Perth Poetry Festival – Keynote Address by Amanda Joy

As patron of the 2017 Perth Poetry Festival Amanda Joy delivered the 2017 Festival Keynote address on 17 August at the Northbridge Piazza Community Room.

Amanda Joy

Within days of being asked to make this address, the week before I left for Broome, I went to dinner with a group of poets, in a corner a candle had been lit for Fay Zwicky. We were told she would not make it through the following day.

When I think of memorable keynote addresses, without fail, the first to come to mind is Fay Zwicky’s opening speech from the Apropos Festival hosted by Writing WA a few years back. I still don’t entirely trust my recollection of what she said, there was some kind of hypnotic reverie involved, which existed outside the words and cast a spell over that entire week. It began with music, Fay Zwicky playing piano. Her talk was mostly autobiographical, quite practical, surprising, gracious and radiated great generosity in its advice to poets. I’m sure everyone there took away many things. Residual for me, the seed which took root, was her advocacy of fearlessness, not just in poetry but in our relating to others, a courage in reaching out, particularly poet to poet.  I very loosely paraphrase here, “if you admire someone’s writing, write to them, no matter how far away and loftily admired they might be” Her reach was as international as the points of reference evidenced in her writing. She illuminated those interconnections which sustain us and it seems right to invoke her presence here now, through her own words and those of a handful of Western Australian Women Poets.

There is a particular sentence in her essay Seeing and Recording a Local Ambience which has stayed with me as caution, friction and fascination since I first encountered it;

The Obscurity of Our Diction.

“The obscurity of our diction has been closer to vagueness of perception than to the obscurity of the complex consciousness. It embodies an uncertain grasp of the relationship between language and feeling, and of feeling and the natural world. Our poetic speech has lacked that edge of hardness and truth, which enables us to forgive an obvious clinging to convention, which we do in Hardy and Frost. What has been missing is the personal tone, the adjustment of the individual to the physicality of things.”

What an awareness this asks for! and she offers little consolation, rather opening a field of questions. Yes, as instructed, you can slow the moment of sensation, break it gently down, line by line to regulate the pace, as with all her writing the words seem to have absorbed more, codified more, than others can in entire books.

She writes of the lack of musicality, even the inert “thud” of the words of William Carlos Williams, of his visual rather than auditory imagination, not tuned to the mind’s ear, then discusses at length the heightened scrupulousness in his matching of language to physicality, of the appeal this concept of poetry might have to, in her words, “shallow democracy” shared by Australian and Americans.

And what a potent pairing of words that is “Shallow democracy” It speaks to a great deal more than a distrust of elevated or academic literary language and how specialized language can isolate.

In preparing for this talk, I was excited to find on the Giramondo website, her speech from the launch of Lucy Dougan’s book The Guardians. It contains so many gems but I loved this euphoric quote (which I have kept near my desk) “Whenever a poet manages to find language and structures that mimic and project her feelings, she’s actually chalking up a victory over oblivion. “

What our diction resists and what its resistance can say. A well crafted poem asks the reader/listener to move toward it to gain understanding.

In the poem The Stone Dolphin, from Three Songs of Love and Hate, she writes:

The language of tyranny had to be
learnt if anything were to be said

and later in the same poem:

True grief is tongueless when the dumb
define love’s death
In a fiercely fathered and unmothered world
words are wrung from the rack

These are origins, not conclusions. As in so many of her poems she destabilizes language by critiquing the same tool she is working with, she renders it precarious through a restructuring, each orphaned word crammed to bursting point with the weight of greater meaning, yet retaining its most seductive qualities.

I was reminded of the final stanza’s of Morgan Yasbincek’s poem Pilgrim, from White Camel

for two days she sits broody in the camper chair, her cup held still
on ten fingertips, then she moves like that woma python woman
from Uluru, the child a light under the sand of her
tasting the air, she enters a gathering in the centre of Alice, finds
the Arrente woman who gives her some words to see with, permission
to enter her land

These complex networks. Words which have come from another physicality, which have not only been seeded by the shape of things in that particular locale but also allow the alignment of the individual to that same physicality. This is not abstract theory, become bilingual and your tongue will develop a new muscularity, your hypothalamus will vibrate differently, your pituitary gland will secrete a new dose of hormones.

