Tag Archives: Influences

Where do the Words Come From #8 – Sophia Nugent-Siegal

Sophia Nugent-Siegal is an exciting new voice, who released her debut collection ‘Oracle’ at the ripe old age of 16. She is one of the featured poets at the upcoming Riverbend Books: Poetry on the Deck event on Tuesday April 28, so let’s take a look at where Sophia finds her words.





My biggest influences have been the dead—the great poets of the English language, particularly Shakespeare, the Metaphysicals and Modernist authors such as T.S. Elliot, and the characters that populate my historical calling (who wouldn’t be inspired to verse by the Muses of the Hellenes or the Holy Spirit of the Middle Ages).


The writing process:

My writing process mostly takes place in my head before pen has got within a mile of paper, so that when I finally do start writing, the poetry tends to come fairly easily and needing little revision. This process means that I write rarely but when I do I can be very productive – writing, for example, about thirty poems in four days and then not writing again for up to a year.



My voice is somewhat impersonal, even when there is an “I” who can be seen to roughly correlate with me. I often take on dramatic masks such as mythological or fictional characters or write without any definition of self whatsoever. In another way, of course, my voice is startlingly personal, as I possess a distinctive style that represents my own unique interests and ideas, if not personality.



History is probably my most consistently recurring theme—I have never written a poem that does not include time and the past as significant factors. It has also been mentioned to me that blood, red earth and birth make more than their fair share of appearances in my work.



I started writing poetry ten years ago, when I was seven years old, so obviously my feelings about an awful lot of things have changed since then. My poetry however seems to have undergone more of a process of evolution, and my analysis of it more an intellectual sharpening, than my feelings about the act and purpose of writing changed. I still aim for beauty and power, I still aim to fight against mortality, and I still write as much about a universe of the quick, haunted by their predecessors as much as I ever did.


The Flight into Egypt, Book of Hours (France, Paris, c.1440-c.1450)1

This refugee family treks into a strangely familiar Egypt
The baby wrapped up into a Canopic jar
His precious body and blood protected by golden swaddling bands

An angel follows with a small bag
And a heavenly sceptre
He walks a step behind the donkey

How tiresome for him who can run with the quick and the dead
Whose speed outpaces that of light
Who must be both a wave and a pulse
To walk a step behind this donkey who walks a step behind an old man
And carry a small bag
Joseph carries bigger, as does Mary’s donkey
So what does the celestial carry-bag contain?

Souls perhaps
Or merely hell
The future to the New Jerusalem
With a dead hand refilling with rivulets of flesh
And raising itself up
Or maybe the angel carries
The ultimate baggage
Sin and the fiery angel Death
The weeping Adam and Eve
Whose sweeping nakedness waits
For a double rebirth

Behind the family and their otherworldly servant
Lies what passes for the Nile
A rowing boat snails along it
A castle guards it
And a city lies poised upon its banks
Reflecting and refracting
Waiting for time to throw it downstream

This family is fleeing murder
This family is fleeing tyranny
This family is not going toward but away
Away from the red mouth of slaughter
And the more numerous red mouths of its work

So whether they carry sin or the apocalypse in their overnight bag
Behind them the farmer digs holes
Not looking or searching
Simply opening up


1 An illuminated manuscript from The Medieval Imagination, an exhibition at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, in 2008


About Sophia:

Sophia Nugent-Siegal is a young poet whose interest in mythology, art and history is woven into work with a contemporary focus and edge. Sophia has won many national young writers’ awards (she is a 3-time national award winner in the Taronga Foundation Poetry Prize, and has also won the FAW Young Poet of the Year and Mavis Thorpe Clark awards). Her first book, Oracle, provides a fresh, sharp and contemporary insight into the continuing resonance of the Classical world. Recent projects include a collection based on illuminated manuscripts of medieval texts from an exhibition at the Melbourne State Library in 2008.


Queensland Poetry Festival, QLD Writers Centre & Riverbend Books are proud to present the second Poetry on the Deck event for 2009. Join Sophia Nugent-Siegal (Oracle) on the Riverbend deck alongside Longreach poet, Helen Avery (Seduced by Sky), Rosanna Licari and Philip Neilsen (Without an Alibi).
Date: Tuesday 28 April
Location: Riverbend Books, 193 Oxford St. Bulimba
Time: Doors open for the event at 6pm for a 6:30pm start
Tickets: $10 available through Riverbend Books and include sushi and complimentary wine. To purchase tickets, call Riverbend Books on (07) 3899 8555 or book online at:


The first event for the year was a huge success, with tickets selling out quickly, so book early to avoid disappointment!

