Tag Archives: poetry publishers

The Next Big Thing: Cindy Keong’s ‘Same Sky’

Another Lost Shark Publications has a big schedule planned for 2013, including the second release in the First Words series, Cindy Keong’s, Same Sky. The plan is to have the book ready to launch mid-year, so for now, here’s Cindy’s responses to The Next Big Thing interview to give you a taste of what’s to come.

Cindy-Keong-Pic

What is the title of your book?

Same Sky

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A series of poems spanning the breadth of physical, cultural, emotional and familial landscapes linked by universal experiences that connect us all under the the ‘Same Sky’.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The compilation of this series originated out of a small body of work written whilst working in Tanzania.  My work there was largely of a practical nature, the giving of my time and skill rather than any search for enlightenment. Working in the third world often impacts westerners in the sense they have some epiphany about gratitude, waste, wealth or freedom.  There is no denying you would be an emotional mutant not to be impacted by the profound differences, but what struck a cord with me more was something fairly unsophisticated; that human experience is indeed universal, regardless of personal circumstance or geographics. Put simply, it is all the same, life is what it is.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The poems to be included in this collection have been written between 2009 to 2012.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

This notion of ‘same, same but different’ spurred me on to develop a broader body of work that linked my experiences across three distinct landscapes, that loosely track my lifespan and hopefully ones that spark a connection to the human experiences of the reader.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am very excited and privileged to have this body of work supported by Graham Nunn aka Another Lost Shark who will publish Same Sky as part of his First Words series in 2013.

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

As an emerging poet I am reluctant to compare my work but would rather comment on work that has had influence and impact on my writing.  I am fascinated with work that encapsulates the everyday experience; poets who’s sparse language choices resonate and reveal a continuum of meaning ranging from the literal to the complex. Poems that when re-read, continue to offer another layer of meaning or provocation for thought.  Poets that have taken up residency in my thoughts lately include Max Ryan, Robert Adamson, Nathan Curnow, Paul Summers, Aidan Coleman, Michelle Dicinoski, Janice Bostock…

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

That is not easy, however, Tina Fey’s character of Liz Lemon parallels nicely if cast in poems that reveal insights into familial and relational dysfunction.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I look forward to launching these poems out into the world this year… here’s a poem from the book:

Some Things You Should Know

You’ll notice Dad hasn’t parted with the old
washing machine.  He proudly claims it’s the first
automatic.  There’s nothing automatic about it now.
So unless you’re packing enough clothes for the entire trip;
the gumboots and broom handle beside the tub must be used
to avoid electrocution. Make sure you visit the Bobby Dazzler,
there’s a 20ft statue of a fossicker crouching out front.
It’s worth the five dollars, just to wander the underground tunnels
and escape the blistering heat. I hope you like early mornings;
the bottlebrush is in bloom and the lorikeets flock in around 5 am,
for their all day bender.  If this doesn’t wake you, Dad will.

Do you remember when were kids?
From our beds we would listen
to the blueprint of morning;
heavy footsteps making
a cup of tea; the scuff of brush
and polish on boot leather, followed
by the heady waft of his first cigarette.
It’s still the same, still in order.

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Poetic Opportunity – Triptych Poets Series

The good folk at Blemish Books are now welcoming submissions for their highly successful Triptych Poets Series, which publishes three contemporary voices alongside each other, much like the classic Penguin Modern Poets series did some years ago.

Submissions should include a suite of 15 – 25 poems (max 40 A4 pages), with the majority of the poems having been previously unpublished. For the full details, check out the guidelines. It’s a fantastic opportunity, so best of luck polishing up those poems…

Here’s a great review by Mark William Jackson of Triptych Poets #2, to give you all a taste of the work inside, and better still, if you want to get a sense of what the editors are looking for, why not pick up a copy of Issue #1 & #2 their bookstore.

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New Poems in Shamrock haiku journal

A little while back, I was invited to contribute to the 10th anniversary issue of UK Magazine, Open Wide. It is always a thrill to have my work published in the pages of Open Wide, but being invited makes things extra special.

Issue 25, the 10th Anniversary Issue, is out now and is bursting with ninety-four pages of writing from forty-three of the editor’s favourite contributors from the last ten years including A.D. Winans, Arlene Ang, justin.barrett, James D. Quinton, Owen Roberts, John G. Hall and this Lost Shark (feeling in very fine company here).

The magazine costs just £5 (plus £1.00 P&P for UK buyers – P&P for Europe is £2.00 and the rest of the world is £3.00). It can be purchased only via paypal, which accepts all major credit/debit cards. You can follow this link – www.openwidemagazine.co.uk/owmissues.htm.

As the editor’s say… ‘Miss it, miss out, and trust us, you don’t want to miss this one!’

