The Phoenix Project

Image courtesy of Phoenix Project

Phoenix Project is a new and very exciting series of community events coming to my home town of Cobden, Victoria.

Phoenix Project really is the perfect name. Almost a year ago, Cobden, Camperdown, Terang, and much of the surrounding area was either destroyed or threatened by bushfires. Homes and livestock were lost – but miraculously, no lives. Our town, and those others nearby, emerged covered in soot and smelling of smoke, but determined to recover and keep on going as we always have done before. 

That’s something I’ve had to do in my own life, too. I’ve been through some pretty tough seasons when it felt like my life was burning down around me. Yet I’ve emerged, covered in soot, and smelling of smoke and… you get the idea. As I observed last night, I’m a bit of a phoenix myself.

There’s no doubt the fires were an absolutely awful experience for everyone involved. But we got through it.

And those hard times in my life – I’ve come out braver and stronger than I’ve ever been. Well – mentally and emotionally, at least. My spine would tell you a different story.

I was very privileged to be one of the featured artists on the opening night of The Phoenix Project, alongside outstanding blues musician Alister Turril and Josh and Yas, spoken word artists from lowercase poetry in Geelong.

I shared some of the poems from ‘Smoke and Shadows’ that I wrote during and after the St Patrick’s Day fires, followed by some of my fantasy style poems because I didn’t want my bracket to be too heavy or confronting for a largely local audience. 

The poems I shared all focused one way or another on the idea of resilience, and  getting through the trials of life stronger and wiser than on the way in. 

It was a great night. The music was cool, the poetry was powerful and thought-provoking, and the tone of the evening was 100% positive. 

Phoenix Project continues this weekend with a great lineup of musicians and artists to feed the soul of everyone who comes along. 

Details of coming events can be found on the Phoenix Project Facebook page

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The Difference Between Poetry And … Everything Else.

A post about what is, or is not, poetry.

Excuse me for a moment while I climb onto my soap box again. 

A few months ago, I wrote a post in which I complained about books which claimed to be poetry, but were actually just a collection of sentences arranged with one word on each line. 

Today, I’m going to indulge my poetry-nerdiness yet again, in response to another trend I’ve observed on social media.  

As both a reader and a poet, I get really annoyed when pieces of writing are labelled as poetry when they’re not. 

This is rife on Instagram, where some folks take a pretty picture of a sentence or a paragraph and call it poetry. They use the hashtags like #poem, #instapoem, #poetry, #poemsofinstagram… you get the idea. I’ve bitten my tongue – or my virtual fingertips – so many times when I’ve wanted to comment that what is pictured is not a poem. 

I’ve seen letters, paragraphs, and even short stories presented as “poetry”. I’ve seen single sentences tagged “poetry”. In fact, there are books out there with a sentence on each page, which the creators have classified as ‘poetry’. 

This is where I beg to differ.

A sentence, a letter, a paragraph… an entire book may be written in highly poetic language. It may use conventional poetic techniques such as imagery or alliteration, but is it poetry? Everything within me screams “NO!”. A letter is a letter. A sentence is a sentence. A paragraph is… prose, not a poem. 

The issue is one of form. 

Poetry as a form has conventions of its own that set it apart from a letter or a sentence, or anything else. While it’s true that poetry can take any number of forms or styles, those are forms and styles that are recognised as being poetry. They are not forms that are instantly recognised as something else. 

I totally accept and agree that a sentence or any other piece of writing can be beautiful. I’ve read individual sentences or paragraphs that have taken my breath away with the imagery or the power of the writing. They can be poetic. But, according to the conventions of one form as opposed to another, they’re not poems. They’re. Just. Not. 

I’m not trying to be a poetry snob here— in fact, it’s taking no effort at all. I realise I may be coming across as a pretentious git, but let’s look at this from another perspective. 

I don’t get to call myself an author if I don’t write and publish anything. I don’t get to call myself a doctor because I am not, in fact, a doctor. In terms of professions, we don’t get to call ourselves something we’re not. 

Alternatively, I could choose to start telling people I’m a cheeseburger. I’ve eaten a few cheeseburgers, I know what they taste like, and I can list the ingredients. And they do say you are what you eat. However, people will fairly promptly tell me I’m not actually a cheeseburger. The more I make that assertion, the more strident people will be in assuring me I’m not. Even if I went to McDonalds or Burger King and sat in the food warmer, it wouldn’t make me a cheeseburger. I am quite obviously not a cheeseburger. 

If we pretend to be other than what we are, that very quickly becomes a matter of integrity. At first people laugh, then they get frustration, and then they get angry. Trust is broken, and often, walls go up that are not easily dismantled. 

