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.

Answered by reptile

So the knives are getting
too sharply attractive,
your interest in wrist as whetstone
perhaps a little too keen.
Not even puns will save you,
those tight little refuges of spin.
So you get on your bike and go,
two wheels set towards infinity.
You even try this new cycle of prayer
as you sit beside the muddy pond.
but asking for strength is too clichéd.
Christ, it seems, has heard too much,
and won’t suffer that sort of shit,
(at least from the middle classes).

You look up, and see a tortoise,
neck out, a hyphen joining shell to air.
He suns himself on log island,
quiet, content; most of him tucked away
like a whispered promise.
And you know, that for today,
you will no more think to
carve a manic smile in wrist
than shuck him from his shell
and leave him wriggling on ground,
a discarded lively gob of snot.
His grey oval is an iris, glancing
at you, from pond’s centre;
winking you back into light.

P.S. Cottier

This poem is dedicated to anyone who has ever felt suicidal. Not just down with a hangover, or upset when they split up with a lover, or lost a job, but really suicidal. (And no, that’s not me.) May you find your own tortoise!

Tuesday Poem If you click this feather, you will go to New Zealand, where they may or may not have tortoises, turtles or inferior snakes, but where poems can certainly be found. Start with the middle poem, and then check out the bits on the side. Or read it however you want, you anarchist you.

Tuesday Poem

Depression is not

It is not a dark Baskervillean hound.
For me a black dog is a plump,
peaceful stealer of sandwiches.
Hardly an entrée to self-murder.

It is not a boiling cloud, conjuring
a thunderous storm, energetic
Frankenstein forks spearing brain.
That has a bright explosive tang.

The thoughts lie aborted, disjointed.
Synapses refuse to pass on interest.
Joy, love and pleasure ring no bells;
Esmeralda vanished, cathedral burned.

Taste dulled into pap, gagged by lack
of living buds; music rhythmless noise.
And touch a kind of necrophilia with
the living body corpsed.  Visitation

of a mute frigid deafness.  No dog’s wet
questing nose implicated, no sharp bite.
But every day a dullard rock to roll uphill,
and Penelope weaving holes, every night.

P.S. Cottier

This is from my first poetry collection, The Glass Violin. One of the worst things about having been depressed is that is deprives you of the simple, snarly joy of being in a really bad mood. You begin to think you’re sliding back into depression, which is, in itself, quite depressing. If, however you start checking that you have enough pills to knock yourself off if you do slide back into depression, then you probably are going that way. If pain persists, please see your doctor.

If, on the other hand (and don’t we all have more hands than Kali?) people being ‘nice’ to you because they know you have had depression makes you want to say really, really inappropriate things to them, then you’re probably just in a foul mood. Enjoy it! Even normal people have moods. And they end, usually within a couple of days. Before you know it you’ll be finding things (such as the Indian cricket team’s recent performances, for example) amusing again.

For more Tuesday poems, some sadly bereft of helpful medical tips, click on the quill above the poem.

I realise for the past month or so, I’ve only been posting on Tuesdays, for the Tuesday poem. Must break out of summer slackness, and enter into an orgy of posting, now that the cricket and tennis are over. If only I could find something worth saying…

All about, um, me

December 15, 2011

Tim Jones, New Zealand poet and author, who seemingly never sleeps, just interviewed me on his blog.  In the interview we talk about chess boxing, The Cancellation of Clouds, our ignorance of Australian poetry (Tim), our ignorance of New Zealand poetry (Penelope), depression, life choices, poetry, prose, my name and lots of other good stuff.

But not cricket.  Not after what New Zealand just did to Australia in Tasmania. Not cricket at all.

the muse is drowning...