I never did get that selfie with Shaun Tan…

You see I attended my very first literary awards dinner on Monday night. Big fancy do. In an art gallery. White tablecloths, waiters, TV cameras, a souvenir programme – that sort of thing. I had big plans. Almost none of them came to fruition. Not only did I leave selfie-less, I also neglected to conclude the evening face down in the chocolate fountain at the Langham hotel. Circumstances and Ray Martin intervened, shall we say. But I did bring back something for the pool-room from Melbourne on Tuesday morning. I’m a bit short on time so I’ll leave it at that for now. More details and proper linkage to follow.


I always wanted to have the word WINNER on my wall

Making a list and checking it twice

So I had a pretty quiet Sunday last weekend. I spent all morning doing my tax, and most of the afternoon planting some salad vegetables with my eight year old in a pathetic attempt to develop a hitherto-non-existent green thumb. And to stop him asking me so many questions about germination.

Around 5pm my partner took our other son, the ten year old, out for the evening. Around 6pm I got a text from my good friend @hackpacker:

“Congratu-bloody-lations ! You are shortlisted for the Prime Minster’s Literary Awards !”

Oh. I thought. Am I? Wait….WHAT ?

I refused to believe him until he texted me a link to the press release.

Then I sat down and had some heart palpitations.

I couldn’t ring my partner as I knew he was in the middle of driving to his destination. My eight year old was playing in the front yard and couldn’t care less about such things. I was alone in a silent house with some very very big news.

Eventually I did make contact with my partner, who when he finally returned brought home a bottle of champagne. The sort we don’t usually drink because we are not extravagant types. And we shared the whole bottle.

Image of champagne bottle and two full glasses

Not extravagant at all

Once I calmed down (about 24 hours later) I realised many things. One of them is that I am a fan of all the other poets on the shortlist (Sarah Day, Jakob Ziguras, Stephen Edgar and Geoff Page), so whoever wins I will be happy. No, really. If I were a horse I would give me about 50-1, so this is also helpful thinking.

Another thing I realised is that because in my day job I am a public servant, I am legally prevented from commenting publicly on political matters. So while there has been plenty of discussion of panel composition, etc elsewhere, not to mention discussion of the policies of the Abbot government in general, you will not be getting any of that from me. I’m just making it clear that I am not ignorant or naive, merely obliged to silence on some things.

The final thing I realised is that sometimes, it really is worth buying the expensive champagne.

PS. My favourite bit of the press release is the bit where it says

These thirty books have become part of the contemporary Australian literary canon

Bit soon for mine, I thought. Which is, incidentally, called Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call (Pitt St Poetry, 2013). Just because I haven’t mentioned that yet.


A foot in both camps

On 1 September I had poems published simultaneously in Cordite Poetry Review (Issue 43: Masque) and Quadrant Magazine.

Cordite Issue 43: Masque

Cordite Issue 43: Masque

September 2013 Quadrant Magazine Cover

September 2013 Quadrant Magazine Cover








(Here is a link to ‘Gora‘ in Cordite; in order to read ‘Bondi Sketches‘ in Quadrant you need to be a subscriber).

Given the very different readerships of these two publications, I wonder if that means I should be feeling very…versatile ?…schizophrenic?..Perhaps I should settle for just plain happy to be reaching a wider audience. And also chuffed to be on the front cover of Quadrant, and name-checked in the Masque editorial with a multi-stanza quote from my poem. Very happy with that.

My book reviewed


My most recent book, First… Then…, has been reviewed in the Canberra Times.  The piece, ‘Another planet, other places’ by Peter Pierce, editor of the Cambridge History of Australian Literature, appeared in the Panorama literary section on Saturday August 25, 2012.

I feel particularly blessed to be reviewed in the Canberra Times literary pages at this juncture, as they are about to lose all local content, thanks to cuts at parent company Fairfax. Many, many thanks to Gia Metherell and Peter Pierce (neither of whom I have ever met) for squeezing this review in before the crunch came.

I was also honoured to be reviewed in the same article as the excellent John Foulcher‘s ninth poetry collection, The Sunset Assumption (Pitt Street Poetry, 2012).

And as for the review ? Not bad, actually. The short version, which I will be bandying about and putting on the covers of all my reprints, goes: ‘imaginatively and formally challenging…plaintive…brilliant…terse, concentrated, questing’. Read the long version here.

Bricolage, Shmicolage – Haikubes will change your life


Dear reader, I am very excited! Thanks to a generous friend, I am now in possession of the secret at the heart of modern (and postmodern) poetry composition : Haikubes !

