Amelia Walker – Guest Poet

Each month I hope to host the poetry of a South Australian (or, in this case, former South Australian) poet on this web log.

This month I am very pleased to introduce the poetry of Amelia Walker.

Amelia has been writing and performing poetry since she was sixteen. Her work has been published in magazines and journals throughout Australia, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Germany and online. In 2002 she was awarded the Independent Arts Foundation Scholarship for Youth Literature, which enabled her to publish her first collection, Fat streets and lots of squares: Poems for Adelaide.

When I think of Australia

I think of my childhood
that distant land
on the other side of puberty.
My family moved house
the same year I got my first bra’.
When I think of Australia
I think of star shaped cakes
dusty with icing sugar
of homegrown tomatoes
and loud Greek voices.
Our neighbours, three generations
in one house. A bungalow
like ours, maybe smaller.
They always brought us food.
I think of the deli’ on the corner
racing my sister on our bikes
to buy icy poles
and eating them, half melted
in the backyard
wearing bathers
running under the sprinklers
sopping and sticky.
Summer seemed hotter in those days.
Just like winter seems colder
and colder.
Australia is getting colder.
I switch on the TV and see wire
with children behind it.
If this isn’t their country
it isn’t mine.
I came here on a boat
smuggled piece by piece
like a jigsaw, in many boats
over more than a century.
I came as a refugee, persecuted
I came for work, a better life
I came from Prussia
from Germany, Scotland
and Ireland.
I was born in Australia. But
my bones were already millions
of years old
and bones remember everything.

previously published in Voiceworks

Bread and Cigarettes

The Man

His skin is pale.
He opens the curtains
sometimes.
Inside his house
he eats toast
and smokes cigarettes.
He goes out
sometimes
to buy bread
cigarettes
and cat food.
He wishes he could
get them
from a vending machine.

The House

Kitchen
Bedroom
Toilet
Shower
Curtains

The Cat

Siamese sleek
she makes little
flicks of her tail
catches rats
rejects his offerings.
She sometimes sleeps
curled up, almost
making him believe
she is not cruel.
She sometimes demands
to sleep in his bed
(a futon)
when she wants to
on his pillow.
After such nights
he wakes unable
to turn his neck. However
after such nights
he wakes having slept.

Letters

Electricity Bill
Water Bill
Bank Statement
**Look 10 Years Younger Overnight!**
(conditions apply)
Library Notice:
‘I’m Okay, You’re Okay’
two years overdue.

Thoughts Running Through His Head On A Sunday Afternoon

I should get out of bed…
shouldn’t I?
I should.
Why?
Because…
I’ll only have to
get back in later. If
I get out of bed
I can eat toast.
But I’m sick
of toast. I do
need a cigarette
and a piss.
I wonder where
the cat went last night.
Hope she’s okay.
I really should
get out of bed…

Items On His Table

Coffee Cup
Ash Tray (overflowing)
Copy of ‘I’m Okay,
You’re Okay’
(book mark in page nine)
Porno Mag (edges tatty)
Photograph of a woman
with brown hair
green eyes and a gap
between her teeth.

previously published in Salt Lick

First Job

Submersed in the hum of fluorescent lighting, the meat shop girl
is mopping blood from a cracked floor and dreaming
of love. She can do this
because she is fifteen. And she is beautiful
but does not know it. Her mouse brown hair smells
of death and her boss’s pack a day habit.

Out back, he hangs pictures of women with breasts
bigger than the meat shop girl’s head.
He gazes at them whilst whittling flesh from carcasses
a sculptor, cigarette between his teeth.
The meat shop girl is fascinated
by the women, huge cats shaved, lounging on motorbikes.

Alone in the bathroom, she peeks
at her own breasts. Bigger than they once were
no where near the size of the picture women.
The meat shop girl touches her nipple. It touches back
surprising her. Face red, she pulls her baggy t shirt down
a tent, almost to her knees.

