Strong ‘words’

In Geneva, the UN children’s fund issued a blank “statement” to express its outrage at the casualties among Syrian children, saying it had run out of words.

Kareem Shaheen, The Guardian, 20th Feb 2018, reporting on continued fighting in eastern Ghouta, Syria

Launch: Tim Thorne’s new poetry collection ‘Running Out Of Entropy’

If you’re in Hobart on Thursday March 1st and in the mood for some standout poetry, join us for the launch – by Jane Williams – of Tim Thorne’s newest collection of poetry ‘Running out of Entropy’ (Walleah Press) at 5:30 pm at Hobart Bookshop, 22 Salamanca Square.

This is Tim Thorne’s fifteenth collection of poetry over a career spanning more than fifty years. He was Director of the Tasmanian Poetry Festival from 1985 to 2001, during which time he duly entered the festival’s premier event – the Launceston Poetry Cup – year after year, but never managed to take home the honours. He’s won the event twice in the years since, in 2006 and 2008.

‘He’s clearly making up for lost time,’ opined the festival’s subsequent director – Cameron Hindrum – on the occasion of Thorne’s second win in 2008. ‘He didn’t win it at all in the seventeen years he ran the poetry cup, but has won it twice since I’ve been Director.’

‘What’s really disappointing is that I probably never will surpass Colin Berry’s record of two cups in two different millenia,’ Thorne replied regretfully. ‘But by God, I aim to try’.

Thorne’s verse is typified by its caustic wit, political engagement, wide-ranging subject matter, sheer generosity and – to summon an occasionally debased descriptor – integrity. His work has won a number of prizes, grants and fellowships from the Australia Council and Arts Tasmania, the Eleanor Dark Foundation (1993), Launceston Poetry Cup (2006, ’08), William Baylebridge Award (2007), Christopher Brennan Award (2012) and the Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize (2014).

There’ll also be a launch, by Cameron Hindrum, in Launceston – at Petrarch’s Bookshop, 89 Brisbane Street – at 6:00 pm, Friday 16th March. Please join us.

Varuna Publisher Introduction Program 2018 – Shortlist Announced

[5th Feb 2018] – Varuna announces its Publisher Introduction Program for 2018

Varuna is pleased to announce the shortlist for the Publisher Introduction Program (PIP 2018).
This year we selected 25 unpublished manuscripts written by new or emerging Australian writers to send to our eight publishing partners.

From these shortlisted manuscripts, we have asked our publishing partners to each award one writer a PIP Fellowship, which includes a one-week residency, a literary mentor and the guarantee that the writer’s manuscript will be read by one of eight leading Australian publishers.

We thank each of our Publishing partners for taking the time to consider the work of these writers. We also thank Varuna consultants Tegan Bennett-Daylight, Alex Craig, Mary Cunnane and Vanessa Kirkpatrick who assessed the 150 manuscripts that writers submitted to Varuna for the 2018 program. Feedback from our assessors is below.

And the shortlisted writers and their manuscripts are:

Black Inc.
Ripe by Natalie Sprite
The Sand by Cameron Hindrum
Stuck by Trish Bolton

Harper Collins
Geordie by Susan Coleridge
Heading South by Tina Morganella
Confinement by Sarah Nesbitt

Pan Macmillan
Tattoo by Carmel Reilly
The Phrenologist’s Cabinet by Matthew Russell
Twenty Sixty-Three by Miles Hunt

Penguin Random House
The Skeleton Crew by Andrew Swales
Very Minor Demons by Sara Knox
The All-Star Star Bazaar by Warwick Sprawson

Ugly Lights by Adam Narnst
Don’t Forget Your Reef Shoes by Grace Kirk
Hide and other stories by Su-May Tan

You are Here by Anita Smith
The Simple Difficulty by Benjamin Ball
The Pound Pear by Rosalyn Bent

The Long Life of Abigail by Kathryn Lyster
The Moon Within by Barbara Hill
Steam by Judith Brooks
The Blackbirds by Ali Chigwidden

UWA Press
Reclaiming the Kitchen by Debra Wain
Resistance by Bill Collopy
A Tiding of Magpies by Sally Bothroyd

Assessors Reports

Mary Cunnane:
Most of the some one hundred submissions I read gave clear evidence of the talent and ambition of emerging Australian writers who are, in fact, at various stages of emergence — some having had work already published and/or degrees in creative writing and/or had won prizes or commendations. On the other hand, some submissions were first efforts. Most of the entries displayed energy, imagination, passion and commitment. Inevitably– and regardless of the degree of experience – these were not always yet matched by technical competence, i.e. mastery of exposition and form, and a clear idea (in the way that publishers expect) of the intended audience.