When in Swamp, Nandi Chinna asks “How many footsteps will it take/ to walk a place into the body?” the body keeps walking, the rhythm of movement through terrain becomes the body and the words-as-poem, a new form.

When poetry strives for this alignment, evidences this adjustment, it sings. Not merely as vocality, onomatopoeia, in cadence, meter, or a layering of meaning. Something happens spatially. We are drawn into another place, another encounter, it situates us in a “constellation” complete with its own rhythm.

There is a great poem by Caitlin Maling, I came across originally in Going Down Swinging from her book Conversations I’ve Never Had, called Holiday, it begins with an aerial view of Perth.  (our freshly arrived interstate and international guests may appreciate this view from an airplane)

Perth from above is a cockroach.
It sits there, brown and laconic, and
the microwave of summer can’t shift it”

Discomforting for many reasons, not least because it likens Perth to a cockroach, but also everything suburban becomes cockroach, not diffused by the word like it actually is a cockroach. The language in it is hard, the line breaks as dissociated and dislocated as the idea of a city which clings to country like an insect “twitching intermittently”

The precision of our diction, the map which is our diction, leads to and from the reader/listener’s body through the sentence and from and to share the poet’s body and its yearnings, where they are located, not simply geographically and physically but psychically, spiritually and ineluctably, politically.

Set this beside Yamatji poet, Charmaine Papertalk-Green’s Don’t Want me To Talk, published in Cordite and also The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry.

You don’t want me to talk about
Mining or its impact on country
You don’t want me to talk about
The concept and construct of ‘whiteness’
And how dominant and real it is
You don’t want me to talk about
The art vultures here and everywhere
Modern day art missionaries
Guiding us on the great white canvas
You don’t want me to talk about
Treaties or invasion of this land
It’s a shared true history- lets heal
You don’t want me to talk about
How reconciliation could be the wrong word
You don’t want me to talk about
Native titles way of moving across
The Midwest and Murchison landscape
You don’t want me to talk at all
Most of the time
You want me to nod, smile and listen
You don’t want me to talk about
How I have got a voice
And you don’t listen

There are voices not represented in this room. While we gather under the banner of ‘celebrating diversity’, lets also have a heightened awareness of where it isn’t and why its important to do so.

In the rarefied context of several days of poets reading their poems we have the benefit of entering not only the poet’s diction but an immersion in the intonation, to observe the facial expressions and physical presence. To commune through a shared embodiment of words, the texture of those words over tongues and into ears, as spirit, as wind or other movement over terrain. This week as we make those maps. Maps of this precious time we have together, this transient field of relations we co create and its capacity to change us, as poets and people.

I’ll now read Fay Zwicky’s ‘The Poet Asks Forgiveness’ from Kaddish.

Dead to the world I have failed you
Forgive me, traveller.

Thirsty, I was no fountain
Hungry, I was not bread
Tired, I was no pillow

Forgive my unwritten poems:
the many I have frozen with irony
the many I have trampled with anger
the many I have rejected in self-defence
the many I have ignored in fear

unaware, blind or fearful
I ignored them.
They clamoured everywhere
those unwritten poems.
They sought me out day and night
and I turned them away.

Forgive me the colours
they might have worn
Forgive me their eclipsed faces
They dared not venture from
the unwritten lines.

Under each inert hour of my silence
died a poem, unheeded


 – Amanda Joy


Amanda Joy was born and raised in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia. Her first full-length book, Snake Like Charms, is part of the UWAP Poetry series. Her poem ‘Tailings’ won the 2016 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. She is the author of two chapbooks, Not Enough to Fold and Orchid Poems.

The 2017 Perth Poetry Festival ran from 11th to the 20th of August

‘Snakes known to exist in this area’: ophidiophile poets Amanda Joy and Liana Joy Christensen talk to Zalehah Turner

Zalehah: Hello Liana and Amanda, anything you’d like to say about snakes, poetry and Western Australia by way of an opening?

Liana: Poetry in Western Australian is a lively and diverse ‘ecosystem’, where the poets are likely, on the whole, to welcome serpents! Encounters with snakes in the wild always leave an indelible impression, so it’s not surprising to me that such highly charged moments will find an afterlife in poetry. Without being overly mystic, an encounter with a snake sharpens the moment: life and death are revealed as conjoined.

