I’m back from my latest ‘big trip’, my first since my 2016 ‘big trip’ that took in Gotland (Sweden), Tromsø (Norway), and big old drive right across Denmark.
This time, flying in and out of Helsinki, I visited Gotland again for the Bergman Week festival on Fårö, which this year marks Ingmar Bergman’s centenary (pictures of the opening ceremony for the festival are below; it was held at Fårö Kyrka, in whose grounds Bergman is now buried). But mainly I was just going back to Gotland because I love it there.
I do love Scandinavia in general. I don’t like shopping, or eating in restaurants (which is all you seem to get information about when you’re looking for destination info on anywhere in this era), but I do like being alone and just sitting somewhere outside in the white light, soaking up the vibes. Or sitting in a forest. Or visiting some Neolithic graves in the middle of nowhere.
This trip, I also went to Scotland and went right up to the Orkneys. This was suggested by a friend because, in his words, “if you like Scandinavian archaeological stuff, you should see Skara Brae!” The manner in which he said it hinted something about the Orkney sites being superior in their construction, or arrangement, or ambience, or something.
I had a feeling that this approach — ‘if you like this, you’ll like that’ — was going about things all wrong. I do not specifically ‘like archaeological stuff’ — it’s just that I encountered ancient megalithic sites on Gotland as part of a larger, solo travel experience that was definitely formative.
Ring of Brodgar (left) and Skara Brae (right). No picture of Maeshowe, as pictures were not allowed on our tour.
So, although yes, Skara Brae, and Maeshowe, and the Ring of Brodgar are astounding sites, the bulky administrative and tourist structures that they now exist within made it difficult for me to appreciate the visits. There was little opportunity to be alone or to soak up anything without a particularly infantile type of touristy guidance being superimposed over whatever you were trying to make direct contact with.
The Scandis seemed to have avoided most of these problems somehow, and even in museums, the organisation of things was more relaxed, and certainly aimed a little higher (even the things aimed at children were more intelligently arranged).
Give me good old, empty Gålrum Gravfält on Gotland any day, where I can walk among seven stone boat-graves, plus a whole bunch of cairn-hills, without seeing another tourist. Maybe I’ll get stared-down by the odd ram, but that’s about it. And certainly I can enjoy Gålrum without booking in advance for the dedicated shuttle bus and buying a ticket online! I’m so glad I revisited Gotland and Gålrum; I think it’s one of my favourite places in the world.
Gålrum Gravfält on Gotland, Sweden.
At least now I am pretty sure I would not enjoy visiting Stonehenge or the like; that whole tourist thing is not that way I like to get a feel for a place.
Next trip: less driving; less tourist stuff; more quiet; more time in one place; more wandering around alone; and more following my nose.
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.
It’s official — Meteorites is getting a Brisbane launch!
Come along to Avid Reader bookstore in West End and listen to a relaxed Q & A session between me and the wonderful Melissa Ashley, whose fictional biography of Elizabeth Gould, The Birdman’s Wife, is doing very well at the moment indeed.
The event is completely free, but so the store can keep track of numbers, please pop yourself on the guest list here: http://avidreader.com.au/events/carmen-leigh-keates-meteorites
So join us for a glass of wine at 6pm on Friday January 20!
The wonderful poet Nathan Curnow launched the book with a truly impressive speech, showing not only a really detailed engagement with my little book but also a masterful ability to draw everyone in with his sensitivity and charisma. The launch speech has been reproduced online at Communion journal (which is run by Ralph Wessman of Walleah Press in Tasmania)
The book is now available to buy online at Whitmore Press, or, if you are in Melbourne, you can grab a copy at Collected Works on Swanston Street.
Thank you to Anthony Lynch and A. Frances Johnson of Whitmore Press for a wonderful event and for all your work getting the book out there.
And thank you again to Mark Walker for creating the cover image — it came out so beautifully. The cover is based on an image from Tarkovsky’s 1979 classic, Stalker.
Nathan Curnow regaling us all (photo by Richard Mudford)
Anthony Lynch addressing the audience (photo by Richard Mudford)
Me with the one and only Dave Graney (photo by Stuart Barnes)
(Photo by Richard Mudford)
I am excited – and frankly astounded – to be able to say that I will be going to Finland in August this year. I have had a paper accepted for the Imagined Worlds conference at Helsinki University, which will be running 21-23 August. I am doing a short paper on the ‘imagined world’ of The Zone in both the Strugatskys’ novel and in Tarkovsky’s film.
Inexplicably, I have constantly had Finland in the back of my mind for about the last three years. It’s a very long way to go from Brisbane Australia, so of course I want to build a larger research trip around the conference days. I am hoping to visit Sweden, Estonia and Russia during this same trip. As it happens, I have just enrolled in Introductory Russian at UQ (because my PhD clearly wasn’t enough to keep me busy), so everything is lining-up very nicely.
Ideally, I’d like to see some Tarkovsky-related sites, and do one or more brief writing residencies, as well as participate in poetry events as I travel around.
If you know of any Tarkovsky or poetry-related events happening in these parts of the world in August (and perhaps even early September), please drop me a line. I would love to be part of a few poetry readings on the other side of the world!
I have made the shortlist for the Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize. Entrants were judged on one poem of up to 150 lines, and mine, ‘Nostalghia’, is the title poem of the next phase of my Tarkovsky work (see previous posts).
The prize is the publication of a chapbook of up to 31 pages. The winner will be announced in early October. Good luck to all the shortlisted poets:
Carmen Leigh Keates (me)
Laura Jean McKay
UPDATE: Congratulations to the winner, Lucy Todd!
I’ll be entering again next year. I received some much-appreciated feedback from the editor, so I’m all geared-up and will keep developing my manuscript.
Congrats again to all the shortlisted poets!
My next phase of research is for a set of poems about the film Nostalghia. Unlike my Andrei Rublev research, I am going to start this phase by going straight to Tarkovsky’s words on the film, and also his thoughts on the concept of nostalgia itself.
The reason why I avoided Tarkovsky in his exegetical capacity at first was, I think, a fear of becoming a Tarkovsky fanatic — I don’t know if I was ready to engage with that ego and still be able to think straight (and of course, I mean this very respectfully). But now that I have been forged in the fires of Rublev for at least twelve months, I go into this new chapter with a far more critical ear.