As American poet, Linda Gregg, says, ”To write just because the poet wants to write is natural, but to learn to see is a blessing. The art of finding in poetry is the art of marrying the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human. “
Australian poet, Cate Kennedy, has well-honed the skill of “finding” and “marrying the sacred to the world.”
Yes, Cate Kennedy is a poet! To all the surprised looks when I say it, may no one miss this fact.
Cate writes across genres with enviable skill. Heralded for her short stories, Dark Roots, Like a House on Fire, the Mexican travel memoir, Sing and Don’t Cry, and her novel, The World Beneath,
Cate was and still is, an award-winning poet.
From being chosen in the Five Islands 2001 new poets series, Signs of Other Fires which won the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize, to her second collection Joyflight, IP Picks Best Poetry 2004, Interactive Press, and the latest collection, Taste of River Water, Scribe, which won the Victorian Premiers Literary Award, Cate’s command of the poetic ear and eye is undeniable.
This is why we are delighted she has agreed to be the judge of our Dangerously Poetic 2013 Byron Bay Writer’s Festival Poetry Prize. Her accessible poetic style, both down to earth and yet transcendent, is one we admire.
Ordinary Miracles is the theme of our poetry competition and our forth-coming anthology for 2014- We invite poets to write up to 40 line poems. Poetry is best equipped to find language for the ineffable, numinous moments we all experience.
“The spiritual mind is always metaphorical. Spiritual thinking is poetic thinking. It’s always trying to put a very diaphanous experience into words, realizing all the while that words are inadequate”.— Sam Keen
Co-sponsored with the 2013 Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, the winners of this competition receive a 3 day pass as well as $500 for first prize and $100 for second. They will be invited to read the winning poems with Cate on the Saturday afternoon at the festival. The winning poems will be published in our next anthology, to be launched mid-2014.
So start scribbling…. the deadline is 7th of JUNE. Download the entry form on the home page.
The infant is stillborn. I gaze at its waxy skin, translucent blue lips, tightly curled fists. Is it shock, grief, or curiosity that prompts me to touch the rubbery limbs and bend them? A shudder startles me. A finger moves, eyelids flutter. Its alive!
But could it be viable having been abandoned for dead?
I’m clutching my tear stained pillow as I awaken and realize, its my “dead baby” dream again.
Holidays have great recuperative powers, but when I’ve abandoned my writing for too long, I get cranky. I lose my confidence. That’s when the “dead baby” dreams surface.
So how to transition back into my writing groove?
I dance and paint; all non-verbal creative play reignites the poetry. The word “play” is the operative one as I have little invested in my ability to paint or dance— unlike poetry, the craft I’ve honed for almost 40 years. At play, my inner creative is sparked. Words arise, phrases, lines and I’m off….
It was this need for spontaneous play that inspired Nathalie and myself to offer DAY SPA FOR THE SOUL.
Using gentle movement, painting with inks, massage, meditation and poetry, we will fall in love with our marks and words on the page. This special women only group will run on Wednesday, the 16th of January from 10-4 pm. For more info, click here or contact me.
Meanwhile, put on a tune and dance!
The joy of craft is its time consuming precision and careful focused attention. Like needlework of old, take pleasure in that feminine quality of giving the time it takes to nurture the beautiful creation into being. When in doubt about your poem, wait…
Elizabeth Bishop would pin lines and words up over her desk to rearrange with gaps where she was unsure of the right word, keeping her poems in their conception nest for years before letting them try their wings. About revision, she said, “What one seems to want in art, in experiencing it, is the same thing that’s necessary for its creation, a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration.”
In the Vassar College library there are seventeen extant drafts of “One Art” written over a six month period, and they reveal just how hard Bishop had to work to match and master an uncontrollable grief by structuring it into the almost mathematical equation of a villanelle.— Edward Hirsch
We let the poems incubate for a while— then return with fresh eyes to find dead phrases, clichés, unneeded words, awkward lines, lack of clarity. Then let them rest again, safe in the conception nest.
If they don’t seem to have what it takes to fly—
Ask yourself: What am I not allowing myself to say? Should it be said? What is the point of this poem? Why do I want this poem to end? Is it a false resolution?
Try using a different form or break out of form altogether if it is holding you back. Always, keep the original version. Make a copy and tear that one apart. Enjoy the plasticity of the words and lines.
Imagine your poem is a film- would it work better as a flash-back or cutting together scenes that jump around in time? Arbitrarily, move them around and see if you can find a more interesting order. Collect some of your favourite words and toss them in, in unpredictable places like seasoning.
It can take years, but sometimes even the still- born poems can be resurrected.
