About Zalehah Turner

Zalehah Turner is an Associate Editor at Rochford Street Review and regularly contributes articles on poetry, art, film and new media. She also reviews for the Culture section of UTS magazine, Vertigo. She is a Sydney based poet, writer and critic currently completing her Bachelor of Arts in Communications majoring in writing and cultural studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. Her poems have appeared on the ticker wall in Federation Square, Melbourne as part of the Overload Poetry Festivals 2008 and 2009, exhibited at Mark and Remark at 107 Projects in May 2013, displayed in Adelaide and Canberra through the Australian Poetry Café Poets’ program and electronically published in conjunction with Writing Laboratory and Sotto.

“Beauty, imagination, understanding, empathy, recognition”: Heather Taylor Johnson launches Andy Jackson’s ‘Music Our Bodies Can’t Hold’

Andy Jackson’s Music Our Bodies Can’t Hold was launched by Heather Taylor Johnson at the Queensland Poetry Festival on 26 August 2017.

Music_our_bodies_can't_hold_Cover-300x462Reading Andy Jackson’s exceptional book Music Our Bodies Can’t Hold, I’m left asking myself what the purpose of poetry is. For me, its purpose lies beyond language, though language, of course, is the essential vehicle to get us to where we need to be. And is that a place of beauty, that old cliché? Is it a place of imagining, as the core practice of creativity would assume? Perhaps it’s a place of understanding, empathy and recognition so that we find comfort in a world we enter and leave alone and, in the midst of that, cling to others for connection. Music Our Bodies Can’t Hold leads me to all of these places, and for that, I’m both honoured and humbled to be launching this book tonight.

 

Andy’s work has always been about giving voice to the body that is othered. In the spaces between a stranger’s stare and the poet’s eye catching that state, there are so many words that go unsaid. There are words that skin and muscle and bone silence. Words that hover like empty speech bubbles when we remember and when we hope and when we hurt and when we love. One of the purposes of poetry is to find those words, to write them and read them, which is Andy’s true calling and his gift to us.

In his previous books he strips his body bare to do this, but in this book – in this remarkable book – he takes a risk and embodies others like him: historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, who quite possibly had Marfan Syndrome; people like Jess, who he met and spoke with, and most definitely does. These poems are forty-seven different people, similar through a hereditary genetic disorder, but unique. Unique.

As a prelude, he writes from the voice of Antoine Marfan, who says ‘The last thing a physician / could want is their name on a condition / they have tried to understand and eradicate.’ As an interlude, he writes from the voice of the disorder, which says, ‘Names are critical, threads from a time before us, spiralling into the future’, and ‘Sometimes, too conscious of how I’ve shaped you, that minor rearrangement of elements that estranges, you look around for kin, as if you might find yourself in other bodies.’ As a postlude, he writes in his own voice, from his own experience, but having read the book to this conclusion, we know it to be a voice infused with every person in the book just as every person in the book carries Andy’s words.

Beauty, imagination, understanding, empathy, recognition – this book is a perfect example of what poetry can do and what poetry is. I’m going to go one step further and say that reading this book has made me a better person, so maybe that’s poetry’s purpose, too. So, with that I thank you, Andy. You’ve touched me deeply, and I’m happy to say, ‘This book is launched.’

-Heather Taylor Johnson

______________________________________________________________________

Heather Taylor Johnson is an American born poet, novelist and editor who moved from Minnesota to Adelaide in 1999 where she earned her PhD in Creative Writing. She has written two novels, Jean Harley Was Here and Pursuing Love and Death, and published four volumes of poetry. She is also the editor of the anthology, Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain and the poetry editor for Transnational Literature.

Music Our Bodies Can’t Hold is available from Hunter Publishers

 

Featured Writer Brendan Bonsack: Biographical Note

BBhi

Brendan Bonsack- self portrait, 2017

 

Brendan Bonsack’s poetry has featured in Melbourne’s White Night festival, and Poland’s UNESCO Poems on the Walls project. He was a commissioned public transport poet in the 2016 MoreArt Festival, and shortlisted for the XYZ Prize for Innovation in Spoken Word at the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival. Brendan was a feature poet in La Mama Theatre’s Autumn program, and was supporting feature for US touring poet, Madison Mae Parker. He is author of six books of poetry, including collaborations with international writers.

Brendan’s poetry books are available from Amazon, Lulu, Barnes and Noble, and Bandcamp: http://brendanbonsack.com/books/

Featured Writer Brendan Bonsack: Four Spoken Word Poems

 

25 Words or Less

It was a Monday when I saw it
the competition said
what would you do if you, for a day, were Prime Minister?
in 25 words or less

I don’t remember the prize exactly
but I remember thinking
I could win this
could I win this?
I could win this, yes!

It was Monday and
I had to get to work
and I couldn’t find a pen
so I tore out the page of the magazine
and stuffed it into my hip pocket

I was trying to think of these 25 words on the 58 bus at 8:15.
It was 15 late and now I would miss the 8:30 train
and because of this
I remembered that I hadn’t paid
the gas bill and it was 60 days
and my housemate had given me 70 dollars
which was more than his share
but I’d already spent it
on fuel for the car
and jars of pasta sauce
and some things from the chemist
and this magazine of course

And then it occurred that the rego was due
and why did I even buy that car
I never even use it
and how yes it was great when she and I
would drive and drive for days
to nowhere and for nothing but to lie
under that black, black sky
and feel for sure that there is no spirit without the body
for how could the spirit survive with no body to receive it?

