Engraft – A Sneak Peak!


Good Lord, it’s a book! My first poetry collection, Engraft, has just been published by Island Press, one of Australia’s oldest and most well respected independent poetry publishers. Which is all rather exciting!

Here’s a sneak peek from the book:


up on the plateau
dog running sprightly in the wind
ears flapping triumphantly
teeth bared in what is surely a grin

your kite stingrays against the sun’s
dazzle painful to observe
while down below it menaces us —
prey too dense to fly

And some very nice things that some very nice people have said:

Engraft is a masterwork. Seminara’s deep gift lies in her fusion of the viscera of life with a transcendent poetic vision. By turns terrifying and tender, loving and lost, Seminara is a major new voice in contemporary poetry.” – Charles Bane, Jr.

“Michele Seminara’s analytic prayers, domestic fables and eloquent centos work their ludic wit and charms in the house of loss and disturbance. She is not afraid to say ‘beauty’ in the language of economy engrafted with careful flourishes.”
– Michelle Cahill

“There is a great restlessness in this collection – the poems grumble, push on, then soar. The reader is drawn progressively into that fascinating morass called life… It is no small treat to immerse oneself in this collection: let yourself in.” – Les Wicks

Engraft is chock-full of tender, brave poems with emotional depth. Seminara’s work displays control, deft pacing, and a fierce commitment to witness with clear eyes the horrors we commit upon ourselves and each other. A book filled with variety and surprise which you will want, and need, to return to many times.” – Melinda Louise Smith

And some info on the 1st Sydney launch (in case you’re in the vicinity!):


Michele Seminara’s first poetry collection Engraft explores the darker aspects of the human psyche and relationships.
This debut collection by a strong new poetic voice is being launched by distinguished poet Martin Langford.

Les Wicks’ Getting By Not Fitting In – the 13th book
by one of Australia’s most well loved and respected poets.
Launched by Chris Mansell

We are having a launch for both books at:

Friend in Hand Hotel
58 Cowper St, Glebe
(upstairs bar)
Saturday 6th February 2.30pm

You can order a copy of Engraft directly from this blog via Paypal.
Or contact micheleseminara@hotmail.com to organise a direct credit.
Cheques should be made payable to Michele Seminara & sent to 1 Seebrees St, Manly Vale, NSW 2093.
You can also order direct from Island Press at 29 Park Rd, Woodford NSW 2778. http://islandpress.tripod.com/ISLAND.htm



Three New Poems, a New Book and Some Kind Words!


I recently had the honour of featuring as a guest on the excellent blog of poet Julie Maclean. She has some very generous things to say and has published three of my new poems! Please take a read, and thank you Julie!



This new year kicks off very happily with a dynamic new poet who is forging a dazzling path through the poetry scene. A full collection after so few years  is testament to the talent, energy and passion that Michele has in spades. But not to give you the wrong idea,  Michele was a writer of fiction before she was seduced by the beauty of poetry so is not altogether a raw beginner.

What amazes me about her place in the literary world is the way she is already giving back. She has shown courage and enormous generosity in taking on the position of Managing Editor of a high profile online literary journal, Verity La, as well as writing, attending readings and raising three children. I think this is where her Buddhist training must come in. In interview Michele comes across as humble, modest and thoughtful. She is always positive and life-affirming. I look forward to this debut collection (love the cover and title) which…

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Southerly Buster


I recently had my poem, ‘Southerly Buster’, included in a fabulous initiative, Spirit of Sydney – Poetry Alive, organised by Australian poet Les Wicks.

For those who’ve not experienced one, a Southerly Buster is a weather phenomenon synonymous with long hot Sydney summers. After days of increasing heat, powerful cold fronts charge up the New South Wales coast, bringing abrupt and extreme drops in temperature, strong winds and rain. These dramatic events have been part of my Christmas holiday season since childhood, and I love the climatic atmosphere they bring!

Which made it all the more fun to write this poem, and all the more satisfying to have it included in Les’s inspired poetry project. Twenty poems written about Sydney were performed at a group poetry reading at Manly Art Gallery, surrounded by the glorious artwork of legendary Australian artists Brett Whiteley, Lloyd Rees and Elisabeth Cummings. It was a great honour to be part of the event and to read my work alongside some of Australia’s finest poets.

My poem, ‘Southerly Buster’, is a found poem sourced from the novel ‘Seven Poor Men of Sydney’ by one of my favourite Australian writers, Christina Stead. You can read my poem below, and the other poets’ excellent work here.

