Tag: poetry

Exploiting the ‘No’ vote

The ugliness of those dissenting voices in the Referendum for the Voice has been brewing from the start but with three weeks to go it’s escalated. The Referendum has exposed a division that was certainly there, but which seems to have grown like a many-headed Hydra. It’s been politically hijacked by the federal Opposition, and is being exploited by various extreme right-wing groups for their own poisonous ideologies that seem to be based on hating anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with their particular view.

As if the world doesn’t have enough hatred going on with conflicts and war in so many countries, never mind planetary reminders that we should all be turning our attention to that runaway climate change train that will force us all to put aside all these quarrels in the effort to simply survive.

It was fantastic to witness the support for the ‘Yes’ vote last weekend in so many rallies and walks across the country. I hope that support will be sustained and strengthened in the days to come so the polls are proved misleading and incorrect, and the ‘Ayes’ will indeed have it.

I expressed my view in a poem that was another entry in the Independent Australia’s writing competition. As with almost all these poetic creations, this one began life as a result of the weekly Word Expo word game. But I very quickly rewrote Exploitation and it’s now been published. I can only hope that it might just contribute to changing the minds of a few of those who read it – especially if they were veering towards voting ‘No’.

Here we go again . . .

When I started this blog I was determined not to make it too political. The website was to remain – mostly anyway – an activist-free zone. But it’s hard sometimes. I’m not sure what it is about Tasmania but all too often its people tear themselves apart over controversial issues. So far, since I’ve lived here, there have been dams, forests, pulp mills and poker machines. The forestry issue has been ongoing for decades, and with no signs of a resolution. We nearly had one with the hard-fought forestry agreement that for an all- too-brief-time saw an end to the ’wars’ between timber workers and conservationists. The Liberals tore that up when they won government around 10 years ago. Now we’re back to where we were – a situation neither side wished for.

The latest controversy involves football. The AFL version, not soccer – which is of course the ball game of the moment, given the Women’s World Cup Championships, and Australia’s Matildas surpassing all expectations by making the semi-finals. And may the best team win.

But soccer aside, what’s concentrating the minds of Tasmanians is whether the price of finally getting a licence to have a state team in the national AFL draw should depend on building a massive new stadium. The outgoing AFL boss insists it’s a condition of the licence. The premier apparently didn’t say boo to this rather high-handed demand despite most Tasmanians being outraged at the decision. And why not really when we already have two stadiums. One in the South and one in the North. Both have hosted AFL games for years – to audiences that haven’t always filled either stadium. Both stadiums have also successfully hosted other sporting events, as well as concerts.

So once again Tasmania is a state in conflict. The business case for a new stadium is extremely optimistic at best. More than one economist has picked a multitude of holes in it. And with so many other pressing social needs such as health, hospitals, housing and a homelessness crisis, requiring funding, building a stadium is considered the height of reckless extravagance by over half the population. The predictable if depressing result is sides being chosen, sleeves being rolled up, and preparing for another conflict to consume time and energy – for both those who are for it and those who are opposed.

A poem I wrote describes my opinion of the project. I entered it in the Independent Australia competition where I hoped it might at least get published – and raise awareness of the issue on a national platform – but I never believed for a second it could be a winner. But so it is: the July winner in the Fiction/Poetry category. At the No Stadium rally being organised later this month I’ve been invited to read it out.
So once again another poem I’ve written has resonated. I continue to be amazed – but if this one helps to change the hearts and minds of our government, and force a rethink on the terms of the contract, it’s done its job. No to a new stadium. Yes to a team.

Graphic designed by Marion Curtain

A surprise success

I still find it amazing that some of these poems I write, and that I rarely agonise over, take hours to compose, or even – really – take terribly seriously, nevertheless strike a chord or find favour in a publication. Of course they wouldn’t ever do that unless I took the time (and had the confidence) to submit them, and I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t feel they were perhaps worthy, given the majority are unquestioningly and unapologetically political. But even so . . .

In the case of this most recent success, I wrote the poem initially for a Greens’ Fossil Fools Trivia Night fundraiser where the theme was obviously the ongoing climate change risks associated with mining and fracking coal and gas. Two of us were invited to read poems during the evening, and I was one of them. Mine was well received on what was essentially a fun night, albeit with serious undertones, designed to poke fun at the former Coalition government’s failure to take climate change seriously – and to try to help the election of our Greens candidate in the forthcoming Legislative Council. A big ask, and we didn’t succeed this time, but if you don’t try . . .

I filed the poem away in my increasingly bulging folder and gave it little thought until I read the details of a competition and publishing opportunity offered by online media organisation Independent Australia https://independentaustralia.net

Despite subscribing to IA for several years it’s the first time I remember it has invited readers to submit articles, fiction or poetry for consideration for such an opportunity, and one that is running for around three months. Winners and short-listed entries are announced each month, and a selection will be published on the website. To be eligible for consideration all entries, regardless of category, have to be on a current affairs topic, be that political, social justice, environmental etc.

I remembered my Fossil Fool poem and fished it out of the folder. I read it through again. With a bit of tweaking I felt it certainly fitted the brief. So I reworked the last stanza and added another one, completed the entry criteria and sent if off, not really anticipating I’d hear anything back for a while – if ever.
So it was a genuine surprise to learn it had indeed been published, and with its own Mark David cartoon to boot! https://independentaustralia.net/life/art-display/fossil-fools,17603

Whether ‘Fossil Fools’ will progress any further in the IA competition remains to be seen. I won’t know that until sometime in July so watch this space as they say!

Life can be so full of surprises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideas are like rabbits

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

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

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

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

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


A stint in the spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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


I’m in shock!

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

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

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

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

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

Now you know why I’m in shock!

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