May 10, 2017
An excerpt from Michele Lee’s play ‘Going Down’. The play was developed during Michele’s participation in the China residency in 2016.
NATALIE: Friday arvo. Abbottsford Centrelink. Me outside its sliding doors. One finger scrolling through my phone. Not for cock. My publisher. Marta Pacek.
Marta’s great. A real feminist. After she first read my manuscript for Banana Girl, she took me to lunch at Mr Tulk. She said I was changing the narrative for Australian women.
Should I call her? Pitch my second book? Gods of Melbourne, gimme a sign.
And then…. Next to the Centrelink, a guy with a spray can and a hoodie is tagging a wall and everyone is loving it, everyone is watching him make Melbourne more like Melbourne in one fell arc of hot-pink spray paint. The he fucks it up. Or we’ve fucked it up. His tag reads: Urban Outfitters. Landing in 2017. His hoodie reads: Gus’s Guerrilla Marketing.
[On the phone.] Marta! Hi! Hey! It’s Natalie here. Can you call me back when you get a chance? Just wondering how everything is going with Transit Lounge? How are the Banana Girl sales going? Broken the 1000 barrier yet?
Also, I actually have a new book idea. It’s called… well, the title is TBC. I guess it’s like a… documentary experiment thingy. With me in it. But not simply another Banana Girl! It’ll be more… just more… urgent. Look, I’m going to flesh it out more over the weekend.
I think it’ll totally be suitable for Transit Lounge.
May 3, 2017
An excerpt from “When race and class collide, the biggest challenge is using your voice” by Alice Pung first published on The Guardian.
When you are seven months pregnant, your husband and you go to a local hardware store. When you return 20 minutes later to the carpark, someone has put a folded piece of paper on your windscreen, held down by the wiper. You think it’s just an advertisement, but when Nick unfolds it to take a look, he grows very agitated. “I’m going to see if anyone else got this on their cars,” he tells you, and returns a few moments later. No one else has anything on their windscreen except you.
You take the paper from him. At first it seems like a badly photocopied advertisement: a picture of a black boy and a white girl, both around ten years old, well-dressed, perhaps a promotional shot for an American 80s sitcom. The children are inside a circle, which you think is the frame of the picture, until you realise that the image inside is cut into quarters by a large thin cross. In large capital letters on top of the picture are the words: STOP RACE MIXING. Then you realise – the kids are targets inside the barrel of a gun.
“Don’t worry,” you say to your husband, “I bet that STOP RACE MIXING person has a whole collection of posters he carries around, so when he sees men holding hands he probably pulls out his STOP GAY MARRIAGE and when he sees redheads eating bagels he takes out the STOP GINGER-JEWS one.”
You find the incident harmless enough. Some cowardly moron is probably sitting in their car waiting to see your reaction thinking, ha! that’ll teach those miscegenating fornicators a lesson.
When you tell your friends at the university college where you live and work, they are incredulously horrified and outraged. “Clearly mentally ill,” they say. Or, a little self-righteously, “Who are these people? They don’t represent me or my country.”
But you know who these people are. Oh yes. STOP RACE MIXING and you go back a long way. When you are a 16-year old sales assistant at your dad’s electrical appliance store, old ladies come in and say, “can I have an Australian salesman, thanks.” And you dutifully go and find Joe the Italian or Jim the Macedonian.
When you are 10, mum walks you home from school and sees a man mowing the lawn across the road. “Go ask him how much he charges to cut grass,” she tells you. Mum speaks no English and the only literature she reads is the Kmart and BiLo ads that come in your letterbox every Tuesday. You do as she asks. The man, an older man with a face like beef jerky left out of the packet for too long, hollers at you: “I DON’T DO YOUSE!” You report to mum, “He doesn’t cut grass.” “Of course he does, I’ve seen him doing the other lawns around here. Go back. He can’t hear you through the lawnmower noise.” You go back. He yells at you again. “GIT LOST I DON’T DO YOUSE.” You are mortified and ashamed, and at that moment you hate Beefjerk but also your mum for not getting it, for making you ask.
Alice (bottom right) was a participant in the WrICE program, travelling to China in 2016.
August 17, 2016
Monday 29 August
Stories from Near and Far
Celebrate (WrICE) as part of the RMIT Present Tense Program
WrICE, a program of residencies, workshops and events, is building an
international network of writers and writing to foster intercultural conversations, celebrate diversity, and change the stories we tell and listen to.
A stunning line-up of acclaimed and emerging writers from Australia, China, Indonesia, Hong Kong and the Philippines will perform an intercultural collage of readings, introduced by Lisa Dempster, Artistic Director, Melbourne Writers Festival.