Still, the meat shop girl dreams of love
as she mops blood from the cracked floor and listens
to her boss call his ex wife a witch.
His nose is red with wide deep pores; thin purple veins
knit his cheeks. His red hand falls heavy
on the girl’s shoulder. She tenses, keeps mopping.

previously published in Pendulum

Copyright

Please note that all material appearing on this website is protected under Copyright laws and may not be reproduced, reprinted, transmitted or altered in any form without express written consent of the author.

Listening to People Talk About Writing

Writers’ Festivals are odd things. The acts of writing and reading are intensely solitary, yet here we are, coming together to listen to those whose work we read, or talk to those who read our work. For the writer, it’s a chance to expand their audience, and ultimately sell more books. For the reader, it’s a chance to see and hear their literary heroes, or discover new writers.

I was lucky enough to be able to spend over two days at Writers’ Week in Adelaide. The weather was pleasantly warm, the parklands were green and lush, and there was plenty of food and drink to keep everyone sated. It seemed the recipe for a perfect few days.

As any Writers’ Week veteran knows, it pays to get to the venue early. In any weather conditions – wet or dry – it is almost essential to get a seat under cover of the enormous marquees. I arrived at about 9.30am on Day Three and found the West Tent almost completely filled. Some quick manoeuvering ensured me a shaded space, and I settled down to listen to Australian author, Robert Drewe.

I get the impression that really successful authors are not only skilled with the written word; they are also skilled public speakers. They have to project themselves as intelligent, sophisticated, witty and knowledgeable about any number of things. A writer will invariably choose to emphasise the attribute with which they feel most comfortable. Robert Drewe chose the comic route, and read a crowd-pleasing passage from his latest book Grace that included many references to flatulence. He followed this up with comical anecdotes about cane toads, haemorrhoids and hangovers.

The Writers’ Week program is liberally sprinkled with panel sessions. A group of four visiting writers will take turns reading their work, or offering opinion on the topic of choice. The success of the session will often depend on the person who ‘chairs’ the group, usually another writer or notable academic. The session entitled The Contemporary Essay was chaired by Gerard Windsor, and included Ronald Wright from Canada, Patricia Dunckner from the UK, and Australians John Hughes and Marion Halligan.

Windsor chose to run the session in an almost conversational manner, putting forward various questions and propositions, and allowing each of the panel members to offer comment. This approach worked well but depended on Windsor to rein in the panel members when they veered too far from the topic or spoke for too long. At one point Ronald Wright had spoken for so long, and about so much, that I (and I assume most of the audience) had forgotten the original question.

In the afternoon, I listened to Helen Garner talk of the hostility she’s faced since the publication of The First Stone in 1995, and respond to such audience questions as ‘My daughter’s friend says she hates you. What should I say to her?’

Another panel session followed, this time a group of first-time novelists related their experiences while writing their books. The session was called Learning the Craft, and I hoped to come away with some helpful tips, but got the impression that all I needed was a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Adelaide (three of the four writers on the panel had completed this course).

I was back again on the morning of Day Five to hear UK journalist, Robert Fisk, read from his book about the Middle East, The Great War For Civilisation. I must have been impressed, because I immediately ran to the book tent and spend my entire Writers’ Week budget on his book. The downside, apart from the obvious financial commitment, was the fact that I had to carry the book around for the rest of the day. It is 1300 pages long and as heavy as a brick.

I nodded off during the panel session Interrogation Present, possibly because I didn’t understand what they were talking about (and neither did they), or possibly because the sun was beaming down on my right-hand side and sapping my already depleted (from carrying Fisk’s book) energy.

The afternoon got off to a bad start when I witnessed a brawl in the East Tent between local writer, Graham Catt, and a pensioner. There seemed to be some disagreement over ‘seat-saving’. I assume that Catt lost the argument, because I saw him on the lawn at the end of the session looking most dejected (not to mention hot).

The session itself was a success. British poet, Simon Armitage, read a selection of verse that proved both entertaining and intellectually satisfying. By the end of the reading he had the crowd ‘eating out of his hand’ – a difficult feat for any poet. Reports say that Armitage’s two other readings during the week were just as successful, and suggest that he has found himself a ‘legion of new fans’.

