October Writer of The Month – Chloe Higgins

December 6, 2013

Chloe Higgins

Chloe is a third year Creative Writing student at UOW and Co-Editor of UOW’s student magazine, Tertangala. She writes a bit of everything, but currently has a soft spot for 600 word short stories. Her work has appeared in TertangalaZPlatt (online), Kiama IndependentLake Times and on the South Coast Writers’ Centre website. Her first e-book, Copy Paste Guide – Get a Band 6 in HSC English Creative Writing, was published by an online education company, myEd Online, in December last year.

A short story and poem by her are below.
This is Bob.

(Try to imagine the man you see catching the 6:08 Western line into Sydney every morning. He’s wearing the brown plaid vest over the light brown dress shirt, with the dark brown pants. Notice his shoes too. They are supposed to be black. But he prefers brown.)

Bob is the ‘boss’ where he works. He has his own office, while the rest of them sit in back-to-back open cubicles; a coffee mug an employee bought him one year for Christmas with ‘Boss’ painted on the side; and a name plaque attached to his office door.

Bob likes an argument. Which is why he meets his daughter for lunch every Wednesday. He never lets a point go—he’s a little tenacious. Which is why he’s always late. Bob cleans his teeth three times a day (a girlfriend from his youth once told him his breath smelt) and eats a chickpea, grated beetroot, Greek fetta, tomato, cucumber and olive salad for lunch. Every day. Except Sundays, when he doesn’t have lunch because he and his wife do a bacon and egg brunch thing instead. Oh, and there’s one more thing about Bob: he always keeps a business shirt at his desk. Just in case. Although even Bob isn’t quite sure what the ‘just in case’ is, since the same shirt has been sitting there for 27 years now.

As you can see, Bob is a regular kind of guy, with a regular kind of job, and a regular kind of life. His wife Mary, although very nice, is just a regular type of woman too.

Except one thing.

Bob likes polar bears. Bob has never seen a polar bear in real life, but he knows exactly what they look like. A different girlfriend in his youth once showed him a picture of one and asked if he thought it was cute. Bob said yes, and she said that was good because women only like men who have a soft side. Bob wasn’t quite sure how polar bears were related to men with soft sides, but he nodded and smiled and was very pleased with himself anyway. Then he started collecting pictures of polar bears and putting them up around his house and office. And on Saturdays, when he doesn’t have to work, and he and his wife aren’t brunching, Bob scours the television for documentaries about Greenland. Bob likes Greenland too. He’d like to go there one day and see a polar bear in real life. Which is funny. Because just the other day, a friend of Bob’s called him up, all excited, talking about Greenland and how there are polar bears there.

‘So do you want to go?’ his friend had asked Bob.

Yes! Bob had wanted to shout into the phone.

But the thing was, Bob had his 6:08 to Sydney to catch, an office to oversee, and a couple of arguments he needed to tie up. Besides, he had wondered, did they even have chickpeas in Greenland?

‘Let me sleep on it,’ Bob said, looking out the window. ‘I’ll get back to you.’


yesterday

i watched a bird fall from

the sky was yellow and (a)round

the trees hung circles of

yours was yellow blood

that seeped into mine

even the blind could see

when seven thousand ribbons

were strung midway

between your ribcage and navel

yesterday

i watched

a bird fall

(This poem is a response to Lina Sagaral-Reyes’ poem, The story I would have wanted to tell you had I met you yesterday. Both poems are about a young activist, Emmanuel Gutierrez, who was killed during the Yellow Revolution in the Philippines.)

September Writer of the Month – Maureen Flynn

October 1, 2013
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Maureen Flynn

Maureen has written young adult speculative fiction novels and short stories for as long as she can remember. She is currently crowd funding with a group of authors, including bestsellers Sophie Masson and Sean Williams, to create genre Choose Your Own Adventure stories in public places. She has been an official tweeter at the Southern Highlands Writers Festival for the South Coast Writers Centre and blogs book reviews regularly at her wordpress blog, InkAshlings and at Goodreads. Most recently, Maureen tweeted at the book launch of Shady Cosgrove’s debut, What The Ground Can’t Hold. Her review of the novel is below.  

What the Ground Can’t Hold, Shady Cosgrove.
PanMacmillan Australia, 2013.
RRP: $29.99 Australian.

I have to admit that this isn’t usually my kind of novel. I usually find literary novels mind numbingly dull. However, Shady is Sub Dean of Creative Writing at my old University and with the book launch coming up on Saturday, I was interested to see how this debut novel panned out. I also love historical angles in my fiction. This is ironic as probably the part of the story I was disappointed in was the stuff dealing with the Dirty War. I don’t know much about this chapter in Argentinian history at all and the novel assumes that you do have that background knowledge. On the plus side, this means that characters feel very real and natural in their interactions with others, but it does make the story a bit confusing in parts for those who know little about Argentinian history.

