Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life of a Poet ~ The Passionate Crone

 Kids, gather 'round, because this is going to be a very interesting visit with a most accomplished poet. I was in a bit of a pickle, this weekend, as both of the interviews I was working on needed to be postponed. It occurred to me that The Passionate Crone  might be passionate about doing an interview super-fast, so I asked her, and happily she was most gracious about granting one.   We are sitting down today with Rosemary Nissen-Wade, The Passionate Crone  of Australia, who has a most remarkable background.

Rosemary is a performance poet, an editor, a teacher of creative writing, a healer and professional psychic. Just reading her profile information was exciting, and I couldn't wait to begin our conversation.

Poets United: Rosemary, thank you for sitting down with us today, on such short notice. Can you tell us a little about yourself,  and your life Down Under? Do you share space with any fur creatures? (Hedgewitch laughed when I posted photos of her dogs before one of her in her interview. Hee hee. I’ll try to remember to put the humans first, in yours!)

[The poet from Down Under in Texas in 2006]

Rosemary: Oh, I’m quite OK with putting animals first! When meeting new people, if they have pets, I tend to greet the pets first, and when I’m out walking I make eye contact with dogs while ignoring their owners. I live with two cats and one husband. He is my third-time-lucky husband. Our children (three each) are all middle-aged and live interstate or overseas. It was we who ran away from home initially, leaving the city of Melbourne for the sub-tropics of far northern New South Wales, near the Queensland border.

[the regal Freya]

Poets United: I know it is very beautiful in New South Wales, where you are.  And I love it that the parents ran away from home, in your story! What led you to creating a blog? I gather its name is self-descriptive?

Rosemary: I was invited to Austin, Texas in 2006 as a featured reader at the Austin International Poetry Festival and various other poetry events over the month of April, and someone said I should blog about the trip. I didn’t have a clue how, but asked help from Collin Kelley,  an Atlanta poet and author I met in Austin, who already had a thriving blog. Collin’s very generous in encouraging other poets, so I soon started recording my trip in a blog — which I began after I was home again, and which is still unfinished. (But, I tell myself, one day!)  Someone  invited me to MySpace and I enjoyed a wonderful few years there, meeting a community of poets and a number of vibrant, brilliant older women — until the owners ruined it by trying to fix what wasn’t broken. I simultaneously maintained and extended my Blogger blog and eventually turned it into two, one for the Texas trip and one for general musings.

I found I greatly enjoyed creating blogs, the look of them as well as the content, and now I have a ridiculous number with different emphases. The Passionate Crone  is my main, but not only poetry blog. The name came about because in the old MySpace days a poet called Rob Chrysler posted as a joke an advertisement lifted from somewhere, calling for auditions for a porn movie. Various members of the MySpace poetry community entered into the spirit of it and posted our  comical claims to be considered. I signed mine The Passionate Crone, and everyone loved that. I realised it could well apply to me as a poet, the passions by no means restricted to, but not excluding the sexual kind.

Poets United: We are so happy you are posting at Poets United! I was most impressed to read on your profile page  about your work as a performance poet, and a teacher of creative writing courses. Also that you are a healer and professional psychic. Do you find these studies and learnings contribute greatly to your writing?

[Me, now.]

Rosemary: To take the last first — the esoteric practices quite often form the subject matter of poems. In addition I’m sure they have affected my personality and viewpoint in all sorts of ways, which in turn must inform the poetry, but that usually happens unconsciously. I think that everything we are and have experienced must surely show in our writing, if only subtly.

Writing for performance can be quite different from writing for on-the-page readers. Ideally, I like to think a poem can work both ways, and most of the time I try to write mine so that they will. So I always read them aloud as part of the process of composition. However, it can be fun, and valid, to deliberately slant a poem more one way than the other. and I have sometimes done that too.

I like to do exercises in craft and technique, to increase my repertoire so that when inspiration strikes I’ll have more tools to bring to it. My courses are run on a workshop model; I too participate. I’m a great believer in learning by doing; also  I’m convinced learning happens best in an atmosphere of laughter. I think that in writing groups we all learn from each other all the time, often without even noticing how much we’re doing so.

Poets United: I love  "learning happens best in an atmosphere of laughter". So true! How would you describe your personal approach to the creative writing process?

Rosemary: I’m tempted to say, ‘undisciplined’. This month I’m making at least one poem every day because I am doing two different sets of prompts, but normally I don’t necessarily write every day, nor set aside a specific time for writing. However, I do a lot of it.

