The 2020 Grieve Anthology

Libby Sommer and 'Grieve" anthology
I received my contributor’s copy of the 2020 Grieve anthology from the Hunter Writer’s Centre today. Stories and Poems of Grief and Loss. My short story ‘Sober Sixty’ is part of the collection.
The back cover reads,
‘2020 is the 8th year of the Grieve Project. Since 2013, Australians have submitted poems and stories about their experience with parental grief, sibling grief, loss of a home and numerous other forms of grief and loss.
‘2020 was a year of collective grief for Australia and the world. Yet the telling of grief here is much the same as in previous years. While tales of devastating bushfires and the crippling consequences of the coronavirus do feature in this anthology, its core remains unchanged: grief is universal arising from a multitude of experiences and we express it in myriad ways.
‘Writing about grief is a most notable expression. This anthology exposes that nobility and humility. It also gives us, the readers, hope.’
I feel honored to be part of this book.
Available from Hunters Writer’s Centre website or Booktopia

My prose poem ‘Amber Puppy’

woman walking along a track beneath trees in a park

My prose poem ‘Amber Puppy’ was first published in Quadrant magazine in September 2019. Have a read. I do enjoy this short form of writing, a cross between a poem and a prose piece, although, according to Wikipedia,  prose poetry is poetry written in prose form instead of verse form, while preserving poetic qualities such as heightened imagery, parataxis, and emotional effects.

Have a look and tell me what you think:

Amber Puppy: 

What can an amber puppy mean in a world of Siris and driverless cars?

I was older, one of the Baby Boomers. Life was a series of warnings:  Don’t fall over rugs or loose cords, don’t overeat, don’t go to bed before nine, drink coffee after midday, watch too much Netflix. When the new puppy arrived one birthday, rich brown as a raisin, I heard it shadowing me: Don’t trip on the dog’s lead.

There was much to be anxious about. One day, walking through the park – the rain had eased, spring waterfalls spilled into the creek, soon we would cool off under the trees – I lost my grip on the lead. Into the bushes he fled, disappearing into green. Since when did parks swallow small dogs? I drove home in a frantic car. My best friend. I’d loved him and he’d loved me.

The days staggered past like drunks. I prayed silently, absorbed sunshine, climbed steps, wrote Letters to the Editor. Don’t panic, don’t shallow breathe, don’t think the worst – you could hear it all around. A reclining Buddha could show you how to deepen the breath. A bird call at first light could tell you when to get up. A storm could remember to fill the dams and the water tanks – I was meandering between the trees when I saw him scampering through the creek. Splashing around then shaking himself dry. A muddy escapee. A barking survivor.

Where had he been these three long days? I could wash him, wrap him in a towel, take him home. Unexpected good news could still happen. Dogs off-the-leash need to stay close to their mistresses. Trees shed their leaves in winter and dogs run away, but find their way back. Seventy-two hours later, what can an amber puppy tell you in a world of Botox and identity theft?

See the difference between holding on and losing your grip.

Copyright © 2019 Libby Sommer

 

 

My Prose Poem: ‘Sixteen Is A Very Difficult Age, You Know’

alone animal bird clouds

So what is a prose poem? According to the Poetry Foundation, a prose poem is a prose composition that, while not broken into verse lines, demonstrates other traits such as symbols, metaphors, and other figures of speech common to poetry.

If you are able to distill meaning in a very short form, you may enjoy writing prose poetry.

Have a read of my prose poem Sixteen Is A Very Difficult Age, You Know, first published in Quadrant magazine September 2018.

Sixteen Is a Very Difficult Age, You Know

Well yes it is. This time of year isn’t easy either. It has most of us by the neck.  You don’t want to get sick at Christmas. They said he needs six weeks of intensive therapy then they’ll decide about medication. How – when everything’s closed till February? Yes, he’s up and down. Better some days, but hardly ever. They said hide all the tablets and remove the kitchen knives. I ring or text to see how he’s going. He doesn’t always pick up. Don’t refer to the incident. Wait for him to say something. Well, he doesn’t say much though he’ll let me give him a hug – sometimes. So here I am trying to gather his forgotten dreams from the air. They’re drifting just outside my reach.