I absolutely loved that we got to see five different points of view centred around reactions to the Americans leaving – and presumably dying – at the hands of an avalanche, with each person struck by a different aspect of the two boys personality. They both seemed like nasty pieces of work but depending on each character’s personal circumstance, depended on which piece of nastiness they most picked up upon. The writing is lyrical and beautiful, the landscape is so well described you start to shiver and the characterisations are spot on. Characters act like real people and they sound like it too! Even though each character speaks to us in the first person, Shady makes sure she differentiates each character with their own unique voice. The ending is suitably ambiguous given the nature of the moral questions that Shady poses about forgiveness, apology, fear and regret.

Though I would have liked more on The Dirty War, this wasn’t the point of the story, rather a facet of it. Instead,What The Ground Can’t Hold took me by surprise, didn’t let me go and has lingered on in my mind long after the final pages were shut.

What the Ground Can’t Hold: 4/5 inky stars

August Writer of the Month – Darcy Tranter-Cook

September 2, 2013

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Darcy Tranter-Cook is a University of Wollongong Bachelor of Creative Arts graduate and an intern at the South Coast Writers Centre. He writes prose mainly but also likes to write reviews of movies, games and books. When he was a small child an old man robed in black told him, “one day you will have to write a 50 word bio about yourself and when that time comes, trust in yourself, you will know what to do.” Darcy has subsequently discovered that robed men are not to be trusted.

Below is his review of Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images.

Fire: A Collection of Stories, Poems and Visual Images

Edited by Delys Bird, Margaret River Press

Fire. It brings life and it takes it away. Today we humans, as a species, are far more familiar with the destructive capacities of fire, but this was not always the way. Early humans learning to control fire was a massive turning point in our cultural evolution. Fire allowed us to cook food, provide ourselves with warmth and protection from the more curious of beasts. It also enabled us to make use of the night, to stride out into the darkness with confidence.

For roughly 400,000 years humans have had an intense connection with fire. However what began as a matter of life and death has now become a mere aesthetic pleasure in our electrical world. That is, until we lose control of it.

Cassandra Atherton’s piece Raining Blood and Money: Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is about a tragic industrial accident that took place in a New York sweatshop on March 25, 1911, when fire broke out in a large building. The doors were locked, a common practice at the time to stop thieves and early breaks, which meant many of the workers were forced to jump from the 8th, 9th and 10th stories to their death. Just like the spectators at street level, the reader is transfixed in horror as we watch these poor people choose a quick, sudden death over a long, agonizing one. The piece is truly disturbing and haunting and yet its message is clear: while we may scrape the sky with our buildings, if we’re not adequately prepared, fire will still turn everything we know to ash within minutes.

Playing With Fire by Miriam Wei Wei Lo is a poem with stanzas that take the form of flames licking the pages, giving the impression that, just like her powerful turn of phrase, the poem itself is jumping out at you. The poem is made up of seven parts, each a different thought or image stemming from fire, each radiating with emotion. The piece ends with a fantastic image of the duality of nature: a consummation becomes the relationship between earth and fire, “love and anger lying so close together on the bed.”

Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images is an anthology that celebrates our relationship with fire and the literal and emotional warmth it provides us, as well as being a somber reminder of the essential lessons learned in the wake of its destruction. It’s fantastically produced, with thick, glossy pages and high-resolution, colour photos and comes highly recommended from me.

Darcy Tranter-Cook

July Writer of the Month – Sherry Landow

August 5, 2013

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Sherry Landow is a creative writing and sociology student currently finishing her degree at the University of Wollongong. She is the host and co-convenor of the region’s first regular poetry slam, Enough Said, and is also an intern here at the South Coast Writers Centre. She has been published twice in Needle in the Hay, is the 2012 winner of their Youth award, and was recently awarded a high commendation for the 2013 Qantas Spirit of Youth awards.

In recent months she has been busy coordinating and curating Wollongong City Council’s Street Talk project, a collaborative work between street artists and slam poets. This project involved painting the back of the Illawarra Performance Arts Centre in celebration of their 25th anniversary. Over the span of three months, spoken word poets Zohab Zee Khan, Ahmad AL-Rady and Lorin Reid collaborated with street artists Trait Cross, Fintan Magee and Sam Clouston on concepts and designs for the wall. Not only did the process result in a spectacular wall, but in a laneway launch night with music, improv emceeing, projections, and slam performances. Read below for more information on the project, and an interview between Sherry and the three spoken word poets involved.

 

An Interview with the Poets of Street Talk

Zohab Zee Khan, Ahmad AL-Rady and Lorin Reid


Ok guys, let’s start with the basics: what is a slam/spoken word poem?

