The year 2016 finally delivered to me the thing all artists need: a stable income. The income doesn’t need to be big enough to fund a huge project; I’m talking about regular money so that you don’t have to shed all your plumage from stress when something very normal like a lease agreement needs to be signed, or you need to update your once-every-twenty-years tetanus inoculation! If I am constantly fearful that I cannot support myself, it’s hard to concentrate on poetry (I may have ideas, but not the energy to develop them) and it’s hard to shake the remorse of others having to bail me out when things get tight; we’re not talking about millionaire benefactors here either (love you, Oprah!), we’re talking about my pensioner mum and dad. So in this respect, 2016 was great — by April I had two, complementary jobs at a university, jobs which I both enjoyed and considered as strengthening influences on my editing skills.
In December 2015, I won the Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize, so the first half of 2016 was spent on-and-off editing (transforming) the poetry manuscript that made up part of my PhD into a really strong collection-length book. I really went for it. I cut it down, changed the key drives of some poems, changed the endings of others, and compressed everything I could. As Martin Duwell says in his review of my book — the poems are barely recognisable in comparison to the ones he saw (as one of my PhD advisors) during my candidature. And for that I feel very proud because my aim was to step away from the inevitable stress of the thesis and make the poetry my own again.
From November 2015-March 2016 I had an office job at UQ to fill the employment wasteland that this time of year brings (anyone who teaches knows about the unforgiving money desert that comes with the close of semester 2). This was a hard job. There was no noodling about on Facebook involved, I can tell you that — it was constant slog. The admin people I worked with were high-level performers who had to know a lot of complicated rules and procedures and I admire them so much for what they still have to do every day. I put my head down and tried my best, and in my lunch hours I worked on something else — a funding application to the Australia Council for the Arts for a research trip to Scandinavia, including the Ingmar Bergman festival on the remote island of Fårö in the Baltic Sea.
At the end of April I received the news that my Australia Council application had been successful and in late June I jetted off to Helsinki, then to Sweden, then all across Denmark and a self-funded final leg up to Tromsø in the north of Norway (midnight sun territory). I think back on this and know how lucky I was in several ways— I received funding in a round when scores of arts organisations lost theirs due to government cuts; I was able to interrupt my university jobs without any drama (I had only just started and had no actual leave saved up); and during the trip, things just continued to fall into place and the discoveries were so numerous that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make a comprehensive list of all the good fortune I had.
Back in Australia, Whitmore editor Anthony Lynch and I put the finishing touches on my book and approached writers Michelle Dicinoski and David McCooey to supply recommendation blurbs. On top of that my friend in Copenhagen, production designer Mark Walker, offered to create a cover image based on a still from Tarkovsky’s sci-fi classic, Stalker, which ties in with the title poem. Now, every time I glance at the book I get this big hit of satisfaction that it, as an object, above all displays connections with good, gifted, hearty people whom I admire.
So this year commences with the final preparation of the latest issue of Foam:e online poetry journal, of which I am a co-editor for the first time. Around 130 poets sent us up to six poems each, so thank you to everyone who submitted. I hope you all like our selections when you see the issue come out in March. We certainly leaned towards more experimental arrangements but basically, I think we liked anything a bit bold!
My key event of January, however, is the Brisbane launch of Meteorites. For a while I thought the Melbourne event would suffice, but so many Brisbanites kept asking and asking, so it’s going ahead! I would love to see you Avid Reader in West End on January 20. The event is free, but just for numbers we’d really appreciate it if you registered beforehand (so that we don’t run out of wine too early!)
As for the rest of the year, I am pretty sure I’ll continue in my university jobs, albeit with a slight reallocation in terms of the time spent in each one.
Blissfully, I have the power to tell you I have already secured a week in the Kelly Street Cottage in Hobart for some uninterrupted drafting time (and a couple of visits to the Lark whisky bar, perhaps).
I have just applied for a writing residency in Stockholm — thanks to Melissa Ashley for posting a list of residencies on her Facebook page! Who knows to where all our linking truly links!
And I suppose in general I am both attending to the prizes I must submit my book to this year, as well as developing a new manuscript, which I’d like to have a good handle on by, say, September. I have found A LOT of poetry drafts that I have completely forgotten about — and they’re not even old — they are lovingly transcribed and filed on my computer! Honestly, I think I need to investigate some kind of split personality situation that might be going on! I have written far more than I recall, which is obviously a wonderful surprise, even if it does sound a little nutty.
Thanks to my beautiful network of writers, researchers and other friends throughout the world who continue to be a great comfort, inspiration (yes, that word) and very useful brains trust as I follow my nose into this new year! Good health and good luck to you all.