Thursday, October 26, 2017


I was ten years of age when I saw Blade Runner. I watched it a couple of times in a cinema in Sydney. It changed my life. Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET... the other big films of the period... they completely entertained me... but Blade Runner was something else entirely. In one of those Sydney screenings, during the graphic, intense scene where Batty crushed Tyrell's head, my mother tried to cover my eyes with her hand. The film had a profound effect on me... I howled like Roy Batty in the stairwell of my duplex in Cremorne, I reenacted Batty's famous death sequence in the bath and shower, during a Yr 6 presentation at Marist Mosman I tried to squint and grimace a bit like Deckard in the scene where he watches VK reels of replicants, I purchased the BR comic, the BR storybook, the BR design book (all from Galaxy Bookshop or Comic Kingdom), I read every feature article on BR I could find. I was disappointed toy spinners weren't available in toy stores. All I wanted for the Xmas of '82 was the BR soundtrack on vinyl (I got it!). The film's atmosphere drenched me. I desperately wanted to live in LA in November 2019. Most nights, I counted replicants to get to sleep... On and off over the last decade, I have been fortunate enough to teach BR to Yr 12 students. 

So, when I went to see Blade Runner 2049 at the New Empire Cinema in Bowral two weeks ago - with a good mate who's a sound engineer in film - I was full of adrenaline and hope. I knew the flick was in safe hands with Denis Villeneuve (his last feature, Arrival, was a sublime thing). I liked Ryan Gosling. Robin Wright was fabulous in House of Cards. Hans Zimmer had done some fine scores in the past. Ridley Scott was watching over the whole thing. I was happy not to compare it with the original. The first twenty minutes of the motion picture mesmerised me, moved me deeply. There were goosebumps, almost tears. But after that, the film didn't do much for me. In fact, I had problems with it. There was no animalistic Roy Batty, Zimmer's score wasn't close to the divine score by Vangelis, Gosling seemed to be on autopilot (I wanted him to stretch his acting range, without singing!), the plot was convoluted, there was a completely unnecessary sex scene, Deckard didn't show his pain and longing enough (so I cared little about his history and reunion with his daughter), there weren't enough origami creations... I could go on. Sure, it looked brilliant, and it sounded fabulous, but those things weren't enough. As my mate said at the end of the screening, 'It was all up here (pointing to his head); there was nothing in here (pointing to his heart)'. I walked out of the cinema numb, confused, perplexed. Back in '82, that ten year old Lorne left the cinema feeling hugely powerful, completely ecstatic. 

I saw things in Blade Runner 2049 you people would believe. The angels that fell, weren't fiery enough. 

LJ, October 27 2017 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Melinda Smith's writing really, really impresses me. Her debut collection with Pitt Street Poetry, Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call (what a great title!) is one of the most inventive, arresting and moving collections of Australian poetry I've read in the past decade. She is a gift to Australian writing! Her work cuts straight to the heart of the matter; the poetry she pens is full of compassion and warmth and sincerity. 

I thank Melinda very much for her openness and honesty in this revealing interview. I should also thank her for her patience... this should have been published on CRUX ages ago! 


Melinda Smith's work has appeared in many publications including Cordite, Verity La, Quadrant, Island and The Best Australian Poems. She has two poetry collections with Sydney's Pitt Street Poetry. Her work has been widely anthologised and translated into several languages. In 2014, she won the Prime Minister's Literary Award. She lives in Canberra. 


What was there before poetry?

There was always poetry. I wrote poems from when I was young. I loved A.A. Milne and Dr Seuss and Ogden Nash. And also, growing up with an Anglican priest for a father, the rhythms and hymns in church every Sunday probably lodged in my head as well. I wasn't particularly good at drawing or music or making anything with my hands, so writing poems was always my creative outlet on the side. I started getting serious about poetry in terms of writing for publication in my twenties, when I was in the middle of PhD study in another discipline (Japanese History) and not enjoying it much. I ditched the PhD but stayed with the poetry all through subsequent decades, qualifying as a lawyer and working for several years in the public service and in the IT industry. And becoming a parent twice. It is only since winning the PM's Literary Award at the end of 2014, though, that I've been able to dip out of most paid work and focus on poetry a bit more. It still has to fit into the time left over from being the primary carer for my sons, but at least when everyone manages to make it to school I score some more writing time.

Which part of a poem is hardest to construct?

