Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Reunion Arouses Old Memories, Creates New



Ruth entered our lives just before Christmas 2002. Our friend Wendy emailed from Thailand, where she was living at the time, to say a delightful young Irish woman she knew was to be visiting Australia and wanted to connect with me, both as Reiki Master and Pagan wise woman.

She turned up, we all clicked instantly, and mutually decided she should board with us rather than looking for other accommodation. A resourceful lass, she soon found waitressing work in the area, and — being pretty, charming, and very nice —attracted the interest of several young men.

She was herself a Reiki Master in Tera Mai Reiki, which was unfamiliar to me. We swapped initiations and training. She stayed several months with us, and joined in our magickal circle.

Then we phoned our friend Ray in Perth to wish him Happy Christmas, only to be told by his parents he had died from a heart condition. They had not known where to contact us.

‘I don’t suppose you want his house?’ they asked.

Ray had always said, ‘There’s a house here if you want it.’ We hadn’t taken him seriously. It transpired that it was built on his parents’ property under conditions which did not allow it to be rented out. Ray had met a woman overseas whom he married, and built the house for her — but the marriage was brief and he lived in it alone until he died. Had we taken him up on his offer, he would have been happy to move in with his parents.

A rent-free home was tempting, now that we understood the situation. Ray’s mother said, ‘I only want someone to water the roses’ in return for the accommodation. Ray had planted a lot, as a hobby, and it was now her job to keep them watered. Adding to the attraction was the fact that my favourite aunty and uncle had moved to Perth many years previously and I had not seen them since. Now they were in their eighties. My aunt had been a ‘second mother’ to me at a time when I badly needed one.

Ruth said, ‘You might never see them again. I really think you should take this opportunity. If I pay you enough rent in advance, you might be able to get cheap flights, and I could look after the house and the cats for you while you’re gone.’

So that’s what we did. Cheap flights there and back meant we would have to stay for three months — time enough to catch up with all the relatives, including various cousins there, and to see if we wanted to move there permanently. As it turned out, we didn’t. We enjoyed Perth very much, got on well with Ray’s parents, and had a lovely catch up with the rellies. We even fluked being there for Writers’ Week, attended all the free sessions, and made a new writer friend we’re still in touch with.

But after all, the lifestyle wasn’t for us. Eventually we missed the east coast and our friends and activities here. Also, we were concerned about security of tenure in Ray’s house if we burned our bridges. His parents suggested putting something in their wills to cover this, but we said, ‘What about your other son? Hadn’t you better ask him his wishes before you do that?’ He was married and living in another suburb, but it turned out that he would like to inherit both houses after his parents’ death, to use one for his home and the other for his business. In fact, when we phoned last year to see if they had survived local bushfires, he was already in residence in Ray’s house, and busy hosing the place. I imagine, as his parents got older, it made sense for him to be on the spot to give them a hand.

After we retuned east, Ruth stayed on a while longer, which gave us time to cement the friendship. She went out briefly with two of her suitors in turn. With the third, things developed into a bit of a romance. He was very keen, but by then she was getting messages from Des, an old boyfriend whom she had actually grown up with in Ireland, begging her to join him in the United States where he was now working. As extra incentive, he said he could get her waitressing work and she could earn very good money in the wealthy resort where he was based. She was torn, but decided that if she didn’t go, she’d never know for sure which man to choose. (That in itself probably indicated that she was lukewarm about the Aussie bloke.)

Once she got there, it was a foregone conclusion. We got emails telling us what a wonderful man Des had become, so thoughtful, so charming, so witty.... The Aussie bloke, an avocado farmer, came round to our place one day to return a book we’d lent him. It was about the author’s spiritual experiences. He said he’d liked it all right until it came to the part where she was communicating with insects to leave her garden crops alone.

‘Only Jesus Christ can do that!’ he said. (Perhaps he had a vested interest in thinking so; the local fruit growers feel they MUST shoot the local birds to protect their crops. What if they were wrong?) I realised this would never have been the right man for Ruth, with her Reiki energy healing and her understanding of nature spirits etc.

She and Des married and now have a daughter, Jasmine, two and a half years old. For the last couple of years they have been living in Vietnam, where Des has been working in construction. This Christmas Ruth decided to bring the family to Australia — closer than Ireland and a lot warmer this time of year. They visited friends in Newcastle, spent some time on the Gold Coast, and are now at Kingscliff, not far from here. They will be in Sydney on New Year’s Eve, watching the fireworks, before flying back to Vietnam.

So, after eight years, we met up again with our lovely friend when she and her husband took us out for lunch on Christmas Eve. We finally met Des, every bit as nice as she said he was, and Jasmine, who was slightly shy and completely delightful. Des told us he was loving Australia and the Aussies — everyone so friendly and helpful.

We went to the Tumbulgum Tavern, which overlooks the water at the confluence of the Tweed and Rous Rivers. We feasted on massive servings of grilled barramundi for Andrew and me, beer battered John Dory for Ruth, and an even huger plate of steak for Des. They said that huge steaks and fresh fish are hard to get in Vietnam.

It was as if we had seen Ruth only yesterday — except that, at 40, I think she is even more beautiful now. It was as if we had seen Des only yesterday too: we were so immediately at ease with each other. They drove us back home and regretfully took their leave as Jasmine needed a rest and they still had to do food shopping for xmas. But with such a strong connection confirmed, somehow we couldn’t feel sad. Besides, they promised to return!





                                                           

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Writng 'Small Stones'

Would you like a 2012 with more colour, more juice, more clarity, more deliciousness?

During January, Kaspa and Fiona Robyn from ‘Writing Our Way Home’ will be encouraging you to pay attention to one thing every day and write it down.

You don’t have to be a writer to take part. You just need to have three minutes spare a day, and a notebook or a blog, and the desire to slow down and fall in love with the world a day at a time.

Do jump here to find out more, and Kaspa and Fiona hope to see you in the river. Here’s how last year’s small-stoners found the experience:

“I have to tell you, readers, I have loved writing a small stone every day for the last 31 days. It’s the most glorious exercise in mindfulness, in pulling yourself into this moment, and if you haven’t tried it yet please give it a go, if only for a week.”
~Rachel Hawes, writer of small stones

“My father was recently put into Hospice care and dealing with the imminent loss and pain and joy of his journey has become sweeter for me because I am paying attention. That is no small thing.”
~Lisa Haight, writer of small stones

“…I keep finding that [writing a small stone] doesn’t eat up time or mental space; on the contrary, time stops and a new space is created.”
~Jean Morris, writer of small stones

“Writing small observations daily was like a spiritual experience for me. I felt happy, joyous and free. I looked forward to my daily meditation. As a result, I feel awakened and alive; and I am truly thankful.”
~Laurie Kolp, writer of small stones

As for me, I've done this before, loved it like mad, and will be doing it again this January, at my Stones for the River blog. You're all invited to read and comment.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Flo has grown

As one would expect. :) She will be turning three in February. In the same month she'll be getting a little brother or sister (and also a new cousin).



We had a lovely visit with her and her parents yesterday, sitting on their extensive verandah, enjoying the trees on their property, and being fed on organic pasta, home-made pesto, and home-grown salad.



The tiger I bought Flo many months ago was a hit. The Universe knows what it's doing, and the timing was just right. Her parents told us she started making Big Cat roaring noises about two days ago! (No, none of them knew what I was bringing.)



She remembered us, although she hadn't seen us in a long time, and chatted to us about things — her necklace, a dead spider, the fairy wings she wore when she was flower girl at a wedding recently.



As for her parents, we all just picked up where we left off, as you do with some friends, and it was as if we'd seen them only the day before.  But we vowed it would not be so long next time!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

We are going to see Flo!


Also her parents, Dean and Tess.

