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Burning the donkey (PS Cottier)

Posted on December 19, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

Burning the donkey

We were suspicious from the start.
What decent man brings a wife
pregnant as a pudding
into a new country, unless
he wants the child to be
a kind of hidden penny,
a nice little earner?

She was obviously mad,
whispering something about
a visitation, from behind
an annoying, coy blue veil.
We weren’t sure if she meant
secret police (who are unbelievably
common, in the places these people
supposedly come from,
breeding like cane-toads
in their vivid crops of lies).
She mentioned flashes and wings.
As I said, a few bats short of an attic.

He even admitted that he wasn’t sure
if the kid was his, or at least
that’s what we think he said.
It was hard to source a proper interpreter,
if, indeed, the language was real,
rather than a melange of all things foreign,
stirred like another pudding,
to be tongued off a soon-to-be silver spoon.
Mike said he thought Aramaic
was a perfume for men,
and we all had a good laugh,
but there was absolutely no whiff of that,
I can assure you.

It turned out to be a boy,
born in necessary seclusion,
though Mike said all the lights
turned themselves on
the moment the kid drew breath.
That was undeniably weird,
and a further example
of their lack of thanks
expressed in clever sabotage.
Lawyers even brought in presents,
breaching clear regulations.

Their poor excuse for a boat,
which had evaded all detection
and wound its feral ways to Darwin
despite navy, barnacles, tides and policy,
overladen with stink and sick and
God knows what else,
was towed back out and burnt.

All in all it was nothing remarkable,
although my skin is itching,
itching like an alien.
A nice little souvenir, no doubt about it.

The press should really leave it alone,
and focus on some bigger issues -
a Test begins tomorrow.



Slashed into the sea,
it smiles between Gladstone
and the Cape York tip.

Whiter than a ghost’s teeth,
it still grins and beckons
and whispers of what was.

Such colours grew there,
opalescent and alive,
and the flutter of fins

cruised the coral jungle;
parrots and striped teams
scrummed over living rock.

Now there are these teeth,
whitened into brilliance
by industrial stupidity.

The reef a skeleton —
or a jaw stuck forever
in a bleached rictus.

And what burnt Hamlet
to soliloquise on death
bracketing our shore?

Two thousand kilometres
grinning white forever,
and rumours of fish

corralled into memory’s shoals.



PS Cottier
lives in Canberra, where she rides poetry and writes bikes. Some of this appears at

Episode 3: PS Cottier

Posted on September 24, 2016 by in Verity La Poetry Podcast

podcast2 (1)
Alice and Michele get straight into it with Canberra-based poet PS Cottier. Does entering and judging literary competitions put you on a special level of Dante’s Inferno? Is there a hierarchy of poets and poetry? And why do so many poets succumb to writing ‘misty cow poetry’?

Penelope reads her poem from Plumwood Mountain, Reading the Frog Economy, along with Denise Levertov’s To Live in the Mercy of God, and her own poem published on Verity La, All the blond Jesuses. We end with a recommendation for Samuel Wagan-Watson’s Smoke Encrypted Whispers, and grapple with a definition of speculative poetry (and whether snobbery exists around it).

And if that ain’t enough, you can go here to enjoy more of the poems and reviews Penelope has published on Verity La, plus, read a rather intriguing interview

Missed our earlier episodes? Listen here!


lushpup_140304__web-2-1P.S. Cottier is a poet, anthologist and writer who lives in Canberra.  She wrote a PhD at ANU on animal imagery in the works of Charles Dickens, and co-edited The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry. Her latest publication is a chapbook called Quick Bright Things: Poems of Fantasy and Myth. Her blog as is updated with a new poem nearly every Tuesday, and she even reads poems in public.


Alice Allan’s poetry has been published in previous issues of Verity La as well as in CorditeRabbit and Australian Book Review. She is the creator and convenor of the Verity La Poetry Podcast, as well as producing her own weekly podcast, Poetry Says.