Wishing you a peaceful holiday season, whatever the weather brings!

Southerly Buster

A bloody sun rose through misty veils —
another steaming white day.
Morning smoked on the red roofs
swarming the hills,
the barren headland
curled like a scorpion in the blinding sea.

At the wharf
people burst out of the turnstiles
flushed girls in floating dresses
twisting in streams through the streets.

Cicadas skirled from the foreshores,
trees rose up to dissolve into light
and picnickers deliquesced
in the cool pools
of deep green between the pines.

The afternoon, wearing on,
shone copper, the whole ocean
rolling in molten motion toward the land,
meteorologists singing up a storm
as the people, waiting, wilted.

Dusk gathered, houses shadowed,
the eight o’clock ferry
trailed its golden lights out of the wharf,
street lamps yellowly came on…

In the gloaming, the wind charged in.

Dusty leaves twisted and blazed
the grass reared itself with a pugnacious thrust
rats streaked up from the waterfront
cockroaches scuttled into cracks.

The sea was running high
gathering force in mile long rollers,
a howling parliament of waves plunging
booming into the caves
then draining hissing back off the rocks.

For hours the squall drove from the south,
battering at the window panes
chattering at the doors,
and bursts of rain rang like blasts of shot.

Then, an imperceptible illumination:
in the west, a faint low glimmer
announcing the setting of the moon;
in the east, dawn breaking behind the black clouds,
the pale contour of the Heads emerging
like a somnolent lover’s limbs.


* A found poem sourced from Seven Poor Men of Sydney, by Christina Stead



Your fierce face


BabyFaceBlueYour fierce face

on the pillow—
brows spearing down towards
wide bisected koala nose
succulent lips
acute resilient chin.

Tonight you are troubled
by concerns beyond your scope:
baffling sorrows
pervading childhood’s lair…

Felt inside the strident pitch
of your father on the telephone;
the tremulous tone
of your mother’s lullabies.

Felt in the streak of the cat,
the slink of the dog;
felt in the dangerous pulse

of our home.

A review of Robbie Coburn’s chapbook, Before Bone and Viscera.





Before Bone and Viscera, the third of Robbie Coburn’s publications is, like its predecessors, an unsettling read. This slim but intense volume is comprised of a ‘Prologue’ plus ten poems, and explores the dual territory—previously traversed in his chapbook Human Batteries (Picaro Press, 2012), and first full-length collection Rain Season (Picaro Press, 2013)—of the tortured rural landscape of Victoria, and the similarly tortured mental and bodily landscape of the poet.

The title of the chapbook introduces decomposition and regeneration as thematic concerns of the collection, begging the question—what is it that comes Before Bone and Viscera? The answer (given in the epigraph) is “decay”, a decay which “becomes being.” The poems begin, then, at the end, with images of physical and environmental disintegration, such as these, from ‘Prologue’:


the dry end of the trees unearth

here, in a brittle manifestation


of husk and bone

endless ruin of dirt


hand stone and the distortion inside lingers,

the backbone of consciousness


bends into the distance

vagrant colourless grasses


and the stench of compost

motion lays beyond the body


the roots are plumed, open and featherless

drying out the blood of any water.


(‘Prologue’ 1-12)


It is unclear if Coburn speaks here of the body or the land (indeed he speaks of both), and this superimposition of the human subject onto the environment is a distinctive and striking quality of Coburn’s poetry in general, and of Before Bone and Viscera in particular. This almost metaphysical intertwining of the internal and external landscapes further deepens throughout the poem—and the collection—as the human subject merges with his environment:


the broad ground against the dead

weight of the body


widening pulses of light radiating beneath

the other veins, absolving a bromine fog


interpreting this new proximity, sundried vertebrae

rust divides on rotting skin, a carcass without teeth,


hair, carrion

a limitless game littered with debris.


(‘Prologue’ 15-22)


This decomposition of a body which is both tree and flesh arises alongside “the wish to have never lived” and serves to drive “the heart out into the fire. so it begins.” The concept of a new self arising from the debris of the old is then explored in the disturbing second poem, ‘Rebirth’, where the speaker imagines skinning himself before reassembling the “old body” into a new skin which fits “better and wore itself in around / my glad eyes and abraded insides.” Here, the spectre of self-harm in the form of cutting begins to emerge: it’s a theme which runs discomfortingly just under the surface of much of Coburn’s poetry, although in this collection it is presented not merely as a means towards a (potentially fatal) end, but, once again, as a kind of rebirth: “This was the beginning, the new became / normal before darkness could be heightened, / loosened into the clear shot of morning” (‘Rebirth’ 23-25).

