My Poem: ‘Renewal’

photo of person walking on beach

Have a read of my poem ‘Renewal’,  first published in Quadrant magazine September 2019. It’s a very short poem, but relevant today in tough twenty-twenty. Hope you enjoy it.

 

Renewal:

 To walk

with a heavy step.

Needing nothing

a credit card can buy

but wanting to be

somewhere new.

 

Seeing the same old things

you’ve explored to death.

Imagining yourself

someplace else

breathing in

a new perspective.

 

A regenerated self

could see differently.

But what would that do to

the old self still following

in its own footsteps?

 

Copyright © 2019 Libby Sommer

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.

Prose Poem Successes

pen writing notes studying

Exciting news.

My prose poem THE CELLIST has been accepted for publication in Quadrant magazine.

And another prose poem THE LADDER AND ITS DANGERS was recently longlisted for the 2019 joanne burns Microlit Award. It will be available for inclusion in a range of multi-platform activities organised by Spineless Wonders including #storybombingNWF20, podcasts, live performance and the Microflix Awards.

I love the short short form:  prose poems, microlit, flash fiction. I’m putting together a new collection of my published short form stories and prose poems. The working title is SMALL FICTIONS. What do you think?

Prolific widely-published flash fiction writer Meg Pokrass says on Facebook that:

‘The more I become involved in the editorial side of the microfiction form, the more it becomes mysterious to me. The more it seems like some kind of freaky magic. After reading thousands of stories for Best Microfiction, all I can say is that there is no formula. The other thing I can say is that we must use who we are when we write. Trying to perfect a “style” is useless. Making something that feels like you, something only you can possibly see that way, works wonders. The secret seems to be in revealing who you are through the life of a character or two, which somehow mysteriously makes us see something unusual about the world itself. Finding your own expression of something we all have felt before, in some sly and startling way that hooks us.’ – Meg Pokrass

Great advice. Agree?

 

 

 

 

What Is A Prose Poem?

 

Launchmereading

The Poetry Foundation describes a prose poem as 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.

I’m thrilled to tell you that my latest prose poem, TASTE is published in this month’s Quadrant magazine.

green and white cover of Quadrant magazine May 2019

 

TASTE

I rather like poems about minor calamities, bursts of tiny delights, the sun warming the tender skin of the elderly. Also, the way palm fronds conduct themselves during a southerly, dishevelled, exposing the softness of their billowing arms. Pastries in display cases do something for me too. Even cupcakes iced in gelato colours, adorned with miniature decorations … Can you see my preference for the words ‘miniature’ and ‘tiny’, an inclination towards the distilled in a world favouring often the big and the overwhelming? People with the patience to follow a complex recipe – well, that’s not me, but I like to taste what they cook.  Babies in prams kicking chubby legs make me hover – how difficult not to take a bite. If you write something about a paper straw, I will be fascinated. You could try a ladybird, a pocket-size umbrella. The generalised angst of the human condition, however, may be hard for me to get a handle on.  Watch that man with the disabled daughter moisten his finger after her cupcake is eaten and relish the last crumbs. Consider the rainbow-coloured wristband tied to a letterbox on the way to the park or the miniature plastic bucket and spade we found half-hidden on the beach at Bronte and packed with us for years on every visit to the sea.

First published in Quadrant.

Copyright © Libby Sommer

A big thank you to Literary Editor, Professor Barry Spurr (Australia’s first Professor of Poetry) for accepting my poem. I am honored to be included alongside talented poets Geoff Page, Sean Wayman, Jane Blanchard, Nicholas Hasluck, James Curran, Mark O’Connor and Peach Klimkiewicz.

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.

 

18 Years of Notes and Cards

woman dressed as mermaid swimming underwater

The year is 2000. I’m slogging away at a Masters in Writing at UTS. I’d had two careers already, in film and television production at the ABC (an engine-room role) and as Principal of my own PR agency, but my dream had always been to become a writer. My children were grown up and living their own lives. One day towards the end of that year the phone rang and someone left a message saying they were Les Murray. Ha ha, I thought. As if Australia’s most famous living poet would be ringing me. I had sent a story titled Art and the Mermaid to the address on the Quadrant website. Imagine my disbelief and indescribable joy when I found out it wasn’t a friend playing a trick on me, but was in fact the real Les Murray, Literary Editor of Quadrant. He said he’d like to take Art and the Mermaid for Quadrant.

That phone call began an 18-year friendship and working relationship. It changed my life.

The thrill of seeing my work published regularly in Quadrant has given me credibility as a fiction writer and, more recently, as a poet. I’ve felt encouraged to continue to explore unique ways of expressing my thoughts and ideas.

Where would I be if it wasn’t for Les Murray? My writing career may never had started, or continued. To date, three books published, a fourth coming out next year – each book containing chapters that were first published in Quadrant.

Les’s inclusion of my work in the magazine has been instrumental in my development. He’s lifted my confidence, inspired me and made me proud of being a writer. Published in Quadrant was public validation and acceptance into the literary world.

