Tuesday, August 29, 2017


My poem, Planet, was published today at Girls Will Be Girls. Please to read and I hope you enjoy it :-)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

X Voice Rockstar Talent (Private Month of Poetry)

OK so this is DEFINITELY not high art, but hey. I was thinkin' it, so I writ it. It's only meant to be an observational frippery!

X Voice Rockstar Talent

so I have become mildly obsessed with talent shows
(if obsession is a thing you can do mildly, in your pyjamas, sipping tea)

I like the lights and the staging and the way
they try to convince you that everything is unknown and spontaneous
the way they hide the scripting and choreography, until
some disgruntled contestant dressed like Pink from 2006 blurts out the truth
in a fit of entirely unplanned rage at not getting her shot to -

I don't know; advance in the show, I guess
be a temporary star in the firmament, until the machine chews her up and spits her out -

the way they show the little snippets of conversations between the judges
like we're eavesdropping on a private chat, except, of course, it's evident we're not
I like the way the hosts play up the cameras, and the way
all the contestants say very slightly modified versions of the same thing
a whole lot of people claiming the very same dream in much the same language

I like the way that the shows spring their surprises, and how, when you've watched a few
you can see the next shock act coming from two ad breaks away
I like how the comedians are sometimes genuinely funny, and how the magic acts
are satisfyingly bewildering

I like the way the singers on The Voice always prevaricate when choosing a coach
and always have to say "But I love all of you so much!" to keep the vibe going
"This is the hardest decision of my life", and, oh,
I love the fake-o feuding between Blake and Adam
(neither of whom I knew or cared anything about before)
and I loved how Alicia Keys went bareface and turbanned and was still the best-looking person in the room

I like the tear-jerky back-stories and the spots with the families
and how someone is always recovering from some serious ailment, or
is singing for their beloved deceased grandpa or for love of their children or their mama

I like the fact that some of the singers can actually sing;
I like even more that a lot of them can't, but try anyway.

I liked the Storm Trooper dancers, a lot.

I wonder, sometimes, what appeals to me about these shows.
That they are constructed, I don't doubt, analytically, for a minute;
I don't think much happens on them that someone didn't think would make great TV.
I know they select acts for a variety of responses:
laughter, tears, affection, nostalgia, cringeing, disgust, contempt.
I know the audience reacts as they are supposed to react:
I know I, largely, do too.

And yet.

There is a small, unwordly, uncynical part of me, somewhere, in my cockle-heart
that wants the myth of translation to be true.
Something that wants to believe that lives can really be changed
by singing beautifully, or clowning uproariously, or dancing fantastically
in a big auditorium in front of cameras and Simon Cowell.
Something that wants to believe that most neoliberal of all lies:
that performance art is a commodity that anyone can buy -
a field of gold waiting for anyone with the stomach to get up and try.

Something that wants to believe that a poet could stand on stage,
speak their words, and quiet the crowd into reverie
and fill up all the holes that life has dug out
and get the audience to their feet to say:
this is a hurting and a healing place
this is a locus of the real

Even though these shows are facades, and the drum behind them hollow
I still want to believe
I still do
at home, here, in my slippers and dressing gown
watching the next one walk slowly to the X on the floor.

- Kathy, 15/08/17

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Four weeks in review, four weeks in view

The gap between these check-ins seems to be getting wider, which is probably a function of life being a thing that happens, but I still see a value in taking stock from time to time, so here goes.

It's been quite a jam-packed 4 weeks, largely because of the wonderful 2 weeks we spent with our exchange student in the middle period (and really, the three to four days before she arrived were heavily occupied with preparing, and the weekend after she left was lost to an exhausted puddle of catching up).

Work-wise, it's been a odd sort of period for me - some expected work didn't materialise after all, and another project that looked solid has currently gone cold on me (not replying to communications at all). This has left me in the position of actually working only for one client, albeit across two different projects / parts of their organisation, since returning from leave on 10 July.

I'm not overly fond of this as a model, even though, quantitatively, the amount of work has been close to ideal (about 3 days a week, which is perfection really). I am just at the point of starting to get a liiiiiiitle bit concerned about having too many eggs in one basket - part of my task list in the coming week will be to try to confirm if the "cold" project is now actually off, and if it is, to start casting the net out again.