My last Writers’ Week experience was a Poets in Person session in the West Tent. Four Australian poets – Judith Beveridge, Yahia Al-Samawy, Stephen Edgar and Lidija Cvetkovic – took turns at reading a sample of their poetry. All were impressive, but Yahia Al-Samawy ‘stole the show’ with a particularly impassioned reading. Formerly of Iraq, Al-Samawy read poems of grief and exile that made poetry about rivers, daffodils and tigers seem trivial.

Unfortunately, I did not have the stamina to last another moment at Writers’ Week 2006. Listening to poetry in the warm March air is hard work. I caught the bus home, lay down, and promptly fell into a deep sleep, in which I dreamt I had to carry Robert Fisk’s book up a very, very steep hill.

Poetry Rocks

Of all the poetry I’ve written in the last ten years, the most popular, by far, is a series of poems inspired by pop music and musicians. I’ve had them published in quality overseas e-zines like Exquisite Corpse and the Danforth Review. I’ve had them included in anthologies, literary journals, fanzines and even an educational text.

After writing the first dozen or so, I realised that I’d actually stumbled on a good idea. Apart from the odd piece here and there, I’d never come across a lot of poetry about rock ‘n’ roll. A close friend of mine, Adrian Robinson, a writer and music fan, also saw the merits in a collection of pop music themed poetry, and together, we began working towards such a collection. Here is a small sample of our work thus far.

Poem for Nick Drake

you wake with the sun
as it bleeds through the windows

you play fragile guitar
and your voice murmurs
barely audible
above the sounds of the day

you wait for autumn
& the cold forest floor
to break your fall

you pray that the end
will go unnoticed

Adrian Robinson

Music For Icebergs
Another Green World, Brian Eno 1975

drifting in a dream-haze
mind empty, body drained
he cannot see his future
through the fog of self-doubt

the distant ripple of harp
trickles into the atmosphere
and the soft, grey music of rain
permeates, envelops, cushions

he touches upon possibility
brilliant shapes start to form in the ether
he imagines the sounds of moons and oceans
the songs of clouds, the conversations of icebergs

Graham Catt

Poem for Robert Forster

His role model is Joyce
you can tell by the pose
as if he’s just walked
off the streets making notes
for Finnegan’s Wake

Distinguished by his literary tastes
and admiration for Blonde on Blonde
the Dylan songbook imprimatur
is what keeps him going

Guitar resting on his knee
he is intimate with the light
combs his hair in the shadows

He taunts the crowd
with a story half told in song
about a man who walks
into a café with the word ‘regret’
written on his sleeve

Later in his study
he turns the pages of a European
classic, Thomas Mann or Satre,
Draws a secessionist nude.


Adrian Robinson

Lemon
U2, Las Vegas, 1997

icons fill screens
four-storeys high
a quartet of neon superheros

the Edge is a cowboy
astride a white guitar
shooting sparks into space

Adam and Larry
an artillery of rhythm
oozing macho and muscle

Bono punches the sky
elicits adoration
and a sea of stars

they imitate the divine
levitate above the crowd
in a giant mechanical lemon

Graham Catt

So keep an eye out for the collection in your local bookshop. Given our current rate of production we envisage completing the collection towards the end of the decade.

Copyright

Please note that all material appearing on this website is protected under Copyright laws and may not be reproduced, reprinted, transmitted or altered in any form without express written consent of the author.

Wet Ink – a Review

Since the demise of Sidewalk and Vernacular a couple of years back, South Australia has sadly been the only state without a quality magazine regularly publishing new writing. I am pleased to say that Wet Ink more than adequately fills the void.

There is something very healthy looking about this first issue of Wet Ink. You get the impression that the people behind the publication haven’t had to sell their car and mortgage the house to put this into print, as is often the case with many of these ‘little’ magazines. There is an impressive list of sponsors, advisors and editors, as well as evidence that they’ve worked hard to attract advertisers.

The production and design is first class, with generous space given to each piece of writing, and black and white illustrations throughout.

