Monday, 12 March 2012

Graham Nunn

Steam Ghosts
for Samuel Wagan Watson

He wonders why the street behaves
so strangely; tonight, after rain, its silence
unnerves him. He knows that it's unusual
for the steam ghosts to show themselves;
spirits whose lungs once bellowed
campfire songs, lost souls.

In this place, men slip into corner stores
to gather meat and fish; cleaned and pre-packed
they fill their plastic bags to bursting.
Without fire, pans spit and crackle
and we curse still air's smoke curls.
This is no time for dreaming.


TSTmpj:  When an Australian poet uses the word "dreaming," it connotes something that perhaps some in the international poetry community may not be fully aware of.  Can you offer some thoughts on your interpretation and usage of "dreaming" in "Steam Ghosts", for both the international and Australian audience reading this?

Graham Nunn:  "Steam Ghosts" is dedicated to Samuel Wagan Watson, one of the finest Indigenous poets writing in Australia today. Several years ago, Samuel dedicated a poem to me in his collection, Smoke Encrypted Whispers, titled "Tigerland", a term of endearment for the place where we grew up, Mt Gravatt East. So, I have always wanted to return the favour... I wrote this poem driving home (to Mt Gravatt East) after the launch of Samuel's latest collection, The Curse Words (Vagabond Press Rare Objects Series). It was a typically sweltering Brisbane night; the rain had come down hard and the humidity was edging 100%. Driving home, I was still in the spell of Samuel's words and I found myself watching the steam rise off the road. Before I knew it, I had pulled over; the poem revealing itself to me almost in full. The use of the word dreaming refers to a time pre-invasion; a time when the Jagera and Turrbal people lived, hunted and gathered along the Brisbane River. A time of spiritual beauty, now almost completely overshadowed by our fast-paced consumer culture.

TSTmpj:  Who is your current favourite poet, or poet who has most recently impressed you?  What do you wish to say about their work?

Graham Nunn:  Without doubt it is Robert Adamson. What to say about his work... who would have thought that a river (the Hawkesbury in this case) could hold a lifetime of poems? His work courses with the lifeblood of the Hawkesbury; diamond sharp in its ability to capture the natural beauty of the river and its inhabitants.

TSTmpj:  Forty or so years ago, Michael Dransfield wrote "to be a poet in Australia is the ultimate commitment".  What is your take on this?

Graham Nunn:  I was recently reading some research on living as an artist in Australia and I guess it is no surprise that the statistics are not very favourable. That said, the digital revolution has made the world a much smaller place for poets; in fact, we are no longer bound by place. I feel that as a poet I am able to reach out to a global audience through digital platforms such as my blog, making it easier to develop meaningful networks that allow my work to travel much further than Dransfield may have ever imagined.

Bio Note

Graham Nunn blogs at, has published five poetry collections, and was the recipient of The Johnno Award in 2011.


  1. I love the poem, and the sentiments, Graham. I am proud to know you, and to count you as part of my life, and I am proud at our shared commitment to poetry.


  2. Terrific poem - if only people realised we all need time for dreaming.

  3. Ah. Such a complex poem, written so cleanly. Thank you Graham--this has given me a big lungful of the Queensland climate, much needed today, exiled in Sydney.