Lemons in the Chicken Wire
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.
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.