Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Three Poets, One Book

Jennie Fraine, Helen Patrice and I are old friends who like each other's poetry. In fact we all met through poetry.

Once upon a time (in the early eighties?) back home from a few years living in Africa, Jennie turned up to a poetry reading at a pub in Collingwood, Melbourne, organised by the Melbourne Branch of the Poets Union (as it was then). I was one of the organisers of the evening. We Union poets sat up and paid attention when this newcomer read. Hey, this is good stuff, this is really interesting! 

That was the beginning of our long and deep friendship. We even shared a house together for a while, when we both found ourselves surprisingly single after expecting to be partnered for life. We shared it with her young children too. (Mine were university students no longer living at home.) That was in 1992.

But before that, in the late eighties, Helen attended a poetry workshop Jennie was running. My first book, UNIVERSE CAT, was one of the teaching aids. Helen, a lover of cats as well as poetry, was impressed by my title poem and asked Jennie if she could have my address to write and tell me so. 

That was my very first fan letter for a poem. Of course I was thrilled. I wrote back to say thank you. Then I met Helen in person when I was a guest presenter at Jennie's workshop one night. Pretty soon we were great mates as well, and over the years have seen each other through all sorts of major life experiences.

(By a sweet coincidence, Jennie and Helen each have one son and one daughter, and I happen to be godmother to both their daughters.)

Jennie and Helen made their own connection, and after I moved away from Melbourne it was natural that, on my visits back there, I should sometimes meet with them both together.

Eventually facebook became a great way of staying in touch between times. And then a woman on facebook, Maggie Strongheart (what a wonderful name) got the idea of forming a group and inviting people to write about their relationship to the moon every day for a month and post the writings on the group page. This of course meant paying attention to the moon every night. She was interested to know if we would find reflections in our lives of what the moon was up to in the heavens.

Helen, Jennie and I, being poets, of course decided to do so in verse. We liked our own and each other's results so much that, at one of our Melbourne reunions, we decided to collaborate on a book. We all read each other's and our own moon poems and ticked those we thought good enough to be included – an easy way of arriving at consensus. 

The arrangement, the sequence, editorial suggestions to each other, the Foreword and 'About the Author' pages – all proved easy. Helen had a friend, John Davis, who had taken some wonderful moon photos and agreed to let us use one. We knew we needed a professional cover design, so we hired our friends at Content X Design whom Helen and I had worked with before. We were offered various options and all agreed on our preferences. We are very pleased with the resulting cover.

Then came questions of how and with whom to publish. The other two liked paper books. I persuaded them to try it as an ebook first. Smashwords seemed the best people to do it, because they're free, they offer some distribution, and they make the book available in a variety of formats to accommodate whatever device people are using

But formatting our manuscript according to Smashwords' preliminary requirements seemed like a major task when I looked at what it entailed. I had blithely told the others I would handle it, but after some procrastination I chickened out and we asked CXD to take care of that as well.

And so finally our book is in the Smashwords catalogue, available to buy for a mere $3.99 USD – which I think is a terrific price for something which is not a chapbook but a full-length collection by three different poets.

I read it through from start to finish today. It was months since I last did that, what with focusing on all the technical stuff, so it was almost like coming to it new. I tell you what – it's a really good book! We are all strong poets, with individual yet compatible voices. Although the poems originate with the moon, they encompass travels, love, memories, world events and personal adventures. They range over past and present, and sometimes foreshadow the future.

We say in our Foreword:

Helen and Rosemary are witches, so moon-consciousness was already part of their lives. Jennie, who describes herself as earth-bound and pragmatic, nevertheless lives her life open to possibility.

And yes, it did seem to me that my day-to-day life in some ways reflected what was going on with the moon. But perhaps that was natural, when I was so conscious of her every nuance.

For a sample viewing, or to give it to someone or buy it for yourself, click on this Smashwords link.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


My Goodreads and Amazon review (I gave it 5 stars)

Excuse Me Goddess Can We Talk?: New Messages of Love from the Goddess - How to Create Personal and Global Abundance and have Fun with the ProcessExcuse Me Goddess Can We Talk?:
New Messages of Love from the Goddess -
How to Create Personal and Global Abundance and have Fun with the Process

by Sonja Kaleski

Important and Delightful

I'd love to have written this book! It says so much that I would like to tell the world. As I didn’t write it, I'm very glad that Sonja did, and that she did it now.

Being a writer myself, I particularly appreciate the way it is written. It's clear, accessible and entertaining. It's apparent that Sonja writes from her own rich experience, and from quite a deal of study, yet she presents her findings in a very readable manner, without in any way talking down to her readers.

She is unapologetic about the fact that she is describing her beliefs, without any attempt to justify them rationally. She even says at the outset that, for this reason, her book may not be for everyone. Yet I urge the doubters to suspend disbelief and just enjoy. I think they might find they can understand it on other levels, such as a useful set of psychological attitudes. One can personify the Goddess, or one may regard that concept as standing for values which the world greatly needs – at this time more than ever before.