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Where do the Words Come From #3 – Anna Krien

Anna Krien is one of the feature poets at the first QLD Poetry Festival event for 2009, Poetry on the Deck to be held at Riverbend Books on Tuesday February 24 (full details below). Her poem ‘The Last Broadcasters’ won the 2008 Arts QLD Val Vallis Award. So let’s take a look at where the words come from…





Perhaps my greatest influence was my primary school teacher Miss Buffham. She noticed that I had somehow managed to sneak through without learning how to read (this was in a fairly hectic and full state school). She quickly bundled me off to this little old lady who made animal brooches out of FIMO and taught me how to read. The next few years were a blur – with a FIMO rabbit brooch and a whole new world opened up to me I simply disappeared into books.


Writing Process

Roll out of bed crack o dawn if possible. Coffee goes on the stove simultaneously with the laptop being turned on. I have a rule (that constantly needs reinforcing) no internet until 1pm. Then with a coffee in hand (white, two sugars) I keep working on whatever is at the forefront of my mind. Because I write in different areas – essays, journalism, short stories, poetry – I have to organise my weeks as to what I am focusing on. My life is a sticky-note. But most of my work, no matter how separated they are, tend to bleed into each other. I guess my ultimate goal is to one day write and publish something that is everything – poetry, fiction, journalism, philosophy, essay, and not give a damn about what genre it is ‘supposed’ to be or how vexed bookshop owners are going to be when deciding what section to put it in.

On a good day I’ll work through to 1 or 2pm, allow myself to check emails, and then start arranging interviews and stories and meetings and read the papers, magazines and a few chapters of a book. Then get ready to waitress at night, or go for a swim, or whatever. On a bad day, well, I get frustrated, feel like a failure, am lonely, and slip into bad habits.


Recurring Themes

There seems to be a lot of driving in my poems. I’m a bit of a poetic petrol-head. When I was little I loved the drive to somewhere. I never really wanted to get there. We had this old orange Leyland P76 that was like being inside a whale as it steered along highways and up apple peel shaped mountain roads. Dad had a collection of dusty melting cassettes and there was one album amongst the Dire Straits, Carly Simon, Roy Orbison, and Pavarotti that used to send me into a kind of spell. Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre – perhaps one of the first electronic music albums produced. When it played I’d stare out the window and imagine I was outside the car, running alongside it. When the Leyland finally died after a lifetime of overheating and being pushed uphill, my parents bought another P76. Can you believe it? Lime-green this time.

News stories also tend to creep in and out of my poems – tiny in-briefs of affecting truth and alien voices coming out of transistor radios. I like real poems – which is not to say that all the others are fakes, but I personally like poems that startle me with recognition. It’s the journo in me, no doubt. There is also a lot of curiosity and wonder about how things got to be a certain way. The strangeness of science, awkward adaptations between people and their surroundings, the decay of creatures and the environment.


How my feelings have changed about poetry

Is it wrong to say I’m not a fan of a lot of poetry? Probably – but I’ll say it anyway. To be concise, I think there is an excess of bad writing out there posing as poetry – coughed up linguistic fur-balls that are confusing and cryptic, as well as the indulgent self-fascinated bird droppings that are cathartic for its author and painful for the rest of us. Perhaps I am so acutely pained by this because I have my own share of bad writing posing as poetry hidden somewhere in a milk-crate in the garage. At the National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle one year, a few of us organised a Teen Angst panel where we read out the miserable poetry we had all written back in the day and laughed ourselves silly. It was wonderful. I think if a poet can’t laugh at him or herself, chances are their poetry is going to be a pain in the arse.


Some Poems that Stayed With Me

Broken Land by Coral Hull is quite possibly my favourite collection of poetry. Out of print, of course.

David Berman’s Self-Portrait at 28 and How I Met Your Mother

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S Eliot

A Small Mistake, Kevin Brophy’s poem about the class pet hamster.

Electricity Saviour (page 21 of this link) by Sharon Olds

Josephine Rowe’s collection, Asynchrony

Charles Bukowski’s collection The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps

Sarah Holland-Batt’s The Art of Disappearing

The Well Mouth by Philip Salom


A short poem….


Iron Lung

Inside his iron lung
he had sticky-taped
an old poster of the Geelong Cats.
When I mention
the team captain had
left a seventeen-year-old girl
in a hotel room choking
on her own vomit,
he shut the cabinet door
to his chest
and asked me to leave.