Flo is our Youngest God-daughter. She was born in February 2009 and for some time we saw a lot of her, and of our good friends, her parents. Life circumstances change — e.g. we moved house — and it’s been months now since we visited each other. Last summer, every time we tried to plan it, it would either be a stinking hot day or one that was pouring with rain, and we’d all decide to stay home instead. But tomorrow, finally, it’s happening! We’ve charged up the battery in the camera. The toy tiger I bought her ages ago is ready by the door. And I’m off to bed now to get some sleep, so in the morning I’ll be fresh and ready for the drive.

Here are some pictures from our last visit:


Friday, December 02, 2011

Writer's Journal (exercise): How am I ever going to get out of it?

I would — I bloody would — specify the foot had to fit the slipper, wouldn’t I? Well, she was a pretty girl in that fancy getup she wore to the ball, and my parents seemed so approving. Of course she looked rich, with that carriage and all; that helped. And I was half pissed anyway, the night being so late by the time she made her entrance, and me under pressure about having to choose.

But you know, I’m basically a simple sort of a bloke. I really rather fancied that plump little thing in yellow. Not a great beauty maybe, but she had a wicked sense of humour, a downright nasty streak really — refreshing after all those simpering little tarts. As for Glass Slipper Girl, I don’t think she could string two words together; at least she didn’t say anything to me while we were dancing, not even when I slid my hand down to her bottom just to see how she’d react. She might never have noticed, for all the response I got. Dumb, if you ask me.

So how can I get out of it, is what I want to know. Everyone thinks it’s a match made in heaven. The ceremony has been planned, etc, etc, etc. I’m supposed to send her naughty, plump sister and her other sister and their mother far away out of the kingdom for being mean to old Dummy. If you ask me, there are natural victims and she’s one.

Writer's Journal (exercise): What If Rhett Butler Had Given a Damn?

There would have been no more story if Rhett had given a dam. They would have reconciled and lived happily ever after. Isn’t that what we want, according to Michael R [whose writing course we looked at]?

Well no, not in this case. We leave Scarlett collapsed on her staircase, but with somewhere still to go tomorrow, She’s a resourceful bitch, she’ll figure it out. And besides, I think we all know he really does give a damn, he’s never going to get Scarlett out of his system. But he has to storm off just at that pointy, so the story goes on working in our minds after we leave the cinema or close the book. (Yes, I did both in my time.) Part of the fascination is wondering what Scarlett will get up to next.

Also Rhett has to be a strong character; he can’t just succumb weakly. If he had given a damn, he wouldn’t be the same old swashbuckling, roguish Rhett, Not a very nice person, really. If he had not given a damn, neither would I. As it is, we care very much that Scarlett, having finally seen the light, is left on her own to nut it all out again.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Formal Versifying

I’ve been going through one of my phases of, ‘Who am I kidding? I’m a terribly bad poet!’ I’m told it happens to all of us. My present phase was initially triggered by seeing the movie Camino, which I loved. When someone asked me about it, I began by saying, ‘It was complex.’ It was, and that was one of the things I loved about it. It dealt with a complex situation and didn’t attempt to over-simplify, but to lay out all the complexities for our view. This interested me. For years now I have been aiming for simplicity in my poetry, training myself by practisng haiku and tanka. I realised I’d like to get back to some complexity now.

Then I began looking through this year’s work with the idea of putting together a little collection for xmas presents to family and friends. I was shocked to see how prosey my language has often become. That is not necessarily a side-effect of striving for simplicity, clarity and accessibility — but in my case it’s obviously a danger I have to watch out for. Time for the wheel to turn! I don’t want obscurity, would still like to be clear and accessible, but just ... well ... not so straightforward as to risk dullness and banality.

As I don’t happen to have any complex ideas burning for expression, I decided I’d better try for complexity of form. I find this also leads to heightened language. Restrictions can act as a sort of crucible! If I do enough experimenting with form, perhaps that language will extend to any free verse I might be inspired to create meanwhile.

It’s not an absolutely new thing for me. I have always played with form, whilst preferring free verse and using that most of the time. Now I’m going to focus mainly on form for a while. I don’t know how long — until I get sick of it, I suppose. I’m sure there’ll be some free verse as well, now and then.

The prompts at the wonderful dVerse poetry community are helpful. Some are for specific forms, others suggest particular approaches and techniques which I can use to the same end. I think particularly of a recent prompt on the technique of conflation. The responses to these prompts indicate that there are plenty of others out there who are interested in playing with form, not just me. Some are beginners; some are very accomplished poets indeed. Many of the participants also frequent the (similar) Poets United and imaginary garden with real toads sites.

I was surprised, then, on suggesting to the Free Verse Weekends group on facebook that we might start another group for formal verse, to discover that it is evidently not an activity the excellent poets there usually engage in. (Except for haiku and tanka; many of those same poets are in the facebook Haiku on Friday and Tanka on Tuesday groups as well.) Several expressed themselves willing to give form a go, but I was more looking to see if there was an existing need/desire. Apparently not. So I’ll just continue to play at dVerse etc.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Reluctant Gardener

I miss the smell of my freshly watered mint! I took such pleasure in it every morning, out there early with the hose before the day got too hot. But my mint is gone.

Now that we are settled in the home we expect to inhabit for the rest of our lives, I have at last been making some small progress in gardening. Witches should surely have that connection with the earth, I tell myself. But it doesn’t come naturally. When I was very young — maybe four — my Dad and my Grandma (his mother) thought to instill in me their own love of gardening. They selected a garden bed that could be mine, gave me a little trowel and watched encouragingly as I dug into the earth, turning it over in the way they showed me.

Out of that black dirt came a long, thick, moving thing, the length of my hand and half the width. Its huge, round, segmented body was a white so pale that it was almost transparent — like slime. It nosed about blindly as it encountered the light. I had never seen anything so repulsive. I shrieked, dropped the trowel and ran.‘It’s only a grub,’ they said, but I could not be persuaded back.

I didn’t try again until I was in my late fifties, in my third (and present) marriage. We moved from Melbourne to the Northern Rivers region of NSW, and eventually decided to try growing our own food. It wasn’t a great success. Our pumpkins proliferated, threatening to take over the planet. We simply couldn’t keep up with them, no matter how many we used and gave away. Our lettuces grew high stalks instead of bushy heads, with tiny, separate leaves like miniature branches. We were absolved from dealing with it all when the landlord decided he wanted to live in his house himself.

In our next house, I decided to grow some herbs and was quite proud of my efforts — until the landlady very soon dug them all up, thinking she was getting rid of weeds. After that, I grew geraniums. Nice, hardy, cheerful plants, they’ll grow pretty much anywhere and thrive even for me. But you can’t eat them.

In this present home, I discovered that the previous tenant had planted mint and cherry tomatoes, They both appeared suddenly, under the frangipanni tree out the front. I mulched the ground and built it up, to make a separate area from the lawn. I didn’t want my lawnmower man mowing my edible garden flat! The tomatoes grew in all seasons and we ate them for a year. Then they died.

The mint kept on, but some bug attacked it. It developed holes and brown spots. ‘Soapy water,’ said our handyman, so I put some in a spray and went to work. The holes and the discolouration stopped getting any worse. New mint grew up clean and whole.

The weeds grew up too, thick and strong. A ground cover with small, round leaves interspersed itself among the mint plants. Tough grasses pushed their way in under the tree. It all seemed far too much for me to tackle. Our friend up the end of the street had his 16-year-old grandson staying with him before going off to begin an apprenticeship as a gardener. I thought the lad might like to earn a few dollars, and asked if he would weed my mint bed for me. He would.

And so yesterday he did. I had already shown him the job, and he brought his own tools, so I left him to it. I told him to put all the weeds he dug up into the green bin, as there was a collection of garden refuse scheduled this morning. When he knocked on the door an hour later to say he’d finished, he looked endearingly proud of himself. I went to see. He’d taken everything — mint and all!

What could I do? I thanked him and paid him. Later I looked in the green bin, thinking to find some of the good sprigs of mint and replant them. They were buried deep, not visible. I gave up. The ground under the frangipanni can go back to lawn — which in many ways will be easier. Well, it’s the dark of the moon, a time for endings ... and a time for new beginnings.

