My Poetry Rules: Reality Shows for Artlovers

studioWhy are reality shows always about cooking and building? Why not a reality show for writers? Challenge the contestants to come up with a poem or first chapter and have it critiqued by the other contestants and two professionals. Not a Frenchman in a badly fitting suit or a paleo addict who’s been painted a shimmery shade of bronze, but a publisher and a working full time writer who will try not to look bored/horrified while listening to the contestant’s musings.

Instead of a menu of inedible food, have a menu of indigestible poetry – a limerick or a haiku for the entrée, a ballad or saga for mains and a sonnet or villanelle for dessert. And why stop at poets and novelists? Let artists create a menu of pastels, oil portraits and watercolours; musicians can present a light ballad, a rousing anthem and a sweet love song; crafters can fashion pot holders, quilts and soft cushions – it could go on and on.

instead of instant restaurants the contestants could create instant galleries in their own homes and stress over a broken conte crayon or a squished tube of paint. Poets could sob over their iambic pentameters and novelists could have meltdowns because they can’t spell pneumatic (is that right?) You could have the usual suspects for contestants – the snotty Melbournites looking down on the other plebs; the eager to please puppies hoping for a pat on the head and a Schmackos; the wild outbackers piling up installations made of hay bales and rusty old tractors; the ‘villains’ rating everyone else’s art as passé so they can climb further up the leaderboard – oh, come on, it would be so much more fun


Zen Pencils – the inspirational Art of Gavin Aung Than

zen pencilsOne of my favourite quotes is from the Dalai Lama, explaining why he is so fascinated by humans – “Because he sacrifices so much in order to make money; then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health; then he is so anxious about the future, he forgets to enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future, he lives as if he is never going to die – and then he dies having never really lived.”

To see it illustrated, in Gavin Aung Than’s inimitable style, in his book Zen Pencils, is even more enlightening as a stressed journalist dashes about gleaning these words of wisdom from the soul of serenity himself. Having been a journalist in the distant past, I quite understand the look on this journalist’s face as he is left floundering in the Dalai Lama’s wake. In the rush to get the story, we often miss the message. But when we do get it…well, it stops us in our tracks.

I had been following Gavin’s wonderful comics based on inspirational quotes for some time when the book came out. I was enchanted by the blending of humour, sharp eyed observation and beautiful words brought together in Zen Pencils – even the name suggested a deeper layer of meaning behind this artist’s work. He lives what he talks about; finding your talent, honouring your path and following your dreams. If anyone ever embodied the dreams of a struggling artist, he does – and he knows how to encourage and inspire those trying to make their own way.

Zen Pencils is a book to delight in, to keep at hand for those moments when inspiration – even a glimmer of hope – seems very far away. Some of Gavin’s most memorable works are in here, cartoons based on quotes from thinkers as diverse and profound as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Thoreau, C.S. Lewis, Vincent van Gogh (another favourite) and Timothy Leary.

“In spite of everything, I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I had forsaken in my discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.” Vincent van Gogh. Beautiful words from a beautiful, deeply misunderstood, man.

Zen Pencils is available from


Book Depository

Gavin’s website Zen Pencils

Image by Gail Kavanagh