In Transit

December 8, 2014

Anthony Anaxagorou and me

When December comes, a not-so-young woman’s mind turns to a heady mix of wine, politics, religion and poetry…

At least three of these were present at the Transit Bar on Sunday, where Kaveh the Unlikely Poet, Anthony Anaxagorou and a number of other poets performed their work.

I was the judge of a women’s poetry slam, and six women performed their poetry, some of which were composed, or reworked, at an earlier workshop run by Anthony. How he was still standing, or even lounging, is beyond me, as he had finished another gig in Sydney at 3am the previous morning, driven to Canberra, and then done the seminar.

Like an idiot, I was so busy concentrating on judging the poems that I didn’t take a photograph of the participants of that part of the night. I caused unintended difficulties for the organisers by awarding first prize to two women for their poems: Sarah Rice and Jacqui Malins. Both poems were about where the poets live in a sense: Sarah’s a direct and nuanced description of he physical home, and Jacqui’s about the need for a genuine acknowledgement of the first inhabitants of Australia. Both were excellent.

Anthony and Kaveh are both poets who refuse to draw an easy line between political awareness and the poetic. These two realms are inseparable; truly borderless. Neither has much in his too-hard basket, either!

Many thanks to Kira and Jessica, the organisers, for allowing me to participate in the evening through judging.

The photo I took of Kaveh was too appalling for me to post, but a somewhat more competent person took that one of Anthony and myself at the top of the post.

Tuesday Poem: Global Farms

December 2, 2014

Global farms

Stock cubes
are sent to sea, flavoursome squares
of mutton flesh and bone, seasoning,
woolly sardines.

Between pasture and knife
the blue stretches, and the yellow,
as rivers soak downwards,
contained in time.

No truck of guilt to turn from,
met on sudden road. Squalor
bleats over dollar’s equator,
safely unseen.

P.S. Cottier

That poem (published once before on this blog, in 2011, and written in 2008) about the horrors of the live export trade is a way of working through the feeling of surprise I had recently in re-reading something that I wrote twenty or so years ago.

I stumbled across an article by me that is seemingly in favour of fur coats. I am now tending more towards the vegan with every passing year.  (Not there yet, because….cheese.)  I wrote the article back in the early 90s to provoke the sort of person who decries self-expression through clothes. To quell any left over Old-Style Communist or inflexibly Green tendencies that renounced fancy endeavours such as hair dye and high heels. I recount some experiences with some fairly ugly types. (The article was published in the Australian Left Review, probably the last organ of the Communist Party of Australia. I used to have a column in it, mostly about food.)

Re-reading the article, I am struck by how far the central tenet seems to far be from what I think now, and, indeed, thought at all earlier times in my life. I first became vegetarian when I was eleven or twelve, although I have lapsed, sometimes just for days, sometimes for much longer. I can remember one of the first stickers I ever displayed was in favour of a ban on ivory.

Here’s the link to where you can go to read the article. The writing is quite good, in a few parts at least.  The article seems to have been a little unusual at the time in linking feminism and questions of personal appearance in this way. That has become far more familiar, now that it is fuelled by social media. (In the days I am talking about, we had the occasional etching and miniatures in lockets, which gave a little more time to think.  I think.)

But the fur thing? The article reeks of me being sarcastic, and I have never thought that fur was a desirable or ethical choice. Perhaps I should have included a sarcasm alert? Or a reminder, that would have unfolded twenty years in the future?  (‘Penelope, you always liked tickling a little too much.’)

On a trip to New Zealand last year, a Maori woman who was a guide at Te Papa (the museum in Wellington) explained that the use of the introduced possum to produce fur products was a positive development, in her opinion. The possum, introduced from Australia, causes damage in New Zealand, just as the fox, rabbit and cane toad do in Australia.  She obviously knew more about the environmental issues that I did. (It is also relevant to mention that Indigenous people have been utilising the meat and fur of Australian animals for tens of thousands of years did so in a way that caused no damage to the land.)

But can I see myself wearing a cane toad cape, to return to the feral? No, not really. Although I haven’t totally weaned myself from cow leather, so my position is totally hypocritical. And, if I had to choose a garment made from an invasive species, it seems hard to place a toad on the same level as a fox; the latter being only a leap from a pet dog. Farming animals for fur, is of course, a revolting practice.

So strange not to recognise oneself fully in a piece of one’s own writing. There are a couple of other things in the article that my position differs from now, but I remember the changes in my thinking for those.

Cutting wit has its limitations…I hope I remember that I was being sarcastic about one or two little stanzas that I wrote this year if I last another twenty years!  At least one attentive reader will know what I am talking about there.

Just as that person, and indeed other readers, will recognise that poetry knows no borders.  Here is a link to the poetic output of other Tuesday Poets.

Seabirds and Labradors

November 25, 2014

Sometimes you lose sight of why you are doing something. Sometimes you get so caught up in the minute details of doing, that the beauty of doing evades you. You focus on a poem that was rejected, or a deadline that was missed, rather than remembering something that seemed to work well on the page, or an image, or a person you met through writing.

And then, suddenly, almost miraculously, you shake off that sludge. Or someone removes it from you, you miserable little seabird of gloom.

Three good things happened recently.