Round the back I’ve got some herbs which are trying hard to survive the heat, and a single broccoli from the three seedlings I planted some months ago. The back yard might the place to plant new mint and tomatoes. I miss the smell of freshly watered mint!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Loving my new KOBO: re-reading KIpling

I got the Kobo for my birthday, from my Firstborn, who always knows what I will love even when I don't tell him. In this instance I sort of told him when he was here for a visit recently, by dint of asking his opinion on the iPad. When he found out that all I really wanted that for was to use as an e-book reader, he suggested the iPad was a much too expensive option, both to buy and run. He looked up e-readers online and said, 'If they were cheaper I'd be happy to buy you one, but at that price ...' and pointed me at The Book Depository for cheap printed books.

So when my birthday present arrived, I accused him (in a thrilled kind of way) of being sneaky. He said: 

I got lucky. They had been off the market for a while (presumably because of Borders and A&R going under), but randomly my housemate spotted them at JB HIFI and on the day I went in to check them out, they were on special.  So I figured the time was right :-)

Indeed it was! 

To my delight, it came already loaded with 101 books, described as 'classics' — and room for thousands more. I was amused to note that those already supplied ranged from Irish fairy stories to the Communist Manifesto! Even more interestingly, they included The Iliad and Anna Karenina, which I (shame on me!) still haven't read. Now I can. In fact have begun on The Iliad; still getting through the scholarly introductions, which are rather heavy going but I am interested to read them anyway. (I'm now on the one by Pope, reprinted in this edition, which is more fun than the contemporary intro.)

Then Firstborn reminded me of the existence of Project Gutenberg, where books out of copyright may be downloaded free. Whoopee! (I discovered that the books the Kobo came with must have been acquired there.)  I immediately replenished my Dumas and Bronte collections, which had become depleted over years of moving house; and I added lots of Kipling. 

There, see, my wicked stepmother did do something good for me — she had Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies on her bookshelves and I was allowed to borrow them. So I've been in love with them since I was 15. The stories are good, but it's the interspersed poems I've remembered all this time. Ever since I was 15 I have been able to quote the whole of The Looking Glass (Queen Bess was Harry's daughter!). Let's see, that's 57 years.

I interrupted The Iliad to re-read Puck of Pook's Hill, which I have done, and now I'm halfway through Rewards and Fairies. It makes me tingle all over and curl up my toes with pleasure.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Changing My Mind-Set

(Following from previous post.)

I’m about to turn 72. I’m sure it’s good for my health to finally adopt the habit of a daily nap, as well as resuming an old habit that had lapsed, of meditating daily. I’m sure it’s even better for me to have shifted from the frantic, stressed, ‘I must try and finish this before I get kicked off the net’ mind-set. My new resolution means that now, whenever access grinds to a halt (8:10 this morning) I calmly turn off the wireless modem and do other things, either on or off the computer — instead of struggling indefinitely, trying all the little tricks I’ve learned to get back online for 5 minutes, 2 minutes....

However the late-night plan hasn’t helped my internet access problem. That has now become unstable even after midnight!  But Monday this week I had a smooth run until lunchtime. (It felt like Christmas.) And on Tuesday it lasted until 9 am. So the new plan is to get to bed at a decent hour and get up earlier in the morning. 6.15 is usual, when the cats wake us up for breakfast. Perhaps I’ll try 5.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Changing My Lifestyle

Our internet access is atrocious. We live in a wireless only area on the border of a new estate with a fast growing population. The networks get severely overloaded. It was all right the first six months we were here, then we had problems and bought a signal booster. Six months after that we needed a bigger and better signal booster. Down the track again, we had to get our handyman friend to come and mount it on the roof for us. By now our access is worse than ever. We can get online early in the day and late at night. It used to be that we had a clear go before 8 am and after 10pm; now it's more like before 7am and after midnight.

Sometimes there is intermittent access during the day, but very unpredictable. We can get kicked off without notice, and maybe only get on for a few minutes anyway. Or it is agonisingly slow. Or we can get our email but no Skype, or vice-versa. Or I can read other people's blogs but can't see my own. But mostly we just don't have daytime access.

The reason is that we are 'too far from the exchange' — but this doesn't mean geographically. It is to do with the length of the old copper cables, which were laid long before there was anyone living here. Because of the Government's National Broadband Network roll out of fibre optic cable, Telstra is not going to upgrade the copper cable network any more; it would be a waste of money.

We seriously considered moving house. But we really don't want to. I think we'd be lucky to find again such a combination of beautiful views, safe street for the cats, proximity to town and sufficiently spacious unit. And even if the Housing Department would agree, it might be ages before they found somewhere suitable.  We'd still need to find some short term solution to our problem.

So, after a long discussion with Andrew, and consulting my heart, my Tarot cards and my logic, I found the short term solution and we decided to apply it long term and save all the bother of trying to move again.

Simple really. Andrew usually has an afternoon nap. If I join him, and also make sure to meditate daily for deep relaxation, I'll be able to stay up after midnight and use the internet when it's actually working. I did this when I worked the psychic lines from midnight to 4am; I can do it again.

I was thinking all along that there must be an underlying reason for this problem. What was the lesson the Universe was trying to teach me? The cards suggested I surrender to the situation, that it would give me more spiritual balance, and that I needed to get out in nature more and spend more time interacting affectionately with Andrew.

Yes, I remember that when we first moved here, before we had our internet reconnected, we had a lovely time without it! It certainly will be less stressful interrupting a spot of weeding or dusting to help Andrew with something than it is to be interrupted while trying to upload a photo to a blog or perform an online banking transaction, racing in case of losing connection any minute.

So here's to the new regime. Now I must let all my friends know that in future, if they need to get in touch with me first thing in the morning, they should please use the phone.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

REMAIN IN LIGHT, by Collin Kelley

Regular readers may recall my interview with poet/editor/author Collin Kelley. His new novel, Remain in Light, is now available as an ebook from Smashwords, and will be available in print in January. 


I, of course, couldn't wait for the printed copy and grabbed the ebook. I have just reviewed it for Smashwords, and this is what I said:


This is an exciting novel which enthralled me from start to finish. It makes a great sequel to its predecessor, Conquering Venus, and can stand alone too. The characters are vivid and memorable, the plot carried me along, and the mysteries were resolved beautifully. It’s one of those books that you can’t stop reading fast to see what happens next, all the while wishing you would never come to the end and have to stop reading. The story seems so complete now that I can’t imagine where the projected third book of the trilogy will take us. But I have no doubt the author’s imagination is up to it. I can hardly wait.



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Celebrating Australian Poets

At Poets United there’s a weekly series called I Wish I’d Written This, which has treated us to some wonderful poems. The poet who started it has reluctantly resigned due to other commitments, and I’m the new presenter. Initially I’m going to be sharing the work of Australian poets — brilliant poets whose work is too little known outside Australia. The only Australian poets the rest of the world seems to have heard of are Banjo Patterson and Les Murray. Both of them are worth hearing of, but they’re by no means the whole story. 

So if you love to read good poems and would like to encounter wonderful poets you didn’t know before, you can start this coming Friday and return every Friday thereafter. Eventually I’ll include work by poets of other nationalities too, but for the next six months or so you’ll be reading lots of lovely Aussies.

While you’re there, do look around. This isn’t the only interesting series to read at Poets United. And then there are the writing prompts....

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Food — Feast or Famine #BAD11

I think I should be writing something deep and serious, about the evils of all the hunger in the world today. Like everyone else, I have looked at those television images of the Somalian famine victims, the wizened babies and huge-eyed mothers; I have listened to accounts of the shortage of medicines, the crowding in the refugee camps, the unsanitary conditions, the spread of disease (as if starvation wasn’t enough)….  I say prayers, I send Reiki energy. Sometimes I give money, not often and not much, in the hope that ‘every little helps’.

