Rosemary Nissen-Wade: Aussie poet and teacher of metaphysics – a personal view
My bestie nicknamed me SnakyPoet on her blog, and I liked it. (It began as
'the poet of the serpentine Northern Rivers' and became more and more abbreviated.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Thousands of cheers for the change of Government in Australia! A political commentator on TV this morning expressed the opinion that it was more than anything about getting rid of John Howard and his mob, and there's an element of truth in that. In fact, I was agreeing with my stepson Adam just a little while ago that the collective mood seems to be a huge sigh of relief around the country.

Our erstwhile Foreign Minister was quoted as saying, 'No-one was waiting for us with baseball bats. It was more a kind of ennui, a feeling that it was time for a change.' Oh yes? Then why, after the relief, am I feeling such glee?

Actually I voted Green. Witches care for the natural world! But my second preferences went to Labor. Getting the Howard Government out was indeed a huge priority.

On a vid of a US anti-war protest on MySpace today, I saw a placard saying 'Violence isn't strong. Compassion isn't weak.' I loved it so much, I thought I should use it as a banner or an email signature.

Our new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will probably steer us to the centre, when I'd rather go more left – but I do believe he will restore some overdue compassion to Australian politics.

The issue of the pulp mill remains. Although I haven't lived in Tasmania for a long time, I'm keeping in touch with what's going on there. It must be hard for even the most wilfully blind to deny that there was a big protest vote against the mill. And that campaign continues. See these articles: Labor returns as pulp vote hits polls and The Lucky Country?

Today is a day for celebration, a great day for Australia!

Here is a quick-off-the-mark piece by Brisbane poet Stefanie Petrik:


Standing outside a community center
Deep in the heart of the Gold Coast
My friend and I beamed smiles through
The haze of affluence and indifference
Handing out how to vote cards:
“Socialist Alliance. Vote for a Revolution”.
Nobody got the irony.
The lone Labor supporter, was swamped at the door
By blue wearing oldies in t-shirts stamped
proudly with familiar effigies
Of a country unsure of its identity
Or of what it really wants and needs.
The conservatives, safe in that electorate
played dirty. They knocked down
her sign, repeatedly. They sniped at her with
pack mentality. The minor conservative
parties worked together, knowing that all
the preferences were theirs, anyway.
Then, a homeless man walked up to the
My Family First
Christian party, them representing money, not God,
And asked him for a dollar. He was pointed over to
Lone labor woman, while another bouncy woman
Tied blue and white balloons to a shopping trolley
That contained his companion’s worldly possessions.
I sat with my friend, hours later,
tired from standing in the sun
And a car screamed past yelling:
“Die Johnny Howard, you Liberal scum!”
We cheered a little too loudly.
The liberal next to us leant in and said,
“You’re lucky I don’t have my glock”.
In an American accent.
Told him he didn’t scare us, and asked him why
He had a registered weapon in a country with restrictive gun laws.
He was a bounty hunter from the USA
A personal friend of his candidate,
And he worked on promoting the Bush/Cheney campaign, too.
Lying or not, what bounty could he possibly
find in threatening two women on their own?
Apparently, he could even claim
his attack dogs back on tax. How nice for him.
We told him again:
You don’t scare us.
At the end of the day, the last rush of people
Voting after a working class day
The gauntlet of conservatives manned the lip
Of the gate. I joined them.
They said:
Don’t risk the economy, vote Liberal.
I said, louder:
People before profits!
Planet before profits!

And later that night, the people of this country
Voted John Howard out, and threw a magnificent party.
Hungover and definitely not scared - Nov 25th 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Insight, offsight

An email from my friend, Aussie poet and artist Bob Mud, which he says I may edit and spread as I wish! (Not that it needs editing.)

I didn't see the TV show he refers to, but I don't think you have to, to get the point.

Date: Fri, 16 Nov 2007 10:32:29 +1000

Tried sending to the SBS program 'Insight'- Jenny Brockie SBS Tuesdays - can't seem to get through on their web site:

Your program seems to avoid all the tough questions while giving total focus to home ownership, jobs and economy.

If union bosses are to be feared why aren't corporate bosses mentioned, such as Skase, Bond and CEOs who retire on unimaginable millions?

If Kevin Rudd is guilty of "Me too." what about John Howard's "Me too." to George Bush?

Global warming is absolutely vital to the future of the planet and war is and has been a prime cause of phenomenal pollution.

The war in Iraq is a disgraceful bundle of lies.

Nuclear power uses large volumes of water and can never be called 'clean' when it creates pollution that lasts centuries!

Why has all media gone silent on Brendon Nelson's deals with America in buying fighter aircraft?

We might also be reminded of the wheat board deals with Iraq.

The aboriginal issues are akin to 'Children overboard.' Remote communities never have the same police services as the rest of the Australian community. Blaming victims in order to control land?

