Friday, 23 September 2011

What's Happening in My Poetry World...

There’s plenty happening in my poetry world at present, but first I wish to share my latest poem, written at the Writers In Townsville Society writing meeting on Wednesday evening, September 21...


Intense desire is handwritten into my eyes.
You know me—a hardboiled blancmange, innocent,
yet a darkling.  Many strange things
squandered through my lips.  Fame?  A
remnant burning.  The needle never pierces.

A refugee from difference, and its echoes, I know
a monk who surfs at Teahupo’o each winter
before the birds from the cold carry him back.
My torso, arms and legs play tennis,
my head jousts with Faust.  Bill Clinton

and my ex-wife sit in history, turbulent air.
I peel a Spanish onion, spatchcock a grouse, in
harmony with both space and time.  Austere
quarrels spasm within small things.  Utopia
is the poem that never ends, immunity from

the vacuum.  Conceal your cards, do not
trespass on my completeness.  The warehouse
is a place for wreaths, but first subvert
the ground, the air.  Feed a Tahitian sailor,
then South America, the moon—anywhere

more or less awkward is possible.  Travel is
an anaesthetic, if you are peripheral.  On
the first day of the eleventh year, I felt
so peripheral I crossed the road.  Saw Neil
Young, caught his pneumonia, we sang in the rain.


Oil your sensitivity.  Imbibe nepenthes.  And
as your veins renew, your soul, your heart.

My Five Faves, Five Least Faves book project-in-progress

If you are visiting this blog for the first time, or if you are a friend returning, and you haven’t sent me your five favourite, and five least favourite, words, I’d love to receive them.

Why?  Well, I’m writing a book, Five Faves, Five Least Faves, which will, when finished, have one hundred dedicated poems, for one hundred people, each who will have sent me those ten words, their five faves and five least faves. 

As at today, I’ve only written twenty-seven poems, with another on the drawing board, so I need another seventy-two people to step up to the plate.  Please take part!  Tell your friends!

I’m now Poet In Residence for Townsville City Libraries

On Thursday, September 1, 2011, I began at Aitkenvale library, a branch of Townsville City Libraries, as Poet In Residence.  Initially, it is for three months, then it will be reviewed, and if deemed a success, I intend to continue.

So what does a Poet In Residence do.

Well, with September nearing its end, so far I’ve helped an inexperienced poet on his self-publishing his verse, including editing several of his poems; and advising him on copyright, and how to market his books.

I’ve also helped a woman who is part of a program where adults read to pre-school age children.  She wished to read more poetry to the kids, and given that she said they like fun rhymes, I was able to suggest a poet she could check out.

Most recently I was approached by a young boy who wanted to show me his poems.  I asked him to come back with his mum, and then I’d be happy to talk again with him.

I will be holding an Enjoying Poetry for Beginners evening on Thursday, November 3, and a Poetry Writing for Beginners evening on Thursday, November 17.  Both sessions will be held at the Aitkenvale library from 6:00 pm to 7:45 pm.  For more information, and bookings, please contact me.

My manuscript A Quadraphonic Whisper will be published in 2012

In early September, I received news that the American small press Virgogray Press ( has accepted my manuscript A Quadraphonic Whisper for publication at some time in 2012.

As you’d expect, I’m chuffed about this.  Most of the poems hadn’t been published before – which is the best way to verify the quality of the work – but I’d felt when I submitted the manuscript in early March that it contained the cream of my poetry from the last several years, and was publishable.

The collection is dedicated to all my friends at Writers In Townsville Society.

The Townsville Bulletin has an article on me

Townsville’s daily newspaper, the Townsville Bulletin, has an article, with a pic, on me, which appears in the Saturday, September 24, 2011 issue, and can be read on the web, I believe.  The website of The Bully, as all we locals call it, is

Monday, September 19 was moving house day for me, and by the time reporter Ian Frazer and photographer Megan Taylor arrived at 3:00 pm, I’d been up for about twelve hours, was comprehensively exhausted, and I’m unsure I uttered anything sensible in the hour they spent with me, which included two guys delivering my new fridge.

I'm in conversation with poet Aimee Norton on October 13

As part of Queensland Writers Week, the Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre is hosting five evenings of writing events from Monday, October 10 through to Friday, October 14.  On the Thursday evening, I will be in conversation with Aimee Norton.  Among the topics covered in a wide-ranging conversation about poetry will be why many people get turned off poetry for life at school; does poetry matter in 2011; will poetry continue to survive; what is so special about poetry as a form of writing, compared to other fiction and non-fiction; how has poetry changed over the years; what prompted Aimee and I to become poets; who and what are we influenced and inspired by; and what does the future hold for us as poets.  Both Aimee and I will read selections from our favourite poets, and our own work.

I'm guest editor for a week for Dr. Hurley's Snake-Oil Cure

From Monday, October 17 to Saturday, October 22, the e-journal Dr. Hurley's Snake-Oil Cure ( has invited me to be their guest editor.  I will be featuring a week of Townsville writing from my Writers In Townsville Society colleagues Shaun Allen, Kerry Ashwin, Lori Hurst, Martha Landman, and Stephen Ryan, as well as slipping in something of mine.

