O look, a poem by me. This was published in 2018 after I was poet in residence at Moss Vale High School.
This is still an article that I treasure. Chloe is an amazing writer and I feel so privileged that she was interested in my poetry and my writing practice.
I recently read Chloe’s memoir, The Girls. It is a difficult read about family trauma and mental health. But, it’s also an amazing story of strength.
I highly recommend it. Chloe has a way of taking you to intense moments of trauma and self abuse and then pulling you out, to another memory.
Revisiting an interview I did with Maree Dawes in 2014 and I thought I’d share it here.
I edited brb with Maree, which was a fabulous experience. I recommend this ebook to anyone reading this post. It’s a sexy read 🙂
Being an Australian woman, and hoping to one day have a book of my own published, the promotion of Australian writing by women is important to me.
I have signed up for the challenge again this year. I hope to read 30 books by Australian women out of a total of 100 books read. I hope to review 5 books by Australian women. It is the reviewing that I often find difficult between being a full time teacher and part time doctoral candidate. But there you have it, a goal is set 🙂
My challenge was to read 20 books by Australian women. I read 27 by Australian women and 80 books in total 🙂
In 2019, I read the following books by Australian women:
- Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
- The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta
- Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee
- Teacher by Gabbie Stroud
- Positive Minset Habits for Teachers by Grace Stevens
- The Gatekeeper’s Wife by Fay Zwicky
- Carpentaria by Alexis Wright
- Ruby Moonlight by Ali Cobby Eckermann
- Phosphene by Tamryn Bennett
- Present by Elizabeth Allen
- The Dry by Jane Harper
- The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen (read my review here)
- The Girls by Chloe Higgins
- Boys Will Be Boys by Clementine Ford
- Law School: Sex and Relationship Advice by Benjamin Law and Jenny Phang
- she reconsiders life on the run by Tricia Dearborn
- Say Hello by Carly Findlay
- Wolf Notes by Judith Beveridge
- What Makes a Good School by Chris Bobber and Jane Caro
- Accidental Feminists by Jane Caro
- The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernot
- The Incredible Freedom Machines by Kirli Saunders and Matt Ottley
- Kindred by Kirli Saunders
- Blakwork by Alison Whittaker
- The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie
- Men at Work: Australia’s Parenthood Trap, Quarterly Essay #75 by Annabel Crabb
This list is in the order I read the books, beginning with first read.
In his poem cycle, The Learning Curve, John Foulcher details the events and characters that may be encountered during a year in a Catholic high school.
The prose poem ‘Why Alan Won’t Come to School’ explores a school refuser who is struggling with their mental health. The poem is told through a third-person perspective, presumably it is the voice of one of the teachers, as it begins:
alan can’t come to school anymore won’t come we’d say but he says can’t or his mum says… (Foulcher 2002, p15).
The tension between the different characters’ stance on school refusal is immediately apparent. This poem is relatable and authentic in its representation of school refusal, mental health and the inadequacy of schools to support some children. I understand the “we” in the poem to be the teachers, who lack the resources or knowledge to either understand or assist Alan and his family at this moment. The honest representation of the lack of understanding of mental illness and of how to support a student with mental illness may not result in the kind of high expectations that Jen Scott Curwood would like to see in YA literature, however, it is a move away from exploring “didactic, condescending, or pedantic” themes (2013, p17).
Curwood has written about the need for more realistic and positive portrayals of disability in young adult (YA) literature (2013). She states that the majority of books that include characters with disabilities are about mental illness, as is the case with this poem by Foulcher (Curwood 2013). Positive portrayals of disabilities move away from exploring “didactic, condescending, or pedantic” themes and instead “…envision high expectations for the character with disabilities, include positive contributions to society, build on strengths, show the person acting on choices, depict expanding reciprocal relationships with others, and ensure that the character with disabilities is afforded the same citizenship rights as others” (Curwood 2013, p17). Curwood sites a study by Koss and Teale, stating that “…there has been a shift away from coming-of-age stories to a focus on themes of fitting in, finding oneself, and dealing with crisis” (2013, p18). ‘Why Alan Won’t Come to School’ is a poem about “dealing with crisis”. It should be noted that Foulcher’s poem cycle is not YA literature. However, it is still interesting to think about the implications of the representation of mental illness in this poem.
