John-Karl Stokes

Interview with John-Karl Stokes


Age 75

Australian - living in Canberra,



Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions John. Where in Australia are you from?
Australian of Scottish, German and British descent, I come from what was a romantic spot on a small farm on the banks of a river on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. That waterside spot no longer exists. It’s been ripped up for gravel for a concrete overpass. I have a photo of me riding the guard-dog to stop soldiers from thieving my father’s melons.

Soft on the waterlight, he comes, unafraid of silence (“The Rushcutters”, A River in the Dark 2003).


I descend from a long line of navigators, musicians and writers. Have since been a wanderer for many decades, attended many schools. Started writing seriously as soon as I could.  At ages 14 and 15, won 1st prize twice in the John Tierney Literature Prize through the school system, having been “noticed” and plucked out of a rough school and sent to a posh one. Much to everyone’s bewilderment.


The Child-cry of the sea-wind, the night-piercing of the Sun (“Woman on the Island”, Fire in the Afternoon 2015)

Did you study writing?

I have spent many decades studying, writing, and trying to make ends meet in Scottish New England; Europe, the U.K.; and sundry obscure parts of the earth. Occupations and qualifications include calligrapher, cartographer, land and heritage surveyor, town and river planner, professional writer, visual artist. All sometime worked in the light of a kerosene lamp.


I had to leave school at 15 but matriculated from a Tech. College while working, got equivalent to an Honours Degree with full Professional Registration as Surveyor from the University of N.S.W; Post Graduate Diploma in Town and Country Planner (London) with extensions in natural resource planning and management and landscape architecture. All while working. Was specifically and personally attacked by Alan Silitoe, an English writer and one of the so-called 'angry young men' of the 1950s, who told me to never, ever write anything again (think he might have been drunk at the time; always met him in the afternoons). What was to be learnt from this? To keep going. At all costs.


Do you have a preferred writing location?

I work from home. Or wherever I find myself.

What have you published and what are you currently working on?


Hear The Beast’s quiet breathing... ( “Coming home early”, in manuscript 2017)


Have published some 300 poems, essays and articles, in three books, plus many anthologies, magazines, journals and newspapers including Antipodes, Australian Poetry Journals, Blue Dog, Island & Meanjin. Have about another100 pieces in manuscripts searching for a publisher. Have about 20 pieces circulating at any one time. At the moment am onto my 5th full collection; am writing for speaking events; am revising a very large libretto that has been accepted for full development into oratorio for worldwide electronic release (a black art).


A child, cries out in the dark.; she tastes of Seafall, and the dreaming.

Am continually entering competitions with character-based writing. Have won or been short, or long-listed, for a few major prizes over the years including the Blake, Newcastle, Woorilla, Rosemary Dobson; Silver Wyvern short; U.C. Vice-Chancellor’s International; and Montreal International; Prizes.  My book Fire in the Afternoon (Halstead Press 2003) won a National Writing and Publishing Award for best book of poetry for 2015.


What are your three most favourite books?
The collected works of Seamus Heaney – such concentration of imagery, politics and above all, rhythms;
Valley of Grace, by Marion Halligan – such rich and sensuous drama, sense of place, character and story-telling – and set in Paris! And the King James version of the Christian Bible - not for the religion but for the cadences and simplification of complex and beautiful illusions.

Finally... what does writing mean to you?

To this day I write because I have to. I started with the idea that the most true, interesting, and useful words must spring from the most vivid, plain, and daring language. After many deaths, poverties, being widowered, starting again in a rich new relationship, I remain still for truth. Only very recently, just in the last decade and-a-half of my career so far, have I come to understand, on the readers’ behalf, the value of theatre:- the distillation of true words into the emotional needs of an audience.

The bride shrieks for her lover and runs along the water. The white foam sings.   (from “The Third bride”- a work in progress, 2017)

Thanks so much JOHN, and thank you for your wonderful contributions to LOVE, TRAVEL, WAR, HAPPY, BETRAYAL and THE SEASONS. Don't stop writing!


For a little bit more info on JOHN, and to contact him, CLICK HERE.


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