Melinda Smith has been writing poetry for publication since 1996. Her fourth collection, Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call (Pitt St Poetry, 2013) won the 2014 Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Awards poetry category. She has previously published three collections with Ginninderra Press: Pushing thirty, wearing seventeen (June 2001), Mapless in Underland (July 2004), and First… Then… (April 2012). Her work has also appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies, both in Australia and internationally, and has been broadcast, set to music and plastered across the back of a bus (but not all at the same time). She writes in many different traditional forms, and in free verse, in a pithy and accessible style. Her poems are often darkly comic and frequently pack an emotional punch. She mostly tries to write poems that can speak to a person of ordinary intelligence without the help of a literature academic. She lives in Canberra, Australia with her partner of nineteen years and their two sons.  Contact details supplied on request.



  • Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call, Pitt St PoetryNovember 2013. Winner, 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, poetry category. See also her author page on the Pitt St Poetry site.

‘Readers of Drag Down to Unlock or Place an Emergency Call will be rewarded by a book full of unexpected and richly varied pleasures. There are poems with a lightness of touch, and a self-deprecating tone, but there are also poems that deal with more serious matters. There are skillfully rhymed poems, haikus and highly experimental free verse. From its range of technique and tone to its depth of ideas, imagery and emotion, this collection announces the arrival of a major new poet.’

– Judging Panel, 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

‘Melinda Smith writes with exuberance and verve in a variety of forms, old and new. She is personal, opinionated, quirky, and you never know what a poem of hers will do. It is like some firework of unknown make and provenance, spluttering into incandescent life with more than a hint of danger’.

– John Whitworth (author of Writing Poetry and editor of the Faber Book of Blue Verse )

‘…blow[s] her ‘lived experience’ sisters out of the water. This makes for textural ripples that demand further reading…Her fascination with language is the element that provides the collection’s muscle, and when she does allow it to fully flex it is via the use of form…Smith appears to position herself as poetically accessible and know-able, whilst presenting language play, poetic experiments, and poems that read as confessional yet prompt the question ‘Who is speaking?’ The contrasts are playful and unexpected, and cannot be reconciled. Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call is a successful example of the jostling side-by-side of themes and styles we see lately in anthologies; different poems working from different traditions. This time, it is from the one poet rather than an anthology…’

Melinda Bufton, Cordite, July 2014

‘vital and vivid…some of these poems may come as a shock…the experiences she describes are so difficult that they can be endured only if one can laugh at oneself’.’

– George Thomas Quadrant, July 2014

Growing out of a project funded by ArtsACT involving Facebook, Twitter and a dedicated blog, this chapbook of 24 poems about autism is by turns harrowing, uplifting, heartbreaking, fascinating and hilarious. You do not have to know or be a person with autism to enjoy this book; it will engage any reader who is interested in the human condition.

‘imaginatively and formally challenging…plaintive…brilliant…terse, concentrated, questing’.

– Peter Pierce (editor of the Cambridge History of Australian Literature) The Canberra Times, Saturday August 25, 2012

‘[First…Then… is an] emotionally brave and truthful testimony of raising a child with autism, elegant poems across a range of diverse styles, unashamedly feminine, humorous and lively forms’.

– Judith Crispin (Director of Manning Clark House) and Michael Farrell (2013 UNSW Canberra Creative Fellow) awarding the 2013 ACT Writing and Publishing Award for Poetry to First… Then…, 12 December 2013

“[T]he work of a poet who…deals directly with life as it is. She takes the reader on journeys into the past, through childhood, and across relationships. Humour is lightly relied upon to arouse a sense of memory, [for example] in ‘Wheels’ where ‘at sixteen, humans grow a car / and never leave the road again’. Her poems have a tenderness of expression and … use the transforming power of imagery to connect with her readers: ‘The trees are trying to forget / but their bones are black with remembering’.”

– Geoff Page highly commending ‘Mapless in Underland’ in the ACT Writing and Publishing Awards 2005

Pushing thirty, wearing seventeen created a deep reflective space in me that I was reluctant to fill with words…[t]his fascinating anthology simultaneously stimulates stillness and a quality of unsettled friction.”

– Liz Darville Voice , No. 1 March 2002

Individual Poems

“Melinda Smith captures the danger and desire of an illicit relationship ‘with sidelong ripple-whispers and the light but tidal tug of Truth or Dare’. Dream world, real world…the poem’s rhymes flow from line to line as seamlessly as wavelets on a sandy shore.”