(Z) To put it simply, spoken word poetry is just that, poetry designed to be spoken and heard rather than written and read. Spoken word poetry is a movement, a revolution, an artistic means of self-expression that I believe has the power to create real change in this wonderful world of ours. Spoken word poetry is passion.

(L) For me, it’s about creating poetry for the people, taking poetry from the page and putting it on the cultural table. It’s about engaging with a room full of people or one person on a busy street and having that spark of electricity that only comes from real emotional connection. It’s about being raw and personal which in turn is something relatable and universal. It’s about the way words sound, their rhyme and their rhythm.

(A.A) Personally, I perceive slam poetry or spoken word as a movement, a medium, an opportunity of self-expression with ‘poetry’ being the major catalyst that initiates unconventional and contemporary dialogue that encompasses the audience and the poet in honest and sincere self-exploration.  Personally I feel that vulnerability and honesty are what make a poet develop and mature and it is through those two conventions that barriers can be overcome and mediums like a ‘poetry slam’ can manifest itself.

 

What can someone expect to see when they attend a poetry slam?

(L) Really nervous people reciting their poetry, hopefully for the first time ever and being rewarded for it with a rush of adrenaline and applause. Poetry slam is a competition on paper, judged by random members of the audience who might know nothing about poetry. So obviously it’s not really about the competition, it’s about having an exciting and welcoming place for people to express themselves.

(A.A) You can expect brave exteriors engulfed by nervous voices and trembling hands, emotionally sentimental poetry, funny poetry, of course love poetry, audience cheers, papers with scores on them, a sense of community and family.

(Z) A slam is all about emotions, ranging from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Slamming is about community, it’s about sharing stories and perspectives. When you walk out of a slam you come out of it richer for the experience for you’ve been exposed to a range of viewpoints and emotions.

 

When did you first fall in love with slam? Do you remember the exact moment?

(A.A) I initially became interested in spoken word (ironically) in Mr Riley’s math class in year 9 during high school. I would zone out, burying myself into a Paulo Coelho novel or a Khalil Gibran book whenever he was explaining algebra and trigonometry so he kind of figured I favoured English. One day he pulled me aside after class and told me to check out ‘Def Poetry Jam’ (a show on HBO) that can be seen on YouTube and gave me a name of an artist to look up. And so I did – and I was blown away and was eager to see more.  So Mr Riley and I developed a mutual agreement – if I do my assigned work and pay attention in his unit, he would recommend me a name of a spoken word artist on ‘Def Poetry Jam’ at the end of each class … and till this day I’m on YouTube, spending countless hours immersed in beauty that is spoken word.

(L) I was studying on exchange in the USA in late 2011 and my professor at the University of Massachusetts, the incredible Nick McBride, let our class off early and paid for the whole group to go and see a film at the cinema called Louder Than A Bomb. It’s a beautiful independent release about youth poetry slam in Chicago, following the story of four young high school poets and how slam transforms their lives. I sat in the cinema after the film and knew that I had to find out more about this poetry thing.

(Z) I’ve been performing spoken word poetry for over a decade, but I think the particular moment that I fell in love with spoken word was at a hip hop charity concert that I performed at many years ago. I remember doing a poem that brought tears to the eyes of a girl in the front row. It’s an image that has stayed with me since. That was the day I fell in love with the passion of poetry slamming.

 

Do you find that there is any stigma in the literary world associated with the spoken, in opposed to written word? If so, how does this impact your poetry?

(L) I’ve studied creative writing at university for the last five years and not once was I exposed to spoken word poetry. I think that says something in itself. I think there is some truth in the rep spoken word gets for being cliché or over dramatic but I think I strive to outdo cliché regardless of the stigma. I think that reputation comes from people who’ve never actually put their foot out the door and experience the energy of slam for themselves. It doesn’t really impact my poetry although I do love the feeling of converting the haters.

(Z) Spoken word most definitely has a stigma associated to it. I believe spoken word poetry pushes boundaries and allows a listener to experience a new form of storytelling. Spoken word isn’t always grammatically correct and maybe that why it has a stigma attached to it. It’s still poetry at the end of the day.

You can’t expect to please everybody. I personally think that it’s just another piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is storytelling. Art is art, regardless of whether it is in a written, spoken or visual form.

(A.A) I would say so, yes. I believe there is a sense of snobbery when it comes to poetry from the literary world. Poetry’s initial historical roots stems from an oral tradition. Before parchment, ink and books were readily available- poetry was bellowed by people in town centres or the local streets- so for people to disregard spoken word as a valid art form is to disregard self-expression, and in essence that’s what poetry was and is. And as spoken word poets we must strive to mature our work, perform with sincerity and take the time to educate your audience through your work.

 

What was your favourite part about the Street Talk collaboration?

