Category Archives: Poetry
a conversation with John Bartlett on my latest chapbooks
Q These two chapbooks have come out together but I understand came about differently. Can you tell us how they came to be and how both have been published at the same time?
A Mirage (A Journey into the Red Heart) takes you on a road trip from my home on the Surf Coast to Uluru and across Munga-Thirri National Park (formerly known as the Simpson Desert).
Returning recently from such a trip, I was asked to supply poetry for a video our son was making of our time away. I realised I had poems from previous travels both across the desert and also to Cape York. Several had been published in journals but I hadn’t thought of putting them in collections until then.
Unsettled (A Journey into the Far North) take you to Queensland and around the Whitsundays (‘drowned mountains’ once inhabited by the Ngaro people). It felt right somehow to present the chapbooks as separate entities. Stephen and Brenda (Ginninderra) seemed keen to take them on as a pair and so here they are.
Q Your earlier poetry, according to academic Maria Takolander has been described as “unsentimental and powerful elegies…giving urgent attention to the surprising and plangent condition of our lives.” Do you see the style of these current collections as similar or different? How has your style changed (or not)?
What poet can resist an elegy? I still try to avoid sentiment but it creeps in now and again. Maria was responding to my first collection, When I Saw Jimi, which reflects my teen years growing up in the Sixties in Britain. The poems seem confessional and emotional looking at them now, based around relationships and the influence of music.
Poems in Mirage and Unsettled focus on the spirit of place looking through the lens of a camera, trying to make sense of what I see and how our footprint manifests itself on the landscape.
Some are elegiac, some observational and reflective. Several refer to simple place names as my way of mapping the journey in my memory. I’m hoping to take the reader on a lively, provocative ride with short stops along the way.
Q How have poets fared in recent COVID-19 lockdowns? Do you see them as lost opportunities or have they been an opportunity for some to extend their writing?
You’d have to say there’s been a mixed response, depending on which lockdown, what time of year and where in the world you happened to be. The first lockdown was an opportunity for some of us to get manuscripts assembled and to join myriad poetry events via Zoom. It was clear that the cybersphere allowed poetry to go global and this was exciting. I’m sure this period spawned a host of lockdown poems and stories. Sadly, some independent journals crashed. They certainly struggled under the uncertainty. I know of one editor who had to call on writers to submit poems for the first time. And, as it drags on you can see vitality being sucked out of us as we realise how much connection with others, travel and new ideas feed our souls. We will see, won’t we
Q What inspires you in your writing?
Collaborations, mortality and looking out the window. I’m working with both a poet and a fiction writer on a sequence of ‘reply poems’ and a collection of short fictions. A small group of poets in Geelong gets me out of my comfort zone by setting regular challenges in forms of poetry I wouldn’t necessarily choose like sonnet, pantoum and haibun. The fellowship of other writers and kindred spirits is so enlivening, and of course reading – so much fresh, new talent out there. Not sure I’ve answered this question. Thematically, I seem obsessed by the way we manage relationships, the land, sea and sky.
Q How do you see the state of poetry in Australia at the moment?
For spoken word/ performance poets and Instagrammers it’s an international powerhouse of linguistic revelry and shared humanity. For poets seeking publication in print in journals or books, the market is tightening and it can be a bit of a slog.
Our online journals are alive and thriving. Editors know their stuff and are showcasing vibrant, diverse writers of quality. Some of our established journals, however, seem overwhelmed by dwindling subscribers, vast numbers of submissions and insufficient staff. Submissions can go unacknowledged and can take up to a year for a rejection or acceptance.
We still have a couple of publishers that support emerging poets but so many no longer accept full collections unless solicited, often not even then. Self-published poetry has always been scorned but you can see with the success of Instagram, Amazon and online platforms, it’s only a matter of time.
The Australian, of all places, shone a flicker of light on poetry when Sarah Holland-Batt produced a clever and thoughtful appraisal of a poem each Saturday. Now that’s gone. At least a small poem (hurrah) appears each week selected by Jaya Savige, but the average punter doesn’t warm to non-rhyming free verse readily. It remains baffled and fearful of it and longs for the rollicking days of Banjo and co. Many who do appreciate poetry do not buy it.
I see a trend towards prose poetry and competition-length poems that could do with a haircut. The short, quiet poem is not so revered anymore. We seem to need to shout to be heard like an angry teenager or dissident locked up for a long time. I’m as guilty as the next shouty poet. I see more accessible poetry and the confessional creeping in again. It’s a lively, eclectic scene.