Thy poetry and thy pathos—
all so strange! (PS Cottier)

Posted on August 29, 2014 by in Heightened Talk

Thy poetry and thy pathos—<br />all so strange! (PS Cottier)


The found poem hates the way
the egregious disruptions of fashion
have shaped his hideous form;
a misshapen picaresque, he lurches.
He is angry as blackbirds in a pie
croaking of their wonderful fortune
to be mere ingredients, gimmicks,
encased in another’s recipe.

Found poem finds himself quite
unsatisfactory. Gone all lovely
fantasies, the shimmy of catwalk.
They brushed aside the dreamer
in his dreams
, and left him lumpy,
daggy, and bereft.  He would soar
O singing heart turn hawk.
None of that here, no, just

remnants; bits of discard —
here an ear and there an ape.
The Baskerville-shaped shadows cross the floor.
Poem scratches someone else’s metaphors
that pull his skin right out of shape.
All thumbs he tries to text himself
a message, but random eyes can’t focus.
“If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear.”



  • Thy poetry and thy pathos—all so strange!— from Ada Cambridge ‘A Dream of Venice’
  • egregious disruptions of fashion from Peter Porter ‘St Cecilia’s day 1710’
  • a misshapen picaresque from John Kinsella ‘hydrography’
  • They brushed aside the dreamer in his dreams from George Essex Evans ‘The Master’
  • O singing heart turn hawk from Douglas Stewart ‘Turn Eagle, Lark’
  • The Baskerville-shaped shadows cross the floor from Peter Porter The Puppy of Heaven’
  • “If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear.”  Mary Shelley Frankenstein

Note 1: the poet has sometimes changed punctuation and line breaks, and almost always meanings

Note 2: the creation of this monster was inspired by a discussion at Under the counter or a flutter in the dovecot


100 holes in my bucket (PS Cottier)

Posted on May 3, 2014 by in Heightened Talk

Knitters togetherI will never:

1. Bungee, shouting yolo

2. Use the acronym yolo, except in this poem

3. Scuba at sea (it feels like choking even in the swimming pool)

4. Have a dress made in Paris

5. Be thin enough to have a dress made in Paris

6. Be rich enough to have…well you know by now

7. Crunch ortolan with teeth of prey

8. Tango in Buenos Aeries wearing orange tango shoes

9. Tango

10. Waltz like that sweeping scene in War and Peace that prefigured the last glorious flyover (in the film)

11. Forget that I visited Tolstoy’s estate and donned slippers fluffy as guinea pigs to shine the wooden floors

12. Waltz like Cinderella dropping a shoe like a solitary glassy dandruff

13. Open for Australia in cricket

14. Play for Australia in any sport whatsoever (though croquet is not yet kicked into touch)

15. (Censored)

16. Fly in a fighter plane

17. Set foot on the moon

18. Set anything on Mars

19. Escape the surly bonds of earth, or the merry ones, for that matter

10. Skydive screaming yolo (see bungee above)

11. Appear on the cover of any magazine, with the possible exception of Poets ‘R Us

12. Have another child

13. Be a defender put on Buddy Franklin

14. Be an attacker trying to evade Cyril Rioli

15. Play AFL at all

16. (Censored)

17. Climb a mountain higher than Mount Kosciusko (Mount in Australia means hill elsewhere)

18. Own a gun

19. Shoot a gun

20. Hold a gun

21. Wear sunglasses like Tom Cruise in Top Gun

22. Jump (I can’t let both feet leave the ground at once which arguably ties in with my inability to mark Buddy Franklin)

23. Start a blog comment or a post with ‘Speaking as a Mum’

24. Play a musical instrument competently

25. Enjoy a ten-volume fantasy series

26. Write a ten-volume fantasy series

27. Reread À la recherche du temps perdus (I perdued enough temps doing it once)

28. Mistake Jonathon Franzen for Tolstoy

29. Mistake Richard Dawkins for Reason

30. Confuse faith with certainty

31. Eat dog

32. Eat cat

33. Eat durian (brain set in Anglo too early)

34. Forget what it is to be depressed

35. Suicide (that is a prayer)

36. Give up alcohol

37. Understand fatalism like a Russian

38. Write a poem about feelings which includes the word ‘weep’

39. Attach a sticker to my car that says ‘I grew here. You flew here’

40. Whinge about school fees (although you should see the last bill)

41. Forget what it is to miscarry.

42. Forget what it is not to miscarry.

43. Write a book called Carrie (I think it’s been done)

44. Judge a book by its genre

45. Sell the film-rights to anything I write

46. (Censored)

