New Poems

Hello!

So, I figured it was about time I posted about some of the new poems I have out this year, or will soon have out. For Spanish readers, I have five new poems in Círculo de Poesía, with thanks to Alí Calderon and translator Andrea Rivas.

I’m happy to report that I have three new poems up at Antic, including one of those Spanish-translated poems, ‘Vacation Country’. (Now I just need to find a home in English for the other four!)

I also have two new poems forthcoming in Overland, and one in Island magazine.

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That’s it for now! It’s been a stunning start to 2017 on the poetry front, hope y’all are enjoying it x

Not So Wild

So, a few weeks ago I found out my poem ‘Not So Wild’ was awarded runner-up place in the prestigious Judith Wright Poetry Prize, as hosted by Overland Journal. I thought I’d mentioned it here already, but it turns out I haven’t. Happily, it’s just come online, so I can link you to it now.

From the judges’ report, Toby Fitch has this to say about it:

Easily the best narrative realist poem in the competition (a category that dominated the prize entries), Omar Sakr’sNot So Wild’ is a nostalgic narrative ‘crackling with storming boyhood’. When the narrator and his wilder childhood friend become ‘lost’, it conjures pictures of lichen-etched sandstone boulders, of gums and brambles clogging a slope, young boys flitting between dappled shadows, jumping from rock to rock. But the poem offers deeper observations still, and, in breathtaking fashion, on families and small-town/suburban relations.

My heartfelt thanks go to the judges, Toby Fitch and Peter Minter, for their consideration, and to the Malcolm Robertson Foundation for funding this initiative which so generously supports emerging poets.

You can read my poem here.

Recent Publications & Other Things

Happy news this week! I have a few publications to talk about — and add to my nifty new Publications page, the existence of which wasn’t warranted until recently — starting with my electronic poem, ‘Definitions’, over at Overland Journal. I wrote this poem several months ago and honestly had forgotten it was out in the ether until I received the acceptance notice a few days ago. It’s a digital poem which, through Telescopic Text, invites you to explore the definition of love.

I wrote it in Canberra, while visiting a poet-friend to collaborate on a project, knowing from the outset that I had no idea what ‘love’ actually means, only that I had a multitude of ideas of what it could be. In thinking about it again today, I remembered what it was that drew me to using Telescopic Text in the first place — the idea that at any one definition, you can stop. You can end the poem when and where you choose to, you can say, ‘this is my love’, even knowing another definition may lie around the corner…or not. The same way you can and do decide on relationships, that this one is the one, even if another might be lying around the corner should you only have the courage to look…

When do you stop? When do you know? When, if ever, does love kill curiousity? Obviously, the stakes are removed when the question can be answered by the click of a button and not the destruction of a relationship, the dismissal of a love loved in full or even in part, but that is the effect I was trying to simulate, the question I was poking at. I’m happy to say the poem has a new lease on life and excellent home in Overland, among a great and eclectic company in this second Electronic Issue.

I also have a poem in publisher If:Book Australia’s recent book ‘Lost in Track Changes’, another project with digital origins, in which writers and artists were invited to remix each other’s words into new prompts, new stories, poems, art, in an effort to track the evolution of creativity. You can read more about the project here.

Lastly, but in no way least, my flash fiction piece, ‘The Horns of Christmas’, has been published by Tiny Owl Workshop in their Krampus Cracker project, wherein writers were invited to submit their take on the Krampus mythos and the winning submissions were paired with great illustrators. Needless to say, I can’t wait to get my hands on the final product and if you’re lucky enough to be in Brisbane, you can do so now!

I hope you’ll forgive the ramble spruiking my small successes — as a writer and poet both, they’re just too rare not to celebrate. Hell, even this week as I hold up these three wins, I had to deal with three rejections which all came on the same day. That’s the nature of this particular path I’ve put myself on: constant hardship, with some lucky reprieves along the way. That’s what these are – just reprieves – small moments when I can take a full breath and remind myself I’m not totally insane for committing myself wholly to a fiscally unviable career. I say that like there was much of a choice. Of course, there wasn’t.

In any case, I can move on now to talking about things written by other people. Firstly, I want to take a moment to mention the book I’m reading: H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald is an absolutely gorgeous book. I don’t usually read non-fiction, but this book is something else entirely. The writing is sentence-by-sentence stunning. It is never not good, and almost always excellent. This book blends memoir, biography, and nature writing in a way I’ve never quite seen before, but even if I had, I’m sure it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as this poetic take on a woman’s grief. It is far and away the best book I’ve read this year, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Lastly, because this is a day I usually reserve for poetry or stories discoverable online, there is this important poetic take on the recent CIA torture report, Redaction by Brian Turner, an Iraq combat vet turned poet. Composed entirely with words taken from the report itself, it’s a small but potent cut through all the noise and headlines surrounding this report, and well worth reading. I’d be lying if I didn’t also say it’s just nice to see a poem take centre stage alongside the usual slew of think-pieces.