In fact writing’s a thing I can’t not do; I get cranky if I go too long without it. So I seek material constantly. However I also recognise that there are input times when nothing much appears to be happening; they are necessary.  At such times there can be a lot going on below the surface, and when you come out of them you may see that your writing has taken a quantum leap.

Poets United: That makes me think of a quote about writing by, I believe, Louise Erdrich, (though I'm not sure), that time not-writing can be compared to the period of gestation in a pregnant woman.

Rosemary: I like to experiment with different approaches, try all sorts of forms, styles, etc., learn new methods and hone my skills. I guess I have an eclectic approach — whatever works for the particular poem.

Poets United: Have you always written? Do you remember writing your first poem?

Rosemary: Yes, since early childhood. I recall writing my first poem when I was seven. My Mum always claimed I did so at the age of three, but if so I really doubt that I WROTE it. However I did have a precocious facility for language and was reading early.

Poets United: What led you to choosing the  poetic form to express your creativity?

Rosemary: Perhaps it came naturally. I come from a long line of hobbyist versifiers on my father’s side, particularly my Dad himself, and his father. My Dad had something of a vocation and often got his poems published in the local paper, but would never have dared try for the literary magazines which he loved to buy and read. And when my Mum stayed with me in her old age and attended a poetry group that met in my home, she wrote the most exquisite poems, although she had never done so before and didn’t afterwards. 

On the other hand, nurture also played a part. My Dad used to read my brother and me poems for bedtime stories.  Rupert Brooke, Walter de la Mare, Alfred Noyes.…  I can still quote snatches of Grantchester and The Highwayman. We had the whole of Hiawatha night after night, as a serial, and found it enthralling. Also, as I’ve mentioned, my father used to bring literary magazines into the house; and my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all owned many published volumes of poetry, from the classic to the contemporary, so I was exposed to the best from an early age.

Poets United: How absolutely wonderful! I want your childhood!

Rosemary: For whatever reason, I decided very early that the creation of beauty was the best possible way to spend a life, and that poetry was the highest form of beauty that human beings could create. So of course that was how I wanted to spend my life, and when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I happily answered, ‘A poet’. Then my parents kindly informed me that ‘poet’ was not a thing you could ‘be’ in the usual sense; it would not earn me a living. Many years later I learned they were not quite right. It is possible to earn a living as a poet, if you include related activities such as writing reviews, editing manuscripts, and running workshops. They weren’t altogether wrong either — without a day job, it’s a frugal and precarious living.

Poets United: For certain - but so worth it! Who would you say has been the single biggest influence on your writing?

Rosemary: There hasn’t been one single biggest influence. My parents always encouraged my interest in poetry (despite advising more practical ways of making a living). My teachers were very encouraging too. I was lucky to have outstanding English teachers.

It was always obvious to everyone who knew me, including other children, that I would be a writer. My maternal Grandpa, who died when I was nine, left me his typewriter for that reason. (He used it for writing letters to his large extended family.)

Poets United: My Grandpa gave me his old Underwood too, when I was eleven, and I banged away on it for decades.

Rosemary: When I was maybe ten, a friend of my parents who was a poet had a conversation with me about prosody and recommended a book on the subject which I later acquired. That was very helpful.

And later, when I became part of the Poets Union of Australia,  various individual poets shared things they’d had to learn the hard way, such as ‘beware of adjectives’ and ‘make the pauses where the breath would naturally pause if you were saying it aloud’.

Being brought up on good poetry was a great blessing. For a long time I scribbled privately. When I decided to go public with it, which necessitated working seriously on the craft, I discovered I already had considerable knowledge of craft; I’d absorbed it without noticing. I just didn’t know all the technical terms, and still don’t without looking (most of) them up.

I’ve also benefited from coming across good books for writers. I have a number, all wonderful, and my absolute favourites are Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind.  I have re-read them many times and always find them inspirational.

Poets United: Natalie Goldberg is wonderful! What conditions do you prefer,  in order to write?

