Category Archives: Poetry

Writing poems with other people’s words

Last week I sent out my pozible rewards. The $100 reward was a poem, written around three words sent to my by my support. The very lovely Lynda Hawryluk sent me these words:

bricolage, bunker, azure

When I first had the idea to write poems as thank-yous for larger donations, and to ask my supporters to send me three words to write around, I didn’t think about how those words would affect my work, given that I am deeply accustomed to choosing my own words when I write. It was a challenge. I don’t think I would ever have used bricolage in a poem written entirely under my own steam.

In fact I was anxious about bricolage. I avoided this poem. It was the last ‘reward’ poem I penned. And what I found was this: those words were perfect. And they got me writing about a metro station in Lisbon called Parque that was so exquisite that when I got out of the train all I could do was stand and gawk.

Parque station with hand written poemLynda got her poem in the mail this week. And luckily, she loved it too. So much so that she hand wrote it over a picture of the station, pinned it to her wall, and then sent of photo of it to me. I am overwhelmed with the gift.

Safe Haven

Hand holding pozible rewardsI’ve finally completed my pozible rewards. It took 3 months, partly because promising to write poems is completely different from actually writing them, and partly because two weeks after I came home I ended up in emergency surgery (all ok now). So. Rewards took a back seat. But now they’re done. And this is the final final reward, for my single $250 supporter, the very wonderful (not least because she’s my Aunt) Moiya Ford. As promised, this is a blog post for you, with your poem.

I asked my $100 and $250 supporters to give me three words to weave into a poem that I would write for them, but try as she might, the weren’t coming for Moiya. So I have written a poem, in some ways, with no words. No words given, but words that came. This is Safe Haven, for Moiya, with love, and thanks.

Safe Haven

On the double decker bus, in the jet lag
drown, I sit on a seat with a split.
It seeps old water, and wets me without caring.

I am plugged in to a headset, listening to a recording
of a woman telling me I must try Bacalhau, salted cod.
My jeans are wet from hip to knee.
I perch weirdly on one side, hoping that the sun
and wind will dry me.

Next she tells me the story of Fado, the song of the people,
and talks about roosters, and 550,000 people in the city,
and 3 million in Lisbon and surrounds (those seven hills).

Ulysses stopped here. And I wonder, what did he want?
How did he stop? What hill did his foot undo?

Jeans are still wet. I unplug. I move to a different seat.
This seat is split too. I lean again, so the water can’t seep.

St. Anthony, she says, is the patron saint of Lisbon. Lost object
finder, saviour of small things. She says the word Lisbon is thought
to be Venetian: safe haven, she thinks is its meaning.

We finish our circuit. She starts again. I unplug.
Jeans almost dry.

Later, I try salted cod. It is fleshy, fat, tongue squint.
Later, my jeans dry.
Later, jetlag leaves.
Later, at the Feira Da Ladra, I find small lost things
to take home to my children, my lover, my sister, my friends

a deep tinted photo of the initiate’s well in Sintra.
A plaster Mary holding her baby to be hung on a Coburg wall.
Three glazed fish and six glazed cicadas from the coast,
in blood red, and olive green, and sea blue.

Later, I buy a metal rooster brightly dotted to attach to my keys,
and when I drive up Sydney Road it plickers and plings.

Safe haven. Lost things. Dry jeans.

Lisbon in bites

Bucket of coffee. Made it through the whole of yesterday without a nap. Made it Tiled building facadethrough the night (mostly) asleep.

Weird rash/bunch of bites on my calf. Cortisone in Portugese: cortisona.

Hunting stamps today and pondering whether I need to write 16 three line poems (that’s how many gorgeouses pledged $10), or if I can write 8 and double up.

Conference rego at 12.30. I walk everywhere here. Google maps I love you.

Yesterday I was carrying two felt pirate flags I’d bought for the kids and a flannelette shirted woman came up and started speaking in Portugese. She thought I was going to the May Day rally. There was dancing in the streets. A man playing accordion with a tiny dog on his shoulder collecting coins.

