Tag: poetry

Life can be so full of surprises

In the wake of the devastating 2019-20 bushfires that raged across so much of eastern Australia for weeks, I wrote a poem that raged against prime minister Scott Morrison’s total failure to show any kind of genuine leadership, or even common decency, empathy or humanity.

The poem was a piece of writing sparked by the words submitted in that week’s Word Expo – a word game I’ve been playing now for well over 10 years with writers from around the world, although these days limited to Australia and New Zealand. Writers submit a word, one that’s not been previously used, and from the disparate list invited to create a piece of writing. It can be anything – poetry, anecdote, story, script – the only criteria is that at least three of the submitted words are included.

While I still hesitate to describe myself as a poet, poetry is often what emerges from this weekly list of words. And most of the poems are political, often relating to a situation that’s been dominating the media in some capacity. It’s quite cathartic to vent one’s anger, frustration or despair at whatever is occurring that week in the state, the country or the world.

In January 2020 it was Australia’s bushfires, and the breathtakingly unbelievable discovery our PM had deemed it OK to quietly creep off to Hawaii with his family while half the country was engulfed in flames. His reasoning for abandoning communities whose homes had been destroyed, and landscapes, forests, animals scorched and decimated, and exhausted firefighters and volunteers, was because he ‘doesn’t hold a hose, mate’.

My poem was in the form of a letter and entitled Dear Mr Morrison. Once written it joined others in a bulging portfolio I keep in the filing cabinet, and that might occasionally be rolled out for a reading at the monthly Poetry Pedlars evening. But after spotting a call out for contributions for an anthology – planned as a fundraiser to support sanctuaries overwhelmed with wildlife victims from the fires – I offered this one, since it fitted the climate change/bushfire theme essential to submission requirements.

My poem was accepted, and the anthology was duly published in 2020. It includes impressive and moving comments and personal accounts and hopefully raised significant dollars to aid the rescue and recovery of the millions of animals and birds injured and displaced as a result of those terrible and disastrous fires. While I was not unnaturally pleased to see it in print, it never occurred to me that publication in this modest tome might prompt additional interest.

So an email seeking permission to use an extract from Dear Mr Morrison, from Australian academic Eve Darian-Smith who is based in the US, and was writing a book on the global response to climate change from a world where right-wing governments were on the rise, was completely unexpected. And she was terribly apologetic that she couldn’t offer me any payment, should I agree to her request.

To say I was gobsmacked is an understatement! Needless to say I agreed. Who wouldn’t at such an unlooked-for opportunity!

Publication was scheduled to be in early 2022, and I was promised a copy of the book. Late last week it arrived, and sure enough that extract is included (on pages 57 and 58 actually).

Sometimes you never know how, or with who, the words we write will resonate and find their own life in the world. It’s highly likely the idea for the poem was born on a Thursday, so it could be argued this particular ‘child’ was always likely to have ‘far to go’!

Ideas are like rabbits

The postie delivered copies of the FAW NW anthology last week – a very well put together volume that includes seven of my poems. It actually looks like a thumping good read, and I’m not just saying that because I have work included in it. Going on the pieces I’ve already read we really do have a wealth of writerly talent in this state – and the majority of contributions are by Tasmanian writers.

The book is available online through Dymocks, Angus & Robertson, and Booktopia as well as direct from the Burnie-based editor. I understand sales are quite brisk so a second print run is looking highly likely. As is the way with so many of these writing group anthologies, the majority of which are produced on a shoestring budget, there is no payment for contributors. It seems poets are rarely remunerated for their efforts unless they’ve developed a significant following and reputation, and been fortunate enough to achieve publishing success with a mainstream publisher, so it’s kudos only in the case of this book. No wonder that hackneyed phrase about starving in garrets is applied equally to poets, as well as artists.

But publication is a validation, and this book is a nice addition to the CV. It also firms up that decision to put together my own volume of work, and have a crack at sending off some more of what I judge to be my better efforts to those small press magazines considered ‘literary’ that are among the few publishing opportunities for poetry. And the ones who pay their contributors!

And if you’re wondering about the title – it’s from a quote by John Steinbeck.