As I got further into the book, I found that she backed up her ideas after all, without even trying. She has been, among other things, teacher, writer, artist, activist, and survivor of domestic abuse. She has also been a great reader, in both spiritual and scientific fields. She illustrates the points she makes with practical, real-life examples from her own experience and that of people she is closely acquainted with.

I too believe that Goddess energy, however we understand it, is vital to us all at this time and into the future. Sonja gives us some readily acceptable ways of understanding it, and shares some simple and even pleasant methods for integrating it into our lives – for instance, through laughter.

Although it is not the book's only focus, she talks a lot about ‘abundance' – a word which puts me off many New Age teachings. Yes, I get it that you don't have to live in poverty to be spiritual, and that financially successful people can do much good with their money – only there are some teachers who make it sound as if you have failed Spirituality 101 if you haven't yet manifested what the world perceives as wealth.

Sonja doesn't fall into this trap. Yes, she does see that prosperity need not contradict spirituality, and she gives some tips on manifesting it – tips full of common sense, rather than merely airy-fairy – but she also understands that there are many kinds of riches. Her interpretation of abundance is that we have whatever our soul most desires and needs. (Those are my words to sum up her views.) It's relative. For some people, abundance may mean huge financial wealth to use philanthropically. For others it may be a modest income and the free time for spiritual pursuits. There are many possibilities, and it's refreshing to read of abundance in broader terms.

This is a book which has the possibility of changing individuals one at a time, in ways that could, collectively, change the world and bring about the golden future we all dream of. It's a real possibility! But self-published books need a lot of word-of-mouth. Therefore, please read it, and please tell other people to read it too.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Sunday, September 18, 2016

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE by Solomon Northrup

My Goodreads review – 

Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northrup

I haven't yet seen the movie, but knowing about that made me curious about the book. I was surprised to realise it is non-fiction; had imagined it to be a novel. Despite being in the language of another place and time, and despite dealing with horrendous subject matter, it is very readable. Northrup writes with honesty, clarity, and surprising fair-mindedness. He was the victim of great injustice, being a free man who was kidnapped into slavery – yet the book also makes it clear the whole institution of slavery was a massive injustice against human beings. We take that as self-evident these days, but there was a time when it was believed in and justified on very spurious grounds. Northrup shows, among other things, how children brought up in such a system take it for granted – the children of the powerful class, that is. The injustice is clear enough to every slave.

Now I would like to see the movie, knowing that in spite of the horrors it deals with there are also some positive aspects. Northrup's own stalwart character is one; and the fact that there were good people who did their best to help him.

Note: I did eventually see the movie, and I thought it did a very good job of transferring the book to screen. The main actor, Chiwetel Ejofor, was wonderful. I thought he caught just the right tone of innate dignity as well as the horror and at times despair at the shocking circumstances.

View all my Goodreads reviews

LEAVING PARIS by Collin Kelley

My Goodreads review –

Leaving Paris (Venus Trilogy)

Leaving Paris by Collin Kelley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm sad yet satisfied on leaving Paris

I waited a long time for this third volume of Collin Kelley's trilogy. It completes and surpasses the excellent Conquering Venus and Remain in Light. I particularly love that it wasn't predictable – I hate being able to second-guess stories, as I so often can – yet there was a lovely rightness about the unfoldment and wrapping up of the interconnected stories.

I was reluctant to leave these characters, and wanted the book to go on forever, yet I couldn't stop reading even though that brought the end closer. It's beautifully written, and after all I don't feel I have said goodbye to these favourite companions. I have a sense of them going on living their lives in the reality Collin Kelley so convincingly created for them. And that makes me happy.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Thursday, September 01, 2016

The 'I Can't Draw' Story

I am just, finally, exploring drawing in a way that is free and pleasurable – like it was when I was a very little kid.

I was thoroughly put off in primary school, by art teachers who said, 'Well ... the IDEA's good' and other kids who said, 'THAT'S not a tree!' Needless to say, I didn't make it one of my ongoing subjects. I dropped it as fast as I could.

I had various brief attempts later. I was in late middle age when my Mum showed me some outline sketches of leaves I'd done in my early teens, which she'd kept ever after. I looked and thought, 'Oh – impressionist.' Also they were beautiful, in a very simple way.

Soon after that revelation, I had fun with an intuitive drawing class I was invited to attend, using chalk pastels and involving meditation before drawing. Well no, not fun. Truthfully, it was a struggle; but I produced some things I still like, such as this one:

 I took a somewhat similar class some years later, with a different teacher, using both chalk and oil pastels. Meditation was used in this class too. Below is one of the results. (I don't know on a conscious level what the words are about; they just came to me and I took dictation.)

Those classes taught me techniques I'd not have dreamed of – rubbing with a rag, scraping with a palette knife....

I even sold aura drawings in the Sunday markets for a number of years, done with pastel pencils. They were not shaped like a human outline, but were characteristically patterns of swirling shapes. A more accurate term might have been energy portraits.

