About me

Susan Austin is a poet, mental health occupational therapist and eco-socialist activist. She facilitates group programs, including a creative writing program, in a mental health clinic in Hobart. She grew up in Qld and now lives in Hobart with her husband and two children

Her first poetry manuscript “An Undertow of Resilience” was awarded First Commended in the Best First Book category of the IP Picks 2011 competition and was published, with the name “Undertow”, by Walleah Press in September 2012.

In 2020 she was awarded a Career Development Grant by The Australia Council for the Arts, the arts funding and advisory body of The Australian Government, to work on her second book, a verse novel centering on a theme of infertility, with mentor and Editor Dr Gina Mercer. This book, "Dancing with Empty Prams", was published by Walleah Press in 2023. She has recently finished a third collection of poems.

Susan won the Fellowship of Australian Writers Tasmania Poetry Prize in both 2021 and 2023 and came Highly Commended in the same competition both times, as well as being Commended in the Woorilla Poetry Prize 2021. Susan has also won prizes in the FAW Norma and Colin Knight Poetry Award and the Terri and Hal Moore Poetry Award. 
She has had poems published in journals and magazines including the Australian Poetry Journal, Burrow, Communion, Verity La, Hecate, The Picton Grange Quarterly Review, Semper, Heretical, Famous Reporter, Blue Giraffe, Poetrix, Poetry Matters, Folk ku, Echidna Tracks and Prospect; in the newspapers Fraser Coast Chronicle, Green Left Weekly and The Tasmanian Times; in a Tasmanian young writer's initiative The Brew.

Susan's poems have featured in a range of anthologies including the Australian Poetry Anthology (2023), a Fellowship of Writers Tasmania “Net of Hands”; the 2013 Pax Press anthology "Women's Work: A Collection of Contemporary Women's Poetry"; the 2019 Ginninderra Press "The Sky Falls Down - An Anthology of Loss" and in the 2020 FAW anthology "When the World is New". One of her poems opens the 2022 anthology "Quicksilver Water: Oasis Women Poets". 

Susan has been a guest performer at two Tasmanian Poetry Festivals, Seasonal Poets (Hadley's Hotel), the Festival of Golden Words (now the Tamar Valley Writers Festival), the Cygnet Folk Festival and the Tasmanian Writers Festival. She has been featured on Radio National's Poetica program and participated in a Poets and Painters Exhibition at the Bett Gallery in Hobart.

Susan judged the 2012 Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Eve Masterman Peace Poetry prize.

She is a member of TasWriters, Australian Poetry, and the Fellowship of Australian Writers Tasmania.

This is from an assignment I had to write in 2006 as part of a poetry course – a personal manifesto about why I write poetry, my aims as a poet and what poetry means to me:

I have been writing poetry since the age of eight. My mother encouraged me by buying me a 240 page “Tough One” exercise book to record final drafts in my neatest handwriting. My main goal in life was to fill that book up with poems! This goal was interrupted somewhat after moving to Brisbane when I was 17 to go to uni. Here I got involved with environmental and social justice campaign groups, and became the co-ordinator of a socialist youth group, at the same time as paying my way through university by doing two or three part-time jobs. I finished my poetry book whilst traveling overseas for a year. It felt like I had achieved my life’s goal when I was 25! The poems in this book, and many of my subsequent poems, actually plot my personal development and many of my life experiences, and I really like having this sort of record to look back over, although this is not the reason I write poetry – it’s just a bonus.

I was frustrated by not having had any real education in poetry, until I studied Irish and American poetry for a semester in Ireland. I was at times disillusioned by the lack of interest from my family and friends. After I’d ‘grown up’, few people seemed to care about poetry, or show an interest in what I was writing. I wonder if I would have kept going without the external feedback I have received intermittently throughout my life – whether it be getting something published or receiving positive comments from my Irish teacher or other poets. I also questioned the usefulness of devoting my time to poetry when there were so many other causes needing my time and energy.

But looking back, it seems that poetry and social justice have been dual passions throughout my life. For example, when I was 11 years old, I had a poem published in the youth section of the local paper about population issues, at the same time as getting letters to the editor published about water pollution and the need to fix up the local men’s shelter. When I was 12 years old I won an essay competition about protecting forests.

I would like to see radical social change here and around the world, similar to what is going on in Venezuela at the moment, where ordinary people have a real say in what goes on, where wealth and resources are distributed more evenly and in a more sustainable way. I think all forms of art and culture need to be involved in such a revolutionary movement. But even without a revolution going on here in Australia, I think that poets who can challenge the status quo, express dissent or share the stories of ‘ordinary people’ are crucial to any sort of progressive movement. My poems about social justice issues have tended to explore the ironies between how we relate to the world or how we fit into world events. I have written poems that critique television, fashion and class divisions. I would like to work on this aspect of my writing, to improve my ability to approach social justice type subjects from unique and personal angles.

While this reason for writing is important for me, I do write about a wide range of topics. These tend to stem from my experience as a young woman who has traveled overseas and who has worked in a range of health and human services, particularly with people who have mental illness. Some themes that are present include domestic violence, depression, travel and loneliness. I seem to be drawn towards writing about relationships - the difficult or poignant experiences of yearning before relationships begin, instances of rejection, or the stagnation and disintegration of relationships. To date, I have not been so interested in landscape or environmentally descriptive poetry, with the exception of haiku. I have not had much practice at writing in formal structures like sonnets, but I do enjoy experimenting with these forms. I aim for my writing to be accessible to a broad range of people, that is, not too academic or difficult to understand, not too obscure, but still skillfully employing language, sound, structure and imagery.

Sometimes I have doubts about putting so much energy into writing – it can really seem a trial, but when I can see a good poem come together I feel satisfied and happy. I have also found it very cathartic in helping me to deal with difficult times in my life – if I can turn a rough time into a good poem, it feels like there has been some benefit in going through painful emotions! Also when I read a good poem of somebody else’s I am reminded of how poetry can be used to communicate in a very special way.

I aim to write and publish poetry that offers new and interesting perspectives on issues of social, political and cultural relevance. I want to capture important aspects of human experience and share them with others. Poetry helps me understand and appreciate the world around me.

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