And how I still feel that when she was ill
I was cruel, I was scared
I was cruel
I walked the kids the long way to school
for the extra minutes of babble and distraction
and I wandered, meandered
among supermarket shelves, alone
listless and swathed in that knowable knell
of air conditioned music

And how in those years
I unlearned words
and learned more of the spaces between them
the way you over-trace squares
with a ballpoint pen
in Sunday’s crossword
by hospital bed, on the waiting list, 32 down

It was Monday at 4
and I still hadn’t thought
of my 25 words

What made it so hard
was intrusion of calls and the printers offline
and knowing the board needed their papers by 5
with their order of quail and winery wine
and everyone knew it was that point in the graph on the PowerPoint slide
where people would have to be fired
and everyone knew how Sue got sacked
in curt officialese by efficient SMS:
that’s 160 characters or less

And that made 25 words
seem like re-writing the Constitution

And I burnt the pasta again because I forgot the oven;
on TV police were looking for a gunman
and those streets looked a lot like mine from the air
those tiny little places with the lights on
maybe everyone down there was scribbling
into that same competition corner square
their hearts thumping with every sudden sound in the garden

I don’t remember the prize exactly
but I remember thinking, I can win this
I can be the best
one rousing call to action
a simple stately sentence
you can fit into one breath

“do something, anything”
is all that I said

well, they say less is more
and if I were PM
that might just be enough
more or less.

 

 

Talk About the Apocalypse

talk about the apocalypse
in the presence of the moon and she’ll
smile that dry, powder smile
not so much to say
I told you so, but
it’ll be alright

the old man drank too much again
everything was better in his day
crying into his six thirty news
slapping his Herald in rage
what is a beekeeper
in a world with no bees?
who bombed the Titanic
and blamed it on floating white rocks?
anybody knows
a stone that size would surely sink

happy birthday, old man
happy birthday to you
those bergs, you know, can hold their breath
for fifty thousand Junes
and the sigh they make
when air escapes it is said
to cause a ripple in the moon
it’ll be alright
one more, old man
I’ll drive you home

talk about the apocalypse
in the presence of the sun and she’ll
smile that penetrating smile
not as if to say I’ve been telling you
but take my hand
it’s been a while
no side of me is nightfall
yet, I taught you to sleep as a child,
my searing palms
cupped beneath you, and
this is all I know of love
what comes after
a world with no bees?
the old man is sleeping
keep your eyes on the road

I’ll send you a dream

 

 

The C-word

My father was a communist
I always knew when he’d lost his job
Because he’d pick me up after school
Still in his work boots and overcoat
Clamped against the cold

And dink me home on his bicycle
The Johnson twins laughing and
Making faces as they passed us in the car
Mrs Johnson yelling from the front
Don’t stare, don’t stare!

And I would play boy in the crow’s nest
Perched on the handle bars
Face in the biting wind, calling
Pot-hole ahead! Hard to port!
Steer left!

And I’d stay up late
And while Gran wasn’t looking
He’d give me a dram of wine in a jam jar
And I’d roll off to sleep
With a vision

Of my father, the communist,
Hunched over paper in the lamplight
Wreathed in a trail of slow grey smoke
Like following
The sinking of a stone

My father was a communist
I always knew when there was trouble at the docks
By the light from the bathroom
Sharp and thin beneath the door
And the hall would fill with shadow talk
And the sound of running water

And I would lay still against the loud, loud linen
And play the spy
Their words the warp and weft of gauze
And all I ever heard was Why? Why?
And Don’t you think about the boy?

And brushing my teeth for school in the morning
I’d spit my Colgate at the spatters
Of blood remained where the sink plug clung
To its tiny chain

My father was a communist
I always knew, when Gran promised the Melbourne Zoo
But told me I should clean my shoes
That night I would see him

Propped up with pillows and pricked with tubes
Eyes clamped against the oily
Disinfectant glow

And perched on the steel back of a chair
I would play the sparrow
Pondering the leg spring or wing span needed
To reach his bed in a single bound

And be the boy who wondered
If to land would hurt him
Or if I would catch his slow disease
Just for being near him

And Gran would laugh
Buckling me in to the seat of the car
No, who told you that?
You can’t catch Communism

It’s not what he has
It’s just what he is.

 

 

A Doctor

I once knew a doctor
a doctor of the mind
it was my first time

she said: write me a poem
about the ocean

I said: alright
and I wrote:

I am the ocean
not all of the ocean
not all of the time
but enough of the ocean
to reach for the lines
of your shore

she said: is that all?

I said: well, with the time available,
and my pockets so full of holes

she said: read it again,
only this time,
change the word “ocean”
for “love”

I said: alright
and I read:

I am the love
not all of the love
not all of the time
but enough of the love
to reach for the lines
of your shore

she said: I don’t think you’re sure
I think you’re very unsure

I said: I think you’re just angling
you could change it to anything
like, how about, “fish”?

she said: go ahead, if you wish

I am the fish
not all of the fish
not all of the time
but enough of the fish
to reach for the lines
of your shore

she said: these lines,
are they stretching away from you,
or casting towards?

I said: are we talking about water,
or are we talking about love?

 

-Brendan Bonsack

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Brendan Bonsack
’s poetry has featured in Melbourne’s White Night festival, and Poland’s UNESCO Poems on the Walls project. He was a commissioned public transport poet in the 2016 MoreArt Festival, and shortlisted for the XYZ Prize for Innovation in Spoken Word at the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival. Brendan was a feature poet in La Mama Theatre’s Autumn program, and was supporting feature for US touring poet, Madison Mae Parker. He is author of six books of poetry, including collaborations with international writers.

Brendan’s poetry books are available from Amazon, Lulu, Barnes and Noble, and Bandcamp: http://brendanbonsack.com/books/

 

“my poem is a message to let people know what [a] terrible situation we are in”: Mohammad Ali Maleki talks to Zalehah Turner about ‘Silence Land’ from Manus Island

Silence Land

I have doubts about my sanity:
not everyone can bear this much.
They stole all my feelings;
there’s no wisdom left in my mind.
I am just a walking dead man.
I am just a walking dead man.