On the other hand, having a manageable workload has freed me to both really get into the spirit of the exchange student process, spend time on my creative writing (ie poetry), and clear away some life administration / planning tasks, so it certainly isn't all bad. I just need to be careful not to settle into a one-client rut, both for tax and business stability reasons.

So here we are:

FOUR WEEKS IN REVIEW (17 July - 13 August)
- Exchange student visit: 23 July - 5 August. This was EPIC but as I have written about it at length in other posts, I won't say more here.
- Eldest's 14th birthday celebrations: special dinner on the night, family afternoon tea (yesterday)
- 3 x skating, 3 x chess, 3 x gymnastics, 2 x jujitsu
- Variety Night clarinet performances for 14 year old
- Heart stress test for me (I passed :-)
- 2 x lunches with friends
- 12 days of paid work across two projects
- Entered a poem in a competition
- First serious editing day on Women of Story collection
- Online Book Club  (19 July) discussing Roxane Gay's Hunger (Book was great, so was discussion!)
- Booking accommodation and further itinerary planning for Japan

FOUR WEEKS IN VIEW (14 August - 10 September)
- Projected 12 days of work if only current two projects; if third / others come online, could go up
- The usual extracurriculars each week: gymnastics, jujitsu, chess, skating
- Next Online Book Club (16 August) discussing Arundhati Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
- Cake making for 14 year old's Star Trek cake
- 14 year old's friends birthday party (dinner at a hotel)
- REALLY get passport applications done!!!
- Family Father's Day celebrations (a week late to accommodate travelling relos - 10 September)
- Booking accommodation and further itinerary planning for Japan
- Finalise activity bookings for Sydney trip (late September)
- Work on Women of Story edits and schedule next editing / review session (ideally for mid-September)
- Write minimum 5 new poems
- Submit minimum 2 poems for publication or competitions

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Saturday haiku on Love Your Bookshop Day (Private Month of Poetry)

I have to say, so far this Month of Poetry is working out well for me. I have only missed 3 days so far, but one of the non-poem days was actually not a non-poetry day - I spent yesterday with my poetry book editor working on the poems that will be part of the Women of Story collection.

Today I am pursuing my usual Saturday morming endevours with a poetic twist, which has given rise to this little frippery of a haiku set. Great art it ain't, but it does reflect my state of mind.

Saturday haiku on Love Your Bookshop Day

reading poetry
in a West hipster cafe
coffee hot and sweet

the words join the world
tangling in teacups and beards
woodsmoke in the lens

outside, the sun's up
despite the breathy winter
balloons in the sky

books are calling out
from the shop behind the fans
art that makes the world

(or, perhaps, instead:
makes the world tolerable -
speaking truth aloud).

how fortunate, I,
to be here, and whole, and free:
words leaking like love

- Kathy, 12/8/17

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Untitled Villanelle (Private Month of Poetry)

Day 8 was a bust, but today I pootled around with this villanelle. For some reason today my mind was on a number of people I've loved and lost over my years as a resident on the planet, from my little brother to a number of dear friends. It doesn't have a title yet and it's still getting there, but it might have a seed of something worth salvaging in it.

Progress so far this month has been:
1 August: Ignition (Poem based on the story of the Little Match Girl)
2 August: Bones
3 August: Series of not very good haikus about my cat (but at least I wrote something!!)
4 August: Untitled poem in progress based on the character of Anna Karenina
5 August: NO POEM (some further refinement on the Karenina poem though)
6 August: Villanelle called Starblind (not great, as the rhyme doesn't sit well yet - to be worked on)
7 August: Moon (retitled from its first working title, Blood)
8 August: NO POEM
9 August: Untitled Villanelle

Ghosts are gliding through the room tonight,
All the lost are coming back to stay;
Outside, the stars above are blinding-bright.

The dead are gone, forever out of sight,
At least that's what the wisest people say;
Ghosts are gliding through the room tonight.

A hint of rose-water invokes the rite,
The faces of them all as clear as day;
Outside, the stars above are blinding-bright.

