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


music notes

piano accordian
the lung that smiles

haversack guts fart

less said the better

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)

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:


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…

My selfie on Calvary

I had to squat,
haul up his head
but I like the way
the thorns look like an effect —
‘trembling halo’ —
and the crimson
just nailed it lol

P.S. Cottier


I was shocked, the other day, to hear of people taking selfies in front of car accidents, and the idea that people would take a selfie as Jesus carried the cross came to me. The poem attempts to capture this spirit, in appropriate flat-pack language.

Let’s face it, some people would climb up over someone on the cross to get the right photo. Not that that ability to ignore suffering is new; remember the soldiers gambling under the cross as Christ died. But the need to capture our images all the time, and the idea that sensation of viewing the images overcomes compunction is a new manifestation of this way of thinking, it seems to me. An unlovely mix of vanity and cruelty, which is to art (see Raphael above) what Twitter is to literature.

Pornography and self perception are becoming more and more linked, and the production of images through any means is approved.

Now I promise to be new light hearted next time.

Light as this feather. Tap it and read more poetry:

Tuesday Poem

That image is sometimes not appearing properly, but please, click anyway.

Not so egregiously slack

October 30, 2014

I really have been absent from my blog for about two weeks now, which is virtually unprecedented. ‘Virtually unprecedented’ is a pretentious way of saying I am usually not lazy like that. But I have been busy, judging other people’s poetry. bigstock_Pen_4267530 That image is very dignified, whereas the process is somewhat more fraught. ‘Fraught’ is a slightly pretentious way of saying difficult. The whole issue of judging poetry throws one back to basics: Why me? What makes a poem good? It is easy to spot the bad poems in a Big Pile. They may use obvious rhyme to the extent that a rhyme seems to be the only point of each line. (A bit like that sentence, but even rhymier.) They may dwell too obviously on the poet him or herself (all the poems to be judged are anonymous, of course, so one does not know the gender of the entrant). I actually like some poems in which the process of writing itself is dealt with, if they are amusing or surprising; not if they are turgid or caught up in an unreflective notion of genius. A good poem should surprise and take risks. It should not use the occasional ‘poetic’ word as seasoning for a balefully plain meal. Somewhere between pinch, stroke and slap we find the Good Poem, strutting herself like a green flamingo, all swerve and flap and tingle. flamingo There you have it; a Good Poem describes an unusually feathered tall bird that tastes like sherbet. Having cleared that up, and finished judging a contest in which there were just too many lovely flamingos, I can move on to something different.

A very interesting anthology is currently being prepared for publication in 2015. Here are the details: Abhay K., Indian poet and diplomat, is editing a collection of poems on capital cities. One for each capital city, I think. I just found out that my poem has been accepted for Canberra. This will be the most international publication that I have been lucky enough to be part of, with poets from Tehran to Jakarta to Paris to Lima included, with 196 or so more. Very exciting indeed!


I am struggling to find the time to work on assembling a new manuscript of poems. So please, dear reader, forgive the absence of an actual poem here this time. I will remedy that in the near future. Which is a pretentious way of saying keep reading.


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