‘A Ute Picnic’…on working dogs, snakes, magpies, and a Massey Ferguson in the shed

I am delighted to welcome to my blog, wonderful Australian poet, and friend Lorraine Marwood.

Lorraine is blog touring this week to celebrate the release of her new poetry collection, A Ute Picnic. Welcome, Lorraine. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your work. Now for some questions!

You are a woman who cares very much for that part of rural Australia where you live – it shows in your novels and your poetry. Life on the land becomes alive for readers of your work. I’m wondering what came first in the development of this special collection of Australian poetry – the poems or the plan for an anthology?

Ah, the plans for a collection.  My publisher knew of my poetic background – this is actually my fourth collection of poems – I’ve had a literary collection published by Five Islands Press and in many ways I’m probably more known as a literary poet then a children’s poet.  Then the same publisher took a risk and published two collections of poems for children.   ‘Redback Mansion’ and ‘that down hill yelling’

So the poems came first.

I sense a child’s voice in many of the poems and some are so beautifully observed, I can imagine you as a little girl watching and taking in everything around you. What were you like as a child growing up out in the bush?

What a lovely question Sheryl – I wasn’t on the dairy farm then, but did grow up on a small poultry farm and loved to roam and dream and think.  In fact I remember that I dreamed too much especially in school and was considered a poor student because of this. Actually I don’t have very good memories of primary school, but became academic and ‘with it’ at high school.  One day a few years ago I read a book about writing (like I love to do) and this particular author said something like this … ‘teacher if you have a dreamer in your classroom, then you have a writer’.  Yes!  I felt validated.  I was and am a writer and love to think and dream (as well as write).

As a child I was very shy, loved animals, loved reading, loved exploring the bush.

Your poems are sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreakingly sad and poignant. And many in A Ute Picnic are about animals, like working dogs, sheep, cattle, magpies, snakes. I think you must be an excellent observer of animals.

Yes, even now we are off the farm, we are on a small bush block and I love watching lizards ( not snakes) birds, insects, shadows, plants and instead of observing my children. They’re all grown up so I have the pleasure of observing my grandchildren.

A poet is an observer.  Its the telling details that give that 3D quality to poems.

I have many favourite poems in A Ute Picnic, Lorraine, but I’ve chosen this one to highlight today…


It shudders up his arm, chest,
an echo of water, he instructs
his grandson to cut a willow stick
forked and he pulls its prongs
to elbow length and grapples
over the old orchard ground.
“There, the well is there!”
The stick points rigidly
to a hidden store of water,
and the old man is exhausted.
“You try,” he says. “A certain aptitude
for divining is hereditary.”

I’m glad – it’s actually for my father in law, sadly not alive today, but this was a real occurrence. He could divine and my eldest son could also, although it really caused my father in law a lot of pain. I love the way my editors put this poem at the close of the collection. It hints at another generation carrying on the farming tradition… a future, all good!

And as our farm now has little water it hints at old ways needed to find new sources of water and on our farm there was once a fresh water well, which was covered over once irrigation came to the district.

Lorraine, what is a typical writing day for you?

I prefer writing in the morning – that’s my clear head space – I am a morning person. Dairy farming and kids have trained me this way.  So really most of my writing is done in the morning and afternoon is more for emails, answering queries, preparing for workshops.  Although I still haven’t mastered the knack of saying that ‘I am working’ and therefore not available for other domestic or family duties. I love my garden and enjoy walking through that – cutting back, weeding, collecting sticks( lots of gum trees) and often I see something there that will give me a flash of inspiration.

Unless I am on a deadline I don’t write into the evening – call it old age perhaps – but if I need to write poems, I seem to have trained myself over the years to be productive in the short (morning) time I have.  Evenings I can proof read, or do submissions or…READ!

How do you fit your writing life into life as a mother, a wife, a farmer, a grandmother, a craftsperson and (a host of other things as well, I bet!)?

Sheryl I’m not a farmer any more, although our eldest son is determined to get some acres sometime soon and we still have a Massey Ferguson tractor in the shed in suburbia.

I have always juggled many roles and love teaching too – but believe all these feed into the writing life.  There are phases in life, demands, and I have slowed down, when I look back on my farming journals and read what was needed in a day, it brings me to tears but all these experiences have helped to hone my writing, continue to hone my writing.  I fret if I don’t get at least three clear mornings a week to push that word quota along.  I think because I’ve always wanted to write ( from about 9 years of age) whatever I do, I am always doing it as a writer foremost.

When you visit schools and talk to children, what sorts of activities do you do with them? Do you find a difference between country kids and city kids in the way they approach your poetry?