That is exactly where I am with other pieces of writing masquerading as poetry. I’m well past the point of frustration. If I pick up a book because it says it is poetry, and the contents are nothing more than pithy sayings or observations of life in sentence form, I’m going to be annoyed, no matter how beautifully they’re written. If I wanted a book full of meme-worthy of proverbs and quotations, that’s what I would have gone looking for. 

Poetry takes time and effort to craft and shape. It isn’t easy to condense the meaning and message into imagery and forms that require skill to master. To write something beyond trite rhyme or greeting card verses is more difficult than many people realise. The ability to do that, consistently and repeatedly, is what makes someone a poet. Poetry is a craft that I take very seriously indeed. 

That’s why I refuse to “like” posts on Instagram, or anywhere else for that matter, which present one thing as something it’s not.  It’s why I am very choosy about what poetry and poets I review and promote on my book blog.  It’s why I’m on my soapbox, ranting furiously to anyone who will listen – or read, as the case may be. 

It’s hard enough getting people to take real poetry seriously these days. We certainly don’t need to confuse people any further. 

Ambrosia.

I remember as a child going to visit friends of my parents’ for dinner, and being served a dessert called Ambrosia. I had never heard of it before, and I remember being amazed by how sweet and delightful it was. The sensation of wanting more when the little dish set before me was empty is still a very clear memory.

When I was a bit older and started reading about history, I discovered that ambrosia was a mythical substance that, having been brought to the Ancient Greek Gods by doves, became their food of choice, along with their favoured drink, nectar. Ambrosia and nectar may have even originally been the same thing, but Homer and  Sappho both distinguish between them. Given that they were present in Ancient Greece and I was not. their authority on the matter is something I am willing to accept.

Ambrosia was understood to be fragrant, powerful and reserved for the gods, who adored it because of its healing and cleansing powers, and because it took years off their physical ages. It filled them with passion and made them desirable. Little wonder, then, that they wanted to keep it for themselves! 

In time, ‘ambrosia’ was a term that became popular among the Romans as any delightful essence or concoction of food or drink, and then may have given rise to the idea of “the elixir of life” that people have been searching for ever since. 

It was the concept of drinking something that resulted in passion that lasted for eternity that caused me to write my poem Ambrosia about the power of a lover’s effect on one’s life and soul. I wanted to capture that heady, addictive feeling between lovers that makes them believe nothing and nobody else matters, and that their love transcends time, place and physical limitations. 

Anyone who has experienced those feelings will relate. Anyone who has landed hard on their posterior after doing something stupid for love will probably relate, but may also mutter uncharitable things about love and romance under their breath. Those who haven’t experienced it may scoff. 

Yet the feelings and experiences described in the poem do exist, and they are what the celebration of Valentine’s Day has come to be all about: it’s the kind of love that everyone wants to find and experience, although it’s fair to say that not everyone does. 

We must remember, after all, that the legend of Valentines Day was never about flowers, candlelight dinners and fairy-tale, kissy-face wedding proposals: it began with a man being executed for something he believed in. 

At any rate, I wrote Ambrosia in honour of the love of my life who, after many years together, still hasn’t driven me to drink. I have, however, been known to do take a risk or two for the love of him from time to time, so it’s an appropriate poem to share on Valentine’s Day. 

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Ambrosia is publshed in my book, Smoke and Shadows.

‘Smoke and Shadows’: #1 New Release in Women’s Poetry!

‘Smoke and Shadows’ has taken the flag for ‘#1 New Release’ on Amazon’s US store.

I will readily confess to being a little overwhelmed right now. 

‘Smoke and Shadows’ has a little orange flag beside the title on Amazon US, declaring that it is the #1 New Release in Women’s Poetry. While I know it won’t last terribly long, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a. real and b. not a cruel joke. 

It was a strange mix of surprise, pride, excitement and humility that hit me when I signed into my browser after a few days away from home and that popped up.

It also comes up when anyone clicks on ‘Hot New Releases’ and scrolls through the various genres. That’s a pretty neat trick!

I know that I have worked hard to ensure it’s a great collection, and I am incredibly proud of these poems, but I know that it couldn’t have happened without readers being willing to give my work a try, nor without the support and encouragement of those who help with tricky things like marketing and promotion.  I couldn’t have done any of it without those key individuals in my life who remind me regularly that I can do this, that my work is good, and that there is no reason why I should not deserve success. 

To each of those people: thank you for helping me achieve this honour, as fleeting as it may be. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your contribution to my achievements so far.

Of course, it all depends on how one defines success.  Some people might consider dollars in the bank as a sign that they’ve made it.  Some might look at whether or not they can quit their day job and just write. Some might want to achieve “celebrity” status.  Others focus on book sales, page reads, and their ongoing rankings in various lists and stores.

