‘We Are Members One of Another’

I’ve written another piece about Into the River and the extraordinary interim ban it’s undergone this month. The article is up at Pantograph Punch; there is a link here.


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Tender Machines

Tender MachinesinvitationOUP-1

The image on the cover of this new collection is called ‘Panel Parrot’, and it’s a response from 13-year-old Abe Baillie to the title phrase. I wanted something that fused the childlike with the futuristic; and I love the way it manages to suggest something animal and something manufactured.

To my own mind, Tender Machines refers to the cogs and pistons of a poem: a machine that helps us with the psychological work of surviving ourselves. Tender Machines are also the tools of our digital age; devices that help to keep us alive; they are also vulnerable physical human forms we love. I hope the phrase also suggests the repetitions we have to shoulder as caregivers.

Although the two small epigraphs quote William Carlos Williams and Don Patterson, who both refer to poems as machines, the title was seeded by a phrase of Annie Dillard’s. In her work The Writing Life, there is a passage about a writer’s routine, so resonant because it distills the grit and commitment any large task demands.

Dillard writes

Every morning you climb several flights of stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. The desk and chair float thirty feet from the ground, between the crowns of the maple trees. The furniture is in place; you go back for your thermos of coffee. Then, wincing, you step out again through the French doors and sit down on the chair and look over the desktop. You can see clear to the river from here winter. You pour yourself a cup of coffee.

Birds fly under your chair. In spring, when the leaves open in the maples’ crowns, your view stops in the treetops just beyond the desk; yellow warblers hiss and whisper on the high twigs, and catch flies. Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.

The Writing Life, HarperCollins, 1989.

That phrase ‘the engine of belief’ slipped into the poem ‘Suburban Story’, where I wanted it to conduct, among other things, the persistent work of love; the sharp relief of being pulled back from the precipice of loss. Echoes of Dillard’s snippet helped press out the book’s title phrase, and it started to run a current that other poems could plug in to.

Fuller publisher information is available here:


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Spectrum Poem

I’ve had a couple of new subscribers to this very erratic blog over the past week and it’s made me feel remiss for not adding new content. So I’m posting a link to the recent Transtasman issue of Cordite.

Having two sons reteaches me about how broad the spectrum of masculinity is; it also teaches me how every new generation has to address questions about gender and equality in their own terms.

Poetry, as ever, seems to have more room for slide and sway, for the tidal shifts of response, that are truer to the beautiful ambiguity of personality, the process of making a self (if that ever ends before death?) than, well, a prose blog entry dashed off before work.

Thanks for the new subs out there in the cyberwhirl: now that I’m inching ever closer to the final draft of the is-it-a-novel, I hope I’ll be able to post more often.


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my mother in this way mixing me wings and tongue

my mother in this way mixing me wings and tongue.

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Adverb-tising Break

It’s a new draft, and a new editing season! Our adverbs have been slashed — and now we want to give away the excess stock — for free!

We cater for all tastes and sizes. The following adverbs come in small, medium, large and super-size fonts, and in a wide range of colours. (We are over-supplied with purple.)

Abruptly x 3, abstractedly x2, actually, accusingly, anxiously, awkwardly x 5, bleakly, blithely, bravely, casually, cheekily, cheerfully, cooly, completely, deliberately, dourly, easily, ebulliently, energetically, fiercely, finally, flatly x 2, flippantly, funkily, gently x 6, gingerly, girlishly, goofily, goonishly, greedily, happily, heroically, husbandly, insinuatingly, intially, immediately, immorally, inhumanly, intensely x 2, lightly x 3, maddeningly, nuttily, nervously, overtly, patiently, perversely, physically, pointedly, precariously, protectively, questioningly, quickly, quietly x 5, rapidly, ravingly, readily x 2, rhythmically, scientifically, seriously, significantly, silently x2, skeptically, slightly x 6, slowly x 6, spontaneously x 2, stertorously, surreptitiously, swiftly, thoroughly, tightly x 2, uncharacteristically, unsuccessfully, uselessly, usually, vigorously, wearily, wryly

CONSUMER WARNING: Apply to manuscript in thin layer only. Always seek a professional editor’s advice.


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How to rekindle the spark with a disastrous first draft

Take it out to dinner? See a writer’s biopic movie with it? Buy it surprise airline tickets for a tropical holiday? Turn up at its office unexpectedly; say you thought you’d buy it a drink? Over daytime wine, in a crowded café, read it a poem written by someone else? Arrange a near death experience — stand in the road and give the fingers to a scaffolding truck — then return to the manuscript, shaky with gratitude that you are still alive, delirious over how screeny its screens are, how inky its ink is, how pagey its pages? Watch it at a distance while it leans its head in close enough to feel the warm touch of a rival’s breath at a party? Stage a flash mob of one at a spot you know it’s going to turn up (e.g. your desk)? Hire a mariachi band to come to its door? Tell it you think you’re pregnant — or that you think you got someone else pregnant? Buy it irises from a street vendor; present them to it even though it’s in a meeting with someone else far smarter, and clearly more charismatic than you? Wait at home looking after the children, grinding through the homework and the toileting accidents, cooking it a good healthy meal, having the laundry done and the table set in plenty of time? And when it walks in late (don’t mention the late) looking haggard and strained, be ready with a cheerful, “Hi, First Draft, how was the back-burner?” Ask the same thing, but recently moisturized (maybe even lipsticked and perfumed, if that’s your kind of thing), in a fresh outfit, when it walks in late with beer on its breath and a sly, wild animation in its eye, its eye that just — can’t — quite — meet yours? Announce you’ve had a promotion, a demotion, you’re up for relocation? Start seeing another project behind its back, then feel the searing shame and regret that make you reform and ask its forgiveness? Go on a diet, give up alcohol, start a night class in something entirely unlikely then present it with the New You? Take a break? Oh, you have. Take a longer break? Look it straight on and ask it what it’s really feeling, and is there something it has to tell you? Take it into the bush with only a pen knife, a pen light, and a water bottle; tell it to shred itself into crumbs and follow itself out? Discover someone else is writing exactly the same book, but they’ve only just started, so you might get there first if you would just snap out of this accidie, anomie, this very non X-factor je ne sais quoi? Let the self-loathing build up to the point where anything, anything would feel better than this, even getting back together with the disastrous first draft?

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