In the intuitive drawing classes, and with the aura drawings, I was channelling. I just 'knew' what colours to pick up, and what they should do on the paper. With the aura drawings I got simultaneous psychic readings for my clients, which I spoke aloud to them as I drew – spiritual readings rather than fortune-telling.

By the time I came to the intuitive drawing classes, I was at ease with channelling in other contexts – well, as easy as I'd ever get (it's still basically astounding to me). I knew how to 'get out of the way', and that I must trust what came through and keep going or else the input would pause until I resumed. So I could do that, albeit with much astonishment that I drew things which were recognisable. Faces, even!

But I still thought I couldn't draw in the more mundane way, picking up pen, pencil or charcoal and making marks on paper just as myself. And guess what, I don't have a lot of evidence yet that I can! But I have had a breakthrough all the same.

Firstly, I was recently inspired by some of the painter-poets I met online, particularly Claudia Schoenfeld of dVerse, to try water-colour sketching. I realised I didn't have to mess about with washes, which we were taught in the first year of primary school. Oh, how I failed to master washes! Oh, how I hated them! I now realise it is quite a sophisticated technique, probably inappropriate for little kids – and not something I have any hankering, or need, to try again.

The water-colour sketching has been fun. I have done one or two a year for the last three years or so, with big gaps between. My time is mostly taken up with writing. I have told myself that the sketching was 'just mucking around'. The first one I did, a neighbour's roof and foliage seen over my back fence, I thought actually quite good. Others have not been very representational, to say the least, although that's what I was trying for.

Then my friend Sharyn Williams, a lovely artist and sometime art teacher, published online some of her lessons (versions of which have inspired many children). I tried a few, and enjoyed them. I learnt things about what one can do with paint.

I still carried around my story that I can't draw.

It's Natalie Goldberg, my favourite writing teacher, who has finally completed my breakthrough. I hasten to add that I only know her through her books – and what wonderful books they are.

She is not only a beautiful writer, but also a painter – of quirky, happy, colourful works which she sometimes exhibits and sells. (However, I gather it's been a less public pleasure than her writing.) Now she has written a book, called In Living Color, in which she tells her readers how to do it too, via chapters of memoir interspersed with lessons. (I'm only up to Lesson 3, and am not working in living colour yet, but black-and-white pencil sketches.)

It's like her famous books for writers, Writing Down the Bones, etc. It gives me permission. I don't have to start from a place of 'good'; I can just pick up the pen (or in this case pencil) and start. It doesn't have to be a photo, she tells me, and points to a cup she has painted that's a bit wonky, non-circular.

I don't know why I never got this before – even knowing all the experiences I had that militated against it, and even despite all the new starts I made from time to time. But anyway, it finally got through. I don't have to draw well from the word go, I just have to pick up the pencil and draw.

The lessons don't explain formal techniques. They tell us to draw the contents of an open drawer, or items on our messy desk – just some of the objects there, and add a few that aren't, as well. We can put some writing in there somewhere, too. She turns it into play.

I can't tell you how often I have seen writers 'learn by doing'. If they keep doing it, keep being interested, keep wanting to communicate as well as they can, and keep wanting to make something that can be called art – above all, if they play and enjoy – they improve willy-nilly. It's a side-effect.

I expect that will happen with my drawing now, though it might take a long time. Even if it doesn't happen, no matter – I'm only doing it for me, for no better reason than wanting to.

I am struck, though, by how MUCH I want to, how much I have always wanted to. Yes, writing is my great love – poetry, to be specific – but, now that I have put all this down here, I notice how I keep coming back to the drawing, in one form or another, all my life, despite the obstacles and the wounds to my confidence.

It's never too late!

Saturday, August 27, 2016


or, Who the heck do I think I am?

I have been talking with some women friends about female heroism, what it consists of, and what noun might best describe a heroic female. Some of us associate 'heroine' with the stereotype of the beautiful but helpless young woman waiting to be rescued by some dashing, handsome man.

We've been getting into the semantics. Do we reclaim 'heroine' from those associations? Can we, or are they too entrenched? Do we use 'hero' in a non-gender way, or is that too encrusted with its own associations of warlike, male valour? Can we find another word? Should it include qualities we think of as specifically womanly, e.g. nurturing, compassion, intuition? 

That question of the label is unresolved. A more productive exploration has been to try and define female heroism – a necessary prelude, no doubt, to naming it. Each of us has been coming up with her own definition. The interesting thing is that we all exclaim of each other's how apt they are. The various definitions are not competing, but expanding each other. 

All of us are artists, whether in words or other media, and some want that aspect included. Others look to the practical abilities of women, their strength on a day-to-day basis, the inspiration that their mothers and grandmothers were. And we agree that heroism can be found in the flawed, the imperfect. (In fact, everyone's imperfect.) 

My own definition, the first one articulated – meaning it is being constantly improved upon, lol – included things like courage, commitment, integrity. And I hung out at first for the word 'hero'. I've long used it in a gender-neutral way – or so I have believed. But is that really so? 

