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QLD Writers Week Feature #7: Nathan Shepherdson

It’s the final day of QLD Writers Week 2011 and what a great week it has been. We have explored the big sky country of Western QLD, felt the pull of the Brisbane River, looked into the dark corners of Fortitude Valley and tasted the salt of the Pacific as it hits the headland at Byfield National Park. And finally, we walk through the landscape of Nathan Shepherdson’s mind and into the majestic Glasshouse Mountains.

Words instead of geography

Am I the wrong poet on the right bus? I don’t consider myself a poet of place. Even as a general question it’s a difficult one to answer? An Italian friend/poet/translator Massimiliano Mandorlo recently asked me to send him books by Queensland poets. In the end I took the easy way out and sent books published in Queensland by poets living in Queensland at the time of publication. Some of the poets still lived here, some didn’t. Others lived here, but were not born here, and still had very strong connections elsewhere. Only a couple were born here and still lived here.

In Italy dialect is solidly built into the language, so regional traits can be very distinctive. Matt Hetherington tells me he can pick a Queensland poem because it often mentions mangroves. I’d never thought about this myself, but did find one example in my own work:

this mangrove seed
is a four page book
full of waxy definitions
of its own green

This verse comes from my Marian Drew piece. It’s not emblematic usage more botanical metaphor. (I’d been looking at a seed while watching my son swim at Mooloolaba). Tom Shapcott still associates and is widely associated with Queensland. His most recent book is called Marcoola. His head is an archive of facts and experiences relating to Queensland. He hasn’t lived here for over 30 years, but is one of this state’s best poets.

So the question of place in my work does not have a simple answer. I am a poet living in Queensland, not a Queensland poet. (This question of course was asked by Graham Nunn who to my mind is a Queensland poet living in Queensland). I’m just as likely to be wandering around in a language or a landscape. I live at the Glasshouse Mountains. A remarkable place. Remarkable because of what they are and what they represent. If there is a place for them in my work, it’s to remind me of my insignificance. I accept that I am dust with a pulse and a temporary passport. It’s easier to witness something if you’re not there. We invent perception to invent ourselves.

Taking stock as at 9.08pm on 6th October 2011, the sum total of lines in my work describing the mountains is four. The lines are from i had a dream i was talking to Lawrie Daws on the phone:

volcanic cathedrals
encircled by the fossils of worshippers yet to be found
gargantuan punctuation
marked out in a sentence that reads the curve of the earth

This signals a type of failing in my creative process. The lines do not name the mountains. They have wonderful names – Beerwah, Ngungun, Coonowrin, Tibrogargan among others. Considering them as words instead of geography, they come from a different language, and my culture was an invading one from a different hemisphere. Now eight years after writing the poem I see a small syllabic crossover between Tibrogargan and gargantuan. The second starts where the first ends. This simple statement could apply to cultures, languages, time, individuals, or breathing. Maybe that’s where I am. Breathing too is a constant and enjoyable presence in my life, but I don’t necessarily need to describe it on a regular basis. The landscape I live in describes itself very well without my intervention. I’m pleased to be part of what I don’t belong to.

The four lines come from a long poem focussing on the painter Lawrence Daws. Perhaps in a splintered way I was supplanting my descriptive inabilities into his success? Daws has incorporated the Glasshouse Mountains into his work with profound skill and intelligence for over 30 years. However Daws acknowledges that where you are is also a metaphysical point of departure. Talking about his 1978 work View of the Himalayas from the Glasshouse Mountains, he says “This is my spot, from here I can look out and see the whole world, you know. That’s why I did (this) painting. This is a place where I can feel free to move in any direction, and react in any particular way. ….I like to be able to ramble mentally”.

In one way my poem was an attempt to understand the process of painting, but I couldn’t avoid what Daws painted. It’s not uncommon to record what something looks like, but it is uncommon to capture what it is. To work out what something is (in this case a landscape) you have to dismiss yourself in the presence of something that is virtually eternal. Daws understands the temporal nature of creativity and the thoughts required for its production. He had to become the chair he was sitting on in order to get the best view.

Lawrence Daws and Geoffrey Dutton were very close friends. Geoffrey Dutton also lived at the Glasshouse Mountains in his later years, near the base of Coonowrin. Here are the opening lines of a poem he wrote about that mountain:

Magma that froze
In the volcano’s throat . . .
Even geology
Turns into poetry.

