Mark Tredinnick said of Conspiracy of Skin by poet Peter Mitchell, “These lyric poems, an accumulation of turning points, tell of a long moment finally outlasted.”
I’m grateful for reading those words on the back of Conspiracy of Skin as they inspired me to open what turned out to be an absolute treasure.
When told I’m in the presence of a poet my first instinct is to run. I’m 59 years old.
I don’t have enough time left on the planet to waste on angst-ridden self-pitying tripe thrown at a page without thought or artistry. Real poets are artists. They craft their work. They agonise over words until their story performs arias on the page.
Peter Mitchell is a real poet.
His words sing.
They are spare and they are exquisite.
Mark Tredinnick describes Conspiracy of Skin as charting “the poet’s way through HIV, from diagnosis, via chemotherapy, into remission and restored health. It tracks not just the disease, but also the revelations it yielded.”
Peter lives in Lismore — Tropical Fruits country — an area renowned for its great beauty and amazing creative output.
He can sometimes be caught as his alter ego, Sister Mary Sit-On-My-Face, an Honorary Ancient and co-founder with Mother Inferior and Sister Mary Medusa of the Sydney chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
Why Peter Mitchell Writes
“I write poetry to explore the deep thickets of the self, the shadows in our lives. From these thickets and shadows, the poems crafted make sense of one’s self and one’s place in our social worlds.
“Poetry foments revolutions of being; poems make the invisible in our lives, visible; verses are the ghostly presences haunting our lives…
“Poetry bears witness. It memorialises the worlds comprising our dailiness. It fills the silences with the text of our histories.
“Poetry finds the luminous in the litter. Poetry is music and painting in words.
“To write poetry is to step into risk. Thin ice risk! Risk on the rocks!
“Risk initiates queer lines. To write a queer line is a slipperiness, a subversion. Queer lines architecture the skeletons in our lives.
“I write poetry to delay death.”
Peter write across other genres also.
“I craft poetry, memoir, short fiction and literary criticism. I have numbers of favourite phrases, sentences and paragraphs spread across these different kinds of writing.
“As I’m talking about my second poetry chapbook, Conspiracy of Skin ‘Bandit Country’ is my favourite poem in the collection.
“Like many pieces of my writing, ‘Bandit Country’ was years in the crafting. Like all writing, the poem was more re-writing than originality (Originality is a myth, a red herring, a furphy).
“It seemed to come together as if sowing a patchwork quilt. Various words, lines, images and ideas came from other poems and were stitched together as a summation of the effects of illness.
“I like this poem because the images are clear and striking, the language economic and evocative. I also like how the two parts of the poem are tied up nicely at the end.”
Conspiracy of Skin is an incredible personal journey?
How do you feel when you read it now?
“I feel a quiet satisfaction, a gentle pride with the collection as a whole, with particular poems in it and with phrases, lines and images that comprise each of the poems.
“Sometimes, I open the book at random and look at a poem. I move the book away from my eyes as if getting a different perspective. I think: I wrote those words. That striking image emerged from the recesses of my dark imagination. That arrangement on words-on-page was worked through with hard effort.
“I glean pleasure from the different arrangements of black-on-white, of the black words on the white page. These differing architectures of words arrest the attention, coax a reader’s interest
“At the same time, I feel strangely detached from the words and the experiences each poem evokes. Occasionally, I think: Did I write those words? Did I arrange that poem that way? How did I make these decisions?
“I’m not sure if this is an unusual reaction or not and, obviously, I don’t dwell on these thoughts. I guess a part of this distancing is the number of years between the past and the present, between when these experiences occurred and the now and future as the poems are out in the world.
Conspiracy of Skin and other works by Peter Mitchell
“I also feel relief that I’ve completed another project, a second book. Now I’m balancing promoting Conspiracy of Skin and completing the sixth draft of Fragments through the Epidemic. Strange as it sounds, there are weeks when I’m time-poor. When this happens, I laugh at the irony as I don’t work in the conventional manner.”
Peter’s memoir, Fragments through the Epidemic is currently with a publisher.
He also plans a book of non-fiction (essays, book reviews, journalism) titled Honk If You’re Gay and a full collection of poetry, tentatively titled, Love that dares speak its Names.
To find more of Peter’s work: www.peter-mitchell.com.au
For a signed copy of Conspiracy of Skin along with Peter’s first poetry chapbook The Scarlet Moment email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. $12 incl P&H
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