47. Forget how luck has lifted me like a player to a mark (compare and contrast with 22)

48. Remember my anniversary easily

49. Regret the final time I menstruate

50. Forgive those who (censored)

51. Write a really long poem (longer than this one)

52. Lift as much as the young men in the gym, even those with execrable form

53. Become obese again (also a prayer)

54. Drive a fast lap at Mount Panorama in Holden or Ford (or even Peugeot)

55. Think that owning a European car is a sign of sophistication

56. Give up wanting a Citroën DS

57. Engage in lively debate about computer software

58. Lose my interest in sex

59. (Censored) (Sorry that was predictable as the shearing of narrative sheep)

60. Vote National

61. Start a sentence with ‘I’m not a racist, but…’

62. Ignore cruelty

63. Be brave

64. See a cockatoo without smiling like a crest

65. Surf

66. Learn to listen without nodding or frowning or making little noises (I can be annoying)

67. Remember names

68. Speak fluent French

69. Read À la Recherche du temps perdus in French (It keeps rearing up though and recapturing me)

70. Read Tolstoy in Russian

71. Forget the liberation of escaping school and starting university

72. Use the word ‘undergraduate’ as an insult

73. Listen to music as avidly as when I huddled under my blankets with a transistor

74. Tell young people that they don’t know how lucky they are

75. Direct a film

76. Star in a film

77. Watch an entire Academy Awards ceremony

78. Try cocaine

79. Recite Monty Python at parties

80. Memorise all the characters in Game of Thrones (for they have names)

81. Throw myself into any social situation without a little bit of me sitting on my shoulder, half parrot and half albatross, warning and criticising

82. Write a perfect sonnet (limerick is quite likely)

83. Become a mindless gatekeeper at the Estate of Poesie (aka Downtown Abbey)

84. Write a poem without a single hint of pun

85. Cook a really good meal

86. Sell as many copies of a book as the worst-selling cookbook in the land, the land being Kyrgyzstan

87. Visit Kyrgyzstan, though I have been to Uzbekistan (boasty boasty cheese on toasty)

88. Eat bacon

88. Have maple syrup on that bacon

89. Write a cookbook called Pigging Out or Snout and Proud

90. Become a knitter

91. Wear a homemade beanie on the front of my bacon cookbook

92. Forget the taste of sausages unpolluted by tofu

93. Finish this poem before lunch

94. Include the word ‘weep’ in this poem

95. Include a recipe in this poem, except in as much as it is a recipe

96. Pass this recipe on as an heirloom

97. Worry too much about my appropriateness or market or sales

98. Lose my love of words (another prayer)

99. (Censored)

100. End this poem with a wise saw or a blunt one

So, to sum up:

Yolo. Yolo. Yolo.









My Stalker (PS Cottier)

Posted on March 1, 2014 by in Heightened Talk

Shop windowSee her reflected in those shop windows?
Mumbling grey granny, disrespected elder,
spectacled and zimmered, inching so fast,
faster than she should.  Faster than breath.
Ninja quiet now, with crochet belt,
and a handbag roomy as a coffin
(her teeth, broken gravestones,
long since fell into gape of mouth).
She follows me to the gym.
Hear her now, on the cross-trainer,
knee knuckles clapping like castanets?
One Direction strains, but professional youth
can’t muffle that sharp clack of bony dice.
She comes into the toilet, into the cubicle,
with her array of specialised tools
rummaged from that hideous bag.
Thursday, she iced a single curly hair:
decorated me like Miss Havisham’s cake.
I groaned at that visitation from the crone,
the witch whose white is no good at all.
Biddy, fussbudget, battle-axe,
beldam sans merci, stop this stalking!
Quit knitting me into that pattern
of shapeless grey cardigan, weaving me
into you on that inevitable frame.
Fearsome old woman, begone!