There was a preponderance of fiction, much of it in the crime genre. Unsurprisingly, given the times we are in, dystopian fiction also featured, as did literary fiction and genre novels directly aimed at women. Memoir featured as well, as did some biography and creative non-fiction.

In evaluating submissions I looked for a combination of raw talent (especially as exemplified by a compelling voice) technical skill, market potential, and a sense that the writer was ready and able to work with an editor to take the manuscript to a publishable level – much the same criteria I applied to projects submitted to me when I was a publisher and subsequently a literary agent. Some submissions by beginners met these criteria, while others by entrants further down the track in terms of emergence did not.

Persistence pays. Thus I would urge those who didn’t make it into the final round not to be too discouraged or indeed to throw in the towel completely. There are many successful authors whose manuscripts, for one reason or another, made long trips down the runway to lift-off and publication.

It was an honor and a pleasure to be part of this important program. I thank Varuna’s Veechi Stuart and Amy Sambrooke for the opportunity, and for their efficient administration and hospitality. And I thank my fellow assessors for their good humour and collegiality.

Tegan Bennett Daylight:
I was so grateful for the opportunity to read these manuscripts for Varuna’s PIP program. Between us, we read close to 150 manuscripts of fiction and non-fiction. One of the great privileges of being a reader is hearing people’s stories. Everyone had something they needed to say, and it was an honour to hear them.
I was especially impressed by the hard work and clear dedication to the literature that most of these writers demonstrated. It was humbling to think of so many people quietly working against the tide of everyday business – rereading, editing, writing new material, shaping their stories for us. I would like to congratulate every person who submitted a manuscript to this program, for their dedication, their intellectual labour, and their bravery. Writing is hard, and it is an achievement to have completed a book – whatever the outcome.

We all agreed that voice was the thing we looked for, above almost anything else. To that I would add language. I was most interested in manuscripts that did something extra with language – something beyond simply telling a story. There is a reason we write books rather than make films or paint pictures. Marshall McLuhan said that the medium is the message, and I was most thrilled when I found a writer who was using the language, the actual words themselves, and the way they were arranged in a sentence, to affect the reader.

I’d like also to thank Alex Craig, Mary Cunnane and Vanessa Kirkpatrick. These three readers were patient, creative, courageous and thoughtful – and all fought for manuscripts that they felt deserved extra attention! Writers can be sure their manuscripts were in loving hands here.

Alex Craig:
An abundance of talent and the ambitious scope of many of the submissions made it an absolute pleasure to review this year’s list.

The twenty-five manuscripts that constitute the shortlist were selected for their compelling voice, their exploration and command of their chosen subject and genre and sheer inventiveness. It was so exciting to see how many writers are taking big risks in world building, style and engaging storytelling. Standouts here included historical fiction, crime – both dark and droll, fantasy, thrillers, short stories as well as some fascinating literary and popular fiction.

Many of those manuscripts on the longlist also had very fine qualities but are in an earlier draft stage, still making the discoveries a writer has to make alone before a manuscript is ready to enter the collaborative process of mentoring and editorial feedback.

Some of the submissions were still finding their way, developing writing skills both on a structural level and on the line, learning about plot, pacing, characterisation, craft, and ‘show, don’t tell’. And then there were those manuscripts that are in search of actual story – too much violence for violence sake, tragedy depicted without context, and first-person voices that are yet to move beyond the terrain of the self.

All this is part of development, and drafting and redrafting, of learning the craft, and it’s inspiring to see the depth of potential among this year’s writers.

Vanessa Kirkpatrick:
It was a pleasure to read the applications submitted for the 2018 Publisher Introduction Program, and it was wonderful to meet with the other assessors for a lively and thought-provoking discussion, facilitated by Varuna’s Creative Director, Amy Sambrooke, to determine the shortlist.

There were many interesting and competitive applications, but for this particular program we needed to assess not only on the basis of artistic merit, but on what we believed would be attractive to publishers. Successful applicants also needed to demonstrate that they would benefit from the writer development that is an integral part of this program.

A well-developed understanding of the book’s potential readership also made the application more competitive. It is worth considering the genre you are writing within very carefully and thinking about the books that have inspired and influenced you: where do you see your own manuscript in relation to books that have been published recently, and does the content of your manuscript fit with your target age group? (This last question was particularly pertinent in relation to young adult fiction submissions.)

