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Lemons in the Chicken Wire
Alison Whittaker

In 2015, Alison was awarded one of two Indigenous Writing Fellowships by the State Library of Queensland’s black&write! project. Written over four years and inspired by small fragments of her own life, Lemons in the Chicken Wire is Alison’s first published collection. 

2 - Unnamed

 

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’m a Gomeroi woman. My country is on the banks of the Namoi River – a harsh but homely place. I grew up between there and a regional centre on my country which was also very harsh but homely. It was the kind of place you’d wear thick pants for fear of brown snakes, but never any shoes. My feet are still hard from it! I’ve been working in Sydney on Gadigal and Wangal land for about five years now. Right now, I’m working in Aboriginal women’s law and policy research, and in media law. When I’m not doing those things, I write essays and poems.

How has storytelling impacted your life?

I can’t imagine a life without it! It’s how all knowledge worth having was passed down to me, and how all the relationships I have were built. Its presence in my life is never salient, but is constant. I suspect I owe storytelling a lot more than these things, but since it’s such a crucial part of my life, it’s hard to tell where its impact ends and begins. Now that I’m a professional storyteller, its impacts are becoming a little clearer. It’s made way for itself – made my thinking a little clearer, helped me pass on knowledge, it’s become a distilling force.

What are some of the themes you cover in the poems in Lemons in the Chicken Wire?

Lemons in the Chicken Wire covers a suite of themes, but is mostly focused on queer Indigenous women. Love and death, those Two Big Poetic Things play a central role, but perhaps the most crucial themes are knowledge, resistance, emotional work, resilience, decolonisation, sex, bodies, and landscapes. It pulls these together in a cut pastiche that, I hope at least, gets its internal cohesion from the gaps it invites the reader to fill with their own knowledge. In that way, the themes are really set by Lemons’ audience!

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

From being open and receptive to the everyday – there’s really nothing that falls outside of it!

Who’s writing has impacted you the most?

Would you believe me if I couldn’t pinpoint one? Now that reading and writing are more fragmented practices, I’m impacted by all kinds of writing from authors all over the world and in anthology/journal print. Long form journalism, experimental non-fiction, documentary graphic novels, online poetry journals, form-defying social media performance art. Being totally enmeshed in these things has strongly informed my work and been a vital force in provoking it.

What is your favorite word and why?

“Willi-willi”. It refers to the tiny dust tornadoes that appear spontaneously where I grew up – and to the spirits that cause them and live within them. I love how that word feels, and the images it evokes for me of my big yellow world with tiny me and tiny tornado.

What are you working on now?

Now, I’m in research for my next big work. At this stage, all I can tell you – and myself – is that it’s form-flexible, but still somewhere more or less poetic. But I’m also writing smaller pieces for literary journals, magazines and anthologies in the meantime. As always, I’m looking to collaborate with Indigenous writers!

Are you able to include a small excerpt from Lemons in the Chicken Wire?

Sure thing! This is the final poem in the collection, Chicken Wire Lemons. It condenses the collection, I think.

 

Chicken Wire Lemons

the border is a lemon pip

and it shivers to the touch

opaque with strain

’tween fingers, lain

heaves citrus and bursts up

 

we was livin’ to the border

and the pips they was my finger

peaked and glanced

barbed, wired and fenced

to the tip, it bleeds and lingers

 

and then livin’ to the border

what strength, what tepid joy

to think of skin

bound to black flesh

and, thick within

the wide-eyed fresh

and to begin

to snip the mesh

of chicken wire. Joy!

 

oh, livin’ to the border

and threading one arm through

to pluck a blacker lemon

kissing girls and eating devon

from the dirt, my bread to leaven

every push, the hole is grew 

 

Follow the link to purchase Lemons in the Chicken Wire.

www.magabala.com

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Alison Whittaker

Alison Whittaker is a Gomeroi poet, life writer and essayist from Gunnedah and Tamworth, north-western New South Wales. She now…

Alison Whittaker is a Gomeroi poet, life writer and essayist from Gunnedah and Tamworth, north-western New South Wales. She now lives in Sydney on Wangal land, where she studies a combined Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws at the University of Technology Sydney. Her work has been published in Meanjin, Vertigo and Colouring the Rainbow: Blak Queer and Trans Perspectives.

In 2015, Alison was awarded one of two Indigenous Writing Fellowships by the State Library of Queensland’s black&write! project. Written over four years and inspired by small fragments of her own life, Lemons in the Chicken Wire is Alison’s first published collection. 

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