hosts: Firdaus Parvez & Kala Ramesh
A Thursday Feature.
poet of the month: Gavin Austin
2nd November 2023
Gavin Austin lives in Sydney, Australia. His work has been widely published in anthologies and journals, and he has been recognised in literary competitions. In 2016, Gavin was awarded a Writing Fellow of the FAW NSW Inc., and was the Featured Poet in the January 2016 issue of cattails. Also, he was the Poet in Focus 57, Presence #72, March 2022. The Drifting Sands Special Feature, Girt by Sea was Gavin’s undertaking; a partnership of his photography and poetry from Australian writers. He currently has two published poetry collections: Shadow Play, Dragonwick, Aus., and changing light, Alba Publishing, UK. Gavin was shortlisted for a Touchstone Award 2022 for Individual Poem. He is currently completing a collection of haibun and haiku, which he hopes to publish late 2023. You can find Gavin in The Poet’s Hub Gavin Austin – Drifting Sands Haibun – Poet's Hub (drifting-sands-haibun.org)
We asked Gavin some questions and he has been kind in answering them.
1: Do you come from a literary background? What writers did you enjoy reading as a child? Did you write as a child?
I did not come from a literary background, although my mother was very well-read. However, my early childhood was influenced greatly by my maternal grandfather. We lived on his rural property in the picturesque region of South-East Gippsland in Victoria, Australia, until my mid-teens. Grandad was a born storyteller. My earliest memories are of sitting on his knee and listening to stories. He did not read bedtime tales but created his own, complete with my friends and pets as characters.
Grandad was a grazier. I attribute to him my love and respect of nature and animals; particularly horses. I was about three years of age when he sat me on his old palomino mare and my lifelong love of horses was born. Instilling in me a love of nature, Grandad pointed out the everyday splendour about us. We took time to observe the changing colours of a sunset, the mist in the treetops, and the sunlight on distant blue hills: the extraordinary in the ordinary. I am so pleased I learned to appreciate this simple beauty; it is something I hold precious in these more troubled times of this modern world.
I guess it is no surprise, having grown up in the country, and with my love of horses, that in my early years, I was drawn to the Silver Brumby series, written by Australian author, Elyne Mitchell. Originally penned for her daughter, the series was set in the high country of South Eastern Australia. The narrative is told through the eyes of the wild horses (brumbies) that roam the high plains and secret valleys of the Snowy Mountains, and it soon became a popular read for children of primary school age. To this day, I still recall the hauntingly evocative tales in that atmospheric setting. In my secondary school years, I learned to appreciate the classics, in particular Hardy, Lawrence, and the Bronte sisters.
When I look back, I have always written and dabbled in art. From around six years of age, I wrote stories and poetry. In primary school, I often had to stand before the class and read my work. Always to my utter embarrassment. By secondary school, my poetry or art was usually included in the Yearbook. After my mother passed, a few years ago, I had to clear the house and ready it for sale. I came across many of my early works, which my mother had secretly stored away. It was a profoundly moving experience.
2: How do you translate experience into writing?
Given the rather pristine and idyllic setting of my childhood in the country, and with a great love of nature instilled in me from my grandfather, it is instinctive for me to appreciate the simple beauty of nature in everyday life surrounding me. I love to write about those tiny moments and endeavour to bring them to life on the page. I also enjoy taking photographs, and this I find helpful to refer back to later, to relive and remind myself of those fine details to bring to my writing. As in art, the fall of light and shadow is significant.
Now, living in Sydney, the largest city in Australia, I have seen something of the grittier side of life. Perhaps it is adulthood. I lost so much close to me in my early life. My relationship with my father was, at best, strained, and has left its scars. The death of my first horse, and the loss of my best friend in a road accident, were just the beginnings that paved the way for me having to deal, at a very young age, with the harsh grip of grief, and the other unflinching realities of life.
In later years I have lost many friends to various illnesses and, recently, I have experienced my own cancer battle. My health has been tested and I remain in a precarious position. I have regular screenings to monitor for any changes to my current situation. I harness the thoughts, emotions, and experiences, to bring to my writing. Grief, pain, loss, darkness, but also light, hope and joy. Searching for that particular word to paint just the right shade for the bigger work. I do think of words as the tones that create the colour and texture of the art of writing. And I believe it is so important to bring authentic feeling to the writing, and often this comes about by allowing, exposing, and befriending my own vulnerability. Perhaps I am learning to trust.
As we unfold the art of Gavin Austen's haibun, many elements come to the fore. These two haibun are about his mother, tender and intimate.
‘Not too hot, Mum?’ I ask.
My mother's skin is pale; wrinkled like an old sheet from the laundry basket. Her white flesh marbled with blue veins, wilting breasts rest on her belly. The water rushes over her, pooling at the base of her spine where shapeless buttocks meet the plastic stool.
‘We’re going out,’ I say.
She stares at me with clouded blue eyes. Suddenly I've become a stranger in the room. Folding her hands on her lap, she leans forward, hiding them as if to keep them safe.
the willow’s roots
deep below the flow
Cattails, October 2022
A tumour is taking you slowly. The monitor beside the bed keeps you hooked to reality, and us at the ready. You drift in fitful sleep, eyelids fluttering; alien sounds escape your mouth. I try to call you back to me.
The bed swallows you. Only your mottled blue feet, which had once roamed the world, protrude from the covers. You used to mark my growth in increments on the kitchen doorframe. Now I watch you shrinking, mark it with each visit.
Stirring, you battle to raise your head. A long low groan and you collapse back onto the pillows. With red-rimmed eyes I quarry my emotions, search for the courage you sought to instil in me all those years ago.
a frangipani bloom
falls into night
Drifting Sands, #2, August 2020
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Important: Since we're swamped with submissions, and our editors are only human, mistakes can happen. Please, please, remember to put your name, followed by your country, below each poem, even after revisions. It helps our editors; they won't have to type it in, saving them from potential typos. Thanks a ton!
A character sketch of a person from your childhood days. Give us lines that will help to create a vivid picture of that person in our minds - after all, haibun is a lot about storytelling, isn't it?
And, of course, haibun outside this prompt can also be posted!
1. Only two haibun per poet per prompt. Please put your name and country of residence under your poem, it makes the editors' work easier. Thanks.
2. Share your best-polished pieces.
3. Please do not post something in a hurry or something you have just written.
Let it simmer for a while.
4. When poets give suggestions and if you agree to them - post your final edited version on top of your original version.
5. Don't forget to give feedback on others' poems.
We are delighted to open the comment thread for you to share your unpublished haibun (within 300 words) to be considered for inclusion in the haikuKATHA monthly journal.