Amanda: I grew up largely outdoors, due to being in the desert and living in a caravan in the heat, I have barely a memory of being inside. My father in particular made sure I knew a lot about snakes, which ones were poisonous, how to walk slowly in order to encounter them and the need to stand completely still when I saw them. It has left an indelible hyper-sensitivity to them which means I encounter them in my reading as well with that same recognition. Liana has already mentioned, a sharpening, but also a familiarity. There is barely a collection of poetry I have read and loved which doesn’t have a snake or several.

Zalehah: Liana and Amanda, what are your thoughts on endangered species, snakes, and the destruction of their habit through deforestation and urbanisation?

Liana: My thoughts immediately turn to our Biblical heritage. The queen of heaven crushing the serpent; the conflation of the serpent with ‘evil’. These ideas are so powerful in our culture. I see the current, parlous state of deforestation, loss of species, and unchecked urbanisation as directly connected. It has created a world where in many cultures humans view themselves as ‘having dominion’. I think we have much to learn from Indigenous cultures that have a more respectful concept of cohabitation.

Amanda: Recently, a huge tract of land was bulldozed in an area of remnant bushland where I walk regularly. I have rarely walked in there without at least one snake sighting, I found myself grieving for all the terrestrial animals which may not make their way back in there for quite some time. There is something about the spaces inhabited by snakes, the ‘gap in things’ to borrow a line from Luke Davies’ ‘Totem Poem’ that I have had moving around in my head while wandering in there. It speaks to me of wild and untouched space, understories and humus, shrubs and caves, where things go to breed and incubate and generate. When the ground is barren and animals lost, when seeds have nowhere to fall, regeneration is impossible. There is a starkness in the destruction of wild spaces which fosters more starkness, which speaks to me of a terror.

Zalehah: Can you tell me about any experiences with snakes or snake skin that you’ve had? The strongest, most memorable.

Amanda: Of course, the entirety of Snake Like Charms is about my experiences with snakes and even some snake skins. The most memorable was a face-to-face meeting with a tiger snake while walking in an area of Beeliar Wetlands with an anthropologist. We were in a very important sacred site and I was on my knees taking a photograph of a quite large Burton’s legless lizard. As I swivelled away, still on my knees, I found myself directly level with the tongue of a huge snake, its head was flared. I’d never seen one from quite that angle before. Fortunately, my body, in its infinite wisdom, froze. I have no idea how long we were like that, facing each other. It was that meeting and the next couple of days of adrenaline coursing through my system which solidified the conception of Snake Like Charms.

Liana: I have had the privilege of visiting a very special place in the south-west, one that very few people have experienced. It can only be accessed by walking ocean wards from the back of a private property in Walpole. After much flat landscape, the earth opens up in a deep fissure. You realise that the little green shrubs you had thought you saw were, in fact, the tops of jarrah trees. This place, called Lander’s Gully, has a freshwater spring at one end. Although known to few people, it is, naturally enough, known to the wildlife. We were resting on the sandy track down into the gully, when my companion said in one word: ‘damnbloodyhell’. I turned and saw a tiger snake approaching us from behind. We moved to either side of the track and watched the snake make its slow way to the head of the springs and drink its fill. Shades of D.H. Lawrence!

Zalehah: These experiences are life and death. I am pleased that you both managed to survive! Mythological and symbolic references to snakes appear throughout your poetry: the Ouroboros and the headless Medusa. Are these powerful motifs, images and life experiences the reason that you express yourself through poetry or prose? Why poetry in particular? What is about the form that appeals to you?

Amanda: There is a fantastic essay by James Hillman in his Dream Animals collection titled ‘A Snake is not a Symbol’ where he writes about a workshop exercise he uses, having the group discuss all the snake references which come to mind. So many! Then he asks them to consider the ‘snake-ness’ of an actual snake. The wonder of that, the physical attributes actually bring about its prominence in mythology and in particular creation stories. It is a brilliant meditation on the tempering involved when balancing the motifs and myths with a contemporary context within a poem. Stuart Cooke in his introduction to his translation of George Dyuŋgayan’s The Bulu Line discusses the ‘haze’ in the songs (poems) he is translating, the uncertainty. That same ‘gap in things’ I mentioned earlier, it’s a space we as readers need to sift for meaning which draws me to the form as a writer and a reader. A meeting place within the text as an encounter, where we can bring with us all our points of reference. It would be impossible to think of snakes without bringing the mythos of the snake, especially on Country which was sung into being by serpents.