I yelled for help so many times –
No one on this earth took my hand.
Now I see many mad things and imagine
how the world would look if it collapsed.

Perhaps it would be good for everything to return to the past;
for nothing to be seen on the earth or in the sky.
It would feel so good to be a child
again and go back to my mother’s womb.
For there to be no sign of me,
for me never to have gone crazy in this place.

What if the woollen jacket I am wearing unravels
and begins to fall apart?
Or the butterfly flies back to its cocoon,
or the autumn leaf grows green and returns
to its branch on that old tree?
What if the tree becomes a seed in the soil –
I sound crazy speaking this way!

It’s the outcome of being detained for four years
after seeking asylum on the sea.

What if that sea returned to its source
and flowed back to the river mouth?
If that river receded back up into its spring?
What if only the sun and the moon remained in the sky?
If I saw even the sun’s birth reversed,
watched it dissipate into space?
Witnessed the moon implode upon itself?

All things returning to their starting place…

How beautiful, to live in a colourless world,
everywhere silent and still.
The earth would be calm for a moment,
free of even one miscreant.

But what do you make of my vision –
am I sane or mad?

 

-Mohammad Ali Maleki
trans. Monsoor Shostari
ed. Michelle Seminara

 

‘Silence Land’ was first published in Bluepepper. It has been republished with permission by the author, Mohammad Ali Maleki.

‘Silence Land’ by Mohammad Ali Maleki was read to an audience at the Queensland Poetry Festival 2017 as part of a series of events from Writing Through Fences organised by Janet Galbraith. Mohammad could not be present at the event as he is currently living in detention on Manus Island. He discussed the poem and his life on Manus Island with Zalehah Turner.

 

Zalehah: Mohammad, I just saw the video of a person reading your poem, ‘Silence Land’ at the Queensland Poetry Festival. It is a wonderfully moving and powerful poem.

Mohammad: Thank you my dear. You always supported me.

Zalehah: Mohammad, did you write ‘Silence Land’ as part of the writing group with Janet Galbraith?

Mohammad: No, Michelle [Seminara] first edited [it] and then, [Justin Lowe] from Bluepepper published it. Then, Janet [Galbraith] sent that for the festival in Queensland.

Zalehah: What can you tell me about the poem, ‘Silence Land’?

Mohammad: Man does not get crazy at once. It depends on the situation we are in. A news makes people crazy at once. Or a sudden incident.

Mansoor: Mohammad says it. The situation makes people crazy.

Zalehah: Yes, I can see that motif in ‘Silence Land’. Can you tell me about the situation now?

Mohammad: I’m not in a good mental and spiritual condition. I take 10 pills a day and see nightmares at night.

Mansoor: Mohammad says if you saw freedom say ‘hi’ to it.

Zalehah: I’m sorry to hear that Mohammad. Where are you? Why are you still in on Manus Island?

Mohammad: Unfortunately, yes. I am still imprisoned on Manus hell.

Zalehah: I’m sorry to hear that. I heard that they were closing the camps down.

Mohammad: YES, but the government is trying to send us among local people with their machetes ready to kill us. If people of Australia want, they can free us in a week.

Zalehah: Can you tell me about writing poetry? Does it help you to write down your thoughts? Does it help to have an audience who wants to read them here in Australia?

Mohammad: But they just say, ‘sorry’. We got destroyed. Four years [of] torturing. I lost my… mind…When I got free, maybe.

Zalehah: Tell me about writing poetry.

Mansoor: I only help Mohammed for translating. We are in a very bad condition of mind. Lost memory.

Zalehah: Where on Manus Island do you write poetry, Mohammad?

Mohammad: We write our pains on paper and whatever we write we get worse. Because no country in the world did not treat us the way that Australia did. We came here to ask for help not to torture us. In my room. I write my poems. I am always in my room.

Zalehah: Does writing help even in a small way? Does it help to write down the things that are happening to you?

Mohammad: It doesn’t change anything. [I] wish I could not… understand what is going on here. I am suffering because I understand it. I can’t describe the situation by words.

Zalehah: Can you tell me about the things that have happened to you?

Mohammad: Unfortunately, I forgot things very soon. But there was murder, beating and many other bad things here. Murder of 4 people at least. Reza Brati, Hamid Khazaei, one Pakistani, one Sudani [Sundanese person]. They send no one to Australia for medical treatment until he dies here. Hamid Khazaei died that way.

Zalehah: The situation is incredibly ugly. However, your poetry has changed some things: people in Australia have read your poems and understand many things they would not have if you hadn’t written those poems. It draws attention to these issues.

Mohammad: We can’t focus on something.

Zalehah: Who can’t? What do you want to focus on?

Mohammad: I mean we have lost our minds… It’s really terrible.

Zalehah: I’m sure it is. What do you think of the video of your poem?

Mohammad: People have to change the government if they want to stop the torture we are suffering from. [I] hope my poem is a message to let people know what terrible situation we are in. Just ask Janet Galbraith and Marilyn Beach.

Zalehah: It is a message. A very strong message. It has moved many people. Keep writing, Mohammad. People need to hear your poems.

Mohammad: Thank you. My phone is losing its battery. I need to charge it now.

Zalehah: Having your poem on the internet will help more people understand your situation. I will let you go then. Good bye. Thank-you and thank Monsoor, as well

Mohammad: Thank you.