*****************************

The latest issue of Shamrock Haiku is also online and features a couple of my own poems alongside two members of the recent Ginko Group, Cindy Keong and Lee-Anne Davie. It is always good to be surrounded by friends…

You can read Issue #18 here.

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Chris Mansell’s Spine Lingo

Spine Lingo: New & Selected Poems, Chris MansellKardoorair Press, PO Box 478, Armidale, N.S.W. 2350, Australia.   orders@kardoorair.com.au (2010) pp. 232.  ISBN 978-0-908244-83-6.

Reviewed by Patricia Prime

It’s always a pleasure to open a new book of poetry by Chris Mansell, and Spine Lingo is no exception. What a fantastic mind the poet has, and what a wonderful way with words. This is Mansell’s eighth collection, but one senses many of these poems have had a long gestation period, for each is polished, pared-back and honed to perfection.  The poems are presented more or less one poem per page, without punctuation.

Mansell seems always conscious of the disquieting runs of life slipping by.  Her memories are something that contributes and advances presentness.  Knowledge is not a complete thing, but is part of the whole . . . from which love seeks to contrast knowledge with separation, and certainly with the temporal.  For Mansell writing itself – an act that is simultaneously one of forgetting and remembering – is an aid to redefinition of the past.

In Spine Lingo, Mansell further explores her own past and autobiography.  Her poems unfold one on the other, growing in resonance and beauty, filling the reader’s head to overflowing.  Here we have themes on landscapes, geography, history, travel, loss, Lady Gedanke, nature.  Somehow Mansell has managed to capture all these elements and more, in her book.

Human loss is a theme which echoes through the collection.  The elegy “Amelia Earhart flies out from Lae, New Guinea” is dealt with lightly but unflinchingly.  The poet recalls that the pioneer aviator left “my old town,” but now she and her friends wait for her return:

           as we stand on the black sand beach
           imagine your flight
           straight ahead
           over the isthmus Salamaua
           string of sand
           can’t imagine the gun emplacements
           there yet

The natural world – the dark, flowers, the ocean, beach, birds, animals – are featured throughout the book.  “the dry movement / as sand across / contradictory sand,” begins “17 Types of Movement.”  Mansell has a knack of stripping the visual world back to basics.  One example of her fresh use of language can be found in “Santa Maria di Maggiore, Rome”:

and now Santa Maria di Maggiore
suffers a busload of tourists
for the worship of architecture
en masse
the shuffle and gawp
fills its important walls
which do not flinch

A seemingly innocent poem about a visit to the Catholic Basilica by a protestant becomes a remarkable, sensory expression as “this palace of popes / calls out with its five bells” and “gods tumble out / of high ceilings.”

Some of the most startling imagery occurs when the subject is Australia, as in “Christmas in Australia,” where the poet wakes to fires that still burn in Tomerong.  “Cooper’s Creek” is an historical poem about the loss of explorers Burke and Wills, and the later death of their fellow explorer King in 1861:

King, as instructed
left Burke dead
under an open sky
pistol in hand.

The series of poems about Lady Gedanke strip back the visual world to basics; only then does Mansell build human emotion back into the poem.  Here is an excerpt from “Lady Gedanke tells J. S. Mill her Happiness Theory”:

now each glistening season
the earth becomes
more frangible
and finite more
unreliable and particular
each year
is counted out
like coins of light

“the other river” is a poem divided into 12 days, beginning with a description of the river and ending on day 12 with the simple, yet expressive poem that returns us to the river:

night
day
sunlight

rain
mist
fire
river

Love is a theme throughout the book; glinting through the surface, then disappearing again.  It is dealt with lightly but fearlessly: “How I know,” focuses on the absence of a lover: “and though you’ve gone / I want to go with you / because I am in love with your children,” while “the kiss” is a “poem for your lips” and “Song” relates the loved one to the ocean which “holds me like you do / in the open rhythms the pull and suck / the deep movement . . .”

The lengthy poem “Head, Heart & Stone” is divided into 10 parts.  In this poem Mansell writes so vividly and directly that we feel we are with her in the setting: “There is a handcrafted painting of a wattle or a ti-tree.”  Some of the most beautiful poetic moments occur in these longer poems.  “Ordinary truth” fairly sizzles on the page:

           first it comes like hush
           like blisters you know it’s there
           like a trial coming up a journey
           you can never be prepared for
           like angels in your garden taking time
           like a physicist with theories like angles
           sharp it comes again acute

In the face of relationships, whether failed or fulfilling, Mansell writes from her heart.  Here we have the poems “Daughter”: “My daughter speaks Bingle. / A dog whoop whoops in the night”;  “waiting for my daughter”:  “you have run off into childhood barely / looking back at cold mother absent / father you slip hipped bone agile daughter” and then there’s “the family”: “first there is the mother / the mother has two melon breasts / and stands with legs apart / arms agape like a child’s drawing.”

