Borders

 

Sometimes I’m that puzzle you bought from an op-shop

five dollars. You looked so pleased holding it under your arm

a rubber band snapped tight around the cardboard box

seasonally appropriate image of red and yellow 

leaves above a thick black river.

 

When we spread it on the kitchen table and sifted

pieces through fingers, fingers through pieces 

we couldn’t find a single edge to get us started

– not a single edge or corner – five bucks, sure 

but it was hard not to feel let down.

 

There are times on the train when young men sit near 

and speak softly to each other in the familiar cadence

of my father’s language. I want to tell them I know

I’m related to them, just look at my name

but it’s a language I only recognise by sound.

 

Or when I hand over my keep cup and the vowels 

of the barista are clipped like mine, hanging pounamu 

and I want to say bro, we’re bonded, secret handshake

but there are hundreds of us here 

with nothing remarkable about our easy migration.

 

Anyway, it turns out you can still put a puzzle together

when the edges are missing, but it’s harder to trust the process

harder to immerse yourself in the task

when you don’t really know if the bit you’re looking for 

is lost in someone else’s living room miles from here.

 

The trick is to start from the middle.

Work your way from the bright centre of autumnal leaves

towards forested outskirts, like an ever-expanding universe 

trying not to think what will happen

when eventually

inevitably

there will be no spare pieces left.

Learning to be gentle

I keep my judgements to myself, mostly

a cat claw stuck in the baby’s sleeve

causes more tears

 

than her top teeth pushing through gums

those stubborn numbers

finally in sharp descent.

 

Clusters form from a reckless traveller

while we focus on enjoying bath time

and every playground we can walk to.

 

I turn the pram around so she faces

the world head on.

I must be feeling optimistic.

 

Not knowing about thresholds

the step into the sunroom becomes

a literal tipping point

 

each morning, firm pats on a patient cat

until the patience of the cat snaps too.

The numbers

Every morning I check the numbers:

Covid cases and hours of sleep.

 

Try to focus on the rolling average forest

not the trees, though they blossom and bud.

 

It’s been a year of seasons.

I mean, of course it has, but so much so this time.

 

We spent money on woollen things to wrap around us

and from this end of it all I’m glad

 

to have hunkered down through the worst of it.

Hair growing unruly and the same two outfits.

 

I buy sparkly skirts in preparation 

for whatever good things are surely about to happen

 

and on the morning after Lotus first sleeps

straight through twelve of the night’s twelve hours

 

I walk to the corner store for bread and eggs

feeling extraordinarily ordinary

 

back to some baseline normality

and the forest is not fogged, 

 

but a dappling canopied, mossy floored space

letting wind and light breathe through.

Trust

The change table is a safe place, you learn
no longer protesting instead
laughing, finding your voice, kicking
to the edge raising eyebrows
until I respond.

You wake with a shout sometimes
then a smile when your dad or I
appear, faces goofy with love.
You’re all gums and drool.

One day soon you’ll sleep through
and I’ll miss our 4am meetings
when you feed with focus, then come to

that gummy smile again as you realise, I imagine,
I was here all along.

March 20th

The world is told to self-isolate just

as I might feel like mingling with the world again

I get Friday mornings off to shower, cut my nails

drink tea while it’s still hot. Rainbows in the living room

I walk around the block

 

collect two fallen frangipani flowers

an autumn garden inconsistency. Summer

a blur of pregnancy birth baby

two months measured out in feeds and naps

tears, each week I walk this walk a little quicker

 

each week things get better

before they get hard again, but mostly

there are more good days than tricky days

and never do I call them bad days.

One of my flowers blows to the ground

 

face-plants grass, stem to the sky

the other I hold as I write, bringing it to my nose

with each pause of the pen, sun-warmed

black-clad body, cheap kmart shapewear

holds my weakened core together

 

I swing my briefly baby-free arms about

the scent of good days and tricky days ahead.

Expectant / Morphology

Expectations and Reality

Here is a poem published ten years ago in my first collection, Wit of the Staircase. It is inspired by the form of Surrealist poet, André Breton’s ‘L’union libre’.

I wrote this poem from my imagination, looking up images and descriptions of what it might feel like to have a life growing inside me.

Expectant

after André Breton

Girl with the eyes of blown glass
With the limbs of a curled tadpole
With the thoughts of a startling gesture
With the breathing of a baroque organ.

Girl with the fingerprints of tiny forecasts
With teeth of tight buds and a harvest of rice
With the quickening of fists
With the heart of a fusible link
With the heart of a bicycle pump.

Maybe-boy with the eyelashes of ellipses
With the ears of fine bone drums
With the eyelids of swift translucent fish
With the fingers of quotation marks.

With the hair of hiccupping
And the ends of guitar strings
And of a shelter of bracken
With the bones of clay
With the weight of the world.

From Wit of the Staircase, 2009

There are images here which I love – the “eyelashes of ellipses” and “eyelids of swift translucent fish”, for example. But the last two lines feel awful to me and I wonder what feelings I had back then about having children. “Bones of clay” is vulnerable and soft in a terrifying way and “the weight of the world” feels devastatingly unfair.