Liana: Oddly enough, that encounter (and several other close ones) have not evoked mortal terror for me. More a feeling of respectful fascination. I have seen my neighbour’s dog die from dugite venom, so I’m not unaware of the dangers. But in my encounters fear has never been the dominant emotion. It is, of course, not possible to shed all the cultural and mythological scales from our eyes . . . nor is it necessary. I agree with Amanda, though, on the importance of resisting the possibility of cultural overlays obscuring the actual existence of another life. The snake is Saturn, haloed by rings of mythos, no doubt, but centrally and intrinsically itself.

Zalehah: As ‘female, activist poets’ (Liana’s words!)- what do you hope readers will think/ or rethink about their perceptions of the world, wildlife, and precious existence of animals (deadly or not) within it? What do you feel strongly about? What do you hope readers will take away with them after reading your work?

Liana: There is a strong tradition of activist, female poets in Australia – Judith Wright pre-eminent among them. I’ve often pondered this topic as Amanda and I — together with poets, Nandi Chinna and Jennifer Kornberger, among many others — have been involved in direct action campaigns in defence of wild spaces. The most recent of these was a protracted struggle to protect the Beeliar wetlands from a massive road project (think ‘WestConnex’ for a parallel). From time to time we have comforted each other by quoting excerpts from Gerard Manley Hopkin’s poems about trees and wetlands. You can, of course, write about the bush from the city, as Henry Lawson did. However, I think that poets are potentially receptive to nature as more than just a theoretical construct, and some of them are willing to put their bodies — as well as their words — on the line to protect the wild. Poetry is not a didactic art form; however, it can excel at shifting consciousness indirectly. I would hope that both my poetry and prose may cause some such shifts in the reader towards a revaluing of that which is being lost at too rapid a rate. I have been involved in the Animals and Society Study group since its foundation at UWA several years ago. My passion for wildlife and wild places is the heartwood of my life.

Amanda: I’m so grateful Liana brought Nandi Chinna into this conversation. When I read the poetry of Nandi or Liana, or any female poets of this rich heritage we have from Judith Wright, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Dorothy Hewett, and so many more, I find myself yearning for those spaces and encounters found within them. I’m reminded that I need, on a very deep level, to make my way back into bush or desert country and the ‘wild’ encounters I can find there. I would hope that my own poetry at its best, might inspire those same desires. Even more so I would love to think it might feed a sense of urgency in readers to make contact and protect the Country the poems come from.

Liana: Amanda’s poems do exactly that!

Zalehah: I’m interested in your views on ecopoetry. Is it tame?

Amanda: I want to find the opposite of ‘tame’ I look for it as much in what I read as in where I walk. There is some fantastic poetry coming out under the banner of ecopoetry, the best of it has a lot of ‘wild’ in its many definitions.

Liana: Ecopoetry is a broad umbrella that shelters a very diverse array of works. Some of these works may be ‘tame’, as you put it – contemporary versions of the Romantic poets’ nature idylls. I’m inclined to disrupt any binary I happen to encounter, though (to quote from my poem ‘Beastitudes’: Blessed are the carnivores/ reviled for being wild/ Blessed are the companion animals/ reviled for not being wild. I guess I incline to inclusiveness, and feel there is a role for the lyrical as well as the spiky in ecopoetry. My own poetic responses are often to the beauty implicit in scientific accounts of nature.

Zalehah: A few questions about the poems from each of you published in Rochford Street Review:

Zalehah: Amanda, ‘Making a Meal of it’ is skillfully executed and surgically expresses the horror of killing and eating snakes. Can you elaborate?

Amanda: In regard to eating snakes further, I think I revere them too much to do it. I couldn’t when I have had the opportunity and can’t envisage myself doing so.

Zalehah: Amanda, in ‘Snake Skin, Roe Swamp’ you describe yourself or the narrator of the poem as coming across a snake skin only to put it on. In ‘Locus’ you are belly down and snake-like only to then wish you were the water around the krait. The boundaries blur. Do you feel that there is a deep connection between the snake and yourself, a longing and an incredibly strong link or perhaps even, no division between yourself and nature/ the wildness?

