Tag Archives: Emilie Collyer

Mark William Jackson reviews Your Looking Eyes by Emilie Collyer

19 Apr

I’m not sure how I feel about the Australian Poetry Café Poet Program. On the one hand any publicity that poets and poetry receives is a good thing; on the other, the idea of sitting in a café like an exhibit while people come to marvel at the atrocity chills me to the bone.

However, if the Café Poet Program can produce works like Your Looking Eyes then I am definitely all for it.

Your Looking Eyes was written during Emilie Collyer’s residence at c3 contemporary art space. In keeping with the visual feel of the collection, the design, layout and artwork of the collection is provided by visual artist Eirian Chapman.

The first poem of the collection, ‘The Reader’, presents the issue of how a writer must create images in a reader’s mind. The poem is from the reader’s perspective. In this piece the writer is stuck for words:


She wants you to remember the thing that makes you squint

Sucking a lemon wedge

Fingernails on a blackboard


Draw a picture of your eyes


I hate the cliché Show. Don’t tell. It is too easily offered as advice but all it does is present the problem, what can be done with words? Collyer opens an illustrated collection written while surrounded by visual art by asking a question, what can a writer do to present an image to the reader, to get inside the reader’s head and make the reader smell the image, to hear the image. The poem closes with the reader’s fear:


Art that asks me to do something. Am I doing it right?

Is someone watching? Will they laugh at me?


‘Frames of childhood’ laments the lack of film of a childhood and expresses the limit of still images and memories.


There are no films of us as children

just photos and stories

how fast did my brother

sprint into that stone wall?


But the memories are stimulated by the photos and the associated questions; how fast? what expression? Remember lemonade icy poles, smelling skin, running hot tracks in the sun. The poem races like a barefooted girl through childhood:


children don’t grieve change

we crave it


Notice the voice/tense change, the opening stanza presents an adult looking back on childhood photos, lamenting the lack of film. The second and third stanzas are present tense, first person child narration. The fourth stanza drags us unwillingly back to adult present:


when does rear vision begin?

the trawl through albums and drawers and boxes


The poem closes ‘this thing we call childhood / belongs to adults’, this is a wonderfully sad ending, the technique Collyer employs in the piece regarding voice and tense takes us on a free-for-all joy ride as children. At the end we don’t miss our childhood years because we never knew we had them. Only now, as adults, can we recognise the years and paint them in a fond light.

And now, pure opinion… the best poem in the collection, spanning pages 22 & 23 – printed sideways so that you have to turn the collection as if you’re leering at a Playboy centrefold.

‘What does it mean?’ is visual, experimental, almost L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E, presenting a quizzical jumpiness into a central epiphany which makes the ride out of the centre like post meditation breathing exercises.

Now, here is what could possibly be the world’s first meta-referential review. I stepped out of the writing of this review to contact Alec Patric, asking him to seek permission from Emilie Collyer to reprint ‘What does it mean?’ in Verity La the day before this review appears.

Permission sought and granted. ‘What does it mean?’ is printed sideways and appears like a concrete poem. I don’t know what is says of my state of mind but it looks to me like a Rorschach test and given the title I wonder what it means. When you read the poem, turn your head sideways and you’ll see what I mean.

In technique, the poem drips letters upon letters, forming words, words forming indecipherable sentences, until the central epiphany:


One of the artists I spoke with considers it a positive thing when people don’t recognise his work as art. He says it means he is creating something new that has not been seen before. He likes this phenomenon. Can the same be said for words?


And then back out, the words fall away, fading like the Star Wars opening crawl.

Your Looking Eyes is a great introduction to Emilie Collyer’s work; 14 poems with strong visual aspects, the art space literally infused in the words.

The first print run of 100 copies sold out. The second run is selling fast. Available for $12 (including postage) from select bookstores in Melbourne or via Emilie’s website Between the Cracks.

What Does It Mean? (Emilie Collyer)

16 Apr



One has

One his has be

One it his mean has this be

One I it when his .mean something has before this Can be ?

One the I with it positive when don’t his as .says means is something that has been before He this .Can same be for ?

One of the artists I spoke with considers it a positive thing when people don’t recognise his work as art. He says it means he is creating something new that has not been seen before. He likes this phenomenon. Can the same thing be said for words?

? for be same Can phenomenon likes before been has new creating he it He art work recognise people thing a considers spoke artists of

of spoke a people work He he new been likes Can be ?

? Can been he work a of

of work been ?

? work




What Will Happen Next (Emilie Collyer)

18 Dec

We called the show ‘Maybe we’re never together’ – so what did we expect?

Right at the very end, once the show was over, someone said to me: ‘So it was about searching, wasn’t it? It was about searching for something that is difficult to find.’

And then of course, the week after our season finished I found that great quote, the one by Tadeusz Kantor, where he talks about theatre as a place of memory, which is exactly what we were attempting to create. And he put it so beautifully, and our effort was still a little bit clumsy and inarticulate. But it made me smile, that smile of recognition. Oh yes! That was what we were doing.

