Visual Poetry Workshop: Summer Reading Program Brisbane Libraries

These works were created in a two hour workshop with June Perkins and Helene Magisson for the Summer of Reading Program with the Brisbane libraries, held January 2018. The host libraries were Chermside and Toowong.

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The above photographs  of the art are shared with consent of artist/writers and taken by Helene Magisson.

A big thank you to the staff at both libraries who assisted with the set up of the room and other practicalities as well as giving us warm introductions.

Thanks also to the wonderful children.

The following two photographs of the workshop in action are courtesy of the Brisbane libraries.

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Art Class

I have been delighted to have some work published at Australian Children’s Poetry blog.

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Art Class

For Vincent’s  ‘The  Starry,  Starry Night’

 

Outlines crash into swirls

Miss Del Amico asks, what do you see?

Is that a sky of blue curls?

Outlines crash into swirls

Time to dive for some pearls

Will I find this painting’s key?

Outlines crash into swirls

Miss Del Amico asks, what do you see ?

June Perkins
  • Submitted in response to Poetry Prompt #8

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June said: This is a triolet using the prompt ‘Blurred.’ The first words that came into my head were, ‘outlines crash into swirls’.

The trickiest thing with this poem was picking the artist.  Would they be someone I personally knew who painted, a fictional small child, or someone who everyone knows that paints?  I thought of a famous artist who used swirls, Vincent Van Gough.

I added the dedication to help with understanding of the poem.

I imagine this poem is an art class for early childhood with a teacher who likes to introduce the children to great artists, and likes to encourage them to look beyond the surface of the painting, into what it means to the artist who paints it.  I decided to name the teacher after my favourite art teacher at high school.

 

(Published March 3rd at Australian Children’s Poetry Blog)

How to Be a Poet and Why not to be a Poet

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The last time I was in this lecture theatre was for the launch of Lani Wendt Young’s latest book with the Pacific Community of Brisbane.  Today I am at a partnership event between the Queensland Poetry Festival and QUT, where they are hosting the poet,  Jeet Thayil.

It’s a free public lecture, but there are many poetry students in the audience, students of the immensely talented poet Sarah Holland-Bat (I am pictured on above with her.)

It’s an interesting room with its sloping ceilings and curving walls that give it a Pacific feel,  and the red plush fold out chairs add a feeling of majesty.  It has an arty feeling to it, and is certainly not a sterile feeling room.

Sarah introduces Jeet, an Indian poet, novelist, librettist and musician. He is best known as a poet and is the author of four collections, and as Sarah puts it is a ‘Renaissance Man’.  He was also short listed for the ‘Booker Prize.’  Currently he is the poet in residence.

Jeet then begins his presentation.  He shares with us a series of poems and let’s us know the book will be for sale later.  He gives us a pitch, ‘For the price of a good wine, or a Hungry Jacks meal, why not buy poetry that will last you longer and nourish you.’   $30 is the price of the collection of poems he is selling.

He reads us a poem devoid of the usual poetry tricks of rhyme and scansion, much more like prose.  ‘Declaration of Intent.’  It is a delicate piece, ‘ a love poem perhaps’ and leads to a hushed reflective room rather than applause, but that will arrive later.   He follows this up with a poem equally delicate, called ‘The Haunts’   Phrases float in the late afternoon lecture theatre and hang there’ as a tremble on the stair, a slit on the moonlight’  ‘a white shadow’ ‘ music as a hunger.’  I find myself thinking about white shadows.  So it looks like I am going to have to buy the book to read this poem again.

A change of mood is on the way though, and looking at the audience Jeet performs a series of poem that have a gentle humour and satirical tone,  they are mini – How to manuals.  the first is ‘How to be a Toad’, and is about how not to be beautiful!  This is followed by, ‘How to be a Leaf’, perhaps a feminist poem.  This is followed by ‘How to be Horse’ (with an obscure reference to Song by The Doors), ‘How to be a Crow’ and ‘How to be a Bandicoot.’  In India the bandicoots are unkillable.  Jeet is uncertain if we know what they are, but we do.  The final line of this poem makes me think perhaps these Bandicoots are symbols of Man -‘Adam’.   Accompanying each poem is a gentle tide of laughter which grows stronger with each piece.  But they are more than pieces for laughter and leave traces of ideas to follow up later.

