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Dr Marcella Polain

Lecturer, Writing

Faculty of Education & Arts


Life and research intertwined

My research has grown out of my life so it is impossible to clearly mark its beginning. Soon after completing under- and some post-grad qualifications, I found myself on my own with two very young sons and so I began writing again at night when they were asleep. I sent off a manuscript to Five Islands Press in NSW and they published my first full length collection. Another collection followed a few years later, with the help of a grant from ArtsWA. Then, two things happened: I began a Master's in Writing (which was subsequently upgraded to a PhD), and I became ill. Between managing my health, raising a family and working part-time, it took me 8 years to complete the Doctorate. My PhD was on the Armenian Genocide my mothers family was annihilated. I had the idea for this while I was at film school in the 1980s, but a wise teacher told me that it should probably be my third film, not my first. It became my third book, The Edge of the World (2007, Fremantle Press). It explores the intergenerational effects of genocide, and was short-listed for a Commonwealth Writers Prize. There is a lot of evidence that families like mine have high rates of illnesses and dysfunction - which made a lot of sense to me - and I examine this in the critical component of my thesis. But The Edge is also about love and tenacity and survival. Australia is full of stories like this.

My mother died in 2006 after a long decline. In six weeks over the summer after she died, I finished my third poetry collection,Therapy like Fish: new and selected poems, (2008, John Leonard Press, Melbourne). This work looks squarely at illness, pain and mortality.

I am now writing another novel, 'The Guest', a fictionalised narrative based on my father's death and what happened to my family immediately afterwards. I have always wanted to tell this story of childhood grief, and of the strange, comic and dangerous world we were plunged into. I'm also developing my PhD critical work into a full-length creative non-fiction manuscript, incorporating my mothers dementia and research into my belief is that the intersection of genocidal trauma and dementia produces particular expressions of distress.

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