But that was after.

In the beginning it was just an email. You asked me if I would like to make a piece of work with you. Later you told me that you were nervous, in case I said no.

The last time we’d worked together was straight out of drama school, in the late 1990s. We had that corporate act, the two cousins: fFanny and fFleur who went to events like the Grand Prix and the Australian Open and Shopping Centres and entertained people.

I’d gone more down the path of writing and you had moved into the world of physical and devised theatre and performance making, although, to be honest, you have always had a way with words. You’ve always been something of a writer.

We didn’t sit down and say: Right, let’s make a show about two women who betray each other.

Our process was painfully, wonderfully, excruciatingly open and experimental. I set you writing tasks. You set me performance tasks. I brought in clothes to muck around with. You got me to do spatial exercises. We had long conversations. We started recording our conversations and collating our emails. You suggested we develop a language of physical gestures.

We’ve spoken about the various creative development phases and how one of them was particularly difficult. It was winter and we were in a cold studio and we sort of hated each other in a stubborn, head butting kind of a way. That was after we had spent hours and hours and days putting together funding applications to try and get money together for the show. So many hours spent describing this show that did not yet exist. We wrote about post dramatic theatre and contemporary practice and the desire to both provoke and engage our audience.

And about a year after deciding to work together and having generated all of that material and with our season confirmed in the Big West Festival for November 2011, we still didn’t really know what the show was about or what would be in it.

We liked the lists. We liked the audio where we talked about the weird things that go on inside our minds, how you think a lot about disasters, such as what would happen if you dropped a baby and smashed its skull. How I think about how hard it is to say the names of people I am in a relationship with.

We had a beautiful image: us in petticoats in that bluestone lane way with the petals all over the ground. We toyed with Samuel Beckett and Miranda July. We wrote about life and death and the awkward bits in between. The Festival was worried because it was hard to market our show. And neither of us are famous or off the television and we don’t even have another interesting job aside from theatre, like being a doctor or a chef.

Is a show about women’s friendship interesting enough? Where we look for love? What we hope and fear life may be? How we can be cruel to each other?

It made people laugh. Some were shocked. They wondered at times, which was my voice and which was yours, which were my stories? When my family came I was nervous. It’s funny how we can get most nervous about showing ourselves to the people we are most close to. Which were your stories?

When it was all over it was easy to pack away. I took home the small chair and all of the underwear. You took the dress to be dry-cleaned. I still have the cardboard man, although his right arm got a little bit bent.

We didn’t talk for a few days and I wondered what you were thinking. Echoes of the show haunt my speech, my gestures. I hear us, on a loop, the music of our voices. The show is becoming a memory, something from the past that will be replayed in our minds eye, part of the dissolve between what is real and what is imagined.

And we don’t know what will happen next.

The List Grows (Emilie Collyer)

22 Nov

This is what you can’t do.

It’s a list that grows.

Like that taunt boys

used to write on blackboards:

the more you rub

the bigger it gets.


Pink bits proliferate.

Women with stern hair

write papers about how

porn is ruining us all

while the rest of us gape

at youth. They don’t


have a list. Yoko Ono

tweets about loving

old trees. It offers some

comfort until my friend

rolls her eyes and says

It’s okay for her,

she’s Yoko Ono and tells me


John and Yoko

weren’t that happy together

when he died.

It’s still a tragedy, I say,

the man she loved was killed.

I watched a documentary


about Mark Chapman,

the man who killed John Lennon.

I could understand his desire.

Unloved, he wanted to

take away from the world

a person everybody


loved. We all want that

sometimes don’t we?

The difference between

us and Mark Chapman

is that we don’t

all do it. The list


grows, of things we

can’t do or won’t do

or would have done

once. If the list were

a colour it would be red

or at least it would


have been when we

first wrote it.

Now it is faded, pink,

like those pink bits,

so ubiquitous they

lose their titillating


power and no matter

how hard we rub

it gets harder

to feel


at all.


Christmas Dust (Emilie Collyer)

24 Dec

Early memories the warm smell of

ginger and spiced biscuits baking

decorating them with slivered almonds

and sugar ball bearings


Christmas hymns waft

through the house at night

lounge room glows

with candle shaped lights on the tree


tinkling of painted glass baubles

rustling tinsel

and delicately placed showers

of silver rain


It is the ritual that was magic

not the gifts

their presence bringing more

of a pragmatic joy


When a family starts to fracture

ritual can hold it together

or make the breaking slower

shards of the past slipped under the skin pulled taut


so that – many years later –

wearing the body of an adult

this time of year unpicks what has been slowly healing

exposes the places under scars


that are still tender so now

the smell of oranges and cloves

Silent Night floating through supermarket or shopping mall

presents stacked silver and shiny under a tree


seem all together

heart breaking


it’s stupid, an overreaction

but the shell of adulthood

is fragile like those glass baubles


(we lost at least one a year

no matter how carefully we held them)


once dropped

these delicate things shatter

dissolve into dust