The part you are most afraid to write. But that is almost always the part worth persevering with.

Think of someone in their forties. They don't like poetry and they haven't read a poem since high school. You have the job of writing a poem for them. What do you write? Why?

About fifty percent of my poems are written for this person - for a general audience or non-specialist reader. In my mind this reader is not somehow a lesser person because they don't read poetry - they might be really into other kinds of culture, they might read fiction, or love cinema, or jazz, or whatever, but they don't read poetry. At the moment. So when I write a poem for a reader like this, I have to leave a way in for them. The poem might be a sonnet or an acrostic or a syllabic or a piece of ekphrasis or a complicated allusion to another poem, but for me the poem fails if the general reader can't engage with it without the need for that technical knowledge. It they want to go deeper the layers are there. But on the surface there must be something that invites them in, even if it's just a phrase that sparks a lot of questions they find themselves wanting answers to, or a particularly arresting bit of word-music. Or it could be addressing one of the universal themes we have in common - love, loneliness, death, birth, regret etc. There's no particular kind of poem you might write for this person - but it has to speak to their humanity rather than their specialist literary qualifications. 

If you weren't living in Canberra, where would you be based?

My life has a number of sliding door moments in it. In those alternative lives I live in Shikoku, Japan, Syracuse, NY, Washington DC or Melbourne. It I got to choose now where to live I think I would stay in Canberra - but I would like the universe to also arrange a beach house somewhere on the South Coast of NSW. With a caretaker and a cleaner.

Does the Australian Government look seriously enough as mental health in this country?

I assume this question is because of the depression poems in Drag down to unlock... and the suicide poems in Goodbye, Cruel. I'm not an expert on mental health policy. I am, however, a survivor of mental health issues, as are several people whom I love. I think as a society we need to move beyond 'awareness' to understanding, support, and most crucially, preventative action. A key preventative factor is connectedness - to family, to community, to purpose. 

If I could step up on the soapbox for a moment, I'd like to plug the Kurdiji 1.0 project, an indigenous-led initiative which is developing an app to encourage young people to stay connected. They are crowdfunding on GoFundMe. 

We all need to look after each other and we need support to do that from employers and governments. Poetry can help too, in its tiny way, by looking with clear eyes at the difficult things and making a space where it is safe to speak of them.

Do female poets have enough of a voice in Australia?

I think things are improving but there is still a need for editors, festival organisers, prize juries, grant administrators etc to make conscious decisions about gender balance, not only in terms of what is selected to be published, reviewed (reviewing is a particular problem area), programmed, awarded and funded, but in terms of who gets to do the selecting. There is an even greater need to think about cultural diversity and to have strategies to address imbalances there. If you can't see it, you can't be it, as the saying goes, and young indigenous people and young people whose names aren't Smith need to have writers to look up to, just as young women need to see older women holding power and respect in the literary world.

What are you most proud of?

In 2011, I got a little ArtsACT grant to write a day a week to produce a chapbook of poems on the theme of autism. That book, First..., Then..., came out in 2012. The poems are written from a number of different perspectives - parents, siblings, onlookers, as well as poetic responses to the autobiographies of autistic authors. Every time I read a poem from First..., Then..., I get one or two audience members coming up afterwards to chat about that part of their lives. A couple of years ago a young man bought a copy from me, and a few days later he Facebook-messaged me to say he had been reading it to his Mum, his autistic sister and her autistic son (the young man's nephew). He said, 'Thank you. You've helped bring our family closer together.' At that point I thought, if I never write another word, I have done something worthwhile with my poetry. 

Of course, I have been varying degrees of pleased and shocked to receive other kinds of accolades - but in all honesty that little book and its impact on one family remain the things I am proudest of so far. 

What were the challenges you faced when writing Drag down... and Goodbye Cruel? 

Starting, keeping going, finishing, and everything in between.

To elaborate, Drag down... was written over a period of ten years, beginning during my first pregnancy and ending when that child was nine and his little brother was six and a half. During that time I went through the normal combine harvester that is becoming a parent, with a bonus dose of post-natal depression and the extra overhead of adjusting to having a child with special needs. I'm not trying to claim this as the toughest possible life experience - after all, I never stopped being white, educated and having enough money to live on. All the same, some of those years were very difficult and I didn't write much at all. My monthly poetry workshop group (Suzanne Edgar, Martin Dolan, Michael Thorley) kept me going and kept me producing the odd draft, but there were a lot of meetings where I'd turn up and say, 'Sorry guys, I've got nothing again this time'. Also, when I finally started to get my mojo back, in 2011, I ended up committed to completing the autism project described above, which meant I put the Drag down... manuscript away for a whole year. So it was a very slow train coming.   