Rosemary: Poems can happen at any time, but for practical reasons late at night is often my best opportunity to work on them.  A piece of writing begins in my head with a line or phrase. (It may turn out to be the last line of the poem rather than the first, or somewhere in the middle. It could even be one I end up discarding.) When I had young children, I trained myself to hold a verse or two in my head until I could get to pen and paper. Then the rest would come. Like all writers I carry notebook and pen with me everywhere, but these days I mostly compose straight on to the computer. Peace and quiet are not essential, and I can cope with interruptions without losing the flow; this also comes from my time as a young mother. If I’d had to wait for uninterrupted peace and quiet, I’d never have got any writing done. However I do of course prefer it if possible.

Poets United: Me, too. How do you know when a poem is finished?

Rosemary: Perhaps they’re never really finished; you just stop when you can’t see how to make it any better or where else to take it. Later you might see room for improvement, and tinker with it some more; or not. When people ask how long it takes me to write a poem, I’m liable to say, ‘Anywhere between five minutes and fifty years.’

Poets United: So true! And how do you know when a poem is 'good'? What are your personal criteria for good poetry, your own and others?

Rosemary: It’s easier to say what isn’t good. I hate clichés, forced rhymes and badly-executed rhythms. I don’t like lines to be twisted out of shape to fit a rhyme or metre. They should fit, but in a way that appears natural. And it irks me when metre is used carelessly, e.g. a galloping rhythm for a sombre subject. However I seldom use metre myself, preferring free verse or at best a loose pattern of stresses. And I occasionally use syllabics. By the same token, I seldom rhyme, though I greatly admire people who do it well.

I love language that is so plain and clear it’s almost transparent, so you go straight through to the meaning. But I also love rich, musical, metaphorical language which you can’t help noticing and revelling in.

It’s really hard to say what makes a poem good, or great.  I once studied Aesthetics (a branch of Philosophy) to try and answer the big questions about art, such as whether there are universal, objective criteria. The best anyone could come up with (and which I think is true) was that it’s impossible to formulate anything definitive, but there are things you can point to in an individual work of art. I have been known to tell students that you can come up with all sorts of rules for good writing, and sooner or later someone will come along and break them — brilliantly. When it comes to poetry, I think Robert Frost’s definition, that it’s what makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, is still the best.

In the case of my own poetry, a poem has to succeed in doing everything I want it to — to my own satisfaction. How others will receive it is then out of my hands. Of course, what I want it to do will differ with different poems.

Poets United: Well said, Rosemary. I am hanging on your every word! Many writers say that revising, rewriting is the real work of writing. Do you  rework your poetry, or do you feel it is complete as it first comes to you?

Rosemary: A ‘wholly given’ piece is a rare treasure! They have happened, but mostly I need to revise. Being prolific, I don’t do as much of that as I feel I should. I tend to do it at the point of first writing, fiddling and altering until I think I’ve got it right. Yet I find that putting something aside for a long time is effective. When you take it out again and look at it, what it needs will jump up and hit you in the eye. The craft exercises at Poets United have been useful in dealing with older stuff that was really stuck. I’ve been able to improve a number of pieces.

Poets United: Do you have a process, certain steps that you use in writing something to its completion?

Rosemary: Nothing ritualistic. I just sit down and write. I learned from Natalie Goldberg to take pen (or keyboard) and just go, whatever’s in the head, without worrying about the niceties until the first draft is down.

Poets United: What, most often, triggers you to write? Where do you go for inspiration?

Rosemary: I go out into nature. It never fails me. In recent years I’ve also engaged with numerous online prompts and challenges. One of Goldberg’s pieces of advice, to start with ‘I remember’ is also always fruitful.

Poets United: Nature is a wonderful source. Is there a link between music and poetry for you?

Rosemary: Occasionally.

I’ve known writers who found it helpful to write to music, but I never even think about the possibility.

An English musician and songwriter called Clive Price has set some of my poems to music and hopes to do an album eventually. He lives in Edinburgh but we met in Texas in 2006 when we shared the stage at a number of gigs and fell in love with each other’s work.

Here are links, plus identification of which songs at each one are based on my poems of the same titles.
Leaving Bali       and       Oh! Lovely Johnny

Poets United: That is so cool, Rosemary! What issues are dear to your heart?

Rosemary: Oh, you know — saving gay whales. Seriously, all human rights issues, animal rights issues and environmental issues.

Poets United: I was wondering how  to find a photo of a gay whale for this interview! :) The scary thing is, I actually found some, on google . Yoiks! Do you have a favorite poem, written by you?
Rosemary: A few. There’s a selection at my Life Magic website,

Poets United: Thanks, Rosemary. (Do visit, kids, you'll be so happy you did! Rosemary has a grand total of nine blogs to peruse!)  I read you have had several books published. Would you like to tell us about them?