A thankyou!

A warm, heartfelt thankyou to American novelist and all round sweet soul Dawn DeAnna Wilson for giving me the opportunity to expound on many and varied things Australian in her Aussie August feature on her blog, The Year of Writing Dangerously.  Do check it out:

I will be returning the favour, and giving Dawn a guest spot on my blog, soon...

Other cool blogs

Christine Adler’s Feed All the Animals.

Kerry Ashwin’s Pen to Paper.

Gail Baugniet’s Gail M Baugniet – Author.

Lori Hurst's Writing in the Tropics.

Nikesh Murali's Nikesh Murali the official website.

Darby O’Shea’s Darby O’Shea.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Aussie August

During August, I will be the guest blogger for the American novelist Dawn DeAnna Wilson.  In ten or more posts, I will be giving her readers an idiosyncratic, hopefully entertaining and fun, window into aspects of Australian life and culture.

Dawn’s site is “The Year of Writing Dangerously.

Do join us there, for "Aussie August"!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Beauty, Truth, and Where We All Stand (Part One)

John Keats ends his poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, written in 1819, with the couplet:

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

This post is not yet another academic dissertation on those famous lines, but rather, in this part one of a three part article, an account of how the concept of “truth” has influenced me, both as a poet, and, more broadly, my take on the world.  Part two will be on “beauty”, and part three will bring the threads together.

I hope that this may be of interest, in that we all have, I believe, whether we are writers or not, a standpoint, a worldview, on beauty and truth, be it a conscious one, or an implicitly assumed one.

For many years, when I was asked about my poetry, I used to reply, simply, “I tell the truth”.  And what I had in mind was these lines of Keats.  That “truth” is my personal one.  It is not a religious or spiritual truth.  It is not a literal truth.  (Over the years my poetry has been at times fantastical, absurd, and surreal.)

My “truth” as a poet is to, as fearlessly as possible, without any regard for fame, fortune (it goes without saying that the words “poetry” and “fortune” in the same breath are to all intents oxymoronic), getting published – any ulterior motive – write according to the promptings of my imagination.

I’ll put my shingle out in cyberspace, and say that my concept of the “imagination” is a mystical one.  Some of you may roll your eyes, but for me, everything is meant, and part of a mystical whole.  Mystical not religious or spiritual, though for me the concepts are not mutually exclusive.  How do words enter my head?  The mystery is an abiding one.

It is also my “truth” to, as conscientiously and assiduously as possible, endeavour to improve my technique and technical skills as a poet.  Even at age fifty-two, as I write this, I try to keep a learning mentality.

Years ago, as a fledgling poet in my twenties, I hung out with other poets, and tried to absorb wisdom from my wiser, more experienced peers.  I also read, and read, and read all sorts of poetry.  In terms of improving my technique these days, it is mainly through reading, and continuing to conscientiously experiment with form and structure.  This leopard may have well defined spots, but to mix an animal kingdom metaphor, this increasingly old dog is still learning new tricks.

I choose to almost always write free verse.  Robert Frost likened free verse poetry to playing tennis without a net: it might be fun, but it “ain’t tennis”.  While holding Robert Frost, and very many other poets who chose, and still do choose, to write formal verse, in high regard, I gently and good humouredly disagree with him.

Poetry is, for me, distilled reality.  This is my “truth”.  Robert Frost’s distillery produced fine verse in rhyme and metre, my distillery produces a different drop.  It’s all a matter of personal truth.

This may be contentious to some, but I believe that true poets – I abstract from other writers – are born, not made.  In saying this, I immediately, almost breathlessly lest one single reader doubts what I mean, to return to the animal kingdom, a born poet is like a born baby turtle, with innate instincts and DNA, but the conversion rate of baby turtles to mature turtles is low.  There are lots of hazards, obstacles, which get in the way.

And so it is with poets.  To be a poet takes effort, perseverance, and perhaps, if not luck, then a splash of divine providence.

So, in finishing this part one of the post, as writers whatever our genre, we must, I sincerely believe, just must, follow our personal truth, as unfailingly as a baby turtle homes in, little flippers flapping, for the ocean.

More to follow.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Don't Sleepwalk Off a Balcony, Write with Awareness

Most of us sleepwalk through life, most of the time. I was reminded of this recently when I visited a good friend’s waterfront apartment. I stepped out onto his balcony, and was taking in a stunning view of the calm harbour, with yachts moored. When my friend joined me I commented on how lucky he was to have such an exquisite view. “I just don’t see it,” he replied.

Isn’t it true that we most always become so used to our familiar surroundings, we, like my friend, are asleep to their beauty? We take expensive holidays, go half way around the world, to do, if truth were known, what we could do at home, were we but able to see our familiar surroundings with freshly minted, open eyes.

As writers, it would be immensely helpful, I believe, to wake from that slumber as often as is possible. And though that might seem a laudable, yet elusive goal, there are ways to do it.