The immigration department's 200 false arrests might rate a mention.

Why wouldn't Mr Downer, or any foreign minister, welcome a diplomat capable of speaking fluent Chinese at a time when the country is emerging as a world power?

This bland program layered with superficial political correct politeness is a sad reflection on the self interest of Australians slowly agonising about immediate gains and losses for their better homes and gardens that are ultimately likely to destroy the livelihood of the whole planet itself!

Is this demockeracy?


Monday, November 19, 2007

Things people say to poets

I advise my writing students against showing their unfinished work to their nearest and dearest. I don't know why it is, but they are the very people who will bring you down. If they too are writers, they may be exceptions to this rule – but you can't count on it.

Australian author Carmel Bird – known for her fiction but also an accomplished poet – gives her students the same warning. In her book Dear Writer she shouts it in capital letters and exclamation marks.

'Beware!' she says,


I can only add that the same applies to your unfinished poems, plays, scripts and non-fiction ... and anything else I may have forgotten.

Carmel tells of students who ignore the warning and then come to her 'in tears and rage' to tell her 'how their loved-ones rejected their creation.' She adds wryly:

' "But," you say, "my lover is different. He would never be unkind about my work." Try him.'

The comments of strangers can be almost as alarming – especially when they haven't even read your work.

When I first began getting published, my then husband, Bill Nissen, introduced me proudly to new people with, 'Rosemary's a poet'. This engendered some interesting responses. A common one was,

'Oh, that must be such wonderful THERAPY.'

Well yes, it can be, as a side-effect – but I was rather aiming to create works of art!

Then there were the blokes who asked with a leer,

'Do you write dirty poems?' and guffawed at their own wit.

Yes, actually; they didn't know the half of it. I have indeed been known to write red-hot erotica. But see, I don't think that's dirty! And in terms of 'language' it's more inclined to be metaphoric than pornographic.

Most mind-boggling of all was the man who said,

'How can you possibly be a poet? You're much too young. You haven't SUFFERED!'

We had only just met and he knew almost nothing about me. Granted, I have always looked quite a lot younger than my years, and perhaps he didn't realise he was talking to a woman in her thirties (at that time). But youth is not exempt from suffering anyway. For instance, I was fifteen when my parents divorced and I found myself saddled with a cruel, mad stepmother whom I always describe as 'right out of the fairy-tales'. My brother, who was her favourite scapegoat, was only eleven.

Few people reach adulthood without experiencing some suffering, if only the death of a beloved grandparent or pet animal. Many children in the world know horrendous suffering from an early age.

This of course begs the question of whether suffering is in fact necessary in order to be a poet. Perhaps we'll never know, since it's so difficult to imagine even a young life completely devoid of suffering. But a talent for poetry seems to be genetic or hormonal, or perhaps both; not merely a product of circumstances. People typically start writing it either in childhood or during puberty, according to a study I read a long time ago. It definitely runs in my family!

Then again, I sometimes think it's natural to us all. People who are institutionalised often turn to poetry as a necessary form of self-expression. We need self-expression whether we're suffering or not. And the urge to communicate it, which follows immediately, is also very powerful.

I admit that emotions like grief and anger tend to be more urgent in demanding expression. When things are going well, I'm more inclined to bask in the moment than set it down on paper. But poetry can be made from joy as well as suffering, as witness all the rapturous love poems which poets have always made. 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day...', 'My luve is like a red, red rose...' and so on – centuries of them.

I found it disconcerting when Bill introduced me as a poet. I felt I didn't know how to 'be' a poet. Perhaps I still felt I wasn't one, really. Evidence accrued, however, in the form of publication and paid performance, and after some years I took the matter so much for granted that I became blasé about being introduced that way. At that point of self-acceptance, suddenly everyone else accepted the fact too, reacting as if the occupation of poet was unremarkable. Thereafter the only comment was likely to be,

'Where can I read your work?'

Astonishing! I have to think it was a profound change in my own energy which made the difference.

I guess the moral of this story is that we need to believe in ourselves.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Growing up poetic

Nancy and Robert over at Poetic Asides , one of my favourite blogs, say they started out writing free verse and only later experimented with forms. For me it was the opposite way round. I was brought up on formal poetry, which my parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles all loved. So when I started making poems as a little girl, it was natural to give them rhyme and rhythm.

Below is my first poem, written when I was seven. Well, I didn't write it immediately; I made it in my head first, saying it over to myself in my mind until I had something I thought worked – which was quite quick really. Explaining my process at Writer's Resource Center, I spoke of training myself to hold lines and verses in my head when my kids were small, when I couldn't always get straight to pen and paper as soon as the poems started forming in my mind. I had forgotten until just now that that was how I started out. Indeed, 'forming in my mind' is always what happens first.

