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Local poet Peter Mitchell wins national literary prize

The Lismore App

Liina Flynn

08 February 2020, 6:48 AM

Local poet Peter Mitchell wins national literary prizePeter Mitchell features as this week's Sunday Profile.

Lismore author and poet, Peter Mitchell, has been awarded honours for his poetry in the national literary prize – the Wesley Michel Wright Prize 2019. At Melbourne Writer’s Festival last year, his second collection of poetry, Conspiracy of Skin was awarded Highly Commended in the prestigious awards.

As an openly gay man, living with HIV, Peter tells his courageous story of living with the disease – and the stigma that went with it – through his lyrical poetry. Despite fear of recriminations for not only being gay, but being HIV positive, Peter shared with The Lismore App his story of being a sexually active gay man who has skirted death – and survived – in this week’s Sunday Profile.

Read the storySUNDAY PROFILE: Peter Mitchell - poet living with HIV

Following are two poems taken from his poetry volume Conspiracy of Skin.

The Odds

I glower around the house for three

days. Should I stop f***ing men?

Should I find out about the virus?

These questions will make and unmake

my life. If I were you, I'd rather know,

says my sister, Cate. 26 July 1984. 

Taylor Square Private Clinic.* Anxiety

ripples the blue-air waiting room.

I script my future on a survey: drug use,

diet, medical history, sexual practices.

The consulting room door opens, my name

ricochets around the dazed faces. The doctor

scans the questions. Marijuana use?

I frown, a blue-armed fist thumping my

front door. All the information is confidential.

He examines my body for symptoms,

pressing lymph nodes, filling phials with

blood. That's a healthy colour.

The virus's trajectory is still un-

certain. He advises more tests.

For three weeks, I tread the house

and streets like a moth among magpies.

17 August 1984. Another appointment,

another survey. The doctor says, Your

results from your last appointment are

back. I lean forward. The technology

for testing isn't properly developed

yet. I swallow hard. Your 

results returned two positive and one

negative. Two-to-one: not bad odds.


August 1985. I choose lunchtime; fewer

people in the office. As I hold the 

telephone, I feel like I'm on a ship's deck.

There's a swell and it rolls in my stomach.

are you ready for your results? The doctor's

last word thickens around the pension files.

Two positive and one negative.

Plus and minus signs revolve

around the desk. Its the same as the

last test. The name on the file blurs.

You're HIV positive. I look 

over Riley Street. Through the 

window, my known life flies to 

the open sky, and the waves inside me


To find out more about Peter, visit


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