Join us for ideas, inspiration, refreshments. Featuring WrICE writers: Alice Pung,
Eliza Vitri Handayani, Michele Lee, Maggie Tiojakin, Lawrence Ypil, Dai Fan, Xu Xi and more
WrICE is made possible through the generous funding of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.
Mon 29 August
RMIT Design Hub
Level 10, Long Room
Cnr Swanston and
This event is free but registration is essential
February 26, 2015
This poem was inspired by the WrICE collaborative residency in Vietnam in January 2015. It was created beside the Sông Thu Bồn, the river that runs through the UNESCO World Heritage listed and ancient city of Hoi An in Vietnam.
Sông Thu Bồn dreaming
An Hoi Island,
Hoi An Ancient Town
It is a slow open pass
The way we
Together come fish
By this river
See what there is
To catch –
she says, What I thought –
What we are –
This promised land
This how we know
Where is the mouth, someone asks
Just follow the river our riverguide says
Just follow The river
This dreaming will teach you
How in night waters
It nets fish
Through the day
It swings ginger breezes
Ten metres square
Suspended yellow high
In the company
What if with this mustard joy
– when we can hardly breathe
We join up
We by river
We hold hands
We sleep side by side
We eat river views
Catch boats around surprise corners
Ride bicycles down lanterned streets
Pass each other in fish markets
Walk – laugh – cry
We have a go
Wrestle each other
– with love, yêu
Soak our feet in darling water
Lemon grass our rose petals
Make vodka out of potatoes
Ride upside down over bridges
Swim tenderly with cement swans
Put our poems beside bananas to ripen faster
What if –
What if this dreaming
This ‘good times’
This Sông Thu Bồn –
What if we listen
We give a shit
What if we make
Poetry grit across still waters
Exchange whispers our imaginary
Abi-na-ko, she repeats sotto voce
What I thought, what we think –
Con-viv-encia comes the echo
To live together –
– turning that into this
Ah yes – this tender-nest
This promise before
This river beside
This inching towards
This weight of gold
We aaaahh –
By Francesca Rendle-Short
February 26, 2015
This is the transcript of the talk Vietnamese writer Nguyen Bao Chan gave at the National Library of Vietnam WrICE function Thursday 5 February 2015, Ha Noi, vietnam
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As a Vietnamese poet, I am very honored to attend the event held at the National Library of Vietnam, within the frame work of the Writers Immersion and Cultural Exchange Program, to share with you some of my thoughts about writing experiences.
I have been invited to several international poetry festivals, conferences around the world. I have read my poetry before audiences in several cities of the world, from Southeast Asia to Europe and South America. I have always found that audiences are very enthusiastic about poetry, no matter where they live. They have moved me so much and inspired me to share my work with them. To have been a representative of my nation, and its poetic tradition and culture, is such a great honor. I have tried my best to present some humble part of our long historical culture and our poetic tradition.
I myself have a deep love for the English language and literature written in English. I started studying
English at the primary school, have kept learning, and will do it throughout my life. It has given me a wonderful key to open many doors of human knowledge. I have reached a much wider world, learning about many different tradition of literatures and cultures. And my writing has been enriched by all those experiences. Always, I proudly say that I come from Vietnam; I write poetry in my beautiful mother tongue. Even if sometimes I try to write in English as well – the language I’ve loved for many years, I still do it with the whole heart and soul of a true Vietnamese, whose deepest roots belong to the motherland.
Hanoi is my life. It has changed so much within over 30 years and no longer looks like the Hanoi of my childhood. Hanoi is now more modern, crowded, and polluted… But it sill reminds me very much of its own hidden charm and that can never be ruined by time or modern life. Every single little thing I see everyday in the streets of my city can be a source of my poetic inspiration, because Hanoi itself seems to be the greatest poem, with all of its beauty and ancient heritage. Hanoi has been, and will be, an essential part of my writing, my memories and my love, forever.
When I was very small, my mother and grandmother sang traditional lullabies to me I could not fall asleep without hearing those lullabies. Vietnamese folk poems were composed by unknown authors and handed down from generation to generation, to be sung in special ways. Their lyrics are very beautiful and deal in particular with love and nature… The beauties of the Vietnamese language and of our rich culture have enriched my soul in a very natural way. When I began writing, I had no intention of bringing traditional elements into my poetry at all. They just appear, more or less, in my poems, as a natural part of my soul, even though the poems might be written using completely modern forms.
I think everything we experience in life benefits us in one way or another, no matter what it may be: happiness or sorrow, joy or sadness, success or failure … Life changes day by day. Something that is new today will be old tomorrow. But I think there are always special brilliant moments that will remain forever, as the precious property of the spirit which we can always find in poetry /literature. It nourishes our souls, gives us more energy and belief to live.