Somewhere in the discussion I recalled my youthful wish to be d'Artagnan or Robin Hood. Perhaps that's to do with my age and era. There weren't role models then like the Disney heroine of Brave – and in fact she's very recent.

Further, I notice that lately I've used, first Danaerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, and now Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as my facebook profile pics. What does that say? True, these women have their nurturing, compassionate qualities, and are portrayed as completely heterosexual females – indeed, 'girly girls' who care about things like dress and hairdos – but they are also warlike, tough, and sometimes ruthless. (Buffy, in fact, was envisioned by her creator Joss Whedon as turning the helpless-little-blonde stereotype upside-down.) 

This raises the old feminist question of why women can't be strong as well as soft – and, for that matter, why men can't be soft as well as strong. (Second-wave feminism did accomplish some easing of those stereotypes. Women do now learn karate; men do now push their babies' prams.)

I do not resemble Dany or Buffy in terms of physical courage or athletic prowess. Far from it! It seems unlikely to me that, if I'd been born male, I'd really have been a Robin Hood or D'Artagnan – who not only engaged in fighting, but were exceptionally skilled. I am inclined to pacifism. Robin (and the older D'Artagnan in the later books) had gifts of leadership. In working contexts I make a good 2-I-C. Physically I'm fearful, and somewhat uncoordinated. I always joke that I'm un-Australian because I dislike tea and beer. I just thought of another one: I hate sport.

So I wonder what is going on with me, that I espouse such martial and athletic alter egos! One might think they constitute my Shadow – only I always understood that the Shadow was, by its nature, hidden in the subconscious. The characters I've named are very conscious ... personae, I was going to say, but I don't actually behave like them, so I guess that's not an accurate term. Some time ago I decided that d'Artagnan was my animus. Robin Hood would have been the younger version, i.e. when I was younger. But the women? Well, they are my fantasy selves, perhaps. That might be the closest I can get to categorising them. 

Just to complicate matters – when I was growing up, I was not a particularly girly girl. I seemed so, superficially, because I was timid and shy. But I quickly got bored with my dolls, and unlike other little girls I've known, I didn't want to play dress-ups all day or try out Mum's make-up. But I didn't want to do boys' things either. Playing with cars would have bored me even quicker.

What did I want? I wanted to read! And did, copiously, and never stopped.

Meanwhile, my definition of hero is not someone who kills. That would be taking it much too far (Buffy etc. notwithstanding).

I can probably live with ‘heroine’, reclaimed from the old romantic, languishing image. 

Just don’t ever, ever call me ‘poetess’!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

On Not Being an Artist

I had morning coffee in town with a friend. It had been months since either of us had the leisure for a good catch up, so we stretched it into lunch. Then she drove me from where her car was parked at the swimming pool – she had books in it to give me – to where I was parked in the all-day zone at Knox Park. I put my new books in my car and grabbed my bag of sketching materials out of it. I found a table under the trees and set up with my paints and water colour pencils.

It had been so long since I did any sketching! I leafed back through my water colour book. The last one I'd done was of two homeless guys talking, at a similar picnic table on the other side of Knox Park. They looked like storybook dwarves or gnomes, I thought. I had left the faces largely featureless, except for bushy beards and ears. The seated one did have eyes and brows showing; the other face, in profile, was just a blob. Today I gave them their features, and added fingers to the standing man's hand resting on the table. I defined the seated man's shoulders a little. 

Then I turned to a blank page and started sketching a tree in front of me. Some of my paints had gone hard and stuck to the big old brush I do my washes with. Mostly I don't do washes. I never start with them. I drew lines with my fine brush, and then I made pencil accents. I saw that the paint I picked for branches was quite the wrong colour – brown in the palette but red on the page. Never mind; I could mix it with more colours later, both paint and pencil. 'It doesn't matter if you make mud,' I told myself. 'That's the colour of the branches anyway.' (I learnt years ago, when drawing with pastels, that if you try to mix too many colours you're likely to end up with mud.)

A couple in late middle age came along. 

'Can we look over your shoulder,' asked the man, 'or are you one of those artists who says, No it's not finished?' 

I laughed, letting them see what I was doing. 'No, I'm one of those artists who says, I'm not an artist at all; I'm just playing.' They looked delighted. 

'I do that with my grandchildren,' said the woman. 'When they draw, I draw too. I just muck about.' 

I in turn was delighted. 'That's just what I'm doing. I'm mucking about!' I added, 'And I'm not taking a photo.' (Because really, what they saw in my sketch looked little like the tree in front of me.) 

He told me a story about an artist whose gallery they'd visited in Broken Hill. (No, not Pro Hart, some other bloke whose name they forgot.) 

'I was looking at a big painting on his wall, and he said, I painted that one when I was just starting. And I, in my enthusiasm, said, Oh yes, it shows!' 

I burst out laughing. 

'That's not how he reacted. He didn't like it one bit. I only meant I could see the development. But I had to leave, he got so offended.' 

We all laughed.  They wandered off again through the park, calling over their shoulders, 'You have fun! Enjoy what you're doing!'  

'I am,' I called back.