All the blond Jesuses (intriguing new poetry from the extra-clever and wonderfully unique
PS Cottier)

Posted on November 6, 2012 by in Heightened Talk

drouin_schoolboys_playing_cricket_drouin_victoria_1_6174076512You see them wriggle free of windows,
lithe as silver fish, but golden-haired.
These Jesuses, blond sons of blond Marys,
head out the door to play cricket,
with leather and willow in sudden whites.
St Dorothy joins in, and its all fruit
and flowers and UK May, as Jesuses
bloom like jonquils on the soft field.
Sometimes a Jesus will stop for a while,
and an almost-frown appear. He recalls
another day, when he was darker skinned,
darker haired, and his reaching hands
caught iron, not the ball flicked to slip
like an idea. Oranges smile like cut suns.
The stumped Jesus reconciles himself
to this easier gig, amongst teammates
all as blond and as quick as wit itself.
He scampers between wickets, wood kinder
than when he cried, and slumped and died,
before the dark cave, and its inconstant rock.

Australia’s Conflict of Values over Live Exports: Backlash by Bidda Jones and Julian Davies

Posted on August 12, 2016 by in Verity La Reviews

live exportReview by P.S. Cottier

As I was reading Backlash, the NSW State Liberal Government and the ACT Labor (with a dash of Green) Government announced that they would both abolish greyhound racing in their respective jurisdictions. When this happens, in mid 2017, I believe it may be the first time in Australia that a whole industry will close based on animal welfare concerns.*

The campaign against the live export industry is different, in that it is not calling for an end to beef cattle and sheep being raised in Australia; it is not a demand for an end to farming. About three million animals are sent overseas per year to meet their fate.  While this export represents the ‘largest planned mass transport of animals in human history’ (Backlash, p189), it actually involves only a small proportion of the number of animals raised in Australia.  Most are killed at home for our own people, and for export as meat.

Backlash is a fascinating book in that it deals with the ethical and political background to live export, while having an actual narrative shaping the discussion of these issues. The narrative pivots around the 2011 program ‘A Bloody Business’, with the lead-up to that Four Corners exposé of slaughter of cattle in Indonesia, and the follow-up, forming the arc of the story. There is a colourful cast of characters in the book, ranging from Barnaby Joyce to Lyn White of Animals Australia, through to one of the authors, Bidda Jones, who ‘leads the science and policy team’ at the RSPCA.

In 2011, after the program was broadcast, live export was briefly banned under the Gillard Government.  The ‘backlash’ of the title refers to the reaction of subsequent governments and the industry to that decision, and the way that criticisms of live export have been managed and distorted.

The detail in the book will fascinate those who would like an insight into how our political system works. The committees, the enquiries, the lobbyists, the spin merchants and the media all take their places on the pages. Canberra residents and fly-ins will recognise some of the places in which discussions, both official and non-official, took place.

I can remember the rallies that occurred after the broadcast of the program, and attended the Canberra one, where the author (Jones) apparently spoke, although I can’t remember that. (I was too busy patting dogs.) For me, and for many other people, the revelations of the Four Corners program demanded a response. Indeed, the public response was unprecedented. Over 100,000 letters to the PM were generated within a few weeks through the Ban Live Exports site, for example (p102).

Backlash coverHowever, the Abbott Government has since closed down animal welfare committees and abolished parts of the relevant department that concerned itself with animal welfare. These moves are detailed in Backlash. Malcolm Turnbull has not changed this, although the Productivity Commission has recently said that an independent national animal welfare body should be established.