I won’t deny that any or all of those things would be nice, and I absolutely do hope that people will buy, read and hopefully enjoy my books, but for me, the ultimate success as a poet is when someone tells me that my poetry is relatable, that it moved them or made them cry, or that it helped them to put a painful experience behind them.  One of my favourite comments about my book Leaf came from a young woman who told me, “I read your poems, and I knew I wasn’t alone in this world. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to know someone else understands what I think and feel.”  That has never left me, and never fails to spur me on.  The fact that people connect and relate to my work in that powerfully emotional way is how I measure my success as a poet. 

So, I don’t need that little orange flag to show that I’m successful. Nevertheless, I’m very happy to have it, and I’m going to take pride in it.  And I might brag about it just a little… because I know it won’t last long. And in all honesty… I’m going to tell everyone I know, just because I can. 

‘Smoke and Shadows’ – Multitasking With Genre

This new release book is more than “just poetry”.

One of the questions authors are often asked is “What do you write?”

I used to simply answer “poetry”. Then I turned my hand to horror, so my tagline became “Poetry with soul and horror with none”. Then I wrote a couple of fantasy novellas for the Once Upon A Time Anthology.

As my 11th book hits the stores, it’s fair to say now that I am a multi-genre author. While my poetry and horror only occasionally converge, they certainly did so most effectively in A Poet’s Curse.

‘Smoke and Shadows’, though, really is a genuine multitasker when it comes to genre. It’s much more than “just poetry”.

In the pages of this book, you will find:
Fantasy
Fairy Tale
Magical realism
Allegory
Mystery
Tragedy
Humour
Reflection
True stories

Whatever genre you prefer to read, you will find ‘Smoke and Shadows’ a refreshing change of perspective.

I’m really proud of this book, and I hope you enjoy my work.

‘Smoke and Shadows’ is widely available as both paperback and ebook.

Current Status: Anticipation

There is a very particular thrill in waiting for a new book to hit the shelves.

There is something extraordinary about seeing a book you have written hit the shelves on release day.

Months of work. Writing. Refining. Painstaking editing. Preparing a marketing plan and creating ads.

And then the day comes, and you wait for the clock to tick over. Because time is a contrary beast, it drags its heels and makes you wait.

The waiting, though, is as exciting as it is tiresome. It really is a lot like waiting for Christmas or a birthday,

There is another layer of joy in this anticipation for me. After several really challenging years, it feels as though 2019 is starting in a very positive way that closes the door on those painful chapters.

That’s because while there are still poems in this collection that explore the darkness and the shadows that can plague us, there is a greater focus on looking at experiences and challenges with the clarity of hindsight that enables us to see through the deceptions and illusions to which we so often fall prey.

I see in many of these poems a fulfilment of the desperation expressed in some of my darker work. There is, quite frankly, more light and more hope .

It is that positivity and hope that I intend to carry into the new year.

So that’s where I am at this point in time.

New year. New book. New beginnings.
Bring it on!

Cover Reveal: Smoke and Shadows

Smoke and Shadows releases on January 6 in paperback and ebook.

One of the most relatable scenes in Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical H.M.S Pinafore, which I had the pleasure of directing in September, is where Buttercup sings these lines to Captain Corcoran:

“Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.” 

The Captain appears puzzled, as though thinking about this for the first time, before replying, 

“Very true, So they do!” 

It’s a common thing.  As we go through life, we discover that people and things are frequently not what they seem to be, and what we understand to be the truth of our own experience often turns out to be something quite different instead. Life is as full of illusions as it is of genuine experiences.

False friends abound while finding a true and loyal one is like discovering gold. Trials hurt, but then deliver unexpected strength and blessings. People put up smokescreens to hide their true intentions or feelings; and only sometimes do we ever discover why. The world seems hateful until someone delivers light and love in a surprising way.

The poems in this new collection explore some of the illusions and deceptions people experience in their lives, the clarity and wisdom gained from hindsight, and the lessons we can learn from them.

Both the title of the book and its blurb come from the poem titled ‘The Simulacrum’. I considered using the title of the poem as the book title because it’s such a fascinating word which does, in fact, mean ‘a representation or image of something’. I wanted to go beyond that, though, because the book is really about the multitude of ways that something or someone might not be exactly what we think, or what we are led to believe, rather than focusing on a physical representation. 

“Smoke and shadows yield to glimpses of light—
Only then we begin to see:
When we learn to perceive things as they are,
We can have peace with whatever will be.”

So, without further ado, here is the cover of this new book, which will release on January 6th.  It is available for preorder in all major outlets  via this link

The cover of Smoke and Shadows has an image of smoke in shades of blue, gold, red and white on a black background. The title is printed in gold.

Square Peg, Round Hole.

A response to intolerance.

I’ve never understood why people feel the need to pressure someone to conform. Why are they so intimidated by someone daring to think for themselves, pursue their own dreams and make choices according to their own preferences?

And what I really don’t get is how they can say they love someone and yet reject particular qualities that makes that person who they are.