(L) Definitely the fact that it was a collaboration. Working with other poets and visual artists outside of poetry was breathtaking and it was such a cool experience to be involved with people I’d have never usually met let alone worked with. A moment that really stands out was reading my poem out in the workshop and seeing Fintan start sketching ideas as I was reading. To see my poem come to life … that was pretty crazy.

(A.A) Most definitely the collaboration with amazing artists and, in hindsight, looking back at the project I find myself saying ‘what a brilliant way to use that space’. A simple and forgotten alleyway, transformed into a point of conversation, beauty, self-expression, art and curiosity.

(Z) It’s hard to pick just one favourite moment in the collaboration. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to collaborate with such talented artist. All in all my favourite part would have to of been the overall sharing and gaining of artistic wisdom – that and secretly spray painting a line on the wall!

 

Where do you think the future of spoken word poetry in Australia is heading?

(Z) The future of Australian spoken word is strong. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of the scene for quite a few years now and the growth that I’ve seen in the last year or two alone has been mind-blowing. People are taking spoken word up faster than I have ever seen, give it a little more time and Australia will be at the forefront of the spoken word world. The future is bright.

(L) I don’t think I really have the authority to speak on the whole national scene, but in my experience over the last year, I feel like the community of poets and supporters are coming together and becoming more of a close-knit and supportive family. I take spoken word on a day-to-day basis and amazing events and spaces keep opening up which is great, I hope it stays free/cheap and open to everyone and anyone who wants to have a go.

(A.A) It’s heading to the people.
If a poetry slam can inspire just one individual to pick up a book, write a few lines on paper, immerse themselves in something that is literary – then spoken word poetry has served its purpose.

 

Bios:

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Ahmad AL-Rady

Ahmad is a uni student by day and a spoken word artist by night. He is a 2012 Australian Poetry Slam NSW finalist and has shared the stage with international poets such as Amir Suliman and IN-Q. He is also the founder of the Bankstown Poetry Slam. When asked how he would describe his poetry he simply replies ‘honest’. You can find more info on the Bankstown Poetry Slam by clicking here.

Check out Ahmad performing a love poem at the Bankstown Poetry Slam here.

 

Lorin Reid

lorin-reid-1373247957Lorin Reid is a spoken word poet and co-founder of ‘Enough Said’, Wollongong’s monthly poetry slam held at Yours and Owls. She is a creative writing and journalism student and likes to tell stories, take pictures, and spend hours learning the lyrics to rap albums. She was highly commended at the Sydney heat of the 2012 Australian Poetry Slam and won the September 2012 and May 2013 Word In Hand slams in Glebe. A true supporter of spoken word culture, she performs from Sydney to Canberra, secured her first feature slot at the Poetry in Wollongong slam in April 2013 and followed that up as feature poet at the Bankstown Poetry Slam in May. She has an upcoming feature at Word In Hand in August later this year. For more info on Enough Said slam, click here.

Click here to see Lorin perform her winning poem ‘Zachary’ at the Glebe Word in Hand Poetry Slam.

 

Zohab Zee Khan

zohab-zee-khan-1373248195Zohab Z Khan is a nomadic spoken word artist and is the founding director of ‘Zee Poetics’, an organisation that aims to inspire a new generation of poets through performance based workshops. He has been writing and performing poetry since the age of 13 and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. A three time Australian Poetry Slam finalist, Zohab has had the pleasure of performing alongside the likes of Sarah Kay, Phil Kaye and Amir Sulaiman amongst others. Zohab’s high energy performance will knock your socks off!

 
Check out Zohab performing at the 2011 Australian Poetry Slam finals right here.

May Writer of the Month – Ron Pretty

August 5, 2013

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Ron Pretty’s next book, What the Afternoon Knows, will be published by Pitt Street Poetry in July this year. He was publisher of Five Islands Press books for twenty years. He has edited the magazines Scarp:New Arts and Writing and Blue Dog:Australian Poetry. He has taught writing in the Universities of Wollongong and Melbourne, as well as in schools, colleges and community organisations. Currently he runs an Online Workshop for the AP. Ron Pretty was awarded the NSW Premier’s Award and an AM for services to Australian literature. In 2012 he spent six months at the Whiting Studio in Rome, courtesy of the Australia Council. Many of the poems included were written during his residency at the Whiting Studio in Rome.

 

Having worked as an editor, publisher, teacher and poet, what do you enjoy the most?