Stillborn, by Sylvia Plath
These poems do not live: it’s a sad diagnosis.
They grew their toes and fingers well enough,
Their little foreheads bulged with concentration.
If they missed out on walking about like people
It wasn’t for any lack of mother-love.
O I cannot explain what happened to them!
They are proper in shape and number and every part.
They sit so nicely in the pickling fluid!
They smile and smile and smile at me.
And still the lungs won’t fill and the heart won’t start.
They are not pigs, they are not even fish,
Though they have a piggy and a fishy air –
It would be better if they were alive, and that’s what they were.
But they are dead, and their mother near dead with distraction,
And they stupidly stare and do not speak of her.
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.
While spring is meant to be a time for romance, for regrowth and budding enterprises, winter is a time of self-reflection, going inward, cocooning, gestating. Winter can be a metaphor for the final stage of life, for relinquishing the physical and slipping away. What wisdom can we discover as we embrace the many aspects of winter? How can we clear our minds and experience winter as the best season of our lives?
In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. ~William Blake
Go into nature and observe the changes this time of year. For those of us living in northern NSW, the seasons are not as defined as many places. We have to notice the subtle things that cold nights bring. The vibrant sunsets that paint the beach in rainbows, some shedding of leaves and dropping of blossoms.
Notice the inner changes as dark comes earlier and lasts longer. How do we come to peace with our own aging? How can we celebrate each season with equal appreciation?
I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.
Write a poem celebrating Winter, the season and your own inner winter…
This will be the theme of the upcoming one day retreat guided by Bev Sweeney and myself.
Friday, 22nd of June from 10- 3:30 pm in New Brighton
In a nurturing circle, relax into poetry, Qigong, meditation, journaling and nature. We will explore the winter of our lives, how we can age with grace and ease. We will uncover the beauty and nourishment of winter.
All are welcome if you are in the area and can come along!
While I didn’t see my relatives this year, I spent time sorting through old photos and letters. One grandfather was handsome in the tiny black and whites as a WW1 flying ace in France. There is a portrait of him as a Colonel in charge of an airport in Africa during WW2. The other grandfather emigrated to the US from the Ukraine at age 12 and worked his way through law school. Two very different personalities and yet each sported a moustache and ended his days pinching the nurses and flirting. Scratch the surface of any family and you find a narrative.
Rainer Maria Rilke asserted that there are two inexhaustible sources for poetry: “dreams and childhood.”
I would suggest a third: the family. We all have them, relatives both near and distant, family myths and legends. Writing about these characters helps us to understand and feel compassion for their idiosyncrasies. Faint memories sharpen into focus and a new comprehension evolves.
Writing about my relatives has challenged my assumptions about them, especially when I try to write from their point of view. I notice each has left me with a message about life. My grandmother always noticed suffering in the world and suffered herself with cancer for many years. At her funeral, I heard her voice in my head saying, The suffering ends here. I took it to mean her suffering but also mine. I heard a woman say once, Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. This is what my grandmother’s life taught me, but how to show this in a 40 line poem?
My Russian grandfather dropped his bravado and masks and we genuinely met for the first time a day before he died. I realized all he ever wanted was love but he did everything to push it away.
The process of distilling these experiences into poetry has taken years. Each fresh draft emphasizes different aspects of a complex relationship. The poems begin as private and personal. I must find a way to use the particular to express the universal so they become public poems. It requires being an objective witness without letting my emotional bias through.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
What stories weren’t told in your family? What is your story to tell?
Think of a relative from your childhood. What did he or she smell like? What was his favorite food? How did this relative dress? Picture the person walking towards you. How did he/she move? Any distinctive mannerisms? What did his or her voice sound like? A favorite expression?
What gift did this person offer you? Just jot down images and associations. Let these steep in you until a refrain or line begins to open it as a poem.
I will be sharing a collection of my family portrait poems on Friday, the 10 of Feb. at Ewingsdale Hall at 7 pm.
I also invite you to join us for a 5 week workshop on writing family portraits commencing Friday the 17th of February from 9:30 -12:30 in New Brighton.
“I am signaling you through the flames.
Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.
Civilization self-destructs. Nemesis is knocking at the door.
What are poets for in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?” Lawrence Ferlinghetti from Poetry as Insurgent Art
We are approaching the long-heralded 2012 and what can we as poets and poetry lovers offer a world on tilt?
Here is what we did this year:
Dangerously Poetic kicked off 2011 with Rumble with the Spirit, mystical poetry to lift the heart, featuring Kathryn Riding and Elyjah Mcleod and the choir, Mystica. This was a benefit reading for the Queensland Flood Relief and we collected $613. for the fund .
