Alana Kelsall grew up on a farm in Victoria. She enjoys travelling, languages and spoken word. She is living in the UK at the moment with her husband and younger son, working on a novel about her life in Japan and completing her first solo collection of poetry. In 2010/11 she was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Competition, commended in the Rosemary Dobson Prize and shortlisted for the Welsh Poetry competition. Her poetry has appeared in local magazines such as Blue Dog, Going Down Swinging, Poetrix and, most recently, online in Cordite.
The distance till nightfallA milky blue sky ploughed earth pleating outwards from the seams of hedges trees like black lace across a hill I’m going north with the sunlight streaking across my lap I see something of my daughter’s face in the window’s reflection the same quietness folded around her on the express to Gatwick what’s the time she’d asked the hotel room bleak and cold with a faded sixties carpet a corner missing from the window pane I was up and showered peering into my purse with a list of my expenses her expenses going north and south in my head she was sleeping in her face in the crook of her arm her whispy hair on the pillow zig- zagging like the canals out this window cows lying down in a circle a coated horse some sheep I could be her age back on the farm where I grew up the river winding round to the dam star bursts of light when you looked up through the gums sometimes bent double with a laugh I think I am her age snapping my purse shut instead I wanted to say (biting down on it) as if I know the time all the time it runs everywhere beneath your feet across continents when you sleep it’s that tug at your eyelids I know time might seem to stop unless you’re going full tilt the exhausting haul of nights she’s had in Berlin missed planes and oh the phone calls (biting down on this too) the drag of my father’s breath back then as he stiffened before the usual Your mother and I nothing I could begin to say about where the money went my trials with shaving and strapless girdles fluttering in my head blanking my face before his clear-eyed stare the sigh in the heaviness of his hands resting on the office desk his wordless hope clouds bunching in a corner of the sky cuffs of long grass in the cuttings trees like filaments of hair in the wind outside the hotel her face plumping with cold clouds under her eyes the vast rooms of a long flight south over water banked up words breaking off not what I meant to say or not say and regret we slipped in to our last hug inside Kings Cross the small train red and yellow like a toy my tears out on stalks as we stepped back I mumbled (just) I think you’ll do well now a pale half-moon trees huddled in a corner like frayed stitching am I towing these sunken fields into daylight looping back at day’s end the walls of buildings and backyards slow to a stop another station crows camped in a tree like hinges angled down at the bins a voice crackles over the loudspeaker spirals into song Ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking Newark Newark jumping through the hoop of his voice doing a loop di da doo wa our own circus hoopla the doors swish open we’re flimsy with laughter just ripples in a clear sky this is the stop to get off float now like a reflection the trace of a fingertip
Who are you reading now and why do they turn you on?
I read everything new that I can get my hands on! At the moment I’m immersed in Helen Dunmore’s latest collection, the Malarkey. I first read a poem of hers in the Sunday ‘Observer’ called Boatman, and was entranced by the simple language and the unexpected repetition of whole lines, sometimes only a word. I thought, this shouldn’t work, but it does. I’m still trying to figure out her clear-eyed unadorned style and learn from it.
How often do you write? Do you have a writing practice?
For poems, I write first in longhand and, after I can’t read the text anymore because of all the crossings out, I then transfer it to the computer. Once there, I find it harder to re-imagine a section that isn’t working. I frequently go back to the original page and begin again in longhand, on a clean sheet.
My preferred time of writing is from early morning through to about two o’clock. I like silence. In fact, I can’t have music on anywhere near me when I’m faced with a blank sheet of paper. Now that my children are grown I write every day, almost all day when I’m working on my novel, in shorter bursts, especially at traffic lights, when I’m working on a single poem. I love the cocoon-like feeling of being in a vehicle and letting my thoughts drift. Lately, because my local coffee shop is a fifteen minute walk away on the other side of a wood, I find myself tuning in to the rhythm of walking and using that time to think up lines. Much safer! The change of seasons here in the UK is so spectacular that details of it are becoming a jumping off point for some of my recent poems.
When you think of Australian poetry, do you see an elephant in the room? If so, what is it?
The main ‘elephant in the room’ that I see is the stipulation that entrants to most national poetry competitions must be not only Australian residents but ‘resident in Australia’. In the twenty-first century with the internet, this seems unnecessary. I think we carry our sense of identity with us wherever we are. I am particularly grateful to the Judith Wright Poetry Prize for allowing ‘Australian citizens (living anywhere) . . .’ to enter. Otherwise, having lived in the UK for over a year now, I would have been disqualified.
The old ‘elephant in the room’, that is, the battle between academic/published poetry versus street poetry is becoming a non-issue. Or maybe the different types of poetry have been put through a rinse cycle and come out wearing the others’ clothes. Recent poetry that I’ve read online seems to me full of risk and energy, irrespective of the voice, the punctuation or the arrangement of lines.
Perhaps self-publishing, the popularity of spoken word and the work of the Poets’ Union and Overload over the years have all had something to do with it. I look back on the Melbourne poetry community and their poetry readings in local pubs with nostalgia. I’ll be back!