Nguyen Bao Chan
February 9, 2015
28 January 2015, Hoi An
On our first day in Hoi An, as we assembled at the lobby of the magical Long Life Riverside Hotel for our welcome fruit and drinks, I couldn’t help but ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” WrICE co-director Francesca Rendle-Short just smiled.
1. Something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone; honor an occasion, or make a gesture of acceptance.
2. Something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned.
“What a gift,” I declared on Facebook, and to myself. For what makes me think I “earned” it? I certainly didn’t “win” it, even though I did need it, as I had a book project I needed help on; and I did submit my previous works to them so it wasn’t as if I didn’t deserve it. Everyone “deserves” gifts like this: a trip to a place one has never been; time and space to write and to focus on work that needs to be done; interaction with like-minded individuals who are also vulnerable, even though not equally; and an opportunity to begin or to finish something important – to oneself and to others. In this sense, we all deserve this.
That evening, at our welcome dinner at Morning Glory restaurant, (which had run out of their signature dish by the time we got there), co-director David Carlin explained that they do not ask for anything in particular in return; that we are free to do what we like with the time given, except for the window at 3-6 p.m. during which we collaborate on our projects in our immersion workshops. In this sense the WrICE fellowship is indeed a gesture of assistance. I needed it. Badly. But yes, it also means being shown favor; this is a gift that prods me on. I embrace the opportunity and open myself to the grace; I must honor the true gift – my talent and the story I need to tell.
Talking with Cate Kennedy over dinner, I was struck particularly by her insight about being miserly in writing and how this creates a logjam in the creative flow. I realized suddenly that my niggardly attitude towards myself, i.e., not allowing myself too many luxuries, even though I can actually afford them, reflects my attitude towards my writing. Cate is right to ask “What am I saving it all for? Do I expect the creative idea to grow bigger by not spending it?” Yet I know it doesn’t grow; it just gets lost in the muck. And I am not the richer for it. Heck, even money in the bank doesn’t really grow because the interest is so small and it’s even taxed! So why save at all? For some unknown purpose in the future, just to be assured that there is something to pull from when necessary? But why not spend it now?
The Vietnamese dong will teach me to be generous, I know. I have ten days to learn to spend thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions on myself! Even with my pathetic Philippine peso, I can afford it. I will open my wallet (but not without serious haggling). I will open my heart to the ocean of creative abundance. Enough of the closed and tight fist. This will be my gift to myself on this journey.
P.S. Sumptuous welcome dinner for twelve persons: VND 2.5 million (about AUD 150).
Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz, Philippines
February 4, 2015
– Suchen Christine Lim, Singapore
This writing residency is like no other. In most writing residencies, the writer works alone. In the WrICE residency, 12 writers from different parts of S E Asia and Australia spend 10 days together to write and to listen to one another’s work-in-progress, to laugh and cry over, oh, so many things to do with writing and creating, loving and hating or simply just getting on with it and write.
The soul of this programme is in the attentive listening of a writer’s work-in-progress by fellow writers from diverse cultures, people you have not met before, and whose writing you have not read before and whose books you would probably give a pass in a bookshop.
For the writers reading their new and raw work for the first time to a group of peers who are also strangers, the experience is both nerve wrecking and exhilarating, but highly rewarding. In the process, new bonds and friendships are forged. Later in the evening over drinks and dinner, we laugh and chat shooting the breeze as the Ozzies say. We sit by the river in Hoi An. We eat Vietnamese satay, drink Hanoi beer and talk about love and life.
On the surface, the WrICE programme looks simple enough. In the morning, writers are free to read and write or simply to wander around. In the afternoon we meet to listen to one another’s work. At night we have dinner together and simply hang out to relax. But beneath the surface, something magical happens.
A writer who never writes poetry dreams a poem into being. This actually happened to me. I saw the first line of WrICE Dream in my sleep and wrote the rest at 4am when I woke up.
If there are problems they were meant
to be swept out of the sky.
There’s something about being in the presence
of poetry or a story being born.
A new poem rough hewn with lines sharp as glass
we still hold it to our heart, and if a line cuts we gladly bleed.
The same for stories that make us laugh and cry
in the presence of strangers
who become friends because of a story shared.
In the presence of a new story or new poetry we rejoice
like farmers bringing in the harvest of WrICE
our laughing faces echoing our thanks to the sky.
January 31, 2015
Fill in the black Which is not the blank spACE mAn
a Seed of a poEtical trUth(S)
January 31, 2015
we are doctors
we save deaths”
January 30, 2015
a tree of a working genius
a lantern to be lighted with the fruits of peace,wisdom and impersonal loving care
an involuntary moments of breathings
a frrrrrrrrrrogged leave of a poetic imagination
a layer of a circle