There is an obvious impossibility in enforcing Australian standards of slaughter once the cattle leave our shores, and the book investigates the minimal standards that do exist, and the ways that these minimal standards are now only subject to self-regulation in practice. Having all animals slaughtered in Australia would obviously create more jobs here, and avoid the industry’s exposure to rabid fluctuations in the market, which are an inevitable part of this trade.  It would mean that the way animals are killed can be monitored and legally enforced.

I find it fascinating that one of the tactics used by the animal welfare groups in publicity material was to name the animals portrayed in the footage of violent slaughter. If not humanising them, this elevates them closer to the status of a pet; that privileged caste of animal that crosses into the household. This is, I believe, why greyhound racing may actually be on the way out (despite NSW Labor’s shameful support of the industry); people see dogs as a special category. Cattle (the word derives from the same old French one that gives us ‘chattel’) or livestock are not often given this status. Malcolm Turnbull’s website contains a sub-blog apparently written by a cute pet dog called JoJo (now egregiously out of date); this type of anthropomorphism is a staple of the web, but is not so often extended to other animals, particularly the ones that most of us eat.

Some of the responses to calls for animal welfare are quite hilarious, implying that ‘city-slickers’ have no right to comment on how animals (except, one assumes, the JoJos of suburbia) are treated. This is in stark contrast to the supermarket chains, which are responding to pressure by consumers and animal welfare groups and sourcing more ethically produced meat and eggs. The urban and the rural are inextricably linked, and all Australians have a right to comment on what our governments allow, whether it affects animals, people, or both. The moves towards a cessation of ‘mulesing’ (stripping away a sheep’s skin to avoid fly-strike in the Australian wool industry) show how those with little direct experience of raising animals can bring about positive changes in an industry, and Backlash touches on this.

In amongst the fog of ugly manoeuvring that Backlash navigates, a few things shine brightly, primarily the gut-wrenching commitment to hard work by the various animal welfare professionals. People like Bidda Jones and Lyn White. Occasionally even a politician emerges over the ramparts of murk; Andrew Wilkie has been a consistent spokesperson for animal welfare, for example.

Backlash also describes how farmers have been recast as the victims of the temporary stay on exports. This is despite the fact that most farmers are not engaged in live export, and many argue that its existence distorts the industry and holds Australia back from gaining a reputation for ethically produced meat. New Zealand, for example, has concentrated on exporting meat based on such a reputation, and does not export live animals for slaughter elsewhere.

After the outrage at the Four Corners program, and the temporary suspension of exports, there has been the development of a system designed to track each head of cattle from Australia to slaughter. (Sheep are not individually tracked.) Backlash examines how this system seems to have inadequate safeguards, and the government seems content, if not delighted, to stand back from any real role in regulation, thus avoiding responsibility. Attempts to introduce ‘ag-gag’ legislation, whereby anyone filming inside private facilities is necessarily committing an offence, walk hand-in-hand with such policies. (The attempt to legislate was by a private member’s bill.)  Without such film, it is impossible for anyone outside the industry to know what is happening. Such people are to be commended, not treated as criminals.

The arguments that Australia can improve animal welfare outcomes by exporting animals to countries with dubious welfare practices is dissected by this book. A special sort of slaughter box we exported, for example, has been shown to contribute to animals’ suffering, and the whole idea that we can enforce our own expectations in another country is highly problematic. The oft-repeated argument that we have a responsibility to export meat is, of course, not an argument for live export, and is also subject to scrutiny in Backlash.

The actual journey of animals for weeks in inadequate conditions is as important as the way they are killed, and the book thoroughly details this aspect of the industry, which is less dramatic than the slaughter, but arguably, at least as cruel.

Indeed, the thoroughness of Backlash is admirable, and my only criticisms are minor.  Firstly, I did not like the fact that so many people featured in the book as involved in the campaign against live export also provided blurbs for the back. No-one believes that blurbs are neutral missives fallen from the sky, but many of these seem a little too embedded. Secondly, the cover’s bleakness, while in some ways appropriate to the content, showing an extreme close up of an animal’s body against a black background, is rather off-putting, and may discourage a casual reader. Both of these criticisms are of presentation, rather than of the content, which is invaluable.