Forensic reviews are thin on the ground. Our literary scene is a very small pond so reviewers are loath to cause ripples. Reviewers also receive paltry remuneration, if anything, for a piece of work that can take days of reading, research and reflection.
Reviewing could play a bigger part in Creative Writing courses, perhaps. I’d like to see Creative Reading courses to promote enquiry and thorough linguistic analysis of the old and new. I’d love to see editing come back as an art form.
Overall, I see a dynamic and fast-flowing river of poetry that will find its own levels and that we’re not likely to drown, just yet.
And thank you for asking, John.
Safe inside your canvas dreaming
of the red track westward across the dunes
the lean shape-shifter with toes of a dancer
foxtrots the fringe Camp follower
nose to the north she takes the shape of
a desert grass spinifex dry
same pale yellow same drift as the wind
It’s then you daub the ochre the black
white for a star in the eye Insinuate
a dark shadow, minimal abstract perhaps
Next morning the palette licked clean
To Torrens Creek
He said the road was bony
I knew what he meant
Ruts are rib cages
of giant marsupials
Megasaurs that gulped
from torrents plunging
into inland seas the size
shrunken lakes & salt crusts
are busy preserving life forms
like your old grandmother
bottling fruit, boiling jams
that would amaze
anyone who knew or cared From Unsettled
Available here: https://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/chapbooks.html
i. in which the cartographer explains himself
You might say
my job is not
to lose myself exactly
but to imagine
what loss might feel like –
the sudden creeping pace,
the consultation with trees and blue
fences and whatever else
might prove a landmark.
My job is to imagine the widening
of the unfamiliar and also
the widening ache of it;
to anticipate the ironic
question: how did we find
ourselves here? My job is
to untangle the tangled,
to unworry the concerned,
to guide you out from cul-de-sacs
into which you may have wrongly turned.
ii. in which the rastaman disagrees
The rastaman has another reasoning.
He says – now that man’s job is never straight-
forward or easy. Him work is to make thin and crushable
all that is big and as real as ourselves; is to make flat
all that is high and rolling; is to make invisible and wutliss
plenty things that poor people cyaa do without – like board
houses, and the corner shop from which Miss Katie sell
her famous peanut porridge. And then again
the mapmaker’s work is to make visible
all them things that shoulda never exist in the first place
like the conquest of pirates, like borders,
like the viral spread of governments
The cartographer says
What I do is science. I show
the earth as it is, without bias.
I never fall in love. I never get involved
with the muddy affairs of land.
Too much passion unsteadies the hand.
I aim to show the full
of a place in just a glance.
The rastaman thinks, draw me a map of what you see
then I will draw a map of what you never see
and guess me whose map will be bigger than whose?
Guess me whose map will tell the larger truth?
Photo from citynews.com
This poem appeared in Helen Ivory’s 12 Days of Christmas (Ink Sweat and Tears) in 2015. A new one is about to appear any day. Follow the range of Christmas poems telling it slant, here:http://www.inksweatandtears.co.uk/ Thanks Helen and Kate.
When temporal lobes
ignite like Christmas lights
down High Street
she is upright in a bentwood chair
Can’t see or hear
Not a sound
Normally susceptible to suspense
/Can’t seem to shake it/
Never expecting a good thing
to come of it
the crate of her skull
a pulse of epiphanous bliss
She thinks in tongues
of a thousand angels Gabriel
Couldn’t imagine a suicide
bomber or serial killer
Knows everything about us
Some days she takes little walks
past hospital wards with white views
a clipped, aching feel about them /to us/
carrying out her marvellous plan
over crumpled pages, musical scores
Child of the cosmos
Jesus lives! /for five minutes/
Come on down to our vast white brain of a library in Geelong next Tuesday at 6.30pm to meet Robert Lukins. I’m going to be having a chat with him about how this compelling and potent novel managed to get off the slush pile and onto our bedside tables. It’s a free event.
Book here http://www.grlc.vic.gov.au/whats-on/robert-lukins-%E2%80%93-everlasting-sunday
‘Described as both highly atmospheric, yet deeply unsettling, ‘The Everlasting Sunday’ is a meticulous account of toxic masculinity within a setting of inverted institutionalisation. At once beautiful and brutal, this is a haunting debut novel by writer, researcher and journalist Robert Lukins about growing up, growing wild, and what it takes to survive.’