Take an oddly proscribed set of words, print them on the faces of 61 dice-like cubes (giving each cube one blank face into the bargain), use two extra cubes to produce a writing prompt (e.g. ‘a tirade about’….’my family’), shake, stir, compose in the time-honoured 5-7-5 format, et voila !

For years I have puzzled at my inability to produce work with the opaque, gnomic quality I see everywhere in journals and award-winning collections. Now I know I am not a failure, I simply lacked the correct tools. Happy days! My future is suddenly assured.

First Forays

Here are my favourites from my adventures in Haikubes so far. I have removed the writing prompt information for each poem as I think this satisfyingly increases the obscurity level.

Your fantasy screwed.
Thunder calls over a dead
body : stay inside

This journey home looks
smooth. I travel as a wise
biting finger point.

My god eats his charm.
His smooth lurid cheeks must love
the precious surface.

Pluck what the flock left,
that mouthful of sweet, spat leaves
we shape sleep behind.

Dead moonlight dripping
right into your livid room,
we switch promises.

Before your sour nerve
slips behind you  I switch it
for full, wise watching.

One brother happy ;
next dancing. My empty hand
a return of peace.

She sang her doctor :
Waste, et cetera…
Window too, please. There.

A following grace
Light under the swimming pool
We, last of many

All the way and then some

I even did a sequence where I attempted to use every Haikube. They get sillier as the sequence goes on and the pool of available words shrinks. At the end I had four words left, which I made into a three word poem with a one word title at the end.

Haikube exhaust sequence

It looks logical,
his science of ritual.
Desperate spiral.

Clever stick torture
leaves me flying home ugly,
lips under water

Screwed, I consume peace,
mouthing a villain moonlight;
revolting the heart

He hoped to shiver
through our wild candy surface.
Fortune slips. Sleep, baby.

Cover smooth fortune
with slimy et cetera.
Who sang next ?


Next generation

And then, my five year old went beyond us all: ‘I’m going to compose a nothing poem, mummy’. And he made a robot shape out of the blank faces of nine Haikubes. Is that the ultimate embodiment of ‘the failure to mean’, or what ? Clearly time to pass the baton and stand well back. Oh, and he called it ‘Robot 1’.


But have you considered …?

Don’t think I haven’t noticed that some of the above works are actually quite interesting. This post is not entirely satirical in intent. But am I really the author of these poems, and are they really literature ?? We need a few footnotes to deal with that one (and at least one mention each of Ern Malley and Bricolage).

Language Warning

I should also give a heads-up to any readers considering purchasing their own secret poetry career supercharge weapon….I mean…box of Haikubes, that some of the words are quite filthy. The game is clearly designed to be played between wine time and bedtime. For a further discussion of this aspect of Haikubes, see here.

Your Turn

Whatever their literary and theoretical status, I think we can all agree that Haikubes are fun. Why not try composing your own, and leave them in the comments below ?

Launch of my new book ‘First… Then…’


Hello there. We have a launch date ! Two in fact:

Launch One – for the autism community – is on Easter Sunday Afternoon (8 April), from 2-4pm, in the Chifley Community Hub (old Chifley primary school), at the premises of Autism Asperger ACT, in the Bendigo Room. Light refreshments provided

Launch Two – for the literary community and anyone else who can’t make it to Launch One – is on Wed 11 April, at 6.30 for 7pm, at Smith’s Alternative Bookshop in Alinga St Civic (in the Melbourne Building opposite the GPO). Eminent poet and novelist Alan Gould will be doing the honours at this one. Light refreshments provided, buy your own drinks at the bar.

Love to see you at either – or both !

In between, I’m doing a reading at the Gods Cafe, on the ANU campus, from 8 pm on Tuesday 10 April.

[By the way, also reading that night will be P.S. Cottier , author of the excellent Cancellation of Clouds. Go check out her blog, linked to from the sidebar over there. Go on.]

But back to talking about me and my new book…

About the book

First…Then… is a short collection of 24 poems, mostly dramatic monlogues in various voices. The poems focus on the experience of living with autism, but you do not need to know or be an autistic person to enjoy this book. The poems are by turns moving, harrowing and laugh-out-loud funny, and provide a unique window into a much misunderstood facet of the human experience.

The writing of the poems in First…Then… was supported by an ArtsACT new projects grant during 2011.  You can take a sneak peek inside the book over at my other blog, CircleQuirk.