Overland Emerging Poets Series: Alana Kelsall

2011 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets commended poet: Alana Kelsall

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 nightfall

A 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!


Other work online:
ACT Poetry Prize

Peter Minter

Peter Minter is a leading Australian poet and writer on poetry and poetics, and Overland’s outgoing poetry editor.

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