Amanda: I have a mild fascination with the limbic portion of the brain, that part which we share so closely in its purpose with all creatures: the way it maps bodies through landscapes externally and encounters, and in turn, maps the way bodies respond internally. There is something in the mutual understanding I was writing of in the tiger snake encounter, the way in those meetings you have to overcome the ‘fight or flight’ and freeze or one of you will come off the worse. I suppose this is what you are questioning when you ask about the connection or longing between myself and the snake in ‘Snake Skin, Roe Swamp’ and ‘Locus’. I believe it is the same longing I am indulging when I immerse myself in readings of ecopoetry or eco-feminist literature, not merely a ‘something I can relate to’. More the ‘strangeness’ of the snake, the impossibility of closeness, that ‘gap in things’ again. That’s wilderness – what could be untouched, in the natural world, physically, but also by ideas.

Zalehah: Liana, in ‘Crunching the numbers’ you expressed that you ‘drew a line in the sand’ at eating endangered species and poetically laid down the maths of humans eating other species, asking the reader to crunch the numbers themselves. Can explain you explain your views in relation to eating snakes further?

Liana: ‘Crunching the Numbers’ shows that by playing with mathematical concepts. The poem had its genesis in a trip I took to China that caused me to revise my thinking about what we consume. Like many in the West, I find the notion of eating snakes, insects or anything outside a very small range to be a challenge. I cannot imagine taking up eating snakes. However, I did see quite clearly that eating a much broader span of animal species does, at least ‘spread the load’.

Zalehah: Liana, in ‘Hey Kekule’ you reference Kekulé’s Ouroboros dream and reverse snake charming to ‘charming snake’. What are your feelings on the tradition of snake charming and the mythology of life and death within the snake eating his/ her tail?

Liana: Ouroboros has always been a compelling symbol for me (I have been known to quote at length a passage from Pynchon that directly connects the symbol to a non-linear, self-contained natural world). I think it’s a significant metaphor for those of us who desire a more ecocentric world view. ‘Hey Kekule’ also references the tantric tradition which speaks of the serpent coiled at the base of the spine that with esoteric training can be ‘charmed’ into rising up through the chakras. Wildness is, as Amanda so beautifully explains, not reducible. It is both potent and dangerous and requires the containment of respect.

Zalehah: Liana, in ‘Cohabitation 2’ you make you views clear leaving the reader with ‘snakes known to exist in this area’. The title appears to express your views. Would you like to elaborate?

Liana: As for Snakes known to exist in this area – it is, of course, a reverse reading of the intended meaning of the sign, which was meant to serve as a warning. For me there is no such thing as a ‘paradise’ without snakes. Whether or not I see them – the continuous hum of other life forces, the homeliness of cohabitation is deeply precious. I celebrate all beings known to exist in this area!

Zalehah: Liana, Wild Familiars and Deadly Beautiful. Your interest and experience with wildlife and scientific journalism attracted you not just to snakes, ‘a matter of scale’, but deadly animals. What’s the attraction and intrigue?

Liana: As I mentioned above, my response is not restricted to dangerous or deadly animals. I grew up near Fremantle, and spent a lot of my childhood in the local bushland. It formed me in significant ways, including a responsive joy to wildlife, both plant and animal. My first professional job was as the editor of Landscope magazine, which was much concerned with wildlife and science. Since then I’ve done a lot of science writing and also found myself having poetic responses to the science I was reading. I like to wander back and forth across those territories. I was approached by Exisle Publisher and they asked if I want to write a book on ‘dangerous animals of Australia’. Once I ascertained that it was not a schlock-horror theme, but a conservation one, I readily agreed. However, somewhere between my agreement and the writing, they decided that they wanted ‘deadly animals of the world’. Gulp! However, I found that cold-emailing scientists in other places often resulted in very warm and helpful responses. The process also had some poetic outcomes. In my research for the book, for instance, I came across the fact that scorpions fluoresce under ultraviolet light. This had to be a poem (‘Scorpionism’ was published in Unusual Work.) Years ago, I was putting in a paper for the inaugural Animals and Society conference at the University of Western Australia. I mentioned to an artist friend, Kati Thamo, that she should submit some of her prints to be part of the conference exhibition. Then I promptly felt jealous that she would have the fun of a creative response while I was stuck with an academic paper. This inspired me to write some poems and enter them as part of an art exhibition with Kati. Later I wrote some more, and collected them together for Wild Familiars. Kati Thamo’s exquisite work ‘The Embrace’ adorns the cover.

