Fran Graham writes with compassion and empathy for others. Travel in China and elsewhere is specked with colourful images, and a warmth of words that continues into the heart of the collection. Love poems appear like secrets, rich with the power of the personal and bold with desire, the tenderness of touch.
These poems have been written over a ten-year period since the publication of my first book in 2011. They deal mainly with love: for my children and grandchildren, for travel, for art, for nature, and for the many people with whom I’ve fallen in love over a lifetime.
The poems also explore the many poetic forms I’ve discovered along the way and couldn’t wait to try out.
A Gentle Outward Breath (includes postage within Australia)
“These days I find nothing more satisfying than completing the first draft of a poem I suspect has the potential to turn into a good one.” Fran Graham
A Gentle Outward Breath (includes international postage)
Launch Speech: A Gentle Outward Breath by Fran Graham – Saturday 28th Oct, 2023 – by Rose van Son.
I’d like to acknowledge the Whadjuk Noongar people, the custodians of this beautiful land on which we stand, and pay my respects to their elders past and present, and to recognise their strength and resilience.
Welcome lovers of the written word, of poetry, all of us assembled to share in the birth and celebration of this new collection, ‘A Gentle Outward Breath’ by master poet, Fran Graham, and beautifully published by WA Poets Publishing. This is Fran’s second collection. Her first, On a Hook Behind The Door, was published by Ginninderra Press, Adelaide. There’s so much to say and to enjoy in Fran’s insightful second collection!
I recall a conversation with Fran at the Fremantle Arts Centre, soon after she arrived in Western Australia from Tasmania, where she had belonged to a writer’s group with poet Gwen Harwood at the helm. How wonderful, I thought, to have known the friendship and enjoyed language and poetry with Gwen and to have worked and learned alongside such an esteemed Australian poet.
Some years later, I was fortunate to attend a sonnet workshop facilitated by Fran at the Society of Women Writers. Fran is certainly a master of form— the rhythms, the nuances— all coming together under the generous guidance of Fran’s expertise.
Today I am honoured to stand beside Fran, to share her love of fine words, music, sound, rhythm, nuance, cadence, and story, for all poems are stories in some way, cameos of life – stories that tell us, as readers, who we are; who we have been, who we may well become, and possibly give clues to the direction life may take.
So it is a pleasure to read Fran’s poetry with you, to peer through portholes of where she has been, a biography in poetry, you could say, her joys and her grief, her dreams, aspirations, moments held on her breath, or moments let go; momentous, gentle, memorable – for it is indeed a reflective and revealing collection, an honest collection – because isn’t it through poetry that we discover the meaning of connection, vulnerability, resilience, lightness, philosophy and possibility.
And I thank Fran for inviting me to launch this long-awaited collection; to travel with her, breaths taken in and out, excursions with family, cameos of others’ lives, windows through which we see, reflect and know ourselves. Treasured experiences, keepsakes for both Fran and for her audience, those fortunate to share them: her compassion, the depth of her grief, what it is to love, travel, art, nature, and place – a mirrored complexity for all of us.
The collection is divided into four parts – An Indifferent Wind; A Gentle Inward Breath; A Gentle Outward Breath; A Constellation of Colours. Within these pages, the traveller will discover the magical forms of Villanelle, Pantoum, Sestina and Sonnet as well as free verse, although no verse, as poets know, is ever entirely free.
Let me share with you the ache in the poignant lines of the first poem from An Indifferent Wind: (p.2)
—– At the aquatic centre respite from the pit / he wears a pool noodle like
—– an apron. Felled by the demon he forgets how to swim but packs joy
—– minutes on the water slide with his wife. who’s raw with grief
—– her man’s decline a stinging slap and a sobbing wail
—– into the wind.
And on p. 5. After the Blast
—– He’s done two tours of duty in Iraq.
—– Now he’s doing a tour of the local clinic.
—– He’s lost something; he’s not sure what
—– or even if he ever had it. Or had it
—– but was unaware he had it. Either way
—– it’s eluding him, running away like gunfire.
And forgive me if I give you the last Stanza of that poem too –
—– We stand vigil while he looks for himself expectant,
—– his search will be painful,
—– but in solitude he might
—– lose the phantoms and find laughter again
—– forget the madness, his and the world’s,
—– and articulate clearly that he’s come through, flying like a bird
—– the ceasefire resting easy in his head.
Poignant, strong, heartbreaking, beautiful: the clarity of Fran’s words takes us there – the emotion built into the lines, seemingly easy, difficult to bear.
In Fran’s poetry, we become willing armchair travelers as we are transported to China. In China Rondel, (p. 24) we experience sight and sound in an exciting cultural exchange.
—– Laden men with shoulder poles bent low
—– glide beyond the wrought iron railing hauling
—– buckets of hope while hungry dogs are brawling.
In West Way of Second Ring Road, 2005 (p. 26) we discover a delightful canvas of imagery:
—– The fruit cart man
—– also stops there.
—– He’s good company perhaps
—– as he carves his pineapples
—– adding a blend of class
—– and avant-garde //
—– for foreigners
We also travel to Nepal where, Fran writes, ‘From my window I can see the Himalayas’ – We join her in a teaching experience there. And it is here, in Nepal, where she takes us into her confidence, shares a secret –
—– I’m the oldest volunteer here.
—– My gratitude is a quiet meditation.
You just want to hold your breath! Meditation and memory, entwined.
With Fran we journey to many exotic places: Cape Leveque, Ubud in Bali, and of course, Tasmania where Fran spent 30 years raising four children. We welcome the changing of the seasons, ‘It’s autumn and the leaves are turning brown’. Newfolk, Tasmania. (p.34). So simple, so effective. These poems sharpen the senses; take us there!
And let’s not forget love—a love poem, from the section titled: ‘A Gentle Outward Breath’: Thinking Back to Boat Harbour (p.42)
—– You dropped me home and we shared a final hug.
—– Driving off, a string of smiles
—– unwound behind your car.
And lastly, from The Exhibition, full of colour and sound, full of hope & opportunity ( p. 64):
—– The pianist’s notes thread
—– their way through a crowd
—– humming like bees spreading counterpoint
—– over a lagoon of possibilities
—– stroking metaphors for luck.
No luck needed. There is so much love ingrained here, to share, to honour: so much sense of place. Make a place for this collection on your coffee table, beside your bed, on the patio as you drink your tea, read and be transported to past and surprising pleasures, new horizons: enjoy each poem one breath at a time! So many favourite lines! I must leave some for Fran to share with you! I’m sure she has her favourites, too!
Warmest Congratulations, Fran! It is my absolute pleasure to declare A Gentle Outward Breath birthed and launched!
Rose van Son