Josephine Rowe shares the record with Crazy Elf for the most number of Wordplay readings, clocking up a total of six gigs for us, including the MelbourneÂ Writers Festival spin-off gig in 2008. This is because she’s just pretty damn amazing. The best way I could describe watching her read was like feeling your spinal cord melting and pooling into your sock. A natural on the page and in performance, she is in demand for readings with hip young swingers and crusty old conservatives alike. She had already released three books by the tender age of 24 – her debut poetry collection Asynchrony (2008), and two books of short fiction, East of Here, Close to Water (2007) and How a Moth Becomes a Boat (2009). A self-publishing success story, her books have received widespread acclaim and clocked up some of Readings Bookshops’ best ever sales figures for self-published work, before How a Moth Becomes a Boat was picked up for re-publishing by John Hunter Press in 2010.Â Her poetry and short fiction have been published all over the place – Overland, Island, Best Australian Poems, Going Down Swinging, Torpedo, Verandah, Voiceworks, Catalyst (NZ), Herding Kites, and read on Radio National and 3RRR. She has performed at festivals around Australia, and was one of the curators of the 2008 Overload Poetry Festival. She is currently poetry editor of Australia’s prettiest literary magazine, harvest, and is working on her first novel under an Australia Council new work grant. Her booksÂ are available through good independent bookstores, or online by clicking here.
Songs for Tenement Stairwells
I liked you.
You werenâ€™t a tiptoer. On the contrary â€“
you went crashing down the sleazy corridor of life,
rattling doorknobs and
shouting obscene things through keyholes.
You fell against doors
and pulled alarms.
Kicked out every window you could
before passing out beside the fire extinguisher.
I liked you.
You didnâ€™t blame anyone.
You slept on the floor of that one room apartment,
wrote dirty stories at your stolen desk,
drank yourself half to death then called long distance
to say you couldâ€™ve lived better,
if youâ€™d wanted to.
I liked you.
You never promised me anything.
You told me to Suck it up, princess,
the world ainâ€™t gonna listen.
Then you told me exactly what I could do
with my artists, and my tortured musicians,
and my literary types.
But I liked you.
When I came to ask after you
(proclaiming myself as reckless,
but tiptoeing all the same)
they told me that one of those doors
youâ€™d fallen against
Melbourne, it was a little red light
sewn under your skin.
From thirty ks distance
we could still make it out.
Sitting on the rooves of our parentsâ€™ cars
in outer suburbia
we watched it winking,
traced it along the lit veins of your highways,
in and out of traffic, past the docks and
down blind alleys where everything
that had been said and sold and bought and done
in the lost hours of a hundred and fifty years of Saturday nights
had seeped into the cold stone and left it wanting.
From thirty ks distance,
from as far away as childhood,
it was a little red light
moving under your skin
and we were all meant to be someone else by now.
Melbourne, you promised.
We wait for the lights to change.
The driver of the station wagon
in the next lane
is screaming at the woman
in his passenger seat.
She screams right back.
He gets a hand on her throat.
Their two kids start bawling.
You wind the window up.
We still hear her head
smack the dashboard.
I turn the radio on.
Someoneâ€™s singing about
Love, baby. Love.
We wait for the lights to change.
You smile like a red-light district â€“
all neon and promise
of something more tactile,
more immediate than love.
There were nights when I thought
that all that stood between us
and the end of the world
was the light at the end of his cigarette.
We were standing
in a strangerâ€™s garden.
You were saying,
You canâ€™t do that, you just canâ€™t.
But I was watching
the red dawn
spilling over the high brick walls
and into the little ash-filled courtyard.
I was watching
the light change on your face.
And now, for the life of me
I canâ€™t remember
what it was you said I couldnâ€™t do.
There are things
we want to say.
Weâ€™re just waiting
for the right time.
Punching wet cement
When you were fifteen
you broke your hand
punching wet cement.
Isnâ€™t that what weâ€™re all doing?
Just busting ourselves up
to be remembered?
At the corner of
Swanston and Collins
two blind women talk
I spent my last seventeen dollars
trying to pretend I wasnâ€™t down to my
last seventeen dollars.
It worked for a little while.
Sweetheart – this is fighting
for the window seat
as the plane goes down.
She was a plastic New York City,
you were snow that would not melt
but fellÂ Â Â Â a thousand different ways
before the globe finally broke
You can be
whoever you want to be
so long as you keep up with the repayments
We Do Not Matter Anymore
We do not matter anymoreÂ Â Â we have another night I do not lie stillÂ Â Â my hands refuse your bodyÂ Â Â your baby-rabbit skin does not smell of anything muchÂ Â Â and when you leave I will not even need to change the sheetsÂ Â Â there will be nothing left but words we should not have said so quicklyÂ Â Â so easilyÂ Â Â someone told me once to love wastefully and Iâ€™ve triedÂ Â Â I have triedÂ Â Â you sleep I do not Iâ€™m up and wondering who it might beÂ Â Â in this wet animal heat I realise I donâ€™t trust you half as well as I can take you onÂ Â Â this is the anger I need to functionÂ Â Â this is the kick I need to ache for somethingÂ Â Â for anythingÂ Â Â youâ€™ll do just fineÂ Â Â no I canâ€™t dance I told youÂ Â Â but I move very well and loudlyÂ Â Â youâ€™ll learn thatÂ Â Â Iâ€™ll still be ringing in you somewhere when sheâ€™s got her lips around your accentÂ Â Â yâ€™know itâ€™s getting lateÂ Â Â I should be all my ownÂ Â Â there should be no part of me that is with you nowÂ Â Â up a slender thighÂ Â Â on a gloss-thick mouthÂ Â Â breathing rough-hewn words through a nasal inner cityÂ Â Â do it do it do itÂ Â Â baby honey sweetieÂ Â Â I never call you anything other than your nameÂ Â Â I thought maybe fucking maybe mine would be enoughÂ Â Â a mouthfulÂ Â Â but still you call meÂ Â Â baby honey sweetieÂ Â Â and I canâ€™t shake myself free of the thighs youâ€™ve been inÂ Â Â I canâ€™t shake myself free of youÂ Â Â yesÂ Â Â I want you to love meÂ Â Â I wanna be in your liner notesÂ Â Â I wanna slide my tongue into the gap between your teethÂ Â Â read me CelineÂ Â Â about the kissing how we need itÂ Â Â read it again.
Photo by Michael Reynolds. Header photo by Geoff Lemon.
Songs for Tenement Stairwells first published in Voiceworks, 2008
Punching Wet Cement first published inÂ Wordplay Magazine, 2009
We Do Not Matter Anymore first published in Best Australian Poems 2006