This Pension Day, I overspent on food. I thought I should try Coles online shopping instead of lugging numerous heavy bags up my front steps. I found it tricky to make the selections, forgot half the items we needed, and ended up doing an in-person shop as well.  There was of course a delivery fee — not exorbitant, but with our budget every dollar counts. And it’s only with in-person shopping on the day that I can take advantage of all the in-store specials. You have to be there on the day, and you have to get there early.

Our fragile internet connection doesn’t help! I can’t just log on whenever I like and expect it to work. — another reason I can’t grab those specials online. Then, I often have to go into town and use the bank’s computer to get my online bill-paying handled. And this time I must have got kicked offline in mid-transaction while attempting it at home. I ended up having a direct debit refused for lack of funds, and being charged a dishonour fee. I had actually put the money in the right account in good time — I thought. One way and another, we found ourselves with a houseful of food, some of it superfluous (I forgot I already had three cartons of olive oil spread) and almost no money — $21 to last the rest of the fortnight. OK, so we didn’t have to spend it on food, but there are other things. Petrol, for instance.

These idiotic problems, largely self-inflicted, are a far cry from true hardship. I was able to ask my son for a handout to tide us over, and he obliged. We do have plenty of food in the house, even a bit too much (though we will use it) and we experienced our temporary shortage of funds with a roof over our heads and a comfortable bed to sleep in. We even have computers.

The Somalian people starving to death don’t have any such luxuries. But will writing blogs on the subject really help them? Not this blog; I wouldn’t have a clue — beyond prayers, Reiki and the odd bit of money. Feeling guilty about it is not going to be much help either.

What the famine victims do for those of us in affluent societies is to make us feel better by comparison. Luckier than them. Blessed indeed by the accident of having been born where we were. It’s a selfish response, yes, but perhaps an appropriate one. If we can’t assuage all the hunger in the world, at least we can be grateful for the food we have. We can celebrate it!

So, instead of waffling on any further, let me share with you one of my favourite food poems. It’s by my online friend Leigh Spencer, whose poems I adore.  Despite the comical downturn at the end, this one is inherently celebratory. Many thanks to Leigh for graciously giving me permission to use it.

Secret Ingredient (for Kopitkis)

Bubbe's recipe
and I slaved all day

Ketoffle (potatoes)
boiled just so
"mit bloise a bissel zaltz"
(with just a little salt)

Perfect peak in the flour
with golden suns
of perfectly separated egg yolks
setting between

Mash
only by hand!
Form loaves,
then slice and boil
'til they float

Saute the sweet yellow onions
in a sach (a LOT) of pure olive oil

Sit back and smell home
and childhood

Add the floating potato dumplings
to the onions
until everything is golden brown
and comforting as Bubbe's hand
moving the hair from your face

In the pan,
paste with onions
shape unrecognizable
heroic measures prove
sadly unsalvageable

The dogs agree
as they run from this
failed Polish delicacy

Trash can alone
feasts
while the chef
homesick and hungry
cries

"These kopitkis taste like dreck (shit)!"

— Leigh Spencer


Monday, October 10, 2011

Growing up in Tasmania

I wrote a poem which mentioned a childhood morning at my grandparents' home, The Orchard House, in Spreyton, Tasmania. People in other parts of the world are often fascinated by the mention of my birthplace, particularly Americans. Apparently there is a funny US TV show about a Tasmanian Devil. (Although I haven't seen it, it sounds as if it bears about as much relation to the real thing as Wile E. Coyote does to actual coyotes.) Anyway, one of the American readers of my poetry bog has just asked: ''Tasmania? Literally? I never knew anyone from Tasmania! Do tell...'  My reply went on so long that I moved it over here:


Ha ha, yes literally. Last time I was in America, I found that many people thought it was a fictional place! It's an island at the south-east tip of Australia, and in its own right constitutes one State of Australia (sometimes called the Island State). The climate is temperate, with cold winters. I grew up in the city of Launceston in the north, where the North Esk and South Esk join to form the river Tamar. 


My grandparents owned orchards in what was then the tiny hamlet of Spreyton, now a suburb of the city of Devonport on the north-west coast, which was then a small town. Tasmania used to be known as the Apple Isle, and my grandparents grew mostly apples — including varieties one never sees any more — as well as a number of other fruits. It was a magickal place to spend a childhood, and nowhere more magickal than my grandparents' property. The island still has unspoiled areas of great scenic beauty — though, like everywhere, there is now a constant battle between environmentalists and developers.


I left when I was 15 for family reasons. It broke my heart — but I ended up spending my late teens in the city of Melbourne, living with a wonderful aunt and attending the University of Melbourne on mainland Australia, and in hindsight I think that was better. Tasmania was too insular and conformist to have given me the adolescence I needed.


I won't live in Tasmania again — far too cold for me these days, and even then — but it's always the deep home in the heart. One reason I like the small town where I live now is that, although very different in climate and sensibilities, in some ways it reminds me strongly of the Launceston of my youth. I still think of myself as 'Taswegian' — an in joke: what we call ourselves and each other, rather than the correct 'Tasmanian'. The place itself is affectionately called 'Tassie' (pronounced 'Tazzie') even by those who have never lived there.


Tasmanians refer to the rest of Australia as 'the mainland' and privately believe it is all much inferior to our small State, which is separated from the rest by a wild stretch of water called Bass Strait. Mainlanders, on the other hand, sneer at Tasmanians for having two heads, a reference to our supposed inbreeding — but it's all good-humoured really. However we don't find it amusing when cartographers (so often!) leave Tasmania right off the map.


The island has a distinctive shape, which leads audiences at Australian strip shows to exhort the performers: 'Show us yer map of Tasmania!'


Just for the record, I am not fond of Tasmanian Devils. While I hope they are not rendered extinct by the dreadful disease they are subject to at present, I have never been able to warm to them; in fact I consider them detestable little creatures.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

#BAD (Blog Action Day)

Blog Action Day rolls around again on October 16th, which is also World Food Day, so the topic of course is FOOD. I have registered this blog and also my poetry blog The Passionate Crone.  I hope to persuade the other members of WordsFlow to be in it too.

In case anyone hasn't caught up with Blog Action Day in the past, it's one day a year when bloggers all around the globe focus on one topic that we feel needs attention called to it. In the past the topic has been chosen by vote; this year, because of the coincidence of the date, it's already decided.

How one treats the topic is up to the individual blogger. How I'm going to approach it, I don't yet know, but I'm going to have fun thinking about it.

I know that whenever I give 'food' or 'eating' as topics in writing workshops, they're very inspirational! Food is primal, basic to our survival and therefore a great source of pleasure. Hunger is painful. Starvation is fatal. There are people in the world experiencing hunger and even famine right now. Oh yes, there's lots to write about!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Writer's Journal (exercise): In a Pigsty

In a pigsty here I lie
looking up at the sweet blue sky.


Mud is heaven too for me
I wallow freely, happily.


I eat the scraps, and I enjoy
being hand-fed by the farmer’s boy.


When the sun goes down at night
I sleep the sleep of the just and right.


What a lucky pig am I
safe and cosy in my sty!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fame At Last!

Recently I joined a site called Poets United, which offers all sorts of treats for blogging poets.

Much to my surprise and delight, they have just interviewed me in the Life of a Poet series. So if you want to know more about what makes me tick...

Monday, August 08, 2011

Writer's Journal (exercise): My mum was a cat

My mum was a cat. A tame, domestic cat. She liked her comforts. She was a timid one, a  scaredy-cat who liked to stay close to home and to her people who made her feel safe. There, she was happy to be cooed at and petted. My dad liked to stroke her, and we kids were not allowed to interfere with her comfort. She came forth occasionally and ventured out on to the street, so long as someone safe was with her to protect her. She liked to lick the cream off life, and she hated loud noises. She didn’t like swimming or hiking, or getting into the dirt, and she hated mice and was always intent on destroying them. She was very private about personal matters, even secretive. And she was oh so fastidious about her person. You never saw my Mum ungroomed. She had an aloof air with people she didn’t know, and if she didn’t like you she would simply freeze you out by ignoring you. She had great dignity, my Mum, and she was quite vain. She knew she was very decorative to look at.