Mansell finds salvation in the act of writing itself.  Often her work is about artistic endeavour: the desire to write poetry that is going to survive.  In the poem, “Good poetry,” for example, she says,

           Good poetry is
           cocktail poetry – often short & very
           urbane.  Good poetry is slim &
           articulate with impeccable antecedents.
           Sometimes it speaks French, but usually
           it speaks only English.  Good English.

In “Poem in feint ruled purple,” she writes to a friend:

           you gave me some bright pink paper to write rich red poems on
           (poems with the scent of just ripe pomegranates
           poems that melt with touch
           poems that cull up and indulge purple and cerise
           and scarlet women with the fops
           and spangle bright harlots
           with roses on their lips

The act of writing is a conscious effort that helps to change the ways of the world: “blood red poems to make the revolution come.”  Yet the poet is also aware in “Subtext to the poem in feint ruled purple” that she does not “want to write / this poem, or any other. / I want this poem to fly in the face / of my dark horses . . .”

The registering of her poetics is one of Mansell’s strengths, and it is in the treatment of writing itself that her work is at its most quietly moving.  One has no trouble in believing in the poetic truth of what Mansell says in the fine poems, “A hand in the mouth,” “Poem Written in the Key of Mother Tongue” and “The Secret.”  Mansell’s poems are full of “experience,” full of her sense of the world, in both the apprehension and the comprehension of what is implied in the recognition of “the moment” in poetry, as we see in her poem “making the garden safe”:

           he is thinking for a moment
           no more
           and soon he will have the axe
           biting into the tender
           heart of that tree
           through its resilient bark
           through the moist interior
           through the timelines

But Mansell is not simply a passive poet.  She also writes poems in which the search for an axis of living is conducted in very different settings, settings, for example, where

           in the hope that punishment
           would not get worse we agreed
           to our torture and left the children
           at the gate

            (“Passive voice”)

Then there are the extraordinary poems featuring the Australian landscape.  “On (the) edge of Toowoomba”

           there is nothing
           bush and bush
           and mist slung into trees like fruitbats 
           and the millennia set to roll
           anxious as a child’s marble
           rolling with the hum and throb
           of a song linking horizon to horizon
           time rolling down the range

In “The Tree” the fragmented phrases – “we climbed the tree,” “the sunlight fills the sky,” “Shuquin sees the wall / during the Cultural Revolution” and “the wall is filled with her name,” – echo Mansell’s preoccupation with beauty and truth.  The poem concludes inexorably yet gently with the words

           and yet she does not know yet
           that truth imprisons her

“Neda” is a lengthy poem divided into fifteen triplets: a narrative that begins with Neda suckling the infant Zeus and concludes with

           the sound of a casual bullet
           tearing the air to find a girl
           on her way to music class

“Beneath Breathing” is another lengthy poem covering eighteen pages.  This poem is perhaps the most compelling in the book.  It is a narrative about war and provides a richness of detail that almost swamps the reader.  In the first part of the poem we see the persona caught in what appears to be a war zone:

           our shattered building is on top of me
           below around and we have become one thing

           all the hopes and stairs
           carpets and casualness of the day

           have smacked into this hard dead
           end and me with it

The relationship of these elements to the rest of the psychological drama covers a brother returning from war, the dead brother “steeped in earth,” the poet’s rage at war and “the lost language of the gods.”   In the second half of the poem the flow of the work is more disposed.  As though to help the reader, there is the instruction: “(read this out loud, in one breath).”  The implication is that Mansell’s style differs here in mood and flow.  Now it’s the turn of a stunningly projective imaging of the birth of the poem and the reader’s complicity in it.

The final five-page poem, “The Ecstasy of the Lily” is a deep play on the various poetic components: shirt, bombs, lily, death, judge, uranium.  The poem ends:

we are bright in our own starlight
language is more fun to do than to reflect
the orange air with its screaming flowers
spells ecstasy and burns down the house
and I am still inside talking about wearing a shirt
while the bright red canna lily shrieks

In such poems the precision of Mansell’s writing is a recurrent delight.  Mansell’s real but unaffected attentiveness to detail is evidence of both a stilled self-consciousness and a process of self-discovery.  There is an occasionally breath-taking responsiveness to simple beauty in her work, just as there is often an unflinchingly open-eyed registration of human pain.

The poems in Spine Lingo pitch the power and wonder of nature against the frailty and failure of the human, their utter seriousness leavened by a wry, dry and disarming humour.  All of the poems are haunted by the presence and pressure of the world against our own beliefs, and are written with the kind of dreamlike description that has become Mansell’s trademark.  In short, this is an important collection of a poet whose reputation has long been well established.  Spine Lingo is a book of considerable grandeur and sweep by one of the most powerful Australian poet’s working today.