I hope to live to see the end of live exports, as it is a stupid and brutal industry, providing only insecure employment to people and certain pain to animals.  The vested interests supporting the industry have a great influence on the Government though, far more than is the case in the greyhound industry (putting aside the gambling lobby, of course). Barnaby Joyce is quoted in the book from a press release: ’If it’s protein and walks on four legs or hops on two and is bigger than a guinea pig than we are going to try and find a market for it’.

Animal welfare is back on the back-burner, it might seem, at least as far as live export is concerned.  But the numbers of responses generated by the Four Corners program show that the ground is shifting. Backlash is an important book, detailing one incident in the long process of sentience being accorded respect. Cattle are not dogs, but gradually they are being seen as so much more than four-legged commodities.

* True, there was once a bounty on koalas, that may have resulted in as many as eight million being slaughtered for fur.  Whether the cessation of that trade was based purely on animal welfare concerns is another issue.

Backlash: Australia’s Conflict of Values over Live Exports
Bidda Jones and Julian Davies
Finlay Lloyd, 2016
208 pages, RRP $22



image credit: Geoffrey Dunn

P.S. Cottier
is a poet, anthologist and writer who lives in Canberra.  She wrote a PhD at ANU on animal imagery in the works of Charles Dickens.  Her latest book is a pamphlet called Paths Into Inner Canberra, which describes a bike ride and the animals that live near, if not in, Parliament House.  This work was described as ‘engaging’ in The Canberra Times.  Her blog as is updated with a new poem nearly every Tuesday, and she even reads poems in public.



Carrying an injury
(P.S. Cottier)

Posted on June 6, 2015 by in Heightened Talk

FullSizeRender (63)

He cradles it, tender as any Mary
ever caught in stained-glass web.
Injury does not scream, but purrs,
a kitten formed from bandages,
rocked in the player’s embrace.
Tender as ligaments,
the royal, swaddled bruise
sucks in attention like a tick.
It is familiar with media scrums
crooning their avid concern,
and its lullaby is a million tweets.
Injury never dies, and never grows.
In a week or a month or a year,
it may begin to fade, to dissolve.
Anxious, the player passes it on,
even from one code to another —
summer whites to winter motley.
Injury finds a new nest of arms.
The sweet little oval, clutched
light as promise and firm as hope.



P.S. Cottier is a poet who lives in Canberra, with a particular attraction to speculative poetry and sport. She was recently appointed President of the Intergalactic Cricket Council, and Secretary of the Vogon Poetry Union, in recognition of these interests. She is currently developing a lunar sport and verse festival, to be known as Park Side of the Moon. P.S. Cottier blogs incessantly and publishes cessantly. Confirm the former by visiting, or the latter by buying Paths Into Inner Canberra from  Ginninderra Press. It’s an essay with poems, flashes of Lycra (shiver), and cockatoos. Also bikes.


P.S. Cottier

Posted on October 2, 2012 by in Lighthouse Yarns

LOOKING UP ELEPHANTS' TESTICLES: an interview with <br />P.S. Cottier

P.S. Cottier, also known as PS Cottier, also known as Penelope Cottier, is a poet and short story writer who lives in Canberra, the national capital of Australia. Her book of short stories A Quiet Day and her two poetry collections The Glass Violin and The Cancellation of Clouds have been published by Ginninderra Press. Her poems have found homes in myriad places, both Australian and international, from The Canberra Times to extempore to Gloom Cupboard and beyond. She endeavours to publish a poem a week on her blog,  Thanks to Blemish Books, her poems are sharing the pages of Triptych Poets 3 with those of JC Inman and Joan Kerr. Thanks to Verity La, you get a glimpse at the person behind the poetry, plus a pun or two. Play is serious business, you see. Alliteration and rhyme too.

Interviewer: Duncan Felton


Penelope, your collection Selection Criteria For Death is upcoming in Triptych Poets 3. With a respectable handful of other books published, along with poems in journals, e-zines and on your blog, what does being published in print mean to you? Does the whole submission/acceptance/launch/review process still give just as much of a buzz? And to what extent is this kind of acceptance a motivator, rather than the pure joy/hard slog of the solo creative process?


