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?
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
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!