Rosemary: Only one is still in print, Secret Leopard,  a ‘new and selected’ published in 2005. It is available through Amazon, or direct from me via my website

I am working on a series of chapbooks, to be published as e-books, but they’re not ready yet.

[Note: Kids, Rosemary's Secret Leopard was published in Paris in 2005 by Alyscamps Press. A book titled Small Poems of April was published in 1992 by Abalone Press, and  another volume, Universe Cat,  in 1985 by Pariah Press.]

Poets United: You are truly inspiring! And a very prolific poet. When you are not writing, what other activities do you pursue?

Rosemary: I read a lot. I don’t watch a lot of TV but I do have favorite programs that I hate to miss, such as Dr Who. Sometimes I crochet. Sometimes I draw.

[Levi and Andrew - "Us blokes together."]

My husband is 82 and has some health issues. I am his official carer and I spend a lot of time looking after him. We don’t go to the cinema any more; we wait and see movies on DVD. We have a good local Art Gallery that we visit now and then. We have to travel to see stage shows, and used to do so once, but no longer.

I‘m a professional psychic reader, and love to play with Tarot and other oracles just for myself when I get the time — which isn’t often now.

I go for walks.

I get together with friends for coffee or lunch.

And I mess about on facebook — though a lot of that is to do with writing. I’m involved with three poetry groups there, two of which I started, and I’m an administrator of the third.

Poets United: You live passionately, for certain, and you inspire me! Rosemary, I read on your profile page, and am so interested in your work as a spiritual healer and white light worker, and your studies of shamanism. Would you like to share some of this advanced learning with us? And how your path led you in this direction?

["The crystal ball I use for psychic readings"]

Rosemary: That’s a huge conversation!

I was always interested in magick and other-dimensional realities. I was highly psychic as a kid, but my parents told me it was my vivid imagination. They believed that and meant well, but I learned to suppress those gifts until, in my thirties, they would no longer be denied. Then I thought I was going mad. After a while I noticed that I was still functioning in my life and doing no harm to myself or anyone else, so I relaxed and the whole thing opened up more and more.

I was drawn to learn Reiki in 1988, and eventually did Master training so as to be able to teach it. After that I became interested to explore other healing modalities and ways of using energy. I have done a lot of training by now, and I know that there are many good things out there, but Reiki remains my first love. It’s simple, powerful and beautiful. It also helps the poetry to flow! I have been known to Reiki the pen, the paper, myself … and, when teaching, the table on which students were resting their arms and their writing paper.

[the goddess Brigid from google,]

Being Pagan, I have a small altar on my desk to Brigid, a Goddess who helps poets. It’s just a picture of her, before which I put flowers. I also have a statue of Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom, on my desk.

Poets United: So  interesting, Rosemary!  You seem to have embraced the internet. As a poet, how has the digital age affected you?

Rosemary: When I met Andrew, I distrusted computers and thought you couldn’t possibly compose poetry on them — but Andrew brought his pc into the household and it didn’t take me long to discover that computers are wonderful for writing poetry.  No more laborious typing and retyping of a whole piece in order to change one comma and then change it back. And I feel a lot less guilty about the trees, now that I’m not going through so much paper!

When we moved away from old friends and  family, email became very important, but it was blogging and social networking, plus the advent of Google, which showed me how many wonderful poets are out there whom I hadn’t previously heard of, and all the possibilities for sharing one’s work with a wide international audience. Nowadays I rarely submit to journals, and when I do they tend to be online publications, such as The Smoking Poet and The Group.

On MySpace I began a group called Haiku on Friday because I wanted to learn how to write haiku and thought it would be fun to invite other poets to play too. A year or so later I started Tanka on Tuesday for the same reasons. Both groups flourished, and I eventually invited a Melbourne poet/musician/artist, Phillip Barker (aka Soma), who was an active participant, to become moderator of the haiku site. After the decline of MySpace, Phillip and I moved both groups over to facebook, where they have taken off even more. We jointly administer both groups but it doesn’t require much; the enthusiastic participants pretty much run things themselves.

While we were still on MySpace, a reader on LiveJournal begged me to start a similar group there, so I began Friday Haiku, and soon handed it over to someone else. It too tends to run itself. J.C. Hewitt started Free Verse Weekends on facebook, modelled on the haiku and tanka groups, and appointed me an administrator. While these initiatives don’t involve me in much work, they do provide lots of delightful reading! And you know how it is: when poets love each other’s work, they tend to become friends.