The heart of Drag down... is (not surprisingly) the pregnancy, childbearing, postnatal depression and parenting sequence in the Downloads section. Most of those poems were written when an old friend became pregnant for the first time, and I thought, right, I want to write poems for her as a kind of guide. The work came out of wanting to say, 'here's what I have learned - it may not help you, your journey may different, but for what it's worth, here's an account of some terrain I know.' As I've said elsewhere, that sequence is not a definitive take on the subject matter, or anywhere near as good as the best writing in this space, it's just my take on it. 

One part of that book which was relatively trouble-free was the finding-a-publisher part. I sent it to Pitt Street Poetry, they read it, and they said yes. I will always be thankful to them for that. 

As for Goodbye, Cruel, starting it was complicated by the fact that four months after I launched Drag down... one of my sons developed a chronic, incurable, life-threatening medical condition. Poetry was the last thing on my mind as we spent a week in hospital with him, learning how to do round-the-clock blood testing and injections, and how to calculate the grams of carbohydrate in every one of his meals with scientific precision. Not to mention visiting his school twice a day for several months afterwards to train the staff how to do those things during the day. At the time, Drag down... was shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award. I don't think I'd written any poems for nine months and I felt like a complete fraud. When it won, the last thing I felt like was smiling into a lot of pointed cameras and talking about my achievements. All I wanted was for our son not to have what we had.

Fortunately, he has been an amazing trooper about the whole thing, and all of us have now adjusted to our new normal. But it was a bumpy road for a while.

One enormous positive which came out of winning the Award was a period of freedom from paid work. I'd already been talking with my very understanding, wonderful partner, about taking some time off work to re-balance things; the prize money made that decision much easier and has extended that period of freedom for much longer that would otherwise have been possible. 

The actual writing of the book was a fits and starts process which really got underway once the 2015 school year began. This time a couple of things were different: I felt pressure to produce a worthy follow up to my unexpected prize winner; and I was suddenly in demand as a reader, speaker, reviewer, editor, collaborator and launcher. It took a long time to get my working rhythm adjusted to these extra factors. The best policy was obviously to ignore the first and enjoy the second (while still remaining productive by using travel time for writing as much as possible). I was not always able to put this policy into practice.

I became aware at some point in 2015 that several of my drafts dealt with suicide in some way and that something was starting to coalesce around the theme. In the end, that sequence of poems became the heart of the book and gave its name. I suppose I became interested in writing about this difficult topic because one person in my circle had been talking about it seriously for several years and another had tried twice but was still with us. I had noticed the great silence that opens up when someone takes (or tries to take) their own life - a silence that can prevent families and communities healing, and that can discourage people thinking about it from seeking help. The poems came from a wish to break this silence in a small way. 

I should say that the final book, despite its title, actually contains less than twenty suicide poems, and there are many other kinds of work in it: micropoems, translations from a 10th Century Persian poetess, poems describing real and imagined disasters, light lyrics, and more experimental work with found text. The whole thing really came together during two weeks in May 2016 at the Writer's Cottage at Bundanon, for which I have to thank the Bundanon Trust. As well as giving me time and space to work on Goodbye, Cruel and my other piles of drafts, Bundanon gave me several un-looked-for poems of its own, most of which are in the Riverine section of the book. 

Now that it is done and out in the world, I feel enormous relief. I am proud of having pushed through despite of everything else that was going on. Goodness knows what people will make of it; it is very different to my last book. Here's hoping it finds a reader or two.

You were once a tea maiden. Shed some light on this. 

I haven't mentioned that my abortive PhD was actually at the University of Cambridge. I got a scholarship for Commonwealth students, but only completed one year of the three. My time as a tea maiden (okay, a waitress at an old-world style tea room) was in the months after I had quit - no more scholarship meant no more rent money, and while I worked out my next move, I needed a job. The tea rooms in question was The Orchard of Grantchester, a village just along the river from Cambridge, onetime haunt of the Bloomsbury group - and onetime residence of poet Rupert Brooke.