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

 

A stint in the spotlight

Nobody was more surprised than me when I was asked to be the guest poet at the monthly gathering of Tas Poets Performing. I’ve never seriously considered myself a poet, and still struggle to do so despite having had several poems published over the year. So I really did think Marilyn was joking when she said would I be September’s guest poet. She wasn’t joking, and persuaded me to agree.

I’m an occasional attendee at these poetry nights, which are held in a local pub and attract an audience of anywhere between five and twenty. They’re usually a chance to catch up with fellow writers – and those I consider ‘real’ poets like my friend Marilyn – and I generally take one or two of my political poems to read in the open mic set. And they do seem to be well received, which is lovely.

But having to select poems to fill a 10 to 15 minute slot was a different matter altogether. What to choose when the bulk of them are undeniably political and often less than flattering to politicians and governments of the day. They are also of the moment; a snapshot in time. I wasn’t really aware of that aspect until I pulled out the folders and realised just how many poems I’d written over the last 15 years ago.

I’m an accidental poet. In the early days of the pulp mill campaign I was invited to join a word game by New Zealand writer, Yvonne. I didn’t know her really, but her name often cropped up as the author of a story or essay published in the same UK small press magazine I was also beginning to have some success with. After spotting an item in a writing magazine about her first novel being published, I emailed my congratulations as a fellow southern hemisphere writer who was also achieving success. To may astonishment she replied and invited me to join Word Expo, a weekly online word game that was seeking some new players.

Because it was described as a game, not a writing exercise, I decided to give it a go and for reasons that remain a mystery to me what emerges from the disparate list of words submitted by that week’s players, is often poetry. And they are usually political. During the campaign years that meant many of them were about the pulp mill.
For my guest poet gig therefore the mill was one of the three issues I focussed on. The others being refugees, and climate change. It was a fun evening and it’s crystallised a decision to put together a book of these poems that are a poetic social and political history. Although quite when I shall have time to do this is unclear!

I’ve decided it’s also time I officially ‘come out’ as a poet, and added Tas Poet Performer to my writer CV!

 

I’m in shock!

I still feel a bit of a fraud when it comes to my attempts at poetry writing as I don’t really consider myself a poet at all. I started writing poetry after being invited years ago to join an online weekly word game played by a few writers. Most were based in New Zealand, and the instigator and coordinator of the game is a Kiwi, but initially there were a couple from South Africa as well. The idea is to create a short piece of writing – anything from essay, anecdote, story, script or poem – from the words submitted by contributing players each week. Previously used words are not allowed, and the selection is completely random but at least three of the submitted words must be included. Sometimes this can prove quite challenging – especially if only three people played, providing just three words! There’s no obligation to play every week, but those who miss five in a row forfeit their place – although they can re-join at any time.

For reasons that remain unclear to me, poetry is usually what emerges from these disparate words, and over the years most have been political responses to whatever might be happening in the country or world at that time. Writing them provided an emotional release during the pulp mill campaign, allowing me to pen a scathing reply to whatever aspect dominated the week’s headlines.  Some will be included in the book. Poems are entirely instinctive, and follow no accepted style or form, but they have a rhythm to them even if they rarely rhyme in the traditional sense.

So they’ve become something of a social and political commentary over the years, and friends who are way more accomplished in writing the poetic form than I am, have also been generous in their praise and appreciation, even suggesting I should consider publication. Although largely sceptical and reluctant to claim a talent I don’t altogether feel is deserved, I have occasionally followed their advice and achieved some publishing success in several small press publications.

Now however, I’ve recently received an email from a US-based Australian academic, so maybe it’s time to have more confidence in my poetry-writing ability. University of California academic Eve Darian-Smith is seeking copyright permission to use an extract from a poem included in the ’From the Ashes’ anthology, published early last year as a bushfire fundraiser to assist wildlife sanctuaries care for burned and displaced animals.

The planned book is: “. . . . Planet on Fire: Climate Change and Global Free-Market Authoritarianism” which examines governmental policies and neoliberal logics that prioritize corporate interests over those of citizens and the environment. The book is to be published by the University of California Press, [in 2022] which is a non-profit scholarly publisher. The book is based on scholarly research and is intended for sale to libraries, scholars, students, and interested general readers on a non-profit basis.”

Now you know why I’m in shock!

Just ‘Wow!’ to echo the response of one of my friends when I told him!