These are the thoughts that have contributed to a poem I finished recently.

IMG_6105

The imagery is macabre and horrifying. The message is dark. None of that will surprise anyone who knows my writing.

I won’t discuss the details of the situations that led to it being written. Suffice to say that there are people in various “circles” in which I live and move who have, at one time or another, exerted significant pressure on me to be less individual and more compliant with the way they like or want things to be.

I have some bad news for them.

I will not submit to their peer pressure. As adults, they should know better.
I will not moderate my politics, my social conscience, or my rampant individuality for them.
I will not be submissive or silent in response to their bad behaviour, intolerance and hypocrisy.

If they don’t like it, they can go and boil their heads.

Of course, that’s all excellent news for me. In the immortal words of the Monty Python team, “I’m not dead yet!”

 

 

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

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A Poet’s Curse.

A Poet’s Curse: a dark collection that will appeal to both my poetry readers and those who enjoy my horror stories.

I’m excited to announce a new arrival.A Poets Curse eBook 6x9

A Poet’s Curse came to be on the morning of the blood moon, a total eclipse with six planets in retrograde. It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to “take out some trash” and it did, in fact, prove to be quite the cleansing detox I had hoped for.

I had, over recent months, written some very dark and angry poetry in response to awful people doing reprehensible things. Some of their actions were directed at me, others were things that caused significant damage to people I care about.
I had stowed these poems in a file with others I had written for my next poetry collection. However, I didn’t feel easy about that. I felt they were too angry, too dark, too vindictive for a general literary collection, and the last thing I wanted was for the light and shadow of those other poems to be overwhelmed by the darkness of a few.

Then an idea came to me: a separate, smaller collection of dark poetry that explored my observations of horrible people and my responses to their actions. I had written a few of those in the past, and they can be found here and there in my other poetry collections. Combining those with the new, darker poems would create a very powerful collection that would appeal to both my poetry readers and those who enjoy my horror stories.

So, on July 28, A Poet’s Curse was released.

I’m proud of this collection, and in a somewhat nerdy way, I’m super excited to have a book of my own that fully deserves the raven on the cover. I feel as though I have unlocked an author achievement that is wonderful and macabre at the same time.

I know some will judge me as unforgiving or lacking in grace. To be honest, that doesn’t bother me at all for one simple reason: because the people who inspired these poems are, to this day, completely unrepentant and defiant about the unconscionable things they have done. For far too long have people turned a blind eye to such behaviour, talking instead about grace and forgiveness.
As is clearly evident when reading these poems, I’m not someone who can do that.

People often say, “Never annoy a writer. She will put you in a book and kill you.” These poems don’t kill anyone, but the reader is left in no doubt whatsoever of my feelings about them.

Uncomfortable truths, observations about life, and unashamedly honest responses to hateful people make this collection of poems highly relatable and deeply, darkly satisfying.

They say there is a special place in hell reserved for those who prey on others, especially those who cannot defend themselves.
Until then, there is A Poet’s Curse.

When The Difficult Falls Into Place.

It’s exhilarating when something you’ve been working on starts to come together.

Any author will tell you that some works are much more difficult than others to write. This is true in every genre and every style of writing. It’s true for other artists, too, and in most walks of life.

As a poet, I deliberate over every word choice, I measure the rhythm and listen to the music of each poem. They’re all different. Some rhyme, some don’t. My poems vary in length, subject, tone and style. They all demand to be written. And some are really challenging.

There is one poem I’ve been writing since May 2nd this year. I knew when I started it wasn’t going to be easy – it’s a medieval fantasy narrative poem, for crying out loud, so that was never going to happen overnight. It’s not ‘The Lady of Shallot’, but I suspect I may have a fair idea of what Tennyson might have experienced while writing it. It has developed in bits and pieces, sometimes just one or two lines at a time, while at other times it’s just been a matter of reading through what I’ve written and changing one or two words, while the rest remained incomplete.

It really has been like doing a complicated jigsaw puzzle. I had an image in my mind that I wanted to create through the narrative of the poem, and planning the stages of the poem was a little like finding all the edge pieces and joining them together to form the frame. Then it was a matter of finding pieces that matched and fit together, and bringing the story to life bit by bit. It’s been slow and steady work, but it’s also incredibly exciting when the different sections link up and the whole thing starts to take shape.

Today was the day that the “big picture” of my poem started to come together. That which has been difficult and frustrating is now exhilarating. My motivation has had a boost, and I feel as though I am cheering myself – and my heroine – on from the sidelines.

It’s not finished yet, but it’s getting closer. I can smell victory in the air. And it’s fair to say I’m more than a little in love with this poem.

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

My friend Helen and I completed this puzzle together on a rainy Sunday afternoon,a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the completed image.

2018-07-08 18.21.10

 

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

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