Sunday, May 27, 2012

Poetry Monday: the intersection of science and poetry

There was a time when I thought the arts and the sciences were at odds with one another. I can recall a rather heated argument back at Oxford with a scientist friend just back from Antarctica, in which, with all the blinkered certainty of youth, I stated something of the kind, standing firm with hands on hips. One, I said, relies on intuition, instinct and metaphor, while the other relies on examination, empiricism, and objective experimentalism. As anyone who has read my own poetry books Quark Soup or Repulsion Thrust would know,  I no longer believe this.  This may be partly because I've been working in a scientific environment for some twenty years now, surrounded by physicists, chemists, and geologists. It might be because I've read enough science books and journals to realise how much science owes to language, to metaphor, and indeed to intuition and instinct. Both disciplines are deeply rooted in and driven by the creative impulsive -- a desire to go just a little beyond the status quo - to expand our understanding.  As the great poet Richard Feynman (also known a bit for his work in physics...) put it:

What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
Ruth Patel makes the excellent point that both scientists and poets move between macro and micro perspectives, finding the universal in the particular.  Some modern science inspired poets whose wonderful work has caught my eye over the past year include Emily Ballou, with her Darwin Poems (some of which are taken holus-bolus from Darwin's diaries - he was rather a poet himself), this year's Pulitzer Prize winning Life on Mars by Tracy K Smith, and Urban Biology by Ian Gibbins, who I've just interviewed here. Ian and I spoke at some length (though not long enough...we could have gone on for quite a while more I think) about the intersection between science and poetry.  Because the conversation was so good, I didn't get the chance to ask him to read what is probably my favourite poem - "Space Invaders", the slightly tongue-in-cheek, but still chilling piece that opens the book.  I'm just giving you a tiny taste from the second stanza. If you want more, visit Gibbins' website.

Once we are here,
molecule by precious molecule,
we will infiltrate your haemopoietic stream,
until your body fluids flow as thin as solar wind.
Like bamboo beneath your fingernails,
we will reduce all commuincation
to compromise and distant coments,
adrift in the cloying starlight.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Out Loud: National Year of Reading write up

If I'm a little hoarse it's because I've just come back from a 2 hour long reading of Black Cow, Sleep Before Evening, and Repulsion Thrust (plus a few childrens' books) at the Newcastle Region Library. This was done as part of a week long series of authors (and others) reading out loud at public libraries around the country to celebrate the National Year of Reading, a nation-wide campaign to promote the benefits of reading.

At first I was reading to no one - projecting my voice into the corridors and towards casual visitors returning and taking out books, some stopping to stare at this crazy chick with the chutzpah to so blatantly break the library silence (kept expecting someone to 'shhh' me). Soon the sofas that surrounded my reading throne attracted listeners, some of whom sat with me for over an hour, asking questions when I paused to take a sip of water, or chatting with me during the transitions from one book to another. 

A couple of times during the session, young people came up to the throne and looked at me longingly, as if they either wanted to take my place among the brightly coloured pillows, or were hoping that I'd actually read something that was of interest to them. So I took a break from adult books, came down off my haughty throne, and read a couple of children's books. I'd be lying if I said that wasn't my favourite part of the day - reminding me of how much children love being read to, and how fun it is to read a children's book with feeling, getting them to join in the process.  People came and went, listening for a while as they took a break from their chores or the daily grind of their work, savoring a few moments of relaxation with a cup of tea and a bit of story. One fellow came in from the museum, and when I paused for breath, let slip that he was there to take out some astronomy books in preparation for the upcoming Transit of Venus, so I read him a few of the more astronomical poems from Repulsion Thrust. Even those who didn't have time to sit, listened while they stood at the queue to return books, nodding their heads and smiling at me (one gasping at the end of a poem - hopefully with pleasure rather than the opposite!) in the shared pleasure of a words spoken out loud.  Now, more than ever, in our increasingly self-inflicted PC based isolation, the library is a key community hub of a shared love of books, words, and even, at times when permission is granted, reading out loud.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Poetry Monday: Kate Fagan's First Light

I often find it hard to choose between, as Joyce put it, modalities of the audible or visible. Kate Fagan gives us both. Her new poetry book First Light is a textual offering - a classic book of poetry. The work is sensual, experimental, complex and yet still very rooted in the simplicity of immediate experience. Here is a little bit of "Circa 1927: Realising Belief":

I saw you
standing with the jacarandas,
siren of a new present

as though feeling
could not be pacified by number
and shone replete in things

We are here - only here.
Hill, bucket, river that fills
and empties in a pool at my feet.