I finally washed my funny-looking tree with clear water to blend all the bits of paint and pencil, the various colours. Then, last of all, I did a pale blue wash for sky behind the tree, not worrying about filling all the space – the white gaps could be clouds. (Of course, I know it's quite the wrong way around to do the wash and/or the background last.) 

What I was doing, I realised, was playing with the water colours to find out what they would and wouldn't do. If I did this, what effect would it have? And if I did that? Would it turn out how I thought it would or do something else altogether? 

I put away my stuff while I left the result sitting on my little table-top easel to dry. I walked over to the garbage bin to dispose of the tissues I'd used to wipe my brushes. When I walked back and saw my sketch sitting there under the tree it was based on, I was surprised. It actually did look something like ... from a distance. 

It's true I wasn't attempting anything photographic. I had no expectations of even producing a halfway decent work of art – and I don't think I did. (Up close, I think it vaguely resembles a rotting cabbage.) But something happened.

I do it as a hobby, for the heck of it, because I enjoy the mucking around. And that would be enough. But I see a faint possibility, too. If I keep playing, maybe one day....

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Selene Update: Milestones

The beautiful Selene has now been with me a little under four and a half months. She is very happy now that I have made the back yard secure for her, and enjoys spending time there every day. She quite often asks me to go out there with her, and I must admit it is a pleasant place to be. (She would like to go out there at night too, but that is definitely not going to happen.)

She also enjoys the winter sun in the spare room. I put her special rug that came with her on one of the beds, and she gets very cosy. She has established her own routines by now, and likes to sit with me when I'm at the computer. If I'm using the laptop, she'll sit on the chair in front of the desktop, and vice versa. (They're on side-by-side desks, with a printer in between.) She basically likes to hang with me a lot, but when I watch telly at night she usually goes and curls up in the spare room.

Not sharing a bed works fine; I think we both sleep better. But during the day there are times when she reminds me she still needs pats and scratches. I am happy to oblige! I suspect she'll never entirely trust a human, but she has come a long way in trusting me. A few days ago I was able to brush her fur with a brush, which she would once have shied away from. This morning I got brave enough to pick her up for a cuddle in my arms – which I have been longing to do – and she didn't resist but seemed to enjoy it. Well, she was acquiescent anyway, and I made it fairly brief.

As I have recounted before, she is non-vocal and communicates by body language and telepathy. She is highly telepathic! And I am improving. A couple of days ago I said to her out loud, 'I wish you would talk to me with your voice. It would be so much easier for me to understand what you want.' A little later, she asked for some dinner with a loud and clear miaow!!! The rule is that she has dry food available all the time, and other food is not given on demand but when I decide. However, I certainly rewarded that little effort! So far it hasn't happened again, so I might have to repeat the request – but it seems she aims to please.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Selene Saga Continues

She has been here four months already!

Gradually she has claimed the space.

It is only very recently that she ventured into the bathroom (which, after a cursory inspection, she found boring) and the spare room, where she discovered comfortable beds that get the afternoon sun. The spare room is now definitely part of her domain.

It still wrings my heart a little, to see her where I used to see her beloved predecessors. But after all, they don't need those places any more, and it's good that she can enjoy them now.

Some weeks past she became daring enough to get on my bed, sometimes on her own during the daytime:

more especially at night – like Freya before her, arriving instantaneously upon my retirement. She also took to joining me for any afternoon naps.

It didn't take too long before she was snuggling right up, pressed against my torso or legs for the whole night.

Then we had the latest setback.

There have been a couple of occasions, since the first frenzied attack, that she has scratched me – but only with one brief touch, never again drawing blood. I eventually understood that, as she didn't learn when young to communicate with humans by miaowing and purring, she uses body language such as a warning paw extended, and if that message isn't got, a small tap with extended claw.

Which is what happened when I rolled over in my sleep one night, and evidently flung out an arm, and it was one of the rare occasions when she was sleeping at the top of the bed. I was woken by a scratch on my hand, and came to with a yell of pain and surprise, at which she jumped off the bed and ran out of the room. When I came fully awake, I realised she hadn't actually hurt me; but things were rather cool and stand-offish between us the rest of the day.

That night, when I settled for a read before turning the light out, she came confidently up the bed to me as usual, for a pat and some stroking and a scratch behind the ears, a pleasant routine we had got into before she found her spot for the night.

Only this time, as I reached out to pat her, she suddenly sat back on her haunches and started shadow-boxing with her front paws, not in a playful way but defensive and threatening. I roared in surprise and outrage (though she hadn't touched me) and again she ran from the room.

'Well, that's it,' I thought. 'I can't have her on the bed tonight. I can't trust her not to over-react to my movements.' So I shut the bedroom door. (My former cats would have scratched at it furiously, demanding admittance as their right, but not this one.)

I woke up next morning without all the aches and pains I'd been experiencing on waking for the past couple of weeks. Well, well, well! So no more cat on bed. I now shut my door every night. The first time, she looked next day as if she thought she was in disgrace. I spoke to her kindly to try and reassure her; she seemed to understand, We are working out between us new times for strokings, scratchings and rubbings up. We both know we do need touch, for proper bonding.

