Overland Emerging Poets Series: Molly Murn

2011 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets commended poet: Molly Murn

Molly Murn is completing a Masters in Creative Writing at Flinders University, South Australia, where she is also a part-time teacher of English and Creative Writing. As part of her thesis she has written a novella, The Heart of the Grass Tree, set in Kangaroo Island, which focuses on the lives of the sealers who first settled the island with their stolen Aboriginal ‘wives’ in the early 1800s. Molly’s poems are published in various Friendly Street anthologies, and in Transnational Literature. She lives in the Adelaide hills with her two children, and with a cacophony of kookaburras and mercurial salamanders.


Find me a garden

I find in you the space to turn and swing, 
and slowly wing the poem to its end.

Each stopping place along the way slakes 
the thirst, and sings the traveller to its knees.

Find me a garden, and I will go there – she
says – I want to know the heart of you.

Every carapace shields the tender centre;
every hummock makes the journey longer.

Yet, you lie open as the uncluttered plain – 
the bones, the blood, the heat, the sand.

I come to you to gather the quiet refuge 
of my words, to utter the beat of the heart.

And now, turning inward, to return, return 
again, let’s leave the poem where it ends.


Who are you reading now and why do they turn you on?

I am a bowerbird, my reading nest strewn with bright words and saplings from John Donne to Emily Dickinson to Mary Oliver to Lorna Crozier to Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Gillian Mears to Alex Miller to Karen Blixen to Karin Altenberg and before and beyond.

I always come back to Donne – the first poet I seriously studied (thank you to my year 12 English teacher) – because in his poems there is an abiding tension; there is humanity and divinity both: ‘Each man’s death diminishes me,/ For I am involved in mankind’. I have lines from Dickinson pinned by my writing desk, ‘I dwell in Possibility – /A fairer House than Prose’, to remind me that poems are writ, ‘To gather Paradise’. I love contemporary poet, Mary Oliver’s collection Red Bird for its celebratory ‘firing up the landscape’. And Lorna Crozier’s Bones with Wings illuminated the contemporary ghazal for me.

I have just read Mears’ Foal’s Bread and I want to bow at Mears’ feet. Devastating. Such beautiful earthy prose. Hits you in the chest like good poetry does. And her writing of the female orgasm! Perfect. I’ve also just put down Karin Altenberg’s novel Island of Wings – a collision of images wrought with such clarity as to take one’s breath away. It reels with birds and arctic winds and effigies of ice and longing and devastation – both inward and outward. And next? I have sitting waiting, Kate Fagan’s new collection, First Light.

How often do you write? Do you have a writing practice?

‘Find me a garden’, the poem which received the commendation, is about the act of writing poetry. In this case, the writing of a ghazal – the ancient Persian lyric – and the meditative place of concentration and quietude one must reach to unfurl a poem. It is also about the inner nourishment that writing brings.

When it comes to poetry, I write when I must, which is sometimes furiously every day, but more often than not, between long stretches of living loving working parenting busy-ness. A poem comes when I find or create a stopping-place. I write when a sentiment or sentence haunts me; when an experience or revelation or glimpse or feeling whispers or howls to be explored resolved unravelled understood revered gathered in let go. My practice is arbitrary and necessary both.

When you think of Australian poetry, do you see an elephant in the room? If so, what is it?

Well, I have thought much about what this question might mean …

When I think of Australian poetry, rather than seeing an elephant in the room, I see poets hoisting themselves up on to the backs of lumbering elephants and guiding them defiantly out of the room and into the waiting wild. Is it not the work of (Australian) poets to make confronting, cheeky, bold illuminations; to herd hushed elephants with expert flourish (think the Jindyworobaks), or with tenderness, gentleness, courage (think Judith Wright uttering her sorrow over the desecration of country, and Oodgeroo, too, taking up this dialogue); and to straddle elephants-in-rooms bare-back with playfulness, daring, controversy (think the Ern Malley Hoax and the continuing experimentation since then)?

But is it that we can’t put our finger on Australian poetry – its many voices, its spaciousness, its place within and without European tradition, its songlines, its ancient heart and its roomy skies, its search for belonging in a place of no elephants? Is its elusiveness the elephant in the room? I wonder …


Other work online
‘Holes in the Skein’, Transnational Literature 4.2
‘The Thorn and the Petal’, Transnational Literature 3.1
‘After Life’, ‘New Moon’, ‘Adha Chandrasana’, Catch Fire: Friendly Street Poets 33


Peter Minter

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

More by Peter Minter ›

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