Sunday, December 14, 2014

Washington: Crossing the Potomac

The train pops from underground
                                 like an opening eye
and we are on the long, low bridge

                                 everything is open:
the early winter day
                                 the wide, flat water
greying, stilled
                                 the breath-held blue of the sky

                                 my smile

                                 I know I have my history
and home confused

and I haven't really conquered anything
                                 but I feel a touch heroic

Monday, November 24, 2014

Upcoming Gigs

I have two very exciting gigs coming up, to end my year in Canberra before I make the trek to Woodford Folk Festival. I am going to do something special for each gig.

C.R. Avery
 The first is supporting C.R. Avery at The Front Gallery & Cafe on Thursday 27 November. C.R. is an incredible spoken word artist, beat boxer, rapper and musician from Canada. I will be performing a 30 minute set that will be a retrospective of my work so far. It will contain poems from my six years of spoken word performance, from my first slam poem to a new poem never heard before. I am looking forward to exploring the changes I have seen in my writing and performance over this time. It is only right that I share these changes with an audience, one of the primary sources of my inspiration and innovation.

Sean M Whelan and the Mime Set

The second is the last Bloody Lips gig for 2014. Sean M Whelan and the Mime Set, a Melbourne spoken word band, will headline in what is likely to be its last performance ever. (See Sean's solo work here).

For a change, I will also be performing. Local songwriter, singer, musician and poet, Julia Johnson, will be joining me in a special performance. It will include new and old works from both me and Julia, supported by music. Zoe Anderson will also perform a set of her whimsical, narrative poetry.

I am really looking forward to these gigs. I will be performing with some incredibly talented people and will get to showcase some of my favourite poems.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tune Into Art: National Gallery Performance for the Human Brochure

On 1 November, I was lucky to be part of a unique event at the National Gallery of Australia. Five other acts and I responded to works within the gallery with performances for #canberra Human Brochure "Humans". The "Humans" are local bloggers and social media heavyweights who have been treated through the year to Canberra experiences and encouraged to talk about them online. (I expect they also spend a significant amount of time trying to shake off their awkward moniker.)

I have recently felt compelled to write about my experiences and confusion with Australian masculinity. So, naturally, I was drawn to Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly series. As well as being a fantastic space for performance, the collection showcases many of the modern Australian man's hangups. I responded strongly to two paintings and have included some of my words below.

"Landscape", 1947*

"Landscape" embodies for me many of the symbols of Ned Kelly as the archetypal Australian male: the Aussie dam, beneath a faded sky, with a sunrise or perhaps sunset or maybe fire on the horizon.
Ned Kelly's Birthmark (excerpt)
He is a still top paddock dam at midday, reflecting hard the wheatened light. The hint of a hot wind his mind, ticking like a bush windmill.  
He keeps his vision not much further than his calloused hands, though his squint spans the horizon. He is not a poet; he is a man, a clearer of bush, a confident axe. He hacks stories out of this stump. 
He is a larrikin, a good laugh, and smiles sharp like a man, makes a lark from the misfortune of fools. 
Good with his hands and horses, a bareback rider, a bender of nature’s will. He is clothed in housepaint and built of tightly pressed fibre: big, bold, blocky form on patchy scrub. A post and rail body writing a tale larger than this land. 
A family man’s honour and pride; the mercy of a good, straight shot.
"Ned Kelly", 1946
"Ned Kelly" is probably the most recognisable of the series, consisting of bold shapes on an outback scene. It is also quintessentially Australian. To me, it represents (among other things) foreign settlers stamping their marks on an unmoved landscape.
This Land is Possessed 
What are we doing, plastered on this land? Belligerent, ignorant colours to make peacocks blush, we are Narcissus, fixed on our own image, ignoring the river that midwifed us, the wattle kneeling beside us, the towering ghost gums mouthlessly shouting “look! the sky!” behind us; tall in our own selves, blind to these timeless reminders. 
We have forgotten our roots, what it is to dig our toes into this earth. We limit time touching the dirt; we cover our feet; we run to speed up the globe, escape our shadows, see our faces in the mirror of the next day’s sun. 
Shouting to ourselves “look at this! It is me. Look at all I own and all I’ve done.”
Disdaining the outstretched hands of those who are one with this land, we look for trackers to trace the marks we make over this ground, not remind us of the narrative lines pulsing underground, the loudest story living without sound.
Brashly brandishing our minor edit as though it alone was an epic tome and not a footnote. We are a dot on an i in an infinite plot but we hog the light, covet front of stage. 
We do not create, we misappropriate, experts at switching brands on stock, we should be placing palms on rock, cheeks on bark, ears to the dirt, just
And listen. 
We know exactly where we are,  
and we’re lost.
The other amazing acts were:
The experience reminded me that I need to visit the NGA much, much more often and soak in the inspiration. I encourage everyone to do the same.