And I talk to her. She does her best to talk to me with her expressive eyes.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Blog Posts and Literary Journals

A personal conversation which might be of wider interest

A friend messaged me with a question:

Noticing talk lately about poems posted on blogs or websites = publishing. Therefore holding back on posting new poems on my blog as hoping to submit to mags etc., many of which stipulate "not previously published". Not knowledgable about this, trying to find out more. What do you know?

I replied:

I know that it is a grey area. Whether or not blog posts are regarded as prior publication depends on the particular editor of the particular journal/anthology. Also your facebook posts could be ineligible, depending whether your profile is Public or Friends Only. Some editors/publications have a blanket policy of no prior online appearance. Others don't count posting on personal blogs or in closed online groups as prior publication. Check, but I think the groups you publish to on fb are not closed. (This is usually not specifically applicable to other online groups in the wider blogosphere, such as Poets United and others I use, because we don't publish our poems IN the groups, we supply a link to those posts at our own blogs.)

Some poets get around this by putting things on blogs very briefly, perhaps labelled as – and being – drafts, and removing them within a week or two before submitting elsewhere. Some don't put on their blogs anything they wish to submit elsewhere. They may perhaps post such poems to their blogs after publication, with appropriate accreditation of 'first publication' as one would if publishing one's own book.

Others, such as me, blog on regardless. There are enough journals and anthologies, many online and some offline, who will include pieces that have appeared on blogs and in social media. I don't bother much anyway unless I am invited, which still sometimes happens.

On the one hand, it could be said that I can afford to thumb my nose, as I was well published in decades past and made a name for myself. I think it was more like five minutes of fame, but it's true that I had and enjoyed it.

On the other hand, I look at my blog stats and know I get many more readers by publishing to a blog than I would by appearing in even the most prestigious Australian literary journals. (Some of my old colleagues seem offended if I say that! But it's not a denigration of the literary journals or their contents to note, from their own statistics, that they have a lesser reach. It's just the nature of things.)

There is also the fact that – for reasons of convenience, really – I don't do spoken word performance any more, so no longer have the grassroots community reach in that kind of way. I get it in a different way, in a different but sometimes overlapping community, via my blog.

Depends what you want: to be read, or to have some standing in literary circles. (Both, of course; but perhaps, as things are, one must predominate.) There is a widespread view that poetry on blogs is not of a very high standard; that people publish any old thing without it having been workshopped or edited, and readers who couldn't tell a poem from a Hallmark greeting card rush to praise it. (The same view is held about self-published ebooks.) There is some truth in that; I have seen some horrendous examples thereof.

However, the poets who publish in the online poetry groups I've found have a commitment to poetry, develop rapidly through communion with other poets (just as poets do in offline groups and events) and many of them are, in my opinion, as good as anyone publishing to more 'literary' acclaim. (Well, maybe not quite as good as Mary Oliver, but – you know – she's God. *Smiling.* Some aren't too bloody far off, all the same.) Many of them have a high reputation in online poetry circles. Does that count? Well yes, judgment of one's peers and all that.

I think my opinion of their excellence counts for something, having been a teacher of poetry writing at tertiary level, a reviewer in respected publications, and a publisher of prize-winning books of poetry.

As for my own esteem, it is indeed true that I received much validation when I was younger, and no longer need anyone to assure me I'm a competent poet. I think I am also pretty good by now at assessing fairly objectively which of my pieces are working well, and which could be improved or scrapped. Above all, people tell me when something moves them deeply, in comments which go beyond the politely encouraging.

So yes, I do feel I can afford to thumb my nose at more traditional avenues now. It comes at a price, though. While Australian poets (and readers) of my generation remember me well, newer ones coming up have probably never heard of me. I don't, I think, have a name that will last in Australian poetry. Once I longed for literary standing in the present and fame in posterity, while some of of my confreres said,'It's all ephemeral; let's be heard NOW.' Funnily enough, in age our positions have reversed!

For you (and others) who didn't seek and get that validation years ago, it may well be important to pursue traditional paths of publication at this point, pay your dues and earn the respect you deserve. After that you can choose where to go next. Perhaps in both directions at once; there are those who do that too.

You could put the blog on hold until later – either deleting it entirely, leaving it up as a record, or changing the setting to private so only you would see it.

Or you could keep it going and choose what to put on it, e.g. stuff ABOUT your writing, such as the chapbook publicity that's already there. And/or maybe poems you think good enough to share with the world, but don't particularly wish to submit to journals.

Basically you should do what YOU want. Life's too short not to! Hopefully this helps you make a more informed choice.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Occupation Poet

'Not for ambition or bread,' said Dylan Thomas about writing poetry, in the sonnet, In My Craft or Sullen Art.

That's about right, for most poets. Yet we regard it as our work, our vocation, that thing we can't not do.

I'll be truthful: I don't write that occupation on forms any more, though I did when younger. I put 'retired' or 'age pensioner'; it's simpler. But I still occupy myself in making poems, and in related activities. As they say, 'It's what I do.'