On summer Sundays, the place was completely teeming with American tourists and members of the braying classes up from London seeking an Edwardian earthly paradise. What they got were teabags in enormous tarnished pots, three day old cake, frankly unsafe ramshackle deckchairs under the straggly apple trees and weather fine enough to take their minds off it if they were very lucky. Meanwhile, as a shift supervisor, I was dealing with employees smoking heroin in the loos, and barefaced Basil Fawlty lying to customers stupid enough to ask if the sea bass was fresh. 

Tell me about tomorrow...

I hope it is quiet and solitary. Having just done a whole lot of public appearances launching the new book, I feel like I need that. 

For the first time in years, I haven't got a big meaty project on the go. I feel like I need to do a lot more reading and reflecting - and processing everything that's happened both poetically and personally since 2014. 

I've just handed over the poetry editor gig at The Canberra Times to a new editor so that's another change. It has been an enormously stimulating and inspiring two years, but I am ready for someone else to take a turn now. I'm replacing that with some other bits and pieces of contract work to subsidise my poetic activities.

I do have a few smaller projects I'm part of - a set of translations of Japanese poet Kawaguchi Harumi; contributing to a couple of other themed multi-poet anthologies that look like fun; and spoken-word improvising with a dance company. I'm also researching and writing a set of workshops. Every day this year you can see a micro poem of mine on the Instagram account @lookup.project. This is an ekphrasis collaboration with artist Rhonda Ayliffe - she took a photograph of the sky every day for a year and my little poems work like captions to those. It's also a short film and a set of postcards. In amongst all that I'm toying with further study. 

I have no idea what tomorrow looks like - but as long as it involves reading, writing and continued health for those I love, I will call that a win. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Rico Craig's Bone Ink (Guillotine Press, 2017) is unpredictable, ambitious and layered. It is surprising to see this is Craig's first volume, as the work is assured, mature. Bone Ink explores the corners of the known suburban world (e.g. Kellyville, Westmead and Quakers Hill in western Sydney) and hands us things we haven't fully investigated or recognised yet. Craig plays a magician time and again, weaving and spinning the ordinary into the sublime. He reminds us to stop and really take in the world we tell ourselves we know. 

Much has already been said about Craig's investigation into myth and masculinity and how he had handled these notions with aplomb, so I will concentrate on his ability to generate exquisite lyricism in an effortless manner. This is his great, great strength. The writing is often as electric as quicksilver in midsummer. I come back to Craig's wording and sentence structure more than I do his overall messages or points. 

Take the following from Through the Witch Window (possibly the most accomplished and memorable poem in Bone Ink; here, Tranströmer and Ginsberg seem to conspire and inspire) - 

My head out the window, howling your name into celestial 

alignment; we're satellite streaks, orbital promise.

Or these fragments from Tropical Storm Danielle: Night Surfing

We know nothing like stealing a wave from the night... I'm drawn to the gleaming rig windows, their burley of distant alliance.

Chris Ofili in The Upper Room concludes with this golden line -

They scamper and we gleefully ditch our humanity, chasing, a pack running to know the tremble in our ribs. 

Hamburg opens with, If anyone asks I will say, you are oceans away, afloat in the ventricles of a great city's heart.

These are all perfect lines, ideal lines, lines to have tattooed onto your forearm and paraded. I wish I'd written them. 

My only reservation with Bone Ink is its density and ambiguity. Some of the poems are too cryptic: an overall clarity and resonance is sacrificed. Some of the pieces in the collection's second half, The Upper Room, needed more backstory or context to anchor them - this would have made them easier to grasp. Perhaps, some of these poems could've been trimmed to make them punchier, more purposeful. Many readers may totally disagree with me here. Maybe, I am too much a fan of briefer poems.

The cover of the collection is electric, breathtakingly alive. If only it was real neon! With its combination of letters and symbols it immediately reminded me of the iconic, impactful jackets of 80s Split Enz albums True Colours and Corroboree. I take my hat off to the designer, Camille Walala.

Bone Ink is a gutsy volume to revisit and hold onto as your travel through our city's outer suburbs at midnight on a Saturday night. Well done to Guillotine Press on another impressive collection. 

LJ, October 2017. 

Monday, October 9, 2017


Please join me on Sunday October 22 at Gleebooks in Sydney for the launch of A Fiercer Light, a new collection of essays on the poetry of Judith Wright. The book has been edited by Peter Skrzynecki and published by Five Senses Education. 

