Women’s Work Poetry Anthology Launch at NSW State Library


On Friday night 8th March I attended the launch of a new anthology of poetry by Australian women. That’s me on the left and Helen Thurloe on the right. Both of us were very chuffed to have poems included in the book.

The anthology, called Women’s Work, focuses on all the different kinds of ‘work’ done by women. It is published by Pax Press and was put together over two years of hard work by Libby Hathorn and Rachael Bailey. It is now available to order from all good bookshops and will shortly become an e-book as well.

Professor Elizabeth Webby gave a wonderful launch speech, followed by readings from several of the poets whose work appears in the book. All of the readers were great, but special mention must go to fellow- Canberran Moya Pacey for Freudian-slipping the word ‘shagging’ into her poem, ‘Smalls’ ūüôā

There is an incredible range of poetry in the book, covering every conceivable style, and ranging in subject matter from office work to factory work to child-rearing to housework by way of dentistry, nursing, baking, ironing, water carrying in Africa, surviving violence and teaching in prisons. The dozen or so readers gave tantalising glimpses into a fascinating and engaging collection.

After the readings, we adjourned to the next room for champers, nibbles, and mingling. A fine time was had by all and I got to meet a few of my fave poets into the bargain. All in all, a great way to spend International Women’s Day. Here’s hoping the book finds its way to the many women who will enjoy reading it.

Poem in NZ E-Zine Blackmail Press 31

Just a quick post to say that Issue 31 of Blackmail Press is out now and includes one of my autism poems.

Blackmail Press is an electronic poetry magazine based in¬†New Zealand and¬†edited by poet Doug Poole. This issue is guest edited by another¬†New Zealand poet, Vaughan Rapatahana, and the theme is ‘marginalisation’. Interestingly it includes three poets from Canberra (myself, Sarah Rice and Paul Cliff) – a reflection on the peripheral flavour of life in our nation’s capital, perhaps ? Although mine and Paul’s poems were both about ‘difficult’ (and marginalised) children, while Sarah’s was about a different kind of margin altogether.

Anyway, if you’ve got a spare ten minutes, do have a flick through, there is a lot of really good, thought-provoking poetry on offer. Enjoy.

Not the Botany Bay song


Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

A bit of fun this week. Try singing the draft poem / song below to the tune of ‘For we’re bound for Botany Bay’ (an old Australian popular song about the convict days, for those of you from other countries).¬†

The thing that got me started writing this little ditty is the thought that, in my humble opinion, having a child with autism is not so much like a trip to Holland, as like being hauled against your will to an inhospitable wilderness with a bunch of strangers, dumped there and left to survive on short rations and daily floggings.¬† You make friends with your fellow prisoners, you adapt, and after a few years you can even see how to make a life for yourself in this strange new land – but you can never go home again…

Anyway, not meaning to get all depressing or anything – the following is meant to make you laugh, as well as say a few things ASD parents and carers are not ‘allowed’ to say. Enjoy, and comments welcome.

Not the Botany Bay song

         : A Sea Shanty for ASD Parents and Carers

Farewell to the high life forever
Farewell to my suits and my heels
For my child’s on the autism spectrum:
my career juggernaut’s lost its wheels.

Singing echo-lay, echo-lay, la-li-a
Singing meltdowns as public disgrace
Singing though we might live in Australia
It can seem we’ve been shot into space.

There’s the doctors, the psychs and the speechies
There’s the OTs and physios too
Yet not one of these qualified specialists
knows what we poor parents go through.

Singing maybe this thing is contagious
Singing I used to think I was fine
But now all of my best friends are therapists
– or they’re parents of children like mine.

‘Taint the unscheduled detour I cares about
‘Taint the fact that I still don’t know why
But it feels like we’ve both turned invisible
as the rest of the world rolls on by.

Singing mindfully making the best of it
Singing gazing from gutters at stars
But the heartache and stress and the rest of it
feels like being ‘transported’ to Mars.

Well our home is all plastered with visuals
and we never have guests as a rule
and the unstructured horror of holidays
means we can’t wait to get back to school.

Singing Floortime and Musical Therapy
Singing PECs and Lovaas ABA.
Singing snake-oil and rebirth and mercury
– for those shysters can smell desperate prey.

Then there’s friendships and hygiene and puberty
and employment and learning to lie.
It’s a long row to hoe, that’s for certain sure
– and then who’ll step in when you die?

Singing once I was witty and erudite
Singing once I had beauty to spare
Now I bang on about intervention plans
and I think I’ve got lice in my hair.

