Nathan Curnow

Nathan Curnow is a poet, playwright and performer who has featured widely on ABC, JJJ and Radio New Zealand. His work has been published in journals such as Heat, Island, Overland, Going Down Swinging and in Best Australian Poems 2008. He has written three books of poetry including The Ghost Poetry Project (Puncher and Wattmann), a collection based upon his stays at ten haunted sites around the country, and is the recipient of an ASA mentorship program and two Australia Council grants. His prizes include the Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize, Woorilla Poetry Prize, the Bauhinia Literary Awards and the UMPA Prize for Poetry (University of Melbourne). He appears regularly at events such as the Tasmanian Poetry Festival, This Is Not Art and the Melbourne Writers Festival. His short plays have been performed in numerous seasons and his Dizney on dry Ice featured in the 2006 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. He is currently writing a new play based upon convict stories and escape attempts. As well as his on-page achievements, Nathan is a standout performer and performance writer, with some poems being miniature plays in themselves. That’s why we think he’s great. Nathan has performed twice for Wordplay, including our Melbourne Writers Festival gig in 1999.


Bath Towel Wings

Embracing herself in bath-towel wings,
corners clutched with tight, pink fists,
she waits for pyjamas in the centre of the room,
warmly dripping what is left of the bath.
I don’t want to die, she says, and if I could waive
death somehow, waive it like a day of school.
If I could write her a note or simply wrestle it,
the way I contort her into armholes.
I tell her that I love her but she’s heard it before.
She wants to know where we go after this.
She believes in Santa.  I can’t let her trust Jesus.
Yes, your heart stops working and your lungs.
I want to tell her that life gets busier
which means there is less time to worry.
If there is a trick it is not to grieve too much.
The mystery must be lived, hope is important
and fear—I get the two mixed up.  But the end is coming
without permission, whether I spell it exactly or not
and these wings, this warmth, whatever we enact,
will never come to pass without love.

Some Final Regard

Elizabeth Woolcock was executed at Adelaide Gaol in 1873 for poisoning her abusive husband.  She had attempted to hang herself years before but failed when the beam broke.

the noose is a turnkey
the trap is a box I will not have to kick myself
the rope is good rope, the beam will not break
I have tired of the weight of dry earth, and stone
never turned to bread for me, I had to turn to men
now they come at even pace, it is better to expect it
let them pinion my arms tight like wings, say prayers
I could not have imagined, everything measured
down to the drop, no need to keep the secret of this
I will hold the asters your wife picked me, walk past
my open grave, the spade that will hurl a heap of lime
onto my fresh cut corpse, let the doctor inspect it
death from violence
, this time I will not return
free from gossip, some final regard
a hood to hide the bruising

The dead (Norfolk Island)

after Kevin Brophy’s The dead after Susan Mitchell’s The Dead

The dead come down to the pier at night
their heads held high to the pines.
Igniting rough roads pot holes do not trip them
or the sound of country music in the distance.
They descend like the smell of boiled blubber on washing
asking questions so softly they cannot hear them.
They stare at paintings in the darkness of the gallery café
as close as they can get to dreams.
And glass cabinets in museums they want to open for us
to hold relics inside themselves, trying so hard.
We hear them only if they listen.
Some are plagued by the threat of informers.
Dressed in singlets, nighties or their Sunday best
a jumble of old theories and news.
Imagine them drifting down the hallway
to our sleeping faces, tying shells in the hair of our kids.

But at the end of the pier they wait upon
the ever-changing name of the moon and creatures before dawn
turning memory in the shallows
scraping bellies upon the rocks of the shoreline.

‘The Dead’ and ‘Some Final Regard’ first published in ‘The Ghost Poetry Project’, Puncher & Wattman, 2009.


Alison McEwen

I appreciated the thought in the poem. I Liked Bath Towel Wings – I can see the picture and the love in the simple act of listening to a child and drying them ready for bed

10 things that made 2011 brilliant « osh10

[…] Nathan Curnow had the pleasure of meeting the wickedly talented poet Nathan via Anthony, when they collaborated on a piece called ‘The Last Chocolate Factory’ for Pure Poetry in May.  A cross collaboration project between musicians and poets, which produced some really beautiful works.  I have since heard Nathan perform his works and just hung out in general and he is just an all round hysterically funny guy and clever wordsmith.  I also love that he champions everyone around him, even though he could quite easily get up on his pedestal and refuse to come down. Possibly has something to do with the influence of his brilliant wife and kids. […]

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