The structure of the prose poem conveys the teacher’s feeling of inadequacy. The speaker/teacher relays a conversation they’ve had with Alan’s mother:
…she says there’s darkness in school people there wade in it when they speak to alan there’s lies there’s rumours in the words the faces and bells and blackboards are like tar and he can’t move his feet are set in it if he doesn’t run it’ll stiffen it’ll set it really will so he stays at home… (Foulcher 2002, p15).
Alan’s name is written with a lowercase ‘a’ to highlight the disempowerment of this student as he struggles with his mental health and the inadequacy of the school to meet his needs. There is no punctuation or line breaks, which means that each sentence bleeds into the next. In reference to his series of prose poems, Gallery of Antique Art, Paul Hetherington believes that the structure of the prose poem, with the line filling the whole page enables him to construct “contained and restrictive ‘rooms’ that enable significant effects of poetic imagery and condensation”, as well as create “‘open’ spaces that enable significant effects of poetic indeterminacy and a ramifying suggestiveness” (Symes, D 2018). Foulcher’s prose poem has the effect of being both restrictive and open. There is a suffocating, panicked feel to the beginning and end of the poem where repetition is used to quicken the pace, for example, the poem ends:
…and he won’t come he can’t come he can’t come back anymore (Foulcher 2002, p15).
This quicker pace reflects both the teacher’s voice as they panic at their inability to support Alan, and Alan’s anxiety at the thought of returning to school. The suffocating mood in the beginning and ending is further reflected in the boxed-in layout of the prose poem. The middle of the poem is more open in its description of Alan at home, in a space where he feels more comfortable and safer:
…he stays at home in the light spread on the carpet like the gap in a forest the place you come to with strangeness and silence to find some animal titled to the earth and the click of its teeth echoing over the still grass and home is this moment… (Foulcher 2002, p15).
The simile of Alan’s anxiety being compared with an animal reflects the teacher’s lack of knowledge about mental illness and their fear that once you name the illness it will hold greater power and become more dangerous. This sense of danger is conveyed through the “click of its teeth” that can be heard “…before that animal springs and slips into the word / we use for it…” (Foulcher 2002, p15). However, even though home has its own dangers with “…the tongue of their darkness licking / his ear…”, Alan still feels safer in the familiar space as “he wanders the dull house tracing the / facts of each room the kitchen the bathroom the sticky / smell of his family…” (Foulcher 2002, p15). The openness in the middle of the poem is achieved through the run-on lines and lack of punctuation that melds the imagery of familiarity, while still conveying the teacher’s fear of / concern for the danger that Alan may be in due to his poor mental health.
Hadara Bar-Nadav says of the prose poem, “…I also enjoy the caginess of the prose poem, that inherent tension in the mission of its line to continue on forever (despite the margin) and to be turned (because of the margin)” (2011, p45). Bar-Nadav compares two versions of her poem, ‘I Would Have Starved a Gnat’, where the lineation was altered by the width of the page margins (2011). This effect of the lines appearing to continue forever reflects the teacher’s feeling of being overwhelmed, whilst the effect of the lines being turned and of the boxed-in aesthetics of the prose poem captures a trapped feeling. This trapped feeling reflects both Alan’s struggle with his mental health and the inability of the school to support him and his family – the teacher is trapped by the confines of a bureaucratic structure.
The lineation of “anymore” on a line of its own at the end of the poem conveys the unease in the teacher’s voice, as does the quickened pace mentioned earlier. The format of the poem cycle means that this is the only poem we get about Alan in The Learning Curve. Unfortunately, we are seeing Alan at a time when high expectations don’t seem to be possible for him.