So I s’pose we should make ourselves comfortable
’cause the voyage will last many years,
so let’s chuckle along with our cabin-mates
because where there’s no laughter there’s tears.

Singing God Bless our good ship The Spectran
may she weather the storm and the swell
and may all who sail in her land safely
though they’ve hair-raising stories to tell.

(c)  Melinda Smith 2011

I prefer


Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

Another draft poem. This one plays around with a common writing exercise, where you have to write a series of statements in the form of ‘I prefer x to y’. When you try writing one of these poems about yourself it is almost always BORING and unavoidably solipsistic. Try writing one from the point of view of someone else – say, an autistic child – and the result is, hopefully, more worth reading…

I prefer

serious illness to surprises
computers to my brother
reading number plates to Christmas morning

straight lines
submerging my ears in a warm bath to waterslides
deep fat fryers to matchbox cars

torture to haircuts
libraries to birthday parties
standing ankle-deep in ocean

tenpin bowling to climbing trees
looking at things out of the corner of my eye
Sonic the Hedgehog to family time

death to dentist visits
my mother with her glasses off
plastic wheelie bins to petting zoos

not to see my school friends outside of school
cricket statistics to Toy Story
chewing clothes-pegs to talking

rules to freedom
truth to sarcasm

to be left alone

(c) Melinda Smith 2011

Brain Weather

Here is another draft poem – again I am interested in any comments.


Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT

In case you’re wondering, the extra spaces are intentional.

Brain Weather

:autistic meltdown ground zero

Think of                hemispheres:    Western, Left;
the wind-flows                 that connect them; the currents                       of sea; of electricity.

When was  it that             your frontal        lobe
Cauterized          itself against your       will
leaving  you endless       atomised local                   storms
with no way       to blow them    -selves out?

The last words you          said before the clouds came
stutter on            your small           tongue;
settle    in like cat-and    -dog rain, the syllables
hammering down, fixing one      thought with      a dozen stabs of lightning.

The miracle is not that it                stops, but how afterwards you can be so              calm and charming
Рand puzzled that the rest of us still        drip and shiver from the rain.

Poems in Quadrant and the Canberra Times

Just a quick note to provide links to three recently published poems:


A brown and slimy autumn leaf
was mashed into the floor.  I said
‘Who didn’t wipe their feet?’, and spread
the shopping bags around it. Grief

was hiding in the food again:
the pumpkin, the bananas too
brought me to tears. That’s nothing new:
last week it was the multi-grain.

My flailing mind begins to thresh
its blighted no-hope harvest. May
this season end. I need to say
when planting can begin afresh.

published in Blue Dog (poetry magazine of the Australian Poetry Centre), July 2009

Mother Love

Wave after wave, the ocean counts the cost
by piling sheets of water on the sand.
I dreamt before your birth that you were lost.
I think I have begun to understand.

By piling sheets of water on the sand
the sea offers its body, slice by slice.
I think I have begun to understand.
I love you knowing sorrow is the price.

The sea offers its body, slice by slice,
heaving itself onto an empty beach.
I love you knowing sorrow is the price.
I start a task whose end I’ll never reach.

Heaving itself onto an empty beach,
the sea still finds the energy to give.
I start a task whose end I’ll never reach.
I give you life, not knowing how you’ll live.

The sea still finds the energy to give.
I dreamt before your birth that you were lost.
I give you life, not knowing how you’ll live.
Wave after wave, the ocean counts the cost.

from Mapless in Underland, Ginninderra Press, 2004


Christmas is in the air.
You are given into my hands
out of the quietest, loneliest lands.
My trembling is all my prayer.

‚ÄúFive Days Old‚ÄĚ – Francis Webb


Poolside baby showers
herald the summer pregnancies.
Sweat caresses swollen knees;
mothers tally labour hours;
giftwrap is everywhere.
Christmas is in the air.

But by the time you come
first frost has been and gone.
A long walk brings you on.
I howl ten hours, a dumb
animal shocked at pain’s demands.
You are given into my hands:

all downy with the smell
of love, my warm wise frog.
Then: eight months of the black dog.
I crawl back from cold hell
that no one understands
out of the quietest, loneliest lands.

Now you seem newly-made
or is it me, new-born?
Chill fog melts in the dawn
and now I am afraid
of how much I can care.
My trembling is all my prayer.

‘Given’ won the 2006 David Campbell Prize for best unpublished poem by an ACT poet. It was also shortlisted for the Rosemary Dobson Prize for best unpublished poem by an Australian poet. It was later published in Swings and Roundabouts¬†(anthology¬†by Random House NZ, May 2008). Lines from ‘Five Days Old’ quoted by permission from HarperCollins.