– Susan Steggall, Introduction to Sharing a Landscape: a celebration of difference, p.5


  • (forthcoming) Poetry at Manning Clark House reading, December 2015
  • (forthcoming) Poetry at the Gods invitational reading, September 2015
  • Sydney Writers Festival Poetry and Music Salon, 23 May 2015, with Stephen Edgar and Robert Adamson.
  • National Folk Festival ‘Potpourri of Poetry’ event, 5 April 2015
  • Panel appearance and reading at Newcastle Writers’ Festival, 21 March 2015
  • “The Wild Ones” cross-genre reading and musical performance night at the Front Cafe Gallery, Lyneham ACT, 3 Dec 2014
  • NB Poetry Salon 7 November 2014
  • National Gallery of Australia – presented a talk and reading on Gwen Harwood and Arthur Boyd as part of the public program for the Arthur Boyd: Agony and Ecstasy exhibition – 18 August 2014.
  • ‘Possets’ read on ABC Radio National’s Poetica program, “Women’s Work”, 9 November 2013
  • Invitational reading at Manning Clark House, Forrest ACT, with Adrian Ceasar and Jen Webb, 3 November 2013
  • “Roadside Memorials” read on ABC Radio National’s Poetica program, “The Villanelle in Australia”, 11 May 2013
  • The Village Festival, Glebe Park, 23 March 2013 (readings from The Invisible Thread anthology)
  • Poetry at the Gods invitational reading, Canberra, 10 April 2012.
  • “autistic child with acute auditory processing disorder”, performed at Wheeler Centre for Books, writing and Ideas, Melbourne, Vic., 7 May 2010 at Australian Poetry Centre ‘Dreaming in AUsLAN’ event
  • Guest on Radio 2XX Canberra October 2009 –  read “No Bed”
  • Poetry at the Gods invitational reading, Canberra, 11 August 2009.
  • Mount Majura Wines ‘Poetry in the Vines’ invitational reading, 14 June 2009.
  • Poetry at the Gods invitational reading, Canberra, August 2007.
  • Ginninderra Press 10th Birthday Celebration, 2 July 2006
  • Waiting for the Sun” performed as a choral piece (music by Sandra Milliken), Brisbane, May 2004
  • Guest on Radio 2XX Canberra 2004 – discussed Mapless in Underland (Ginninderra Press, 2004) and read several poems
  • National The Words and Music radio programme hosted by Chas Eales for the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, 2005 (“Bright side”, “Trio”, “Not writing”, “Red velvet afternoon” and “A simple twist”)
  • Canberra Festival of Contemporary Arts Political Performance Poetry, 2 October 2001.
  • ABC Radio 2CN 666, Poetry Week Special Broadcasts 1998 (“Legends”)


  • Winner, 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards poetry category for Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call.
  • Winner (with First… Then…) 2013 ACT Writing and Publishing Awards, Poetry Category,  (for books published in 2012)
  • Winner, Australian Poetry Centre  ‘Making sense of it’ National Poetry Competition, May 2010 (“autistic child with acute auditory processing disorder”).
  • Winner, 2006 David Campbell Prize for best unpublished poem by an ACT poet (“Given“).
  • Shortlisted for the 2006 Rosemary Dobson Prize for best unpublished poem by an Australian poet (“Given”).
  • Runner up (Highly Commended) in ACT Writing and Publishing Awards 2005 (Poetry category), for Mapless in Underland.
  • Shortlisted for 2003 ACT Poem of the Year Award (“Sur Vive”)
  • Most Highly Commended, Society of Women Writers NSW Inc National Poetry Competition 2003 (“Infidelity”)
  • Winner, Word Festival “Poetry Slam” 2001 (“Sister – 1” and “Sister – 2”)
  • Equal first prize, NSW Writers Centre / Sydney City Hub Inner City Life Poetry Competition, April 1997 (“Sonnet for Mill Road”).


  • 2011 Received ArtsACT New Projects Grant to produce a chapbook of poems on the theme of autism

Other activities

  • Participant in Five Islands Press Wollongong Poetry Workshop, January 2004
  • Committee Member, ACT Writers Centre Committee, September 2003 – March 2004
  • Secretary, ACT Writers Centre Committee, November 2001 – June 2002
  • Member since 2002 of “Mull ‘n’ Fiddle” monthly poetry workshop group, with fellow-poets Suzanne Edgar, Michael Thorley and Martin Dolan.
  • Conducted poetry workshops for Majura Womens’ Group (10 weeks; February-April 2010) and Belconnen Scribblers community writing group (May 2000).


  • Member of Australian Poetry (formerly Australian Poetry Centre and Poetry Australia Foundation) since 2004
  • Member of Australian Performing Rights Association since July 2004 and Full Member (Writer) since 2007
  • Full Member of Australian Society of Authors since 2001
  • Member, ACT Writers Centre since 1998
  • Member, NSW Writers Centre, 1997

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