January Pin-Up Week #2: Michelle Dicinoski

It’s Friday, time to check in with our January Pin-Up-Poet, Michelle Dicinoski.

In asking a handful of people to send me their poetry pick of 2011, Canadian poet, Jacqueline Turner turned me on to Sachiko Murakami’s, Project Rebuild, where she invites people to renovate both her own and other writers’ poems and in doing so asks, what is poetry but a rental unit of language? What is your take on this question?

I agree with Murakami that everyone inhabits a poem in a different way as they read it, write it, or re-write it. I probably wouldn’t use the word ‘rental’ because it makes me think of rental properties, which can’t be physically altered by their occupants. A poem, on the other hand, is a very satisfying thing to inhabit, because you can knock it down in the afternoon and rebuild by dinnertime—and that’s part of the thrill of Project Rebuild. Murakami also said that the project aimed ‘to challenge the notion that the poems we write belong to us, that we are anything but temporary residents in the tenement house.’ This is absolutely true of poems, as it is of everything that we make or have. I had a go at renovating Phoebe Wang’s poem ‘Vancouver Special,’ which is a renovation of Sachiko Murakami’sVancouver Special’, which itself is a renovation of Murakami’s first version of ‘Vancouver Special’ .

My renovation is called ‘Brisbane Plain.’

While we’re talking about (im)permanence and houses and renovations, I’d like to mention that this week marks a year since the Queensland floods. And precisely a year ago, on January 13, the Brisbane River reached its flood peak at about 4 a.m. My house flooded, so I have quite strong memories of that week. For the longest time, reporters were talking about the flood height at the ‘city gauge,’ which is one of the official spots where the river height is measured. So for this week’s poem, I thought I would share my poem ‘The City Gauge,’ which is all about that weird time. It first appeared in the Australian Literary Review.


The City Gauge

The twenty-first century quits at two
when the water drinks the fusebox and the house blacks out.
Now, we raise our lives higher by torchlight
and listen to the frogs’ admonitions:
your houses are islands, yep, yep, yep.

It’s true. Every hour drowns another front step.
Inside, telling storeys of desire:
we stack poems on clothing on mattress on table
(how high is high enough?)
till our histories loom all around us.

All night we lift, and listen to the radio
our nerves turned electric with news from the west.
All night we listen to talkback callers
whose voices ring out in our emptying rooms.
A woman says her neighbours are sleeping

so close, but too far to wake,
and the water’s rising
and she doesn’t know what to do.
Why does the darkness make voices more likely
to win or break our hearts?

Soon it will be dawn, soon it will be
weirdly beautiful—the water a foot from the floorboards,
high-set verandahs kissing their reflections,
six-foot fences vanquished—and soon we’ll realise
we’re trapped.

But for now, it’s night, and there’s just
the torchlight, and the radio voices
and the raising things up, the lifting that is like belief:
the best that we can do
but never high enough.


Here’s a link to a photo of Michelle’s street taken almost a year ago to the day by Beard Street resident, Angus Sinclair and this is a link to an in depth review of Michelle’s stunning debut collection, Electricity for Beginners by Fiona Scotney.


Filed under Pin Ups

4 responses to “January Pin-Up Week #2: Michelle Dicinoski

  1. I discovered a half of a sonnet today that I’d started building a couple of years ago and then forgot about. I’m tempted to finish it now, but the foundations of it remind me too strongly of the past. But I can’t bring myself now to knock it all down.
    That’s my take on the question anyway.

  2. I like to see the different things that people take away from the same poem (which is one of the most valuable things about posting on the Blogosphere – the comments provide wonderful insight to how differently and similarly people think) but I wouldn’t feel comfortable or even like to ‘renovate’ someone else’s poem

  3. I love hearing someone else saying those things about not owning a poem, but inhabiting it; often feel the same way myself. And “The City Gauge” is such a good poem to inhabit!

  4. Beard Street – ha! That is right next to Vincent Street where we used to live (and where our old house got completely submerged – our friends in the street, on the other side, were flooded – very sad). Excellent poem – very evocative of that strange night.

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