Similarly, in ‘Death Games’, the self-harm which has been implied in previous poems is now dealt with directly:


I drive the blade into the plumed vein of my left wrist:

through the edge of a balance ache I emerge

prodding at the trail of blood,

painting with my index finger.


(‘Death Games’ 1-4)


It’s a confronting image, although not necessarily for the speaker, who observes that in the rest of his life, “I won’t feel anything as clear as this red stream”. Ultimately, however, cutting is presented as a dangerous choice: at this emotional low-point the speaker discovers that “poetry has become meaningless” and that he is “ready to commit to losing this long game”. Yet even here death and (self)destruction precede renewal. Just as the natural landscape may be wounded but still harbour potential for regeneration, so too does the body and mind: the “suicidal impulses” which “precede / the day, hidden in an unseen act, / escaping consequence”, morph as the “disturbance” of daylight’s “eye” is cast upon them, culminating in an image of the speaker:


… walking across the charred

plank again

quickly into the inferno,

cheating death and towards life.


(‘Death Games 21-24)


Fire, which has long been used as a tool for both destruction and regeneration in the Australian bush, is utilised here as a metaphor to express the phoenix-like rising of the speaker from repeated episodes of self-harm. The image of “walking… into the inferno” and emerging renewed on the other side is an affirmation of both the human and natural world’s ability to withstand and transform hardship—and is particularly pertinent when considering the horrific 2009 Black Saturday bushfires which swept through rural areas of Victoria, close to where Coburn writes and lives.

However, the chapbook is by no means solely concerned with the poet’s own internal and external landscapes, or experiences. In ‘She is Starving’, Coburn explores a different kind of bodily abuse and slow suicide:


face hollowed, balanced on weak pipe-cleaner limbs,

her skeleton breaks then aims to crumble

inside the dark’s window. the floorboards snap her shrunken

legs. I carry the decaying white bones breathing in the unfurling

winds to the tomb her lifeless hands managed to prepare as

she starved, suiciding for years.


(‘She is Starving’ 17-22)


The interior habitats of Coburn’s poems—the houses and sheds—are, like the one in this poem, often haunted places: they shelter and harbour private and familial secrets and sufferings. The lines of this, and many of the poems in the collection, are long and lyric, and the poet eschews capitalisation: his verse, rather than announcing its arrival, glides like a ghost into the reader’s mind, and lingers there: “Sleep now inside your skin of silent ghosts. / your voice will still trace my throat, your absence will starve me / like a famine of memory” (‘She is Starving’ 23-25).

As in this example (“your voice will still trace my throat”) Coburn’s poems often employ synaesthetic imagery, and his work in this regard is reminiscent of the French Symbolists. In Before Bone and Viscera, Coburn’s use of symbolism is particularly powerful in poems which deal with family and relationships. In these poems, romantic or familial separation is conveyed through images of geographical distance and obstruction: the landscape is a map of internal memory and time, not simply of place. In ‘Loneliness’:


at this distance memory exists only in my head,

miles and years from you

as I foot the clustered pathway back where

all is unchanged and everything vanishes

but the jagged crown of rock parting the heightening mist.


(‘Loneliness’ 19-23)


Here the vast, unforgiving spaces of rural Australia function as symbols for the emotional and temporal distance Coburn wishes to express. Similarly, In ‘Sororen’ (Latin for sister), we find the speaker walking in search of his long-lost half-sister, a figure who haunts several of the poems in the collection:


I woke from months of searching

at a distance that is unimportant.

my still dreaming mind walked a flat

and uninhabited stretch of road

past the hollowed gum trees lining her



(‘Sororen’ 1-6)


However, the distances which thwart the speaker’s desire for reconciliation are closed somewhat in ‘The Invisible Sister’, a poem where he and his sister “grow aware of each other”, and bridges, rather than “burning”, are now “lengthened”—the revelation dawning that it is possible (impossible not to?) “love blood from   such distance”.

This fractured family history is further explored in the poignant poem ‘Father, Daughter’, where, once again, synaesthetic imagery blurs the division between the wounded inner world and the natural landscape:


Father, listen to the years

ploughing the grass at your feet encircling

creases in your skin melded by long winds,

a gathering of drought and memory that knots

in the horizon, a kink in the land you worked.