Dutton moved here in October 1991. My wife and I also moved here in 1991. Unfortunately I never met Dutton. In his autobiography Dutton states simply “Working here is working in paradise”. Dutton obviously had a more straightforward relationship to this landscape than I do, as his beautiful sequence Moving to the Glasshouse Mountains attests. Perhaps either with brush or word you need to remove yourself from the landscape before there is any hope you will find (or attempt to find) yourself in it?

Twenty years later I’m still here. In geological time this is only a moment. In that moment I am still accompanied by my wife and now also accompanied by two children, four books and a dog. Inside my work-day train I am delivered to Brisbane by stainless steel envelope. I see a back-view of Tibrogargan from my house, and from the train look directly into its mythological face. The sky has it under surveillance. It’s a dark-stone mirror on which I reflect but in which I cannot be reflected.

Perhaps there is a fragment of Kierkegaard in my view when he says “Just like plunging a finger into the soil to recognise what land we’re in, I poke my finger into life: it has the odour of nothing.” I don’t see this as a negative. The magnitude of the cycle we’re a part of allows us no opportunity to compete with it.

So is the place where you are right now depicting your presence or your absence? Which would you prefer? Somewhere else could also be here if it consents to your invitation. The landscape flies over its own memories. You just happen to be in some of them. 



In the best tradition of self-contradiction I felt dissatisfied with the fact I had only written four lines about the Glasshouse Mountains in twenty years. The mountains are an important part of my daily life. I do walk around them as an adjunct to either creating or resolving certain (or uncertain) thoughts. So I used Graham’s question as challenge to respond. Taking stock (again) as at 11.01 am on 8th October my Glasshouse image repository has increased in size but is still small. The following work was written yesterday. . .

what odour in light (glasshouse triptych)


what odour in light
before it was stone

a handful of mountains
purchased before memory
when clouds carried new water
or reconciled invented gas
into chemistries of licked chance
folding all as if soil
was a fresh conglomerate
of egg whites and lava
in a sunset beneath the earth
where red would not be abandoned
within an endless speech
of unmeasured violence
a temperature is set in space
with enough breath
to rehydrate an ocean
and recognise the brittle grey
where energy sufficiently departed
allows the footprint of an insect

on its death
a mountain
extends it death

and to this point
is complete time
found in a leaf


in what magnitude
is landscape a skin
grafted to an eye

words made over
in the wrong language
before which
i present myself
in order to be expelled

this is the place
we lift up rocks
looking for tongues
in the hope
of never finding them

i followed their names
back to the mountains
but knew without question
they would not speak to me
if i spoke to them

a mountain
has the luxury
of hiding
in its own form

and this lungless family
knitting tears into creeks
have suffered our thoughts
into farmland


tear holes in space
until bones
fall out of the seasons

mountains sing
in a voice
only fossils will hear

trees will burn anyway

when an ant
finds food
it finds itself

on rhyolite & trachyte
shadows divorce the sun
until they’re in love

we murder absence
with our presence

we crawl into a cave
and find silence
dining on flies

thoughts are mortar

the lifespan of an apostrophe
depends on its ability
to abbreviate more than words

landscapes occur
in the memory
of a climate
without memory
is evidence just
conceived in the fact
that it is here
following itself in to
chasing itself out of
regenerating graves

this language
is an introduced species

the mountains move
when we’re asleep
whisper their faces
onto elastic maps
that will never exist

nathan shepherdsonoctober 2011


Nathan Shepherdson has won the Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize twice (2004, 2006), the 2005 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Award, 2006 Newcastle Poetry Prize and 2006 Arts Queensland Val Vallis Award. His first book Sweeping the Light Back into the Mirror (UQP 2006) won the Mary Gilmore Award in 2008. In 2008 he released ‘what marian drew never told me about light’ (Small Change Press) and his most recent collection, Apples with Human Skin was published in 2009 by University of Queensland Press.


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QLD Writers Week Feature #6: Helen Avery

Day #6 of QLD Writers Week is here and once more, we are looking westward, into the ageless landscape that Helen Avery calls home.

Old Beyond Age

The world is intense.  It has always been my best friend so I have never been afraid of solitude.