Here’s hoping your week has gone as well, if not better, than mine.

The Value of Waiting (Writing)

Note to Self/World: I’m writing this as much for future-me as I am for you, dear fickle Interwebs (won’t you let some of those struggling cocoon-people out of your sticky grasp? No? Okay, well, I tried.) Let’s get right to the chase: I have no patience. Wait, that’s not true – I have patience enough for others, I just don’t have any for myself. I am, in many respects, my generation’s poster child: the early-to-mid 20s Bachelor-of-Arts-toting media professional, suffering from an acute inferiority complex, a paradoxical burning certainty of greatness, and an unfortunate addiction to unnecessary parentheses. (No, really, it’s a thing. Or maybe it’s just me.) Oh, and I just upgraded to a Masters in Creative Writing, otherwise known as holyfuckmoredebtohgodwhy, so there’s that.

Occasionally, I write things and occasionally, I try to publish said things. Now, right there, we have a problem, as nobody ever achieved their insanely unlikely dreams by giving it a go ‘occasionally’. And if you have, fuck you. It’s got to be an everyday grind or at least a dedicated weekly effort. (See what I did there? I also love sliding scales.) This past year or so, I’ve actually been managing that fairly well. I’ve put in the hard yards, worked the 9-5 job, saved, and studied full-time to boot while writing. Things are going OK. Not great, but more than fine. And yet… I itch. Not just because I need to shower more, either, I mean within. I want to move, to see the world, to write novels and short stories and poems and movies and comics and fucking everything. 

I have an insatiable urge to write, to tell stories, and with that comes an equally powerful desire to share them. To connect with people – to give them the kind of release that stories regularly provide for me. The kind that kept me off the streets and saved my life, again and again and again. I’m not alone in this need to connect. Has there ever been a more reflective, multi-skilled generation of storytellers? Even if the stories are only memoirs interspersed through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram – even if the collage is fragmented across mediums and devices, it’s still there, and we are more aware of ourselves and others in the context of narrative than we’ve ever been before.

The desire to be seen, to be heard, is powerful beyond measure. I feel it acutely every day – not because of the internet –  but because my mum was high pretty much every day and I was often invisible to my family. The internet and social media have, however, equipped us with all the tools to readily observe and record our lives in obsessive minutiae; to be, in effect, our own documentarians. Our own historiographers. It both feeds our desire, our certainty of self-importance (not always a bad thing, in and of itself), and leaves us desperately convinced of our own insignificance. Always wanting more. We’re crack-addicts for Likes and Retweets in a social media slum-heaven where the drug is reassurance, the currency popularity.

Fuck, I wish popularity paid the bills. I really do – even though I’d probably still be poor, actually – because then I might have a glimmer of hope that the ubiquitous writer, the digital media clones, might actually get paid a decent wage. Instead, I find myself writing things, stories or articles, not listicles (fuck you Buzzfeed and your many-limbed numerical spawn gradually eating away at the English language until we’re all reduced to nothing more than a GIF of an adorable sea otter sucking on a dildo) without any real means to get them published in a paying market. Now, I have nothing against Buzzfeed really or my delightful digital media clones, but it seems to me that the great content creators that keep this engine chugging are mostly unpaid. A few of these websites have a tiny core group of paid staff and then let the rest of us go nuts in an orgiastic feast of despair and self-loathing.

Case in point: Thought Catalog. Thousands of posts, a mix of articles and listicles, based not on quality writing in exchange for money but a free-for-all in exchange for “exposure”. There have been a whole host of articles recently exhorting the need for artists and writers to be paid appropriately and for young writers not to buy into it, not to undercut their future selves by giving their work away, so I don’t really need to comment on it except to say, actually, I’ve done it before and I may have to do it again. I am a young writer; I’m 24 years old, and I have a voice – a perspective I desperately want to share. Though, deep down, it began from a need to be seen and heard, it has morphed into a critical and utterly necessary release.

