Negative Capability



Photograph: Nicola Bailey

Addressing Author/ity


Blogtalk Radio with Magdalena Ball


I was jet lagged when I recorded this interview with Magdalena Ball, so apologies for the fact that I get tongue tied at the end, but it was good to talk about being positioned between nations and other imaginaries; the gender and genre fluidity in Letter to Pessoa, and the joy of writing fiction, immersing oneself in the possibilities of language; the heteronym as a mask inviting democratic readings, the act of blogging as a rhetoric of empowerment. Maggie reminded me that although my letters are addressed predominantly to male authors, they are subversive in their address to author/ity.

I’ve been thinking about race and caste for an essay that I’m writing; reading Ambedkar, reading Fanon and Ta-Nehisi Coates; and here’s a small piece I wrote for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, before the nightmare of last week. I feel for African-American lives, for Latinos, for the disabled and the poor in America. More terrifying is the normalising of this blatant racism; and the hierarchies it upholds even from our hemisphere, while the Border Forces and a militarised government perpetuate their abuses of human rights in the camps on Manus and Nauru. Now people in the fringes of society, those of colour will be mediated and authored even more than ever as we are told what is, and what is not, prejudice, as they write our history and continue to steal our language.

An approach to being mediated by the predominantly white mainstream is to speak back; refusing to be silenced. But in addressing authority we must know and understand the historical, psychological, chronotropic crisis of our discourse. We must be prepared to break the rules and make this our discipline. We must never expect to be comfortably absorbed by, or  anchored ‘into’, the mainstream.

More about this soon.

Oh, and I have been interviewed by Daniel Young, editor of Tincture, a link to which I’ll post here soon.


In Todmorden Yorkshire, I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Ward and Angela Jarman from Arc, who’ve recently published The Herring Lass, a collection themed on human and non-human animal migrations.


As a writer, I’ve often felt like her; that cold wind of this ‘fishing’ life, its solitary labour, sleepless nights, mornings of horror, disorientation, days of uncertainty, traipsing around the globe with my phone, copies of my books in a suitcase, three dresses, trinkets, perfume, notes for a lecture, my autre-photography, a few blister pack strips of medications. Still, I miss the boarding house in London, where I forgot myself and the racism in this country. I miss the street market in Lower Marsh and the feeling of hunger. It must be the ascetic in me, but there is something healing about the anonymity of travel.

I think I drift between states of exile —from love, from postcolonial trauma — and a malaise of being authored. A few appreciative reviews of Letter to Pessoa, seek to conflate my writing with activism, as if an imploding discourse could substitute for the machinery of politics, economics. Yet language makes us real, doesn’t it? Are you with me? Alluding to this coldness, with particular sensitivity, Alex Wortley has reviewed The Herring Lass.

A highlight of my recent trip was the conference on J. M Coetzee in Prato. A gathering of specialist feminist and transnational scholars it was held in Monash university’s palazzo campus. Coetzee had us enthralled and amused with a reading from his novel, The Schooldays of Jesus. It was very nice to hang out with Nathanael O’Reilly, Kai Weigandt and to meet the bright and beautiful South African scholar and critic, Lucy Graham. It was also wonderful to speak on a panel with the novelist Gail Jones, author of Five Bells and A Guide to Berlin, who is currently on a writer’s residency in Rome.


I’ve been writing brief articles and interviews on my writing process, and working away on a little research, tending to my cat Chester, who suffered a tick paralysis episode in my absence.




I was delighted to speak on this panel on 20 September at the Io Myers Studio, UNSW with Ouyang Yu and Roanna Gonsalves, on the subject of Foreign-ness in our writing and our lives. We spoke about, and through, the trauma of being a minority writer, navigating the hurdles, surviving the racism and cultural dynamics; about gender fluidity and fictional worm holes.
Photography by Leilah Schubert.

The podcast can be downloaded here

Grateful thanks to UNS Writing, Anne Brewster and Su Goldfish from the Creative Practises Lab, UNSW





The air I breathe …

It has been quite a literary weekend for me; attending Poetry on the Move festival at the University of Canberra, curated by Paul Hetherington, Paul Munden, Jen Webb, Owen Bullock and Shane Strange. Guest of honour was Simon Armitage who gave a poetics lecture on Thursday, and a stellar reading on friday evening before the announcement of the Vice Chancellor’s Prize in Poetry. The festival has a dynamic spirit, and I think this is in part due to the diversity of its participants, and even the judges. For the second year, the prize has included judges from Asian Australian backgrounds, something I’ve advocated for as editor of Mascara, and much to my satisfaction the organisers have positively responded. (It’s an exciting team!)

As one of the longlist judges I also had the privilege of reading from my very soon to be released collection, The Herring Lass. Having worked on book edits with James Byrne and Angela Jarman from Arc in Todmorden it was a thrill to read some of the poems, which are themed on human and animal migrations. Also fantastic to catch up with Singapore poet, Alvin Pang, as well as Merlinda Bobis and to meet Jack Ross from Auckland. (And younger poets whose work I have been reading in journals: Chloe Callistemon and Jackie Mailings.)




Then, on Saturday, I spoke on a panel with Rosemary Huisman and Sue Woolfe at the Rose Scott Womens’ Festival in Sydney about writing the personal. Why the personal? Because the minority story enriches and expands the collective narrative it needs to be spoken. But there are difficulties and pitfalls of having to represent oneself, of establishing the simulacra of an entire and complex identity which has been erased by the age of history. Referring to the concept known as ‘catachresis,’ I spoke about how language can help. Aristotle described catachresis as ‘verbal transcendence.’ He asserts that the language of metaphor can be used to name something which does not have a proper name. Derrida described catachresis as the original incompleteness in systems of meaning, while for Spivak, it is only by acknowledging historical limitations, that silenced narratives can be renegotiated, even if not retrieved. So poetic language can be put to good purpose in narrative structure, by connecting the rhizomic threads of contingent stories.

Writing Letter to Pessoa, I found that one way to avoid the crudeness of the confessional, was to graft my narratives to mainstream writing through the letters. I read ‘Letter to Virginia Woolf’ and it was a thrill to share  the story with other strong, talented women.

In other  news, a researched program about Vishvarupa produced by Prithvi Varatharajan was broadcast on Earshot; the podcast available as part of the Confluence India-Australia Arts Festival. I’m so pleased that the interview touches on the book’s pointy themes of an Anglo-Indian subjectivity, the Tibetan refugee experience and its feminist reconfigurations. While it’s not always easy to listen to one’s own voice speaking through trauma, as I have been, I’m delighted with the results.

Also, as part of Confluence, Nidhi Kumari, the editor of Indus Age, ran this interview with me about Letter to Pessoa  Nidhi’s questions invite me to consider the experimentation, the fragmented narratives and how my Goan-Anglo-Indian presence manifests as traces in the stories, for which I’m grateful!