I first read Damen’s poetry a couple of years ago and was moved by the fine detail, the intelligence of his work and his political and moral stance. Each poem is crafted with such elegance and flair that I’ve been greedy to seek out his published pieces. There aren’t that many to date. He seems to have won prizes but not appeared in too many journals. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of his work. I hope there’s a publisher out there with an offer to publish a full collection very soon because Damen is making a quiet but significant contribution to Australian poetry.
Image from Mascara Review
We knew about the flinch, because
time-lapse photography showed
bruised leaves and cut-stems curling,
nearby branches swaying away
in distress, through the same filter
we’ve witnessed rival canopies clashing
and striving in bitter border disputes,
but now we know that in silent outrage
and perhaps also in plea, each plant calls
to its neighbour in chemical messages,
if it is assailed by caterpillars or
by the predations of grazing cattle,
not for its own sake, but to warn
its neighbour to furl flowers or close leaves.
So, anthropomorphic enough to make
vegetarians quail, and meat eaters
smile around the edges of their steak:
empathy Dahl and sympathy salads
and indigestible moral dilemmas.
Published in Blue Pepper, 2015
What Poem Would The Mining Companies Tell Lionel Fogarty?
In between howls that could be poems,
Lionel tells us that he is teaching the black kids poetry.
To a bunch of white middle class mainstreamers,
he’s reciting poems in monochrome bullets
about hate, and guilt and history, and we don’t miss the irony.
In between the dressing-down that could be poems,
he asks us what will the mining companies teach
his black kids about themselves? Every other word
is the whip, and the blessing: black. Black, black, black
is the poem Lionel Fogarty tells the mining companies,
and the mining companies who know about holes in the ground
echo it back to him. Black, black, black.
Published in Mascara Review, 2015
Damen is a Queensland poet and joint winner of the Peter Porter Prize, 2017 (with Louis Klee). He has been writing for the last 20 years and works as a Contracts Manager for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle company. His poetry has been published in Cordite, Mascara Review, Island and The Courier Mail, and has won or been highly commended in the Yeats Poetry Prize, the Nillumbik Ekphrasis Poetry Award, Ipswich Poetry Festival, the Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Prize, and the FAW Tasmania Poetry Prize.
Read the shortlist here along with Damen’s winningpoem.
Hear his interview with Michael Cathcart and where he got his idea for the winning poem. You might be surprised.
Kristy is not only an accomplished writer and visual artist but also Editor/Designer of her own publishing enterprise, Dancing Girl Press and Studio which publishes pamphlets of contemporary poetry by women. If you read her interview on the Harriet blog of the Poetry Foundation you will see that she has ‘proclivities for strange and quirky books, …books that have some sort of darkness to them.’ I should admit here that Kristy has recently published my pamphlet, Lips That Did, and she also generously designed the cover which I adore, but I am not the only Australian she has published. I see that Ivy Alvarez and Alyson Miller are also in the mix.
Kristy’s poetry is visceral and jumping, and makes its business the mess between birth and death. Women will get it, like the titles of her books in the bird museum and girl show, books that ‘deal with feminist themes of danger and transgression, the female body…’ There is a retro sensibility and painterly quality to her collages and you can easily feel she’s tracked your life and written every aspect of it.
from The Care and Feeding of Mermaids
Don’t worry about the bathtub, the bits of scale and hair
caught in the drain, a little more each day. Only a fool
would weather the storm at the northernmost point. She’ll
still be good in bed. Adept at karaoke and drinking mai
tais from glasses shaped like cats and dragons. Can
probably name every crustacean by blind touch, her
fingers seeking out each grooved exoskeleton in the dark.
Warning: The vapor of her breath against the mirror will
make you anxious. The way she winces over the sashimi
and cries in the shower. At night, she’ll slip out to meet
men in hotel bars downtown, sneak into the pool after
hours, call you at 3am begging for a ride home. Do not
acquiesce. Especially on nights when the fog settles low
on the water. Especially when the stars above it line up
like a million tiny fish.
DUCK & COVER
At night, the fission loves us, lathers us over,
makes our teeth glow like low watt lanterns in the dark of our beds.
This town is all carhops and canapés these days, the women
narrow waisted and waspish. Oh nostalgia, we love it.
Write letters to it in the green light of television sets.
Meanwhile, the men set fire to the jukebox, the junior college,
the dead pigeons in the gutters of tract homes.
Oh hope, oh love, we’re filled with sugar and seething
into our silk pantyhose. Our bodies as pristine as our
mother’s whites, flapping on clotheslines across the low hills.
