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Rebecca Jessen

TWENTY-TWO (Yesterday)

There was a time there all those years ago, in that old house, that old suburb, there was a time there when I saw you in everything. Wherever I went, wherever I looked, there you were. They say, after a person dies, it’s not uncommon to still see them, in places you might have once seen them, often in the most ordinary of places. Then it’s not uncommon to see you riding down the street on your bicycle. Then it’s not uncommon to see you in the supermarket, stepping off a bus, turning back and catching my gaze.

I don’t really know if people say this, but I imagine it to be true. Otherwise how to explain this seeing you, when I know you are gone. Of course, this was many years ago. I don’t see you anymore, not like that. I’ve moved away now, to a different city, with its own haunts and hauntings. But I still go back, I am always going back.

Ten years is a long time for someone to have passed. I remember it like it was yesterday. Isn’t that what most people say about the moments in their lives where grief is found balled up inside them like a fist.

If I don’t remember it like it was yesterday then there is the danger of forgetting. There is the danger that I could pass through time unmarked, unchanged. If time is not a construct designed to change us, then what is it? If time and grief are balled up inside you like a fist and you refuse change, what happens to that fist? Does grief spread inside you like a roadmap, unfurled, sprawling and unknown.

I remember it like it was yesterday. You were always leaving, even before you left for good. You were always leaving, on a Saturday evening, crashing forward into the night. You were always leaving, on a weekday afternoon, hiding in a nearby empty lot. You were always leaving and we were always left looking. I remember it like it was yesterday.

 

New Poem in Tincture Journal Issue 13

The lovely folk at Tincture Journal have once again published a piece of my writing. My poem ‘field officer no. 302’ appears in Issue 13 alongside many other wonderful pieces of writing. If you haven’t read Tincture Journal yet then this is a great issue to start with. There is a diverse range of quality content from – you guessed it – a diverse range of quality contributors!

If you’re looking for a taste-test then start with this ‘Two poems and an interview’ with Alison Whittaker, 2015 winner of the black&write! fellowship. Alison’s debut poetry collection Lemons in The Chicken Wire is out now with Magabala Books.

I also enjoyed reading Megan McGrath’s new column: Making Noise, in which Megan talks about early-career literary jealousy (I know plenty of writers who can identify with this – myself included!) and how to harness it in a positive way. Megan was a fellow winner of the 2015 QLD Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Award.

Some other highlights in this issue of Tincture include David Stavanger’s poem ‘Life Is(n’t)’, Maria Arena’s short story ‘The Obliteration Rooms’ and Kathy George’s memoir ‘Read To Me’.

If you would like to support a wonderful literary journal (who wouldn’t?) then do consider subscribing to Tincture, or at the very least, grab yourself a copy of the latest issue here. Many thanks to Poetry Editor Stuart Barnes and Editor Daniel Young for picking up my piece and continuing to support great writing talent.

In Summary: 2015 Publications

Looking back, 2015 was a good year for writing, publications wise. I got writing published in many journals I had been aiming to publish in, and a few others which were wonderful, unexpected surprises.

I’m hoping for more publications this year, while knowing that I should be channeling most of that energy into the writing of my next book. The writing life is often about balance, weighing up the importance of your short and long term goals, it can be hard to strike the right balance, as I found last year. While I avoided writing the ‘dreaded’ second novel, I put my energy into writing short pieces for publication, the rewards of which are often gained much quicker. These small gains throughout the year are necessary in many ways to keep fuelling the motivation to keep going on the longer projects. I hope this year I will find a better balance between the two.

Below you can find a summary of my 2015 publications and links to read/buy them.

February – The Family Files published by Verity La

March – Overcoming Second Novel Syndrome published in WQ Magazine

April – The Late September Dogs published in Mascara Literary Review Issue 17

April – Review of Omar Musa’s Here Come The Dogs published in Mascara Literary Review Issue 17

June – The Value of Prizes published in The Victorian Writer

October – What I Talk About When I Talk About Helicopters published in Cordite Issue 51.1: Umami

December – Our Version Of Events published by Meanjin

December – Firth Avenue published in Tincture Journal Issue 12

If you still haven’t had enough, be sure to look through the rest of my blog to find all the little bits of memoir here and there that I posted throughout the year. That’s all for now!

Happy Mondays

The lovely people at Arts Queensland recently asked me to do a guest-post for their blog series Happy Mondays. I talk about what I’m working on at the moment, one of my favourite books set in Australia and a cultural experience not to be missed. The post is now live and you can check it out here. Happy reading!

TWENTY (Just The Way It Is)

I received my family inheritance young. I remember this, I’m ten, it’s a quiet Sunday afternoon, around four or five. Mum pushes a few coins into my hands and asks me to walk across the road to the servo and buy some milk. I agree, I don’t recall if there’s something in it for me, fifty cents, maybe. I’m wearing my new favourite outfit, a pink ribbed singlet and a pair of pink shorts – this is hard to admit, even now. I leave the house with the coins jingling in my pocket, I reach the end of our street and I stand looking across the busy road at the servo. It might be a 7/11.