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New Australian Poetry Press

After visiting Western Australia in 2009 and keeping in touch with many of the poets I met on that trip, it is no surprise to me that the newest poetry press (at least the newest this Lost Shark knows of) has sprung up from the fertile ground of the WA scene.

mulla mulla press has now got two chapbooks under its belt, the latest being the debut collection from Paul Harrison, Meet Me At The Gethsemane. Also available from mulla mulla press is RECOIL TWO an anthology of poets who read at Perth Poetry Club in 2010 featuring Caitlin Maling, Chris Mansell, Coral Carter, Danny Gunzburg, Jonothon Twist, Kate Wilson, Mar Bucknell, Maureen Sexton, Raymond Grenfell, Rose van Son, Steve Smart and Terry Farrell.

Paul’s book, was recently reviewed by u.v. ray, who described the poems as brutal and uncompromising… tinged with moments of surprising tenderness, though the unyielding message seems clear: life beats us all down in the end. This isn’t to say Paul’s work is all doom and gloom. He finds moments of respite amidst all the despair, sometimes with humour, but more often with really quite touching lines.

Here’s a poem from the collection:

even the dead have names
 
truth is
there’s
not a thing
or woman
in the whole wide world
who will ever save you
or even make you forget
quite long enough
before
the final ever after
remembers
your name
and grabs you hard
by the shoulder
now tell me
why or what
or even where
can someone
go with that

For more details head over to the mulla mulla press website… I can feel there are many good things to come.

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Brisbane New Voices II – Chris Lynch

In a recent post, I introduced the first of the Brisbane New Voices II poets, John Koenig and his micro-collection Green Tea & Nicorette. I am excited to say that the book is now back from the printer and looks stunning! So it is now time to introduce the second featured poet, Brisbane based writer, publisher and editor, Chris Lynch. His micro-collection, Bashed Flat By Heaven, is elegant in its simplicity. The seven poems in this collection, are quietly assured and explore with a keen eye, the complex relationship between the human and the natural landscape. The poem, Homo Domesticus, is a wonderful introduction to his work.

                                                             Homo domesticus

                                                             Home is a horse
                                                             blanket or doona

                                                             sewn daily. The smell
                                                             wraps, enfolds us

                                                             like mother in robes
                                                             with her breast out

                                                             as we sit by the fire
                                                             and drink pumpkin

                                                             soup, fall asleep
                                                             on animal skins

                                                             and dream of rain
                                                             beating on the roof,

                                                             timber chunks popping
                                                             in the hearth. Creatures

                                                             of the night call to
                                                             each other in the storm

                                                             but we have men
                                                             and dogs at the gates,

                                                             thick wooden stakes
                                                             and iron chains

                                                             and no one and
                                                             nothing will

                                                             disturb our rest,
                                                             not until we smell

                                                             a hot and wholesome
                                                             breakfast.

 

 

Keep your eyes peeled for news of the launch in the coming days…

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Brisbane New Voices II: John Koenig

During the latter half of 2010, I quietly worked away on Volume II of Brisbane New Voices and I am happy to report that it is now at the printer. I am out-of-my-skin excited about launching this collection in February, as Volume I featuring Jonathan Hadwen and Fiona Privitera was one of my 2010 highlights.

Volume II will again feature micro-collections from two local poets, but let’s do things slowly… let me introduce you to the work of Brisbane’s ‘romantic rebel’, John Koenig. John’s micro-collection, Green Tea & Nicorette features eight poems that he has honed over the years in front of audiences at SpeedPoets and a number of other local events. His words are born of hardship and our unique Australian landscape, but they are brimming with hope and a deep love of people. I think John’s poem, Out Here, is a great introduction to his work. Keep your ears to the waters of Another Lost Shark for news of the launch (and of course, news of the second, feature poet).

Out Here

It’s two tone brigalow belah country, out here.

Out here mirror topped dams reflect a painted sky
out here wedge-tailed eagles spy a bushranger landscape
out here the rainbow serpent rises from its slumber
out here always fills me with longing.

It seems the sun moves so slowly, out here.
Stout bottle trees cast shadows over the land.
My father always said this was good grass country
as long as you get the rain, out here.

Out here old meat sheds cry of past slaughters
out here old graveyards weep of past stories
out here old churches whisper past prayers
out here the past always haunts me.

The night rustles to black, out here.
Behind a moth-eaten theatre curtain
the stagehands of time change the props.
A polaroid dawn will develop, out here.

Out here a man dreams in the night of his father
out here a child screams in the night for her mother
out here forty years will disappear in an instant
out here under a hundred million stars

I hold the world asleep in my arms.

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Poetry: At What Cost?

