The past is a multi-storey car park. On weekdays
the city hums with sleepwalking workers, glibly
constructing society’s dream. From a balcony
in Pyrmont we saw rows of milky headlights
through iron bars; the smoke from our joints
shrouding windshields. Sometimes heaviness
comes down so hard, the soul breaks free.
Buildings and bodies eventually disappear,
but feeling remains like something you can hear;
a refrain. It was autumn; a time when the Earth
turns away from the sun like a face cast downwards
away from love. We sat with each other in silence,
dumb in the day’s accusatory whiteness,
immortal because the moment was endless –
suspended like static electrons trapped inside
a TV. The past is not behind but beside us,
an infinite horizon, and when the mind is quiet,
the sound will sometimes drift across like bells
or chimes. That balcony was part of Goldsbrough;
a warehouse built long ago for the wool trade
but turned into flats in the last twenty years
to store Sydney’s surplus of people. The past
once felt exactly like the present; you can’t go back
but you can treat the here and now with reverence.
Everything will be okay – I thought I had heard
the voice of God, but perhaps it was this poem, today.
Being separated from a lover is one the of the best things
that can happen to a writer – Oscar Wilde wrote De Profundis
as a series of letters from prison, for instance –
but ever since you left for Southeast Asia
you’ve sent only Facebook emojis and dick pics.
Listen kid, we had so much to say to each other
while you were in Sydney – why must the music now cease?
It’s just that I’m tired of being typecast as angry
when there’s so much love unspent, untried,
untested within me, and to quote Ed Sheeran:
I thought you were different. In fairness, yes
my focus has shifted away from my last muse
(and thank you), but I seem to still be drawing only
from grief – what I’d give to move past that
and speak instead of fullness; fulfilment.
So I’m telling you now, the path to a poet’s heart
is through her ears, and if you don’t fill this silence
with something meaningful, I’m going to lose interest.
I don’t want to stop starting because of endings;
please don’t let this filter through to bitterness
when it could be sweet. If you can’t give me nectar,
cordial, then – whatever you can ship across
before it goes off. I’ve been thirsty so long.
The high-rises were going up and the builders dust
was blasting sideways every time a truck juddered past
in a flatulent rush. All night, the squeaking of axles
and the hollow thumps of rusted barrels –
I was striving for noble silence but could only manage
tinnitus. The mind, like muscle, will eat itself
if not nourished. All highways are charmless –
they’re for people who work just for the paid leave,
counting down the months and weeks
until Bali or Thailand or Tahiti – a highway
gets you to the place you postponed happiness for
as fast as possible. No wonder I was miserable.
So I veered off down a side street in the loveless chill
of a wintry spring and trekked mud through the carpet
on the day I moved in; the awning forming a prison
of rainwater. Boxes strewn through the kitchen,
I gazed out at a hulking mobile phone tower
behind the trees: At least you’ll get reception here?
The nearest tram stop was Arlington; orderly
as a model train running through a miniature village.
Whenever I walked towards it, my body would shrink
but so too would my surroundings – the only clue
as to why it felt weird was the sound – as in dreams,
Arlington was muted; soundless. Trams would appear
in silence and I’d join its cargo of tiny people
to travel, like an epiphany, back to the loudness of life.
One of the reasons people become slightly awed when you mention you’re doing a doctorate, I think, is the amount of time it takes to complete. “Three years, minimum?” they gasp, as if by the time you will be striding up to the podium on graduation day, you’ll be breathing oxygen from a tank produced by Coca Cola and shaking the cyborg claw of the Vice Chancellor, whose red eyes will glow warmly before he stabs you in the arm with a hypodermic needle, causing you to wake up all sticky inside your Matrix pod feeling annoyed that your illusory perception of physical reality had to come to an end before you had a chance to hit up the bar for some free champagne and canapés.
Let me tell you: three years goes a lot quicker than you think.
Even though I am completing this doctorate part time (which means I have up to eight years to get it done), I still feel that my output so far has been shockingly low. Out of the 30,000 words that I have to produce for my exegesis (a scary-sounding word that rhymes pleasingly with the word ‘Jesus’, making it easy to simultaneously blaspheme and express panic about your doctorate: “Exegesis Christ!”), I have written 3,000. And of those 3,000 words, I have to rewrite approximately 2,000 of them.