I have an essay - Feel the Circuit Blaze - on Judith's collection Birds in the volume; this essay also looks at my own time with Australia's incredible bird life. Peter and I will be talking and reading from Judith's work at the launch. It would be lovely to see you there. 

LJ, October 10, 2017.  

Monday, May 15, 2017


In 2016, my good friend and teaching colleague Jackie Benney asked me to become involved in an art project she had up her sleeve - she had been granted a hanging space in Waverley Library Galleries in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. I was flattered. Jackie's work is visceral and poignant; previous works and shows of hers have been critically acclaimed. 

What has emerged over many months of talking and thinking and writing and painting is Crossing Depths To Where Sky Is Just Sky, an examination of the Syrian refugee crisis, with a particular focus on crossing the Aegean by boat. Greek mythology has also played a part in things. 

Jackie has assembled some striking pieces and I have responded to these with poems various. Jackie has also responded to my lyricism. The writing has been hard to get right. Avoiding sentimentality, operating from a position of respect for displaced peoples and finding a universal truth has been a great challenge. I am proud of the work that I have penned thus far - I can't wait to share these fresh poems with you. 

Crossing Depths To Where Sky Is Just Sky will be showing at Waverley Library Galleries  (48 Denison St Bondi Junction) from July 11 until August 8. Please join Jackie and I for opening night drinks on Wednesday July 12 at 6pm.

LJ, May 16 2017

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


It is a delight to have Bronwyn Lovell appear in this edition of CRUX. Bronwyn lives and breathes poetry in all its forms. Her spoken word performances (available on Youtube) are raw and mesmerising - we are given a self-assured, brave and galvanised young poet. When she was working for Australian Poetry she was a great supporter of this country's poets, whether emerging or established (I'd like to personally thank her for promoting my own work via twitter).

Here, Bronwyn talks about the many sides to feminism, working with indigenous people in Cape York, how writing can be intimidating and the resonance the first Alien film has for her today. It's an engaging piece, full of conviction. I'd like to thank Bronwyn for her honest responses. 

Hopefully, we'll meet up one day and talk sci-fi films!


Bronwyn Lovell is a PhD Candidate in Creative Writing at Flinders University in Adelaide. She has worked in both administration and publication roles for both Australian Poetry and Writers Victoria. Currently, Bronwyn is working on a feminist verse novel set in space. Her writing has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing, Best Australian Poems, Australian Poetry Journal, Australian Love Poems, Antipodes, Cordite, Rabbit, Eureka Street, The Global Poetry Anthology and ABC News Online.  Bronwyn has won the Adrien Abbott Poetry Prize, and been shortlisted for The Montreal International Poetry Prize, The Newcastle Poetry Prize and the Bridport Prize. 


What was there before poetry?

For me, I'd have to say movies. I wanted to be an actor for a while. Then I wanted to be an auteur. I majored in Film Studies in my Bachelor degree at the University of Sydney before going on on to a Masters in Creative Writing, mainly because I wanted to study scriptwriting. I enjoyed poetic writing best, especially in voice-narrated fiction film, so I took the poetry workshop to improve my prose. I felt completely out of my depth. I had that fear of poetry that is very common; I was afraid I didn't understand it. Terrified in fact. I was sure I would be discovered as a complete fraud and kicked out of the class.

My teacher was Judith Beveridge. I had studied her poems in high school. Thankfully, she is the most unassuming and down-to-earth person I've ever been fortunate to encounter. She is wise and humble, incredibly experienced and knowledgeable, but not in the least bit intimidating. Her teaching style is gentle, her manner thoughtful, her feedback insightful and generous. I loved her class and signed up for another the following semester. Pretty soon, I cared more about poetry than scriptwriting.

And I remembered that, way before I had become frightened of poetry, I had written it. I wrote a childish form of poetry from a very young age. It was a kind of game for me. Finding rhymes to match other words, like playing snap, or finding a puzzle piece that fits. There was nothing subtle about my early poetry. It was not art. It was play.

As soon as there were lullabies there was poetry. As soon as there were picture books and nursery rhymes. As soon as there were sounds and words to shape on the tongue. As soon as there was song. So perhaps, there was nothing before poetry. Just light, breasts, human warmth... maybe it's all poetry.

Share a poetic childhood memory...