 

Partial transcript of an interview with Mohammad Ali Maleki and his translator, Monsoor Shostari, conducted by Zalehah Turner, Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review on 28 August 2017.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

MAM RSRMohammad Ali Maleki is an Iranian poet and avid gardener living in detention on Manus Island whose poem, ‘Tears of Stone’ was shortlisted and received a special commendation for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016. Mohammad Ali Maleki was a featured writer in issue 20 of Rochford Street Review in 2016. His poem ‘The Strong Sunflower’ was originally published in Verity La’s Discoursing Diaspora project. His poems have since appeared in Bluepepper. ‘Silence Land’ was performed in his absence at the Queensland Poetry Festival 2017. Mohammad Ali Maleki’s poems are translated from Farsi by Mansoor Shoushtari and edited by Michele Seminara and Melita Luck.

 

Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based critic, writer and poet currently undertaking Honours in Communications (Creative Writing) at the University of Technology, Sydney. Zalehah is an Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications majoring in writing and cultural studies.

“A glowing, truthful collection to read and re-read”: Barbara Boyd-Anderson shares her thoughts on ‘Open & Unfold’ by Cecilia Morris

cecilia morris book coverWhat a pleasure to travel with Cecilia in this newly released collection, Open & Unfold. Here we share her gift of language, the singing depths of complex thoughts explored, sculpted and shaped into clear-voiced, accessible poems, all documents of a singular, personal, Australian life.

The poems show courage as they reveal some harrowing early testings – a young woman vulnerable, at risk as in ‘Don’t go Home’, but equally they travel across rich observations of a full life to a time of deeply felt, sturdy understanding in maturity and age, with lines and codas that imprint, like these in ‘Travel’:

The wisdom of knowing where
something begins how it will end

Face to face with what I leave behind,
face to face with what is taken with me.

However, there is also the pure joy of certain poems like ‘Colette’…those fabulous last lines building towards her death, the last moments of final transcendence: ‘look, look’.

A glowing, truthful collection to read and re-read, to share among your women friends and with all the people you love.

-Barbara Boyd-Anderson

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Barbara Boyd-Anderson is a poet with a long and varied career whose poems have been published both online and overseas. She was the winner of the Best Poem in the Brighton Bayside Poetry Award in 2011. A former teacher of literature, Barbara pioneered Media Education within the secondary curriculum of Victoria, which was also utilised at university levels. In addition, she wrote film reviews for the then prestigious Cinema Papers. Subsequently, she turned to writing and directing documentary films. Barbara also co-wrote and directed the Australian feature film, The Still Point (1985). Now retired, she continues a passionate interest in poetry and a more recent hobby of photographing the beautiful beaches of the southern Gold Coast in Queensland.

Les Wicks launches Open & Unfold by Cecilia Morris.

A selection of poetry from Open & Unfold by Cecilia Morris

Open & Unfold is available from Belgrove Press: contact salescm@belgrovepress.com

Succinct and poignant with “a clear eye on the future”: Anna Forsyth reviews ‘We the Mapless’ by Ian McBryde

We the Mapless: new and selected poems by Ian McBryde (Bareknuckle Books, 2017)

We-the-Mapless-Ian-Mcbryde-1-657x1024In the long-awaited collection from Melbourne poet, Ian McBryde, We the Mapless we are treated to a retrospective of his work, spanning over twenty years. Organised into sections showcasing poems from six of his collections, unlike the people of the title, we have a map to trace the poet’s trajectory chronologically from 1994 to the present, with the addition of an entire section of new work.

Something that may have gone un-noticed to readers of his other collections is the recurring motif of titles, particularly, ‘Reports from the Palace’ that also acts as the end piece for the book. It is as if McBryde has released them episodically over all these years and only now are we treated to the full narrative they create. The palace is a hospital or institution, where the narrator must hide photos of his loved ones in his clothing. The well-guarded drugs are echoed in the poem, ‘Coming off Morphine’ in the final section. The mapless ones of the title are referenced in the final episode.

McBryde has a forensic eye and because of the timespan covered here, his fascinations and fixations are brought to light. Particularly notable are the vignettes of broken men enacting violent fantasies. There is a hyper-masculinity to the work. McBryde is not one to indulge in sentimentality or flowery, romantic language. In his poem, ‘Moon’, he is at his most poetically transgressive, calling this often-praised heavenly body, ‘predatory…venomous…a brittle light…’ with ‘no vestige of salvation’.

As we delve deeper into the work, we find love poems peppered amongst the rubble of war, murder and general mayhem. The tenderness of these poems is almost palpable and at times, as raw as a nerve. His odes to Melbourne hum with an obvious adoration for the city. In ‘Melbourne 4 a.m.’, he compares the city to a woman in repose, ‘…draped around the bay’. It describes a town comfortable in its allure and comforting in its shape and form. McBryde shows his skill here, weaving through vignettes of Melbourne’s inhabitants in each suburb going about their sleepy business.

In ‘Satellite’, we have a portrayal of desire and unrequited love, bordering on predation, where the suitor is aware of the unspoken feelings of the love object:

Below, on your surface,
nothing alters,
but with each pass

you stir in your core,
aware of me out there,
orbiting, orbiting.

His poems are always succinct with signature short lines and stanzas leaving us wanting more. We are treated to a poignancy; the works are potent. His is simultaneously a poet, journalist, documentarian, and novelist. His love of the narrative form shines through clearly, despite occasional attempts at obfuscation. The poems from slivers are of course, a collection of one-line poems.

The two concrete poems seem slightly out of place. It is common for poets to include concrete poems to add interest, many of which don’t reveal more than the words could tell us. However, the poem ‘Dresden’ works in this format. Through its shape, the reader experiences the claustrophobia of a war trench, a bombed out hollow, or a bunker.

It is obvious after reading the collection that McBryde has always been a muscular and exacting poet. If there is any faltering, it is in the typos and hum drum cover that don’t quite do the work justice. Often with a retrospective, the reader can observe the growth and development of a poet. Here, it is as if McBryde never had to stumble before he could walk. He is strident, with a clear eye on the future; map or no map.