I think I’m of a generation — or the generations — for whom a book in print is still unquestionably the most important object when we are talking of literature. Now, to contradict myself and question that emphatic statement a little, I also love seeing my work in e-zines and even on my own blog. And Triptych Poets 3 will be an ebook as well. But the sensuality of a book, its ability to stroke the reader as she reads, to have a presence in a room when we leave it… The trees still make a noise, even when wedged between covers.

This book is a little different, as I am being published with people whose work I have not read, something that has only happened to me before in anthologies. So there will be a real sense of discovery reading the other 66%, after, of course, having a good long gloat over my 33%.

I worked on poetry for ages before sending off any for possible publication, and when writing itself is going well, that is still the best thing. However, when people say yes, produce a book, and feed me cheese at launches, that is indeed nice.

Sending off my work is the least best part of the process, particularly if it’s to the type of journal that sits on decisions for twenty years. I’m over sending to certain journals because of that. Those extra slow ones, and the ones that publish two poems by women every third issue and call it a ‘Special Women’s Edition’, are another of my least favourite entities. I’d rather occupy the intertubes (spellcheck made that interludes, which was almost appropriate) and publish on my blog instead. I truly hate the fact that there is a hierarchy of publication in poetry, which would seem to defeat the purpose of using words to show the world in a slightly different light. But I always was an incorrigible idealist.


In Selection Criteria for Death many of your poems feature animals as subject, as metaphor and otherwise. I noticed: cockatoo, crow, crabs, elephant, swan, gecko, guinea pig, wolf, and the list goes on. And your PhD thesis was on animals in the works of Charles Dickens. What is it that keeps you returning to animals in your writing?


That is truly a challenging question, Duncan. About halfway through writing my thesis (which quickly developed the pet name ‘Dogs in Dickens’, despite there being a whole lotta diverse animal in there) I had a vivid memory of borrowing a book from the mobile library near my parents’ house as a young child. It was called The Encyclopedia of Dogs or All About Dogs or some such, and I remembered seeing a rather disturbing illustration in black and white of a man with a dog in it, which fascinated me. About twenty-five years later, I realised that the man was Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist, and the dog was Bullseye. So perhaps all my life I’d been waiting to rediscover that particular dog? Which kind of throws a tack amongst pedestrian ideas of linear progress, doesn’t it?

As long as I can remember I have found it hard to draw the divisions between animals and people that others find easy. I first became vegetarian at eleven, for example, simply because of a sudden realisation of the cruelty involved in any slaughter. (It’s been on and off since then. Oysters are usually my downfall.) Yet other people who are kind think nothing of chomping down on dead things, which I find mystifying. I suppose they just dwell on the deliciousness more than the morality.

The energy and diversity of animals make some of my poems motor along, to use inappropriate Top Gear terminology. ‘The elephant quits the room’ in the new suite, for example, is about an escape of animals used as metaphor from the stale menagerie of cliché. You will note that it contains the phrase ‘coconut-sized cliché’ which originally started as a reference to elephants’ testicles.  I awoke one night from uneasy dreams into the shadow of the knowledge, probably gleaned from David Attenborough, that elephants’ testicles are internal and therefore can not be seen, as can coconuts. Scurrying to Google, I confirmed that this was right. I decided to leave the image, as I liked it anyway. But it occurred to me that this is perhaps the modern definition of a poet: the person looking up elephants’ testicles at 2 a.m., for purely literary purposes.


Another element that stood out to me in your poetry was a sense of play: wordplay, humour, puns and such. Is this an essential element for you when writing? And where should poetry and comedy meet?


Comedy is propping himself up at the bar. In saunters Poetry.  ‘Hey love, why the feminine ending?’ Boom boom and apologies.