Christmas completely enchanted me as a child. I was particularly taken by the songs and movies featuring a white Christmas. Everyone always got excited on screen when it began snowing. With lyrics like, 'I'm dreaming of a white Christmas', it was clear to me that a white Christmas was something special that didn't always happen, but if you were lucky enough you might get to experience this magical event. I had never been so fortunate growing up in Western Sydney, but I held hope every year. Thankfully,  my parents never had the heart to explain seasons, climate or hemispheres, and hence the utter hopelessness of my dream.

However, early one Christmas morning when I was about five years old, my parents woke me up and sent me outside. It was 5am and the sky was still dark. The street and everybody's front yards were white. A giant hailstorm had covered our suburb in chunks of ice. 'Here is your white Christmas', they said. 'This is as good as you'll get. Enjoy it before it melts'.

Tell me about your work with Cape York's indigenous people.

I can't help but be very conscious of my own privilege growing up in mainstream white Australia. And I always feel a little anxious when people ask me to talk about my time in Indigenous communities because there were positive and negative aspects of that experience, and sometimes the stories I share aren't what people want to hear, and sometimes I feel unsure of whether or not those stories are mine to tell.

I admit I was really shocked when I first visited a remote Indigenous community. It didn't feel like any Australia I'd ever known. It was like stepping into a Third World country. There was rubbish everywhere. Homeless dogs were scavenging the streets, covered in mange. I was seeing things I'd never seen before and it was extremely distressing. I remember wondering how a broken ceiling fan gets up a palm tree. I was in complete culture shock. I rang home, crying to my parents.

I went to Cape York to teach remedial literacy in primary schools. Often I taught children who laughed with me and were eager to learn, who tried really hard and beamed with pride when praised for their efforts. But there were times I taught terrors of children who threw their desks and chairs, swore at me, threatened me, were violent in their frustration. The most difficult children to teach were those who couldn't read three-letter words, despite being overdue to start high school. They were stuck on baby books. They were angry, understandably. There was much at stake. It was desperate.

There are barriers to learning that are challenging to overcome in these conditions. Too many of the children suffered permanent hearing loss from preventable conditions. A couple had foetal alcohol syndrome and were unable to retain new information. Some had been sexually abused. Others came to school with scabies and sores. All the children were beyond resilient. These kids were amazing. And most of Australia has no concept of their daily struggles and joys.

What moment in your esteemed poetry career are you most proud of?

It doesn't feel esteemed at all. Emerging is a word I'm more comfortable with than esteemed, but then again I've been emerging for a long time. I've been writing seriously for more than a decade and I don't have a published collection yet. A couple of international shortlistings is the most impressive thing on my CV, along with some small, local successes. I was proud to be included in Best Australian Poems a couple of years back, next to all those impressive poets' names.

A career in poetry is a funny thing. It doesn't feel like one imagines a career should. It isn't structured or linear. A poet's success can't be measured in the usual ways. Precious few successful poets in this country would ever, I imagine, be able to buy a house or car from their poetry income. As a society, we don't value poetry. That is, we don't attach a monetary value to it. It's priceless. So while poets may lead a rich life in many ways, we will always be poor.

I've made sacrifices to pursue writing as a career. I work for minimum wage. I don't have weekends. I don't have financial security or superannuation. Being a poet feels like swimming upstream - it costs a lot to choose not to go with the flow - mentally, physically, financially.

At this point in my poetry career I think I'm proud of not giving up, of continuing to put work out there despite rejection. I'm proud of myself for trying. There's an Australian cultural cringe associated with trying. None of us want to be seen as trying too hard. Being a try hard was the biggest insult at my high school. That and loving yourself. I remember 'She loves herself!' was spat accusingly in my direction a few times when I did well in a test. It's funny to reflect on now. Both these things are not easy to do: to have the guts to really try, and to value yourself. I fail at both most of the time.

I think I'll be proudest when I finish my verse novel. I hope I can tell the story as movingly as I imagine and write it as beautifully as it reads in my head. Like everything, the writing of it started with a wonderful idea that came to me, and my biggest fear is that I won't be able to do justice to that original vision.

What are the challenges faced by feminist writers in Australia today?

A huge challenge, I would say, is overcoming societal misunderstandings of feminism.