– Anna Forsyth

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Anna Forsyth is a writer and freelance editor, originally from New Zealand, now living in Melbourne. Her poems have appeared in FourW, Landfall and other journals. She is the convener of the monthly female driven poetry event and refugee fundraiser, Girls on Key.

We the Mapless: new and selected poems is available from Bareknuckle Books

Amanda Anastasi launches We the Mapless by Ian McBryde

 

“humour, pain, judgement, and celebration”: a selection of poetry from ‘Open & Unfold’ by Cecilia Morris

Don’t Go Home

The practice of giving patients the psychedelic drug, LSD, was used in Newhaven Hospital in the 1960s and 1970s

At Newhaven hospital Kew,
I curl up deep in the bed.
A neat little psychiatrist, pebble glasses,
grey striped suit, sinks a needle in my arm.
The scent of ammonia and sheets cold as stone.
I hear only his soft voice bedside, questioning.

He interprets my hallucination of
my father hiding behind tree trunks.
Laid out eulogies.
Mouthfuls of dark memory, beat
like bogan moths around my head.

Elwood park, scuffed dust of the playground,
touch of cold metal, my hands on the swing chain
pushing and catching unable to stop.

My mother on a broomstick,
swoops low, beating air too close.

I should have gone mad,
but continued treatment as his gold-plated tongue
demanded more telling.
Six weeks, six overnighters.

He said, at five your father knew you too well.
That’s not how I remembered my father.
I stopped treatment.

Little by little school lunches were made again.
My two children played on bikes.
The husband continued his external life.

 

Wharf 3 Moama

This is where we learn stop.
The houseboat moves alongside
red river gums as old as the taste of olives.
Beside strands of limbs, an interwoven
past written in Braille.

The river is a caretaker of openness.
Travellers converse.

Night sky is pitched against brilliance,
no movement inside the river’s arms.

Three painters wash colours
gold and brown, elbows of river.
White backed swallows weave alongside.

From the stern of the houseboat,
hold a long silver slotted spoon
scoop mottled gums lit by Venus
turn your eyes upwards, a feast.

Breathe into exhalations of the Murray River.
The temperature is 40 degrees.
We lie on dampened white sheets listening.
An occasional fish a sharp splash.
The air smells of baked earth.

 

We’re in a rain shadow

you’ll spot the roundabout by the scribbly gum tree
turn to your right
along an almost invisible path
just after the boom gates
then turn sharp left
beyond an overhanging fig tree
leaves as large as a human hand

keep clear headed walk tall past
a lemon tree heavy with globes of light
increase your pace to strides
curse the road you have to cross
from asphalt to coarse yellow grains

be wary of jellyfish between the lisps of wave
a kite flies overhead in this soft mouthed bay

a shaft of magnolia moonlit across the skin of dark water
feel the closeness to miraculous
so strong that you will bend at the knees

 

Beachworth Abandoned Hospital

As I stand here
I feel my way back
to a hand in the door
of my mind
where a white lily beckons.
I taste childhood like sweet sharp
crushed mint,
hear my father’s sound long drawn out.

The little town below breathes,
the murmur of turned down beds,
church bells clamour for attention.

There are some things we don’t talk about ever.

I belong in the opening archway
of this abandoned building,
nobody knows I am here,
and no one will know when I’m gone.

 

– Cecilia Morris

 ____________________________________________________________________________________________

Launch CM

Cecilia Morris. photograph by Lexi Johnston

Cecilia Morris is a Melbourne poet whose work has appeared in Quadrant, The Age, Reflections on Melbourne, Poetry d’Amour, Suburban Review and Australian Poetry Collaboration. Her third collection of poetry, Open & Unfold, was published by Belgrove Press this year. She has also co-authored three books on relationships, lectured in sociology at Monash University, and hosted a talkback radio show on 3AW.

Les Wicks launches Open & Unfold by Cecilia Morris.
Barbara Boyd-Anderson shares her thoughts on Open & Unfold
Open & Unfold
is available from Belgrove Press: contact salescm@belgrovepress.com

 

“sparse versification and delicately restrained language”: Stephanie Dunk reviews ‘Painting Red Orchids’ by Eileen Chong

Painting Red Orchids by Eileen Chong, (Pitt Street Poetry, 2016).

painting red orchidsEileen Chong’s third collection of poetry, Painting Red Orchids, contains fifty poems. The sparse versification and delicately restrained language rewards readers with at least as many jewels of insight. As the title suggests, this collection continues the poet’s concern with her heritage and family relations, but this experience is now filtered through a meditation on the act of creating.

The ancestors throughout the collection function as spiritual guides. In ‘Spirit’, moths are ‘left alone lest they were/ manifestations’ of the grandfather’s soul. Family is a cosmos, with ‘brother and sister, circling like moons’ in ‘Child’. A number of the poems consider dislocation from ancestors. One of the more enigmatic in the collection, ‘Weight’, is addressed to the persona’s ancestors and describes the burden of history, and the efforts of successive generations to lay the burden down, in whatever new place they find themselves. For the fathers and mothers, this involves body-twisting labour, ‘bent your back. You curved your hands’; the persona need only twist her fingers. The success of this labour is ambiguous, despite the initial declaration that the burden has been laid down, by the end, the ‘knot of knowing’ escapes like a ‘phoenix’s/ tail’. In the early poems, through the rebirth of family with each new generation, historical burdens seem inescapable.

The spiritual role of ancestors persists even in the failing of the flesh. ‘Revisit’ tenderly presents an afternoon with a grandmother. The first line, ‘My grandmother has not yet forgotten me’ sets a scene of quiet ageing. The poem observes the grandmother’s inability to make tea, and her unequal contribution to the conversation (‘she seems to agree’) with compassion, but more, it paints her as a seer, ‘She sees who I am, and who I am yet to be’. A mystic understanding is imputed to her, and the persona continues to interact with her wisdom. In a generous engagement with decline, the individuality of the first stanza is transformed into a collective identity, ‘She sees who we are, and who we are yet to be’. Even amidst the weakening, and the inevitable forgetting, grandmother and granddaughter are joined.