So here's that first poem:

When the violin leaves
whirl round and round,
when the violin leaves
scatter the ground,
then Jack Frost comes out
and throws snow all about.

My Dad asked me why 'violin leaves' and I explained that I thought the leaves I was looking at were shaped like tiny violins. My first metaphor! It was quickly followed by my lifelong urge to be understood. I changed the phrase to 'autumn leaves' and called the poem 'Autumn' so that it wouldn't need explaining. I still hold accessibility as one of the highest values in writing, and at the age of 68 am only just starting to soften that stance a little, to accommodate more indirectness and mystery.

What with the Jack Frost image, completely derivative, and the mention of snow – which I only remember happening once, briefly, in the town where I grew up – my alterations made the piece ordinary. I was happy, later, to put it back the way I first composed it, even though more people 'got' the second version. Accessibility's one thing, compromise is another.

My Dad, no mean versifier himself, took my poem seriously enough to have a conversation with me about the merits of 'violin leaves' over 'autumn leaves' and the spuriousness of my other images. Probably I'd have continued creating verses anyway, but his attitude certainly encouraged me. He made me feel that I had enough potential to strive for greater things.

At school I played a bit with the forms we learned about: ballads and sonnets mostly, and eventually some free verse. I didn't have much idea how to go about it though until a family friend, who wrote very formal verse himself, took the trouble to introduce me to the word and idea of 'prosody' and the techniques of scansion. He explained about the number of beats to a line, and patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. He showed me how to note metre on paper, and I still do it the way he showed me, with / for heavy syllables and . for unstressed ones, so an iambic pentameter (5 beats to a line, each beat having an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one) looks like this, the way I write it: . / . / . / . / . /

I couldn't imagine anything better to be than a poet. To bring so much beauty into the world! When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always 'a famous poet', until eventually my father explained regretfully that a poet wasn't a thing you could 'be' in that sense and I'd have to find some other way to earn a living; and that, furthermore, very few poets ever became really famous. He opined that while my juvenile efforts were unusually good, he didn't know that they indicated latent genius!

Mucking around making poems remained one of my favourite pastimes, but by the time I was in my late teens I was convinced I could never be a 'real poet' – real poets were those other people, the brilliant shining lights who got published in books and literary magazines. I imagined their wonderful works were the result of inborn genius and divine inspiration; I didn't understand about the 99% perspiration. Nothing could stop me making poems, but as I entered adulthood it became my private indulgence. I seldom revised or polished anything. I was doing it just for me. But I still wanted to shape it; it was never just blurting stuff on to the page.

Poetic form is all about making patterns, so I started experimenting. I played with rhyme and rhythm, preferring a loose rhythm with a variable number of unstressed syllables to a strict meter – probably because I found it easier! I parodied popular songs just to get variations in rhymes and rhythms. I started making up my own forms (nothing very elaborate or innovative, I'm afraid) usually starting with a pattern of the number of lines to a verse and then looking at rhyme schemes and rhythms. So when I did finally try to go public with poetry, I discovered to my own surprise that I had given myself a good grounding in form while I thought I was just playing around.

I sometimes allowed people to see my very private scribblings, and they usually said they liked them. I was never sure if they were just being polite. One boyfriend told me it was like 'a diary in verse' because it was all confessional stuff, though we didn't know that term then. It was not until I was in my early thirties, the young mother of two small children, that I started asking myself why I was always restless and discontented even though I had everything I was supposed to want: nice husband, nice house in nice suburb, nice kids, nice career (in librarianship) which I was able to pursue part time while the kids were so young…. All that niceness could have been a clue!

'What more do you want?' I asked myself, and the proverbial lightbulb went off in my head. The thing I had always wanted was to be a poet, not just as a private self-indulgence, but really ... whatever 'really' meant. Well, one thing I knew it meant was being published. So I figured I'd better try.

That was a different game. In another post I talk about training myself more consciously by attempting every style of poetry in English to that date. (1975 if you must know.) At least, that was the intention. Pound's Cantos proved daunting, and by that time my own words, in my own style, were screaming inside me to get out. I sent some pieces to Nation Review, the most radical Australian publication of the day.

'These are too long for us,' the editor wrote back. 'Send us some shorter pieces.' I did, by return mail, and he selected four! I never looked back.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Writing for Facebook

A friend emailed me this information:

Facebook gets literary
Arts Hub, Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Only on the web can you start a new literary review and have over 2,000 people sign up within a month. In fact, the early popularity of The Facebook Review rebukes any charge that web-denizens don't care much for textuality beyond the hyper.

The review, a first for Facebook, already has over 2,000 subscribers, and is growing daily.

The global experiment in literature and social networking was launched this month, and the first virtual edition features 14 writers from across the globe, including emerging and established writers from Canada, the U.S. and the UK.