*I have sourced these images of Nolan's works from the NGA website and have included them only to make my post more complete. I strongly encourage you to go view them in person. If you have already, then do it again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sex in Commonwealth Park

And then, when it ends,

Falling down by the bank
Of a lover's thigh,
Nestled still in the cupping bed;

Fingertips bridging hips,
The twitch of echoes of bliss
and the mundane calling outside:

Drawing away, slipping out,
Shading in the hollow of memory.

Monday, October 13, 2014

On Trying Hard not to Write about the Sea, which is Ever Present

          displaced in the sick sweet grilled meat
          stubbie cracking sun     squint
          as thong slap beach wrap families
          foam break across bitumen facade
          banks by capsized bike jetsam as
          gaudy teen romance glints
          selfishly under a tree      a scream
          swallowed by a splash as paddled
          balls punctuate loud married
          couples making up
                                   the sun blushes
          turns away embarrassed at my
          absurd ghost skin     this was a
          misjudgement. a dog's bark
          lays blame.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

CAPO Awards 2014

After my performance at the opening of the Wordsmith exhibition at M16 Art space, I was encouraged to apply for a CAPO award.

Paul McDermott, CAPO Patron
CAPO, the Capital Arts Patrons' Organisation, is a volunteer, non-profit group that supports artists in the Canberra region, primarily through financial awards. On Saturday 4 October, at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, CAPO held its 31st art auction to raise funds for its awards, promote local artists and recognise sponsors.

It was a great night. I have only just been introduced to the fine arts world of Canberra and I enjoyed catching up with some old friends and making some new ones. Over 100 pieces were exhibited and up for auction, demonstrating the depth and diversity of capital art.

I was very fortunate to be selected for the Sage Legal Services Award. I will use the award to introduce recorded and live looped sounds into my performances. The award gives me funding to buy the necessary recording,  production and performance equipment to do this.

Shameless Bearded CAPO Selfie

I am going to gradually incorporate this technology into my work in 2015, adding echoed voices and messages to my performances. I have a lot to learn, but I am hoping to produce layered, more complex pieces using these techniques.

Canberra has a vibrant and diverse arts community and I am very fortunate to be a part of it. I look forward to many more collaborations with a range of local artists and to be able to contribute to arts in the capital region.

Monday, September 29, 2014


corners conspire to define my context, box
my use but not my purpose

I carry meaning outside of design

right angles bracket my body but
I delight in diagonals
and have seen curves in my dreams

when I wake to the whispering
traffic sounds of winds weaving
words through my body, wearing
memories of being someplace else

cut short by the clatter of my rolling

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bloody Lips Video

Raphael Kabo, who lives here, has posted on YouTube three videos of Catherina Behan performing at Bloody Lips on 24 August. The quality is really good. All of them are captivating poems, but below is one of my favourites. Check out the others here.

The next Bloody Lips is on 30 November in the Monster Kitchen and Bar at Hotel Hotel.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Buddy Wakefield at Bloody Lips

The Innocence of Buddy Wakefield (David Burke)
On Sunday 14 September, Buddy Wakefield blew apart the Monster Kitchen and Bar in New Acton, ACT. Here is his set list:

1) Mash up of we were emergencies, let it go, the information man, human the death dance, and tattoos of bakeries (not published)

2) Gandhi's Autobiography

3) Guitar Repair Woman

4) Bedrooms and Battlescars 

5) Convenience Stores

6) Pretend

Nearly all of these poems can be found again on YouTube or at Buddy's website here.

The next Bloody Lips is on Sunday 30 November, featuring Sean Whelan and the Mime Set.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Orlando After Dark

He calls me brother, stops his bicycle, and asks me for thirty-five cents. I give him a sandwich bag of nickels and quarters and dimes I'd hoarded. He grins wide, calls me brother and tells me how his lover left him for someone with a house and a BMW. Someone without nine felonies. He doesn't tell me why that means he needs thirty-five cents, but now he can get the bus and a meal. He calls me brother and his smile drives his bicycle down the street.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ellis Collective Album Launch Post Mortem

Wow. Just wow.