The Easter holidays finished with a bang yesterday with another cracker SpeedPoets event… This was a great end to what was a really productive few days. Yes, I have now finished tinkering with my manuscript for Ocean Hearted and am gearing up for the next phase: design, printing & promotion. With all of the decisions and questions that circle one’s head when entering this phase, I stumbled across an article in Publisher’s Weekly titled, What does it cost to do Poetry?

The article looks at data from 16 publishers in the USA in relation to what it costs to produce your average collection of poems (figures based on a collection being 80 pages, perfect bound with colour cover), how profitable poetry is/or isn’t for the press, what advances and/or royalties the poet receives and the use of prizes as a means of funding the publication of books.

It is an article that you may from the outset think would be one that hands poetry another gloomy report card, but it is an article of hope, with Knopf’s Deborah Garrison concluding, “Poetry’s power, its secret, lies in the fact that it feels outside of that world in which you can sell something to the movies. If it’s good, it’s just not about that other thing. The very thing that makes it hard to sell and makes us say that nobody cares and makes us wonder if we’ll all still be doing this is in another few years is the thing that makes it special and essential.”

As a publisher (Small Change Press and Brisbane New Voices), I found the article insightful and the figures fascinating and it has given me much to think about as I prepare for the release of Ocean Hearted. I hope that many of you check it out as it provides a meaningful insight into the world of publishing.

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Another Lost Shark saddles up with The Black Rider

For those who have yet to discover the joys of The Black Rider, there is reason to rejoice. This Lost Shark had a poem published in issue #1 of their minizine The Diamond and the Thief so I thought I would throw a few questions at main man, Jeremy Balius to get the lowdown on what The Black Rider is all about.

 

home

 

The Black Rider has some big plans, kicking off with the publication of The Diamond & the Thief mini-zine. As the new (hep)cats on the indie publishing scene, fill us in on how you plan to deliver stories and dreams into our lives.
 
There’s already an endless amount of publishers out there putting out a bazillion books a year.  Does Australia really need one more publisher?  Aren’t the shelves already full?

I was out looking for a fiction and poetry publisher who was inextricably bound with its authors and readers, a publisher who was committed to a particular vibe and feel, a publisher who acted like an indie record label, a publisher who loved music as much as it loved books, a publisher who was all about the conversation.

There weren’t any in my neighbourhood, so I started Black Rider.

The Diamond & the Thief is our monthly minizine with a couple poems and short stories by Australian and international authors and poets.  We’re about to put out the first digital chapbook in our Black Rider presents Lyrics series.  These e-chapbooks give us the means of supporting some up’n’coming poets who are pretty special.  Then there are the printed books of course.  Our stories & tales.  But more on those next year.

If you subscribe to our website via RSS or email, you’ll not only be informed when The Diamond & the Thief publishes each month, you’ll also receive our soon to launch Black Rider lines.  

‘Cause our writers do knowledge like rodeo clowns – they seem out of control with faces painted silly and big ole floppy shoes, but they’re actually the hardest cats out on the sawdust.  We’ve asked them to teach us about books and writing and other stuff, so they’re penning some shorts for us all to learn from in the lines.

Anyways, maybe we’re not so new – have you seen how old and shabby our website is?  (Yeah, I see you chuckling, Beaudrillard!)

 

What are you looking for in a poem, in a story? How hard do you want the words to kick?
 
It’s all about the people, the Black Rider community.  The kind of people who might be coming from a similar starting point, or who might be on a similar road, or heading in the same general direction.  The unabashed ones.  The burning brightly ones.  The wild bleary-eyed ones. 

The words are just ink on the page, pixels on the screen – signifiers and symbols.  The hard kick is what these cats write in-between the lines, in the spaces between the words.  Showing us a wider horizon.  Verbalising the sounds of the cosmos.

The hard kick is in the conversation we’ll have after we take a heartfelt sip of dark-felt Truth from these poets and writers.  Climbing a mountain and then climbing higher.

 

I love the concept of the Last Hurrah. Tell me more…

We’re going to be throwing some shindigs and concerts.  Each of these hootenannies is a Last Hurrah.  They’re holler-a-longs with feet-stamping and hand-clapping.  At first they’ll be in Perth, but we might take them on tour eventually.

The Last Hurrahs will help raise funds to put out books.  By coming out and singing along to bands that you love, you’re not only supporting local Aussie music, you’re helping fund Australian art and literature.

Homer summed it up best in The Odyssey: “So saying this, Proteus plunged beneath the surging sea, but I went to my ships with my godlike comrades, and many things did my heart darkly ponder as I went.”

 

Assuming success is not a dirty word, where does The Black Rider want to be in 12-24 months time and how will you know you arrived?

Where’s the assumption?  It’s semantics.  Success only gets as down and dirty as you want it to – depends on which road you’re on.  What if the measure of success was compassion?  Or humility?