So, y’know. If we’re going to liken the writing of an exegesis to the climbing of a mountain, I am essentially still dicking around at base camp in my still-pristine hiking boots, slurping loudly from a mug of whiskey-laced billy tea.
I’d throw myself off a cliff in despair, except that I’d have to actually walk up the cliff to be able to do so.
Confusingly, my supervisor keeps assuring me that I have much to be proud of. So, let’s look back on 2016 and see what came out of it:
Known as ‘Avant Gaga’, the Sappho Poetry Night takes place one a month, and it attracts quite a crowd. Toby Fitch, who is a formidably brilliant poet (and also, incidentally, a nice dude) asked me to perform in April 2016, and I was chuffed (if terrified) to appear on the bill alongside Lachlan Brown, Lindsay Tuggle and Melinda Smith.
It went well. I’m finally starting to feel comfortable in front of a microphone, and comfortable with the idea that people might actually want to hear my poetry – that it might bring them, like, I dunno, pleasure? I read exclusively from my long poem ‘Golden Repair’ and people laughed and were stunned at what seemed to be the right moments.
The icing on the cake was being asked by a random gentleman if he could buy my book. Sadly my book does not as yet exist, but I was astonished to be offered money by a complete stranger for my poetry. Money, for poetry?! Wtf lol.
In July I was asked if I’d like to participate in the official launch of the new recording studio at Western Sydney University. I said yes, and was introduced to Wren – a sublimely talented violinist who is currently also completing a Doctor of Creative Arts at WSU. The idea was that we would work together to create a music + spoken word piece, to be performed at the launch.
I felt like a total sham standing in a recording studio beside a true artist – I hate the sound of my own voice, and so it felt like I was ‘ruining’ the gorgeous music she was making with her violin.
But I wanted to rise to the challenge – ‘rise’ being an appropriate word here, because we ended up creating a piece that used a bird as its central motif. We decided to work with my poem The Come Down – and it was incredible to hear another person create a soundscape around my words that, for want of a better cliché, brought them to life.
Sadly, I don’t yet have the video or audio from the day we performed it! You’ll just have to take my word for it: it went well. We made music together; art. It was wonderful.
Meanwhile, you can check out Wren’s music on her SoundCloud, and here:
Another first: my poem Marrickville was included in the syllabus for creative writing in Semester Two 2016, at WSU.
It has long been my goal to contaminate the minds of youths. So I was extremely pleased.
At the end of the semester, I was invited to their classroom to do a poetry reading, which was surreal and scary and awesome. It was great having a chat with the students afterwards – my ‘message’ essentially was: I was really crap at poetry for a really long time. If you genuinely love the art form, push through and keep going. (Subtext: you too could be a financially crippled 33 year old with chronic anxiety, yeah!)
‘Golden Repair’ is a long poem that began life back in June 2015, when I went to Berkeley. In its current form, it’s ten A4 pages (and around 3,500 words) – which just goes to show how painstaking poetry can be – it takes a long damn time to get it right.
It was only ever an experiment, really – I didn’t know if I was capable of writing a long poem – but I had something enormous inside me that demanded expression, and an ‘epic’ seemed the only solution.
After some hardcore editing, and some blows to my fragile little ego (I didn’t so much have to ‘murder my darlings’ as I had to perform a kind of poetic genocide), I seem to have achieved something… at least, that’s what my co-supervisor reckons.
Whether or not you will see it in book form sometime before the next decade… well. We shall see.
I’m running out of room to go into detail about everything else that happened last year, so let’s summarise:
Started Working at Sappho Books, Glebe
After getting made redundant from my last copywriting job, I idly decided to send my resume to every bookshop in Sydney. I ended up working at the coolest (and most appropriate) bookshop in town – Sappho Books – named after the first female poet. This deserves its own blog post, but just quickly, it’s perfect and it’s changed my life.