And to further nurture the spirit, we offered the playshop, Day Spa for the Soul encouraging spontaneous expression through art, movement and writing.
We also initiated the Dangerously Poetic Writing Circle offered each month on the second Weds. at Wheel of Life in Brunswick Heads. This has become a popular gathering to stimulate new poems and fine tune ones that are already in process. At just $10/8 for members, it is affordable and a great opportunity to keep the poetry flowing.
Our next reading in Brunswick Heads was on the theme nature and our place in it— exploring our evolving relationship with a changing planet and we called it Mud between the toes. We invited garden club enthusiasts and members of local environmental groups to bring along a poem about nature that inspires and sustains them. Featured readers were Laura Jan Shore and Elvyn Dear. With both original tunes and standards, we enjoyed singer Shelly Hughes accompanied by Dan Brown.
There was an extended open reading on the theme, so many came forward to share their favourite poem.
Warm Winter Words was another benefit reading, this time for the Mullumbimby Soup Kitchen run by Kristina. We had a good line- up of music and poetry held at the St. John’s Catholic Hall.
Kristina provided hot soup and other treats for sale. The Hottentots and Chelle Lynton, Mark Heazlett and Cass and Elyjah all offered their beautiful music. Susan Hayward, Paul Pritchard, Mandy Morris, , Victor Marsh, Christo Barrett-Hall and Sundari were among the readers. Close to $2000 was raised in total for the soup kitchen!
We followed this with a one day retreat, Embracing The Wind, nourishing our connection to nature and our place in it. We relaxed into the sounds of nature, music, and beautiful words. And we enjoyed simple Qigong movement led by Bev Sweeney, with mindfulness moments and journaling. It was a time to sit in a nurturing circle— to breathe the earth. Inspired by this session were poems that were later submitted to our anthology which will be published in the new year.
Meanwhile, we applied for and received a grant from The Sidney Myer Fund for a tent to be used as a poetry chill out tent at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival. Our vision which was to give poetry a bigger profile at the festival was well and truly manifested.
As there were no plans for a poetry competition this year at the festival, we asked if we could co-sponsor one with the NRWC. This was agreed upon and we received a full selection of poems on the theme of Spirit of Place, nature and our place in it. This coincides with our anthology theme and we offered to publish the winning poems in the upcoming anthology as well as offering a cash prize of $500 for first, and $250 for second. Robyn Rowland served as our judge.
At our poetry chill out tent, we provided an intimate space for poetry to flourish. One poet called it a “sanctuary” and another an “oasis”. The gentle music offered a welcome short break from words for many of the participants as well as the poets and writers who presented elsewhere.
We had many unexpected surprises. Poets stopped by and were eager to be slotted in for a half hour reading. Alison Wong, Teresa Bell, Robyn Rowland, Lorraine Marwood, and Libby Hathorn did half hour readings to audiences that ranged from 15 to 35.
At times, the tent was spilling out into the sun and other times were quiet. Many enjoyed the free shoulder massages, aromatherapy and a place to write passion poems. We put the winning poem on our site.
Most popular was our 3pm Open Reading each day and the quality of poetry read was refreshing.
We also ran a Sunday morning poetry reading. This attracted more people than we expected with all the competing events at those times. We had great feedback about The Songbirds and the chance for 3 festival poets, Susan Bradley Smith, Edwin Wilson and Robyn Rowland to read more extensively than elsewhere. Also our 2 award winners for the DP/BB Writers Festival prize were there to read their poems.
In November, Dangerously Poetic co-sponsored the launch of my book, Water over Stone, Interactive Press at the Primary school in Brunswick Heads. Sarah Armstrong did the launch speech. With guitarist Mark Heazlett, I did a performance of “Family Portrait Poems,” from the collection followed by a feast catered by Kristina.
In December, our Christmas Party reading featured three Interactive Press poets with new books, publisher David Reiter, Geoff Page and myself. The visiting poets served as judges for our popular poetry lamb. Ten contestants read their original poems and a winner chosen for a $50 prize. Again, Kristina outdid herself with delicious food and we toasted with champagne.
So what is next for 2012 which happens to be the 10th anniversary of the incorporation of Dangerously Poetic?
We have been finalizing the manuscript for our 10th book, Wild Honey, poetry from Byron Bay and Beyond, an anthology featuring 20 poets which we intend to launch by early March.
We hope to continue our process of meeting in different locations as we find it enables more people to come along and enjoy poetry. The popular DP Writing circle will continue in Brunswick Heads. More workshops and gatherings will undoubtedly be organized and more benefit performances as they are such fun and successful fund raisers.