If the tales and lyrics written by Black Rider authors and poets get you to talk to your friends and family about how to deal with everything around us, we’re getting somewhere.  The conversation is where it’s at.

There’s no arriving, only walking onward down the road.  Picking the right guide books.  The right walking sticks. 

The journey’s the destination.

 

Black Rider Press

From The Diamond & the Thief October edition:

Vasilissa’s Doll
by Amanda Joy

I am the house and the hut with chicken legs that turns to face us.
I am the sea cave speared through by the foundations of skyscrapers.
The glitter and shine of bare bones,
the scaffolding and crane, the tented buildings,
the outskirts of the forest with trees bent like ribs.
Strange enough without shadows.

Here I am, one hand in yours, the other searching for skeleton keys
in the soft cloth of her unwritten pocket. Private finger cave
of receipts, crumbs, stones and small change. Here is the dull-eyed doll
who comes to life at night, feeding my cheeks of milk and blood
as my hair grows down to my waist.

I like to tell you this story, you, keeper of water and all
the paths it makes when trapped, bent forward in your chair
like the red rider, have asked me to close my eyes and feel
the quiver, Saraha haha.
I laugh, I know you’re winging it.

This is grown in the dark too, in the chambers of involuntary muscle
and it will go one way or another. I am picking
the black grains from the wheat.
When you tap me on the shoulder I turn
to nothing

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A conversation with Patricia Prime

Digging through some old (and not so old) magazines and journals last night was a really productive experience… The Strange Conversations I posted last night really lit up the memory sensors as did this interview I did with Patricia Prime (first published in Simply Haiku and then in Takahe). Enjoy!

 

Graham Nunn Interviewed by Patricia Prime

 

PP:  Your poetry seems to contain many references to your family and your personal experiences.  Literary scholars usually distinguish between the author and the persona or speaker in a poem.  To what extent would you say this distinction applies to your poetry, or, to put it differently, how much of Graham Nunn is to be found in your work?  Here, as an example, is your poem “The Party’s Over”, which seems to recapture one of your own experiences, but could equally apply to any young party-goer:

the last song has played
the crow is calling
and we’ve run out of ice
the girls have all left
ands are drowning
in plastic cups
the ex-wife is pinned
to the dartboard
the dog has jumped the fence
/the fence holds in emptiness/
morality is covered in dust
and I sit
staring at the walls
empty of sound
for the moment

GN: I agree that there is a lot of me in my poems. I am not afraid to show myself, but I do try to write from a broader perspective, to let the reader into the poem. You can be too personal and there are some poems that I certainly don’t take out of the bottom drawer. The struggle between the author and persona is something that all artists experience. I remember hearing Nick Cave speak once about his album The Boatmans Call. He said that he liked the album less and less as the years passed as he could see too much of himself in the songs. Personally, I love the songs on that album for the same reason Nick dislikes them. They are songs that reveal the author, but allow the listener to make their own connections and create their own reality. This is something I try and do with my own work.

 

PP:  Do you think that the reader often identifies with the speaker in your poems?

GN: I hope that the reader can identify with my poems, interact with them, bring their own life experience to them and on some level, make the stories their own.

 

PP:  Would you consider yourself to be a “confessional” poet”?

GN: Not at all… I certainly share some truths about my life experience through my poems, but in no way am I writing these as confessionals. Writing for me is not a cathartic experience. It is a means of taking a story, an idea, a feeling and putting together the right words to allow the reader to experience it in their own way.

 

PP:  You seem to start out from a simple thought or idea but the imagery you use is often complex, full of projections, transformations, shifts of perspective.  So you make demands on your reader’s imagination.  Is that an important part of your craft for you?

GN: I like to think that there is a simple core at the heart of all my poems. Something tangible for the reader to hang on to, but I also like the reader to have to open their eyes and mind to get the complete experience. Language should be used to challenge the imagination and have the reader engage with the poem’s subject on a deeper level.

 

PP:  I detect you are inspired by the ordinary things we as humans do, that we pretend not to notice.  To what extent would you say your work conforms to this pattern?

GN: I am in love with the ordinary. My partner actually refers to me as vanilla.Too many people spend  their lives searching for the extraordinary, when there is beauty in the boiling of  a kettle, the opening of a door, the pattern of dust on the window sill. I like to live simply and enjoy the small things. I find that this helps to keep my senses sharp.

 

PP:  Are there poems you wouldn’t publish because they’re too intimate, too personal?

GN: I think everyone has a stash of poems that they wouldn’t publish for some reason. Sometimes for me it is beceause they are too personal, but more often than not it is because they just don’t translate for anyone else. They don’t have the space to let anyone else in. And let’s face it… some are just not up to scratch!