Firstly, I have been tutoring an on-line course in speculative poetry, that is drawing to an end. I have found the process of focusing on others’ work almost like trying something new at the gym; the muscles (or brain) scream, but new connections are made. Thank you to all the participants in the course, who have been my personal trainers.

Secondly, I undertook a one day course in writing and producing picture books, run by the expert and enthusiastic Tania McCartney, who is the author of many illustrated children’s books. Again, the brain felt its underdeveloped triceps straining, as someone who approaches writing for different people, and in a different way, took me through a (pleasurable) boot camp. Here is a photo of Tania, who is, as she said, obsessed with picture books:

Tania McCartney

Roaming around the Gorman Arts Centre at lunch time, I met a bevy of poets and other writers and performers, which reminded me how many people do interesting and creative and challenging things in Canberra. Undoubtedly many of these people has had a time when they felt seabird-in-oil sick, and each of them has found his or her way through.

A woman at the course (I won’t mention her name, as I don’t know how she’d feel about that) asked me if I would be interested in judging a poetry slam, and passed on my details to the organisers.

And that brings up Good Thing Number Three, where I’ll be judging a poetry slam for women, which is a special part of A Night of Art and Inspiration with Anthony Anaxagorou. I have seen some of this wonderful poet’s performances on YouTube. Search them out. You really should, you know. Kaveh the Unlikely Poet will also be featured at the event, which begins at 7pm, Sunday 7th December at the Transit Bar in Canberra. (Get there earlier for cheap pizza, if your stomach so desires. It’s in Akuna Street, near, but infinitely better than, the casino.)

So this is how unexpected connections can work, at times, at least for those who live in as lucky a place as Canberra. At least for those of us who also have access to literacy and educational opportunities. At least for those who are not to be denied citizenship because they are mentally ill, as if being locked up for being a refugee wouldn’t quite often make you mentally ill. Perhaps that’s the idea.

Sometimes you are buoyed up by luck and unexpected connections. I am fortunate to be able to find ways to shake off my depression like a Labrador shakes off water after a swim.

That’s my fat black dog out there, always chasing ugly ducks. He’ll come back to shore shortly.

***

Forgive this tl/dr rave; there will be poems again soon. Hopefully with metaphors a little less mixed than a fluffy duck.

Tuesday poem: Music notes

November 18, 2014

waltz

music notes

piano accordian
the lung that smiles

haversack guts fart
sousaphone

less said the better
triangle

P.S. Cottier

A tiny poem, or notes towards a poem.  I am very busy coordinating (I do hate the word facilitating) a course on speculative poetry this month, so my own poems are getting shorter. Fifteen words is hardly a poem, really. If I keep this up the whole thing will be like John Cage’s 4’33”, only fifty years late. I shall call that poem erasure…Or unseen ellipses, which would win the pretentiousness stakes.

I hazard a guess that some of the poems posted by other Tuesday Poets have more than fifteen words. Just for the moment, the usual feather that takes you to New Zealand is sick, so press this link instead. It still works, though it is not as pleasing to look at.

***
A story of mine, a really short thing of 500 words, was recently published at AntipodeanSF (the October issue). Amazingly, this on-line magazine has been around since 1998! A real achievement for the editor, Ion Newcombe. The 200th issue will be appearing quite soon, which is a Proust worth of of flash fiction.

If you would like to hear me read the flash fiction ‘Slippery Worlds’, press this link and go to the AntipodeanSF radio show for November 15th, which is named Mirfak, after a star.

My fiction and my poetry seem to be converging in the universe of Small. I am the Incredible Shrinking Poet.

Tuesday poem: Sequential menu

November 10, 2014

sequential menu

methane farts
too many cows
thick beefy skies

thick beefy skies
drive for takeout
taste that plastic

taste that plastic
(onion rings)
defenestration

defenestration
gutter wrapper
sea junk flourishes

sea junk flourishes
macturtles sup
second hand meat

second hand meat
too many cows
thick beefy skies

P.S. Cottier

but not so charmingly rural

but not so charmingly rural

I like this one; parts of it were originally written for a science haiku competition, but it grew and grew like cattle in feedlots.

***

Currently I am co-ordinating an on-line course on writing speculative poetry for Australian Poetry, which has nothing to do with cows. I just set an exercise, and, in case anyone out there is interested, here it is:

EXERCISE YOUR ALIEN

Imagine you meet a supernatural or alien creature. In a poem, describe this being, which could be from another planet, another dimension, or another time. It, or he or she, could also be a fairy tale character, or a character from mythology.

Try and avoid cliché. For example, if you have chosen a vampire, don’t use bat or crypt imagery. Don’t put your ghost in a graveyard!

Imagine meeting it in a common situation, such as your house, walking the dog (is that actually a dog?) or at a supermarket.

How does the creature sound? Smell? These senses are just as important as how it looks. Try and be specific in description rather than using abstract terms. (For example, don’t say ‘its alien hands’, say ‘its caterpillar tentacles, slug soft yet avid’.)

Tone can be humorous, terrifying, matter-of-fact.

Any form. A haiku can say as much as a ballad. But don’t let rhyme become the main reason for the poem!

Enjoy yourselves.

***
Now New Zealand has weird creatures, including the flightless poet. One of them just dropped this feather onto my screen. Click it and read her or his poetry:
Tuesday Poem

Okay, the feathers have disappeared, ruining all my amusing references used for years on this blog. Please excuse! Our feathers now are ended…

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