Pasteria (pastry) shops everywhere. The way that travelling alone lets me be still, and watch everything, and the world, quietly, comes to meet me.

Postcards from Portugal

So part of the reason I’m here is because of my pozible project. About halfway through the project a friend told me she felt bad because she could only pledge $10, which prompted me to add a new reward level. The $10 pledge receives a postcard from Portugal with a three line poem on it. I wanted to acknowledge and thank those who had little to spare, and then chose to send that amount to me (also, this is the heart of crowd funding – many people giving small amounts). That said, I thought I’d put up some pictures of some of the postcards that will be sent this week. Here’s the first one.

Postcard of tiles

 

Poem

Saying thank you

Karina smilingTwo days ago I couldn’t resist having a coffee at 6pm because I have this thing called an aeropress and it makes the best coffee I’ve ever had and then I couldn’t sleep and then I sat up and wrote a post about Amanda Palmer and Philip Seymour Hoffman and how it feels to ask for help. It was also a post where I got vulnerable. I told you a very small portion of my past. I talked about begging on the street, and how that felt. And then I went on to ask for your support to get me to Portugal so that I can read my work at a conference there in May.

And now I am crying.

I am crying because within 24 hours of writing that post, and Amanda Palmer retweeting it, I had hit my target. And yesterday I exceeded it.

I am crying because now I have enough for travel insurance and if the pledges keep coming in the funds will cover transfers and meals as well, and pozible have featured my project, so that will probably happen.

I am crying because sixteen years ago I was a twenty something on a street corner asking for money so that I could disappear just a little bit more, and this year I will be forty, and I’m doing way more than surviving: I’m living the biggest, bravest, most amazing life I can.

So. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Amanda Palmer, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and asking without shame

It’s midnight. My children will wake up in six hours and I can’t sleep. I tried everything, but now I’ve given up. I open my computer and find a message on Facebook from a friend. I had been telling her about crowd funding to get myself to a conference in Portugal and how it felt like begging and she said you must watch Amanda Palmer talking about asking for help.

When I told her that asking for help to get to Portugal felt like begging I was not speaking in metaphors. I have been clean and sober for sixteen years. I am writing this the day after Phillip Seymour Hoffman died with a syringe in his arm, after having been clean and sober for twenty three years. I am writing this with a keen memory of standing on King Street in Newtown, begging. Sometimes it was for drugs. Sometimes it was for food. Sometimes it was for a coffee so I could sit in out of the cold and feel like I belonged to the rest of the world.

Once, it was for a light. I held an unlit cigarette in my hand and asked, and asked, and asked. People said no before any words passed my lips. They assumed it was money I wanted (and usually it was, but that night it wasn’t). I got angrier and angrier. Finally somebody stopped, and lit my cigarette without meeting my eyes, and moved on.

People rarely looked me in the eye. I know what begging feels like.

So when I won a $2,000 travel scholarship from my university, and worked out that I would need another $2,250 to actually go, I was reluctant to ask for help. I searched out other sources of funding, but there was nothing available. Eventually, I decided to set up a pozible project. Was I begging? Was it ok to ask other people to help me? Was it fair?

In the first two days there were pledges made to the value of $1,565; I have just over $600 until I reach my target. I was overwhelmed, and thrilled, but also ashamed. I had asked for help, and asking had made me vulnerable. I had offered poems and post-it notes covered in kisses from my children as rewards. Was it enough? Was this fair?

So tonight I watched. I watched and listened as Amanda Palmer in her tight black jeans and beautiful boots and painted on eyebrows held a white flower and stood on a box and talked about asking for help. And I heard her speak about crowd funding, and then she said this:

“The perfect tools aren’t going to help us if we can’t face each other, and give and receive fearlessly. But more important: to ask, without shame.”

So now, I am asking without shame. If sixty people read this, and pledge $10 each, I will be able to go to Portugal this May. And when I get there, I will read my hybrid poetry/theory/memoir, and absorb Lisbon through my skin, and write more poetry, and know that I am not on King Street anymore.