 

graham-nunn-reading-at-leonard-cohen-tribute

 

PP:  I find many glimpses of humour in your work, so I was wondering how important humour is for you, with regard to your work?

GN: Humour is not something I ever aim to achieve in my writing. I have never actively set out to write a funny poem. Humour is something that naturally finds its way into my work at times. I live a very happy existence and love to laugh, so it is only natural that my sense of humour shines through at times.

 

PP:  How much attention do you pay to stylistic elements?  In what ways do you work on syntax, phrasing, finding the right words to communicate your story?

GN: I certainly pay more attention to the finer details now. I used to be very much about getting things down and putting them out there, without a whole lot of editing. More the first thought, best thought approach, but I have started to move away from that in recent years. Now when I write, I still try and turn off the editing brain, but once I have it down, I like to put it away and then come back to it a few days later, see if it still resonates. If it does, I like to pull it apart, look at each word and see how it is working, examine line breaks, the poems appearance on the page. I guess it is much like a mechanic approaches a car engine. I want to fine tune it, so that it performs the best it can on and off the page.

 

PP:  It would be interesting to learn more about your method of working.  Is there a strict time scheme you stick to when writing?

GN: When I first started to become serious about my writing, I would be really disciplined and set aside chunks of time in my daily routine to write. This approach really worked for me. I would get up each morning, walk the dogs, come home, eat breakfast and then sit down for 45mins and just write. During the last four years, my approach has not been as disciplined, due to the various other roles I have taken on outside of my full time teaching job (running the monthly event SpeedPoets, taking on the role of Artistic Director, QLD Poetry Festival 2004 – 2007, starting Small Change Press), but I always have time marked aside on my calendar to write and I have become much better at finding 5 or 10 minutes in the middle of the daily hustle and bustle to get ideas down. The thing I have always maintained is when I sit down to write, I write. There is no such thing as a blank page at the end of a session. As a writer, I understand that there is no good stuff without bad stuff, so when I do get time to write I make sure I put words on paper and review it later. In that sense, it is like any work… you have some great moments and some that are better forgotten.

 

PP:  Why did you decide to become a publisher?

GN: I am incredibly passionate about getting new voices heard. Small Change Press is all about investing in the local community, and providing emerging poets with the chance to publish and get their work out to a wider audience. Our focus is on poets whose work performs on and off the page, on poets who can connect with a live audience and a reader. Our method of distribution is different to the traditional publisher. We are more about putting our authors in front of people and giving them the opportunity to let their words connect.

 

PP:  You are a publisher of other people’s poetry.  How does the publishing of their poetry affect your own work?

GN: Obviously the people that we have published are people that I have a great deal respect for, as human beings and as poets. Their work inspires me to stay true to what we set out to do as an independent press and that is to publish work that has its own clear vision and unique voice and is capable of translating both to the reader/listener. Being around quality poets and quality poetry, gives me the necessary nudge to constantly develop my own craft.

 

PP:  What are your own experiences with publishing your poetry?

GN: It was interesting publishing my fourth collection through the press in 2007. It wasn’t something that I had planned to do, but it has turned out really well. I sent the original manuscript away to Jacqueline Turner in Canada, for editing, so that David and myself didn’t have to get into any battles over decisions. Jacqueline did an amazing job, which made the whole process really easy. The launches and other readings were a huge success and it was great to be able to have a hands on approach to the whole project as well.

 

graham-nunn-reading-at-qpf-2005

 

PP:  Your biography is quite impressive, and also quite unusual for a writer.  Apart from appearing at numerous literary festivals, teaching, and publishing, you are also the Secretary of HaikuOz.  So, you obviously enjoy working with people and “taking your work out there”.  What is your view on performing poetry?  How much does an audience matter to you?

GN: The live setting for me is just as important as the writing process. I think to do your work justice, you need to pay equal attention to your skills as a performer. When you stand up in front of an audience, you owe it to yourself and to them to make sure you are well rehearsed. I cannot stand it when people shuffle paper, um and ah, shift around nervously and don’t know how to use a microphone. Poems need to perform on and off the page. I love performing and feel that getting up in front of an audience has helped keep my writing disciplined.

 

 
PP:  Do you feel you get a non-verbal response that’s quite strong when you’re reading to an audience?

GN: I love the interaction that takes place in a live setting. It never ceases to send a shiver up my spine. Even after hundreds of performances, standing behind a microphone with nothing more than your words is a rush. Looking into that sea of faces, having the opportunity to take this group of people on a journey. It is a really powerful thing. It is the most incredible feeling when you get that sense that you are all moving together.

 

 
PP:  Do you feel you are taking a risk by entering those different spaces?  Is it quite important for you to take risks as a writer?

