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

Betty Cabral Collerson: Captivated by Nature

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Betty, the eldest of six children, was born and raised in Belém, a town on the mouth of the Amazon River, Brazil. Her childhood included some amazing incidents, like when she woke up in the middle of the night with a spider monkey prancing in  her bedroom.

At sixteen, by choice,  she went to live in Rio, where she was meant to go to University, but at 19 she married an Englishmen and went to live in England. It was the start of much travelling and moving around the world, until they finally settled in Australia in 1990 with their three children.

After arriving in Australia, Betty graduated with an honours degree in psychology by Griffith University and a research PhD in Cognitive Psychology by the University of Queensland. However, her true passions are writing, photography, and above all her four gorgeous grandchildren. 

**

1. June: Tell us the story of how you came to live in Australia

Betty: We were living in Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, from 1982 to 1990 because my ex-husband was working for Bougainville Copper, a large copper mine in the town of Panguna. However, when the armed conflict waged in Bougainville intensified around 1989, everyone had to be repatriated.

Since our two oldest children were in boarding school in Brisbane, about to start grade 10 and 12 respectively, we asked for a transfer to Australia instead of returning to the UK.

We arrived in  Australia in January 1990, and were meant to reside in Melbourne, where my ex-husband’s company was based, but because our children were attending school in Brisbane, we ended up settling there instead. Now, my two oldest children live in Melbourne, and the youngest in Amsterdam.

2. June: What themes inspire your arts practice in writing and photography Betty?

Betty: I am greatly inspired by people and the events that impact and shape our lives. Growing up by the Amazon River and rain forest has shaped my relationship with nature and fostered a deep love and respect for all animals.

For example, in the picture book Spider Monkey to the Rescue, I was inspired by a spider monkey that lived across the street from our house, in the Emilio Goeldi Museum. This monkey was an escape artist, and was the one that ended up in by bedroom one night.

In ‘Chatterbox Rosa,’ a story published in Sally Odgers’ Charms Vol. 1 Anthology, the inspiration was a pet parrot that could mimic our voices perfectly and her incessant chatter drove us all mad.

In Little Dragon’s Birth Day, I was inspired by the birth of my grandson Xavier in 2012, who was born in the year of the dragon according to the Chinese horoscope. We were all excited about his impending arrival but then on the day of his birth things got complicated and we had a big scare. The story tries to convey the excitement and also the perils of a child’s birth through the eyes of a dragons’ family.

In my photography, people, landscapes and birds feature. I am totally captivated by nature.

There is so much beauty all around but in our haste we sometimes fail to notice it. I want my photography to show the beauty that exists in simple things and everyday life.

Native Amazonians, who for thousands of years have developed ways of life that are in harmony with nature, and who believe that they’re reborn through their grandchildren, are also another major influence in my life.

3. June: Tell us about your latest book Betty?  How did this come about?  When and where will it be released?

Betty: Little Dragon’s Birth Day is currently being illustrated by Tanya Hempson, and as I mentioned it was inspired by the arrival of my grandson, Xavier. Tanya has been working on the illustrations for quite some time now, they are all hand drawn and coloured, so it takes time. We were hoping to have the book ready in time for Christmas; however, Tanya had to postpone the completion of the work due to family and other pressing commitments. I am now waiting for her to finish the illustrations before organising a launch.

In the mean time, I started another story; this one is about looking after a bonsai tree, which in many ways draws a parallel with caring for another person. It is loosely based on events that took place during the WWII, when Japanese citizens in the USA had to relinquish all their possessions and go to interment camps for the duration of the war.

Another book awaiting publication is Spider Monkey to the Rescue, which was illustrated by a Brazilian illustrator named Uoster Zielinski. The finished book is very beautiful and has a high educational content, teaching children about all these different animals from the Amazon rainforest.

A publisher in Brazil has expressed interest in publishing this book in English, Portuguese and Spanish. The publisher also owns a major book distribution business and sells to other countries in South and Central America, including Cuba and Mexico.

I met the publisher last year and he indicated that they would publish the book by September this year, but there has been so much upheaval in Brazil lately that he has put it on hold until further notice.

4. June: Have you published anything before this and can you tell us a bit about that?  What was the book? How did this come to be published?

Betty: I had Chatterbox Rosa, a story for 6-8 years old, published in 2013 in an anthology called Charms Vol. 1 (Ed. Sally Odgers). Sally Odgers, a terrific writer and editor, runs Affordable Manuscript Assessment and Workshops, and is the force behind Prints Charming, a shared imprint she administers.

Sally has published a few anthologies under the Prince Charming Book’s banner, which gives writers like myself the opportunity to see their work in print. I also had a poem – ‘The Migrant,’ published in an anthology called Wandering Thoughts (1994). This poem is about the losses experienced by those who have to migrate for whatever reasons.

In writing, poetry was my first love, but I found it difficult to write poetry in English, it is not the charms-coversame as in my first language, where I am deeply intimate with the nuances of words, so I haven’t done much in this genre since.

I have had two of my stories bought by the School Magazine this year. One, a non-fiction piece, talks about children going to school by boat in the Amazon. The other is again on the theme of migration, and the wish to teach your culture to the next generation in the family. It is a sweet story about the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter, but from the perspective of a middle-eastern family.