About Anna

Anna Krien’s writing has been published in The Big Issue, The Monthly, The Age newspaper, Best Australian Essays 2005 & Best Australian Essays 2006 – published by Black Inc, Griffith Review, Voiceworks, Going Down Swinging, COLORS, Best Australian Stories 2008, and Frankie magazine. Her poem ‘The Last Broadcasters’ won the 2008 Val Vallis Award. Once she had a neurological cat scan, which came back saying she had an unremarkable brain.


Find out more…



Poetry On The Deck:

Join Anna on the Riverbend Deck alongside exciting new voice, Jessika Tong (Anatomy of Blue, Sunline Press), award winning poet Felicity Plunkett (2008 Thomas Shapcott Award) and global traveler, Alan Jefferies (Homage and other poems).

Date: Tuesday 24 February
Location: Riverbend Books, 193 Oxford St. Bulimba
Time: Doors open for the event at 6pm for a 6:30pm start
Tickets: $10 available through Riverbend Books and include sushi and complimentary wine. To purchase tickets, call Riverbend Books on (07) 3899 8555 or book online at www.riverbendbooks.com.au

Spaces are limited so book early to avoid disappointment!


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Where do the Words Come From #2 – Santo Cazzati

The second in the Where do the Words Come From? series takes a look inside the thoughts, processes and intensely musical world of Santo Cazzati.





My erstwhile careers as a concert pianist and a free jazz performer-composer left me with the frustrating feeling that I was doing nothing innovative. I felt that the cutting edge in music was in underground club music as produced by post-1984 music technology and played by DJs or in “world music” which challenged the dominant ideas of what constitutes the mainstream direction in music (the “anti-chocko conspiracy”). When I found that my powers of analysis and aesthetic appreciation of this music via a massive CD collection far outshone my ability to actually produce original specimens, I gave up trying to be a musician. But just before I did, I had started to incorporate spoken word elements into my compositions. Removing the music left me with a cappella spoken word. Many of my spoken word pieces have a ghostly trace of absent music. But I have since discovered the brilliant and suggestive music of speech rhythms, subtle vocal inflections and use of pitch variation that we all use to communicate. None of this communication appears on the printed page but can make an enormous difference to how words are intended by their speaker to be understood and how they are actually interpreted by the recipient. This is my number one influence in spoken word performance.


Writing Process:

Decide in advance the general shape of the piece you want to produce – length, subject matter, vocal sounds, attitudes. Drink a bottle of wine. Listen to music which is in a related mood. Sit at computer and write uncensored. Then eat and sober up. Go to work the next day. Then look at the crazy stuff written the day before. Retain utterly visionary and inspired grammatical incongruities. Delete all tired cliches. Read aloud, as if in performance, over and over again for several days until you find you are no longer making small changes to the text. This kills two birds with the one stone – you are editing and also practising for performance. Howzat?


Where The Voice Comes From:

In primitive times, undoubtedly, indistinct human vocal utterances would have been closer to what we now call “music”. In Ancient Greece, “poetry” and “music” were not distinguished from one another. The word “rhetoric” did not have the pejorative connotation it does today. Rhetoric was the art of convincing and moving listeners with the power, subtlety and expression of your voice. This is almost everything to me. I have issued a challenge to a talented and inventive Melbourne sound poet to see if we can read a page from the Yellow Pages and make it sound interesting and aesthetic just through the use of our voices.


Recurring Themes:

The theme, if you can call it that, which recurs repeatedly in my spoken texts, is the aural structure. You should be able to listen to my pieces, have no clue what the hell I’m talking about, or perhaps be quite antagonistic to the subject matter, and still appreciate it as a sound structure. I’ll never forget the utterly moving experience of competing in a poetry slam with poets who recited their work in Greek and Arabic. I did not understand a word (other than the really obvious like “megalo” and “Iraq”) but was deeply moved by the richness of the intonation patterns, phrasing, metre, timing, raw vocal individuality – in other words, the music of it all. Having said that, there is a strong recurring influence on the subject matter of my pieces and that seems to be some kind of countercultural critique of the stupid mainstream society we are surrounded by, whether this is reflected in the economy, politics, our sexual relations, our chance day-to-day encounters. I think I am so addicted to irony that I am incapable of a single sincere utterance. But that is a kind of sincerity, is it not?


How My Feelings Have Changed?

The absolute best thing that happened to me was when I stopped wasting my time in the soul destroying pursuit of sending written poems to journals only to be published half a dozen times while receiving form letter rejections in the hundreds. When I turned to spoken word and not printed word, I found a regular and appreciative audience which meant I had a chance to develop an individual and innovative perspective as an artist. Instant response of a live audience is tangible. But even if you do get published, it is almost impossible to gauge that audience response.



Santo Cazzati is only a spoken word artist. His texts do not disseminate in print or any other kind of written form.