A tricky question, for each of these activities has its own set of pleasures. As an editor and a teacher, I enjoy the challenge of developing the writing and encouraging its author; as a publisher, there’s a great pleasure in promoting work you believe in. In this respect, the New Poets Program that Five Islands Press ran for twelve years published first books by many writers who have gone on to achieve considerable success: Peter Boyle, James Bradley, Judy Johnson, Cate Kennedy, Andy Kissane, Mark O’Flynn, Jennifer Webb and many others. At the other end of the age scale, I was also proud of keeping older poets, some of them unreasonably neglected, in the public eye: Connie Barber, John Millet, Vera Newsom, Aileen Kelly among them. But for sheer pleasure, for me, nothing can beat sitting out on our balcony that overlooks Lake Illawarra at night with pad and fountain pen and a glass of red, waiting to see what turns up. Often, when I look at it in the cold light of morning, what I have written doesn’t amount to much, but it’s the occasional surprise that keeps me going, when something I’d hadn’t imagined appears on the page. For me, there’s no greater pleasure.

 

What would you consider your greatest literary achievement?

This is really a question not for me but for other people, but I can say that this latest book, What the Afternoon Knows, is the book I feel most pleased with. Then again, I hope the one that follows will be even better.

 

You spent six months at the Whiting Studio in Rome in 2012. Could you describe the experience for us? How did that time influence your writing or creativity?

The six months we spent in Rome, on a residency provided by the Australia Council, were simply wonderful. The Whiting Studio was spacious enough for me to write on the balcony during the warmer months, and in the library, surrounded by 2000 books, when it turned cold. Having six months meant that we could explore the parts of the city off the tourist maps, and in doing so we discovered a richness we hadn’t imagined: palazzo, parks, piazzas, small museums and many small churches; as well as finding paintings by great artists in unexpected places – we even discovered a Holbein painting of Henry VIII! ­ ­– and traces of Imperial Rome in little niches and corners everywhere. Food was cheap in nearby farmers’ markets; restaurants were plentiful, especially in Trastevere, where we were based. All this, and time without commitments gave me a freedom and an impetus to write that I found incredibly productive. I wrote more in those six months than I can usually write in five years…

 

Can you tell us about What the Afternoon Knows, your upcoming book of poetry?

This is my ninth book of poetry, the first to be published by the newly established publishing house of Pitt Street Poetry. Many of the poems were written during my time in Rome, and a few of the poems are set in Rome, or places we visited from Rome, but it’s not a collection of travel poetry. Rather, it continues and develops my interest in a number of key topics. For instance, a number of poems explore aspects of human personality: what is it that makes people act as they do? Others explore issues related to family – mine and others’ – and quite a few explore moral issues, sometimes with political implications, though without lecturing (I hope) or telling readers what to think. The second section of the book looks at some of these issues at the same time as it explores some of the possibilities of the contemporary sonnet.

 

Will there be a launch for the book?

John Knight of Pitt Street Poetry is planning several launches of What the Afternoon Knows. The first one will be as part of the Southern Highlands Festival of Writing, at the Hotel in Bowral on the evening of 12 July. It will be launched by the poet Michael Sharkey, winner of this year’s Grace Leven Prize for Poetry. Further launches will be at Gleebooks in Sydney on 13 August, and at Collected Works in Melbourne at a date to be fixed. I’m hoping to organize a launch in Wollongong later in the year; in the meantime, I’ll read some of the poems from the book at the Wollongong Art Gallery on 19 May, as part of the Sydney Writers Festival.

 

Interview by Aideen Weingarth and Rebecca Prokop.

April Writer of the Month – Christine Howe

May 14, 2013

Photo of Christine HoweChristine Howe

Christine Howe grew up on the Far South Coast of NSW and currently lives in Wollongong. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and lectures at the University of Wollongong.  Her first novel, Song in the Dark, was published by Penguin last month. Set mostly in Wollongong, it explores the relationship between Paul, a 19-year-old heroin addict, and his grandmother Hetty.

 

Song In the Dark prologue

By Christine Howe

Sunlight streams in the windows. Hetty’s sprawled on the floor in her nightie, and over by the armchair, smashed glass glints in the sun. Pain spreads inwards from her hip to her belly and up to her chest, flashing across the inside of her skull. She feels too heavy and old to move. The sun pouring through the window is a pounding dryness in her head and throat. The screen door down the hall is open, swaying backwards and forwards in the breeze. Hetty feels the room recede, drawn up into the harsh light.

‘Mrs Taylor? Can you hear me?’

The brightness of the walls is overwhelming. Her elbows lie on smooth, cool sheets; her feet are cold. The air is dry and sharp with the smell of disinfectant. The back of her tongue feels like it’s been plastered with sand and old tobacco, and she longs for something fresh and sweet from her garden that will clean the taste from her mouth.

Mulberries. A small boy’s face and shirt covered in bright stains, and an offering of berries held up to her in a grubby hand. His eyes sparkle, big and brown and intent on sharing his find with her. She bends down to take the gift and watches him ride away, his little muscular legs propelling the bike along at an ever-increasing speed, bumping across the backyard and pulling up with a spray of dirt underneath the mulberry tree. The berry bursts in her mouth and the juice leaves a red stain on her finger, the same colour as the roses growing beside the back porch.