But what exactly?

Related activities are:
  • Columns for the international online community, Poets United. I alternate fortnightly (on Fridays) between I Wish I'd Written This and The Living Dead, discussing poems and poets I like. When there is a fifth Friday in the month, I write Moonlight Musings, exploring various matters of concern to poets – such as copyright, plagiarism, influences, form, payment/reward.... 
  • Administering various poetry groups on facebook, including haiku and tanka groups. 
  • Participating in several blogging groups including Poets United. 
  • Editing other people's poetry for pay. 
  • Workshopping other people's poetry as a favour, or reciprocally. 
  • Reading and commenting on other people's poems as participation in the facebook groups and blogging groups. 
  • Producing book manuscripts, either on my own or in collaboration with other poets. Publishing some, usually but not only as ebooks. (Hey, look in the right-hand side-column! Some of them are still available to buy.) 
  • Accepting invitations to contribute to poetry anthologies. (You'll find some of them in the side-column too.) 
  • Writing book reviews, such as these here

Memoir Plans

I'm not sure if I can count it as a related activity – at least not directly – but I am assembling material for a memoir that has long been asked for by many people. They are more interested in the fact that I'm a psychic, an energy healer and a witch than in my poetry.  

I find it difficult to write. But a number of people have described my poetry as a sort of diary in verse – I guess that's what you get for being largely 'confessional' – so I am thinking that part of the memoir could be in verse, or poems might punctuate it. Meanwhile I assemble material, in personal journals that don't get shared yet, and in a blog called Blowing My Own Trumpet. (I'm so not musical! It's a metaphor.)


Sometimes I interview other poets. For example, my friend Helen Patrice when her first book, A Woman of Mars was published.

Sometimes I get interviewed, e.g. this on poetry and witchcraft, by Sherry at Poets United.

Spiritual Writings

I belong to a women's circle called The Goddesses of Shining Light. I am sometimes asked to present talks or lead meditations at our monthly meetings.

I have a blog called Cronewyze, where I write about witchy stuff, energy healing, etc. 

And above all –

Making Poems

'What a quiet, dull life!' – that's what I think people must think about my life. I do have a social life, quite an active one with my many good friends, but I also spend a lot of time alone at my desk. For me it isn't dull; the making of poems is endlessly absorbing. Crafting them, getting them as right as I can, is like solving a puzzle. (I like doing puzzles; it's one of my recreations.) 

Life presents no shortage of subject matter, and these days I also follow prompts from some of the poetry groups I belong to. I write nearly every day. I seldom submit to journals or anthologies now unless invited, though once upon a time (in my youth) I did. That was before the internet. Now I blog them, usually at my poetry blog, The Passionate Crone.

Although my real love is free verse, the older I get the more I like to experiment with form too. I try all sorts – haiku, sonnets, prose poems, sestinas, found poems, boomerang metaphors, tiluses – from the old and traditional to recent inventions.

Occasionally I write 'small stones' – small observations of life, polished to the best of my ability. They are usually in verse, but sometimes short prose, and I blog them at Stones for the River.

Coming Up:

The online launch of Delaina Miller's The Unique and Sundry, which I edited.

A collaboration with Helen Patrice and Jennie Fraine, Three Cycles of the Moon.

Writing a poem a day during the 'poetry month' of April. They'll be posted at The Passionate Crone.

Being a guest blogger during the month of June at Project 366, where various Australian poets post daily drafts, as a process and for (potential) discussion.

(Cross-posted to my website)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

THE TIPPING POINT by Linda Stevenson

(Poetry chapbook. Melbourne, Blank Rune Press, 2016.)

This slim volume is a feast! Linda Stevenson is a thoughtful poet whose work ranges from intellectual word play to direct and simple appeals to the emotions. One of her own paintings forms the beautiful cover illustration. Her words paint pictures too – scenes and images that continue to haunt the reader after the words have been read.  And her language is full of music.

It's exciting for me in various ways to be reviewing Linda’s first poetry chapbook. During my long acquaintance with her poetry, I have always believed it deserved publication and a wide readership.

Yes, we have a history. Once upon a time we were two young women living in Melbourne, who happened to sit next to each other at Library School. We got talking and found much in common, such as the fact that we both wrote poetry. We're still doing a lot of talking five decades later, though nowadays we live in different parts of the country so it's usually by email. And we are still deeply engaged with poetry.

I am also well acquainted with Linda’s encouragement and support of other poets, myself included. In a way, the wheel has come full circle. Thirty-one years ago, in her capacity as Melbourne City Librarian, Linda Stevenson launched my first book of poetry at Margareta Weber's bookshop in Melbourne. 

In that capacity she also gave the Melbourne Branch of the Poets Union a meeting place for a number of years, at North Melbourne Library. In those days she didn't seek to promote her own poetry – busy enough, no doubt, with professional and family life; and, more than that, focused on bigger pictures and community issues rather than personal ego.

