University of Queensland Press, 1999.

There’s this book of poetry I take with me to every single poetry workshop I run. It’s Steven Herrick’s young adult poetry novella, A PLACE LIKE THIS. My mum used to buy me books sometimes – she’d give them to me after school in the car. This was one of those books. A PLACE LIKE THIS was published in 1999 by Queensland University Press. It’s the companion volume to Herrick’s other YA verse novel, LOVE, GHOSTS, AND NOSE HAIR, but you don’t need to know that to enjoy its story. The cover is so reminiscent of the 90’s I almost expect The Ferals were occupying the space beneath that sepia corrugated iron backdrop.

As a high school student, there where times when felt like I couldn’t write poetry because I limited myself to thinking poetry was only the rhyme and rhythm available to read and dissect in the classroom. In senior years were asked to pull apart poetry until it didn’t mean what you thought it meant anymore – until it was only techniques and metaphors you argued in essays. By year 12 I could differentiate between the poetry I was asked to practice my thinking on in the classroom, and the poetry of my home-life. Home-life poetry was the stuff I could imagine to, relate to, and marvel at the music of, because there weren’t guidelines or rubrics instructing me otherwise. Two things made this happen for me: growing up, my mum used to play Pablo Neruda’s poetry, read by celebrities including, but not limited to, Julia Roberts, Glenn Close and Madonna, on a CD on repeat in the car everywhere, all the time. It only competed with Vonda Shepherd in her basement bar with its brooding lawyers on the Ally McBeal soundtrack, and Eva Cassidy’s Songbird. By year 12, when I didn’t understand a poem, the Neruda CD taught me to read work aloud and listen to my own words. I learnt to love Margaret Atwood’s JOURNEY TO THE INTERIOR– an old HSC ‘journeys’ text, that way. Also, my Mum bought me A PLACE LIKE THIS, and the book switched something on for me.
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Milkweed Editions, May 2012.

Milkweed Editions, May 2012.

When I seek advice from poets about how they do it — and don’t we all? — there seems to be a nearly-sacred belief about how you have to clear your schedule so you can write.

I have found the opposite to be true: often, we don’t need nearly as much empty space in our lives as we think we do. In fact, the more time I have, the more time I have to ruminate, the more tasks expand to fill the time I have, and the less I feel compelled to do.

Over the years, I’ve found that I need to be in the world to fill my artistic well, and to push against the world to do my best creative work. Two of the best things that have happened to my poetry have been a full-time job and a child, and yes, I do mean both at the same time.

Here’s what’s different, and often better, about writing these days:

1.     No dilly-dallying. I now have less time to write than I used to have to sit in a coffee shop with a girlfriend and complain about how I had no time to write. (I think I stole that line from an old issue of Utne Reader.) But when I sit down to write now, I write. No Facebook, no e-mail, no fridge, no letting a stack of student papers magically grow until it takes an entire day to grade them. It’s a race between me and my daughter, Anna, waking from her nap — and the bits of writing I do get done keep building over time. Read more…

Buy it from Amazon!

It’s the launch party for my teen poetry collection Dog at the End of the World in three days, and a terrible thought has struck me:

I’m going to have to mingle.

Now, I’m sure there was a point in my life where I had social skills, (mostly chatting up graduate students at English faculty events,) but I have no idea how to start a conversation with a stranger if I can’t open with “soooo, tell me about your thesis…”

At this party I’m meant to be the centre of attention: creative, witty, intelligent, engaging. I’m meant to have something to say for myself. I am in terrible trouble.

I tried googling “social skills for poets”, hoping that some helpful person had written a website dedicated to this exact topic. I’m sure I can’t be the only poet out there who doesn’t know how to function in reality. But apparently it’s too niche even for the internet. Read more…

Candlewick Press, July 2012.

There are two things that pretty much guarantee my interest in a book I haven’t yet read:

1. Fairy tale retellings.

2. Ron Koertge.

I have yet to read anything by Koertge that I’ve disliked — poetry or prose, adult or young adult.  And his latest, LIES, KNIVES AND GIRLS IN RED DRESSES, is no less than what I’d expect from a fairy tale book by Ron Koertge.

Cleverly blending the classic, gruesome, Grimm-style folklore with a few modern references, each poem in Koertge‘s short collection is a mini retelling of a fairytale.  Spanning from classics like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Cinderella” to lesser known tales like “The Little Match Girl” and “Diamonds and Toads,” each poem takes on a distinctive, artful voice to carry the short narrative. Read more…