Ancestry, considered more broadly as culture, also finds its place. The titular poem of the collection, which was longlisted for the University of Canberra’s Vice-Chancellor’s Prize 2014, is a detailed study of Qing Dynasty painter Huang Shen at work. The first three stanzas catalogue the materials needed for the painting: brushes and inkstone, and the slow process of preparation. The fourth and final stanzas deftly portray the climactic moment of creation: ‘One stroke, one breath: leaves give way to blossom.’. This is the only poem in the collection where the poet assumes an obviously male persona, and one of the few that is set entirely in an imagined past. The artist in this poem is an idealised figure who is uncomplicatedly in the right place and time. Their family life and home is subservient to his craft. His wife has made ‘this paper with mulberry from our gardens’. He does not feel the burden of history. There is a menace over the poem in the form of a suicide, but even this is mined in service of the creative process. ‘The inkstone was my father’s: slate/ quarried from the lake where my great-grandfather/ drowned himself one spring night’ and contributes to the masterwork which is to come. The work of the artist in this poem is inevitable, external and traditional.

This artistic detachment is not mirrored in the more autobiographical poems. In ‘The Photograph in Australia’, (longlisted for the same prize in 2015) the mere viewing of art leads to a visceral experience; the persona must sit down and ‘try to breathe’. The plight of ancestors is also never treated so lightly, as in ‘Snow’, where in the middle of a seemingly innocuous recounting of a childhood experience of hot weather and cooling ice, a sudden break in time and place sees the persona giving a warning to her grandfather that can never be heeded: ‘You must never fall asleep/ in the snow. Your matches have run out,/ grandfather’. This tragedy is less well-defined than the suicide of the earlier poem and yet it interrupts and destroys, and the little girl of the poem cannot continue skipping in the heat, but instead falls, ‘I’ve bitten my tongue’.

Similarly, the artistic solitude of Huang Shen and his dedicated workplace are absent from the modern poems of the collection. In ‘Bee Music’, the persona is ‘reading poetry and drinking’, and in ‘Resonance’, she is ‘on the telephone/ with my lover – I have written a new poem and want/ to test its resonance’. The poems do not arise purely from internal artistic impulse but show Chong’s affective responses to sensory inputs, and the habits of her daily life. The epigraphs also demonstrate her engagement with a rich reading life. She situates herself epigraphically in a diverse array of artists including Singapore-born Australian poet Boey Kim Cheng, Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu, Irish poet Eavan Boland, and American poet Edna St Vincent Millay. She even takes a dream ‘Walk with Phil Levine’. That these poems are responsive to this wide cannon belies the simplicity of their structure and conceits, demonstrating an ability to catch the emotional truth in daily experiences and literature, and to relate the two.

Weaving throughout the collection are poems of loss, charting the end of relationships. On the surface, ‘Bloom’ purports to describe what can be seen on the street and in nearby houses from a favourite vantage point. By the final stanza, however, the persona has revealed that she knows too much about what is happening in the houses ‘just out of sight’ for it really to be about other people. It becomes, therefore, a daydream the length of a cigarette about the happiness of ‘last week’ in a relationship. In ‘Taboo’, the persona’s heart is withdrawn, in ‘Split Moon’ she ‘said the words and broke us’. The trajectory continues beyond the relationship. The list poem ‘Cooking for One’ contains a germ of acceptance, and ‘Fern’ presents a positive allegory of female companionship and slow unfurling growth.

With this growth comes a new love. Early dates are chronicled, and the new wonder of love (‘How did we find each other?’ in ‘Sun Ming Restaurant, Parramatta’) takes place amidst cultural and culinary exchange. They take each other to Chinese restaurants, and the persona teaches her lover to eat Little Dragon Dumplings. The growth of intimacy is deftly evoked in ‘Sunday Morning’ which wavers between the general and the specific and moves back and forth through a day to suggest a moment of inflection in the relationship, of moving towards greater commitment.

This love story, while a persistent theme, is sublimated to the tension between family and art. Towards the end of the collection, the spirits of the ancestors no longer hover explicitly, the first love has failed, the second love is young, and the persona has no offspring (looking at her arms in ‘Afternoons’ she thinks: ‘barren’). In the place of the ancestors and children, there arises a creative family. She takes a walk with a fellow poet, Lachlan Brown, and visits his family in ‘Murrumbidgee’ and ‘Family’. Lachlan presents a more carefree model of cultural engagement, he ‘has misspelled the name of a Chinese river/ in a poem’. He is also a foil for family life as the persona is welcomed into his bustling home for one evening – intimacy through commensality – but by the end she realises ‘it’s time to leave’.

This arc culminates in the final poem of the collection, ‘Last Night’, during which the persona, perhaps Chong herself, experiences a quietly hysterical epiphany at a poetry reading. Seated in the audience, she realises that ‘I might never see you again – / you or I might die before another meeting/ took place’. Universalising this theme, the persona then considers the future death of her poetry teacher and her poetry teacher’s husband, ‘And I wept’. It is telling that her morbid meditation takes her to this creative, rather than biological, mother and father. She clings to the hand of her lover and issues a benediction: ‘Bless all the ones we love, / the ones we once loved and will come to love, / even as we learn what it means to die and live again.’ This expansive blessing extends to the natural family, but is only possible while sitting in the ritualised trappings of the new self, situated within a creative family. Far from the contemplative, slow and individual art of Huang Shen, this is an artist situated in a modern creative community. Far from the interweaving of history and memory in the accounts of ancestry, this is an idealised, almost uncomplicated, love. The final poem reconciles the dissonance that has been ringing from the very first poem – the artist has found a place of belonging in her creative family.