We have certainly proved over this year that poetry can be a needed solace and of great benefit to the community in difficult times and good times. Our vision is to continue offering community experiences that nourish and uplift the spirit through poetry. Hope you will join us!
My latest collection of poems, Water Over Stone, IP Press is about to be launched. As I read aloud to an audience, words I have wrestled with for years, I ponder the long process that took raw emotion and language and refined it into something I am at last ready to share.
For me, the genesis of a poem is intensely private. It begins as a pinch deep inside, like the pop of an egg and I know I am fertile. A poem wants to be born, but I don’t know anything about it yet. If I ignore the pinch, I find myself growing cranky and miserable. If I honour it with time for quiet contemplation, I am rewarded with an image, sound, or phrase that suggests the raw beginnings of a poetic form. These I incubate for a time, perhaps an hour, a week or months. The random lists of words or phrases or even a mood begins to coagulate. Often I have false starts. There is a point in every poem I write where I feel despair. I fear this poem will spontaneously abort. I am sitting in the chaos of creation without knowing how it will ever come into form.
Sometimes it comes as a trickle, sometimes a gush…
The secret of it all is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment — to get things down without deliberation – without worrying about their style — without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote — wrote, wrote . . . By writing in the instant the very heartbeat of life is caught.
–Walt Whitman, “Walt Whitman’s Camden Conversations”
When the poem finally reaches the page in a form that feels solid, I am elated. This post-partum passion can last as long as a week. I am in love with my latest offspring and want to stay up all night just to watch it breathe! My urge is to show this precious creation to everyone I know. This is the quintessential poem and renders all earlier poems obsolete. THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO MAKE THE POEM PUBLIC. I am not ready for any kind of criticism yet.
Finally, the cold winds of doubt arise. Will anyone understand my newborn? Now the inner poet gives room for the inner critic. If the inner critic is an ally, this is an important relationship. Now I am ready to re-examine the poem with fresh eyes. I can generally spot the obvious clichés and weaknesses like adverbs and adjectives or abstract words that don’t serve the poem. I can also email it to a few trusted poet friends for comment. I am ready to hear what isn’t working. I am prepared to prune back any self-indulgent phrases and to weave in missing links.
Again and again, I read the poem aloud, listening for clunky words or awkward phrases. The poem is still not ready to go public. I let it rest in a drawer for a few weeks and force myself not to re-read it until once again I can face it with fresh eyes. Usually, there are some minor changes at this point, but sometimes I turn the poem inside out and it becomes something quite different. I ask myself, What am I really trying to say?
The mind wraps itself around a poem. It is almost sensual, particularly if you work on a computer. You can turn the poem round and about and upside down, dancing with it a kind of bolero of two snakes twisting and coiling, until the poem has found its right and proper shape. –Marge Piercy
At last, I am ready to bring it out in public. I practice re-embodying the poem, connecting to the emotion that drives it. I practice in front of a trusted writing group or an encouraging crowd at a local poetry reading. Often just speaking the poem in front of strangers, reveals weak points I hadn’t noticed before. Some poems are easily accessible when performed. Others work best on the page.
More changes are made. A comma moved, a shift of line break. Printed out, the poem is ready to go off into the world. It is submitted to a literary magazine or a contest and forgotten.
Call me fickle, but response can take many months. I am fully engaged in other poems, my latest darlings. If the word eventually comes back, that the poem will see print, there is a curious anti-climax. The poem no longer belongs to me, but to the reading public. I look at it in the magazine and feel surprise.
Could this be my baby?
Collecting these poems into a manuscript is the next step. They change subtly as they are placed side by side with others. When the book appears and I hear the feedback from readers, once again I am surprised. Readers often see links I never thought of and make assumptions that every part of a poem is true and about me. Many choices are made even in autobiographical poems to distil and conflate for the sake of the poem. Some are purely fiction.
At last, the book launch and a more extended performance where I continue to discover new things about my own poems. It is a relationship that grows and changes as I do.
Dangerously Poetic brought our poetry “wish list” to Candy at the Northern Rivers Writers Centre back in January based on our experience of the past 15 Byron Bay Writers festivals. It was amply fulfilled. We applied for and received a grant from The Sidney Meyer Foundation to pay for a tent and musicians as we have found the marriage of music and poetry important to its enjoyment.
The Poetry Chill Out tent offered what we dreamed it might, an intimate space for poetry to flourish. One poet called it a “sanctuary” and another an “oasis”. Featuring guitarist, Robert Ood on Friday, flutist Paul Kimmel on Saturday and guitarist David Ackerman on Sunday, the gentle live music offered a welcome short break from words for many of the participants as well as the poets and writers who presented elsewhere.