We communicated about my stories and poetry through notes and postcards over all these years: I’d post him a submission and a short letter and he’d respond with either a chatty postcard to say ‘Yes’, or a note saying ‘Alas, …’

When Quadrant published my first story Art and the Mermaid in 2001, I had no idea the next 18 years would lead to 22 more stories and 4 poems published in Quadrant.

With the retirement of Les Murray as Literary Editor, it’s the poignant end of the era of Les at Quadrant. However, Les’s impact continues through the new and established writers he has fostered and who continue their careers. I am forever grateful that I was one of those writers. Congratulations. Literary Editor at Quadrant since March 1990.

Here is my story Art and the Mermaid, first published in Quadrant:

Once upon a time it came to pass, so it is said, that an enormous storm swept the coast of New South Wales, doing extensive damage to the ocean beaches – destroying jetties, breakwaters and washing away retaining walls.  Mountainous seas swept Bondi Beach and dashed against the cliffs carrying ruin with every roller.  At North Bondi near Ben Buckler a huge submerged block of sandstone weighing 233 tons was lifted ten feet and driven 160 feet to the edge of the cliff where it remains to this day.

One day a Sydney sculptor, Lyall Randolph, looked upon the rock and was inspired.  The sculptor was a dreamer.  Let us, he said, have two beautiful mermaids to grace the boulder.  Using two Bondi women as models he cast the two mermaids in fibreglass and painted them in gold.

Without Council approval and at his own expense he erected The Mermaids for all to see on the giant rock that had been washed up by the sea.  The Mermaids sat side by side on the rock.  One shaded her eyes as she scanned the ocean and the other leant back in a relaxed fashion with an uplifted arm sweeping her hair up at the back of her neck.  Their fishy tails complemented the curves and crevices of their bodies.

It so happened that less than a month after The Mermaids were put in place, one was stolen and damaged.  The Council held many meetings to decide if she should be replaced using ratepayers’ money.  The council had previously objected to the sculptor placing the statues there without Council permission.  The sculptor had argued that before placing The Mermaids in position he had taken all necessary steps to obtain the requisite permission.

The large boulder at Ben Buckler, upon which The Mermaids were securely bolted and concreted, he said, is not in the municipality of Waverley at all.  It is in the sea.  According to the Australian Constitution high-tide mark is the defined limit of the Waverley Council’s domain.  The Maritime Services Board and the Lands Department both advised me they had no objection to the erection of The Mermaids.

One Waverley Alderman said he wished both mermaids had been taken instead of only one.  Someone else said the sculptor didn’t need the Council’s permission to put them there in the first place and the The Mermaids had given Bondi a great attraction without any cost to the Council.  The sculptor said The Mermaids had brought great publicity to the Council.  They had been featured in films, newspapers, television and the National Geographic magazine.

The Mayor used his casting vote in favour of the mermaid and she was re-installed.

For over ten years the two beautiful golden mermaids reclined at Ben Buckler, attracting many thousands of sightseers to the beach.

Poised on the huge boulder they braved the driving storms of winter until one day one was washed off.  The Council saw its opportunity and removed the other.

Today, only the remnants of one mermaid remain – but not on the rock.  In a glass cabinet in Waverley Library at Bondi Junction all that is left of the two beautiful mermaids is a figure with half a face.  There’s a hole instead of a cheek, a dismembered torso, part of an uplifted arm, the tender groove of an armpit.  And there, down below, a complete fish’s tail.

Copyright © 2018 Libby Sommer

Header image:  Creative Commons

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

 

 

Writing Tip: A Change of Pace

adult book boring face

I’m very excited to have my poem BETWEEN THE ISLANDS OF THE PACIFIC in the June 2018 Quadrant  alongside some great poets including Les Murray, Barbara Fisher, Craig Kurtz, Geoff Page, Dan Guenther, Gabriel Fitzmaurice, Graeme Hetherington. Just received my copy.

It’s refreshing to have a change of pace. I’ve been having a break from working on long narratives by working on shorter pieces: prose poems, flash fiction, micro fiction, etc. Very gratifying to have one (so far) accepted for publication.

The poem was inspired by a cruise I did earlier this year with my family. At the time I thought I could write a book length story set on a ship, but, as things turned out, couldn’t find enough material to write a long fiction. But I was able to write a poem instead. For this I am very grateful.

Writing poetry, a synopsis or a book blurb are all good things to have to do in terms of improving our ability to compress or distill an idea. Having to get our message across in just a few words. Instagram is a useful for this too. One sentence to connect with our followers. And Facebook.  The very short forms are a good discipline for us writers.

I belong to an excellent weekly feedback poetry group. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to get my poems to that next level of being at a publishable standard. From good to very good. Many gratitudes.

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What about you? Do you experiment with different forms or genres? I find it helps to keep the feeling of desperation at bay. Will I ever be able to write another word? Do you have a perspective you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.