In an emergency, above all else, keep calm.
In an emergency, keep your tongue glued fast to the roof
of your mouth to avoid screaming.
In an emergency–
When his says father says boo, plutonium baby cries all night.
The milk gone bad, leaking and souring in the folds of his mother’s
nightgown. 3 am and the world glows with him, even now,
before the bombs, before the backyard barbecues and shiny
black sedans. Before the open mouth of his wanting grows
wider and wider and swallows everything not weighted down..
When he’s grown, he’ll take up with women named
Tina, or Charla, or Tiffany. Will tuck his shirts in and talk
about stock commodities. Everyone loves a plutonium baby,
all new and shiny as the chrome on a brand new bicycle.
As American as apple pie or insider trading.
He’ll twirl the scotch in his glass around and say things like
“Key West is a sauna this time of year..”
Those kind of manners could be lost or poisoned or dead
for all we know. His black shoes, shiny and sure of it.
MISS URANIUM 1954
It’s months before she can recite the alphabet backwards
again. Birth dates. The chemical equation for hydrogen peroxide.
All caught in the foggy nether than begins somewhere in the cerebellum.
On the patio, all the bodies in bikinis float in a thin soup of chemicals
and it’s all good, all gone, all going to hell in an alligator handbag, she thinks,
her fingernails flaking away like piecrust. These limbs loosening into ether.
In the hospital, the sheets were white and precise.
Her mind white and precise. She clenches her jaw and meditates
on milk cartons, lined up single file on the store shelf. The perfect slices
of bread dropping into the toaster. Scratches on her thighs and breasts
where the bees went in, and worse, where they demand to come out.
First published in Split Lip Magazine
A writer and visual artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of six books of poetry, including the recent (Black Lawrence Press, 2016) and (Sundress Publications, 2015), as well as a number of chapbook, zine, and artists book projects. Her work has appeared most recently in Paper Darts, Handsome and Midway Journal. She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio and spends much of her time writing, making papery things, and editing a chapbook series devoted to women authors. Her most recent collection, little apocalypse, is forthcoming from Noctuary Press. http://www.kristybowen.net
A conversation with Black Lawrence Press Authors Kristy Bowen and Cynthia Manick
Text | Texture | Textile | Tech: A Book Art & Letterpress Interview Series w/ Kristy Bowen
Interview with Kristy bowen @ Les Femmes Folles
Interview with Kristy Bowen Editor of Dancing Girl Press
‘It is better to be feared than loved.’—Lewis Carroll,
Alice’s Adventures Under Ground
In a Somerset cave she scoops up silence in a jar.
There’s a faint drop of h2o in the distance,
a kerosene lamp lighting her back to lessons where multi-headed
hydra (good preparation for a life subterranean) and paramecia are dodgem cars under the microscope bouncing off each other like she now finds difficult in a crowded street.
Minuscule hairs in her ears indicate presence of the other.
She prefers to keep hers still
but thunderclouds continue to mass from the north full of possibility.
Bikies glass a whispering junkie, Alligator mississipiensis
has a mating call hard to resist and the scorpion
she keeps in a tank on the dining room table tracks her vibration when she’s out for a walk. What attracts her to one above all?
Goon, cannibal, child-killer on Death Row?
A solitary cell attracts her the most.
And now she’s here, her hair grows long.
First published in Rabbit, 2016
Lips that Did, chapbook, 2017
Text and illustration -Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground held by The British Library Add MS 46700
This is the imprecise location
where Titanic was strafed
by an AK-47 in 1912
where at 4.15pm on an ocean liner
bound for an empire
I looked out from the balcony
for a sign of Rose and Jack Dawson
and in leapt two dolphins
one for each eye.
/They circled with other motes
gathering like great whites
to witness my reaction to the tragedy/
I double checked the radar for icebergs.
It was spring. They were splintering south
but the sea was empty that day
while my eyes were alive with cheery
mammals nudging me to tears so they could
slip out to try the buffet European cheeses—
Rocquefort and Brie.
Precisely one century later a Bengal tiger
called Richard Parker jumped right into my lap
in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi
3D so terrifying my eye dolphins
seemed like they’d come for a play.
Dolphins and whales confounded Aristotle
when they beached themselves in 350 BC
glittering pelts drying to black along the shores
of Greek islands like Kos
like the sunburst skins of fugitive children today.
‘Best poem’ of 2016 fourW anthology. Booranga Writers Centre