And for those of you seeking a little auditory pleasure, here is Kate's exercising her gorgeous voice on "Clear Water":

"I thought of you and I longed to be safe..."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Music of Sleep Before Evening

My first novel, Sleep Before Evening, is full of music. My intention for the book was a kind of "Portrait of the Composer as a Young Girl", modelled very loosely (indeed) on James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but contemporary, NY based, and very female in perspective. Contemporary in this instance was actually the early 1980s, and so much of the contemporary rock music that's used in the book are the sounds that were popular in that era and loved by protagonist Marianne's mother Lily, a talented artist.  Just for fun, I also picked songs that had some resonance with me in that period of my life. This includes music from icons like The Beatles, Robbie Robertson, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and Jethro Tull. 

Keyboard Girl by Aaron Jasinski
Because Marianne is a budding composer, there is also a lot of wonderful classical music in the novel.  One of the pieces that haunts Marianne is Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto no. 1, a tremendously difficult piece that she struggles to perfect. Dvorak's "Largo" Symphony No 9 "From the New World" also provides some difficulty for her, and also becomes a motif for the book as she struggles to define herself and find a kind of 'home' that makes sense.  Finally, there is the harmonica based Blues that draws her to antagonist musician Miles.  There is Miles' own music, and also classics like Sonny Boy Williamsons' "Hello Little Schoolgirl", which Miles sings to Marianne as he collects her from the train station. Finding synthesis in these different kinds of music as the different aspects of Marianne's personality, and coming to know who she really is and where her talents and desires lie, is all key to the journey that Marianne takes. 

If you'd like to share a little of the music of Sleep Before Evening, just drop by my Pintarest board where I've pick up most of the major musical threads in YouTube clips and their corresponding quotes from the novel.

Persephone's Juicy Jewels is looking for a few chefs

Are you a chef? Better still, a pastry chef? My poetry partner (and super marketing maven) Carolyn Howard-Johnson and I are pulling together a poetry dessert cookbook, and we need your recipes! The final book will be shopped by our agent Terrie Wolf and we're hoping for a beautifully giftable coffee table book that combines exceptional poetry with your wonderful signature desserts. If you're a chef, please drop by our new Facebook fanpage and click on the pomegranate tab that says "Be part of persephone..." and full submission details will be provided. If you're not a chef, please drop by for a few sample poems and "like" and maybe tweet or recommend it your chef friends. Thank you!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Out Loud: National Year of Reading event

Next week I'll be doing a 2 hour long (taking a few breaths in between) reading event at the Newcastle Regional Library (Laman St). I'll be reading passages from three of my books: Black Cow (of course), Repulsion Thrust, and Sleep Before Evening.  This is all part of the National Year of Reading and one of many such author events taking place around the country. Out Loud is a week-long celebration of reading with random reads of poetry, stories, newspapers, recipes, plays at local libraries and sites around our cities held through from the 21-27 May. If you happen to be in Newcastle NSW on May the 22nd between 11 and 1, please drop by, listen in and say hello (if you can get a word in edgewise - I might even let you take the podium from me).

Poetry Monday: Interview with Fabric's Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell is one of those multi-talented Renaissance gals who seems to be able to turn her hand to anything. Musician, singer, poet, novelist, teacher, editor...Jessica visits us today to talk about her new poetry book Fabric, which I reviewed at The Compulsive Reader.
How did the collection originate?
Well, if you want me to start from the very beginning, it started when I printed up all the poems I’d written from the last year and tried to find a concurrent theme in order to put together a new collection. I realized that I had a substantial amount of poems that included a fabric of some kind … “ooh,” I thought, “that’s a pretty cool title.” Of course, a piece of fabric appearing in every poem was not meaty enough to base a collection on, so I brainstormed some symbolic links. That’s when I came up with “the fabric of society”. From then on the collection began to bloom. I wrote new pieces, tweaked old ones, and rewrote some entirely to fit the theme.