Writer's Journal (exercise): What if we came all this way and missed it?

Well personally I couldn’t give a damn. See I didn’t come for that, I came for the ride, and now that we’re here I like what I see. It’s a gorgeous planet!  You mob reckon it’s dying on ya? Well maybe, but it’s not so far gone yet. Time to stay for a bit of a visit, and enjoy what’s still on offer. The rest of our mob, they’re a bit pissed off because the stuff they wanted to study has been corrupted. Well, not my fault if the time coordinates were off by a few centuries; I didn’t pilot the ship. I’m happy enough to arrive at a time of aeroplanes and toilet paper and the internet. It’s quaint! And not nearly so primitive as those earlier centuries would have been. I like this air too, and the oceans. My adaptor kit made the conversions very easily and now I can function here just like one of you. Too bad about the rest of ’em, mooning about, complaining that they’ve missed it. What’s so great about a virgin birth anyway? Two a penny where I come from. It all depends on your point of view. Apparently the planet needed saving or something. Looks to me like you’ve done all right for the most part.

My Mum Was a Cat

My mum was a cat. A tame, domestic cat. She liked her comforts. She was a timid one, a  scaredy-cat who liked to stay close to home and to her people who made her feel safe. There, she was happy to be cooed at and petted. My dad liked to stroke her, and we kids were not allowed to interfere with her comfort. She came forth occasionally and ventured out on to the street, so long as someone safe was with her to protect her. She liked to lick the cream off life, and she hated loud noises. She didn’t like swimming or hiking, or getting into the dirt, and she hated mice and was always intent on destroying them. She was very private about personal matters, even secretive. And she was oh so fastidious about her person. You never saw my Mum ungroomed. She had an aloof air with people she didn’t know, and if she didn’t like you she would simply freeze you out by ignoring you. She had great dignity, my Mum, and she was quite vain. She knew she was very decorative to look at.

Friday, July 15, 2011

'River of Stones' — the Process


I’m participating in this month’s ‘a river of stones’ over at my Stones for the River blog. I did it in January too, with great joy, and intermittently between then and now. This time around, I’m noticing more about the process, probably because my husband has joined in this time and his approach is different from mine. Well for one thing, I’m a poet and choose to write my small stones in verse; he’s a story-teller, whether in fiction or memoir, and naturally seeks to make stories out of his small stones. But it’s more than that.

I love his writing, so what I’m about to say isn’t a criticism of that — but I notice he has real trouble simply paying attention to the world around him. He produces lovely pieces that don’t end up on his blog because they’re not actually small stones. They are diary entries, records of events and the way he feels about them. He talks, for instance, of running into a couple of old friends in town yesterday. After reading what he wrote, I know that this event happened and who the people were, what he felt about the exchange, and a little of what was said between them. I know nothing of the surroundings, or what the people looked like, or how their voices sounded — no description. The ‘small stones’ idea is all about getting outside oneself and noticing the world around us. I think it’s OK to bring oneself in if necessary, but from the outside, dispassionately observed. He manages it, but it’s often a struggle.

Back in January Kaspalita, who co-founded the river of stones, posted a piece on just this. It seems many people have the same difficulty. I don’t seem to have quite as much trouble with it, and I put that down to a few years of attempting haiku, tanka and other short forms which train one to pay attention to the world. However I worry that I‘m ‘doing it wrong’ in a different way. Although there isn’t any obligatory length, I keep thinking mine are too long this time. I was convinced that I wrote much shorter ones in January, until I went back and had a look. No, they’re about the same. 

I notice, too, that both my husband and I keep falling into the significance trap. What do I mean by that? I’ve been in a long-term writers’ support group (often by email) with Jennie Fraine and Leah Kaminsky for — good heavens! — 20 years. We are devoted to what we call ‘the anti-significance factor’. One of the earliest things we identified was that trying for deep significance is death to poetry. Or, as my friend Philip Martin used to remark, people don’t like to be buttonholed by a poem and told what to think and feel. Personally, if I try to write something deep and meaningful, it paralyses me, whereas if I just play with words or forms I produce poems — sometimes even deep and meaningful ones. It’s essential to remember that art is play. I think, with a small stone, the thing itself is what matters; no need to weight it down with any extra meaning. But human beings are very good at trying to add extra significance to everything, even the simplest things.

Difficult or not, I think the task is worthwhile, not only for the writing it can produce but even more so to have us engage with the world around us. It even led to me watering my geraniums, which badly needed it, because I stopped to take a good look at them. 

Friday, July 08, 2011

Achievements of a writers' group

I'm the facilitator of WordsFlow, a writers' group that meets weekly at Pottsville Beach Neighbourhood Centre. I used to live at Pottsville and am now a half hour's drive away.

We have our own WordsFlow blog. I'd love to draw your attention to the three most recent posts: an article taking an affectionate look at the group members, by Eddie Blatt; a poem by Nan Doyle which has been widely aired on Australian radio and which listeners fall in love with, and an account by me of our recent presentation of a new computer to an emerging writer from a nearby town.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Collin Kelley Interview

Collin Kelley, from Atlanta, Georgia, is poet, novelist, playwright and journalist. He also has a widely read blog, Modern Confessional, which is both entertaining and informative.

We met in Texas in 2006 when we were both featured guests at the annual Austin International Poetry Festival, and have kept in touch online ever since.

I’m mad about his poetry and own all his poetry books so far. I think he’s a master of free verse and I’m in awe of his technique. Above all, he gets me emotionally every time, whether with wry humour, piercing social criticism or haunting love poems.

In novels I love the unexpected, things I can’t second-guess. Usually I can; therefore I seldom read novels any more. But I did read Collin’s first novel, Conquering Venus. I even bought it. I probably would have bought it anyway because he’s a pal, but I also hoped that this would be a novel I’d actually enjoy, as I like his other writing so much. Sure enough, I loved it. Not boringly predictable, it nevertheless feels ‘right’. It’s the first part of a trilogy; I’m looking forward to the other volumes.

I’m no novelist myself, and don’t want to be. Few poets are. Australians David Malouf and Roger McDonald have managed it successfully, and Americans Marge Piercy and Margaret Attwood are prolific and brilliant in both forms. But it’s rare, so I was intrigued by Collin’s successful venture. He kindly agreed to be interviewed as follows.


SnakyPoet: Why did you decide to branch out from poetry to novels?

Collin Kelley: I always wanted to write novels. I made a few attempts in the 80s and early 90s, but they never went anywhere. In 1995, a trip to London and Paris gave me the framework for Conquering Venus and I was finally able to complete a novel that I thought had substance and might interest readers.

SP: So how long did it take you to write?

CK: Conquering Venus actually started as a screenplay in 1995. I wrote it in about three weeks. In 1996, I had an agent who tried to sell the screenplay in Hollywood, and while all the producers who looked at it liked the story they said it was a big budget art film and no studio would fund it. My agent said I should turn the screenplay into a novel, so I did. I worked on the novel for about three years off and on until it was completed in 2000. From 2000 until the book was finally published in 2009 was a series of agents, contests and assorted publishing wankers who made lots of promises they never kept.

SP: Which is the more satisfying kind of writing for you, poetry or fiction — or are they just different, and equally fulfilling?

CK: I like the immediacy of poetry — the economy of language and the challenge of putting across a feeling or emotion in as few words as possible. With fiction it’s more of a long game, but I try to incorporate the techniques of poetry into my novels as well. I never wanted to be anything but a writer, so the act of writing satisfies me immensely. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to make a living as a writer.

SP: I think all poets would agree that making poems is a thing we can’t not do. Do you find that this now applies to your novel-writing too?

CK: I think so. When I write fiction, I read poetry and when I write poetry, I tend to read more fiction. I already have the outline for the third book in The Venus Trilogy, I’m sequencing a collection of poetry and I plan to start working on a memoir about my misadventures on my many visits to London. I even have an idea for a sci-fi novel.

SP: Wow, you’re running hot! I definitely want to read all those books too. Do you find the novel sells better than the poetry books?