For the next piece he tells us a story before performing it.  He tells us that it is in a set Urdhu verse form,  a Ghazal, that should never be written in English but urdhu and that if you read it in Northern India you will have shoes thrown at you.  He explains the form, but then proceeds to performs it in English, as this is the main language he has command over. ‘Malayalam’s Ghazal ‘

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Next Jeet tackles ‘the myth of the poet’ who burns life at both ends, who lives their life taking drugs, drinking too much, and having relationship dramas. He performs a poem of a love hate relationship with Baudelaire, someone who typified such a life style.

Jeet does not find this kind of poetic life a good model for a poet to have clarity in their writing,  later students will quiz him on the link between drugs and creativity and he will myth bust that quite firmly.

Now that he has shared with us a range of poems, with a range of tones, Jeet gives us 15 reasons not to write poetry.  He begins with ‘it will make no money!’  He develops a theme that he will come back to in question time.  That of the difference between the novelist and the poet. The life of a poet is not easy, as there are no big advances, you fly economy class to conferences, and have an obsession with daffodils, April, names of trees and birds, and everyone asks you what your day job is.  And finally he ends with you make no money.  Just so we won’t forget that.

And now it is a question time.  Jeet is asked about the connection between drugs and creativity.  He clearly refutes that one should take drugs to be creative, and later I find that he has long fought a heroin addiction.

I ask  about the transition from poetry writing to novel writing for die hard poets.  He feels that poets focus on the beauty of language but can often lack the structure of a page turning plot when they write novels, but still they can have a beauty of language intact that some readers will like.

This is another theme he develops because he speaks about how for him poets are full of joy, and more likely to dance on the tables and stay up late.  Novelists much work hard, and go to bed early to get up the next day and work hard to finish their books.  They treat it much more like a nine to five job.  They also have the chance of being translated, which doesn’t really happen for poets, as they are so hard to translate.

One student asks him what he would do if he had to write a poem for a piece of assessment, and he answers them with a piece of advice, about working a strict form like a ‘sestina.’  He explains that working in strict forms gives you the freedom to dance in a cage, but the cage is actually a place of freedom.

One student asks him about confidence, and he explains that all good writers will always have some doubt, and the day they stop doubting is probably the day they should stop writing.

Someone asks how did the Booker Prize nomination change your life, and he answers, ‘Well I was asked to if some poems of mine could be published in a book.’

There are more questions about the difference between poems written for live performance and intricate poems written to be read several times, from a page, so you can absorb them.

One student asks when should you give up writing, and realise you are just terrible at it. He doesn’t think that poets can or should give up writing, and can write poems whether or note they are published. The road to publication can be long and hard, but it is worth pursuing it, and continuing on with your journey.

He talks a bit about anthologies of poetry, and how difficult they are to edit, because poets are so particular about the lines, and other details.  It is not an experience he would like again, but they are important, in that they highlight the work.

Another person asks about how he began writing, and he tells us about spending many years as a journalist, and then returning home to his Indian Parents, (which by the way they love you doing) who provided him with the equivalent of an arts grant in rent free accommodation.

His definition of ‘what is India’ and who is an Indian writer is broad and disasporic.  He is interested in the Indians who live all over the globe.  This is something I can certainly relate to as a diasporic Papua New Guinean Australian, who like Jeet, knows of my mother’s tongue, but I do not speak it.  Later I will talk to him about having a poem of my own translated by a cousin in to my mother’s village language.  Here I am chatting away.

Jeet asks me about my own writing, and I mention, writing poetry for children and blogs and novels. etc. and the kickstarter.
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(This photograph was tweeted by Sarah Holland-Batt)

This lecture was tentatively titled ‘How to be a Leaf’ but it is perhaps more a guide to ‘How to be a Poet.’

So I write this in tribute to Jeet.

Be not a poet for money or fame
but because you are
to language’s beauty
as a regent skipper to a flame
yet don’t burn your life at both ends
but find clarity and freedom
inside the cage of tiny set forms and
———dance.

Don’t succumb to the cliché of
mad and bad poets in words or in life
and once you know all the rules
then you can trash all the rules.
Your craft is your canoe
although others will often think you
———–insane.

You cannot help but follow  and  fan the
————poetry flame.

(c) June Perkins

*regent skipper – a kind of moth

World Building with Marianne de Pierres.

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Marianne in action

On the weekend I attended an inspiring workshop in the Writelinks Workshop Series with Marianne de Pierres.