I had a discussion with a woman earlier in the year who told me she is not a feminist and does not support feminism. I was astounded and also a little offended. However, after probing her reasons for this standpoint, I realised that this woman's gripe was not with the ideology of feminism but with the word itself. She said she doesn't like feminism because it sounds like it's 'all about women'. She liked the idea of gender equality though, and thought that if feminism was called 'equalism' or something similar, then she'd feel more comfortable supporting it.

Australia's Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop, does not identify as feminist either, saying the word 'isn't part of my lexicon' and 'not a term I find particularly useful these days'. She says that she would never blame being a woman on any obstacle or setback in her career. I find Bishop's sense of superiority here to be false, and her assumptions disturbing.

Statements like Bishop's imply that feminists are whingers who should simply knuckle down and work harder, rather than pointing out that societal systems have been set up in ways that are biased against and unfair to women. Also, suggesting that feminism is no longer relevant implies that society has eradicated the problems posed by sexism. This is simply not true, and taking such a position towards feminism is not only ill-informed, it is also deeply irresponsible.

The public is too quick to declare feminist writers femi-Nazis, to mansplain feminism to them, and - especially now, with the anonymity of the online space - to insult, violently threaten and otherwise abuse women for their political views.

This is a country where our first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, was subjected to a relentless torrent of sexist abuse that revealed a deeply prejudiced Parliament, press and public. Australia proved it was not ready for a female leader, and sadly, neither was the United States.  

Perhaps the biggest problem is subconscious gender bias. We are all sexist, but most of us don't think we are, because we're unaware of the deep-seated patriarchal values and beliefs that shape our thought processes and influence our decisions and judgements. All of us need to examine our thinking more critically, all the time.

More than a political stance, feminism is a personal experience. Sexists aren't strangers, they're colleagues, family and friends. It's tiring and disheartening to continually come up against the same close-minded arguments aimed to shut feminist discussion down - in the boardroom, in the newspaper, or at the kitchen table. 

Feminist writers are essential in keeping the conversation going and fundamental in promoting public awareness of issues, which is the first step towards lasting change.

You're interested in women in space and you're working on a sci-fi verse novel set in space. In that context, which fictional female character in sci-fi films do you most admire and why?

I could write an essay on this. In fact, I'm writing a thesis. So, I will try to be brief.

I believe the most fascinating filmic depiction of a woman is Ripley in Alien, specifically the original film, because the script was written with an all-male cast. Since the alien was the most important aspect of the story, the writers had focused on the creature and not developed the human characters to the same extent. The crew members of the Nostromo were generic and there was a note on the script that specified that the sex of the characters was interchangeable. 

Ripley's character was going to be predictably male until director Ridley Scott had the revolutionary idea to switch the gender and subvert the audience's expectations, because no one would expect a young attractive female character to be the lone survivor of a horror film. That was not how the genre used women. If they weren't saved by a male character, most women were hunted down, screamed wildly and promptly met a grisly end. Women did not outwit, outsmart, outplay, and hence, they did not survive. 

Ripley differs because it is not a female role; it is simply a role played by a female. So this allowed Sigourney Weaver a rare freedom as an actor, in that she did not have to perform female gender in a way that had been written onto the character by male writers. And how refreshing, how revolutionary this was - still is today, in fact. 

What I admire about the character of Ripley, particularly in that first Alien film, is that she is capable and manages to remain calm and logical when other characters allow emotions to cloud their judgement. She is a valuable member of the ship's crew and is respected as such. 

Unfortunately, when it came to revisit the character in the sequels, Ripley's gender is inevitably consciously written into the story by the series' all-male writers.

In the second film, Ripley is stripped of her professional status and reluctantly coerced into a mission by powerful and corrupt men; the writers make Ripley a mother whose child is dead; and the alien species, which displayed characteristics of both genders previously, is heavily skewed female when it is revealed to have an egg-laying queen, who is famously labelled 'bitch'. In the third instalment of the series, male criminals attempt to rape Ripley and she is saved from this fate not by her own strength and wit but by the timely intervention of another man, who she also happens to sleep with. And in the fourth film, there is a lot of sexually violent banter and behaviour towards Ripley, which begins to feel very tired and predictable, and nowhere near as exciting as our first introduction to Ripley in the original 1979 masterpiece.

And yes, I do believe the first film to be the best, despite widespread popular opinion that its sequel is superior. Aliens may be faster-paced, but I prefer the slow burn of Alien.  

When it comes to writing/performing poetry, what most intimidates you?