CK: I’ve definitely sold more copies of Conquering Venus than any of my poetry collections, but here in the States if you sell a couple hundred copies of a poetry collection then it’s considered a success. By that measure, I’ve been successful. Better To Travel has sold about 1,000 copies and my chapbook, Slow To Burn, sold out its 300 copy run in a just a year or so. Seven Kitchens Press will release a second edition in August, which is really exciting.

SP: Yes, it is! Where/how can people acquire your books?

CK: Amazon and Barnes & Noble have both the print and ebooks available of Conquering Venus. My poetry collections Better To Travel and After the Poison are at Amazon. The Slow To Burn reissue will be available from Seven Kitchens Press website. Ebook fans can also find Conquering Venus at places like Smashwords and OmniLit.

SP: Was it harder or easier to write the sequel to Conquering Venus?

CK: The challenge with Remain in Light was creating a sequel that continues the story from Conquering Venus, but also stands alone as its own story. My goal is to have each of the novels in the trilogy stand on their own so they can be read in any order. While Conquering Venus is literary fiction with a little magical realism thrown in, Remain in Light shifts in tone and has a more urgent, suspenseful storyline. I think anyone who likes a good mystery and detective story will love Remain in Light.

SP: When will Remain in Light be available?

CK: Since the ebook version of Conquering Venus far outsold the print edition, we’re staggering the release of Remain in Light. The ebook will be out in late October just in time for the holidays and the print will appear in January 2012.

SP: Interesting. I have the print edition of Conquering Venus. Are the ebooks specifically for one kind of e-reader or suitable for all?

CK: It depends on where you buy the ebook. Those bought on Amazon can only be read on a Kindle and those bought at Barnes & Noble can only be read on the Nook. But there are great sites like Smashwords where you can download books in various ebook formats and read them on any device. Conquering Venus is on Smashwords and Remain in Light will be, too.

SP: Do you have a favourite amongst your own poetry books?

CK: I really do love Slow To Burn. I think some of my best work is in there, so I’m thrilled Seven Kitchens Press is bringing it back into print for new readers to discover. The new collection I’m working on now is shaping up to be pretty good, too. I’ll be sending it out to publishers soon.

SP: I love that book too, but I’m also very keen on the others. Good luck with all your new endeavours!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Emptying the Bucket

The Bucket List was an entertaining, feel-good movie with excellent actors. The message was one of hope and positivity. No wonder so many people embraced the concept of fulfilling all one’s dreams before one dies. Helps to have enough money to be able to fly all over the world at a moment’s notice, of course, if your dreams involve things that can only happen in other countries. And if you’re terminally ill, you might need at least one friend to help you handle the logistical stuff. But let’s not quibble. It was inspiring and a lot of people were duly inspired. I have friends who have done daring things and had exciting adventures after making their bucket lists. They feel altered, their lives enriched.

Me, though, I have a somewhat different idea. Having reached the grand age of 71 and not feeling particularly old (indeed, an internet health quiz assures me my virtual age is 56.2) but still aware that my time is finite, I have come to the delightful conclusion that there are things I never have to do — or, in some cases, never have to do again. I have a very good excuse now to let go of anything I don’t fancy. There are no obligations any more, whether imposed by myself or others. I can just tip them out of my bucket.

Here’s my empty-the-bucket list:

1. I never have to get over my water phobia.

I love swimming, though I’m not particularly good at it, and don’t do laps or anything. I like to float and frolic about and enjoy the water. But I don’t enjoy getting it in my face. For most of my life the merest splash has sent me into screaming terror. It's not that it's unconquerable. In the past I have done things like jumping and even diving into pools, but it never became any easier; I was an emotional wreck after each time I dared. When I took my toddlers to swimming classes I managed to conceal my fear and duck my head in the water and come up smiling at them, because of what was at stake. My Mum was phobic, including this phobia. I didn’t want to pass it on to my kids, and I am glad to say I didn’t.

I have actually done a lot of work on clearing this phobia, and have pretty much overcome it by now. I can stand in the shower and let the water run over my face, without a twitch. If I get splashed when I’m in swimming, I no longer experience panic. In a way, what I have now is the habit of the fear. So what’s the problem? Well, I’ve grown comfortable with not leaping into pools either head or feet first. I’m used to swimming from the neck down while my head stays out of the water, and I have no ambition to learn the Australian crawl even if I am an Aussie. So I am happily relinquishing any further work on my phobia. We get on together just fine, my phobia and me. Having lasted for 71 years, we can continue until the end.

2. Same goes for my height phobia.

I have conquered it at times, with varying degrees of attendant discomfort, in order to climb Ayers Rock (now more properly known as Uluru), see the view from St Pauls’ Cathedral, London, and explore Macchu Pichu. But you won’t catch me bungee jumping or parachuting out of aeroplanes. Do you think I’m crazy?

3. I don’t have to read all the books I ought to.

I’m sorry, but Christina Stead and Henry Handel Richardson bore me. Also I’m not going to keep up with all the terrific new literary novels. I’ll read anything by Tim Winton, David Malouf and Richard Flanagan, but apart from that, I’ll focus on poetry and fantasy, and the great pleasure of re-reading my old favourites. And, for the fantasy, I’m likely to prefer Young Adult novels (Australians Isobelle Carmody and Alison Croggon are among the authors I like best).

4. I don’t have to behave properly.

I can be silly if I want to. I can clown around, I can be an exhibitionist, I can look like a complete idiot. So what? I’m an old lady; not only is less expected of me, but I care a great deal less what people may think of me.
If I want to take off my shoes and dance in the shallows, I will. If I want to to yell out in the street so as to locate my husband, why not? If I’m going to look stupid or ignorant by asking a particular question, who cares? I’ll ask it anyway.

5. I never have to understand the financial news.

The bit they show on telly is comprehensible, just. The in-depth stuff in the more serious newspapers has always been beyond me. I don’t need to understand national or international economics to balance my personal budget. Seems to me that economics is highly theoretical anyway, economists disagree among themselves, and national leaders don’t always make the best decisions. Once upon a time, I thought it was incumbent on good citizens to strive to master that theory; as I haven’t done it yet, I’m not going to bother.

6. I don’t have to prove I’m smart.

I am, and I know that; it doesn’t matter if other people don’t know it. I’m not trying to build a high-flying career, or compete for a top salary.

7. I don’t have to be famous.

Which is just as well, because it doesn’t seem likely. When I was much younger I wanted to be a famous poet. As I got older I observed that (a) even the most famous living poets aren’t really famous, comparatively speaking: very few people know their names compared with those of movie stars, pop singers and sporting heroes (b) being a famous anything robs one of privacy and a large degree of freedom. Anonymity is very nice! I‘d love to be a great poet, though it’s clear to me I’m not. I’ll continue striving to be the best poet I can be, because that’s the way I enjoy myself. If I touch some hearts in the process, that's wonderful — and it's enough.

8. I don’t have to put up with people I can’t stand.

Life’s too short. I can do the equivalent of blocking them on facebook (which may be included) and cut them out of my life so that, as far as possible, I need never have anything to do with them again. So what if I appear rude? I’m not nasty or abusive, just unresponsive and unavailable. Life is much pleasanter and more peaceful this way.

And in the bucket?

Yes, there are a few things I want to do before I go, but they might seem tame to most people.

True, it would be nice to see Paris, Spain, Hawaii … but it’s not a passion, not a must. I’ve seen a lot and done a lot, and I have lived in the 20th and 21st centuries when it is possible to enjoy great concerts, theatre and art exhibitions in the comfort of one’s own home. Believe me, I haven’t missed out on much.