– Stephanie Dunk

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Stephanie Dunk has studied literature and business strategy. She is a PhD candidate researching the discursive construction of ethical food.

Painting Red Orchids by Eileen Chong is available from Pitt Street Poetry

Painting Red Orchids launched by Anna Kerdijk Nicholson at Gleebooks, Saturday, 16 April 2016

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten co-launch Belgrove Press’s first title for 2017: Willem Tibben’s ‘suburban veneer’, address by Maureen Ten

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten launched Willem Tibben’s suburban veneer at the NSW Writers’ Centre on 22 April 2017

!Maureen Ten launching suburban veneer

Maureen Ten. photograph by Helen Lu

We are prompted to ask what lies beneath the veneer. In the first segment ‘the smell of cows’ it is habitations, movements, the states of being of myriad life-forms. Willem is engaged in attentive observation of each creature enacting its drama, its cabaret, its well-made play. He gives us unmistakable images of the situation, the gesture, the unfolding sequence of activity. His theme is the predicament; his task, reporting back accurately.

The galahs alighting from their blue-sky-cab, well-dressed for an evening’s entertainment, overtaken by another turn of events. The leech with its slow-urgent head, drinking slowly, deeply, drinking to excess, and then lolling off. The lobster bartered for beer money, sidling along the foot rail of the bar, lost and clueless, desperate to relocate, finding its way back to water (not the ocean but the cooking pot). The ibis of ancient sacred lineage, now regarded as dirty and noisy, confined to fossick in suburban parks. The platypus catching its breath. The microbats tiny flying mammal/ on fast forward/ chasing down their light

suburban veneer coverUnderneath Willem’s ‘suburban veneer’ is the boy who lived on a farm for many years and soon he ferries us out of the suburbs to the farmyards and pastures, into the world of cows. The cow loose in the pasture gorging on clover glowing fertilizer green, ballooning into a clover-gas blimp, saved from explosion by Willem’s dad driving a knife into her stomach to deflate her; the cow restless, in heat; the cow with a miscalculated due date; the drowned cow; the cow with an iron burned into her hide. In ‘she strolls to the stall’, he leans his ear against a cow’s side and hears her gurgling clonking milk-making depths as she chews under a yellowing fly-speckled bulb.

We journey further afield in the second segment ‘erode.’ Here there is curiosity and stamina to engage with national parks, land forms, Uluru, the geology and sociological gestalt of place, the accidents and incidents of history which form a town (such as Broome). With a poise of comment and irony relayed by the tension of juxtaposition, he points to the inadequacy of systems, and the failure of care beneath the veneer of society. The missing support and lack of social cohesion lead inevitably to the unravelling of vulnerable individuals.

In our recent city train travel back from rehearsal (for Auburn poetry group’s presentation of ‘Grandma’s Bed’ at Sydney Writers’ Festival), conversation with Willem covered how many cloves of garlic you need for a dish of silverside, two jazz saxophonists (octogenarian Wayne Shorter and Jan Garbarek) and Bashō. I mention this because perhaps it is not too far-fetched (or trivial) to suggest that spices, improvisation and haiku are helpful in a discussion of Willem’s modus operandi.

Apart from the prose poems, everything is in lower case. Type-spaces replace punctuation with the number of spaces (one, two or three) serving as a notation indicating the intended length of pauses. The spacing is not random but calculated. What appears improvised has a precise intention.

Willem’s love of haiku is evident in the use of an image which even when seemingly throwaway, lightly balances the experience like a spice activating (or settling) a series of flavours in the whole. In ‘yulara sunrise’ a groundman hoses and a sprinkler twinkles in a patch of tame desert. In ‘sick country’ a geiger counter chatters to itself. In ‘tawny frogmouths’ the poet is viewing the bird and the bird is in turn, he tells us, huge in my binoculars staring me down. In a knockout poem on artist Albert Namatjira:

.           there is a sign on the wall of the museum   warning
.           do not make pictures
.           of any kind

In the third segment ‘no direction home’ Willem writes about musicians (Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Fats Waller), men’s shed, his own stroke, a dream of his parents, his brothers, fibro and silvertails. In the poem ‘a hard day’s night’ he conveys the newness of intimacy and the excitement of a first date.

He captures a certain elusive quality about a person, a place or situation. How does he do this? Take, say, the second of two poems on Bob Dylan. He lists a number of things: what we see on the cover of the double DVD – feet, the car prop, a poster. This works as a sort of casual shorthand and you don’t notice that you’ve been shepherded in a certain direction. Then this is not the crossroads   nor yet bedevilment. He’s slipped in, among the apparently routine objects observed, a statement, an abstraction, perhaps even a judgement, and by the time he mentions the cast marks in the concrete apron and Dylan’s floating away, he’s nailed a sense of the enigma, of something astir within the publicity-contrived persona.

In the opening poem ‘lake cockrone’, he is remembering what happened twenty-eight years earlier at the beginning of a relationship with Pam to whom the poem is dedicated. It is going to be the most enduring relationship leading to a marriage of 33 years and counting. They are easy new and free   careful/ awake. It is past midnight and they are canoeing.

.           the boundary hills moved with us
.           black shapes on starry surfaces

The midnight memory is encapsulated in the stillness before sunrise of a day many years later. It is a quite remarkable synthesis of two stages (both harbouring a happiness or a measure of content while differing in maturity) of a relationship. If I may put it a tad grandly (using references from the poem): remembrance is anchored in the breathing of oceanic time present.

!CROPPED Willem Tibben reading at the launch of suburban veneer, NSW Writers' Centre, 22 April 2017 photograph by Helen Lu

Willem Tibben. photograph by Helen Lu

The fourth and last segment includes the poem which gives the book its title but it is the closing lines of ‘uluru’ in the second segment which indicate the nature of the engagement we find in suburban veneer.