Past Event: The Write Impression – Free Business Writing Workshop

April 29, 2013

Dr Rie Natalenko – “Doctor Write” of The Write Impression, is offering a FREE two-hour workshop:

“The 7 Most Common Mistakes in Business Writing – and how to fix them.”

April 23rd 10.00 am – 12 noon in the theatre adjoining the SCWC at Glennifer Brae.

If you would like to improve your Business Writing skills, or if you work in a business environment, then this is a workshop you MUST ATTEND!

Did you know that according to research reported in the International Journal of Internet and Enterprise Management, on average, 40% of employees’ time is devoted to email! They estimated that the equivalent of 4.5 weeks a year for every employee was WASTED because emails were so ineffective and had to be clarified.

You could be saving your business thousands of dollars a year if you find out how to improve your emails!

Of course, we can’t cover everything in 2 hours, but you can gain some very valuable information in that time.

So register, come along, and bring a friend who could benefit! But be quick, because there are only 20 places in the workshop.

THE PROCESS AND THE POEM: AN INTERVIEW WITH LOCAL POET RHIANNON HALL

April 22, 2013
Rhiannon talking at SCWC 2012 Xmas Picnic

Rhiannon talking at SCWC 2012 Xmas Picnic

Bellow is a lovely write up of SCWC staff member, Rhiannon Hall. Thank you Chloe Higgins for allowing us to publish your article about Rhiannon on our blog!

This interview first appeared in Tertangala: UOW’s Student Magazine: The F-Word (2013)

Who do you write for?”

A couple of days earlier, I had sent Rhiannon a list of more than 15 questions. She sent me her response shortly after. It totalled over 2,000 words.

As we walked through Wollongong’s Botanical Gardens, I realised a question had been missing.

“For myself,” she answered.

Three things came to mind.

The first was an earlier conversation with Rhiannon. I had asked where she got her inspiration. Her response came in the form of a short story about a man and his goat.

There was once a man who regularly came into the butchers where Rhiannon previously worked. Each time, the man told her the same story: his goat was driving him mad. So he tied it up. He got it under control.

At first, she dismissed the story as idle chat. But the man kept coming into the butchers. And he kept telling her the same story. He had a goat. It was driving him mad. So he tied it up.

Eventually, when she didn’t know what else to do with the man’s story, she made it into a poem.

A Retiree and Goat
for alex

First appeared, in an earlier version, Seeking the Sun: Australian Poetry 2012.

1
Combat in our final years, assembling the fence. Spying
the goat contriving, flaunting her power,
to expose frailty,
kicking up her heels.
Watching wearily, tomorrow I will toil
with fence posts and wire.

2
Watching from the window she remembers a time
when I was attentive to other passions. Snagged on a nail
yellow dress slipping
                                  off pearly shoulders.
A time when fencing could wait, just to
touch breast, navel, thigh.

3
Retirement meant more time embracing our passions.
Time that we dreamed of. We found novels, movies,
individual lounge chairs.
                                    I fight with the goat.

The second thing that came to mind was another earlier exchange we had. I had asked which of her poems was her favourite.

Demokratizmi,” she said.

I asked her what it meant.

She told me the title is Georgian for democracy. The poem was written in response to an imprint created by Gela Samsonidse. She explained that the imprint was Gela’s attempt to express his identity and explore language. He starts by writing words in Georgian script, and then scribbles over them until he can longer make out the words.

Rhiannon wrote Demokratizmi by looking at the imprint, allowing words to flood her mind, and then cutting out words until she was left with the small number that make up the poem. She never did decipher the actual words that Gela wrote.

I re-read the poem.

Demokratizmi
after an imprint by Gela Samsonidse
First appeared South Coast Writers Centre website, July 2012.

დემოკრატიზმი
(democracy) drums,
chanting from the people
mouths widen, marching
mi to the ballot box,
curving in a crescendo
climaxing in October 28, 1990
striking the floor, blood
    (სის­ხლი) blood shed on canvas.

I asked her if she showed Gela the poem. She said she hadn’t. He wouldn’t like it, she explained. He doesn’t like his artworks to be made political.

I asked her how she felt about people misinterpreting her poems and she laughed.

“I misinterpret people’s poems all the time.”

We continued walking through the gardens.

I reminded her of the two stories she had shared and repeated her answer to the question of who she writes for, back to her, in the form of a question.

“So you write for yourself?”

She laughed softly, “Yeah, I guess…”

When we finished walking through the gardens and parted ways, I re-read over her responses to the questions I emailed her. When asked why she writes, her desire to create comes through strongly.