GN: Putting your poetry out there in front of a live audience is always a risk. You cannot control how people will interact with your work. That is what makes it exciting, because in the end you can only control the quality of your performance and your writing. The audience to a large extent is out of your hands. For me, taking the risk and getting up in front of new audiences will always be extremely important. I love the gigs where you go and there are only 10 or 15 people there, and the room is big and you have to work really hard as much as the gigs where the room is full, the vibe is up and the audience are right there with you. It keeps everything fresh and in perspective.

 

PP:  Can you say something about your interest in haiku?

GN: Haiku was my doorway into poetry. In my mid-twenties I got turned on to Kerouac and read Desolation Angels. What stood out to me were the little poems that appeared often at the end of each piece of prose. They really lit the prose up, made everything immediate. I did my research and it wasn’t long until I had devoured Higginson’s Haiku Handbook, Basho’s, ‘On Love and Barley’ and the rest is really history. It is a form that I will never fall out of love with.

 

 
PP:  Following are some examples of your haiku taken from Famous Reporter 33.  Can you suggest the elements you consider go into the making of a “good” haiku?

clear river
the fisherman’s
un-netted reflection

breathless night
the cicadas
shut up

between the dunes
evening mist
piles up

GN: When you boil it down, it comes down to the ability of the poet to not only capture the essence of a moment, but to find the words that transcend the moment and give the haiku that feeling of eternity.

 

PP:  What is your involvement as Secretary of HaikuOz?

GN: I am really privileged to work as part of a dedicated, professional team. My role is to promote haiku related happenings to the community via the website and through the QLD Poetry Festival, I have had the opportunity to able to put on a series of workshops and haiku readings to continue the development of the local haiku community.

 

PP:  You have published a collection of your haiku, A Zen Firecracker.  Do you have another collection in the pipeline?

GN: In 2007 I was Poet-in-Residence at Brisbane’s Royal National Show (The Ekka). I wrote a series of 30 haiku, 10 of which were used as part of some public art projects in and around the Ekka Shwgrounds and the Museum of Brisbane. I am also currently working on a manuscript that will integrate haiku. Always new projects on the boil!

 

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PP:  What led you to writing prose poetry as in the haibun that you so successfully write?

GN: I had a whole series of scribblings, bits and pieces of haiku like writing that wasn’t working just as haiku, so I decided to turn my hand to haibun and the results have been really satisfying. As soon as I started writing, the form brought out the best in the ideas that I had at the time. The end result, Measuring the Depth, was a really important step forward for me. I learned a lot about myself as a writer and felt that I gained a lot of discipline during the writing of that collection. 

 

PP:  Many examples of your haibun that I’ve read are quite short: perhaps one or two paragraphs followed by a haiku.  Could you summarise the reason for the brevity of your pieces?  Here is one example I particularly like which we published in Kokako 6:

 

In a Heartbeat

She slips off her stockings and throws them at my feet.  Pulls her hair back and sits in front of me on the bed.  Tells me it’s $200 straight or $250 for that little bit extra.   My eyes drift out the window.  The sun-bloodied sky is slicing through the hotel blinds, streaming through her hair.  She pours another whiskey and crawls over me.

a heartbeat later
leaving my longing
inside her

 

GN: Brevity is something that I have always admired in all forms of writing. I like the fact that what you leave out is just as important as what you leave in. I like bringing the reader to the poem and then giving them the bones. I don’t like to give too much away. It is important that the reader/audience has room to interact with the poem and move in and out of the images.

 

PP:  You recently published your partner Julie Beveridge’s collection of haibun Home is where the Heartache is (Small Change Press, 2007).  What is it like living in a household containing two writers, both of them working in the same genre?  Do you share ideas, edit each other’s poems or work together in any way?

GN: I love the sharing of ideas that happens in our house. I had the absolute pleasure of editing Julie’s collection. It was a brilliant experience and one that I would happily take on again. Editing someone elses work and having your work edited teaches you a lot about your own writing. I  think that this is something that is sadly lacking in the poetry community. Quality feedback is often hard to find!

 

PP:  Can you identify some poets who have inspired you?

GN: The poets who inspire me most are the people that I work closely with. Jacqueline Turner is a huge inspiration to me. Her work is such a rush. No matter how many times I read her work it is always fresh and exciting. Rob Morris and Matt Hetherington who I have had the pleasure of publishing through Small Change Press constantly remind me of why I love poetry. David Stavanger, co-founder of Small Change Press, is always reminding me of the importance of taking risks. Rowan Donovan, is always there to remind me of grace and humility and my partner Julie is so grounded, so honest. She keeps everything real and is never afraid to shoot straight.

 

PP:   Do you have any thoughts about how to anticipate the future of your work?

GN: I guess I anticipate that I will be doing this until I am no longer able to to do it for whatever reason. It’s like Bukowski said, ‘if you have been chosen, it will do it by itself and it will keep on doing it until you die, or it dies in you.’

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