The things for which I have a serious longing are quiet, interior sorts of things. No matter how outgoing I’ve learned to be, I’m still the introvert at heart. (I wonder if all writers are.) So I want to read or re-read certain books — Georgia O’Keeffe, for instance, discussing her artistic process in a big book entitled only with her name, which also includes quality reproductions of some of her work. And I want to see, or see again, certain shows. At present I’m working my way through all of Buffy and Angel, which I did see on TV when they first appeared, and which I eventually bought. Right now I’m frustrated as hell because I have just discovered that the whole of my Angel, Season 4 is damaged and I can’t view the discs. I didn’t keep the receipt. In any case, when I phoned the shop to see if they had more in stock, they said no and they were unlikely to get it again. There will be desperate searching online, I can tell you! Yes it does mean more to me than confronting my fears or travelling to new locations.

For the rest, I like my life the way it is and hope I am long spared to enjoy my friends, my home, and the natural beauty that surrounds me in the Mt Warning Caldera.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron, Voice of Black Culture, Dies at 62

I didn't know this poet or his work, but I like what my friend Thom Woodruff (aka Thom the World Poet and various other pen-names) writes, for this occasion but more widely applicable:

WHEN A POET DIES
for a short time,every one remembers his/her  lines
They get quoted in bylines(never the full poem)
A picture flashes of them (usually @the height of their fame
Never a picture of them as they lay dying
Never in their last Fat Elvis days
A byline may allude to drugs and sex and children
but it is the poem that will live on-
thin and ruthless,true as spear and fire
If the line is taut and stripped and bare
Naked as newborn and barking @the moon
If each word fits like the coat of your skin
You will wear this poem.You will remember her/him
That is where the point resides-deep inside the flesh of mind
like St Sebastians arrows making martydom
The arrow of truth -a burning poem.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Writer's Journal (exercise): Ban nuclear power

Yes please. We really have gone too far. It’s a bit like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted, mind you, what with recent events in Japan. I don’t have to worry about conspiracy theories, I’m too busy worrying about whether nasty nuclear gases are invisibly infiltrating our space and causing us all lingering deaths.

Ah well, we are all undergoing lingering deaths of course from the moment of birth. But we’d rather those deaths be natural, not nasty; and we’d rather live out a goodly span of years, not have them cut short.

A friend of Andrew's is enraged by Rachel Carson’s book The Silent Spring which records the devastation of wild places by pesticides. Without DDT, he says, millions of people would have died of insect-carried diseases. Where do we draw the line, where do we find the balance? I like toilet paper and plane travel and being able to heat my house in winter without having to light a wood fire. Even wood fires have a downside — all those trees destroyed. I don’t want to die from malaria or Dengue fever, but I also don’t want the environment polluted.

Closer to home, I am all for banning coal-gas fracking.

Writer's Journal (exercise): Origami

Origami! I used to love the whole concept, but I was never much good at it. This bird is lovely, though I can’t really relate it to any living bird. First of all, blue and orange are not colours for birds, unless one includes birds of paradise, perhaps. And I don't know what bird has such wide wings, long neck, and this general shape. It’s an exotic bird, that’s for sure, and looks as if perhaps it can’t fly. I would think it might be a pelican, only the neck is so long and the beak too short for that. Also the tail sticks up too high.

I miss the pelicans on the creek, that used to swim with me when I lived in Pottsville. Real swimmers like pools with lanes, and to chug up and down increasing their fitness. I liked the good old creek with its treelined banks, and the pelicans sharing it with me, or roosting in the trees opposite. I liked the way they would fly so low, skimming the water, great ships in sail on the air.

Writer's Journal (exercise): Hunting

and shooting and fishing. Manly blood sports of which in theory I disapprove. But everything’s relative, and we can always make the exceptions that suit us. I used to enjoy fishing. Growing up in Tassie, most kids fished from an early age, even if it was only with the bit of string off the river bank. I liked being in a dinghy and trawling, or even just dropping a line over the side. I liked going out by moonlight to spear flounder. And hauling up nets full of crays. I liked getting oyster of the rocks. Later, when I was in my second marriage I liked sitting by a waterhole fishing for eels. Nice eating, eels.

My Uncle Ian asked me to write a poem for him about fishing, and the joy of fishing. I didn’t get it written until after he was dead, and then one of my vegetarian friends was horrified by it, but I still think it was a pretty god poem. It’s true, though, that I was not thinking of it from the point of view of the fish. Seeing a fish gasping in the air that suffocates it is not a pretty sight. Knock it on the head quick — that's what I was taught. Funny how that wasn’t a pretty sight, but gutting and filleting them didn’t revolt me. I’d still give a lot for a taste of cray, or a plate of oysters.

Writer's Journal (exercise): Pointing the Bone

I imagined a black man in tribal costume (loin cloth and not much else) holding a small unidentified bone in his right hand and pointing it across vast distances at some poor victim. The bone pointer could not be brought to justice for this form of murder, because he could be far enough away that no-one could say for sure he had anything to do with it, even thought the whole tribe would know who the witch doctor was.

That was when I was a kid. Now I have other notions. I think curses work best if the one cursed knows about them. Heck, they can work even if they haven’t been cast. A silly woman whose son is a pal of mine is convinced that, because I’m a witch, her son and I have been putting hexes on her. As if! It’s not actually what modern witches do if they’ve got any sense. But this lady is very good at getting herself into trouble and blaming others. She never puts the responsibility where it belongs.

I do think angry or hostile thoughts create energy, mind you, so some people might feel the effects even if they don’t know anything specific about where the bad vibes are coming from. And guilt feelings can also play a part.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Global Art Competition

I received this polite request which may, as the writer says, be of interest to some of my readers:


Hi Rosemary

Flink12, a new social networking site, has just launched its Global Icon Art Competition. I thought that you and the readers of Snaky Poet would be interested in this unique opportunity. We're offering $3,000 commissions to create icons for the site. This is a great opportunity for artists and graphic designers to promote their work globally and possibly win a longer-term contract with us.

We're looking for original, fun and expressive graphic icons to be used as status updates for the network. These icons will be used daily by Flinkers on their web browsers and mobile devices. I've put together a microsite with all of the info on the competition along with images, videos, banners and more. Please feel free to share any or all of it:

http://flink12news.com

If you are able to post or tweet about Flink12 and the Global Icon Art Competition please let me know. I’d be happy to answer any questions personally as well.

Thank you so much,

Brenda McEwan

facebook.com/Flink12
twitter.com/Flink12

Friday, April 22, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award

I just received one! It was awarded by bttrflyscar and the details are here. It was not for this blog but for my poetry blog, The Passionate Crone. I am now asked to award ten other bloggers similarly, and disclose seven things about myself. This makes for a long post, so I'm doing it here in order to leave The Passionate Crone for poems.

10 blogs

What makes a blog stylish, in my book? Primarily, the words have to be good. Most of these are poetry blogs, and all are created by poets — wonderful poets — so the words are excellent. Secondly it must look good. These ten include the minimalist, the decorative, the dynamic; all are created with an eye to their appearance, and are user-friendly too.

1. Collin Kelley’s Modern Confessional

I met Collin at the Austin International Poetry Festival in 2006, but we didn’t really get to know each other until afterwards, staying connected online. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, from where he works as an editor, promotes and encourages fellow poets, and takes a lively interest in all things cultural including pop culture and an eclectic range of music — all of which he blogs about forthrightly and entertainingly. Everything Collin does is stylish. Just click on the Books link at the top of his blog and look at those gorgeous covers! (The contents are yummy too.)

2. Jennie Fraine’s Jaywig’s Jotter

Jennie’s an extraordinary poet whose work is too little known, even though she tends to win awards on the rare occasions she competes for them. She’s an old friend of mine and I take at least part of the credit for her recent foray into blogging. She doesn’t network a lot online, being too busy supporting people in real life, working for Landmark Education. Also an artist, she has a natural elegance which her blog reflects. She has always been an excellent source of advice on my own poetry, when asked.

3. Odilia Galvan Rodriguez’s ~feathers from the muse’s wings~

Odilia used to have the most exotically beautiful blog on MySpace; it was like entering a rich other world. Now MySpace is much changed and neither she nor I frequent it any more, but fortunately she has this other blog, which — although the d├ęcor is quite different — also invites one in, as into a sanctuary. She does wonderful things with poetry, from haiku to pantoums, and including free verse. I also love that she is a passionate activist and writes often about those topics too.

