There are so many gifts here: History experienced as history lived in a body; kindness and the difficulty of kindness; tender and patient reflection in the presence of pain. In the face of bullet holes. This is a work of generational, locational and situational introspection that yields, at its own life-fruiting pace, a gleaning—of courageous clear-seeing; of compassion addressed to contradiction and contention; of empathy. I am thankful it came calling.
These poems are the work of thirty years.
This may not seem much to show for such a long period of time, but they span a prolonged child-rearing stretch when my poetry practice was the five minutes I had to spare between folding the laundry and falling asleep.
When I began writing, it was to figure out who I was, especially in the context of a mixed-race heritage and multiple migrations. I wrote exclusively about my grandmothers in my first collection, Against Certain Capture. The early poems here are ones that didn’t fit with that exacting theme.
When I was raising children, poetry was my furtive “sometimes” habit. It seems a miracle to me that I wrote anything at all during that time, but something kept drawing me back to words. It was a way of stopping to take notice of the beauty around me. It was a way to process what was happening: the surprise of loss, and grief. It was a way to keep things, to make them mine. It was a way to share things, to give them to others.
Poetry is a kind of work, but it is also a kind of play: a playful work, a working play. I have learned to “let myself” play (as Julia Cameron puts it). Part of the play is dress-ups, trying on different poetic forms: here’s the hair-lacquered-into-place-immaculately-ball-gowned villanelle, here’s the smart-casual-dressed-for-inner-city-café free verse, here’s the so-laid-back-I’m-practically-horizontal prose poem. I am inspired in my play by watching other poets do it. To playfully quote Alvin Pang from “What Happened”: “It was vehement. It was egregious. It was somehow / necessary. Accessory.”
Place matters. It can be hard to keep track of someone who moves so much, but here is a rough travel guide. Poems in the “Crossing Over” section were written on Whadjuk Noongar country in Perth, Turrbal country in Brisbane, and in the cosmopolitan city of Singapore (that was once a Malay fishing village). “Home” is the exception here as it was written after we moved to the South-West. Poems in “Juggling” were largely written on Wardandi Noongar country in Margaret River. Poems in “Rearview Mirror” and “Hanging Around” were written on Whadjuk Noongar country in Fremantle, but also briefly in Singapore.
Now that I have the privilege of teaching creative writing, poetry is still all of these things: a way of figuring out who I am, a way to notice beauty, a way to process what’s happening, a way to keep things, a way to share things, and a way to play. To steal a line from poet Esther Ottoway, these are my “liminal love songs”: a way to stand at the threshold of being, to inhabit that “time-out-of-time” that is the space of poetry, and to sing as I cross over.
Who Comes Calling? (includes postage with Australia)
Who Comes Calling? (Includes international postage)