About Santo Cazzati:

Santo Cazzati is a spoken word artist. The son of
Italian immigrants to Australia, he emerged from past
lives as a classical concert pianist and avant garde
jazz musician to teach at an elite Melbourne private
school which must remain anonymous in order to protect
those concerned. He performs in a range of styles,
from fast rhythmical delivery to slow atmospheric
meditation, often with a strong world music influence
and critical ironic distance.

Links to Performances

1) At ABC Online, hear “first prize ($10) winning” piece, “Ballet Class”, from Jan 2009 Babble Poetry Slam.


2) Other Babble performances can be seen as well as heard. Click on the two thumbnails “Mafia Slam : Santo” for “Rental Property Inspection” and “The Poor Struggling Landlord”. Or on “Zombie Slam : Sacrifice” for “Bulgarian Rhythms”.


3) Appearances on television programme Red Lobster include “Telly And Phone Talk” in Episode 177 and “Silk And Bamboo Charanga” in Episode 180. These pieces are on late in the 30 minute programme and unfortunately it seems that you cannot fast forward to the spot but can in any event see other poets performing in Melbourne’s grass roots scene on the way.



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Where do the Words Come From #1 – Karen Knight

This Lost Shark is always seeking answers. Dialogue keeps us moving forward. In this series, I am asking poets where the words come from – the influences, the process, the themes, how it’s changed. Tasmanian poet and collaborator, Karen Knight is first to respond.



I started writing from a very early age due to a strong family influence. Both parents were artistic. Dad was a piano and singing teacher and composer. Mum was a singer and a speech and drama teacher, they both wrote poetry and short stories, so there was never a shortage of books and music in the house. Both brothers played guitar and at one stage my youngest brother brought a euphonium into the house.
When I was 12, I wrote some lyrics to a piece of music Dad composed and it was published by Allans, in sheet music form, so that was pretty exciting. 

Around the age of 15, Dylan Thomas’ poetry had such a profound effect on me that I decided then and there I wanted to become a serious writer. The Beat Poets, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin guided me into the literary world and I had my first poem published by Poetry Australia when I was 19.

Nowadays I always listen to music when I write. Groups like Massive Attack, Left Field and Portishead certainly put me into the right frame of mind (I like the dark stuff). For a few years now there have been two poets, Billy Collins and Matthew Sweeney who have had a similar effect on me that Dylan Thomas had when I was younger. I always want to write when I read their work. I used to jot down my drafts on paper, but now I like to feed the computer, I can see the structure/shape of my poems a lot quicker this way.

I don’t have any political influences and landscape not very often, except when I am commissioned to write something that relates to landscape and then I suprise myself as to how much it does influence me, sub-consciously.

When I was in Scotland a couple of years ago staying in a pod at the artist’s retreat, Cove Park, which is in the West Coast area, the landscape inspired me greatly and I had no problem writing about it, because it was different to anything I’d experienced before. The hills, the lochs, the black faced sheep, the Highland cows, the wild blaeberries, etc. In some parts, the farmed trees were so dense, your eyes had to adjust, because it was like looking at them through 3D.


The writing process

I usually agonise as to how to start a poem and the titles are always difficult for me, as I love quirky titles, especially one word titles and I also love deceptively simple words and images in poetry, so I try keep that in mind when I’m writing down the first drafts. I usually hone in and craft the initial idea as quickly as possible, but I usually find there are two poems in what I’m trying to say so I have to work through that raw process, then put the poem aside and come back to it each day with new eyes and a fresh approach, preferably in the mornings.

 I would love to say that the words just flow for me, but they don’t, they never have and I lack confidence in my ability at times, which can be damaging. I like to read the work aloud as it helps me with the rhythms and patterns. And even when I think it’s finished I usually send it to two close poet friends of mine who have great skill in picking up on the tiniest details. They give their valued opinions and constructive criticisms. There are usually changes to be made, particularly with line breaks and grammar, they’re not my strongest points as I’m usually too swept up with my images to worry initially about the structure.  So as you can see, it’s a long, drawn out process and sometimes it takes me weeks to write just a few lines and certainly a long process to get it to the final stage of sending the work out to a publisher.

I’m also very reader conscious which can be agonising at times.

My favourite place to write is Varuna- The Writers House in the Blue Mountains. I swear there are creative ghosts up there guiding my hand, but it’s probably because there are no distractions and they have a resident cook.

I relate strongly to Philip Larkin’s description of his daily routine as – work all day, then cook, then eat, wash up, telephone, hack writing, drink and T.V. in the evenings. I almost never go out.