A boy whose passing shuttered down the light,
A woman stolen, years before the grey;
Ghosts are gliding through the room tonight.

"They're still inside" is true, but yet feels trite
A strange denial of the melting clay;
Outside, the stars above are blinding-bright.

In the air I reach with inner sight,
Logic gone, wide open to the fey;
Ghosts are gliding through the room tonight.
Outside, the stars above are blinding-bright.

- Kathy, 9/08/17

Monday, August 7, 2017

On the experience of hosting an exchange student (and Private Month of Poetry check in)

Our Japanese exchange student departed early Saturday morning, bound for a few days in Sydney with her school group before flying to Singapore for a 2-day stop and then home to the town of Kani in Gifu Prefecture, Japan.

It's taken me a couple of days of reflection to be ready to write about the experience overall, as it was a very intense one, in ways I both was and wasn't expecting. Much of the weekend was spent slumped in an exhausted puddle, recovering from the much higher than normal social and physical engagement of the past two weeks - time we all needed, which was simultaneously very good but also quite melancholy. It seems ridiculous to say after only two weeks, but my house felt - feels - too empty now, with one less teenager in it.

Probably the most important thing to say about the experience, for me personally, is that I learned something I always suspected to be true, which is that my maternal impulse has no practical limits. Language barrier aside, my desire to take care of our student and make sure she was happy was extremely powerful; and finding ways to communicate with her was essential. By day three, she was asking me to braid her hair for school and talking (often via Google Translate!) about the things she likes and the things that make her sad or worried in her life. Substitute-parenting via an app on my phone was a new experience, not without its challenges, but it was was rewarding as any interaction with a young person in one's life. (Which is to say - for me - extremely rewarding. I like kids and teens, often better than I like adults - even when they're completely maddening, which is, of course, often).

As a family, we found the two weeks amazing for shaking us out of our rut (we have a pretty deep rut and it involves too much screen time and too much hermiting in our house). We got out and did things we'd either never done before (ArtVo, High Tea at the Langham) or haven't done for years (Werribee Zoo). We explored our own local area - the shops, the beach, the parks - with fresh eyes. For the kids, seeing our student try Australian food that she'd never encountered before was an eye-opener. (She loved BBQ, pav, fairy bread, roast lamb, risotto, and cheesy potato bake; didn't mind fish & chips, cheese & bacon scrolls, cherry ripe and Tim Tams; and thought Vegemite was the work of Satan).

My girls (and husband and I) really came to love our student. She is a beautiful person, with a gentle, slightly nerdy, goofy nature that fitted in so well with our family dynamic. She and my 12 year old shared a devotion to ice skating, and happily watched competition skating clips on YouTube, skating-themed anime, and taught each other full skating-related vocabularies in their respective languages. (When we travel to Japan next April, we are *totally sorted* if we want to ask someone where is the closest ice rink, where we can hire skates, or whether they can do a triple jump :-) The day we actually went skating, I thought they would both burst with excitement. It was a lovely thing, seeing that connection grow.

I could write on and on about the strangeness and wonderfulness of trying to bridge the language gap (it was often tricky but never less than euphoric when we got there); about listening to the cadence of speech in a language not your own, and rekeying your ear to hear your own flat-vowelled accent through another filter; the pleasure of rediscovering not just your own city, but the awesomeness that your family is capable of; the hilarities and delights of sharing food and culture; even the extremely dorky pleasure of spontaneous singalongs whenever we struck a song that, miraculously, we all knew.

All of that would be true, but the truest thing of all is very simple to say: We made a friend in this fortnight. Whether or not we are able to stay in touch long-term, time alone will tell, but it has been one of the richest two weeks of our lives in the past few years.