“I love the feeling I get when I know that I have written something half good. I feel like I have really achieved something. Having a creative outlet has been really important for me, particularly while I was doing my honours research last year. I can’t dance, paint or sing, so writing is the only form of creative expression that I get a real buzz from.”

She went on to talk about her process.

“Often the words appear in more of a trickle than a splash. But, there is always something that stimulates and inspires me, like a painting, a piece of writing, an event, my surroundings, or a combination of these things.”

A sense of silence and space came through strongly.

“I need a lot of time to write. I have to be able to slow down and forget about work and uni for a bit. It is kind of like a meditation, once I am calm, I can devote myself to pondering over the ideas that have been bouncing around my mind. I always have ideas for a poem. I pick ideas up from work, uni and everyday life, but it is not until I am able to remove myself from these things that I can concentrate on one image.”

Rhiannon’s responses seemed only to further the idea that she is a woman who very much writes for the other, cares for the other, wants to observe and understand the other.

One of her poems in particular, Café Rosso, paints a picture not just of women with windswept hair, lovers leaning across tables, cocky men and stout women waiting to pay, but of a woman, sitting in the background, immersed in observing and understanding what is going on in the world around her.

Café Rosso
First appeared Sotto, August-September 2012.

grey thunders Bowral skies
two women with windswept hair
warming over cannelloni, their cappuccinos cupped.

Lovers lean across tables, faces almost touch;
Order seafood – Grigliato Misto, white wine.

Big men, cocky as  sunshine yellow parrots,
chucking back macchiatos; riffling work schedules,
envy  every casual diner.

Waitresses flitting across the room,
enjoying sweet meringue aromas,
the delicate perfumes
of stout women waiting to pay.

The poem speaks loudly of the quote Rhiannon has posted at the top of her blog homepage:

To be a poet one needs the six P’s – the pencil, the paper, the perception, the passion, the persistence and the unshakable persuasion that the poem is in fact possible and attainable. – Grace Perry

The third thing that came to mind when Rhiannon said she writes for herself was a quote by George Steiner.

“There is language, there is art, because there is the other.”

I mention the quote to her and she shrugs, “I guess I have never really thought about it before.”

Rhiannon Hall was a café poet with Australian Poetry and has been published in Seeking the Sun: Australian Poetry 2012, Sotto, the UOW LitSoc Zine, Tertangala, Unfolding (an art exhibition catalogue) and on the South Coast Writers Centre’s website. To read more of Rhiannon’s work please visit her blog at http://www.rhiannonhall.blogspot.com.au

An Interview by Chloe Higgins.

A Rumour

April 16, 2013

Tide cover imageKelman, A, Hooper, J, Sanchez, N, Prokop, R, and Lee, V (eds.)

Tide, 9th Edn, 2012, 115pp.
Available at:
http://ro.uow.edu.au/tide/vol9/iss1/1
 
Every edition of the Faculty of Creative Art’s journal, Tide, sparks rumours of greatness. For those of you who have not heard of Tide, it is a literary journal produced by third year creative writing students. The 2012, 9th edition of Tide showcases a quality of writing, imagination and vision that I was not prepared for when Ashleigh Kelman proudly presented a copy to the South Coast Writers Centre.
 
Kelman, and all of the 2012 Tide team, had every reason to be proud! This edition has it all, from poetry and short stories about love, war, popular culture, drugs, death and much more, all connected by the central theme of ‘endings’.
 
The theme that I am most engrossed by is that of rumours. The literary virtuosity found in the poetry and stories of this edition can only be interpreted as a rumour of the success that awaits these emerging authors and poets.
 
Elizabeth Stevenson’s story ‘Devotion’ is a cold tale of cause and effect, which details a sibling power struggle and eventually a murder. It ends with the same ‘tap-tap-tapping’ sound that it begins with, but the perpetrator is no longer Michael’s sister, but Michael himself. The story begins:
“She sat on the divan, eyes narrowed and cold, looking down at him… tap-tap-tapping her fan on her smirking lips. They were painted a deep red. Red like the wine. Red like blood” (36).
The tapping at the beginning of the story does not only contribute to the cause of the final murder, but is also a rumour of the kind of anger that lies within the downtrodden Michael, the kind of anger that leaves a man seeing ‘red’. The repetition of colour and sound invites a reader to sympathise with the murderer and positions the victim in the role of the antagonist.
 
Tide has set off a series of causes and effects, encouraging many of these emerging writers to further experiment with their form and to search out more publishing opportunities. Thus, the ‘tap-tap-tapping’ continues.
 
