New Shoots: Carissa Lee

Carissa Lee is a Wemba Wemba poet, actor and academic based in Melbourne. In 2017 she was involved in Red Room Poetry’s New Shoots project at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Of the experience, she wrote: “When we have a connection to these flowers, trees, shrubs… there is a sense of belonging with them. Perhaps it’s an indication of a place we should go, or a time previously forgotten, but there is a connection to country for some, and when you feel it, you finally know where you belong.” We caught up with Carissa to find out more about her work with words and the relationship between poetry and the natural world.

Please tell us about yourself and your life with words? My Mum made sure my brother and I were reading really early on, and I think placing such an importance on words was a big contributor to me wanting to create my own. I ended up getting obsessed with Shakespeare and the way he interwove poetry into dialogue, and I wished we all lived that way. I wrote a lot of poetry and stories as a young one, and through my teenage years. Once I got to uni, I stopped writing poetry as much, and got to really love academic and critical writing, which is a lot of what I do now with both my PhD and through Witness.

Carissa Lee

How can poetry cultivate and deepen our connection to the natural world? I think that poetry allows us to let go of linear constructs and how we think narratives are supposed to be written.

I find a lot of the time that poetry is something that can inspire imagery a little easier. This makes poetry a fantastic way to be political, and to demand change, and to educate.

Wonderful poets such as Ellen van Neerven, Omar Musa, Ali Cobby Eckermann and Oodgeroo Noonuccal have shown that through connecting readers to the natural world, we can remind people that although we share this land and it’s beautiful, there’s so much wrong being done upon it, and we need to change this.

Who are some of your favourite poets/writers/creators? Ellen van Neerven, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Jack Davis, Sylvia Plath, Atticus, Rupi Kaur, and Auntie Raylene Campion (Auntie Mini).

Is there a person/place/word that is important in your work? Person would be my mother and brother. Place is by water. Word is sonder.

In another life what would you be? I’d like to think I’d be a vet or something else that helps animals.

If you were a plant, what would you be? I’ve grown really attached to Kangaroo Paw. It’s so beautiful and resilient.

The Final Year

I started to stretch like a canvas unrolled
And you used to be the frame where I lay.
Though just as I start to take some kind of shape
You panic, and pull thread till I fray.

Your mind is amiss with containable things,
With self-prescribed antidotes provoking.
And when you suggest that we drift it apart
I hope to fucking God that you’re joking.

I sit in a puddle, the floor of the shower
And weep till the water runs cold
Just like a poor painting, exposed to the weather
I retreat to the darkness re-rolled.

I cry in a bed where my colours are bleeding
While food and usual merriment’s downstairs.
Perhaps I’m just not quite bright enough for display
So I’ll remain in a cupboard of despair.

The morning comes, and I’m here on my own,
With my colours all run down my face
And because you’re not there I assume that you know
Of your damage, and hid in disgrace

But alas, as you emerge to so what you do
I’m passed by, all rolled up and put away
You tell me hurry up, we have things to do
And I’m a haggard painting put back on display.

What angers and tears, and frays at my soul,
Is when you look like you’re about to say something
Then you ask me politely what’s wrong
I go to scream, but instead I say


– Carissa Lee