The contents of this first issue are also mostly impressive. The highlights include an interview with Frank Moorhouse about the state of Australian publishing, and a mouth-watering appreciation of Adelaide’s food by Tom Shapcott.

The short stories are a mixed bag. Angela Rotger’s ‘Spilt Salt’ is particularly good – beautifully written, full of rich detail and emotion. I also enjoyed Tom Morton’s ‘In Luminous Darkness’, despite its over-reliance on pop culture references, and Peter Barry’s ‘Palace of Justice’, an Orwellian tale of the not-too-distant future.

I would have liked more poetry, although the poetry here is good, especially Amelia Walker’s ‘Genus Unknown’ and the aforementioned Tom Shapcott piece.

There are also a handful of short pieces that are hard to classify. Not quite short stories, but definitely not poetry. A couple worthy of mention are James Roberts humorous ‘The Death Of Danny Boy’ and Sonja Dechian’s darkly funny review of last year’s flu epidemic.

All in all, it’s an accessible and highly readable first volume. My only gripe is the length – only 56 pages. But these are early days, and there is plenty of room to expand once the magazine has become established.

So subscribe, submit and support. Let’s make sure Wet Ink stays in print for a good many years.

For more information and submission guidelines visit the Wet Ink website at: http://www.wetink.com.au/

Arse Poetica

It might just be me, but isn’t the idea of displaying poetry in toilet cubicles a little objectionable? The Red Room Company, a non-profit organization operating out of Sydney, is currently calling for submissions to their Toilet Door Poems project. Poems exploring ‘issues of social, political, cultural and creative relevance’ will be posted on the back of toilet doors in Greater Union cinemas and Qantas domestic terminals during the month of April 2006.

Now, as a poet, I realize I should be grateful for any opportunity available to expose my work to a wider audience. After all, I am frequently expected to have my work published without payment, and often read for free, it follows that I should be happy to have my poetry published anywhere, under any circumstances. However, I am having trouble visualising a constipated cinema-goer appreciating my delicate little piece about tulips, or my sunset haiku, or my witty political satire.

They’re in the middle of watching ‘Cheaper by the dozen 2’ or some other monstrosity; they’ve eaten their mega-sized popcorn and guzzled their mega-sized soft drink; and now they need to take a dump. They shuffle, buttocks clenched, to the bathroom, squat in a cubicle, and find that all is not as it seems down below. Nothing is moving. They groan and they strain, grow red-faced and frustrated, and through watery eyes, begin to take in their surroundings. They notice that, instead of the usual dirty joke, telephone number, or inane obscenity, they are faced with a screed of words. Is it advertising? A story? A song? They read the first few words, then give up, and wish for the obscenity. Before long, they’ve ejected the reluctant stool, pulled up their pants, and vacated the cubicle, ducking out of the bathroom without washing their hands in order to get back to the zany climax of their zany movie.

I can’t see the poems displayed in Qantas terminals faring any better. After all, the typical airplane commuter is primarily concerned with getting out of the airport as quickly as possible. The average airport loo is the last place I’d want to relax and read a poem.

If these organizations were really serious about supporting the form they would dedicate some space in their in-flight magazine to poetry, or devote a few moments of screen time to a poetry reading. Offering space on the back of toilet doors is about as miserly as you can get. Poetry deserves better.

The Red Room Company aims to ‘create, produce and distribute poetry, by new and emerging Australian writers, to the public, in unusual ways.’ These are admirable aims, and I would usually be reluctant to criticise any attempt to expose poetry to a wider audience. However, there is no need for us to be quite so desperate. Poetry may be the most undervalued and marginalized creative pursuit in the country, but that doesn’t mean we should accept anything thrown our way.

After all, would Australia’s performing arts community leap at the opportunity to perform in the bathrooms of fast food restaurants? Would the country’s fine artists get excited over the chance to decorate the seat covers of hardware store toilets? I doubt it.

The Red Room Company are encouraged to continue their mission to distribute poetry to the wider community. I’m sure there are plenty of opportunities waiting to be discovered and explored.

But, please, no more Toilet Door Poetry.