Earl Livings – Australia

This is Earl Living’s third residency. He completed residencies in 2015 and 2016. Earl was judge for the 2016 Poetry competition.

Earl Livings was born in Melbourne, Australia. He studied mathematics, played guitar in a garage band, and gained a black belt in kung fu. His poetry and fiction are published in journals and anthologies in Australia, and also Britain, Canada, the USA and Germany. His first poetry collection, Further than Night (Bystander Press), was published in 2000, and in 2005 he won the Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Competition. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing and taught professional writing and editing for 17 years. Earl lives in Melbourne with his wife and the seasonal owls, bats and lorikeets that love the trees around their home.

During his childhood, Earl was always a reader, partly as a form of escapism from a difficult upbringing and partly for that discovery-excitement of the unknown, especially that ‘sense of wonder’ that thrives in science fiction, an early love. Consequently, he started his writing life (apart from the scribbling of juvenile song lyrics and earnest love poems) as a writer of science fiction and fantasy. He published a few stories in a university science fiction magazine and wrote several unpublished fantasy novels. Then he fell in love with poetry. He spent the next ten years reading it, writing it, studying it at university, editing it for a literary magazine, and getting good enough at it to be published. For some reason, however, the narrative urge he had explored earlier wouldn’t go away and he returned to genre fiction and also started writing literary fiction.

Throughout this time, what might be called the ‘sacred’ arose as a major concern in his poetry (and was probably already there in his fantasy fiction, though he hadn’t fully realised this). He once asked a favourite aunt at what age such matters fascinated him. She said he was ten or eleven when he showed an interest in ghosts, magic and the esoteric. Consciously or unconsciously, Earl has been exploring these concerns in all his various creative endeavours ever since. The fantasy verse novel he wrote for his PhD used the themes, processes and motifs of the Perennial Philosophy for its exploration of metaphysical themes in an archetypal setting. His current poetry manuscript details his journey from a Christian perspective through to Neoplatonic and pagan explorations. His current project, a prose novel, examines similar themes, though now in an historical setting and using characters belonging to Celtic mythology.

Everything Earl writes now revolves around nature, myths and the sacred. What else is there in life but to experience, explore and express the marvel, mystery and magic of life?

In late 2013, after Earl returned to Australia from a research trip to Wales and Scotland, he wrote the first draft of his literary historical fantasy novel The Song of Keeping. This project features the historical person upon which Geoffrey of Monmouth based his Merlin character. Not much is known of this person, who is called Myrddin or Lailoken, and so the novel is a literary re-creation of his life based on dark ages sources, the various Merlin myths, and Nikolai Tolstoy’s non-fiction book, The Quest for Merlin. After finishing that first draft, Earl completed a structural edit and conducted further research so as to ensure historical accuracy. He then commenced a second draft during his 2015 residency at Stiwdio Maelor. Earl has since completed that draft and more ‘interdraft’ work. He intends to use his second residency at Stiwdio Maelor to write the third draft and, given time, work on more poems for his next collection.


Below is a poem he wrote during his first residency and which was inspired by the work of Stiwdio Maelor’s founder and conversations with her about language and country.

For Veronica Calarco and her Knowing Place series, Stiwdio Maelor, Wales

To birth our first tongue
we plunge into the music
of those who speak to us
and around us, cradle
to kitchen table, make sense
out of our nonsense replies
to their words, fine-tune
our ear and mind with chatter,
books and blackboard lessons,
live the language in landscapes
of playground, city, country
and nature, till world and words
become our own music
without our thinking of it

To earn a second language
needs more than paper learning
from dictionary and grammar book,
which can only give us
Mae’r haul yn disgleirio,
‘The sun is shining’,
Not Mae’r haul yn gwenu,
‘The sun is smiling’,
the native speaker’s lifetime
of intimate rhythms
in landscape and breath

Harder still to express two worlds
of adoption and heritage
in picture or story when the words
and melody of one are lost,
or fragmented, or withheld,
snatches, glimpses, hints only
to help us reconstruct
Ngawak walang, back-stone,
from the phrase itself, not
from the lived learning
of landscape and speaker—
back of the stone, behind the stone,
a stone to rest the back

Leaving us the only burden:
to make sense of more than
stolen histories, faded music
by quickening with tools
of haunted eye, ear and mind
a death-right anthem that rouses
and haloes all our worlds