Bar-Nadav H 2011, ‘Who Is Flying This Plane? The Prose Poem and the Life of the Line’, Rosko, Emily, and Zee, Anton Vander (eds), A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, pp44-47.
Curwood, J S 2013, ‘Redefining Normal: A Critical Analysis of (Dis)ability in Young Adult Literature’, Children’s Literature in Education, vol.44, pp15-28.
Foulcher, J 2002, ‘Why Alan Won’t Come to School’, in The Learning Curve, Brandl & Schlesinger Pty Ltd, Blackheath, New South Wales, p15.
Symes, D 2018, ‘A ‘Meandering’ Line’, Axon: Creative Explorations, Vol 8, No 1, May 2018, viewed 4/8/2018, <http://www.axonjournal.com.au/issue-14/%E2%80%98meandering%E2%80%99-line>.
I thoroughly enjoyed teaching the Literary Homelands elective to my year 12 Extension class 2018-19.
I followed this unit for the Literary Worlds module, which helped to develop students’ creative writing. On reflection, I would prefer to have a core text (perhaps a short story, short film or poetry) that I could use as a springboard to explore the concerns of the Literary Worlds rubric. I think something a bit more focused and centered would have helped my students to better remember the concepts of world building, the questioning of why we tell stories and how, etc.
The prescribed texts that I chose for Literary Homelands were:
I also modeled some related texts for my students, including:
My full unit of work can be found here: literary homelands program.
A revision resource that I put together for my students can be found here: writing skills and preparing for exams
It was lovely to be part of the launch of Greg Tome’s second poetry collection, Tilting at Time, on the 12th of October. This collection is published by Ginninderra Press and Greg values the relationship that he has with the publishers, Brenda and Stephen Matthews.
Greg asked me to MC the event. I’ve been discussing poetry and education with Greg for the past eight years and our conversations are always stimulating and leave me feeling like I’m doing things right, both in terms of my teaching and my writing.
Greg was a teacher for over 30 years. He is a humble person who heaps praise on everyone around him. This is surely part of what made him a great teacher, the way he has of empowering those around him by showing that he believes in their potential. I think this is also why there was such a great turn out to the event because Greg is such a generous person that he draws people to him.
Greg should not be so humble when talking about his poetry. He has won numerous competitions and commendations for his poetry and one of his poems, ‘Lone Tree Silhouette’, was published in an anthology (Wild 2018) which can be found in the National Poetry Library in London. He has another poem that will be published in an anthology by Ginninderra Press about Mountains coming out later this year.
Peter Lach Newinsky gave the launch speech and the attention that he paid to Greg’s work speaks to the quality of Greg’s writing. Peter talked about the significance of the title of the collection. The alliterative effect of the t in Tilting at Time not only has a musical quality to it but also adds to the meaning. We feel that we might all be ‘titling’ towards something. No poem within the collection is titled ‘Tilting at Time’ and it is unusual to not get the title of the collection from one of the poems. Time is a recurring theme in this collection of poetry. The second poem in the collection is titled ‘This is the time’. It begins:
when the shameless day covers her limbs
Then this is the time
to write poetry
And I’m so glad that Greg decided that this is the time to write poetry. He had written novels and short stories while he was teaching. After he retired he was drawn to poetry and that is where he, as he wrote in his bio “has had the most success and satisfaction” from his writing. Greg has also written short plays and has had fifteen of his plays performed at Crash Test Drama in Bundanoon and two plays performed in other parts of the country.