Just a little tack-on to check in:

1 August: Ignition (Poem based on the story of the Little Match Girl)
2 August: Bones
3 August: Series of not very good haikus about my cat (but at least I wrote something!!)
4 August: Untitled poem in progress based on the character of Anna Karenina
5 August: NO POEM (some further refinement on the Karenina poem though)
6 August: Villanelle called Starblind (not great, as the rhyme doesn't sit well yet - to be worked on)
7 August: Just started working on a poem tentatively titled Blood

So that's one day missed out of the first week - not terrible.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Private Month of Poetry: Progress

1 August: Ignition (Poem based on the story of the Little Match Girl)
2 August: Bones
3 August: Series of not very good haikus about my cat (but at least I wrote something!!)
4 August: Untitled poem in progress based on the character of Anna Karenina

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bones (Poem)

This is today's Private Month of Poetry effort - it's a bit laboured and hypertragic, I think, but I was in that kind of blame-my-ancestors mood. Yesterday, as I said I would, I did the first draft of the Little Match Girl poem, which will be for my poetry chapbook, and I polished it today - it's called Ignition. Two days down, 29 to go!

The missteps of people long ago consigned to ground (or ash)
circle, lazily, in double helix;
broken blood and paltry mitochondria
all the ills the flesh is heir to –

All the ills the flesh brings to harvest –

Too much cousin-wedding, on remote and gull-strewn islands;
too much eating – or not – of foods turning toxins
The inheritance:
long Norman noses, pale grub skin, and these –
a symphony of stutters in the code
every year lived, another organ faltering

If not for the counter-balance of melanin and merriness,
gift of a good fairy from central Spain, back when Ireland starved,
perhaps, no prospects of life at all.

The fate is written in the DNA, described in bones.
Nothing else matters nearly so much; a sad thing, somewhat;
Also a comfort, betimes.
The intricate story, over and under the earth, calling, calling,
The sun moves without reverse, and we with it,
Cells attuned to dying, ready to be not:

But not today.

But not today.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

August Challenge: A Private Month of Poetry

As some of my friends and reader/s will be aware, I traditionally participate each January in the Month of Poetry (MOP) challenge, which involves - wait for it - writing a poem every day in the month of January. There's a great group of supportive women who participate and give each other feedback, help and advice. We share our daily efforts on a closed Facebook group that is open all year round for ongoing poetic workshopping. We're even (slowly, slowly) pulling together an anthology from the group, tentatively titled Limina.

January has come to be identified in my mind with poems, with the daily exercise and discipline of them. I tend to write to themes - for the last three Januaries, I have done poems about women from seminal stories (Torah, mythology, fairytale), trying to tell the tales again in a counter-authorial voice. I'm actually working on drawing together those poems into a chapbook for self-publication (title pending - if you have a great idea for a title for a book of poems about women from stories, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!)

However, I am increasingly feeling that a sustained burst once a year, with sporadic poetic output the rest of the year, is not enough to really grow me as a poet. I want to start being much more intentional about my poetry and about finding ways to communicate it. Part of that is also about overcoming my pervasive sense of not-good-enoughedness, and the only way through that particular brain weasel is to keep writing enough and submitting enough that I don't have time to second-guess myself constantly.

Recently I submitted a poem to an online journal after the encouragement of my poetry group, and was thrilled (astonished, but happy!) when they accepted it and bought it for publication. (I will link to it when it runs!) I would like to place more poems over the next 12 months - not for the money, because hello poetry is not a remunerative profession, but for the immense satisfaction of sharing the things I am trying to share when I write them.

 I do identify as a writer primarily as a poet. I write fiction from time to time, but it is not my main jam, and it's not where I feel my voice is most authentically what I want it to be. With a busy freelance professional writing business and three kids, I don't have the time to invest in making myself a better fiction writer, and I am really OK with that.

What I want - what I want so much - is to be poet I want to be; to be able to express the things I am burdened to say in a way that has meaning for people other than me. To do that, I feel like I need not just more craft education, but also just more practice. I am made better every year by doing January's MOP, but I want more from myself than one month of delight and hard work.

So August, I have decided, is going to be another Month of Poetry for me. It'll be a different experience, going it alone (although I am sure I will post some of my poems into my group for critique, which they always very kindly provide). I will post occasional poems here, but mostly I will be keeping the work private, to see what grows from it. But I will be using the blog as an accountability tool, to note what work has been done.

To kick things off - today I am working on a poem for my chapbook, which picks up and twists the story of the Little Match Girl (from Hans Christian Andersen). It is only just started at this stage but I think I will get it done.