Copyright © 2018 Libby Sommer

 

Poem: Between the Islands of the Pacific

sky, clouds, rising sun over Pacific Ocean

Not that most of us are in a rush to sign up for a cruise any time soon … but here is my poem, BETWEEN THE ISLANDS OF THE PACIFIC, first published in Quadrant magazine June, 2018. It’s sort of relevant to the current situation. Hope you enjoy it.

 

Between the Islands of the Pacific

 

Because by now we know everything is not so blue

out here.

 

The cities had tipped rubbish into the sea,

and we let them without even noticing.

 

Not even feeling our breathing clear

as gusts reaching ten knots cleaned up our days.

 

Not even. Today pure blue sky, blue sea,

out there the horizon drawing a line

below the clouds, the absoluteness of it. Nights

of diesel engines shuddering beneath us.

 

We lounge on chairs side by side on the deck.

At dusk, we stand at the railing of the ship as the sun

slips into the ocean. In the fresh sea air, their backs turned,

some raise a selfie-stick or light a cigarette while others

stand holding their breath.

 

Where can we go from here, and how?

 

Copyright © Libby Sommer 2018

 

A Poem

woman in white shirt and blue denim short shorts sitting

Hello everyone. Hello to all you fellow quarantiners hanging-in-there.

I’d like to share with you my poem ELSEWHERE, first published in Quadrant magazine in December 2017. Hope you like it. The poem is relevant to today’s situation, in many ways.

 

Elsewhere

Hair remembers how dark a room becomes

when hair is not let loose, straw fallen from the head

of a broom, drifting onto a path,

crunched underfoot by someone who never realised

it was straw. Hair drank, jogged,

ate by itself, knew how to tick ‘Like’

on Social Media. But hair felt

out of touch with itself

unable to distinguish the difference between

fear of the unknown, and fear of something

bad. Hair remembered the ultramarine blue of sea and sky

and the hundred varieties of tuna, calamari and squid.

 

Hair has dreams, that’s what hair does.

Covers over a shiny scalp, frames the face.

Adventure means exploration and discovery.

And hair remembers—blankets of humidity, harsh light,

residing there in the brain’s temporal lobes.

Even now, when hair is back home,

it remembers the wanting things to remain the same

but gives thanks for faraway places

where you can untangle and restyle yourself.

 

© Libby Sommer 2017

Stay safe and be well.

My Poem: ‘Lying On A Harbour Beach at Noon’

painting of girl lying on beach in torquoise bikini reading a book

During the pandemic I find myself turning more and more to poetry, the reading and the writing of poetry.

Here is my poem Lying On A Harbour Beach At Noon, first published in Quadrant magazine January 2017.

Hope you enjoy it.

 

Lying On A Harbour Beach At Noon

 

There is an opening out of the self which happens

when the sun is high in a cloudless blue

and its warmth sinks into the body.

 

It occurs on a gentle beach.

It is a slow opening,

like waking up in

your own cosy apartment.

When all the tenants wake up

and the blinds snap

the windows open wide.

If you are in bed you struggle to open to the bright light.

If you are elsewhere, feeling your separateness, alienated,

you long for home and think you’re falling apart.

 

You are not falling apart.

You could open into your own particular self,

feel your skin move away from the bone,

your belly like an open wound tightening

then opening with everything exposed.

You know you can stop the empty grasping if you want to

because you have a deep knowing,

you open to it, and for now

it holds you gently.

 

Copyright 2017 Libby Sommer

 

Stay safe everyone, and be well.

The positive benefits of poetry

woman reading book

‘Neurologists at Exeter University, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, found that reading poetry activated different brain regions to prose – even the lyrical prose we find in fiction. When the research participants read poetry, it lit up the regions of the brain variously linked to emotion, memory, making sense of music, coherence building and moral decision-making. Poetry, the study’s authors concluded, induces a more introspective, reflective mental state among readers than does prose.’ – Sarah Holland-Batt, Weekend Australian, 21–22 March 2020

If you feel you’re losing your ability to focus on a long book while confined indoors and surrounded by digital screens (as staying up to date on a global pandemic seems to command), try turning to poetry to nurse your shrinking attention span back to life.

In the Time of Pandemic

And the people stayed home.

And they read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still.

And they listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.

Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed.

And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

 

—Kitty O’Meara

‘Poetry is the quiet music of being human and in these days and nights when our humanity is fully vulnerable and exposed, poetry takes a small step forward. In our separate isolations, a poem is like the Tardis: bigger on the inside. Like spring – to recall TS Eliot – poetry mixes memory and desire.’ – Carol Ann Duffy, The Guardian

This poem by poet  Ian McMillan,  reminds of us of just what we lose each time a library is closed.