I have always immersed myself in whatever place I happen to be in.  I spent much of my childhood belly up to the sky, belly down to the earth and I have never lost the need for that kind of  intimacy.

So the places that inspire me most are those where I happen to have spent the most time on skin to skin terms.  I’ve been a farmer for most of my life so the earth has never been extraneous. I have worked with it, on it and my dependency has been entire. I have travelled over it and my eyes have always been open.

 I live on the other side of the coastal ranges where the landscape rolls out like a worn swag blanket. I like dust and mud beneath my feet.  I like laying my hands against trees and stone.  I like learning the names of plants and of the processes of creation that laugh at our paranoia about measuring time in fractions of seconds. I love the feeling of enough space around my shoulders that I can see the curve of the planet against the rest of space.  I love the spin of seasons so subtle I can scent change on the wind and feel it on my skin.

It’s not about beauty or lack of beauty.  It’s about awareness of where we are and the absolute exposure of the mind and the senses to this.  It’s about somewhere old beyond age, something battered and wrinkled and unashamed and beautiful and vibrant beyond belief or definition.

How do I capture this for a reader? If I could, I would write without words, trace poetry on the wind.  As it is, all I can say is that, I try, because it is in me to write and I love words.  If they disappear on the wind like vapour … then that is okay and as it should be. 

by Helen Avery


Heading home

In the pre dawn I leave the ocean
at my back and drive west
looping over the coastal ranges.

Darkness hooks on
the harsh call of the first crows
and is drawn back from the valleys

leaving them drenched in mist and chill
until the sun eases out of the somewhere
ocean behind me and dispenses the day.

Beyond Boguntungun eagles swing
off the tails of thermals and the hills
and the dry scrub roll and flatten.


Helen Avery is a poet for whom a sense of place is as natural and essential as drawing breath. The ‘Outback’ holds iconic status in the national psyche but it is not a museum relic. It is a vibrant part of contemporary Australia. It is the honesty of a natural environment that exposes both landscape and those who live there with stark clarity that drives Helen to write and perform with sensitivity, passion and deep respect.


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QLD Writers Week Feature #5: Gabrielle Bryden

Day #5 of QLD Writers Week, and this time we are pulled from the big sky country of the west by the current of the mighty Brisbane River… Gabrielle Bryden reflects on her lifelong love hate relationship with our city’s river.

The Picnic at Hanging Rock Effect

Place has its place in my poetry. The observation and description of places, the creation of images, the use of references to places, similes and metaphors utilising places, sensory exploration of places – all of these things are important in my poetry.

However, to be honest, my poems are more about the inner space between my two ears (concepts and issues), people and the person, than particular places. This is not surprising given my background as a psychologist. On the other hand, grounding a poem in a real space is an effective way to concretise a conceptual idea and often I will find a specific place for the idea or issue to sit. In other words, the place is the setting to make the idea blossom into life.

This is not to say that place is not important to me. I feel a strong relationship, bordering on the spiritual, with the Australian landscape. I have an intense love of this ancient, worn down land – the bald hills, the volcanic remnants, the wallum, desert lands, rainforest and the list goes on. I have lived overseas several times and each time, after a few months, I felt a great longing to return home – I really missed the natural landscape, particularly the Eucalypt trees.

I can’t explain it very well but I have sometimes felt overpowered by my surroundings out in the bush; insignificant, in awe and in danger – I call it the Picnic at Hanging Rock effect – an eerie feeling that I could simply disappear into the landscape, swallowed up by the spirit of the rock. I like to recreate that feeling in my poems and to highlight the insignificance of the human race, in their place, within the universe.

The Brisbane River would be one specific ‘place’ which has strongly influenced my poetry. I have a love hate relationship with that brown, strong river, which has permeated my dreams for as long as I can remember. I literally dream about the river all the time – flying over the river (hands flapping), swimming in the river, clear water, muddy water – it changes depending on the subliminal message of the day.

I grew up in Indooroopilly and the Brisbane River flows along the border of that suburb. I grew up with stories of the river leaking into my subconscious:

‘Your brother nearly drowned in the Brisbane River when he was four’;
‘It’s impossible to swim across the Brisbane River – you’ll drown trying; the currents are too strong’;
‘John’s sister killed herself, jumping off the Walter Taylor bridge, when she was twenty’;
‘The river water came right up to the Jindalee Bridge in 1974’
‘They found his body on the edge of the Brisbane River’.

