Friday, October 12, 2007


First posted June 2006

'Does Texas have poetry?' people in Australia ask wit
h big grins, as if the idea is hilarious. Yes, it certainly does! In Austin anyway, and places nearby, there is a very vibrant poetry scene. I was there from March 29 to May 1 2006. I sent home exuberant emails which my husband Andrew forwarded to friends and relatives. This is for those who haven't yet heard the whole miraculous story.

I'd kept a low poetic profile since moving to northern New South Wales in 1994, from Melbourne where I was well known as a poet and writing teacher. In my present home I'm better known as a professional psychic and Reiki Master.

In January 2005 I broke my ankle. It took seven months to heal. This gave me the opportunity to create new poems and polish old ones. I started a mutual mentoring program by email with my friend, Melbourne poet and fiction writer Helen Patrice.

One day, trawling the net, I came across a photo of an old Melbourne colleague, Tom the Street Poet. He founded the Street Poets about the same time I and others started the Poets' Union in the late seventies. I discovered he had left Melbourne around the same time as me, to move to Austin, Texas where he became Thom the World Poet, touring Britain and Australia and bringing poets from those countries back to America. On impulse I emailed him to say Hi, and next thing he was inviting me to visit Austin in April 2006 for National Poetry Month.

It seemed impossible. Andrew and I are Age Pensioners, which is an exercise in frugal living. Then Andrew received a small inheritance from his late brother's estate. After we paid off some debts, and bought a badly needed new bed, he said, 'You know, you could go to Texas!'

Thom and others suggested it would be good to have a new book for my tour. A retired publisher friend of my son Steve's offered the use of his old imprint. He suggested a 'new and selected' volume. Luckily the broken ankle meant I had plenty of new. I chose the title, Secret Leopard, from one of the poems. My friend Linda put me in touch with a Melbourne artist called Wendi Saphin who produced several illustrations, including this one, which we chose — although in the end it was executed in black, on a beautiful stark white cover stock.

The ex-publisher wrote me a glowing preface, and found me a good printer in Austin. But it all cost more than anticipated.
I ended up with a handsome book which ate up all my going-to-Texas money. With luck, I would just have enough to ship the books to Australia. I sadly emailed Thom to cancel the tour.

My friend Maureen declared I must not miss this opportunity and formed a committee to help me fund-raise. Thus encouraged, I explored all possibilities for grants, but not many applied to my circumstances, and I was out of the application time for those that did. So it fell to my friends. Maureen set up a trust fund and I asked people not to give me birthday presents or xmas cards that year but put $5 into the account instead. No-one put in so little as $5! People were immensely generous in giving as much as they could possibly afford. Other friends held an auction of goods and services, and many donated their time and skills as items for auction. Yet another good friend, Letitia, ran a raffle for me, and people donated wonderful prizes — designer jewellery, original artwork, a night at a resort.... Andrew and I also contributed as much as we could to the fund. My son David and his wife Kellie paid for my travel insurance. I had estimated what I would need for the fare, living expenses, and shipping any unsold books back home. I got it all!

Meanwhile Thom worked tirelessly to promote me, getting me featured reader spots at venues all over Austin and in San Antonio. He encouraged me to apply to be featured in the Austin International Poetry Festival. I was nearly too late to get in! But on the strength of my book and his high praise, they found room for me. (Thom and three other poets started the AIPF 14 years ago, though they are no longer on the Board.) He linked me by email to other poets and venue hosts, with an excellent intuition as to who I'd click with; several of them became friends even before I left Australia. I was invited to participate in Forrest Fest, an annual poetry and music festival at Lamesa, West Texas, at the end of April. Anne Schneider, a poet and mask maker from Kerrville, invited me to stay with her for a week and do a poetry reading as well as collaborate in a mask-making and creative writing workshop, which we planned by email. I said yes to all invitations!

The day before my fundraising auction, I needed a haircut but couldn't get my usual hairdresser at short notice, so went somewhere else. I didn't realise until it was done that the girl had severely mangled it, particularly at the back. She cut it so short that people asked if I'd had a buzz cut — which might have been OK if it hadn't been so unevenly done. I woke up next morning, looked in the mirror and cried. I emailed Helen, who said, 'Have you got any purple hair dye in the house?' — not something I normally had lying around, but I dashed down to the chemist and got some shampoo-in colour in a shade called mulberry, a wonderful magenta. When people turned up to the auction that night, instead of saying, 'What the hell happened to you?' they said, 'WOW!' It faded to a pinkish auburn over the next few weeks, and the mulberry shade was discontinued by the manufacturers. Just before I left for Texas, I went to my hairdresser and got her to reproduce it professionally and tidy up the cut. She also gave me a magenta coloured shampoo to refresh the colour as the weeks went on. The bad hairdresser did me a favour; I'm going to be a redhead for years to come!

I have a friend called Marieah (MAH-ree-ah) who makes beautiful Goddess gowns and pendants — 'wearable art' which has been displayed in her local art gallery. She said I must have a Goddess gown for Texas! That's it, in the picture with my profile, in which I am also wearing one of her pendants.

So off I set, with purple gown and purple hair, and 19 boxes of my book awaiting me in Thom's living room, leaving Andrew behind to mind the house and the cats.

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