When I look back — and I’ll soon be getting to the age where I’ll be expected to bore the shit out of ‘the young uns’ with that sort of phrase — I can remember no happier moment than playing in the sandpit of the neighbouring boy, with his cars. He wanted a proper game of broom broom here come the cops, whereas I wanted to bury the cars and pretend they were treasure. I have been beholden to play and pun ever since. (See?) Perhaps I believe there is an ideal joke somewhere, an ideal play of words, which will transport me into God’s sandpit, and all the special buried vehicles will be revealed. (Perhaps I don’t.)

But I find the prevalence of a certain type of poetry rather offputting. The smooth move from landscape to internal musing. The notion of the self as a strangely unsocial being (although I am an intensely private person myself). The overuse of words such inchoate and luminescence. It really is all bad, IMHO. I don’t want any of that in my own work; I want energy, frequent tickling and an occasional pinch. The natural world is there, but not, I hope, contemplation of it at leisure.

I have always preferred Shakespeare’s comedies, to his tragedies, with all the fervency that only a sometimes depressed person can generate. The notion that bleak and sad is more true than quirky or comic is rather adolescent, and often produces poetry that is only a hop skip and limp from ‘no-one loves me and the weather is crap’. No names will be mentioned.

Of all the literary competitions in Australia, the one I would most like to win is the Cricket Poetry Prize, which probably says a lot about my sometimes hidden love of sport, alongside less structured play. My poem ‘All the blond Jesuses’, from the new collection, began from noticing that Jesus is often depicted as a David Gower doppelgänger in stained glass windows, and then imagining him (Jesus, that is) or multiple hims, playing in a match. I hope this poem shows how play can also be serious.

Some great poetry can be produced within traditional forms, even today. But for me, play tends to lead me to free verse and tributes to forms such as the advertisement and the blog. I’m just so incredibly playful… It’s a duty. I’m like a Staffie after a stick, I sometimes think, totally oblivious to possible splinters. However, if play does ever become a tired trick, as one sees with superannuated comedians prostituting themselves for laughs, it’ll truly be time to put myself down.


I feel like Canberra is another essential element, a character or a backdrop in a good portion your work. What’s it like being a poet in The Nation’s Capital?


When I first arrived in Canberra from Melbourne, about twenty years ago, I thought it was Mongolia without the comfort of yurts. I had not trained myself in the methods by which to recognise its worth. I literally didn’t see the beauty. Now I wonder round and gaze at the cockatoos and wattle and think original things like ‘this is pretty’ and ‘those hills are a fine sight’.

I am far more engaged in the world of poetry than I used to be, so perhaps the recognition of natural beauty is linked to my ability to write. (Careful, Penelope, you’ll be using the word ‘luminescence’ next…)

There is a slight divide between the worlds of poets who write primarily for the page, and those who write for performance in Canberra, and I am glad to see some movement between these worlds. One of the things that made me submit to Blemish Books, was frankly, the fact that it is run by people who have contacts with both these two worlds.

Looking away from Canberra, I am delighted that I am now part of the Tuesday Poem blog group, and have a poem published in New Zealand once a week. Most of my science fiction poetry is published in the United States, too.


Everyone asks ‘what’s next?’ for their last question, but not me, not this time. Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you become a poet?


I was never destined to be an accountant, although I did try to be a lawyer for a little while, and that almost killed me. I have always written, but after having a baby and writing the PhD, I decided to try for more publication.

I became a poet, to answer the question a different way, because I am infested by words. I look at the world and can’t help but think of weird ways of describing it. I think I am slightly blessed with synaesthesia. Smelling a flower can transport me to where I last smelt that type of flower, and I can feel the dress I was wearing back then, or taste what I had been eating, and that sudden memory, while not necessarily forming the subject matter, energises the next poem.

So it’s a bit like Proust, but shorter. And with a lot more puns.


Interviews with JC Inman and Joan Kerr, the other two poets in Triptych Poets 3 (click on the link to purchase the book), have their homes at Scissors Paper Pen  and on Virgule the blog of Voiceworks Magazine, respectively.


Posted on June 2, 2017 by in


(by – or facilitated by – Alec Patric)