She says now, on her recently begun poetry blog, 'Written there on skin' :

My poetry is a part of my life, that creative part so vital to our human individuality. It has been a lifelong habit, scribbling words down, from childhood on through adolescence, adulthood and now into mature older age.

I love the process that takes the poet from the raw first phrases on through the building of themes and expressed ideas and finally to the crafting of a satisfying work. The sharing of that creation with others is the icing on the cake.

We both left librarianship eventually, I to give more attention to writing and she to concentrate on art. As well as becoming a painter, still her primary focus, for some years she ran a successful business involving an innovative technique of print-making. All the while the poetry continued.

It took our old colleague, Valli Poole, now proprietor of Blank Rune Press, to persuade Linda at last to compile a chapbook. I hope it's the first of many.

I remember her telling me, long ago, how much she loved understatement. In this book, with its environmental theme, she uses it to excellent effect – by no means shirking the confrontation of unpalatable truths, but without unnecessary dramatics (the facts being sufficiently dramatic in themselves).

A personal favourite, which I featured recently in an online column for the poetic community Poets United, is Adani Coal Mine Approved, which works by painting a contrasting picture to the facts. It deserves quoting in full.

It pares down

to the palest of skies
to a native fledgling

thirsty, untended

to whether a black stinking
mess of outmoded greed
is claimed as our chosen soil

when we might have lifted
up into the quiet transparency

taking the winds

carrying the young bird

with us
as our token.

Her environmental concerns inform the whole book. She is fully cognisant of the issues she addresses. She worked as a full time volunteer in the environmental movement in the early seventies and has retained interest and involvement since. (See footnote*)

The title, The Tipping Point, comes from a piece called Solar Winds, which is as despairing as we all often feel about the planet's and humanity's situation. It begins:

So weary
at this juncture
here, where the turning on a life’s edge
is pivotal…

Yet this is a book full of beauty. It ends, though still sadly, on a softer note with this small untitled poem:

Searching for haiku and other poems
I find instead a quiet place in the garden;
in its still shadow I stand
upright as bamboo
soft and weeping, like orchids.

The book is to be launched in Frankston on April 23rd by well-known Melbourne poet Ken Smeaton. It will be available later from Collected Works Bookshop (Level One of the Nicholas Building in Swanston Street, just a few minutes from Flinders Street Station).

Orders and pre-orders
From Blank Rune Press, via Linda’s poetry blog ‘Written There on Skin’
By email
Valli will take a firm order, supply payment details, and forward the book after the money is received in the account.
Order price: RRP $15 AUD including P&H.

*Asked for details, Linda said:
In early 1971, I became intensely involved with the then environmental movement, as a researcher/liaison officer for the 4th International Congress on Human Relations: "Environment: social/industrial responsibilities". I researched global environmental problems, potential solutions, and helped to plan and organise this major Conference at the Dallas Brooks Hall Melbourne in July 1972. Speakers included high profile environmentalists from overseas such as Barry Commoner and Rene Dubos and local speakers and delegates from universities, trade unions, political parties, business and industry, along with significant individual voices such as Judith Wright and Robin Boyd. During this period I also became a full member of the Round the Bend Conservation Cooperative, a shareholder of its land at Kangaroo Ground, and served on its Committees of Management for several years. Since then, I have maintained a strong interest in all aspects of conservation/preservation of the natural environment and related concerns.

Linda Stevenson

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

HAIKU AROMA by Terry Dalfrano

(My Goodreads review. I gave it 4 stars.)

This is a well-produced paperback of three-line verses in a bilingual edition, Italian and English. Terry asked me and some others for advice on the English, as it is his second language, and has kindly acknowledged our help. 

The English of the final version is on the whole excellent, though at times slightly imperfect – but not to the detriment of either poetics or meaning. It is more as if it were spoken with a trace of foreign accent, which lends its own charm. I wish I could read the Italian, as I'm sure it would be very beautiful. The English verses are beautiful enough in their own right to convince me of that.

Haiku Aroma is a good title, suggesting that the poems are redolent of haiku rather than claiming they adhere strictly to that form. In brevity, directness and structure they are haiku-like. In subject matter, and the frequent use of metaphor, they are more reminiscent of another Japanese form, the romantic five-line tanka.

They are passionate love poems, arranged in seasonal sequences – the seasons themselves working as metaphors for the stages of the relationship. When I considered the pieces individually while the work was in preparation, I didn't fully appreciate how beautifully the finished volume would tell the story of this relationship, its waxing and waning through various phases. (The moon is often a symbol of the beloved.) Though each poem can stand alone, it is rewarding to read the book as a whole, from start to finish.

He has a delicate touch: erotic without being vulgar; romantic without being mawkish. For example:

the sun flares
on your amber skin 
hurry up night

quietly falls the night
soft silk veils
drop at your feet

come my moon
make the tide rise
inside me

Each section is introduced with a one-line title; these too are exquisite small poems.

The appropriately suggestive cover illustration is a close-up of a stapella flower, held in the palm of a hand.

The book is available from Amazon, both as paperback and ebook.