I know that it’s where I have to go. I know I have agreed to this task and I didn’t have to. But something in my mind makes my feet stop working. I look left, then right, then left again. I watch the people in the cars rushing by me without a care in the world. They aren’t stuck. They keep moving. Just go to the lights and cross, I tell myself. Don’t be stupid. But still, I stand there, not moving, just watching. I watch the cars enter the 7/11, I watch the people who get out of the cars and enter the store. Some of them leave with milk and bread, some leave with nothing.

I turn around and run home. When I get home I am breathless and empty handed.

‘Where’s the milk?’ Mum asks.

‘I didn’t get it,’ I say.

‘Why?’

‘There was a man,’ I say. ‘He looked scary and I didn’t want to go over there.’

‘Okay,’ Mum says.

I’m relieved, she isn’t angry, she doesn’t demand I go back anyway, she just says okay and takes the money when I give it to her. I have school the next day so Mum tells me to have a bath.

Mum is talking to my dad on the phone when I get out of the bath and she passes the phone on to me. I tell him I’ve just had a bath.

‘Did you dry your hair properly?’ he asks. He always asks me this when he calls. And then he tells me I should get Mum to blow-dry my hair, but I never do.

I hand the phone back to Mum after a while, and when she hangs up I say, ‘Mum?’

‘Yes?’

‘There wasn’t really a man, I made that up. Sorry.’

Mum doesn’t even get angry then, angry that I’ve lied, that I’ve seemingly just refused to go and get the milk. She says it’s fine, she says it doesn’t matter.

When I got home empty handed I didn’t know how to tell her that there wasn’t really anyone scary lurking by. I didn’t know how to say that it’s just what happened in my head when I thought about crossing the road. So I didn’t. I couldn’t. Perhaps, this is where it starts, this obsessive anxiety I’ve inherited.

Winner of the 2015 QLD Premier’s Young Publishers And Writers Award

As many of you will now know, I am totally thrilled to announce that I am one of the winners of the 2015 QLD Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards. The awards were announced at a ceremony at the State Library of QLD last Friday night. There was a wonderful, upbeat vibe at the awards this year, with the Queensland Premier and Minister for the Arts, Annastasia Palaszczuk in attendance, along with Leanne Enoch, Minister for Science and Innovation. The Premier kicked off the ceremony with a wonderful speech about the importance and value of arts in a society, and especially Queensland. I was lucky enough to meet the Premier before the ceremony for a photoshoot, and accept my award from her on stage during the ceremony which was a real thrill.

I would like to congratulate my fellow winner Megan McGrath, and shortlisted writers, Michelle Law, Sam George-Allen, and Andrew McMillen on their incredible achievements. It was a tough field, and an honour to be in such talented company.

During my speech I talked about the importance of receiving such support so early on in my career, and this award recognises the value of doing so. My career as a writer really started for me after winning the 2012 State Library of QLD Young Writers Award, for which I am very grateful. The 2015 winners of the SLQ Young Writers Award were also announced on the night, with Grace McCarter taking out the 18-25 category and Rosie McCrossin taking out the new 15-17 category. You can read both of the winning stories here, along with the runners up and highly commended stories.

I would like to give a big shoutout to the wonderful people at the AMP Foundation, whose AMP Tomorrow Maker grant last year, and continued support and promotion of my work has been a wonderful blessing. Without their continued support I wouldn’t be in the position I am now.

My thanks to the Queensland Literary Awards, and all those involved in keeping it going, the sponsors and patrons, judges and volunteers, the State Library of Queensland, State Librarian Janette Wright, my publisher University of Queensland Press, the O’Hara sisters, my family, friends and peers, and anyone who has ever read and supported my writing.

A special thank you again to my beautiful partner Nike Sulway, whose continued belief and support means the world to me. I said this on Friday night and I’ll say it again, you are my sounding board, you keep me calm, caffeinated and never without my daily fix of cute baby animals. I don’t know where I would be without you.

The official media release and list of winners can be found here. Please share the list with all your friends and contacts and buy the winning and shortlisted titles, readers are what keeps our writing alive.

New Poem in Cordite Poetry Review Issue 51.1 Umami

I’m really pleased to have my poem ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Helicopters’ featured in the latest issue of Cordite Poetry Review: Issue 51.1 Umami, guest edited by Luke Davies. The issue is a collaboration between Cordite Poetry Review and The Lifted Brow – the latter will publish a response of sorts to this issue later this month.

I would recommend reading Luke’s editorial and then checking out the rest of this great issue. I’m still diving in and discovering new and wonderful words. One of my favourites so far is ‘Kacey’ by Andy Jackson. I only recently discovered Andy’s work at the Brisbane Writers Festival last month after hearing him read. There’s something so delicately beautiful about his poems that I can’t help but keep returning to them. Hearing Andy read was a special treat.