The third and fourth poems in the collection continue on with the theme of time, being titled ‘4 a.m. ruminations’ and ‘5.15 Summer Morning’. In the Q and A with Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, Greg said that he often gets ideas for his poems when he wakes in the morning and that he has opening lines for poems littered all around the house, indeed in the poem ‘4 a.m. ruminations’ Greg writes:
I wrestle with the possibility of sleep
but it seems miles away
giving way to pop ups
of opening lines of various poems
most of which will wither
while in embryonic form
Peter mentioned that Greg has often told Anna, Peter, Tony Mills and myself (at our regular poetry workshops) that he feels he isn’t good at writing titles. Yet, as Peter highlighted, Greg has come up with great titles such as ‘Messotopia’. This title conveys so much meaning with the words ‘mess’ and ‘topia’ (utopia) contained within it, as well as the allusion to Mesopotamia. Greg has an interest in ancient history. Mesopotamia quite literally means between two rivers. Peter said that there are arguably three lines that are the most important in a poem, “the first, the last and the title”. ‘Messotopia’ begins:
The beauty of the young
is more intense as I sense
the gap between us widening
So in the first stanza, we have the diverging of ‘two rivers’ or of the young and aged. The poem continues:
The tap on the shoulder by some medical necessity
becomes more frequent
The universal ache for a saner world becomes stronger
The ruling yahoos flaunt their cruel hollowness
in idiot abandon
The gap between the young and aged increases as Greg describes what it is to be aged for the speaker and their dissatisfaction with the young who eat up the “pet food of popular culture”. The perceived ‘mess’ of the contemporary world is conveyed through the “idiot abandon” with which our leaders make decisions, as well as the “chaotic circus” of life. The poem ends:
So life’s chaotic circus trundles along blindly
on its haphazard way
the ringmaster having lost control
disappears from view
the many denizens left to cope
with whatever acts
now left in charge
calls upon them to perform
As Peter pointed out, it is interesting that this poem begins in the first person, “I sense”, moves to the collective, “Our brains shrink”, and ends in the third person, “the ringmaster” and “the denizens”. This shift in perspective reflects the increasing lack of control that the speaker has over the world they live in, as they “ache for a saner world”, and the lack of control they have over their own bodies, as the “medical necessit[ies] become [sic] more frequent”. This lack of control and satisfaction reflects the lack of place, or the lack of a sense of belonging to place, that the speaker feels – linking back to ‘topia’ in the title which literally means nowhere or no place.
Anna asked some fabulous questions of Greg during the Q and A that finished the official part of the launch. Greg told Anna that he struggles to write poetry on a particular / given theme or topic, preferring to wait for an opening line to come to him. He had a friend pass away recently, and he felt that the poem he wrote in memory of his friend was not very good. Greg spoke about the writing challenges that the local (Bowral, NSW) Fellowship of Australian Writers’ group set every month and how difficult he finds it to write something that isn’t trite in response to a given topic. I’m sure Greg is, as usual, being modest when discussing his difficulty to write about a predetermined theme. I was interested in this desire to wait for an opening line to come to him. This approach to writing differs from my current writing practice where I am writing a collection of poems all on a common theme and have a long list of situations and characters that I want to explore through my poetry. Although, I do accept that sometimes this approach produces writing that can be cliché and feel forced.
Greg also told Anna about his influences. He enjoys the poetry of Peter Bakowski. One of Bakowski’s poems, ‘A cup of water, Suzhou, October 1945’ begins:
The cup of water
a leaf leaving its mother (from Beneath Our Armour, 2009).
Greg similarly begins some of his poems with haiku-like images, for example his poem ‘Motoring into memory’ begins:
are carved rocks of granite
Greg told Anna that what he most likes about Peter Bakowski’s writing style is something to do with the pace of the poetry and the way Bakowski often uses line breaks to mark short pauses in the poem.
Anna asked Greg about his own interesting lineation style where the lines are often scattered across the page and there is no punctuation. Greg said that he lineates his poems in this way to make it easier for him to read them aloud. The line breaks mark out momentary pauses and he uses the line breaks as a substitution for punctuation, except question marks because he hasn’t worked out yet how to substitute the question mark. Greg uses capital letters to mark the beginning of sentences so that he can “save on the full stops”.
Another influence of Greg’s is Kenneth Slessor. Greg told Anna that he is in awe of Slessor’s poem ‘Five Bells’, which I’m sure many people share that feeling.