I always read my poems first, give them a word warm up, one I’ve pioneered over many workshop years. Then I scaffold a writing activity. Usually a poetry strategy I have honed over the years.  I suppose there is something about my life I forget to share. I trained as a primary teacher, was a headmaster of a rural school as I turned 21, continued studying (did a graduate diploma as my sixth baby arrived) and specialised in literacy, taught ESL and adults with reading and writing, Distance Education part-time.

So I love motivating children/adults to write – its something I’ve studied and experienced myself so I love to hook in these literacy strategies with the workshops I do. I particularly love it when disengaged kids produce stunning poetry – it can be done.  I still hold current VIT registration.  I’d love to find the ideal balance between teaching and writing. There must be a way!  And the need to generate an income.

As to the difference between city and country children? Perhaps its the instant recognition of animal traits, knowing what a drought might be, experiencing the deep connection between weather and farm viability. As to the ability to write? No, I don’t find a distinction, but I do find that a poet often taps into new areas of creativity and the children themselves and classroom teacher are often amazed at what is written.

Lorraine, would you treat us newbies by giving a ‘quick lesson’ in writing poetry? We could call it ‘Poetry Writing for Dummies’?

Ha!  I think that book has been done, but I’d suggest you go outside and observe, then write for five minutes, putting down all the concrete details around you, then hook it onto a personal experience and see what comes.  Don’t worry about formatting it into poetry. Just write.

Then look back over what you’ve written. Choose the strongest phrases and arrange these one under the other. Is there a flow?  Can you pattern what you’ve written on a poem by a poet you admire?  You don’t have to rhyme. This is one of the first maxims I suggest to my workshop participants … there are other ways to achieve rhythm.

I’ve written an e-course available which takes the poet through strategies to get them writing. http://www.fasttrackwriting.com/tutorials/powering-into-poetry.php

Your book, Star Jumps recently was shortlisted in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Tell us a bit about what happened.

We were still in London when at the end of June, I had an email from my publisher asking me to sign and return a confidentiality form, then information would be disclosed.  And I was told that Star Jumps had been shortlisted but was unable to share this with anyone, other than my husband who had to witness the document.

Then two weeks later I was sent an email inviting me to the awards short-listing ceremony at Readings in Carlton.  Federal Minister Peter Garrett made the announcements and I was able to meet other authors like Kate Constable, Jen Storer, David Metzenthen, Alison Lester, Lee Hobbs and see literary stars like David Malouf…  It was heady stuff. I loved talking to many people and it felt like all my birthdays in one short morning.  Then it was a text message to all my family telling them the real reason I needed to travel to Melbourne that day.

It was wonderful to see children’s writing starring up there with literary writing – although it’s still hard to even get the local press to announce or recognise this short-listing.

It was a validation of my writing and hopefully a validation for more future writing also.  I haven’t seen one of the stickers yet, but I’m going to enjoy pasting a glittery disc to the cover of Star Jumps.

Thank you, Lorraine. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you about poetry and your life as a poet. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Star Jumps in the PM’s Literary Awards.

Thanks, Sheryl, for sharing these questions and taking a risk with poetry – and for allowing me to visit your blog site.



5 thoughts on “‘A Ute Picnic’…on working dogs, snakes, magpies, and a Massey Ferguson in the shed

  1. This has been such an inspiring blog interview. Thank you very much, Sheryl for asking the perfect questions. Everything I wanted to find out!

    Lorraine, I envy your Massey Ferguson in the shed. We had one too, which was Dad’s pride and joy and I still remember the day he bought it.

    I also popped over to look at your poetry e-module. It is so nice to told poetry needn’t rhyme, as I sometimes ‘have to write a poem’ and it usually ends up being rythmic. Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to share.

    Thank you, Lorraine, for sharing your story with us and congratulations on your short-listing in the PM’s literary awards.


  2. Thanks Sheryl for the great blog hosting and to Kat, Janeen and Dee for the being part of the appreciative cyber space audience!


  3. I’ve only fairly recently started writing free verse – and learnt most of what I know from my youngest son. His poetry is exciting and alive. He bites off chunks of words and puts them on the page… writing in phrases.

    Great questions Sheryl.

    And yes – Star Jumps for the PMs Literary Awards. Wonderfully exciting validation for you. xx


  4. Great to read, Sheryl and Lorraine. Observing details in our lives – so important. Lending weight to what incidences pass us in a day to create a vignette of ‘3D’ value and enjoyment. . . ah!!
    Thanks for this lovely blog. It’s the first thing I’ve read this morning, and it just hit the spot!


  5. Thanks for some great insights, Sheryl and Lorraine.

    I just love your poetry, Lorraine and I loved what you said about the telling detail giving that 3D quality to poems.

    I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed too for Star Jumps in the PM’s Literary Awards.



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