What makes this online literary magazine unique is its interactivity and the fact it only exists within Facebook, the huglely popular social networking website (boasting more than 49 million users worldwide).

By using Facebook as a publishing tool and accepting contributions from Facebook members, review founder, poet Jacob McArthur Mooney, hopes to harness the reach and momentum of social networking to provide a new platform for writers - with in-built instant feedback, as other members to comment on and share the work.

Mooney, a 24-year-old Canadian, says: "Facebook is such an immense environment I assumed that something like The Facebook Review had to already exist somewhere. As it turns out, Facebook is vast but also surprisingly empty. I wanted to challenge the idea that Facebook can only reflect the culture happening beyond it."

Issues will be edited by the contributors to the previous issue, producing an inclusive rolling editorial team.

"I think that the casual atmosphere on Facebook can get people talking to each other in ways they'd never do in 'the real world'," says Mooney. "Facebook is a meeting ground for writers at all levels; from kids posting their first poems for friends to read to established authors using it as a marketing vehicle."

UK author Mark Brown, featured in the first issue, agrees: "The Facebook Review is a fun idea that points the way toward new ways of publishing and reading literature. I'm really excited to be a part of it."

Anyone who is a member of Facebook can join The Facebook Review by visiting or by searching for The Facebook Review group. All details and submission guidelines can be found at The Facebook Review page inside Facebook

Well, I can't stand Facebook after trying it for a few months. Or was it weeks that only seemed like months? I really did try. I joined in sending people virtual drinks and gifts and hugs, I wrote things on their walls, I answered their questions. I did draw the line at exchanging vampire bites or sending a beach ball around the world. And I was amused when, in a fit of silliness late one night, I offered to marry half my Facebook friends and scared the s**t outa some of them! (I thought I had omitted all who might take me seriously but apparently not.)

I thought it was the most boring and time-wasting thing I'd ever come across! As far as I'm concerned, the kids can have it. I'll just find other ways to support the Burmese dissidents and record my personal history as raw material for memoir – the two reasons I stayed as long as I did.

The literary review tempted me only briefly. After all, though feedback on one's work can be useful – from 2,000 people??? It seems a mite excessive. Have I got time to sort through the uninformed, tasteless and half-baked opinions that would inevitably be included, to find the gems? If I wanted my poetry to appeal to the masses, I'd be writing greeting cards. (No, I would LOVE it to appeal to the masses – but not at the expense of poetics, you see.)

Glad to find out my instincts are sound. My friend The Cerebral Mum has looked into the matter more than I did, and points out the following:

I had a look at that Review Thingy. I know it has lots of members, but I wonder how many actually read it? And The material is only covered by Facebook Terms which says that you “grant to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise.” I’m all for open source, and Creative Commons, but I’m pretty sure that particular agreement is not one your agent would recommend signing when it comes to your artistic work. It’s one of the things that makes me distrust them so much.

Yes, that's a pretty horrifying agreement to make about one's writing!

Send this to all your friends or else! (Just kidding.)

I just sent out a snaky email asking everyone NOT to send me forwards no matter how good. But my cousin ignored me – and this one is so good I want to share it too!

Life is short, Break the rules, Forgive quickly, Kiss slowly, Love truly, Laugh uncontrollably, And never regret anything that made you smile.

Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we're here we might as well dance...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Seven random things

... about me, that is. Yes! I've been tagged for another meme by The Cerebral Mum. I think this is her kindly way of ensuring I write things in this blog now and again. I'm such a MySpace tart that I forget and neglect my Blospots – which may be why I have lots of friendly readers there and not very many here!

OK, off the top of my head –

1. I revere spiders and get extremely upset when people kill them.
2. That is nothing to do with hating flies ... but I do hate flies.
3. I'm not very 'girly', e.g. I dislike shopping.
4. I'm mad about stones and rocks, from tiny pebbles I find on the beach to great crags as in Scotland and parts of Australia. And definitely including crystals.
5. I love mountains; my favourite mountains are the Peruvian Andes. (Nice and rocky.)
6. I have Indian ancestry, through my maternal grandmother – the Asian kind, not Native American. There's also English, Scottish and Irish. Unfortunately the Indian in me is diluted to about an eighth, and I remain very disappointed to have missed out on long black hair down to my bum.
7. My only brother is a Philosophy lecturer at the University of Auckland.

Oh yes, I'm supposed to tag people, aren't I? Last time I did that, satyapriya was the only one who did it! As she was such a good girl and she doesn't seem to have done this one already, I'll tag her again! And Le aucoeur and Capt. Lychee. (Le aucouer's link isn't working though I KNOW it's correct. Try cut and paste:
Yes, that works!

I think prolific
blogger Collin Kelley has already done this meme, but I would have to look through an awful lot of archives now to make certain. OK, him if he hasn't done it, or would repeat it with new items. And anyone else who would like to, really – please let me know if you do.