Cathy Altmann – Guest Editorial

Profile Cathy Altmann LE Child P&W June 2019

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for if you will not hear me      no one else will hear us at all
– Guest Editorial by Cathy Altmann

Cathy Altmann is a poet, teacher and violinist from Melbourne, Australia. Her first collection, Circumnavigation (Poetica Christi Press, 2014), won the FAW Anne Elder Award. Cathy’s second collection, things we know without naming (Poetica Christi Press) was published in December 2018. Her poetry has appeared in journals, anthologies, The Disappearing website 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.

‘You have to tell the absolute truth, so far as you can dredge that up’[1]. The late Les Murray’s words about poetry are a fitting way to introduce this collection by young writers from Melbourne, Australia. This outstanding work has been produced by students aged 12-18. None of these pieces has been published before. The works are striking for their honesty, whether it is to lived experience or keenly imagined experience.

Jessica’s prose poem, ‘My Obsessive Thoughts’, is a powerful declamation of self. The subtle internal rhymes she uses are also a feature of Kethmi’s poem ‘seeing/believing’, with its haunting questions and the final chiming of ‘eyes’ and ‘blind silence’. Both Gracie and Rhea have imagined the lives of others, with Rhea’s story movingly recreating a refugee’s journey, and Gracie’s poem exploring grief. These student writers know the power of closely-observed details: Britney’s poem weaves sounds, memories and ‘coffee-stained’ colours together to create a portrait of a Melbourne busker, while the mask in Rita’s story is a ‘brilliant shade of orange, intertwined with threads of indigo’.

These works not only speak their own truth, but play with ideas, genres and language. Alicia’s delightfully humorous story imagines an unlikely encounter between a baby and the pirate ‘Scarface Sam’. Sarah’s story has fun with the idea of ‘pickpocketing’ in a lavish Venetian setting. Leni’s poem uses vivid metaphors and stunning rhymes. Other poems play with visual design, such as the haunting ‘Rain Song’ by Victoria, and the superb myth-making of ‘I learn of division from The Age of Two’ by Sandhya. Angelina also uses mythology in her poem ‘stone hearts’, evoking Medusa in her harrowing evocation of a truth that no one knows or hears. Her final lines are: ‘for if you will not hear me/ no one else will hear us at all’. This is the challenge thrown out to us by the writers in this collection.

Many thanks to Mark Ulyseas for providing the opportunity for these young writers to be heard.

[1] See Murray’s 2005 interview for The Paris Review, titled ‘The Art of Poetry’:

© Cathy Altmann