I also use twitter a little, though not to engage in ongoing conversations about trivia. (Who has the time? Well, millions obviously, but never mind.) I use it to post haiku, tanka and micropoetry of all kinds, to read other poets, and to check interesting links that people post. (I do a bit of online activism and post those links on twitter too.) I’ve discovered yet more brilliant poets there, and am included in an anthology of poets on twitter, OCHO #24 edited by Collin Kelley and Didi Menendez.

Just recently I discovered Poets United, and that led me almost immediately to dVerse. They seem to have overlapping membership. I find both groups immensely exciting. Though similar in some ways, they also offer different delights, all of which add up to a feast of poetry.  I participate as much as I can, which is not half as much as I’d like to. I’m astounded, thrilled and grateful that already, so soon after my joining, Poets United has chosen my Passionate Crone blog as a Blog of the Week, and now I’ve been given this interview.

In the past I had a successful poetic career (within Australia) in print publication and performance. I wasn’t seeking a career online, but just to enjoy myself. However, when I look back it seems that I’ve started over and have been, almost incidentally, building an online career. My son David, who fell in love with computers when he was 11 and now works as a computer programmer, tells his friends that I have embraced the digital age even more than he has. Not only my poetry but my life has been enriched by it.

Poets United: I feel exactly the same way! I have to thank you so much, Rosemary,  for being  willing to leap into the breech and do this interview for us so quickly. I have so enjoyed this glimpse into your life, but it is not nearly enough. I expect I will haunt you, lurking about your site, hoping some magic dust wears off. And now I  so want my own crystal ball!

See why I love doing interviews, kids? Every single time,  such an interesting life, such amazing stories, such wonderful life journeys. Isn't it true that the people behind the pen are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. Loved this interview! Good job Sherry!

  2. Great interview Sherry! You really picked an interesting and unique person to interview. Rosemary is truly a 'one of a kind'. :)

  3. Pssionate indeed... amazing, too. I really enjoyed learning more about Rosemary.

  4. What a great interview! Rosemary, you are a goddess! Sherry, you continue to shine light in the most wonderful places. Thank you ladies! I am inspired in so many ways by you both.

  5. What a great interview, Sherry, again. You bring out the most interesting things in those you write about. Nice to learn more about you, Rosemarie. I have been fascinated with your blog for a while, since before I featured it on Blog of the Week a while back! I also have a fascination with Australia!

  6. Rosemary is certainly a passionate poet and fascinating person. This is a wonderful interview Sherry! What a great adventure it is to learn more about all the members at Poets United! :-)

  7. Rosemary, thank you once again for such a fantastic interview, on short notice. I apologize super-muchly for getting your last name reversed, and have corrected it (blush!)(My left brain/right brain thingy gets confused!) Fixed the links too, thanks for everything! Look into your crystal ball and tell me: how do I become as passionate as you:)?

  8. Thanks, Sherry. As to your question — I don't need a crystal ball to know you already are! I just have to look at your blog, and at your activities here. :

  9. Er, that was meant to be a smile on the end of that comment. :)

  10. So interesting! Good job Sherry. Rosemary I enjoy your poetry and I thank Mary for introducing you through Blog of the Week.

  11. Once again a great and very personal interview! So much fun to read about, and looking forward to reading, Rosemary!!! Good job, Sherry!

  12. Thank you all for the nice comments! I think Sherry is a great interviewer. Kim, I also enjoyed the interview recently posted at your blog.

  13. Thank you, Sherry. I've known Rosemary for five years as the Mentor of our writing group, and there were still things in here that I found interesting and new. God job.

  14. Errr.. I meant... Good job -- although I guess that was an interesting Freudian slip!

  15. Great interview Sherry! I owe so much to Rosemary as a friend, collaborator and teacher and to hear her voice so skilfully brought to life was truly a pleasure.

  16. Thanks, Cheryl and Jennie, for reading and commenting. I hope you know I have gained from working with you, too! And I feel I have gained a new friend in Sherry, from doing this interview. :)

  17. How interesting! A psychic poet. Rosemary, you are such an interesting person. I would love to have coffee with you and have a reading. Amazing what we are finding out through these interviews, Sherry! Thank you!


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