Interview with Kathleen Bleakley

Poetry Circles Copy

Kathleen Bleakley is a long-time South Coast Writers Centre member who runs the on-going Poetry Circle events at the Philanthropy Tribe. Steven Wain, writer and SCWC intern recently interviewed Kathleen about all things poetry. Come along to the next Poetry Circle event on November 10th. To secure your spot, please email

How did you get into writing poetry?

As a kid: wrote & told stories & poems; was read to (by extended family) & became an avid reader. Interest in writing, reading & performance continued through school and at the youth theatre then into university. Did a BCA (Bachelor of Creative Arts) – double major in creative writing & English lit at Uni of Wollongong (UOW), early 90s.

Who are some of your inspirations?

Joanne Burns – ‘ground breaking’ in contemporary, Australian poetry especially in experimental forms eg prose-poetry. Joanne was a mentor/tutor during my BCA. She continues to be a mentor. Joanne generously launched my 2nd bookjumping out of cars – poetry & prose with Andrea Gawthorne & photography by ‘pling, 2004.

I thank Joanne for tools in editing one’s work eg attention to detail/placement of every word.

Ron Pretty – likewise was a mentor/tutor during BCA & continues to be. Ron launched my 3rd book Azure – a pocket poet/chapbook, 2017. I’m an active member of Ron’s/SCWC poetry group. Ron’s depth & breadth of knowledge of poetry & lit generally, his commitment to and engagement with Australian poetry, his own poetics & publishing history (as poet & editor) are utterly inspirational!

Can you describe your process of writing a poem?

Many fold/different kinds of processes & sources of inspiration including:-

dreams, memories and experiences – direct & indirect, senses especially fragrances & tastes

fragments/thoughts/images – could be from photos or other visuals eg art

interaction with arts & other artists – collaboration is a significant part of my writing practice and publishing/production of work.
My 1st book Passionfruit & Other Pieces, 1995, was a collaboration with printmaker Hannah Parker.
My life & artistic partner - photographer ‘pling and I made 3 books together, all published by Ginninderra Press:-

jumping out of cars (see above)

Lightseekers, poetry by Kathleen Bleakley, images by ‘pling, 2015

Azure (see above) – cover image by ‘pling

Each of these books had companion photography exhibitions with the launches.

‘pling and I were working on a 4th book ie another chapbook letters, up until the last weeks of ‘pling’s lifetime. After bravely struggling with an aggressive lymphoma (blood cancer) last year, ‘pling became eternal 27 November 2018.

With assistance from/collaboration with ‘pling’s son Fabian and other artist friends including Hannah (Parker), ‘pling’s and my visions for letters will be realised in October 2020 – launch & exhibition.

In addition to collaboration, as mentioned, other art forms inspire my poetry including visual arts especially photography, music, fiction and non fiction.

Drafting & editing my work including workshopping in poetry groups, and 1:1 including with fellow poet and mum Amelia Fielden, is integral in my writing.

Doing (optional) exercises for poetry workshops eg those suggested by Ron, based on a poetic form and/or notion, is another way of generating &/or working on a poem.

Writing for/shaping poems for various themed awards and group publications is also a driver.

Do you have any particular favourites, of your own or by somebody else?

Too many! So I’ve chosen an extract from a Joanne Burns poem: a rich, evocation of childhood that has stayed with me the 27 years since publication/I first read it! Joanne’s use of the senses has been & continues to be very influential in my poetry & facilitation of creative writing. Striking imagery too eg the arch of the swing and harbour bridge.


instead of going to kindergarten she spends her fifth year in the large garden of her new home; dabbing her fingertips into the sticky milk that she bleeds from the frangipani tree; making cut lunches of mud sandwiches out of big soft furry leaves for her family of doll children whom she pushes around, squashed so close together in the toy pram they can hardly breathe let alone see the curiosities of nature she is pointing out for them. but the most involved of her activities in the garden lies in her olefactory meanderings. not the fragrance of roses, jasmin, jonquils, hibiscus, but the odours, smells, pungencies, dank and ranknesses of squashed ants and snails, caterpillars and worms, the abandoned goldfish pond, strange leaves that pinch at her nostrils and make her gasp for breath when she smells them. this she does instead of finding out how it feels when someone piddles over a tea party in the bo peep sandpit.

towards her fifth birthday she gains the confidence to rub her nose into the soil in a secret part of the garden, like she’s seen dogs do, and feels the depth of earth ticking into her nose, making a sound like an adult’s watch. and the next day she works her old swing in the garden up to a great height, and stands up on it while arching out towards the harbour. and she has a great view of the world beyond the hedge top of the garden. she can see as far as the city and its highest point, the harbour bridge. and she puts her nose on the cold thrill, the metallic smell of the chain as it slows down.

extract from Joanne burns, archaeology, on a clear day, 1992

What does poetry mean to you?

distillation/essence of experiences

images, sounds, vignettes - moments, moods, impressions in time/space/place – so many resonances with photography – hence rich collaboration with ‘pling

What can we expect from your poetry group/workshop, Poetry Circles?

fun writing & sharing poems in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere

inclusive/all welcome: no experience necessary while experienced writers welcome to practice & share their craft

accessible: kids under 12 & others with care needs warmly welcome if accompanied by parent/carer

creative activities/exercises to generate poems & strengthen writing skills

Written by SCWC

Posted on October 23, 2019