The river looks beautiful and powerful and I admire and respect the river but I have never trusted him.

Gabrielle Bryden


Brisbane River

Brisbane River isn’t petite and pretty
like the Cam of Cambridge

he won’t invite you
to gondola

won’t even tell you to take a hike
you are the clichéd flea on bear

he’s got the monumental on his mind
how to shoulder bash Moreton Bay
day after day

how to carve out a name for himself
in ancient sediment
with no sentiment

he won’t care if you
go under.


Gabrielle Bryden is an Australian poet published in a range of books, print and online journals including: Short & Twisted 2010 and Mystic Signals; Ripples, Aspects, Speedpoets, and Extempore magazines; Cherry Blossom Review, Red Poppy Review, Verity La, Asphodel Madness, Sorcerous Signals, Lunarosity, Bolts of Silk, Third Eye, Specusphere, and Poetry24 ezines; and on local and national ABC Radio. In 2009 she won first prize in Ripples magazine’s poetry competition.



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QLD Writers Week Feature #4: Vanessa Page

From poems landing on International Space Stations, we head west to the big sky country of  Western QLD; a landscape that continues to reveal its beauty to Vanessa Page.

A Moment of Serenity

A sense of place plays a central role in my creative process. I feel deeply connected to the land in particular, with many of my poems set against the landscapes of central and western Queensland.

I enjoy working with the idea of examining the complexities of human relationships against these settings. Sometimes I will start a poem with a landscape in my mind and this will later become the base for the layering of the storytelling component. When simple, powerful stories develop on these canvases that is when I really begin to feel my poems ‘sing’.  While the process of writing poetry usually starts in an organic, sensory way it usually ends with a lot of painstaking fine tuning as I meld all the elements together.

I am inspired by the landscapes of western Queensland, and in particular the places between Toowoomba (my home town) and Mitchell (a town where my family lived for many generations) and out as far as Charleville, Blackall and Barcaldine – places where I have spent quite a bit of time.

I think because of my personal connection to these places, I get a lot of joy and satisfaction in showcasing them through words. Part of this is about wanting to share the beauty I see with others, and part of it is paying a bit of a tribute to my heritage and the pioneering bush labourers, drovers and bullock team drivers who were my grandparents and great grandparents.

Quite often it is a moment of serenity or beauty that sparks the creative process. It might be something as simple as sitting by a weir at daybreak watching tiny birds stamp signatures in the red dust or admiring a flock of black cockatoos propped in an enormous river gum like some kind of strange and beautiful fruit that strikes a chord and either becomes a metaphor for a story that is developing or which is just a beautiful picture in its own right waiting to be painted in words.

I think the extreme and sometimes desolate beauty of these places helps me to connect more deeply to different concepts particularly around the theme of human relationships – like the way connections between people are tested through processes like loving and losing.

There is nothing like the ‘big sky country’ in central Queensland to create the perfect environment for this sort of thinking. More often than not it is just the quiet and the relative emptiness of journeys in between places that inspires creative thinking in me. I find that I can draw deeply on my own experiences, and my observations while at the same time being in tune with the landscapes that are unfolding around me. Simply driving west seems to bring me into an incredibly rich creative space, because of the connection I feel to the land.

In my poems I try and bring the reader with me to the places where the story is unfolding. I like them to feel – if not connected to, then aware of – the environment I am describing by using words and visual arrangements to evoke the senses. I tend to write in a detailed manner, finding the perfect descriptors and then reshaping the lines until they glow and reflect my concept and vision.

I like discovering beauty in little ‘polaroid moments’ and have written poems about very simple experiences, like observing how the first light of the morning inhabits an outback town or the tiny ways in which the landscape changes and prepares ahead of an approaching summer storm.