Here’s a recent poem, this time based entirely on experience. She is a marvel and she is strong – I’ve seen and heard the four chambers of her heart beating and feel her movements deliberate and determined.

Morphology

We saw you on the fourth day of spring.
Still part of me and in ghostly black and white
but there you were, like a photo of the moon.

The sonographer chatted the whole way through
recommending nappy brands and hypnobirthing.
We could see your bones, your organs and eyeballs.

You are beautiful and perfect and even if you weren’t
you still would be. When we stepped outside
jasmine was everywhere, new blossom

on the otherwise bare twigs of winter. The next time we see you
you’ll be entering the world, exiting the world you’ve made inside me
and joining this marvellous place of birdsong and magnolia.

Each day the temperature rises gently, our body swells
ripples of your quickening strengthen your underwater dance
beating heart, undeniable presence of being.

September, 2019

2018 Literary Highlights

‘Tis the season for highlights and reflections! In a busy year of school camps, public speaking competitions, parent interviews, marking, reporting writing and teaching, I managed to squeeze a few literary moments into my calendar. Here are some that stood out, including events, books and my own small endeavours.

Top 5 Events

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1. Tim Winton on Toxic Masculinity

Promoting his latest book, The Shepherd’s Hut, Tim Winton spoke with his usual mix of humility, intelligence, heart and humour. I always enjoy hearing him speak and this topic felt especially relevant. Here’s my good friend Alex Bisley interviewing Tim for Macleans.

2. Neko Case at Melbourne Writers Festival

I enjoyed many events at MWF and finding them in strange and unfamiliar corners of the city was fun too. I heard Neko Case first as part of a panel on the texts that influenced panel members’ feminism, then saw her again solo at ACMI. I’ve been a fan of her music for a long time and always love hearing artists talk about their craft. Neko’s latest album is Hell-On.

3. First Chapters Series at Brunswick Bound

I feel so lucky to have this amazing bookstore just around the corner (and down the road a bit) from my house. In this series, the store celebrates the work of local authors on the first Friday of each month, by inviting them to read a chapter from their work and engage in a Q&A afterwards. Highly recommended, and more information here.

4. Launch of Close to Home by Alice Pung

Another wonderful event from Brunswick Bound. Alice’s new collection of essays was launched by amazing Helen Garner and is such an insightful and engaging collection. I enjoyed chatting to Alice afterwards and she assured me her young adult novel, Laurinda is NOT based on the school I teach at, despite the suspiciously similar names. If you don’t know Alice’s work, definitely check it out!

5. Melbourne Writers’ Group Anthology Launch

The Melbourne Writers’ Group know how to throw a party! I was so proud of my friends who worked so hard to launch this book as writers and editors, readers, speakers and book sellers. This is their third anthology and they keep getting better. Find out more about the Melbourne Writers’ Group and come along to the weekly social nights and writing times here!

Top 5 Books

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1. Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean Vuong

This is such a beautifully crafted collection, where poems shift form and are experienced through all senses. I was totally captivated by it. You can read ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ here.

2. The Shepherd’s Hut, Tim Winton

I never miss a chance to remind you all how much I love Tim Winton’s writing. In fact I’ve already mentioned this book here.

3. There but for the, Ali Smith

I’ve read so many good books this year, but this one stands out as it stuck with me: the quirky conversations and lack of resolution. Ali Smith might not be for everyone, but I think she’s a master of dialogue, voice, structure. I trust her completely and enjoy being taken for the ride. Here she is talking about the power of the novel.

4. Solar Bones, Mike McCormack

This was a startling book. Written in one gasping breath without a single full-stop, I suspect I read it with my mouth open. The style might seem gimmicky, but it’s completely in fitting with the theme and plot and works surprisingly well. Stream of consciousness is not technically correct for this book … anyway, it won Mike McCormack the International Dublin Literary Award.

5. Take Three Girls, Cath Crowley, Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell

A shout out to the many young adult novels I read this year. This one stood out as it had three strong and distinct female characters who work together to fight the system. Very cleverly and convincingly created by three awesome Australian writers.

Top 5 Writer Moments

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1. Photos of the Sky launch week

Obviously launching my third poetry book and spending a week reading it to small crowds of people was the highlight of my own writerly year. I was thrilled that Tim Jones was able to launch the book, and greatly enjoyed reading at Unity Books with Nicola Easthope and again at Volume in Nelson. There’s even a lovely review of Photos of the sky by Sarah Lin Wilson here.

2. Girls on Key Open Mic

When Nicola Easthope and I knew we were going to be reading together in Wellington, we made sure to meet in Melbourne first! Luckily, Nicola was on her way to the Tasmanian Poetry Festival, so we had the chance to catch up, meet with the lovely Jennifer Compton and read poetry together at an open mic night. Girls on Key is a monthly event hosted by Open Studio.

3. Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand

I was unable to attend any of the launches for this, but I loved being included in the anthology. There’s a new poem from Photos of the Sky in there and an old one from Wit of the Staircase. The anthology is edited by Michelle Elvy, Frankie McMillan and James Norcliffe.

4. BBC Culture: The 100 stories that shaped the world

There’s something pleasing about adding my top 5 into my top 5 and something even more satisfying about being quoted in the BBC. I admit there are many names on this list, but being asked to contribute was a nice writerly moment for me.

5. Teaching and Writing balance

I still haven’t nailed it 100%, but this has been an excellent year for me in terms of balancing my teaching and writing life. I am so lucky to work at a school that supports me with a day off each week, constant queries about how the writing’s going (!), acknowledgement of my achievements and actual promo from the marketing team. Watch this space for more news from my school, but in the meantime here’s a small fun, thoughtful, creative corner of the school I’ve enjoyed helping create.

 

Launching Photos of the Sky

I really love and value the process of launching a book into the world – reading it into life and physically passing the poems into the hands of readers. When I sign a book for someone and hand it back to them, I really do feel that the work belongs to them now.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about the week I spent in New Zealand, catching up with friends, family, writers, publishers, booksellers and people I hadn’t seen in years. I enjoyed all of it, and grew more proud of and confident about this collection, which was mostly written in secrecy, bar the few poems blogged here to my loyal audience. I think I’ve said before that it’s a deeply personal collection, something that became particularly apparent as I stood in front of my final crowd in Nelson (my home town) and felt teary farewelling some pretty hard feelings that existed as I wrote this book.

My friend and fellow poet Tim Jones, was kind enough to launch Photos of the Sky at the event at Thistle Inn, Wellington. His endorsement was another lovely and valuable aspect of sending this book into the world.

Tim used the words “confident” and “charismatic” to describe the new collection, and I’m incredibly grateful for his generous comments. Before reading from the book, Tim said:

Tim Jones

There’s so much to identify with in this collection, how could I not love it? Cricket bats, Game of Thrones, Bowie. Slugs sneaking inside to feast on cat food. Love, lust, rueful confessions. Taika Waititi – he gets a whole poem! Midland Park. Melbourne. Preston! The mention of that magical suburb makes me think of Courtney Barnett – and this collection is musical poetry from a musician who writes so well about music and many other things as well.


Photos of the Sky
is yours now. I hope you like it!

Available from The Cuba Press and local bookstores, or feel free to contact me here.

Missing my own metaphors

We’ve been studying Sylvia Plath in Year 11 Literature, reading too much into her work, perhaps and trying to avoid linking every poem to the one tragic thing everyone knows about her. The truth is, Sylvia was smart, worked hard, she crafted her poetry carefully, attended creative writing classes. She cared about what was happening in the world around her, she was a mother, she questioned society’s expectations. She wrote poems on good days and she wrote poems on bad days. Her poetry represents all of these things.

I’ll be launching my third collection of poetry in Wellington on Monday. It represents good days and bad days too; tough decisions, optimism and disappointment. It ends just before everything in my life fell astoundingly into place. All my poetry is personal, but in this collection, I feel like I’ve achieved a kind of honesty I’ve avoided all my life.

So, I’ve been nervously wondering if readers will notice.

One of the poems that looks least personal is ‘Building consent’, in the section Shift. I genuinely wrote it because I always had a dream of buying an old house and doing it up, but saw a renovation in progress and decided it looked exhausting, loud and messy. I like the poem. It says what I wanted it to, but as I read through it in the context of this book I realised I’d missed my own metaphor.

The poem represents a shift in my dreams: what once excited me just looked like hard work at that point. I was in the middle of trying to make an unfixable relationship work, a relationship I’d travelled miles to be in. Making it work was my dream, but sometimes you just have to know when to quit.

On one level, the poem’s not a metaphor at all. I looked at the physical labour going into the renovation and had no capacity to embark on such a task myself. I was tired and anxious from my situation. Doing up a house was far from my mind.

On another level, it’s creeping into metaphor – homes represent a kind of stability, a decision couples might make together, a project to establish partnership. My relationship was nowhere near that point of joint purchase and effort.

On yet another level, it’s all metaphor. The house is the relationship. Pure and simple. It was time to give away my desire to fix things that are so obviously a broken mess…

Or am I giving myself too much credit here?

Building consent

The romantic notion of buying a rundown clapboard villa
pouring heart and soul into doing it up by hand
spending all of your time loving it
back to life – gutting out the back half, sourcing
sustainable surfaces for breakfast bars and just the right shade –
is quickly debunked as I walk past a weathered
rusted bungalow, boards rotted through
shirtless men shouting across the trampled front garden
propped with piles of Bunnings purchases
and a ‘dunnys R us’ in pride of place
sounds of dropped steel and hammered edges
everything shifting slightly in the relentless
heat of yet another day on this damned project
too many chiefs, too many cooks and not one chef in the kitchen
that currently looks like a workshop
sawdust lining surfaces and can’t even make a cuppa
with all this mess
all these people coming and going
traipsing through our idealised disaster.

From Photos of the Sky, The Cuba Press available 5th November