(‘Father, Daughter’ 1-5)


In this hypnagogic poem, “the gallery” of the father’s “raw mind / shapes the sinking backyard” and “the merciless past floods through” his “interrupted veins”, which harbour the “unnamed wound” of a “nameless half-sister”. For the sister, the father is similarly abstracted, existing as “… a stranger / whose skeleton passes through memory”. As they did for Rimbaud and Baudelaire, objects in Coburn’s outer world function as recurring and deeply personal symbols to express the poet’s mental preoccupations and emotional states. A potent, almost totemic and sometimes paradoxical system of language emerges to describe internal states in relation to the body and the land: blood and sap are memory; bone, roots and trees are family; the skeleton is foundation as well as closeted experience; the skin is both potential union and separation; fire is birth and death; breath is life, and so on. These images are used so often and so reverently that they extend beyond metaphor and fall into the realm of metonymy, simultaneously deepening the hidden meanings of the poems and, in the case of ‘Father, Daughter’, lifting them into the realm of the archetypal:


the longing belongs in the foregathered illusions,

shadows I will watch sweep back into your suspended skin

the distressed close up of a father’s lips stitched into his

daughter’s hair, which the eyes have sacrificed in order

to live. we all dance for less—

it’s nothing you hadn’t foreseen.


(‘Father, Daughter’ 40-45)


Just as the poems in this short collection begin at the end—with “decay”—now the final poem of the collection, ‘The Blood is only Memory’, ends at the beginning—with “breath”. While the speaker’s “… pain / does not fade”, he finds that “this blood / is only memory” when set “against the warm pressure of breath”. In the language of symbols, breath is life, and it is both comforting and uplifting that a poetry collection so concerned with death and suffering should end on this more hopeful note. Pain is still present—of course it is—but something stronger than it exists, and just as our natural environment has the capacity to endure and regenerate after trauma, so, Coburn affirms in these poems, do we.


Robbie Coburn’s Before Bone and Viscera can be purchased from Rochford Street Press.

This review was first published in the excellent Australian journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics, Plumwood Moutain. Please pay them a visit to read more reviews and fine poetry. My thanks to editor Anne Elvey.




Mourning Morning





My mother’s house surrounds
me in a shroud: the tinkling
of the teaspoon as my father stirs
his tea, his tea; the chug of the washing machine
that never dies. The tubular wind chimes casting
their cool auric spell around us; the complaint
of the floorboards bearing up our lives.
And the busyness, of the birds in bush nearby… I

lie with eyes shucked open, not turning
to what waits to be let in.
I hear the phone shriek—and again—
then footsteps up the hall; the sound
of hesitation at the door—
as I elongate this moment,
try to dwell inside before.


*first published in Bluepepper



Beyond the Father’s Shadow, a film by Saba Vasefi


saba posterBeyond the Father’s Shadow to be launched at NSW Parliament House August 26

Beyond The Father’s Shadow is a short film by Iranian-Australian feminist documentary filmmaker (and my good friend!) Saba Vasefi. It’s the story of Australia’s first female parliamentarian Edith Cowan. The film portrays the struggles behind Cowan’s ascent to power, revealing how her traumatic childhood experiences motivated her to become a social worker and, ultimately, the first female member of the Australian parliament.

The film will be launched by author, patron of the Full Stop Foundation and UNICEF Ambassador Tara Moss; hosted by Greens Member of the NSW Legislative Council Dr Mehreen Faruqi; and MC’d by ABC’s commissioning editor, Andrea Ulbrick.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion on misogyny and politics.

Panelists for the evening will be:

♀ Dr Mehreen Faruqi: Member of the NSW Legislative Council

♀ Tara Moss: Author, Full Stop Patron and UNICEF Ambassador.

♀ Saba Vasefi: Filmmaker, Poet, Refugee Council of Australia Ambassador for Refugee Week.

♀ Lee Rhiannon: Senator for NSW

♀ Sarah Hanson-Young: Senator for SA

♀ Hon Linda Burney: Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Minister for Education & Aboriginal Affairs

♀ Van Badham: Guardian Columnist, Writer & Social Commentator

♀ Dr Wendy Michaels: Historian, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Newcastle; Director, The Women’s Club; Convenor, Rose Scott Women Writers’ Festival.


So basically, a stellar line-up!

If you’re in Sydney, please come along. I’ll be there, proudly supporting Saba, who is both a very talented filmmaker and a tireless supporter of others.


Location: NSW Parliament House, Sydney

Date: August 26,2015

Time: 6-9pm

Tickets: $10 Bookings: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/film-launch-at-the-nsw-parliament-beyond-the-fathers-shadow-a-film-by-saba-vasefi-tickets-17384411242