Zalehah: Amanda, congratulations again on winning the Peter Porter Prize in 2016 for ‘Tailings’. I love that blue tongue lizards, cockatoos and a man looking for a hookup on Grindr all appear in your poem. You’ve written a wonderful, contemporary, Australian poem that takes in the landscape from a very intimate and personal perspective. Take me through ‘Tailings’: your thoughts, inspirations, and your poetry collection, Snake Like Charms.

Amanda: Thanks, Zalehah. A friend recently posted a photo on Facebook of a swamp beneath a highway overpass, filled with litter jettisoned from vehicles passing over. The overpass was supposedly a way of preserving what was underneath. I held the picture in my mind’s eye a lot over the past few months and what it conveyed was a lot of what gave urgency to publishing Snake Like Charms and writing ‘Tailings’. Since the industrial age, there has been a fear of swampland and these spaces which necessitate ‘discomfort’ in the settled parts of us. Here in Perth vast areas have been filled in for housing and roads, what is left accumulates marginalised wildlife and all manner of what is pushed aside. As a child, when we came to Perth I spent a lot of my time finding those places, even climbing out of my bedroom windows at night to get to the river and swamp. I suppose that’s why if I write them, I write them in as I find them and as I found/ find myself in them. They are the places which hold memories of a marginalised and lonely childhood in many ways and are still the places I go to find my solitude as well as all manner of other solitudes driven to the margins by suburbia. ‘Tailings’, by one definition, are the unusable detritus left over from mining or industrial activities. I found it a potent metaphor for many of the inspirations behind the poem.

Zalehah: Lastly, any insights you’d like to share about each other’s work or your own? Comments or even questions for one another?

Liana: Having had the privilege of sharing creative space with Amanda during the time she was writing Snake Like Charms (we are part of a small group of women poets convened by Jennifer Kornberger), of course I looked forward to reading the finished collection. The collective impact of the works was even greater than I expected. I found the poems to be sinewy as well as sinuous. Familiar with fear and yet deeply unafraid. I learned a lot from paying them close attention.

Amanda: My gratitude for Liana’s work lies in part to the forensic listening, looking and research which I know is contained within its form. The greater conversation it contributes to is omnipresent, nature and science, animals and human society, domestic and wild spaces are given voice in a unique and enlightening way. Her writing is always vital and surprising and I deeply admire her unique blend. I have to say here also that Deadly Beautiful has been gifted to almost all my nearest and dearest over the past few years!

Zalehah: Wonderful to be in such a writing group!

Liana: Oh yes, it’s a small, highly supportive and productive group. We all find it very useful. 🙂

Zalehah: Liana and Amanda, just to clarify, I do not think ecopoetry is necessarily tame by any means. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the e-interview with both of you. Thanks so much for your time. You’re both incredibly inspiring and have given my readers and myself much to think about.

Liana and Amanda: Hi Zalehah, thank you. It’s been a most enjoyable conversation. We have no problem with ‘tame’!


Amanda Joy photograph by Alex Chapman 2017 cropped jpeg

Amanda Joy. photograph by Josephine Clark 2017.

Amanda Joy was born and raised in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia. Her first full-length book, Snake Like Charms, is part of the UWAP Poetry series. Her poem ‘Tailings’ won the 2016 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. She is the author of two chapbooks, Not Enough to Fold and Orchid Poems.

‘Making a Meal of it’, ‘Snake Skin, Roe Swamp’ and ‘Locus’ by Amanda Joy


Purchase Snake Like Charms by Amanda Joy

Liana Joy Christesnen photograph

Liana Joy Christensen. photograph by Amber Bateup Photography.

Liana Joy Christensen is an ophidiophile, as well as a writer and poet. She is the author of Deadly Beautiful, and Wild Familiars, prose and poetry, respectively. Her work is widely published and she was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2014.

