For me, this manuscript began with a dead rat named Cookies. I met Zen properly on a boiling summer day in Brisbane. The red dust storm from Sydney had just rolled through. The apocalyptic glow had settled. One thing I wasn’t expecting was a message from Zen asking if I had a shovel and/or could I help her bury her housemate’s rat. The poor wee thing had choked on the dust.
This late rat would later feature in one of Zen’s poems, called Graveyard Haibun, which is also one of the first poems I helped Zen edit. The draft versions of this poem alone could fill a small room. I remember so clearly sitting on the floor with Zen, surrounded by printed out poems, the both of us furiously scribbling. After every hour or so of scribbling we’d yell a-ha! And change a single word, shift a line break, add or delete a comma. After about two years of this, we yelled for the final time and closed the book on Graveyard Haibun. I’d like to say we stopped editing that poem because it was perfect and finished, but honestly we also couldn’t bear to look at the damn thing one more time. But also the poem was perfect, clearly.
Five years after that fateful day with Cookies, I’ve had the pleasure of reading and editing pretty much every single one of Zen’s poems. I’ve seen her writing grow more and more assured. I’ve watched her slide effortlessly from topic to topic, from tone to tone, from cemeteries to video stores, from Kafka’s forgotten characters to 3rd century warrior queens, from terror to courage and courage in terror. What has remained constant throughout is her extraordinary attention to detail that sees her agonise over commas and draft poems until the there’s enough draft versions to construct a tasteful evening jacket out of. I’ve watched her pour herself into this manuscript, sometimes quite literally leaping into a pile of the printed out poems scattered on the floor, always furiously scribbling. This skill and this dedication has forged the manuscript I have the pleasure to launch tonight. As with the Graveyard Haibun, this book is perfect and finished and done (clearly), but also we’ve read the damn thing so many times that we’re having trouble looking at it straight anymore. So now you’re all going to have to look at it for us instead.