4. Shanna Baldwin-Moore’s Poettree

Shanna lives in Hawaii, and enjoys living close to nature. Like some others in my list, she is artist as well as poet. She loves haiku and often turns them into haiga by marrying them with wonderful photos, drawings and computer graphics. On her blog, these are interspersed with the longer poems she also writes.

5. Rachel Phillips’s Outlasting Moths

Rachel used to have a very minimalist blog with almost no personal information. I imagined her as an elderly lady like myself, reflecting on her experiences. (I’ve never told her that.) When she revamped the blog and included personal information, I discovered she is young and outdoorsy! Her poems seem to me to have a mature sensibility, and to be beautifully crafted. They remind me a bit of Leonard Cohen – not that they could be mistaken for a Cohen song or vice versa, as both have unique voices, but her poems have a similar evocativeness, leading the reader to associations beyond the text and seemingly creating new archetypes.

6. Amanda Joy’s Little Glass Pen

Amanda Joy is an Australian poet like me, but we’ve never met as she lives on the other side of the country. She is another I first encountered on MySpace where she had a huge following; then I found out she also has this blog and many followers here too. Her work is powerful and beautiful, and often experimental. It always makes you think.

7. Samuel Paralta’s Semaphore

I only know this poet online, where I think I first encountered him on twitter. He’s a most beautiful lyric poet; I’m always in awe of what he does with words. If I could steal the gifts of just one poet in this list, I might well choose his.

8. Rob Schackne’s The Tao That Can Be Named

Rob’s an old friend I lost touch with many years ago. Recently he found me on facebook. I see from his stunning blog that his poetry has matured into accomplished work which invites as much thought as feeling. He also posts on his blog work he likes by other poets, from the famous to the relatively unknown. Like Jennie, he is one of the few I turn to for opinions on my own work, and has given me valuable commentary.

9. Pearl Pirie’s 40-Word Years

Pearl and I encountered each other when we participated in the first September poetry month at Poewar: Writers’ Resource Center in 2007, and we became interested enough in each other’s work to connect to each other’s blogs. 40-Word Years is her version of a game we both enrolled in, started by another blogger in 2008, to write every day about someone who has made an impact on you, in the same number of words as your age. We have both chosen to continue long past that first year. Hers are closer to daily than mine ended up being (I haven’t even made 365 yet); she has stuck to 40 words whereas mine have increased with each birthday; and she now includes anecdotes and tributes. She’s quirky, humorous, compassionate, clear-seeing, and she always finds the most interesting conjunctions of words to convey an essence.

10. Bette Norcross Wappner’s Surimono Garden

Bette’s another friend discovered online. She creates exquisite haiku and equally exquisite woodblock prints, combining them as haiga. I do experience her blog as like being in a peaceful, restorative garden.


7 things about me

1. When I was a little girl, I decided that there could be no better thing to do with my life than make poems. I still think so, even though I haven’t reached such heights of life-affirming beauty as I imagined then.

2. I’m not a fiction writer. I have managed some quite creditable short stories — both of them published — but nothing earth-shattering, and my few attempts at novels have been pretty bad. Luckily I have no particular desire to create fiction (except in verse). I do like writing articles and essays, so I enjoy blogging.

3. I used to read heaps of fiction; in the last 20 years or so I rather lost my taste for it and haven’t read much — except for good fantasy, which I devour. (And except for old favourites, which I like re-reading).

4. I think the greatest English-language poets have been Shakespeare, Chaucer and Yeats.

5. My favourite contemporary poets are Mary Oliver, Jared Carter and Marge Piercy. And there are lots of others I love too.

6. My secret alter ego (no longer secret!) is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I always wanted to save the world — a lot.

7. I’m quite shy but I hide it well.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Writer's Journal (exercise): Paddleboats

I love all kinds of boats, always have, and I’m very happy aboard any kind of craft.

When I lived near Mildura as a schoolgirl, I first saw paddleboats in the flesh so to speak, and they took my fancy in a big way; but it wasn’t until years and years later when I was grown up and married and living in Melbourne that I finally got to go on one.

We made friends with some people Mum knew, when we were visiting Tassie, and they had the idea. The ‘we’ I speak of was Bill and me, husband number 2, to whom I was married for 27 years. He was a boatman, an abalone diver with his own boat, and had a skipper’s licence, so he insisted he had to drive the thing, that he was reqired by law to do so. There were seven of us on board, Mum and Bill and me, and two other couples. There were a few ructions about Bill wanting to be skipper all the time; the other blokes didn’t see it his way. Mum soothed him down so he let the others have a bit of a go. But he kept muttering that he’d be to blame if we ran into trouble. We didn’t of course.

It was interesting to me to see Sunraysia as a visitor — that place where I spent two years of misery finishing school and suffering a stepmother from hell. At the time of our paddle boat jaunt my dad was in an old folks’ home, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. We took Mum with us to see him. They had managed to be friends after their divorce, but my stepmother was fiercely jealous of Mum. So the visit was a sneak expedition. It was sad for her to see him like that, but sweet for him to get a visit from his true love. I’m glad we did it. Also we met friends of friends up there, including a woman who reminisced about my stepmother, who had been her hated schoolteacher. That pleased me very much. 

I liked the pelicans along the river, and I liked lazing on the top deck and writing poems.

Writer's Journal (exercise): My Favourite Song

There’s a few, but the one that comes first to mind is Summertime from Porgy and Bess. Why? I don’t know. I just love that combination of words and music, and the idyllic happiness and love the song conjures up.  For a woman who regards herself as not very maternal, I’m a sucker for babies. Even now, when I am far too old to be clucky and certainly don’t want the looking after of infants, I make eyes at strange babies. Babies are the best flirts!

There was one at the chiropractor’s this morning. He had huge, deep blue eyes and he was obviously happy, gurgling and smiling. I caught his eye, beamed and said, ‘Hellooo!’ and he beamed right back, and we did things with our eyes, peeping and hiding and smiling again. Then another woman came in, a young woman, who saw the baby, made eye contact and pulled a wonderful face at him. He turned to her and beamed even more radiantly than he had for me. I was so jealous!  His Mum meanwhile dandled him on her lap, and chatted to her friend without for a moment losing awareness of her son.  

Happy babyhood, isn’t it a lovely thing? And I love the fact that it’s a tender dad who sings that Summertime song, I grew up when dads weren’t allowed to be tender. Luckily mine was.

Paddle Boats


I love all kinds of boats, always have, and I’m very happy aboard any kind of craft.

When I lived near Mildura as a schoolgirl, I first saw paddleboats in the flesh so to speak, and they took my fancy in a big way; but it wasn’t until years and years later when I was grown up and married and living in Melbourne that I finally got to go on one.

We made friends with some people Mum knew, when we were visiting Tassie, and they had the idea. The ‘we’ I speak of was Bill and me, husband number 2, to whom I was married for 27 years. He was a boatman, an abalone diver with his own boat, and had a skipper’s licence, so he insisted he had to drive the thing, that he was reqired by law to do so. There were seven of us on board, Mum and Bill and me, and two other couples. There were a few ructions about Bill wanting to be skipper all the time; the other blokes didn’t see it his way. Mum soothed him down so he let the others have a bit of a go. But he kept muttering that he’d be to blame if we ran into trouble. We didn’t of course.

It was interesting to me to see Sunraysia as a visitor — that place where I spent two years of misery finishing school and suffering a stepmother from hell. At the time of our paddle boat jaunt my dad was in an old folks’ home, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. We took Mum with us to see him. They had managed to be friends after their divorce, but my stepmother was fiercely jealous of Mum. So the visit was a sneak expedition. It was sad for her to see him like that, but sweet for him to get a visit from his true love. I’m glad we did it. Also we met friends of friends up there, including a woman who reminisced about my stepmother, who had been her hated schoolteacher. That pleased me very much. 

I liked the pelicans along the river, and I liked lazing on the top deck and writing poems.