Some manuscripts seemed too driven by the writer’s idea – in terms of content, style or plot- of what they wanted to achieve, and may have been more powerfully realised if the writer had allowed the work to take shape in a more organic way. An overwhelming majority of the crime fiction manuscripts submitted had a sexually-assaulted murdered young woman as their focal point, and although this is in line with the current (and enduring) cultural obsession with dead female bodies, I would have found it refreshing for these talented writers to turn their imaginations towards exploring other possibilities within this genre.

Two strong hooks for me into a piece of writing have always been narrative drive and strong characterization – but even more important is that difficult-to-define quality of voice. While voice describes that unique combination of elements that make up a writer’s craft – description, dialogue, characterization, plot, imagery and so on – it eludes precise definition as it is more than the sum of its parts. I think of voice as inhabiting the space between reader and writer: a strong voice engages your imagination, leaps off the page, leads you into a new world, and makes believable what in any other context may seem incredible or even impossible. Many submissions were secure in their craft, yet drew too much attention to their own style or structure, so that the reader was left admiring the manuscript’s beautiful exoskeleton rather than being swallowed whole into the world of story. Overall, it is this immersion that I as a reader was most on the lookout for.

I wish you all the best of luck with your writing.


Stick in a thumb and pull out a plum: Poetry and Consumption … Plumwood Mountain Vol 5 No 1 is live

A new issue of Plumwood Mountain, self-described as ‘An Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics’, is now live with 31 poems guest edited by Michael Farrell on the theme ‘Poetry and Consumption’, a bumper set of 20 book reviews, an essay on Amitav Ghosh by Jennifer Mackenzie and the section ‘Poets speak up to Adani’.

Plenty to sink your teeth into here, opening with Michael Farrell’s challenging introduction entitled ‘Poetry and Consumption’. (Challenging? Perhaps ‘polished outrage’ is a more appropriate descriptor, where outrage isn’t necessarily obvious – Michael’s wording is considered, erudite –  but I imagine there’s a causal connection).

There is a philosophical, and practical, movement known as “voluntary simplicity” which cuts down on consumption through living more simply and sparely. This notion, of “voluntary simplicity”, challenges the usefulness of the term “sustainability” which, in its function as a buzzword, encourages consumption. Many poets live a life of involuntary simplicity, at least relative to their earning peers. But how do we think this through in poetry, poetics? The spare lyric may appeal to some, but do we all want to write like every word that comes out of our world-destroying laptops is precious, and should be scratched on a bone in a field and praised in the New York Times? (if you count sales as praise). It sounds like a recipe for kitsch: the opposite of necessary (unless you’re a kitsch fetishist). The earth is not spare. Fire, for one thing, is more baroque.

Anne M Carson’s review of Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper’s popped out at me as worth the read, as did Daniela Brozek Cordier’s review of Kristen Lang’s SkinNotes, Brianna Bullen’s review of Petra White’s Reading for a Quiet Morning; and the section ‘Poets Speak Up to Adani’, (poems were posted as part of an online day of action at Plumwood Mountain journal on 30 October 2017 and include Judith Rodriquez, Jennifer Harrison, Anthony Lawrence, Jill Jones, Susan Hawthorne, Jennifer Maiden. Judith Beveridge, Alex Skovron, Kevin Brophy, Robert Adamson, John Kinsella and many, many more).

Visit the journal at Plumwood Mountain Volume 5 Number 1

Further discussion, ‘The cult of the noble amateur’ (Rebecca Watts)

Rebecca Watts, ‘The Cult of the Noble Amateur’, PN Review 239

Hollie McNish’s response, PN Review
Melanie Branton, Accessibility vs elitism
The Guardian, ‘Poetry world split over polemic attacking amateur work by young female poets
Responses by Don Paterson and Rebecca Watts, The BBC
A Poetry Foundation response, Poetry Foundation

Two Indigenous views of Australia Day





Alexis Wright, The Guardian, 26th January 2018
I am talking about time immemorial experience – how to grow roots like that. Not like scrap of paper made yesterday – a second ago, flimsy, impermanence, that type of thing saying you got the title over blackfella country, you are on top. That’s nothing. You are not owner. Scrap of paper only painful in the heart, only cover the surface with poison. It can’t get inside proper deep law in my head. Lies type of thing like that fall apart eventually, eroding unfortunately, like sickly wind vaporing out of any little whitefella powerhouse thing called government. That’s only tiny. Big deal. Paper gets blown away. Paper only good for that.