‘Hey Kekulé’, ‘Crunching the Numbers’ and ‘Cohabitation 2’ by Liana Joy Christensen


Purchase Deadly Beautiful by Liana Joy Christensen

Amanda Joy and Liana Joy Christensen Biographical Note

Liana Joy Christesnen photograph by Alex Chapman 2017

Amanda Joy. photograph by Alex Chapman 2017.

Amanda Joy was born and raised in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia. Her first full-length book, Snake Like Charms, is part of the UWAP Poetry series. Her poem ‘Tailings’ won the 2016 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. She is the author of two chapbooks, Not Enough to Fold and Orchid Poems.

‘Making a Meal of it’, ‘Snake Skin, Roe Swamp’ and ‘Locus’ by Amanda Joy




Liana Joy Christesnen photograph

Liana Joy Christensen. photography by Amber Bateup Photography

Liana Joy Christensen is an ophidiophile, as well as a writer and poet. She is the author of Deadly Beautiful, and Wild Familiars, prose and poetry, respectively. Her work is widely published and she was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2014.

‘Hey Kekulé’, ‘Crunching the Numbers’ and ‘Cohabitation 2’ by Liana Joy Christensen

Amanda Joy: three poems

Making a Meal of it

Flinty incision
The skinning knife, white as a wing
Gestures a bending length, cuffs
the stricken head to dirt

The snake become a carcass, a swan
neck, a short rope. Innards fingered out
Flesh left pink as palms of hands
but softer and coated in spittle

Cauterized by indifferent light, meat still
moving in the enamel bowl. The cooking
fire hisses in spinifex as flies arrive
to blacken the table

Somewhere in the clumped guts
a heart with no fear left in it


Snake Skin, Roe Swamp

Shedding skin of a snake, will
loosen first at the lips, retract
backward over bluing eyes
dull crown, those sorcerous jaws

Resistance is needed, seeking
friction of rock, chafe of grass
scour and scrub of brown balga
it braces its body and slides out

Slipped fishnet of bubble wrap
mingled with a streaky mandala
of divested paperbark, becomes
my discovery, being its past

I tease open a brittle end, puzzle
my arm inside, until it is sheathed
to the elbow, ghost eyes puckering
my skin. My pulse, its unsealed centre

Vestiture of rain spittle in my hair
A cool trickle slides inside my collar
I tear the delicate mesh pulling it off
in what becomes a deluge

God of fragmentation, refusing
to keep things whole, coming
to me later. Showing again that
repetition might simply be
a lack of attention to detail



I was carelessly concealed
belly down on granite, fingers
untangling the slow creek
where it pooled and emptied out

when a shadow loosened itself
into an inky rivering of sheen
and black body

With no one to share the surprise
I closed my eyes and opened them
to find it, mouth to brown surface
swallowing silently, all thirst
and quench

Inexplicable how I wanted to be
that water, touched and soundless

Snake enters the pool, carries her
head above the river’s identical
remake of its likeness. A double
helix of ripples streaming behind

-Amanda Joy


‘Making a Meal of it’, ‘Snake Skin, Roe Swamp’ and ‘Locus’ are published in Amanda Joy’s collection of poetry, Snake Like Charms (UWAP, 2017). They have been republished in Rochford Street Review with the permission of the author.

For more snake inspired poems: ‘Hey Kekulé’, ‘Crunching the Numbers’ and ‘Cohabitation 2’ by Liana Joy Christensen

Amanda Joy photograph by Alex Chapman 2017 cropped jpeg

Amanda Joy. photograph by Josephine Clarke 2017

Amanda Joy was born and raised in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia. Her first full-length book, Snake Like Charms, is part of the UWAP Poetry series. Her poem ‘Tailings’ won the 2016 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. She is the author of two chapbooks, Not Enough to Fold and Orchid Poems.



Snake Like Charms by Amanda Joy, UWAP 2017 was launched by Liana Joy Christensen at Voiceworks, Fremantle on 24 April 2017.