We had many unexpected surprises. Poets stopped by and were eager to be slotted in for a half hour reading. Alison Wong, Teresa Bell, Robyn Rowland, Lorraine Marwood, and Libby Hathorn each did half hour readings to audiences that ranged from 15 to 35. One highlight was Teresa Bell’s impromptu decision to launch her book from the tent instead of the launching pad as she preferred the cozy ambience.
At times, the tent was spilling out into the sun and other times were quiet. It was a pity the Chill Out tent wasn’t in the program as many found it difficult to find us. However, we printed flyers and handed out as many as we could which brought people in.
Many enjoyed the free shoulder massages, aromatherapy and a place to write passion poems. The winning passion poem, haiku by Angela Helen Smith, captures the mood.
in the tent
Most popular was our 3pm Open Reading each day and the quality of poetry read was refreshing. We encouraged visitors to the Chill tent to attend Saturday night and many who had stopped by were there at the theatre. The Sat night event was fun and different and touched many new to poetry events.
Sunday morning we offered our session at the Performance Tent, A Passion For Nature. This attracted more people than expected with all the competing events at those times. There was great feedback about The Songbirds led by Alison Mackay. The chance for 3 festival poets, Susan Bradley Smith, Edwin Wilson and Robyn Rowland to read more extensively than elsewhere was much appreciated. Also our 2 award winners for the DP/BB Writers Festival prize were there to read their poems. Our time was a bit short so they were rushed which was too bad but they were good sports about it.
All in all, our vision which was to give poetry a bigger profile at the festival was well and truly manifested.
Why do we so rarely give ourselves permission to slow down?
Twelve of us pondered this after sharing a one day retreat, Embracing the Wind, facilitated by Bev Sweeney and myself. Some spoke of their initial hesitation to spend a day in silence. The preference was to socialize at least during lunch.
But we discovered the deep bonding that occurs with shared silence. Practicing chi gung together, led by Bev, we dropped into a quiet flow. Music and poetry eased us deeper. We experimented with a walking meditation, aware of each footstep and how it blesses the earth. Walking slower and then slower still was delicious.
The day encouraged a heightened awareness to sniff the flowers, listen to the birds and really taste the sweet, sour, bitter, and salty nuances of our food. We discovered gifts in nature, metaphors with private messages for us. We revelled in the wonder of our own breath, the throb of our own hearts.
Bev shared a bit of chi gung wisdom with us that really struck home. She said to give it not 110%, not 100% but 70%, holding back that 30%. A gentle movement with energy to spare. For many of us, raised to push past our limits, to rush and battle with life, this was a revelation. Being tender with ourselves is a rare and important lesson.
I had just heard of some young mothers who were complaining about all the driving they did for their kids after school, off to dance class, to soccer, to piano lessons. One mother originally from West Africa said nothing until she was pressed. What do your children do after school?
I make them lie down on the lawn every day for a half hour to stare at the clouds.
For a poem on the subject of Pause, click here.
Enjoy the clouds!
Fog hides the mountains as a wafer of winter sun gilds the valley. I have just returned from a retreat in the Glasshouse mountains, rested and re-inspired to walk my poetry. Being away from the computer was a great relief except when I was revising lines of poetry. I had to fall back on an earlier habit of taking the lines with me as I walked and repeating them aloud with each step. It soon became obvious where the clunky rhythms were. Where the poem speeds up, I would quicken my pace. Repeating the words as I walked, I noticed changes I was intuitively making. Weak points were suddenly obvious. The poem evolved and I delighted in the wild ducks and black swans, the changing hues of the mountains as the day progressed.
When I walk alert to poetic possibilities, I notice so much more. With my notebook handy, I jot down images, smells, tastes, textures, sounds. These may not weave into anything immediately but later when I reread my notes, I often find connections that gradually to grow into a poem. Away from my desk, touched by nature all my senses are heightened. When poetic lines arise, my experience can be shared and expanded. A day spent walking in nature with my poetry is one of deep joy.
If you want to walk with your poetry, enjoying stillness and the power of the circle, please join us for
Embracing the Wind, nourishing our connection to nature and our place in it. Relax into the sounds of the sea, the bush, music and beautiful words. Enjoy simple Qigong movements, mindfulness moments , journaling. A time for silence, a time for sharing.
This one day retreat from 9:30-3 pm will be held in Brunswick Heads on Friday, the 22nd of July. Early bird discount ends Weds! Click here for more details.