Emerging poet series: Caitlin Maling

With the return of spring and the call for entries to the 2014 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets, it’s time for a new series of Overland Emerging poets.

Over the past year I’ve been really excited by the depth and skill of the new poetry being sent to Overland by emerging poets. It’s a great sign of the vitality in Australian poetry today, and also that Overland is the venue of choice for new poets with a commitment to social justice, progressive thought and the visionary imagination.

New poets remind us that, like spring flowers, small utopias can grow in the sparkle of new words, lines and thoughts. And hell, these days we dearly need them!

I hope you enjoy.

Peter Minter

Caitlin Maling is a Western Australian poet whose first collection Conversations I’ve Never Had will be published by Fremantle Press in February 2015. Her work can be found, or is forthcoming, in Best Australian Poems, Australian Book Review, Westerly, Green Mountains Review, Threepenny, Australian Poetry and Meanjin, among others. This year she was shortlisted for the Judith Wright Poetry Prize and the Newcastle Poetry Prize. She holds an MPhil in Criminological Research from Cambridge University and an MFA in poetry from the University of Houston. She has lived the past three years in Texas.

South Beach

The pontoon is back. It’s summer
and the house prices are spiking.
Mother wouldn’t let me spend the night
this side of the highway when I was younger
but now it’s all manicured,
mothers negotiating strollers
along the beach road past 15 cafes
3 microbreweries and a coffee roastery.
I’ve forgotten what it means to be
female in this city. My sister says
she’s started wearing men’s shirts,
she’s into androgyny now, her ex,
she says, was always asking her why
she didn’t wear dresses anymore.
Still she rises an hour before work
to walk the river path, arms stretched out
awkwardly like swan wings to work the fat.
It must be nice, I say, to be pretty;
some desires you never grow out of.
Out on the pontoon, the kids push
back and forth, trying to convince
one another of sharks. My unlined skin
greasy with sunscreen is heritage
of being taught to guard whiteness.
Like our parents visiting the doctor weekly
to get another small coin of cancer burnt off.
They will both die of throat cancer,
if melanoma doesn’t get them first.
The hole in the ozone layer above Perth
is a portal of sorts, if there’d been no colony,
no Stirling up the Swan, the westerlies still
would’ve brought the factory fumes here.
You can’t stop some things from eroding.

Desert Meditation

In the Chihuaha what’s human is what you bring,
only solar power, water plastic-shipped-in, propane tanks for heat and food.
The sun has burnt for 4.5 billion years, fallen here for 4 million.
It’s easy to believe the light will outlast us,
glints of metal sands glowing at midday.  At night,
the moon is another stone overturned in the canyon,
the ground cools and the animals you don’t see by day
leave the footprints you find in the morning–
javelinas and coyotes–the difference between ungulate hoof and mammal paw
held by the sand until dusk, when the wind blows
from over the border, over the Rio Grande,
and you don’t see anything anymore. Only sand,
the rough phonemes of what’s beyond the Guadalupe’s
flooding the plains.

Speech is unnecessary to song. The vermilion flycatchers rise
from the sosol to migrate south. The sky is the desert
we haven’t figured out how to colonise yet.
What use is a border to the desert? How to separate
one grain of sand in a dry river bed from the next?
The heat rises over the rockface, the edges of stone and sky blur
pink, orange, yellow, until both work down to ink.

A stone can skip in two
the river that runs through the Boccaccillo’s Canyon.
But when it floods, the plains fill and the border widens
so the tops of the yucca are the only flags,
green and greener the only nations.

From the plane, flying to Alice Springs,
the difference between the Great Sandy and Little Sandy deserts
cannot be quantified in sand
but in how the shrub unfurls in widening circles,
a slow linear gradation of vegetation.
At the top of Kings Canyon, you imagine
a line between WA and the Rock.
On the surface high above the desert,
the fossilized remains of strombolites
indicate this once was an ocean. In the stone,
the patterns of a sea hold.

Land does not age like people: It gets smoother;
it does not rust in water-it polishes.
Land outlasts what we call it.


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

I recently read Tracy K Smith’s Life On Mars and was blown away by her ability to intertwine threads of personal narrative, astrophysics and current affairs in a way which is complex and never reductive. The title poem brings Josef Fritzl and dark matter together, it sparked in me an interest to look closer at ideas of gender and violence in poetry. Following on from that, I’ve been re-reading Jennifer Maiden, especially Mines, I love her diaristic style and her use of television as lens for viewing the wider world. Then Susan Howe’s Europe of Trusts for mythic violence and her glorious sound. A teacher of mine once proposed to me that mythic violence offers catharsis for the reader in a way which reproductions of real world violence do not and that’s kind of driving my reading, I’m still trying to figure out where I stand on that.

I also read pretty consistently in the broad category of ecopoetics. Most recently I enjoyed Gary Short’s 10 Moons and 13 Horses for its almost Merwinian stillness, dg nanouk okpik’s corpse whale for its rich and heteroglossic telling of the author’s Inupiat heritage and of the landscape of Alaska, and finally Nandi Chinna’s Swamp for her close attention to the wetlands of WA.

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

I write every day, or at least I try to. I guess I fall somewhere on the scale of ‘walking poets’. I walk every day to my local coffee store, about 2kms each way, taking with me only my reading and writing, no phones or devices (which worked out poorly when I locked myself out of the house and had no way to contact anybody). I draft in my head walking, then I write by hand at the coffee store for about an hour and read for another hour or so. I need the stimulation of being around other people’s conversation and the caffeine. I also write better when I’m reading more and widely. I type up my poems late at night while watching television, the trashier reality television the better, I find it filters things in an interesting way. I edit to the music I’m trying to get the tone of into my poems, recently lots of country music and Mahler, I guess you could say I like dissonance.

I also travel a lot and try to write in the places I find myself. I drive through small country towns in Texas and stop in diners to write or in the car parks of hiking trails. The only place I won’t write are bars, I tried being a martini poet and the results were not good, a great too many adjectives were deployed.

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

One of the things I enjoy most about Australian poetry is its ability to find and dissect its elephants, it’s a very vocal community. In the past year I’ve enjoyed following the in-depth discussions about fair pay, diversity and representation, the state of book reviewing and plagiarism, amid the familiar conversations on page/stage and academic/society. Apart from when these discussions become repetitive or mean spirited, I think a willingness to talk and engage with one another is part of what makes Australian poetry dynamic and it goes without saying that there is a need to continue to try to involve more and more diverse voices in the fray.

One of the things I’m most worried about is how the changes to education funding, and overall arts funding, in the current Budget will effect Australian poetry and culture at large. A cost/benefit rationalisation for spending will always disadvantage the arts which are not quantifiable in an easy way. Again though, I’m not the first to say or think this, so it’s not really an elephant in the room, unless it’s a very loud elephant.






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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