“She is the award winning author of the acclaimed Parrish Plessis, Sentients of Orion and Peacemaker science fiction series. Marianne is an active supporter of genre fiction and has mentored many writers. She lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband and three galahs. Her Night Creatures series, Burn Bright, Angel Arias and Shine Light has been very popular among young adult fiction readers. Marianne is also the Davitt award-winning author of the Tara Sharp humourous crime series under the pseudonym Marianne Delacourt. (From Good Reads)

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During our two hour workshop we focused  on developing ‘settings as characters’ and how to make them best reflect our characters’ emotions.

We examined the ‘strengths and pitfalls of tropes'(they can easily become cliches), the central importance of story even as we work on settings and we gained experience ‘tethering our landscapes to emotions and character.’

Marianne engaged us to listen and pay attention to the topics she was raising through not only the content but the style of her delivery.  She did not stand still in one spot at the front but walked up and down the room to engage with us as a group.   She was keen to show us, not just tell us about the concepts she was explaining. Her face and hands were expressive.

We read examples silently and aloud.  She encouraged us always to be ‘critical readers’.

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Participants engaging with the topic

Marianne explained the concepts of setting as characters using: examples, question and answer and practicals exercises.  She had us spend about ten minutes during the session thinking of our own setting and writing it using some of the principles she had introduced us to.

As a group we suggested settings as character and one example that came up was the Tardis! We felt the tardis is an interesting character that is; protective, reliable, unreliable, mysterious, contradictory.

The Secret Garden was another example of a powerful setting reflecting the transformation of its central character’s emotional journey.

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Participants in the Workhop, asking questions

Marianne gave us choices of what we might like her  to cover towards the end of the session. We chose ‘transmedia’ from the options.

She ended her workshop sharing the many opportunities for writers to develop their stories across platforms in a world where ‘transmedia’ is the future of storytelling.

I’d say this was one of the best discussions and explanations I have heard for personification and am inspired to adopt this into my writing and do some more critical reading looking out for writers who do it well.

A participant asked why people write things that might be challenging to them, that require research, and not just what they know, and to that Marianne, responded with her story of her immense love of astronomy even though it is not her field of expertise and that she just loves writing it.

She encouraged us to surround ourselves with ‘expert friends, ‘ who can educate us about their passions which we share and want to convey in books,  rather than just books and online research. Sometimes it is just so much easier to ask someone who knows the field you are trying to write about and they will fill you in on details you need to get right.

Research is an important skill for speculative fiction writers, but it is important not to get ‘lost down the well of research.’  As some point you have to write.  Some writers like to research as they go, not before they start writing.

As many of us were writers for children and young adults, she told us how important for us to not make silly mistakes when writing about things we are not expert in but want to have as settings for our books.  Children not only deserve that respect but will pick up any mistakes if it is something they love.

I definitely want to read JG Ballard after this workshop!

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Here is what I wrote in the session:

First Draft

My cocoon of glow wormed light swaddles me as if first born,
so quiet, it’s full of heart beats,
and it lights my way to safety within its cold cave walls.
Those outside can’t see it,
because the grass haired roof would confuse them.
 It is camouflaged and the oasis of cool within the searing heat
would remain hidden, unless
they knew just where the doorway sang.

(c) June Perkins

I am loving the writer’s workshops through Writelinks, and feel they give me a lot of support to keep developing my writing skills.

I highly recommend  this workshop series and have enjoyed the presenters we have had this year.  This week I will apply some of the learning from the weekend into a series of short stories, possibly novellas, that I am working on.

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Sam Sochacka presenting thank you certificate.

 

Mind of Forests

I love to keep my hand in with writing, especially when in the midst of publishing work for Magic Fish Dreaming.

I’ve been looking at the prompts at Tweetspeak and having a go at them. There are plenty of wonderful poetry prompt sites, and I really enjoy working with some of the tools others have developed as well as developing my own.

Ripple Poetry

One must have a mind of forests
branches creaking with the wind
a song of long forgotten ones
that fell

to be covered by shades of green, rich and velvet
tasted by the eyes
cupped in bowl like hands then
eaten for future dreams.

Light sneaks in from the sky
to streak across the
pathway below
through the gaps of green
lines of warmth
awakening the green.

I look to the leaves
dancing velvet
praise to the sky.

(c) June Perkins

Working with some prompts from Tweetspeak Poetry

Prompt one ‘One must have a mind of’ and sensory language.

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