Talk to me about the process of pulling it together.
I probably write one poem a week, sometimes more, and store them in a folder under the month and year. Initially, I don’t write with a specific theme in mind, I just write whatever I’m inspired by in that particular moment. I let myself at it for about a year, so that at the end of that year I have a decent amount of pieces to consider. Only 20 out of the 60 poems I wrote in 2011 made it into Fabric. The remaining eight I wrote for the collection specifically.

Anyway, once I had the 20 poems I wanted to include, I tweaked them all to fit the theme of ethical and moral philosophy, i.e. the fabric of societyu. There are a lot of references to different fabrics in the collection, and I love that the textures and weights of these fabrics, their durability and/or fragility, also symbolize the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals that are represented.
I absolutely adore the vignette. And that’s what these poems are: slices of life. They explore specific moments in different people’s lives that are significant to whom they have become, the choices they’ve made, how they perceive the world around them, and how each and every one of their thoughts and actions contributes to the fabric of society.

What were the most challenging poems to write?
 I’m not a big utilizer of form, but I certainly enjoy trying to write to specific rules now and again. I find the restriction forces my imagination into a totally different place than what I’m used to. So the formalistic poems were definitely the most challenging and, of course. they were the poems I spent the most time perfecting.

Examples are:
Once, which is a mirror poem. The second group of stanzas must mirror the first group of stanzas on the page, and still make sense!

We Need Women, which is an Alphabet poem. Each word must begin with each letter of the alphabet and in succession. What’s the most challenging about this is not finding the right words, but making sure the tone doesn’t sound like a kindergarten teacher!

What You Found, which is a list poem. You’d think these are easy, but try evoking an emotional response from a list and incorporating a subtext through imagery. It’s harder than you think.

Postpartum, which is a ballad. Rhyming and maintaining the correct iambic pentameter in each line is difficult. This poem was even more of a challenge because rhyming poetry has such a fun and bouncy feel to it, and I had to make sure the juxtaposition of this with the dark subject matter worked to its benefit.

Talk to me a bit about the numerology behind the book.
I’ve always been fascinated with symbolism. And I think when it is utilized in poetry it makes it all the more richer. The numerology in Fabric is not something the average reader is going to pick up, either, so that’s why I’ve talked about it in the Note From The Author in the back of the book. It’s a bit hard for me to talk about this without repeating what’s in the book, and it’s also something that readers should really only be aware of after they’ve read the poems, as I think it will offer them a whole new perspective on the work and inspire them to read it again with a fresh mind.

You use Greek words throughout the book, but this is primarily an English poetry book. Are there particular difficulties in promoting an English book in Greece, or from Greece?
To be honest, I don’t really promote my work in Greece. The only thing I promote here, is my music, as that is a universal language. I’ve also established myself fairly well with a US, UK and Australian audience through my blog, so my location doesn’t seem to make much difference to me. Thank goodness for the Internet!

What’s next? What’s the biggest, most exciting project you’re working on?
My third novel, Muted.

Muted will explore a variety of themes such as overcoming loss, coping with mental illness and disability, dealing with discrimination, loss of freedom, inhibited self-expression, motivation to succeed, escaping oppression, expression through art and music, self-sacrifice, channelling the thoughts of the deceased, and challenging moral views and values. I also plan to write a soundtrack for this one too, just like I did for String Bridge.

Here’s a rough blurb:

In Arles, France, it’s illegal to wear clothes. In some streets, it’s also illegal to sing without accompanying instruments. Concetta, a famous a cappella singer from before “the change,” breaks these laws. As punishment, her vocal chords are brutally slashed and her eardrums surgically perforated. Unable to cope living a life without song, she resolves to drown herself in the river clothed in a dress stained with performance memories. But Concetta’s suicide attempt is cut short as someone grabs her by the throat and pulls her to the surface. Is it the busking harpist, who encouraged her to feel music through vibration, acting as savior? Or a street warden on the prowl for another offender to detain?