Poetry slams definitely intimidate me. Memorising your work and then standing and reciting it in front of an audience with no notes and a strict time limit is extremely nerve-wracking. Especially since that time limit is often signalled by a scary-sounding bell or buzzer, and then some random audience members will hold up scores reflecting their judgement of your poem or performance. 

Considering that the fear of public speaking is one of the most common phobias, poetry slams surely take social terror to the extreme. The whole scenario is pretty much my worst nightmare. I maintain the utmost admiration for those who are brave enough to enter poetry slams and make themselves vulnerable on the public stage.

I'm in my mid-thirties now, but when I was in my late twenties, I used to compete in slams quite a bit. I think that word 'compete' might actually be what presents the problem for me. 'Slam' doesn't sound much friendlier either. Neither does 'sacrificial poet', who is the person who volunteers to go first like the lamb to the slaughter on the performance poetry altar. And although most poetry slams are held in extremely warm, generous and supportive environments, the nature of a competition means there must be winners and losers. And for that reason I find it odd that we have so many competitions - written and oral - in the poetry world, because I believe poetry is far more nuanced and far more encompassing and personal than could possibly be reflected by any public competition's scoring strategy. 

In terms of poetry on the page, reading amazingly talented poets can feel intimidating because you can't help but wonder how you could ever write anything as moving and insightful. Of course, comparing oneself to others is a useless exercise at best and crippling at worst. Part of yourself recognises your own inferiority and thinks, I should just give this up. And that isn't being insecure; it's being realistic. But you keep writing, because we are creatures of hope, and because the more you learn the more likely you are to get better.

When you have lofty ambitions for your writing, your high standards can get in the way. When you are worried about writing well, it'd difficult to write naturally and authentically. I am experiencing said dilemma right now as I write this. It's a constant battle against the ego. What intimidates me most are my own expectations, and the expectations I think others have of me.

The literati are intimidating. Academic language is intimidating. Deadlines are intimidating. Critics are intimidating. Open comments sections at the bottom of something you've written are intimidating. None of these are the enemy. Ego is the enemy. All of it comes back to how we feel about ourselves. The only way to not feel intimidated is to take yourself out of the equation and just focus on the work. 

Finish this sentence: The real Bronwyn Lovell... 

... is embarrassed by this question.

I hate to speak about myself in the third person. Something about it feels false and conceited. Of course, as writers we have to do this odd and unnatural thing quite a bit, usually when asked to supply a bio to accompany a piece of writing.

But even if this question were phrased differently, I would still be at a loss to answer it. My best attempt would be to say that I'm a single woman who lives with a dog and a cat in a one-bedroom unit in Adelaide that is stuffed with ornaments and trinkets, with colourful pictures and phrases stuck all over the walls, such that my whole home resembles a teenager's bedroom. I love trying to make my garden beautiful and spend a lot of time trying to get my lawn to grow. I work at a cinema to pay the bills. I am behind with my PhD and I am trying to catch up. I feel like a disaster most of the time, but I'm always trying to be less disastrous. 

Understanding who you are in a professional sense seems a lot easier than the perpetual personal endeavour of coming to understand one's self psychologically. Sometimes I feel like completely different people on different days, or even at different times of the day. Sometimes, I get the urge to completely reinvent myself. To clear our my wardrobe and cut my hair and cast off old patterns of fabric and behaviour and embrace new ways of being in the world. To draft a new version of myself, to rewrite and edit my entity. 

Like most people, I imagine, I am still trying to work out who the real me is and who knows whether that's a process of evolving towards the real or stripping back to it. So much of ourselves is constructed, but I don't think real equates to original either. I think we are all works of fiction. And the best fiction is always true.

Tell me about tomorrow...

I have hopes, of course. I hope tomorrow is where my novel has been written, where I've found solutions to some of my problems, and where my heart has healed. I hope tomorrow is where I try hard and love myself. 

Ultimately, who knows what I will make of the future or what it will make of me. All I know is that my best chance of positively influencing tomorrow is by doing the best I can today. 

I used to be one of those people who always had a five-year plan. But life has had its own plans, every time. And I think life has known best. I used to be highly focused on the future, but I don't know that it was very healthy. It allowed me to live in fantasy more than reality. 

I believe humanity has to implement some major changes if tomorrow is going to even exist for us as a species. I hope we can rise above our own selfishness to meet that challenge. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017