Purchase Snake Like Charms (UWAP, 2017)

The Writhing, Hissing Life Force of the Poems: Liana Joy Christensen launches ‘Snake Like Charms’ by Amanda Joy

Snake Like Charms by Amanda Joy, UWAP 2017 was launched by Liana Joy Christensen at Voicebox, Fremantle on 24 April 2017

Your friend, an elder
from Broome explains the snake
is your guardian
 – “Your Ground”

Amanda Joy. Photograph Alex Chapman

To say I was charmed by the invitation to launch this collection is not a platitudinous social nicety. I was literally charmed in the original and potentially perilous sense of the word.  The meaning invoked in the title.

I had the privilege of encountering many of these poems during their season in the hibernaculum, the ‘winter tent’ of their gestation. They were powerful then, the poet’s voice singular and distinct.

The charm began in earnest, however, when I lay by a river in the karri forest, my sole companion this extraordinary volume. Taken collectively, these poems possess a power that commands and handsomely rewards a reader’s attention.

Amanda Joy chose a phrase from Luce Irigaray as the epigraph to the poem On Warmth: “don’t let any parts of us be amputated that could be expansive for us”.  This struck a note that resounded well beyond the individual poem to the entirety of the work. It is evident throughout that this poet has refused any such amputation.  And the volume gains a complex richness from her courage. For me there is a deeply intelligent and particularly feminine sensibility in Irigaray’s exhortation and Amanda Joy’s willingness to refract it past all clichés. She doesn’t do “pretty”. Her vision is truly fresh. And, at times, frightening (and I am not referring here to ophidiophobia!). There is a fierce intelligence at work in these poems.

The work is also coruscant with joy, wit and sudden startling insights. Here are just two of the many that struck me:

From “Girt”

………………………………………………..nationalism makes of each
landscape a bestiary.

and from “Medusa and the Taxonomic Vandal”:

She was pregnant with sea salt
and suddenly headless
eternally looking
at herself

and you want to focus on
what sprung from her head?

The reader will find many more examples to hold as touchstones or turn over in their mind’s eye. The pages of this volume seem barely able to contain the writhing, hissing life force of the poems within. Some will strike you. Some are self-efffacing and slither just beyond the limits of meaning, turning to promise more. In one light the poems are dense with mystery and in another plainspoken as day.

Read them by a river as I did and you will be astounded at the breadth and depth of the cultural knowledge and the lightness with which it is sown through the poems. Read them in the city and your heart will be broken open at the poet’s rare ability to conjure what is wild. A single reading would never suffice – each encounter yields new layers of meaning and of life.

Kenneth Slessor said: “I think poetry is written mostly for pleasure, by which I mean the pleasure of pain, horror, anguish and awe as well as the pleasure of beauty, music, and the act of living”.  Snake Like Charms qualifies on all counts.

It is for the poet to share with us a selection of her work tonight. I will conclude by reading one: “Sea Krait, Broome”

How slow an approach when viewed
from a distance. How more likley
the encounter if the ground is clear
A voice saying always ‘go ahead’
…………calls it freedom

Above the 27th parallel is the heat
I know as home, in my bones always
untouched by city’s cool centrifuge
that refracts a kind of light
which bursts and vanishes on the spot

Heading North, I escape the fray
Green hem of the outskirts, roadside
facade of forest, hiding a casement
of burnt earth, silent as myself

Outside, a poet ghosts a window
Writing back into life his night
parrots. I drive lines from water
to water, guzzle roadhouse coffee

Warming up, there is a conflict
of appetite, a surburban tree, black
with cockatoos shucking almonds
A dolphin trapped in a rockpool

Cane toads storming the Kimberley
in wet, find it planted with sugar
An olive python curled under a van
belly beaded with feral kittens

After three days of seated travel
I lunge from the car, sprint the length
of jetty, deaf to the man screaming
warning. Only in mid-air do I look
down to the sea, the time it takes
to panic

Two yellow and black krait, vivid
bandwidth of danger, turning on
the turquoise surface, and all
I can do, is fall

Sea Kraits may indeed be present in these pages. But I urge you to launch yourself into the collection with the same spectacular fearlessness.

You will be charmed in every sense of the word, so buy up big. The book is now launched.

 – Dr Liana Joy Christensen


Liana Joy Christensen is an ophidiophile, as well as a writer and poet. She is the author of Deadly Beautiful (, and Wild Familiars, prose and poetry, respectively. Her work is widely published and she was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2014.

Snake Like Charms is available from