Following is the book trailer for Fabric:

About Jessica
If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. And not because she currently lives in Greece, either. The Australian-native author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist has her roots firmly planted in music, and admits inspiration often stems from lyrics she’s written.

She is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and co-hosts the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek Isle of Ithaca, with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest.

For more information about Jessica Bell, please visit:

String Bridge (a novel):
Retreat & workshop site:

Friday, May 11, 2012

6 days till the Goodreads giveaway is drawn

Just 6 days to go for the 2nd Goodreads Black Cow giveaway (this is for a lovely paperback). It's one simple click entry, so if you're not in it, go, click, get your name into the draw.  I'd love the winner to be you :-). 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Black Cow by Magdalena Ball

Black Cow

by Magdalena Ball

Giveaway ends May 18, 2012.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Monday, May 7, 2012

Poetry Monday: Leo Ferre and Verlaine - where poetry meets music

I've been listening to a lot of poetic music lately. That's not just well written song lyrics, but proper poetry -- the sort designed to be read on its own -- set to music. The results are often exquisite, especially when the performers are able to infuse tremendous understanding and power to the work in their delivery.  Although this isn't new by any means, Leo Ferre's rendition of Verlaine's "Green" is one of those pieces.  Here is a version from YouTube (the visuals don't add anything, but just close your eyes for a moment and let Leo's voice work its magic).  I've also appended the full text of the poem in English translation (unabashedly sentimental, yet beautiful too - with a kind of underlying melancholy) and in the original French below.  

See, blossoms, branches, fruit, leaves I have brought,
And then my heart that for you only sighs;
With those white hands of yours, oh, tear it not,
But let the poor gift prosper in your eyes.

The dew upon my hair is still undried,-
The morning wind strikes chilly where it fell.
Suffer my weariness here at your side
To dream the hour that shall it quite dispel.

Allow my head, that rings and echoes still
With your last kiss, to lie upon your breast,
Till it recover from the stormy thrill,-
And let me sleep a little, since you rest.  

(Translated by Gertrude Hall)

Voici des fruits, des fleurs, des feuilles et des branches
Et puis voici mon coeur qui ne bat que pour vous.
Ne le déchirez pas avec vos deux mains blanches
Et qu'à vos yeux si beaux l'humble présent soit doux.

J'arrive tout couvert encore de rosée
Que le vent du matin vient glacer à mon front.
Souffrez que ma fatigue à vos pieds reposée
Rêve des chers instants qui la délasseront.

Sur votre jeune sein laissez rouler ma tête
Toute sonore encor de vos derniers baisers;
Laissez-la s'apaiser de la bonne tempête,
Et que je dorme un peu puisque vous reposez.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Join in the eFestival of Words

I've been invited to participate in a panel on Dealing with Social Issues in Fiction at the eFestival of Words Virtual Book Fair. Since both of my novels, Sleep Before Evening and Black Cow are heavily rooted in social issues and the power of creativity to heal and transform these situations, this is a topic close to my heart and of course I said yes immediately. The panel is being held on Sunday August 19th at 5pm US EST and I'd love for you to join in.  There will also be a Q&A with me straight afterwards at 6pm in the chatroom.

The eFestival of Words is a free, virtual book fair designed to connect readers with authors and publishers of digital books. For fans of ebooks, this is an opportunity to scout out hidden treasures and interact with authors (loads of freebies, prizes and fun). For those readers new to digital books, this is a chance to learn more about the format and what it can offer.  There are lots of different panels, workshops, open author chats

According to Event Coordinator Julie Ann Dawson, “The goal of the eFestival of Words Awards is to highlight those independent authors and publishers that have worked to raise the bar in terms of the literary quality and production value and of digital books. Many people still think of ebooks as nothing more than scanned pages of print books. We hope that both the fair and the awards will help readers discover the amazing wealth of original content being produced in digital formats.”

Registration is easy. Just sign up at the forum and you are all set! You must register for the site before August 17th in order to attend the fair.  Don't miss this one - I think it's going to be pretty special.