The Ellis Collective. Kira Puru. The Street Theatre.

This was one of the most rewarding gigs I've done. Being able to perform a few poems in front of such an attentive and receptive audience, and then introduce two incredibly moving acts, was dream worthy.

The Unicorn of Awesome T-shirt
(Adam Thomas)
I performed six poems:

The Silent Poem (with Emma Kelly on violin)
Red Charts, Red Hands

I wrote "Ellis" specifically for the event, on a train ride with a stanza of Canberra poets the day before. Here it is:


I'm in your songs,
sitting, always sitting
on a verandah, or a stump, or the
ground alone,

Or perhaps with someone in the
background, out of focus, but
never in my sight,

Bare feet, always worn jeans, 
bare-sleeved, hands always
empty, or holding a stubby, or
a letter, or a rock,

Forehead heavy, face twitching, 
dry-eyed with a chestful of
cocked sobs, the
butterflies dead in my
stomach years ago, feet
heavy as the trunks of
her clothes,

There is the sound of a
crow, or a saw, or a
shovel in hard soil, the
smell of eucalyptus, or
smoke, or hot tin,

Besser blocks of sun on my back,
dusty ant puncturing my

I feel like I should be
moving, or I am moving, but
getting nowhere, or I've just
returned, or I've always been
right here, I've never left.

Then your voice fades like the tactless sun,
I tear the page from my notebook,
Crush it like a drained tinnie,
Drop it to the dirt where it
Lands with thud which
Springs me up

And I stride on.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Wordsmith Opening Words Pt 2

At the opening of Wordsmith at M16 Art space on 21 August, I performed Knowing the Trick Spoils the Magic and then followed with these words:


That poem gives a little insight into my creative process. The wonder of an exhibition such as Wordsmith is that it gives you an insight into the creative processes of a collection of writers and artists, and the interaction between those processes.

Creativity is essential to my identity, to who I am. Creativity grows me in two ways. It teaches me about myself. I often write something and then think: “I didn’t know that was inside me”. Creativity also teaches me about others. Seeing the responses in the eyes of the audience or talking to them after I have shared my work brings me closer to other people. It illustrates the connections between all of us, the common elements of humanity we all share. But it also highlights that how we experience, interpret and reflect the human condition varies between us.

The ability to find our own expression of the human condition in art is its essential beauty. I believe the defining characteristic of art is ambiguity. It is the space an artist creates for the reader, listener, viewer to live within the work, allowing them to interpret and experience the work through their own frame of reference.

In this sense, Wordsmith delivers four times the value of a conventional exhibition. Firstly, you have the opportunity to lose yourself in the writer’s words. Then you can experience the depiction of truth found in the work of visual art. You can marvel at the interaction between the artist’s response to the words and the original writing. Finally, the two pieces beside each other create a whole new work, that is bigger than either piece alone.

Four times the value!

I would like to thank Sarah Norris for curating such a talented group of artists and including me within that group. Congratulations to M16 Artspace for sharing this exhibition with all of you. And I commend my fellow artists, Gina, Jackie, Julian, Ian, Caren, Sarah, Yolande and Nigel. It is truly an honour to be included among you.

So, please enjoy the glimpses we have provided behind the screen. I hope you can find some of your own magic within.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Wordsmith Opening Words Pt 1

Here is the poem I performed at the opening of Wordsmith at M16 Art space on 21 August.


Knowing the Trick Spoils the Magic

I know the moment I became a poet -
My parents have taken me to my first rodeo -
This is what I remember:

            fist-falls of hooves; bone
            pummelling earth's skin; wide nostrils,
            flared eyes, peeled back lips; earth
            flicked in clumps, grenades of dirt; sweat
            torn off in clouds of steam; fleshy
            punches of flanks
            colliding; wheeling western fighters
            diving; lassoes strafing the ring;
            a caught calf's sudden

            I cannot separate the hides,
            can't divide excited from
            scared, as I sit in the bleachers,
            pinned, afraid to 
            share my breath with the
            weight of the forced
            snorts in the air.


            one horse fallen. a
            cracked bone protrudes
            rudely from its shin.
            sharp. white. sheer.

            the cowboy pulls his caught leg free,
            puts his mouth straight to the horse's ear.
            whatever he says, the horse does not shift,
            except for short bellow-throws of its chest,
            its eyes fixed on something only it can see.

            a truck and trailer appear in a puff of smoke,
            behind the stricken horse,
            and a tarpaulin is hauled across our view,
            as mysterious as a magician's screen.
            the last thing I see as the horse disappears
            is a vet showing us nothing up his sleeves.

