’91 days’ (Corona Virus poetry)

We all need an obligatory Corona virus poem, right? Something we made in the dark hours of lockdown. This was the best I could do after 91 days at home, scrolling social media. It felt like – and is – a stream of nonsense; but sometimes when the world isn’t making sense anyway, that can be comforting.

What I loved about seeing this piece published in Cordite Poetry Review was reading the editors’ take on it. With an experimental poem like this, it can be hard to articulate what it is doing; there’s something instinctively touched on, opened up by the play in language, but it’s still under the surface.

This poem appeared in Issue 97&98, ‘Propaganda‘, edited by two fascinating word-artists, Simon Groth and Mez Breeze. I recommend reading the whole issue, and the editors’ work too. They wrote: “This distinction—of poetry manifesting as an antithesis to propaganda—can lead to the hopeful harnessing of poesis as a counteraction agent: a salve, if not a panacea. Works such as Sarah Temporal’s ‘[91 days]’ act as a clever neutralisation of logo-spin where the reworking of form is crucial.”

I made this piece by brainstorming all the keywords I could remember dominating the discourse of my social media feeds. Words like ‘uncertainty’, ‘essential services’, ‘results’; the ‘Bill Gates’ conspiracies that leaked in; and of course all the ‘challenges’ people were amusing themselves with. I thought there’d be, maybe 6 keywords. Instead I filled pages and there were hundreds. No wonder I felt so overloaded I couldn’t write.

I used a variation on the cut-up method to detach these terms from their original context and reassemble them as a long list. I was aiming for something that would take 2 mins to read, and this helped contain the chaos. Later, I revised the piece for print, and settled on the format you see that embodies an intensification or condensing of linguistic fragments.

Experiments like this aren’t for every reader, and it’s quite possible that the author gets far more out of doing them than the beholder does from reading. But I can say with some certainty, if the world seems so unhinged that you can’t even write about it – let the world speak for itself, and then cut it up. It’ll make you feel better.

‘Who gave birth to my daughter?’ XYZ Prize highly commended

It’s easy to say of every poem, ‘it’s a special one for me’. But it’s true of this piece, because it contains a background made up of the sounds of my newborn baby daughter.

This piece explores birth by C-section, and the complicated questions that come with it. It was deeply felt, impossible to write, and I thought I’d never share it with anybody. But here it is.

‘Who gave birth to my daughter’ received Highly Commended in the XYZ Prize for Innovation in Spoken-Word. The award was created by David Stavanger and is presented through Queensland Poetry Festival, one of the most exciting poetry communities I enjoy.

You can listen to the audio over at Melbourne Spoken Word on this page. Check out the other outstanding entries too; especially the co-winners and collaborators Eloise Grills and Jaslyn Robertson.

‘To a young writer’ – watch

One of the greatest pleasure of 2020 for me has been working with talented young wordsmiths in the Northern Rivers for the Poets Out loud Youth Program. Here’s a piece I created to capture some of the advice I like to pass on to them. It applies to anyone who’s thinking about picking up a pen, though. Inspiration comes at all phases of life.

I started this program to provide a platform to empower young voices, and we’ve since been able to create similar video clips for each of our Youth Poetry Slam entrants. You can see them and find out more at Poets Out Loud Youth.

This video was filmed by Vibrant Imaging thanks to support from Tweed Shire Council.

‘Close to the Sky’ – watch or read

View from the Roundhouse, Ocean Shores. Photo by Sarah Temporal.

My poem ‘Close to the Sky’ is one I always enjoy performing, and I was thrilled when it was selected for publication in the online women’s journal Not Very Quiet. Read the poem in issue 5 here, or scroll down to watch the video. I first wrote the poem as a gift to my husband, recalling how we fell in love at the same time as his prognosis with chronic illness became dire.

‘Close to the Sky’ is published in Not Very Quiet, Issue 5

I first wrote the poem as a gift to my husband, recalling how we fell in love at the same time as his prognosis with chronic illness became dire. The landscapes of our home in the Northern Rivers, and the sacred mountain Wollumbin where this conversation took place, wove their way into the poem. Issue 5 was called ‘Earth Poems’, and took as inspiration the woman who ignited the modern environmental movement, Rachel Carson. The editors said they “looked for strong, original, well-crafted poems that explore the connections women have with the earth, and the energy and joy that can come from these connections” (Tricia Dearborn).

This video was first published by The Bunker Spoken Word as part of their ‘Isolating in the Bunker’ series. Big shout out to these guys for continuing to support and pay artists while live events were suspended! Apologies for the kinda dodgy quality of this clip; in lockdown it was really about forging ahead with whatever you had – in this case, two iphones in the garage! Please check out the whole series from the Bunker: you’ll see some excellent work by Caroline Reid, Damien Becker, Kathy Parker and more.

‘The Birth Mantra’ (live) – language warning!

Video courtesy of Australian Poetry Slam, 2019.

If you’re looking for my most popular poem, I guess this would have to be it! The video has over 2000 views on Youtube at the time I’m posting this.

I thoroughly enjoyed performing this in the Byron heat of the Australian Poetry Slam. I remember that Tug Dumbly, an early mentor on my spoken-word journey, was in the crowd that day, and I looked over at one point and saw him laughing his arse off. The style of this poem certainly owes something to Tug, despite the feminist agenda.

Please read the title before playing this in front of anyone under 18. It’s not subtle.

‘Something’ audio poem out now

From ‘Something’ by Sarah Temporal – Baby Teeth journal

My spoken-word poem, ‘Something’, was published in audio in the August edition of Baby Teeth Journal. I was honoured to be chosen as a featured contributor for Baby Teeth, an online publisher of literature and arts.

‘Something’ came about after a mellow night of writing in my room, recovering from the post-gig blues that sometimes follow the intensity of live performance. Later I had lots of fun producing the soundscaping for this piece.

Click here to listen to the poem, or read the transcription. It’s free to access.

Read more about the inspiration for this poem in SlamCraft: Tell the truth.

‘After the Transplant’ – audio collaboration

This poem was written in 2015 after my husband received a life-saving double lung transplant at the Prince Charles Hospital, Brisbane. At this time we were engaged, and his health was rapidly declining due to a genetic condition. Thankfully, due to an extraordinary medical team and the generosity of an organ donor and their family, he is now able to enjoy a full healthy life.

The music in this piece was created by multidisciplinary artist and fellow transplant recipient Spider McKey. Following my husband’s transplant, we shared the journey with Spider when he received new lungs shortly afterward. It was a pleasure to collaborate with Spider to create this poem of gratitude.

You can learn more about organ donation in Australia here.


*Image credit: FreaktographyVacant Ontario Hospital’ licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 modified.