Read more from Alexis Wright at Alexis Wright’s poem Hey, Ancestor! ‘It’s the 26th of January again, old Whitefella Day’

Melissa Lee-Houghton: ‘Articulating your experience is remarkably life affirming’

There’s a disturbing line – actually, the whole piece is disturbing – in poet Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Guardian article of a couple of years ago wherein she discusses the importance (for her psychiatric recovery) of writing.

She writes that The nurses in the hospitals seemed bored and often bullied me in disturbing ways, which inevitably prevented me from speaking with them at all.

When last in hospital myself (triple bypass), I felt the nurses (and doctors) to be on my side, ‘willing’ me to recovery. Somehow that perception (naive of me?) had significance, I needed faith in the system and in the goodwill of the people I was dealing with on a day-to-day basis, the sense that they were behind me. Melissa’s experience – the nurses’ boredom – shows another side of the system which is at odds with what you need for survival when you’re at your lowest. An isolated experience hopefully – then again, we’re all human aren’t we, even the nurses on whom we’ve occasion to pin our hydra-headed hopes?



(Melissa Lee-Houghton writes)
‘When I had first arrived on the ward in 2002, I had written a book-length poem describing my experience of grief and pain; on submitting to a staggering regime of pill cocktails, I ceased to write at all. I also stopped reading; a copy of Adorno’s Minima Moralia was swiftly confiscated as a particularly derisive nurse expressed her opinion on its damaging effect on my mind. Whenever I attempted to write something down, it was remarked on as a manifestation of my illness – never a possible route to its cessation.’

Read more at ‘Melissa Lee Houghton: Articulating your experience is remarkably life-affirming’

Interview with Stephanie Conn

Stephanie Conn is a poet from Northern Ireland. She visited Tasmania in 2017 where she was a featured guest of the Tasmanian Poetry Festival. The following extract is from an interview published on Paul Stephensen’s blog ‘Poems, Poetry, Poets’ (19th January, 2018).


Paul: While the book opens with Holland, as McGuckian indeed says, it journeys on in the latter half towards Australia. What makes ‘Australia’ so distinct and unique for you?

Stephanie: I never had any desire to go to Australia, it was never on my to do list. We went to spend a Christmas with my sister-in-law in Tasmania and I absolutely loved it. Tasmania is a beautiful island and for me, a place of contradiction – Christmas decorations in the sunlight, penguins in the blistering heat, picnics on a beach where the next land mass is Antarctica; the stunning scenery of a former convict colony.

Paul: Do you have a favourite place in Australia?

Stephanie: As I said above, I love Tasmania but sailing out of Sydney Harbour heading to Manly was a stunning experience.

Paul: Have you read many Australian poets or poetry magazines? What/who do you recommend?

Stephanie: Yes, when I was writing and researching the book I read some Tasmanian/ Australian poets and a couple of the poems in the collection were response pieces to work by Lyn Reeves and Louise Oxley. I also read work by Anne Collins, Sarah Day, Adrienne Eberhard, Gwen Harwood and Vivian Smith. I got to go back to Tasmania in September 2017 to read at the Tasmania Poetry Festival. I had the pleasure to meet some of the poets I’d been in touch with by email. I was also introduced to the work of other Australian poets – Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Young Dawkins, Emilie Zoey Baker, Dan Disney, Luke Wren Reid and Sarah Holland-Batt. I absolutely love Sarah Holland-Batt’s work. Sarah is also the Poetry Editor for the Australian journal ‘Island’.


From Paul Stephenson’s blog ‘Poems, Poetry, Poets’; more HERE

The cult of the noble amateur

Rebecca Watts, PN Review 239, Volume 44 Number 3, January – February 2018

What good is a flourishing poetry market, if what we read in poetry books renders us more confused, less appreciative of nuance, less able to engage with ideas, more indignant about the things that annoy us, and more resentful of others who appear to be different from us? The ability to draw a crowd, attract an audience or assemble a mob does not itself render a thing intrinsically good: witness Donald Trump. Like the new president, the new poets are products of a cult of personality, which demands from its heroes only that they be ‘honest’ and ‘accessible’, where honesty is defined as the constant expression of what one feels, and accessibility means the complete rejection of complexity, subtlety, eloquence and the aspiration to do anything well.

More at PN Review 239 HERE