Peter talked about the unusual choice to order the poems in this collection in a way that they almost work together to convey a narrative. This choice may be unusual, but it is certainly working. Peter suggested that the collection be read in one or two settings so that you might get this overarching narrative. Greg takes us from the internal (of him talking/writing himself into being a poet – which captures his humble nature given that this is his second collection) to the external (of music, domestic life [including poems about doing the dishes, cleaning, and pillow cases], the natural world, and politics) back to the internal (of an aging man questioning God and contemplating mortality). To purchase your copy of Tilting at Time click here.
There is much more that I could write about, discussing Greg’s use of imagery to evoke the sensation of being in water, for example, and his use of humour, but I’m going to leave it there. I strongly encourage you to read Greg’s book to discover other elements of his writing for yourself.
Ron Pretty has been a mentor to Greg, helping to edit both this collection and his first collection of poetry, Watching from the Shadows. You can read an interview with Greg about working with Ron and about his experience of publishing with Ginninderra here.
The cover photo of Tilting at Time was taken by Greg Tome’s son, Matthew Tome.
On Thursday the 3rd of October I attended The B List with Bri Lee and Tracy Sorensen.
Every month at the State Library of New South Wales, Bri Lee invites an author who has been previously shortlisted for one of the Library’s prestigious literary awards to have a conversation about their recent book. Bri Lee is a talented writer herself and the conversations are always interesting (I’ve attended three of the evenings so far). Plus, there is wine and cheese – because who ever heard of a book club without wine and cheese 🙂
On the 3rd of October the book being discussed was Tracy Sorensen’s The Lucky Galah. Sorensen’s debut novel was long-listed for the 2019 Miles Franklin Literary Award and shortlisted for the 2019 Russell Prize For Humour Writing.
Sorensen told us that it took her “19 years” to write The Lucky Galah. She wrote little bits of the novel between the other parts of her life. In the end she had so much content that her editing process was not so much about polishing but “shaving”.
Sorensen grew up in Carnarvon, a remote town on the north coast of Western Australia. In 2000 she was visiting Carnarvon and became stranded there because of Tropical Cyclone Steve. All of the roads out of Carnarvon were closed. Sorensen’s memories of growing up in this place came back to her while she was stuck there and that was when the process of writing The Lucky Galah began.
The cockatoo, Lucky, is inspired by Sorensen’s own pet galah. Growing up, Sorensen’s family had a galah named Myrtle Skippity Hop. Myrtle lived in a small cage, near the toilet – just like Lucy does.
When asked about how she feels to have been long-listed and shortlisted for literary prizes, Sorensen said that she was stunned to have been long-listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, particularly as this is her first novel. She was surprised to be shortlisted for the 2019 Russell Prize For Humour Writing. Sorensen said that she didn’t set out to write a comedy, but lots of people have told her how funny they found the book.
She set out to write a story of place. The novel is set in a fictional Port Badminton, a tiny coastal town in Western Australia. It is a story about the dish, and about buying up all the sanitary pads to insulate the copper wire being rolled out to transmit television footage of the first moon landing.
Sorensen also makes reference to the Lock Hospitals that were off the coast of Carnarvon on Bernier and Dorre Islands. Aboriginal people were placed on these islands, men on one and women on the other, and these places are the site of brutal colonial trauma. Aboriginal people from across WA were forcibly placed on these islands in what Sorensen describes as “essentially a land grab”. Sorensen said that it was important to her to have that story in her novel, because Aboriginal and other characters inhabit the same space. This story is part of that place. It was also important for Sorensen that the Aboriginal characters were not used as a plot device to spark some great adventure for the white characters. Sorensen was conscious of not speaking from the perspective of an Aboriginal person, using the galah as an interlocutor and interpreter of the First Nations characters’ stories.
