Saturday 16 March 2024

"'Dancing With Empty Prams' — A brave, raw and compelling poetic novel"

As my verse novel Dancing with Empty Prams makes its way out into the world, I have been touched by the feedback I have been receiving. One colleague, a mental health nurse, wrote to me saying: 

“I wasn’t sure how I would feel about a work about infertility. I am one of those people who has never wanted a child and always been relieved at the one-line reading. When friends have struggled with infertility, I’ve found it difficult to find the right responses and been very aware that I wasn’t as empathic as I would have liked so I hoped that the poetry might help me with that. And it did!

I bought both of your books and read them both cover to cover on that Saturday afternoon. You said that your book wouldn’t be a best-seller but I really can’t see why not, it was a genuine page-turner, I was completely engrossed. All of your poems reflect multi-faceted human experience, everything from despair to wry humour and nothing over simplified.

One of my best friends is trying to get pregnant for the second time after a long fertility journey with the first and I am so much better equipped to be a listening ear now. I’ll be giving her the book too as she will be excited (and validated) to find her experience reflected in verse.

You may also be pleased to know that I am now a convert to the verse novel form. I haven’t read a book from cover to cover for over a year. I thought my capacity had died with age but I’ll be ordering some poetry books now.”

A social worker friend wrote: “I read Dancing With Prams and loved it! It was very easy to read, especially with your engaging writing style. It's such a beautiful, tender, funny, heartbreaking exploration of a journey of infertility. I'm so glad you wrote it and you're sharing it with the world.”

I was thrilled to have two of my poems from the novel: “The intimacy of needles; the poise of liquid nitrogen” included in the Australian Poetry Anthology. This combined poem was also commended in the 2021 national Woorilla Poetry Prize and can be read below (you may need to click on it to enlarge).


Graham Matthews wrote a review of the book for Green Left Weekly in August 2023, available here and copied below. It’s great to have this book recognized by the staunchly feminist and environmentalist publication that I have a long association with.

'Dancing With Empty Prams' — A brave, raw and compelling poetic novel

"Dancing with Empty Prams is the second book published by Tasmanian-based poet and ecosocialist Susan Austin. It’s the fictionalised story of one woman’s struggle with fertility, the morality of having children and the desire to persist against numerous setbacks.

It’s a beautifully written book. It reads so easily, which I imagine means it took a lot of time to write, edit and rewrite. It’s written in a poetic form that greatly adds to the moment, depth and weight of the story. It’s brave, raw and compelling.

As a poetic novel, it’s possible to read Dancing with Empty Prams in a single session: in fact, I found it impossible to put the book down.

Although a fictionalised story, written about an imagined character, the detailed descriptions are personal; the sense of frustration, of invasion and depersonalisation, of hope and disappointment are very moving and intensely humane.

Austin has the courage to write about an experience that is so often suppressed.

“I can’t talk to my friends with kids just now. Even thinking about them makes me want to cry. They didn’t have any trouble conceiving. They try to understand but they can’t,” intones the lead character and narrator, Jade, a health food shop owner living in Queensland.

And again:

Bitter Disappointment hands me over to Hope
Steps me through some spirited salsa.
Anxiety takes over, stumbling with two left feet.
He leads me through some ungraceful pirouettes
before passing me back to Bitter Disappointment.

Austin has written a book with universal applicability. While we may not all wish to have children, we were all born; in many cases out of deep love and affection.

And as with many excellent books, it’s not just the story that keeps you hooked, it’s the wonderful way it’s told. I look forward to reading whatever book Austin puts together next."

Esther Ottaway and I both read at an event at Fullers Bookshop on the 10th August 2023, the fourth event in the Fullers Poets Series. We spoke on the theme Women’s Untold Stories and read from our new books. The audience was attentive and appreciative, with many nourishing conversations held afterwards. 

And lastly, a photo taken by Esther Ottaway outside Fullers Bookshop, with me holding my book, and of course, a pram. I have two more boxes of books on order so if you haven’t already got a copy, please consider placing an order through my website and I will send one to you, thank you.

Music and poetry - still an item? Also self-compassion, lemons and fishing

It’s about time for an update I think! It just takes a little dose of Covid to clear my diary and give me the time needed for things like this 😊

I started off the year by performing at the Cygnet Folk Festival, at the Poet’s Breakfast, and on a panel organised by TasWriters. Chaired masterfully by Danielle Wood, I spoke alongside fabulous local poets Gina Mercer, Anne Collins and Young Dawkins, with Tim Hodgkinson  playing double bass. The panel discussed the topic: 'Music and Poetry - Still an Item"?' and poets shared our thoughts and read some of our more musical works.

Photos thanks to Yvonne Gluyas

Last month I ran an Oasis Women’s Poetry Workshop on the theme of “Exploring connection and self-compassion through poetry.” We looked at Mary Oliver’s famous poem Wild Geese and explored how poetry exercises can help us mindfully notice our emotional states and manage our moods. I invited participants to write about their connections with special places, people or objects. Creative writing can have a powerful effect on our ability to understand and accept ourselves and I shared some exercises to enable us to view our characteristics and insecurities with self-compassion, based on the work of Dr Kristin Neff.

 “the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.”

-          Mary Oliver, from Wild Geese


In October I had my second haiku published in Echidna Tracks, the Australian Haiku online journal.

after four years  
the first lemon

It’s a short, simple haiku, testament to less is often more. It was accompanied by a striking painting of a lemon by Ron Moss.

Also in October last year I won the FAW Tasmania 2023 Poetry Prize and was awarded Highly Commended. I hope to get this year’s winning poem published so I can share it with you. It's called A different kind of online and is about fishing, of all things! Inspired by many fishing trips with Dad when I was a kid.

I participated in a national ekphrastic competition judged by Chris Mansell. Andrew Bennett Ekphrastic Poems (30 pages A4) was subsequently published by WordXimage, September 2023. My poem (abridged below) was the second poem included in response to the painting “An Afternoon Adrift” by Andrew Bennett.  




Malted rye toast

with a dash of olive oil

thinly sliced plums

on top.







Sandals off

notebook ready

wrists relaxed.



words will come

like ants to crumbs.


I also came across a poem of mine called Veteran that a friend liked enough to include on her Resistance Words blog back in 2015. You can read it here.

In August last year I was interviewed by Arianne James for her Book Shelf program on Edge Radio. The recording was up online for a month but is now unavailable. We had a great chat about poetry and verse novels. Speaking of which, I'll do a separate post with Dancing with Empty Pram updates.