Your penitentiary life bunks in a dormitory suburb,
hopes mortgaged and remortgaged,
until you owe yourself too much.
When volcanoes are dormant they say they’re only sleeping.
Couldn’t erupt if you tried: your molten rage all cooled to stone
retaining walls that hold three-by-twos together;
hold you in like a final breath.
The cottage blocks get smaller each year, each subdivision
Contracting in a gasp
Like shrink-wrap over your open mouth.
Until you’re suffocating behind perspex vistas of tumbleweed streets
Dream homes rising like tombstones on traffic-calmed asphalt.
Don’t you ever want to throw the door open?
Race! / Run! / Thrash!
Wake the dead with a fire alarm guitar
Tear your wound open in the local park
Make lights blink on, silhouettes illuminate thresholds, heads tilt
As their neighbour bleeds on astroturf
Dying, but relieved
Finally: skin in this bloodless game.
– Holden Sheppard
Inspiration always strikes at the least convenient of times.
This morning, it was just as I was about to leave the gym. I went for an hour’s run, pushing through the crusty fatigue of having returned to work this week, and I was riding a nice sweat-coated endorphin high.
As I refilled my water bottle (the gym’s water is so much cooler than my tap at home), I passed by one of the workers from the gym’s creche carrying a kid down the corridor. She said something dumb in that inane “I’m dealing with a child” kind of voice, jollying the toddler along, and it triggered some strange melange of memory and thought in my brain.
And, BAM, just like that: inspiration.
By the time I reached the car park, I had lines of written expression cascading out of my pores like water overfilling a swimming pool. As soon as I got into the car, I put the windows down (it was bloody warm) and grasped at my phone to open the Memo app. A few disjointed lines of what I thought was a poem gushed out of my fingertips and onto the screen.
Now, despite being pretty comfortable calling myself a writer, that usually extends only to the world of prose and, every so often, a brief foray into journalism (after which I usually retreat for a bit). But poet is not a word I am comfortable using on myself.
It’s not that I haven’t written poetry over the years. I went through a particularly prolific period from about 2005-2009 where I wrote notebooks and notebooks absolutely filled with poems and lyrics and stream-of-consciousness ramblings and other art.
And I did dabble in taking this a bit more seriously at uni, around 2008-2009, when I crafted a couple of cycles of poems that I actually thought were not half bad and my lecturers liked them enough, too. One longer collection of poems from 2009, GOOD BOYS, is actually something I’d love to revisit one day, because it was the first time I made a genuine attempt to tackle the themes and tone and style of what has now become my debut novel manuscript, INVISIBLE BOYS.
Nevertheless, I know my own skills well enough to know poetry isn’t really something I am going to pursue at a professional level. So, I spent the drive home wondering what to do with this piece. I figured I might chuck it up here on the blog, or even make it into a graphic and share it on Instagram and Twitter and, maybe if I was willing to be criticised by people in my family, even Facebook.
Once home, I chugged through my usual morning routine. This usually consists of:
submerging my soul in a hot shower;
meticulously weighing and consuming oats, protein powder and egg whites (I eat for performance, not taste, during the week, as my trainer invariably reminds me); and
singing unabashedly into the empty, but very receptive, living room (today’s selected tune was John Butler Trio’s 2011 album track To Look Like You).
Mid-morning, I sat down at the laptop ready to work on my second novel, for which I really need a working title that I can share, because I don’t want to share the actual working title yet as it lets on a little too much, I reckon. I’ll make something up soon. It will be a working-working title.
Anyway, I open the word document and WHOOSH. It’s not the novel that explodes from the tips of my fingers like blue streamers of electricity: it’s that damn poem again! Only this time, it’s magically rearranging itself into full sentences … and … aha!
Turns out it was prose all along; the poem I spat out in the car was just a Metapod that, once given the right space, burst free from its cocoon and spread its wings as a glorious Butterfree.
I now have in my possession a sharp, 94-word piece of flash fiction titled VIOLET.
I might try to find a home for this one – maybe a competition, or a journal, or something along those lines. This one tapped into some old feelings – fear, bitterness, anger – so it’s going to be a spiky one and I almost dread certain people reading it.
Yet, at the same time, I want them to read it because I want them to know.
In the excitement of the past few weeks, I somehow never mentioned some other news here: I recently became the Vice President of the Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre!
I have always been keen on volunteering my time where I can, and over the years I’ve found myself giving my time in a volunteer capacity for a few organisations: a local art and project space; a multicultural radio station (where I co-hosted a radio show in French); and a university magazine (writing and copy-editing).
Typically, though, I couldn’t sustain any of these through the other demands on my time; the most longstanding was the radio show, which my co-host and I broadcast for about a year.
Back in April, I was invited to become a committee member of the Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre. I’d done some work with the centre in my capacity working in community engagement for Edith Cowan University: I’d used some of my project money to fund workshop places for teenagers from low SES background, many of whom would not usually have the luxury of attending regular writing workshops to help nourish their creativity.
I’d sat on a few event or project committees before, but never on a management committee, so this was a new experience for me. I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough to contribute, but over time I grew more comfortable and realised that yes, I did, in fact, have something to give.
And a writers’ centre is a perfect fit for a writer to volunteer at! I get to give back to the profession I love; I get to help and support and nurture other writers; and I get to be a part of the local writing sector.
After some time on the committee, I was asked to be Grants Officer, and then shortly after I was asked to take on the Vice Presidency.
As far as writers’ centres go, the Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre is a really nice one to be a part of. Our centre sits in on the beautiful grounds of Edith Cowan University’s Joondalup campus, surrounded by gardens, pines, native bushland and a beautiful lake with a fountain in it; you can hear water gushing and birds chirping from our offices. Ducks waddle past on the regular, though it’s best not to get too close, as they have a tendency for diving at your head if you are perceived to get too close to their ducklings.
Moreover, the job of VP is really nice. In the past week alone, I had the chance to visit the University of Western Australia at a networking event and the launch of their new online issue, Flux. I had the opportunity to chat with young writers and students about what our centre does – workshops, mentorship and guidance, competitions, writing groups – and got to hear about their hopes and dreams, too.
But my favourite event in the past week was the prize-giving ceremony for the 2017 Glen Phillips Poetry Prize, held in our grounds on a warm Saturday. I was the Master of Ceremonies for the small event, and it was really, really fun to be able to congratulate some local poets, like Scott-Patrick Mitchell, Shey Marque and Yanika O’Brien on their award-winning poems. There were some interstate poets in attendance, too: the talented Anne Casey flew over from Sydney to receive her award for her poem ‘Category Four’.
It was great fun to be able to offer a moment of joy to some fellow writers, and to give them the opportunity to read and perform their poetry in front of an audience. And perform they did! All were remarkable; our first prize winner, Scott-Patrick Mitchell, was an absolute standout.
That day was, at this stage at least, the best part of the job!
I can’t extol the value of local writers’ centres enough. If you’re a writer at any stage of your career – aspiring, emerging, published and/or uber-famous – there is something for you to gain from getting involved in yours. Do an online search, find your local centre and drop in and say g’day! Writing is often a solitary and misunderstood profession – so get involved, even if you’re naturally an introvert, and you will be surprised at the opportunities for growth, and other connections, that crop up.