For me it’s ninety percent about getting the level of detail right, choosing the right words and then piecing the elements together to help transport the reader to these settings and moments. The other ten percent comes from my personal passion and joy and love for the natural environment, helping me to complete the connection.

by Vanessa Page


Saddle Dreaming
             for Billy Page
Out here, he might find the shape of her face
in a night basin speckled with stars
just by purchasing shares in the thought of her,
a lifetime south in Gunggeri territory
She’s a vignette back there, with five children
topped and tailed in two small rooms,  
shadow-formed; getting by on instinct
Sleep pulls through her like an accordion.
Next time, before regret can come into it
he might leave off the drink, and whisper her
a homecoming as sweet as wood-smoke
Next time
A dog’s bark slices through the morning pink,
as day cups the edges of the Gulf country
It won’t be long now, til it begins again
Saddle dreaming drenched in sun violence,
and the miles of emptiness drawn out between.


Vanessa Page is a Rosewood-based poet who hails from Toowoomba in Queensland.Vanessa is a frequent reader at Brisbane’s SpeedPoets events and was one of the featured poets at QPF’s Riverbend Poetry Series in 2011. Her work has been published at kipple, bluepepper, SpeedPoets zine and in the 2010 Central Coast Poets Inc Anthology. She won the USQ Poetry Prize in 2011 & 2010, and in 2009 was runner up at the Ipswich International Poetry Feast. Vanessa will be one of two poets published in Brisbane New Voices III, which will be released in April 2012.


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QLD Writers Week Feature #3: Samuel Wagan Watson

Day #3 of QLD Writers Week and it’s time to leave the seed and grit of Fortitude Valley, to explore the lands of disPLACEment. Samuel Wagan Watson speaks about losing and finding his way and how his words have landed on places as far away as an International Space Station.

Out of Place…

“PLACE” has always interested me.  I come from an ancestry of slaves who often survived or existed in a state of limbo, working in servitude on their own country.  For many generations, my peoples’ existence was administered by a colonial regime that just randomly ‘moved’ individuals and families who didn’t assimilate as easily as others…

…it broke my heart to see my people carrying bibles under their wing…with no disrespect for the Bible…because the only book that we had ever known about and ever been told about was the Bible.  Nobody had ever bothered to introduce them to any other book…

This is a quote from the late celebrated Indigenous poet Kath Walker Oodgeroo Noonuccal.  Her special place was Stradbroke Island, Quandamooka; the land of her ancestry.  She was my Aunty through marriage, because many of my tribe were moved to this island to try to isolate them from their connection to our “PLACE”.

This quote from Aunty Oodgeroo can easily be interpreted by anyone who has ever been lost in someone else’s words; that passage in a book or piece of text that carries a reader away.  And many of my people have been lost and found within the Bible.

I’m reminded by “PLACE” every moment as I journey between the waking and dreaming posts of my life.  And upon this journey I’ve lost my way…so many times.  This country we live on is an open book that is edited every day. It has its original authors, ghost-writers, counterfeiters and factotums.  And every moment we all battle for a place and individual mark within these pages.

Until I learnt how to write, I lived an existence of social limbo.  When my writing abilities were acknowledged by my teachers and peers in school, I suddenly found my journey in life.  Therefore, I was no longer, out of place…

The capturing words
          Of a death threat or love note,
                    Flowers upon bloom…

To be a writer is to be a textual architect of worlds that can be both serene and insidious, but the ability to create these places is the gift of creativity.  And anyone who has existed in limbo would understand what it’s like to get lost in a good book or to be able to construct a means of escape.

My current post is with 98.9FM Murri Country as the Principal Writer.  I spend my days developing community announcements that run between 2-3 minutes on air covering a range of social subjects for a predominantly indigenous audience.  The job isn’t unlike the alchemy of constructing poetry and I rely on the creative writing skills that I’ve developed to reach certain ‘places’ that are extremely disadvantaged and problematic. And every now and then my writing opens a window on ‘places’ that are wild and majestic.  That I come from a culture without a written language is extremely advantageous in my job, and showcasing ‘place’ in a 30-40 second timeslot is just one of the technical  aspects of my position, whether I’m recreating a scene on the streets of West End to the white sands of a Cape York beach. 

There are similar design elements to my preferred mechanism of constructing haibun or prose poetry, except my block of prose ends with a ‘sweeper’, or an ‘outro’ or funding acknowledgments and even disclaimers….the information in this message was correct and accurate of the time of broadcast, blah, blah, blah…

The most ‘challenging place’ my writing has led me to were the commissions for television, like “Bush Slam” and “Sunday Arts” – there’s just something about the medium of television that turns me into a blabbering, dyslexic anomaly?