Where the voice(s) comes from

My emotions trigger the voices and that’s usually somewhere deep in my psyche that elbows me when we’re ready. It could be something I’ve read, heard or seen, it’s unpredictable. I remember when I heard Walt Whitman inviting me to buy an old National Geographic Book that was in a Red Cross bookshop window. I went in and bought it for 10 cents and there was an incredible spread about him and his life, things I didn’t know about him, he was a voluntary wound dresser during the American Civil War, he donated his brain to science and when he died, a young laboratory assistant dropped Whitman’s brain and it had to be thrown away. It was riveting stuff to come across and for two years I researched Whitman’s life and the American Civil War until I finished my previous collection Under the One Granite Roof – Poems for Walt Whitman (Pardalote Press, 2004)

 It’s an incredible rush when something like this happens to you, where a whole collection of poems can arise out of reading an article. I wish it could happen all the time.


Recurring themes

Definitely birds keep popping up all over the place throughout my poetry. I have a great affinity with birds and have always had them as pets, rescued and reared many wild birds and set them free, so they appear subconsciously throughout my collections, even in my new book Postcards from the Asylum (Pardalote Press) it’s been pointed out to me that there are quite a few references to birds. So there is definitely recurring themes in my work. I like to work with specific themes now, particularly since I started applying for grants, as it’s easier to sell your idea if you are focused on one theme.


How have my feelings about poetry, the reading and writing of, changed since I first started writing?

Poems I wrote in my teens were way too obscure, too dramatic and too surreal. I was hiding beneath my words and in love with the idea of being a writer. I dressed accordingly, read all the trendy books, wanted to be seen with writers, be linked romantically to poets, but I didn’t put enough time and effort into the writing process. I needed life experience to sort me out, which it has.

I don’t read as much poetry as I used to. But now and then I will go through a phase where I come across work that will have an incredible impact on me for e.g. Luke Davies is high on my list at the moment, not only his poetry but his novels. I’ve just finished reading ‘God of Speed’ and couldn’t put it down. ‘Totem’ is one of the finest poetry I’ve read in ages. I’m also always eager to see any new works from Ian McBryde as he never disappoints.

I think T.S. Eliot got it wrong when, in terms of philosophy and society, he said that the modern world was complex and various, so therefore poetry also had to be.

Billy Collins has taught me a lot about writing poetry. He imagines he has someone in the room with him, who he’s talking to, when he’s writing, and he has to make sure he’s not talking too fast or too glibly. He writes about simple, every day things, but with such depth and empathy, he shatters you with his summations. These are the goals I hope to achieve as I continue writing.

I suppose I keep trying to follow Dylan Thomas’ philosophy on writing poetry, that it should make the toenails twinkle. I like to stir the emotions in my readers. I  believe that poetry should touch other human beings, not just to entertain, but to give comfort and stay with them for a while.

I like to make other poets envious.


It’s a Girl-Interrupted Dream

The inmates love me, they think
I’m a rainbow-flavoured icecream.

Ladies-in-waiting scrub my restless skin
and put away my loved-out jeans.

I get to watch the same Paul Newman
movie             every week.
I read the Penny Dreadfuls
from the one-shelf library,
stamped ‘donated by the
Australian Red Cross’.

I have my own room, with a double-locked
door and all the boiled mutton I can eat.
On Sundays, the anxious ones
show me cowboys and Indians
with roast gristle and three veg.

On river picnics I sit with a long-termer
and consider the strength of the current.
There’s talk of a cure for this lunatic calm.
Everyone has a lagoon breakout
now and then, their sandbanks
crumbling like halva.
Finally, I’m part of this mad scene.

(from  Postcards from the Asylum, Pardalote Press)


About Karen:

Karen Knight’s poetry has won her many awards, including the Dorothy Hewett Flagship Fellowship from Varuna, The Writer’s House. Since the late 1960’s, her poetry has consistently appeared in literary journals, newspapers and anthologies, including Best Australian Poems 2005. In 2007, Karen travelled to Scotland on a three week International Writers Exchange funded by Varuna and the UNESCO City of Literature in Edinburgh. She has written five collections of poetry to which she has received three Arts Tasmania grants and an Australia Council grant.  Her current  collection, Postcards from the Asylum (Pardalote Press) won the 2007 Arts ACT Alec Bolton Award for an unpublished manuscript. Karen often collaborates with other writers, visual artists, painters, scientists and musicians. Some of her work has been translated into Tamil and set to music by a New York composer. She has recently completed a collaborative work Twinset (Knucker Press, UK)  with Scottish writer, Dilys Rose.


Read a review of Postcards from the Asylum here
Purchase the book here

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