.           begin again  each naming
.          
story  animal  plant  stone
.          
every-thing   in-place
.          
and underneath our feet
.          
a thousand ulurus

Not just at Uluru, but here too in our everyday, in the suburbs, a thousand reverberate.

-Maureen Ten

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Maureen Ten (Ten Ch’in Ü) directed plays and documentaries, and penned a newspaper column (‘Gandiiva’) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, before migrating to Australia in 1989. Maureen has convened poetry evenings, edited and independently published the anthology Mood Lightning and read at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. She has been published in SMH, Westerly, Imago and anthologies including Contemporary Asian Australian Poets. Maureen has a Master’s degree in English from the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK.

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten co-launched Willem Tibben’s suburban veneer at the NSW Writers’ Centre on 22 April 2017:
Danny Gardner’s audience address

Poems from suburban veneer

Willem Tibben: Biographical note

suburban veneer is available from Belgrove Press. contact: saleswt@belgrovepress.com

 

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten co-launch Belgrove Press’s first title for 2017: Willem Tibben’s ‘suburban veneer’, address by Danny Gardner

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten launched Willem Tibben’s suburban veneer at the NSW Writers’ Centre on 22 April 2017

!Danny Gardner launching Will Tibben's suburban veneer

Danny Gardner launching suburban veneer, NSW Writers’ Centre, Sydney, 22 April 2017. photograph by Helen Lu

I first became aware of Bill Tibben as a man who seemed to have an inside track on Willy Shakespeare’s private life. This was after I read his poem ‘did Bill Shakespeare have to wash the dishes?’ in the first Live Poets’ Society anthology: ‘Litmus Suite’ in 1991. It’s rumoured that Bill and Will were born on the same day, that is, date- April 21st.

Then one night I found myself going with my former partner Sue Hicks to a poetry reading in Parramatta of all places – that Bill and his friend Daryl Wayne Hall ran, called PIE – Poetry, Imagery and Expression. Reading at that meeting necessitated sending a poem for inclusion in the current PIE poetry book.

Meantime Bill had stopped being a regular at Live Poets Society in Neutral Bay but I had a feeling he would be back. He contributed some poems to the 2001 Tenth Anniversary anthology of LPS called ‘Becoming a Nomad’. Then he came to do a guest reading in 2005.

Much later in 2009, Bill, Maureen and myself decided we would perform as a poetry trio and called ourselves ‘Running Order’. Meantime I’d got to hear much more of Bill’s poetry and ended up performing one with Bill called ‘Showering on the Nullarbor’. It would take too long here to put the proper context on that intimate association.

I was by now particularly struck with the book ‘Showering’ came out of: Bill’s the fascination of what’s simple. I actually composed a poem trying to explain the Australian way of doing things that that book reflected on. Here are a few lines from that poem called ‘bill’s poems’.

The smells, the damp flesh / the sun-bleached art, the bones / the sheer expanse of our country / leaves us speechless; / mouthing gibberish and old rhymes as consolation. / There are only bits and pieces to see / until you pull away / like in the best abstracts – / and then there’s a quiet music playing, / just enough to make a pattern / we squirrel away / to form, roughen out, a code we can pass / on, avenue to our fellows.

By this stage too, Bill, Maureen and I had joined Auburn Poets & Writers Group and Bill started to call himself Willem because Bill sounded too Anglo and he wanted to reflect on his Dutch heritage. Bill and I shared many other things we discovered. Like a love of Charlie Parker and Tom Waits and a nice ale, and outback road trips – and having fathers who tried to make a go of farming. A poem about that last point is in this book and I’d like to read it. It’s called ‘Big Hill’ (p 29, suburban veneer).

Willem had become an indispensable help running ‘Live Poets @ Don Bank’ (yes, the Society had ‘morphed’) and we got up to some rare skits together as you do. Like a re-enactment of the Apollo Moon landing and being in a play about the Lapin Agile café in Montmartre, Paris in the early 1900s – where Willem played 2 famous cats: Guillaume Apollinaire and Aristide Bruant. We decided to make a video on Live Poets’ 20th Anniversary. We also did a rendition of Melbourne rock/ blues group Chain’s epic song: ‘Black and Blue’.

This last trait seems to have migrated across to APWG too – just a couple of weeks ago at rehearsal for our 2017 Sydney Writers Festival show – Will playing bass and me playing saxophone in dumbshow as part of a band behind Maureen’s performance piece: ‘Grandaddy Jazz’.

I’d just like to add finally, in relation particularly to proofing Mr Tibben’s work: ‘he’s a guy who makes a space for poetry in his life.’

!ENHANCED Launch Will Tibben signing copies of suburn veneer at the launch 22 April 2017 NSW Writers' Centre

Willem Tibben signing a copy of suburban veneer with Neil Sheridan, and June Zhao at the launch, NSW Writers’ Centre, Sydney, 22 April 2017. photograph by Helen Lu

-Danny Gardner

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Danny Gardner is a poet, novelist and freelance journalist. He has published several books of poetry. His most recent, Before I Press the Trigger, was published by Ginninderra Press in 2009. He has also published a book of non-fiction, Brains in My Feet – Encounters While Travelling, which was launched in 2014. He has been convening Live Poets @ Don Bank (North Sydney) since 2003. He first appeared with Auburn Poets & Writers Group at the Sydney Writers Festival 2008. He has been the group’s coordinator since 2014.

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten co-launched Willem Tibben’s suburban veneer at the NSW Writers’ Centre on 22 April 2017:
Maureen Ten’s audience address

Poems from suburban veneer

Willem Tibben: Biographical note

suburban veneer is available from Belgrove Press. contact: saleswt@belgrovepress.com