Sorensen was interested in exploring “cupboard love”. She says that we privileged people often have a misconception that there is such a thing as “pure love”, but she argues that there isn’t, that “unconditional love is a fast”. We all depend on each other for something, whether it be that our partners are keeping a roof over our heads and food in our cupboards, or offering some other kind of support.
The Lucky Galah is a novel about place, it’s about the moon landing, it’s about relationships and the domestic world that women and children exist in, and it’s also a novel about the iconic Aussie bloke. This is a novel that is narrated by a galah.
Sorensen’s next book is going to be a “cancer memoir told from the perspective of internal organs”. The University of Sydney has announced Tracy Sorensen as the 2019 Judy Harris Writer in Residence at its Charles Perkins Centre. The Charles Perkins Centre is an Australian medical research institute, clinic and education hub that primarily focuses on diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, as well as other related conditions.
“Life is messy, really… that’s what it is. It’s wonderful and dreadful… it’s a struggle to accept the dirtiness of life.” – Sorensen
Reviews of this book:
What a fabulous weekend!
It’s been another great day, which began at the National Portrait Gallery again for ‘Mornings at the NPG: Kei Miller and Tricia Dearborn’. As well as listening to these two amazing poets read some of their work, Kei and Tricia talked about the importance of sound in poetry. Kei said that he tries to write the rhythms of the places he writes about. You will also find iambic lines within his poetry, just to prove that he can. He said that as a Jamaican writer he has some anxieties around proving that he can use the language of the coloniser. He also likes to break the traditional rhythms of English poetry. Tricia said that she more tries to write the rhythms of the self, internal rhythms. Owen Bullock asked what are the topics that are underrepresented in poetry. The audience came up with a few topics, including: menopause, child birth, all women’s experiences, autism and ugliness.
I enjoyed a walk around the National Portrait Gallery. I was particularly drawn to the portrait of Judith Wright with Barbara Blackman by Charles Blackman.
The next session was ‘the science of poetry’ with Katharine Coles, Tricia Dearborn, Anne Elvey and Bronwyn Lovell. What an interesting group of women and, as Paul Munden pointed out, how wonderful to have an all female panel speaking about science in poetry, particularly after the first all-women space walk. It was wonderful to listen to these highly intelligent group of women speaking about their scientific and mathematical research and the role that poetry can have in communicating science.
The next session was ‘what’s the use of poetry’ with Jen Crawford, Martin Dolan, Caren Florance and Mani Rao. Martin read a few poems out in exploring this topic, including ‘Question Time’ by Meena Alexander. Martin’s point was that poetry does not need to have a utilitarian function, it can be devoid of use. He also quoted from W.H. Auden’s ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats’, “The words of a dead man / Are modified in the guts of the living.” He likes the idea that poetry lives on through the reading of it. Mani said we write poetry because our lives depend on it. She sees poetry as a body, one of her bodies, part of her body. She talked about the koshas – 5 layers of being. Caren said that we write to understand the world. She said that visual artists often pretend that they sit outside of text, but they rely on it, taking inspiration from it. Text is used to justify / explain art. Jen said that while people are doing poetry they aren’t doing other things and maybe there’s some value in that. She described poetry as survival. Jen Webb, the host of the panel, summed up, “poetry can remind us that none of us have rights”.
In discussing the cathartic / emotional work that poetry does Mani said that she has discovered many things about herself that she didn’t know as she was writing. Jen C said “poetry can be therapy, but it’s not confidential. It takes us away from our isolation… we carry each other along when we do share.” Martin described poetry as being rather like music, saying that it can bypass the cognitive and get to the feelings. Jen Webb agreed with Caren, “poetry is better than cutting yourself”.
Alvin Pang asked does poetry need a use? In this utilitarian world we live in is it not a defiant act to indulge in something like poetry that does not have a use?
Finally, Jen Webb concluded that poetry gets us to ask questions, it opens doors.
The day ended with more Poetry@Smith’s. It was lovely to listen to Louise Crisp, Anne Elvey, Alyson Miller, Alvin Pang and Mani Rao read their poetry.