Adult Fiction

I always loved libraries, the quiet of them,
The smell of the plastic covers and the paper
And the tables and the silence of them,
The silence of them that if you listened wasn’t silence,
It was the murmur of stories held for years on shelves
And the soft clicking of the date stamp,
The soft clickety-clicking of the date stamp.

In late summer, just as autumn was thinking about
Turning up, and the light outside would be the colour
Of an Everyman cover and the lights in the library
Would be soft as anything, and I’d sit at a table
And flick through a book and fall in love
With the turning of the leaves, the turning of the leaves.

And then at seven o’clock Mrs Dove would say
In a voice that wasn’t too loud so it wouldn’t
Disturb the books “Seven o’clock please …”
And as I was the only one in the library’s late summer rooms
I would be the only one to stand up and close my book
And put it back on the shelf with a sound like a kiss,
Back on the shelf with a sound like a kiss.

And I’d go out of the library and Mrs Dove would stand
For a moment silhouetted by the Adult Fiction,
And then she would turn the light off and lock the door
And go to her little car and drive off into the night
That was slowly turning the colour of ink and I would stand
For two minutes and then I’d walk over to the dark library
And just stand in front of the dark library.

From Talking Myself Home, published by John Murray, 2008

‘The astronomer and poet Rebecca Elson (January 2, 1960–May 19, 1999) was twenty-nine when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma — a blood cancer that typically invades people in their sixties and seventies. Throughout the bodily brutality of the treatment, throughout the haunting uncertainty of life in remission, she met reality on its own terms — reality creaturely and cosmic, terms chance-dealt by impartial laws — and made of that terrifying meeting something uncommonly beautiful.

Rebecca Elson, 1987

‘When she returned her atoms to the universe, not yet forty, Elson bequeathed to this world 56 scientific papers and a slender, stunning book of poetry titled A Responsibility to Awe (public library) — verses spare and sublime, drawn from a consciousness pulling the balloon string of the infinite through the loop of its own finitude, life-affirming the way only the most intimate contact with death — which means with nature — can be.’ – Maria Popova

Elson’s crowning achievement in verse is the poem “Antidotes to Fear of Death,”

ANTIDOTES TO FEAR OF DEATH
by Rebecca Elson

Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.

Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
Already there
But unconstrained by form.

And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:

To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.

Hope you felt the positive benefits of reading these poems.

Stay safe and be well everyone.

‘Mountain Secrets’ launch

Libby Sommer reading her poem at podium watched by publisher Stephen Matthews
‘Mountains are constant but continually changing. Captive to the seasons, they reveal many faces: in winter shrouded in snow and mist, yet so visibly majestic in the summer months that they appear to touch the sky. Lost in clouds at times, so discernible at others. Places of solitude yet at the mercy of mountaineers who swarm them. Both revered and feared; mystical and earthy; elusive but tangible. Does the mystery of mountains lie in the many paradoxes that surround them? Join more than 150 poets from across Australia in a tantalising exploration of mountains around the world, real and imagined, literal and figurative.’ – Joan Fenney
That’s me reading my prose poem AMBER PUPPY at the Blackheath Heritage Centre for launch last Saturday of the anthology MOUNTAIN SECRETS (Ginninderra Press) edited by Joan Fenney. Publisher Stephen Matthews looks on.
In the Introduction to MOUNTAIN SECRETS Joan Fenney writes:
‘Mountains symbolise many aspects – overcoming obstacles, spiritual elevation, constancy, isolation and challenges. They inspire adventurers to scale their heights, and writers, lyricist, artists and photographers to portray them with words and images.’
A big thank you to Ginninderra Press for inviting all of us GP poets to bring our creativity to this anthology, exploring themes of love, loss, hurt, courage, awe, reverence and solitude. Such an honour to be included.
Mountain Secrets book cover

Short pieces or a novel?