5. June: When and why did you take up photography Betty? What are your main photographic subjects and themes? Can you tell me about the favourite picture you have ever taken?

Betty: My father was a keen amateur photographer, and as I child I got used to being photographed, filmed, etc, from an early age. When I was about ten, he gave me my first camera, a Kodak Starmatic, I think.  I was only allowed one black and white film, perhaps twelve shots, a month, so I had to learn not to waste my photos with silly stuff.

Not surprisingly, my first photos were of nature. In the Goeldi Museum, an anthropological research institute across the road from our house, there were these huge trees called Samaumeira (Ceiba Pentandra), which can reach up to seventy meters and have an incredible root system. I photographed them from a child’s perspective, which meant that my photos showed the might of these trees growing towards the sky. The shots must have looked good because my father was quite impressed by them.

In my photography, I am totally captivated by nature, and children interacting with nature.

Birds feature strongly in my images; I love to photograph them, but I am in love with everything to do with nature. I have been captivated by macro photography and how it can show the intricacies of a flower, an insect, the fine design in the feathers on a bird, for example.

I want my photography to show the beauty that exists in everyday
life, in the simplest things, people included.

One of my favourite photos, taken a few years ago, still warms up my heart and makes me smile every time I look at it. It is of a young boy having fun on the beach with his dog.

There is much action and happiness in this shot. You can feel the magic of the bond between dog and child. I swear the dog has a smile on its face.

A Dog's Life

A Dog's Life

 

5. June: What major cultural and arts groups do you connect with and why? Can you tell me more about your connection with Writelinks?

Betty: I am a founding member of Writelinks, and attended its first meeting in the company of a still very committed group of like-minded people. It has been the best thing, and has opened the doors to the many facets of the writing and publishing world. In addition, the support and encouragement one gets from the other group members is priceless.

Writing is a lonely pursuit so the regular contact with others following the same path is most encouraging. I belong to SCBWI, Books Links and CBCA, all organisations devoted to promoting children’s literature, which are run by wonderful and committed people.

Unfortunately, as my photography passion has become all encompassing, I have not attended as many meetings and other events as I would like to, but I am still there and contribute in a small way.

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This year saw me join two photography clubs in Brisbane – The Queensland Camera Group  and the Brisbane Camera Group, which are some of the oldest photography clubs in Queensland. I have enjoyed being part of these groups for similar reasons I enjoy being part of the writing scene.

I been receiving a tremendous amount of feedback for my work and have participated in local, national and international competitions. I have been receiving mostly merits and honours for the photos I submit for the clubs’ monthly competitions, which is encouraging.

I entered my first international competition this year, a non-graded event, which meant that amateurs at different levels and professional photographers were judged together. Five of my entries received an acceptance grade from the judges. Considering that in excess of 6,000 photographs were entered this was a remarkable result.

I am now preparing for an exhibition in October. It is part of a project organised by the Queensland Camera Group and 8-10 of my photos will form part of this exhibition. My project is on the issue of living with a disability, particularly mental illness.

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To find out more about Betty you can visit these spaces:

Betty Collerson

Travels in My Canoe

Facebook

Twitter

Flickr

 

Kickstarter Crowd Funding Explained

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For all of those Magic Fish Dreaming Backers  who might be using kickstarter for the first time.

1) You register to use as you are charged for the book only when project is fully funded and so you can receive updates of when your products will be delivered etc.

2) You do this once only and then can support future kickstarter projects and even set up your own in future.

3) Check the project timelines, this book for instance will be delivered the end of this year between October and December and the workshops will run in 2017 for anyone booking them

4) You need to pick the reward you want, but you can pledge any amount you wish, this is totally up to you.  Pick the one you like most.  Rewards are designed to be good value to you. Anything else ?  Head to kickstarter to find out  FAQ KICKSTART

Our first goal to reach is $9000.  We are currently at $1894 ! (34 days to go)

The earlier we reach $9000 the better, as everybody can celebrate that we can definitely go ahead.  We value every contribution, small or large.

Head to our project link  HERE

Illustrator Course Scholarships

Just letting you know about this opportunity through the Children’s Book Academy.

I thoroughly enjoyed the last course I did with Mira Riseberg and she puts some wonderful teams together to deliver inspiration and practical skills.

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The Rafael Lopez and Pat Cummings Merit Scholarships are open until August 27th

For the Craft and Business of Illustrating Children’s Picture Books
The Children’s Book Academy offers merit scholarships for writers and illustrators who are currently underrepresented in the children’s publishing industry, perhaps because of colour or disability, and other forms of diversity underrepresented.

Scholarship Criteria
Here’s what you do:

1. Using your funnest or most lyrical language, tell us why you want this scholarship and what you have to offer kids
2. Describe how you meet our scholarship criteria
3. Include your website if you have one
4. Talk about how you are going to help your fellow students
5. Talk about how you are going to share about the course so that we can stay in business
6. Tell us something lovely about yourself

To find out more about the course click here: The Craft and Business of Illustrating Picture Books
– See more at: http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/rafael-lopez-pat-cummings-illustrating-picture-books-scholarship.html#sthash.ANmw1y3A.dpuf

Scholarship Applications HERE

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Rafael Lopez illustration

Some further reading

Diversity is not enough