I remember a poet friend of mine telling me years ago about his experience attending a Buddhist retreat near Sydney. For some days, he did not speak. He ate vegetarian meals, and contemplated. The result of this was that, among other good results, his senses became heightened. The grass became vividly green for him. He was more awake.

Now before you immediately say “I’m not a Buddhist, I like my steak too much to go vego, even for a few days, and I’m certainly not going to stay silent while my kids are running amok,” let me reassure you, there are other ways to achieve a similar outcome.

One good way is brain exercise. OK, for those of you who immediately baulk at the “e” word, let me reassure you it’s as easy as trying to brush your teeth with your opposite hand, or getting dressed with your eyes closed. (You’re allowed to get the clothes out of the wardrobe first, if you wish, in case you’re worried about odd socks.) An informative, useful article on the subject by The Franklin Institute is at:

Another good way is cultivating the habit of listening to people. How many of you are people watchers? Hands up. Most of us are, if we care to admit it. But, as soon as a person begins to talk, we begin to make definitive judgements about them, and in conversation with them, soon most of us are not really taking in what the person is saying, rather we are waiting for a chance to talk ourselves, usually about ourselves.

If we try to listen, intently, to what the person is saying, without interrupting them, we engage more fully with that person’s story, and as writers, grist for our creative mill is there to, later, be reflected on.

Lastly on this, though I could offer more suggestions, try, as writers, to cultivate a sense of wonder. A way I did this while living in Canberra was to, each morning I travelled on the bus, not bury my head in a book – there is a time for that – or a newspaper, but, instead, take in the scenes, inside the bus and out. There is an especially beautiful lake, Lake Burley Griffin, there, and when the bus travelled over the bridge, in the colder months often there was a mist on the lake. The stuff of stories, myth, legend, ethereal beings, perhaps.

Let us return to my friend’s balcony. Can I remember any specific details of any of the yachts? No. Not now. An opportunity lost? Perhaps not, because when I opened myself to the view, my subconscious, the storehouse of all I experience, took it in, and, some time in the future, when composing a poem; possibly, even, without conscious recollection; a name of one of those yachts might find itself in the poem.

Mull on all this. See your own water, your own yachts. Write with awareness.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

A Fresh Approach to Word Choice

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”  ~ Anton Chekhov

Every writer knows the mystery of words popping into their head when they are writing.  I contend that these words are from our subconscious mind, which has faithfully stored the sum of our whole life experience up to that moment of composition.

Any book is, I believe, an expression of the author’s conscious and subconscious mind.  The foundation of the approach to writing outlined here is the idea that the minds of all the authors who have ever written books are a potential resource to enrich the originality of our own work.

That is, if we draw upon books in the way outlined below – any books, in any number, that you wish to draw upon – we are drawing upon words, and sentence constructions, that quite likely we may not have thought to use, had we just been trying to write out of our own head.

A way to do this is to use the technique of bibliomancy, or divination from books.  To do it, riffle the pages of a book, and open it at any point.  Those two facing pages are a snapshot of the author’s conscious and subconscious mind.

Skim read those pages.  Write down the words that strike you.  I suggest that you choose a selection of words from across the word categories, that is, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and so on.

Now repeat the process with another book, and then keep repeating until you feel you have enough words to draw upon.  It’s useful, I believe, to use at least two books.  This keeps any slight risk of plagiarism to a minimum.  But truly, doing the process word by word, rather than phrase by phrase, makes any risk of plagiarism almost non-existent.

I'd rather be caught holding up a bank than stealing so much as a two-word phrase from another writer.”  ~ Jack Smith

A way to view this is that the words you choose from one book are “one spice for a recipe”.  Most chefs use more than one spice, to give the dish a distinctive flavour.  Another way to see this is that the words from one book are one colour on your writer’s palette.  The more books you divine from, the more colours you have available to use, and mix according to your purpose.

Now go ahead and use these words in your writing.

Regardless of what type of writing you do, this “mind expansion”, linking your mind with the minds of published authors, will likely make your work more original.  Two or three or more minds surely are better than just your one.

Sentence pattern templates

Another, related way to use bibliomancy is to use the sentence patterns of books as templates.  To construct a template, replace each word in a passage with a cross, keeping all the punctuation.  This deconstructs the prose, allowing you to examine the author’s writing technique.

For example, a sentence pattern template for my previous paragraph is:

X, x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x.  X x x x, x x x x x x x x x, x x x x.  X x x x, x x x x x x x x.

This example highlights that my sentences were of a similar length, and I used a comma early in the sentence in each of the three sentences.

Obviously, doing this can be time consuming, but if you wish to closely examine the prose, or poetry, of a writer you admire, with a view to modifying their constructions for your own purposes, deconstruction can be worth the effort.  Be mindful that writing is a craft, and some of the most renowned writers down the centuries have laboured for draft after draft after many, many drafts to achieve their success.

How much effort are you willing to put in?  How badly do you want to succeed?  That depends on what your writing goals are, but if you wish to write seriously, in an original way, please consider the approaches outlined in this paper.