            I sit breath-held and leaning in,
            listening to the dust settle on the emptied ring.

Merlin was a boy from school with white, wise hair.
the other kids told me it was once pure black,
but he had been in a car crash when he was five,
and the shock of the smash
drained the colour from his hair overnight.

            as I stare at the tarp, I conjure an image:
            trauma has turned the horse's hair glaring white
            and, somehow, the vet takes the bone from its leg
            and fixes it as a glowing horn to its head.

            when the tarp is re-rolled and the truck drives off,

            there is nothing left but a dark outline of horse sweat
            and a cowboy, head bared, ignoring the crowd,
            not doing anything, just staring at the ground.
            he waves the dust from his chaps and dons his hat,
            before wide-walking to the yard to accept another mount.

            that moment, on bare bleachers, set my writer's course:
            to search for what's behind a canvas screen;
            trying hard to write me as the wise magician,
            more often the cowboy,

            sometimes the horse.

First published in spoken in one strange word - Queensland Poetry Festival Anthology 2013

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Ellis Collective Launch "Carry"

It's one of those dream sequences. One of your favourite musicians, who writes lyrics as naked as poetry and sings like a knife, contacts you without warning. And asks you if you'd like to MC the launch of his band's new album.

So it happened when Matty Ellis, from The Ellis Collective, messaged me recently. I have the true pleasure of hosting their album launch at the Street Theatre in Canberra on Saturday 6 September. I will perform a few poems between sets and introduce the acts.

The Ellis Collective are supported by Kira Puru, who sings with The Bruise and has a beautiful, gut-wrenching voice. Some of her work can be found here.

Tickets for the event can be bought here. The Facebook event page is here.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wordsmith: Art + Words

Recently, I was very fortunate to be asked by curator Sarah Norris to be part of Wordsmith, an exhibition which combines the work of Canberra region writers and artists.

Wordsmith, open now at M16 Art space, shows the responses of visual artists to a variety of written forms. The simple concept of matching artists to writers' work has created a fascinating range of interactions.

I wrote The Eddy End of a Day (below) specifically for the exhibition. It is the product of an evening walk in Xi'an, China and a particular moment in my life. Sarah paired me with Jacklyn Peters, whose work I already had a lot of respect for. Her Neighbourhood Project, in particular, combined a strong sense of place with human emotion and stories.

Jacklyn took these sensitivities to my poem and created a collage of feeling. I was overwhelmed the first time I saw it. I thought Jacklyn had intimately peeled away the skins of my writing to get to its muscle and blood.

With Jacklyn Peters in front of her artistic response to my poem
The other writers were Nigel Featherstone, Yolande Norris and Sarah Rice. The artists were Caren Florance, Julian Laffan, Jacklyn Peters, Sarah Rice, Ian Robertson and G L Wyatt.

I was also honoured to be asked to open the exhibition. I performed a poem, Knowing the Trick Spoils the Magic, and said some words about the concept. My words and poem will be the subject of a future blog post.


The Eddy End of a Day

At the eddy end of a day, out for fruit, bottled
water, bread for breakfast, in the still
light drizzle hushes and silently calls

across the street, over the subconscious
hum of vehicular life. I decide to
interrupt my errands and I pause,

balanced at the centre of the
footbridge, straddling both sides of the
traffic, travelling away and towards,

disappearing into and emerging from a
distant humid mist. The day
teeters at that tipping-point, a cause-

way between sunlight's sharp
relief and the muted fluorescence of
man. Ignoring the rolling wheel's course

flowing beneath my feet and the stressed
pulse of steps in the steel I turn to
find my comfort's awkward source:

right now I cast no shadow.


Wordsmith is open until 7 September, so I encourage you to check it out. Also being exhibited is the M16 Artist's Exhibition, which incorporates a diverse range of media and themes.