Nicholas Brooks is one writer whose work continues to grab my attention. His story ‘Drew’s House’ opens up a families suffering, allowing a reader to view the bubbling rawness of grief, as the characters struggle to accept Drew’s condition.  Brooks has a way of beginning his stories; after the first few lines my blinkers are up, and I have eyes and ears only for the story. It is in the simplicity of his descriptions, and in his short, concise sentences, that I am mesmerised. The combination of these is found in ‘Drew’s House’, which begins:
“Drew’s dad is watching television when I walk in. Something loud, mindless. A cigarette rests in an ashtray on the arm of the couch; smoke rises towards the ceiling” (69).
The pain, confusion and anger that are felt by the characters are expertly suggested, if you will, rumoured in the noise and haze of these first three sentences.
 
Whispers of Brooks’ determination and skill can be found in dark corners of the internet. I am a proud follower of his WordPress blog ‘readingroomofhell’. Brooks’ voice can also be heard at the Literary Society meetings and at the South Coast Writers Centre’s fiction writing workshop.
 
Samantha Lewis’ poem, ‘Means’, is another piece of writing that details a series of cause and affects. Lewis’ capturing of the events and emotions experienced by a young man fighting in a war in Afghanistan, to an older man, still traumatised by the events of his youth, is powerful. It is a real credit to Lewis that she was able to successfully portray this character. Her poem constructs a moving antiwar argument.
 
There are so many other poems and stories that I could write about, but I will leave you with a rumour, the rumour that the poets and authors published in Tide 2012 have exciting literary careers in front of them.
 
By Rhiannon Hall
 
This article was first published in Tertangala: University of Wollongong’s Student Magazine: The F-Word (2013). As well as on Rhiannon Hall’s blog.

March Writer of the Month – Nicholas Brooks

April 2, 2013

nick brooksNicholas Brooks is currently completing the final year of his creative writing degree at the University of Wollongong. He was the winner of the 2012 Trudy Graham-Julie Lewis Literary Award and was recently shortlisted for the Hal Porter Short Story Competition. His stories have been published in Wollongong-based publications, Tide, Tertangala, and the UOW Literary Society Zine. Some of his favourite authors include: Roberto Bolano, Denis Johnson, Bret Easton Ellis, and Don DeLillo. You can read more of his work at readingroomofhell.wordpress.com.

Owing

By Nicholas Brooks

On the day I arrived at the Point Mona Youth Hostel, the weather wasn’t too pleased to see me. A front had moved in over the coast and brought with it a sky that was heavy and full of rain.

‘Nationality?’

The guy at the entrance counter was thin and distant and covered in tattoos. He appeared completely removed from the questions he was asking.

‘Australian,’ I mumbled.

Standing there while he took my details, I felt ashamed to open my mouth among all the foreign faces surrounding me, the people who were half a world away from their real lives. They looked like pilgrims on the path of a god they’d heard about but didn’t yet believe in. I envied them immensely.

A hand with the word Lost inscribed across the knuckles passed me a pillowcase and two white sheets.

‘Number six, up the hall. Grab whatever bed’s free.’

After dropping my bag in the dorm, I walked through the hostel, taking in the interior of the old brick building. Everything was shabby and damaged by time. The kitchen looked like it’d been abandoned halfway through a meal, and the lounges in the living room were ragged and split at the seams. As I went along, I returned the smiles of passing guests, studying their faces and trying to guess from which far-off country they’d come. I wondered if they too could tell that I was from a small town ten hours south, that—against my intentions—I’d set out to travel the world and made it only as far as a day’s drive away.

When I stumbled across the internet kiosk—a dim, narrow room adjoining the kitchen—I entered and took a seat. There were only two computers and both were being used. Sitting behind one was a slightly built woman in her mid-twenties. She was blonde and unusually pretty, with a thin set of dreadlocks pulled tight against her skull. As she typed, her hands fell upon the keyboard in a series of slow, hesitant movements, as if she was sad and deep in thought. I watched her like I’d watched the others, following her expressions and gestures as if they were lines on an atlas leading me back to the place from which she’d come.

When she finished, she got up and left the room without meeting my eyes. I sat in the warm seat she’d left behind and opened my email for no other reason than to feel less alone. She was still logged in. Her name was displayed clearly at the top of the screen and the sight of it filled me with dread. I knew exactly what I was going to do before I did it, and I was aware that it was wrong.

The email she’d just sent, addressed to a friend in Dublin, was a sad, sprawling account of the previous few months. It told of her shoestring living, her homesickness, and a messy break up on the beachfront at Bondi. It laid bare a part of her life that I, a nameless stranger, had no right to know about. I read it and reread it and felt far worse about myself having done so.

After signing out, I went looking for the girl, determined to start a conversation. I wanted to talk to her, to reveal something candid and honest about my own life, my own situation, and in the process, repay her for what I’d taken. But as hard as I looked over the next few days, I couldn’t find her, and between us, the debt remained unsettled.


readingroomofhell

Short fiction and occasional bad poetry from a washed-up, once victorious sperm.