The most ‘interesting place’ my writing has landed upon is the International Space Station through some of my haiku that were commissioned by the Japanese Aeronautical Exploration Agency. (JAXA have their own residential Haiku Professor!)

The ‘oddest places’ my writing has toured is within the misinterpretations of foreign audiences.  A piece of my work features a ‘Nylex’ hose in the backyard in a typical Brisbane summer; we used to play a game called ‘Poison Snake!’  My German audience had all heard of Australian legend ‘Steve Irwin’, but not of the concept of a ‘Nylex’ hose fight….so they literally cringed at the visions of kids spraying each other with snake venom!

The ‘darkest place’ my writing has ever taken me was when the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery commissioned me to write a poem about Charles Blackman’s painting ‘The Student’ – based on a missing schoolgirl.  It’s the first commission that I couldn’t complete because the theme became so sinister.  I ended up working on another canvas by an emerging artist and completing a wonderful poem that I was proud of.  But it was also the first time that I created a ‘place’ in my journals that seemed to be truly evil with my exploration of Blackman’s dark imagery.

by Samuel Wagan Watson



From my balcony I can read a strong poem that the moon
has pasted on the river.  Everything is quiet.  Now and
then, a wave breaks the message, temporarily changing
the font from bold to italics.  The moon in its crescent
appearance is the precision blade of a Shaolin warrior. 
I’m concerned that if I gaze too long, I may carelessly jag
my retinas on its razor points, pierced globes adding
vitreous humor to this serious stretch of river.  A mullet
leaps from the water and reconstructs the moons
message; it is now the sound of one silver hand clapping. 
Above, an anonymous comet breaches the sky a small
eternity, but shooting stars don’t have the recoil of a poem
executed in the lull of moon fire.

oval mirror lights
          seduction on night-water,
                    flagrant moon kisses…

from ‘Smoke Encrypted Whispers’ UQP 2005


Born in Brisbane in 1972, Samuel Wagan Watson is of Munanjali, Birri Gubba, German, Dutch and Irish descent. He spent much of his childhood on the Sunshine Coast before returning to Brisbane to start a career. He was the winner of the 1999 David Unaipon award for emerging Indigenous writers with his first collection of poetry, Of Muse, Meandering and Midnight. Since then he has written four more collections; Itinerant Blues (2001), Hotel Bone (2001), Smoke Encrypted Whispers (2004), which won the 2005 New South Wales Premier’s Book of the Year and the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize, and The Curse Words (2011).


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QLD Writers Week Feature #2: Carmen Keates

Day 2 of QLD Writers Week and we are leaving the landscapes of Central QLD, to hurtle, full-on into the hustle of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, a place that has been a creative force in the life of Carmen Leigh Keates.

Carmen Leigh Keates: Fortitude Valley

I’ve lived in my unit in Fortitude Valley for about seven years. I’m in Harcourt St, widely known as Prostitute Laundromat Street, because of the well-known business on the ground floor of the Avalon Apartments up on the corner where this street intersects with Brunswick.

I’m 32. Ten years ago I moved into an old New Farm art deco flat down by the park with a friend from high school when I got a job around here as a production assistant (glorified receptionist, or ‘shit kicker’, as we liked to say) in a corporate video house. After a year or two, I realised I wasn’t taking advantage of the Valley. Living here, I could drink and then walk home; certainly my workmates were jealous that I didn’t have to run for the last train, but could just keep on enjoying the band. When I moved to Harcourt St, even closer to the Valley, I started reviewing bands for the street press.

Now, my time in the Valley is almost over. The Troubadour’s gone, and Ric’s has been bought by the Royal George… I have the same complaints as most people who love what music used to be in the Valley. Now, even the long-vacant piece of land next door to me has an apartment block that is just that – a block—it blocks my view of where I used to be able to watch the Ekka fireworks over the RNA showgrounds.

I used to keep a blog, a kind of diary about going out in the Valley, and I think giving a sample from it would be the best way to show what it was like, rather than trying to remember, as I sit here with no view, listening to a tile-cutter putting finishing touches on the white-and-aluminium units no Valley person will be able to buy…


Went to bed last night at about 11pm so I could get some proper sleep, but just woke up before at 4:49am and laid there like a dying horse until it was clear I should just get up.