Several months ago, I read an opinion piece that lashed me into furious response and immediately sent it off to the Sydney Morning Herald. It was published, and that simple act proved to be disproportionately outstanding in its validation. For once, I wasn’t just an unthinking consumer of the everlasting bullshit of mainstream news media; I had crossed the line. I was being heard and seen, and yes, it prompted truly awful, racist, and personal attacks but it also engaged people with subjects I’m passionate about: education, racism (ending it), community, and the power of reading, of stories. It was unpaid and it didn’t matter. A few months later, I wrote a poem encapsulating how I felt about the rhetoric surrounding Australia’s asylum seeker “debate”. The debate is for show, as both sides have been engaging in no-holds-barred human rights violation for years now, in what may go down as the most depressing race to the bottom in our history.

Again, on writing it, I felt that same powerful need to parachute it into the world – to get it out of my mind, off my chest and into the weightless domain of the internet. I could have waited. I could have sent it to various poetry journals. I looked at a few and the paying journals all had response times of around six months. Six months! That’s an Ice Age in this millennium and my need, my clawing-for-breath had no concept of six months. It had to be now. If ever there was a tag-line for my generation and indeed the next, that must be it: it has to be now. Then, of course, there was the election to be considered, and I thought (in my hilariously optimistic but ultimately ridiculous and depressing fashion), I should get it out there before people vote! Maybe I can make someone think twice? Maybe not.

sent it to the ABC’s The Drum and it was published the next day, to my fevered delight. Responses! Views! Oh, yes, and the racism and the personal attacks. Check, check and check. Still no money though. My urgent impulse faded, clarity returned, and I returned to my usual journal-hunting. Those very same journals increasingly seem to have big name authors and writers on their hands, with even longer response times for unsolicited work, which prompts the thought: but they don’t need those column inches, do they? Surely not… and suddenly, their shouts from high on their published pedestals takes on a different note. Don’t buy into it, they said. They may very well not want to rely on those column inches every bit as much as you want to steal them. But the game is rigged now and we all know it.

Worse, I don’t really see a way out of it. Just last week, I found myself reflecting on death, on my grandmother’s recent passing, and the role and differences in funerals across Western and Islamic culture. It was an incredibly difficult piece, and it spans some 3,140 words. It took several hours to write. Writing it woke the quiet heat of grief within and I wanted nothing more than to get rid of it, to have someone else read it and feel what I was saying. I found myself trawling the internet again. Where could I send it? Could I actually aim to get paid for it? I should, shouldn’t I? I was in a daze. I must have tried a dozen places, and somehow ended up at Thought Catalog. I’d seen a few of their posts come up on Facebook recently – fuck it, I had to do it. So I sent it off.

A few days later, once more becalmed, I rewrote it, and it was much better. This time, I sent it to Overland. I thought, here, I have something substantial. Something I’ve worked on. I noticed that Overland has two categories for its Essays – online and print. Online carried a payment of $50. Print, $400. A $350 difference and I still, still asked the editor to consider it for the online category too. Money didn’t matter. I just needed to be heard, needed to be read – the relief is visceral, a whole body experience. Ultimately, I totally forgot about the Thought Catalog submission until they emailed me to say ‘Congratulations! Your piece is up!’ That came as a bit of a shock, actually. Usually, you get asked if the piece is still available to be published but there it was, just out there on the web.

I’m not shitting on Thought Catalog here, either; ultimately the need I had was sated, and the decision to send it was mine, so it’s all good. However, with hindsight, the placement of my work bothers me. Nothing hit home harder than seeing my work alongside an inane list of 10 Reasons Why Potato is God’s Greatest Creation – made all the more worse by the fact that I read the damn thing because I fucking love potatoes. My 3000+ word piece exploring grief and my own relationship with death and the rituals we have around it was no better than that list. In fact, it was worse, because no one wants to read about death when they could be reading about potatoes. Fact. Also, the sheer volume of content they produce every day is astounding. Be prepared for your work to be buried, fast.

So, I’m left with mixed feelings about the shrinking options that face new writers. On the one hand, you want to build a respectable platform of published work, and the more paid-for work you have, the more credibility you have (also money). On the other, there are times when nothing matters more than being heard, being seen, and expressing your pain/joy/love as fully as you know how. The only advice I have for myself is to think before submitting next time, not just about how it will reflect on me or my future prospects, but to consider how appropriate the platform is for the piece.

Sharing work with friends might be a sensible step to take first, allowing me to think more clearly before I try to publish it.Really though, what I’m trying to say here is that sometimes, it’s more complicated than simply free vs pay, print vs digital or anything in between. It can be difficult for new writers to navigate a viable path through the mire of media these days – I wish I had the answers but I don’t.

If you do, be sure to let me know, because I’m still trying to find my way.