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.

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