Yesterday afternoon I went with my remaining $23 to see Spencer P. Jones’ 3pm set at Ric’s. It ended up being a 4:30pm first set, then another around 6pm, so in between 3pm and the start I bummed around drinking two slow beers (which went down like medicine – I’d really drank enough that weekend, but I had nothing else to do) and reading Vice Magazine. Then some of the Ric’s people I know from during the week turned up and we smoked like Iraqi oil wells all afternoon.

Beers are $6 so on my last bit of money I was $1 short but it was ok as there was a buck sitting there on the bar. I think Blake [the bartender; he often gave me triple vodkas for $4] had kept it aside when some dude bought a drink earlier and forgot to pick up his change, but then Blake swiped some of my fags, he said, to cover the dollar. What goes around comes around.

Spencer P. Jones [best known from The Beasts of Bourbon] was apparently in his second week of mourning for a dead friend, and drank messily but no more messily than everyone else. Naomi said last time he was there they took him to a burlesque show after his gig and he just sat there in the crowd, she laughed, “like a bored old guy”. I should point out how unsexy Brisbane burlesque shows happen to be at the moment; it’s just like a new kind of Tupperware party for some women. So clearly Jones displays impeccable taste even when wasted. Bravo.

The night before, I was watching ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ while sipping a big tumbler of scotch and marveling at Marlon Brando’s young body. How did that get destroyed? It looks invincible! (etc) and O phoned and said she would like to do some vodka shots. I had been watching the movie because on Friday I got a bunch of old films out in preparation for an indoors, virtually alcohol-free weekend where I could recoup, and listen to Radio National documentaries. But when O said “Are you in a staying home mood?”, I just said “I used to be” and we got to Ric’s just before 10pm, where she ordered like this:  “Vodka! 2 shots! No, 4 shots! No, 2 shots! No! 4 Shots!” and that about paints a picture of the rest of the evening’s drinking.

Ric’s was full of really young people so we went to the Troubadour where there was a Gram Parsons tribute, which might have been interesting if it had been interesting. It was hot in there so we hung around outside for a bit to get some air and when we got back we’d missed Jacob S. Harris, one of the few sets we definitely wanted to catch. Kate from Texas Tea was at the bar and I stretched out to tap her hand to ask when she would be playing and I realised she has the tiniest little thin white hands in the world. She has a big death-scythe of a voice so that surprised me. Anyway, turns out she’d just played one song with Jacob so we’d missed both of them. Shit.

O could no longer abide the bad country fashion efforts – they were really freaking her out – so we left and got home by about 1am, and stood around suddenly talking about involved sexual details for what must have been over an hour. O said “Why did we start talking about that?” and I said “I dunno. It just came out.”


Appearing Tonight

Down in the Valley Mall 
through the crowd’s Cyanean Rocks
there’s a corridor of bricks
with a high-protein glaze
and strings of lights all over it
like a calendar punctuated
with incandescent hangovers.

The tables are people lumps,
and everyone’s looking
for someone who hasn’t arrived.

A new phone number’s on the toilet wall,
the DJ ignores all requests,
and finally, the band comes on.

(A deleted poem from the draft of the verse novel Second-Hand Attack Dog.)


Carmen Leigh Keates received a commendation in the 2010 Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize for her poem ‘One Broken Knife’. She has recently completed her MPhil in Creative Writing, for which she wrote the verse novella Second-Hand Attack Dog.

Carmen’s work will be featured in Brisbane New Voices III, which will be released in April 2012.


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QLD Writers Week Feature #1: Kristin Hannaford

Here in QLD we are heading into the clear blue of Spring, a season that heightens my awareness of the natural world. As part of Spring’s festivities, we are celebrating QLD Writers Week from October 10 – 16.
To get into the spirit of Writers Week, I have invited seven poets from across the state to discuss the role of place in their poetry. A sense of place plays an important role in the initiation of images for many poets. When a poet taps into the depth of their surroundings and is able to create images that bring the reader headlong into the environment that inspired them, it is a rare and blessed experience.
First up, Kristin Hannaford talks about the places and poets that continue to inspire her.

Place/pleis/n.& v. – n. 1. A particular portion of space, often occupied by a person or thing.

