your free ticket via the links below (to meet Covid-safe requirements).
We would love to see you at the Opening of the exhibition and Launch of the book of the project (Liquid Amber Press) next Thursday April 15, 6-8, and/or at the Poetry Reading and Artist Talk, Saturday May 1, 2-4.
We’re really looking forward to sharing our work with you!
As we all know, 2020 was certainly a rough ride in many ways. However, for me it was also a very productive time both in terms of my own poetry practice and my collaborations with visual artist Sharon Monagle – even if some of those collaborations were via technology!
2021 is now seeing the culmination of that work, with the recent publication of my latest book of poetry plus a forthcoming exhibition with Sharon.
I’m really proud of my new collection, This Shuttered Eye – all
about looking at the world of nature, of art and of human
interactions – and how we are shaped by those acts of
engagement, the shutterings of the imagination’s eye
Available here from Girls on Key Press.
I would also like to announce an exhibition of conversations in poetry and paint, 2020 Shelter in Place, and invite you to attend one or both of our events:
- the Opening of the Exhibition on Thursday April 15 (launched by poet Anne M. Carson) and
- the Interactive Poetry Reading and Artist Talk, Saturday March 1, 2-4, at the Kingston G3 Gallery Space in Parkdale.
The book of the exhibition (Liquid Amber Press) will be available at the Gallery – as will the book of the collaborative project Sharon and I did before the onset of Covid-19, Who do I think I am?
We hope to see you there!
My new collaborative exhibition, 2020 Shelter in Place with visual artist Sharon Monagle, opens at the Kingston G3 Gallery Space in Parkdale. Emerging from the realities of ‘friendship in isolation,’ these conversations in poetry and paint track us through that strange year.
- Opening and Launch by poet Anne M. Carson, 6-8pm Thursday April 15.
- Interactive Poetry Reading and Artist Talk, 2-4pm Saturday May 1
The exclusive book of the project/exhibition (Liquid Amber Press), including both poems and paintings, will be available at the Gallery.
We hope to see you there!
We may still be in lockdown, but it is Spring and that at least needs celebrating!
Conditions for Joy
A seed incipient lodging in the right soil an attention
patient to the act of watering the warmth of lengthening days and the quiet
dark of build and slip and incremental unfurling
In warmth of sunshine and sudden bursts of rain a blackbird
sings his territory to me from fig tree to lemon to bougainvillea his small body
vibrating with expostulation and cadence and the seriousness of his season
What it means to be busy
Their springtime nest tunnelled into a warm bank of earth the spotted pardalotes
are busy as a Buddhist monk doing chores and
basking in the first shimmer of morning light