The air I breathe …

by Michelle

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!