I am asking for help to do something real: to move my body through space, to find poetry wherever I land, to send hope spiraling back to the woman I was. To speak. To write. To travel. To create.

On rejection and disappointment

Ditch

Ditch (Photo credit: Ben Bunch)

I’m battered, and bruised, and in the market for a thicker skin.

I sat down this morning to write, and found that I needed to blog instead. Where I’d like to start is this: doing a PhD is not just doing a PhD. When I first started I read lots and lots of PhD advice, especially on The Thesis Whisperer, and I took it to heart. I don’t just want a publication at the end of this; I want teaching experience, and connections with peers working in similar areas, and some conferences under my belt, and a job.

In the last two years I’ve published six papers from my PhD (some of them are still in the pipes). I just finished my first semester of teaching. I’m the Faculty representative for our Faculty Higher Degrees Research Committee. I won the Faculty level Three Minute Thesis Competition last year and this year have been asked to administer and compere the event. I applied for and received funding to present at both a local and international conference, and I’ve written two thirds of a PhD. My scholarship runs out in December next year and I’m well on track to finishing in time. This is not a skite list: it’s a testament to clear strategic thinking, a certain type of stubbornness that insists that if I do the right things in a professional manner I will be employable at the end of all this, and an utter belief in the work I’m doing.

To top it off, I recently founded a peer reviewed, open access, gender, sexuality and diversity studies journal with a group of postgraduates at my university. I’m one of the managing editors, and we recently released our first issue. I did this because it fills a need, and because I’m passionate about creating space in the academy for voices that are still unheard. I also did it because when I started my PhD a trusted friend and former academic told me it was probably best to have a Plan B, C, D and possibly E in the event that I would be unable to get a job at the end. The journal is thrilling, and spectacular, and I truly love doing it, but it’s cost me more hours than I can count, and a huge amount of emotional energy (often at the cost of my partner and children).

But all of this was ok. And then these things happened, all in a row:

  • I came back from my overseas trip and couldn’t right myself again. Sliding doors. The realisation that, without children, I would have emailed my supervisor a simple ‘sorry, it’s too spectacular here in Paris, I’ll see you in a year or so’, and to my partner ‘get yourself on a plane’. But I have children. And they’re the reason I am where I am, and the reason I write what I write. So here I am, back, with honey toast handprints on my jeans and requests for water in the night.
  • I came back from my overseas trip to 80,000 words of marking that needed to be turned around in three days, and ended up injuring my arm and shoulder, and I’m still injured (brace, ice, warmth, anti-inflammatories, keep going).
  • An AWOL postgrad that I’ve never met sent me a horrendous email out of the blue that attacked me and my research. I was shocked and disbelieving. I cried for hours. Academia, it seems, can be rough.
  • A top international journal rejected my breastfeeding chapter because it was too claustrophobic, and just depicted the woman and baby, without locating them in space, or in greater discourses around class or race. I wasn’t writing a social political history of breastfeeding, and it was meant to be claustrophobic, and I told myself it just wasn’t the right place for it, but you know, it still stings.
  • And then the nail in the coffin: one poem, ‘this mother thing’, that was accepted into an anthology early last year. I followed up once, and was told it was still in the pipeline, and so I left it alone, not wanting to be a nag. Then last week I saw an article from The Age about it on one of our lecturer’s doors, and contacted the Editor to find that my poem had somehow slipped off the list. Goodbye publication in a hardback anthology launched at the State Library of NSW with some of Australia’s top female poets.

I’m exhausted and heart sore. I know why writers put down their pens and go to work digging ditches. We tell writing students to separate themselves from their writing when they send it out. Your writing is not you. It’s not true. It’s me. It’s me sending a part of myself out into the world and when my writing is judged it’s nigh on impossible not to feel judged myself. So I’m doing the only thing I know to do: I’m writing more, and sending out more, and trusting that amongst the nos I will also get yeses. But it’s hard, and it hurts, and I’m tired, and it hurts.