Realising that Tutoring and Writing a Thesis are Basically Incompatible
It’s good money! But it’s utterly draining. For this reason, I will not be teaching this year.
Another bloody move, ye gods. Not far – only from Marrickville to Dulwich Hill. But although the move was almost lethally exhausting, I am happier for it.
I had been a doctoral candidate for three years, and I was feeling weary. Then in strolled an Englishman – a bartending poet, no less, and life became very, very lovely. He’s off travelling again now – with my blessing – I need to sit down and write this bloody thing, after all. But he’s given me hope, energy, happiness.
He knows who he is. I am grateful.
My sister asked me what my New Year’s Resolution for 2017 was. My answer: “Write my exegesis”.
February is when it starts in earnest.
It’s really hard! I don’t think I’m smart enough, and I’m still struggling to balance work stuff with social stuff with family stuff with study. If anyone thinks that a humanities PhD is a walk in the park – a ‘phoney qualification’ – think again. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and if I ever manage to graduate, I’ll be wearing that goddamned puffy hat for a month.
But, to (potentially inappropriately) quote Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Heaviness and heat. There’s no way around
the tourists – caught in their resinous slipstream,
I slow to an otiose plod. Cigarette butt confetti
adorns the kerbside where we wait for the green man
while the smell of cremation, barbecue-glazed,
wafts up from Hurricanes (the ribs place
that provides its patrons with bibs). The sun
is a heat lamp, pressed to the roof of our terrarium.
Since October, the bridge across Darling Harbour
has been rigged with speakers so pedestrians can listen
to Frosty the Snowman on forty degree days.
Christmas is inevitable, inexorable, more so
than death – no amount of running on a treadmill
can prevent it; the date is set. The conveyor belt
of days and weeks has been getting faster,
but within the day’s oppressive slowness
is stillness – the sensation of time expanding
like hot glass softly expanding; a wobbling
blister of breath. Skyscrapers have replaced
cathedrals as structures of grandeur and might,
and the hush of ducted air conditioning
is a kind of breathing. My office window frames
peace; I keep the blind open to witness ugliness
receding. With time enough and distance,
suffering transmutes into wisdom. A plane
glides between buildings. All of us are loved.
My boyfriends take life too seriously. All except
for the Drunk of course, but what drove me away
was not the drink but his opinions – which he clung to
like jewellery in his clenched and shaking fists.
My boyfriends are addicted to their distractions
and whenever I tell them they’re lost in the dream
they ignore me because I’m a chick. I wouldn’t care
except that pleasure is greater when shared
and although they can be sitting right beside me
they’re very rarely there. We’re in the midst
of a spiritual drought, which is to say the self-serving
egocentrics have got us completely surrounded.
Nowhere is this pervasive uniformity more visible
than on Tinder, where requests for a partner
in crime are combined with snapshots of generic guys
drinking and water-skiing and mountaineering
as if to say: I’m a free spirit! Yeah, right.
When I ponder the reasons why I’m single,
I blame myself. I’m too proud, too weird,
too obviously baggage-ridden; too difficult.
I feel bad for the ones who do make the effort
which is why I’m always the one to end it;
a mercy. Then it’s back yet again to the dating
game, alone with my own brain, staving off
craziness however I can, as I pace back and forth
in my poems and pray: give me a man who’s awake.
Note: the title is borrowed from the album ‘Lost in the Dream‘ by The War on Drugs.
Taking part in this music video was a (Herculean) dream come true!
It was filmed during winter in a chilly warehouse in Camperdown. We just about froze our tits off! But it was worth it. So, so worth it.
Just wanted to share. 🙂
It was an honour and pleasure to speak with Alice Allan this week on the Poetry Says podcast. I was a huge fan of the Australian Poetry Podcast, and I’m thrilled that Alice has picked up the poetry podcasting gauntlet.
You can listen to our interview here: Episode 8.
Alice had asked me to talk about a poem that I really loved, so I went totally over the top and spoke instead about two entire collections: Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy, and Interferon Psalms by Luke Davies.
We also had a bit of a chat at the end about my recent (and somewhat infamous) poem Marrickville.
Thanks Alice! That was super fun!