 

photo of a woman reading book

It’s hard to know sometimes whether to work on the short form or a continuous narrative. I’ve talked about this several times before because it’s a constant dilemma for me. However, the short form seems to be what I do best. Last year I tried very hard to write a genre fiction, but couldn’t get any traction on a story. Instead, I returned to the short form: short stories and prose poems. I am very very happy to say that one story and three poems have now been accepted for publication in Quadrant magazine. Phew! It is such a relief. The previous Literary Editor of Quadrant, poet Les Murray, retired at the end of 2018 and I worried if the new editors of poetry and fiction would like my work. Writing is so subjective. Thank goodness they do.

Have a read of what George Thomas, Deputy Editor of Quadrant writes about the new Literary Editor, Professor Barry Spurr:

The distinguished literary scholar and critic Barry Spurr is the new Literary Editor of Quadrant, succeeding Les Murray who retired at the end of last year after serving in the position since March 1990.

In 2011, Barry was appointed the first Professor of Poetry in Australia, and has long been a world authority on the life and work of T.S. Eliot. His book Anglo-Catholic in Religion: T.S. Eliot and Christianity (Lutterworth, Cambridge, 2010) is widely regarded as the authoritative study in the field.

In an academic career of more than forty years at the University of Sydney, including two stints at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, Barry’s literary scholarship ranged from Early Modern literature to contemporary Australian poetry. He is a leading scholar in the fields of religious literature and liturgical language, most notably in the works of John Donne and T.S. Eliot, and the language, literature and music of the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

His contribution to Australian poetry education and criticism has been prolific, and includes a series of small books for students on individual Australian poets including Kenneth Slessor, Bruce Dawe, Judith Wright, Lee Cataldi, Peter Skrzynecki, Judith Beveridge, Robert Gray, John Tranter, Douglas Stewart, Rosemary Dobson, John Foulcher, as well as the novelist Christopher Koch. In 2007, he was elected Fellow of the Australian College of Educators for his “outstanding contribution to education”.

He has also been a notable public commentator, especially on the role of literature in the modern education system, and the role of the humanities in the modern university. He was the consultant on literature education to the Abbott government’s 2014 review of the national education curriculum chaired by Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire. Most of his recommendations were included in the final report, which supported “a greater emphasis on dealing with and introducing literature from the western literary canon, especially poetry.”

When he was appointed to his poetry chair by the University of Sydney, Les Murray publicly welcomed him with a letter of congratulations, saying: “It is rare to have a person interested in poetry as distinct from the furthering of what you might call Stasi-type criticism in Australia. In the last 30 years or more, poetry criticism has descended more and more into politics – and a really nasty form of politics.”

In 2016, after he left the University of Sydney, leading literary figures and former academic colleagues from both Sydney and Oxford gave him the festschrift The Free Mind: Essays and Poems in Honour of Barry Spurr (editor Catherine Runcie, publisher Edwin H. Lowe).

Barry has been a contributor to Quadrant since the 1980s. In his most recent piece in March 2018, a review of the collection of Ivan Head’s poetry The Magpie Sermons, he concluded on a severe yet positive note: “In our prosaic and crudely literal world, where just a word in jest in private can be stolen out of context and used to destroy a person’s career and reputation, and where thought, speech and expression are policed and pilloried (even, of all places, in universities), censoring and stifling the imagination, the voices of the poets, contrariwise, enlarging our vision of life and revealing the limitless capacity of language tellingly to communicate that generosity of spirit, have never been more necessary.”

I’m so grateful and blessed to have my work accepted by such a distinguished literary scholar.

 

A Poem

white cruise ship

My poem Between the Islands of the Pacific was first published in June Quadrant magazine with poems by Les Murray, Barbara Fisher, Craig Kurtz, Geoff Page, Dan Guenther, Gabriel Fitzmaurice and Graeme Hetherington. Big thank you to Literary Editor, Les Murray.

 

Between the Islands of the Pacific

Because by now we know everything is not so blue

out here.

 

The cities had tipped rubbish into the sea,

and we let them without even noticing.

 

Not even feeling our breathing clear

as gusts reaching ten knots cleaned up our days.

 

Not even. Today pure blue sky, blue sea,

out there the horizon drawing a line

below the clouds, the absoluteness of it. Nights

of diesel engines shuddering beneath us.

 

We lounge on chairs side by side on the deck.

At dusk, we stand at the railing of the ship as the sun

slips into the ocean. In the fresh sea air, their backs turned,

some raise a selfie-stick or light a cigarette while others

stand holding their breath.

 

Where can we go from here, and how?

 

Copyright © Libby Sommer 2018