Check out the rest of the issue hereRemember to keep an eye out for the second instalment in The Lifted Brow later this month.

Queensland Literary Awards Shortlist

Last Friday the shortlists for the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards were announced and there are some exciting names among the mix. I’m thrilled to have been included on the shortlist for the Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Award. Upon seeing the shortlist for the first time I felt a mix of honour and terror. Queensland has some amazing emerging (and established) writers and it’s an absolute honour to be included among some of them. The other shortlistees for the award are: Andrew McMillen, Megan McGrath, Michelle Law, and Sam George-Allen. You can find out more about each of these amazing writers here

I want to give a special shoutout to my writing friend Kathy George (also known as KW George) for her shortlisting for the Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award for her novel Sargasso. I’ve been lucky enough to have read Sargasso twice now. Both times I was completely haunted by and immersed in the world Kathy had created. The first time I read the manuscript I listened to this song a lot and whenever I hear it now I can’t help but think of Sargasso. This is Kathy’s website where she blogs about all things writing and reading, and it’s definitely worth a look.

Back in 2013 I won the Emerging Queensland Author Award for my verse-novel Gap so I know how exciting and consuming the experience of being shortlisted can be. I wish I had found some strategies to deal with that strange mix of excitement and anxiety – but I knew that things were going up from that point on and I tried to remind myself of that when I was becoming particularly obsessed with it all. The Emerging and Unaipon are both special awards and so important to continuing to discover and celebrate new Queensland writers and voices.

You can find all of the shortlists for this year’s Queensland Literary Awards here. The winners will be announced at a ceremony on October 9.

Brisbane Poetry Map

Recently I had the pleasure of being involved in the Brisbane Poetry Map which is a project curated by the good folk at the Queensland Poetry Festival.

This is taken from the website: ‘Brisbane Poetry Map (BPM) was borne of a long-standing desire of Queensland Poetry Festival (QPF) to poetically map this city for all to hear it with new ears.  Inspired in part by the Melbourne Poetry Map project, funding was then successfully sought from Copyright Agency and Brisbane City Council, enabling the creation of Brisbane’s first digital poetry map.

BPM showcases five specially curated poetic trails, each containing site-specific recordings of some of Brisbane’s finest established and emerging voices. In selecting both the trails and the writers, we felt it was important to spotlight the diversity of lives that underpin this city as well as allowing the poets to create their own impressions of place. The result is a map that illuminates both beauty and change in Brisbane, a survey of what lies within its streets and river beyond the edges of a map.’

The five curated poetic trails are: South Bank; Fortitude Valley; Brisbane City; Kangaroo Point and Kurilpa (West End). You can read more about each of these specific trails here. The project boasts a wide array of established and emerging Brisbane poets including Pascalle Burton, Sam Wagan Watson, Bronwyn Lea, Eleanor Jackson and many many more. The map and the poetic trails can be accessed here.

The site I was assigned was Raymond Park West (Air Raid Shelter). This seemed a serendipitous assignment as I used to live just across the road from the park, and so, many memories good and bad are tied up with it. The process of visiting the site and recording my notes and thoughts was both pleasurable and revealing. There is something to be said about immersing yourself in a place and responding creatively to it. What resulted is my poem: somewhere beneath, behind, or within. I’ve posted the poem below for those who wish to read it, of course I would encourage you to get out of the house and take one or all of the walks, mobile device and headphones in hand. This is a wonderful project and the result is an embarrassment of poetic riches awaiting your ears.

somewhere beneath, behind, or within

it happens like this. you have stepped back five years. to a place that looks the same but feels different. or is it you that is different. some things never change. the whispering echo of life rushing by. passenger planes grazing the sub/urban skyline in the distance. the murmuring of water. of life. mid-winter Brisbane is an illusion. cold air brings up the damp. sherbet bomb horizons remind you of time not misspent. the Pineapple Hotel lit up and searching. punters get punch drunk and comment on the scenery. if you look forward you will see what it is you have missed. don’t look back. there’s nothing there for you.

it happens like this. happy hour is a view of your kids from the balcony. it is finally finding a place where you can both play footy and watch it on TV. bare branches that yearn for the clouds. a woman who walks up and down the footpath. never stopping. only turning. the same woman. later. searching the road beneath her feet. looking at the spaces between cars. fretting at the skin between her fingers. waiting for something to happen that never does.

it happens like this. the colours change. the cold air that refreshed you now chills. the damp rising from the earth penetrates your senses. uninvited. far before your time this place was something resembling shelter. a world that you’ve only read about. but never imagined. now the paint is faded. the concrete slab is worn away by wind and rain. and time. there’s always time. the weightless footprints. imagine how many have come before you. imagine if this had been your only hope.

it happens like this. you can be both in a place and completely removed from it. you can find yourself standing in the very same spot. five years later. remarkably different. you will find yourself here again. after sunset. before dark. you will think you have missed the most beautiful part of the day. because you haven’t seen it coming.

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