Much of my writing is occupied with the notion of making sense of the world via the natural environment or place I find myself in. A kind of looking outward, examining the natural world to write and discover interior and personal landscapes.  When I think of place I’m always constructing a mental image of the wild, of nature. It’s a term that is synonymous with environment, rather than urban or domestic spaces.

Many of my poems are concerned with ‘writing place’. Some feature the early Blue Mountains landscapes of my childhood. Most, however, feature the Central Queensland landscapes where I have lived now for over 14 years. These are the places I often visit with my husband and two sons: the beaches, mangrove areas, coastal heath lands and rainforests. I’m lucky enough to live near the Byfield National park and the Five Rocks area – just below Shoalwater military territory -contains some of the most magnificent and inspiring pristine landscape I’ve ever seen, it’s difficult not to write about it.

v. 1. Put a thing in a particular place or state; arrange

There’s the notion of immersion in landscape as a kind of meditation.  The isolation and quiet gives me a kind of mental solitude that shapes my writing tremendously.  In saying this, though, writing place isn’t a kind of passive activity. For me, it’s a very deliberate creative intention, an endeavour.

Place is always a three dimensional experience. When I’m writing, I am imagining the kinds of layering and change that time, seasons and climate will have on a landscape and trying to convey this sense of depth to the reader.  I’m interested in what characterises and makes place – the history, geology, the plant species, the interaction between people and place. I’m often scouting through bird and plant species guides, consulting charts, maps and history books; they are necessary tools for me – a kind of intersection between identifying and knowing that enables poetic writing and deep mapping of a place.

Writers who write place are my mainstays.  Americans such as Whitman, Thoreau, Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop and Gary Snyder. Australians such as Robert Adamson, Judith Wright, Anthony Lawrence, Kathryn Lomer and Margaret Scott. I adore writing that delivers a sensitive and intense emotional response to the natural world. It’s a kind of bioregionalism, documentary making. Writing that is infused and characterized by the landscapes writers are immersed in. A postcard from somewhere you love.

Kristin Hannaford


Orange Bowl diptych: Byfield National Park

Sand Racing

Let us stand at the headland, as you inhale
all that turbid saltiness that whops
and clubs at us about our mastheads
as we leer at the Pacific beneath. Feel
it thud, as I put my thumb under
your chin and turn it southward, see –
there it is. A great yawning mouth, a jawline
slack open in the face of the primary dune,
a pock mark, no – an open wound, framed
by a fringe of coastal heath. They’ve put
an end to all that now; four-wheeled parasites
scraping and surfing the inner parabolas
of the sand blow. I’m easily fooled. You lean over
and trace an outline of tyre track drag lines,
tattooing the orange sands as if animal
teeth gnawing on dune bones.

Still Life

At night, at 3am, we leave our sheets
and stand pale-bodied on the verandah.
Strange sounds of acceleration
and carousing, below us the headlights
of vehicles traffic the beach. Human
phosphorescence. Filaments, diatoms,
vanish beneath wheels that churn and spit
youth sideways. We remember the boy
who fell off the back of a ute and broke
his neck, another hospitalised. Voices carry
up through the scrub, squeals and laughter.

In the afternoon we stand knee-deep.
Our toes and feet enlarged and strange
through the lens of water. The submerged
sand terrain of peaks and valleys explodes
beneath us – each wash of wave
a ricochet of artillery fire. Behind you
the Orange Bowl lends its citrus spectrum
of sands to colour the light. We wait
for the gentle tap tap tap of whiting.
Our trigger fingers tense on our lines.


Kristin Hannaford is a Queensland writer and the author of two collections of poetry, ‘Inhale’ in Swelter (IP, 2003) and Fragile Context (Post Pressed, 2007).  Her poems, short stories and reviews have been published in many Australian print and online journals. Kristin has been a featured guest at the Queensland Poetry Festival, Brisbane Writers’ Festival and in 2009 she was one of three Queensland poets selected to tour Sydney, Melbourne and Launceston as part of the Queensland Writers’ Centre Poetry Tour. Her short play ‘The Beckoning Cat’ was produced for the 2010 Sydney Short & Sweet festival. Kristin works as a secondary school English teacher and lives in Yeppoon, Central Queensland. She is currently developing a third collection of her work.


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