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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume One Nov-Dec 2023
Cathy Altmann presents young Melbourne Poets
Amishi, Bella, Zara and Charlie.
The four poems by young poets from Melbourne, Australia, were recently awarded in a student poetry competition judged by poet Anne M Carson, poet and teacher Anna Hayman-Arif and myself.
Amishi’s eco poem, ‘Nautilus’, uses careful lineation to convey the journey of a nautilus. The imagery is striking: ‘clear as porcelain and soft as sand’. The poem uses evocative sound in a condensed, passionate elegy. It is an exceptional poem.
Bella’s powerful poem, ‘reflection’, explores identity with compelling imagery and a strong personal voice. Language is vivid and original: ‘the unwarranted confidence I clutch like a purse’. A brave poem with a strong, confronting final couplet.
Charlie’s poem, ‘Growing Pains’, resonated linguistically and also emotionally. Stunning sensory details and similes, such as ‘shed my heart like a snakeskin’, give this poem its impact. Hurt and pain are explored both literally and figuratively. Flashback is used to great effect and the blunt ending brings the meaning home.
Zara’s poem, ‘their fire, Your Flame’ has rhythm and pizazz. The title is developed through the poem into an inspiring message: ‘I will always let you sing your song’. The slam poetry style is used to great effect. There is some striking sibilance and imagery in the opening stanza in particular. This is an ambitious, energising poem. – Cathy Altmann.
Raging waters carry your shell to shore,
Shining like milk and pearls,
You hide your chamber deep inside,
Unbeknown to all.
Clear as porcelain and soft as sand,
Crescent within crescent,
Lies the mettle of your voice,
Lost within a maze of its own,
It yearns to be heard,
From the darkest chasm into the sun,
Against the sea’s sodden thrum.
Shards glisten in the onrush,
Picked away by small hands,
All that remains is the grim pink body,
Rotting and left behind.
Amishi is a student from Melbourne, Australia. Her poem conveys the metaphorical journey of a nautilus shell, exploring society’s emphasis on surface beauty over substance by acknowledging the inner struggles of the female experience that we often keep hidden.
how did the sun that burnt my father black
birth skin so light it glowed under the moon?
beneath the heaping pounds of skin and flesh,
i am as black as the sister that grew beside me.
to sit here and admire a sickly pale yellowbone,
unable to represent those that gave me life,
is to hardly love the people from which i am made.
i know that better than anyone.
and yet, do i make proud
my enthroned ancestors that watch over me?
or do my vainly shed tears of passion
poison the earth that buried them?
pale as the sands on a dusted shore
like i’ve been washed and stripped of my father’s image
born a child who bears no resemblance to either parent.
(so, my dear mother, i ask that you be kind.)
your suddenly darkened complexion next to mine;
i’m a fool to think your freckles are laughing at me
but they mock the scars on my arms
and i feel myself fall again.
i am repulsed by my own cultural inadequacy.
the privilege afflicted upon my whitened hue
taints the very image that manifests on my looking glass.
but the unwarranted confidence i clutch like a purse,
the acceptance of my awkward appearance
evokes a peculiar familiarity.
if this is joy, is it deserved?
if this is self-love, is it earned?
Bella is a student from Melbourne, Australia. She enjoys music and songwriting, which is how this work originally began. Her poem was inspired by her background; being of Nigerian and Australian descent. She has always possessed a complex surrounding her lack of knowledge regarding her ancestors and relevant cultural heritage. This feeling of incompetence has only been exacerbated by her conflicting features and inability to be recognised as her own race, a concern which is explored primarily through her poem: reflection.
their Fire, Your Flame.
A small spark starts
softly sizzling in the dark.
one you hold tight,
right by your pulsing heart.
A sacred source,
that runs its course,
and burns a little brighter…
But then it’s discovered.
by buzzards, it’s smothered.
They unknowingly raise a fighter…
… or recluse, it can be either-
for the emotions will run deeper,
‘cause while being scarred and fragile… a fire kindles deep within.
Why do they smother precious flame
yet let the wild, fires, rage?
They just won’t admit their actions are conflicting.
They have the power, enough to rule a nation,
yet they choose to crush the next hopeful generation?
They saw one small spark, and considered it a threat…
to their wild fire and reputation.
Some kid’s passion, education,
because to ‘some kid’ they will not be in debt.
But I will hold your spark,
keep it safe while we embark
on a journey, to keep it burning strong.
I will always let you sing your song.
Zara is a student from Melbourne, Australia, who enjoys a variety of activities from dancing, theatre, and springboard diving, to writing poetry. For Zara, poetry is a form of expression, and they find that the act of spilling emotions through words onto a page to create a poem, is in itself, quite poetic.
This poem was inspired by the conflicting passion of youth to the desires of adults and of society, explored through the imagery of fire. It begins with a spark, symbolising the creation or finding of an individual’s passion, following this spark as it grows and becomes confronted by the violent wildfires of society. The contrasting imagery of the raging wildfires and a delicate flame imitate how young people’s voices are often ignored and enveloped by the more powerful voices of society. Yet despite the fragility of their single flame, and the oppression and condescension that they often face, there is also a surprising strength within youth, a ‘fiery’ determination, if you will, that can both be fuelled by the larger wildfires, but also gains strength in solidarity with the flames around them.
My chest aches when I breathe.
I didn’t know that when the weight was gone,
The air would fill my lungs too quickly,
That the oxygen would burn my throat.
I didn’t know the absence was worse than the fingers pried around my shoulders.
Not an expectation,
But a guarantee.
I didn’t know the trembling was voluntary,
That I would beg for the shaking tears,
That I would miss the hoarse cries,
The sandpaper knees stuck together with kisses and dinosaur plaster.
The rosy tambark, the hot asphalt.
I miss holding hand-sandwiches with my mother and my father,
When their palms became sweaty and I squirmed to get away.
I wish they’d held on a little tighter, refused to let me escape.
I didn’t know I’d miss sticky fingers or silent sleeping classrooms.
Replaced by the textbook-shaped dents in my forehead,
Replaced by oily keyboards and awkward goodbyes.
The joy of youth, the gluttony of the young.
I used to long to scrape away the excitement,
Shed my heart like snakeskin.
Life doesn’t seem to care, so why should I?
If only someone had told me,
Suppose they tried,
I didn’t know it would hurt more to hurt less
Whoever said ‘growing pains’ lied.
Doesn’t hurt a bit.
Charlie is a student from Melbourne, Australia. Her poem discusses the awkward transitions from childhood to adolescence and the painful apathy that comes with growing up. She mourns the loss of innocence, childish joy and nostalgic memories.
© Cathy Altmann
Cathy Altmann’s first collection, Circumnavigation (Poetica Christi Press, 2014), won the FAW Anne Elder Award. Her second collection, things we know without naming (Poetica Christi Press), was published in 2018. Cathy’s poetry has appeared in journals, anthologies, websites and on Melbourne’s trains as part of the Moving Galleries project. She holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne and currently teaches English and Latin.