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.

Juan Garrido Salgado- biographical note

Juan's Launch 17

Juan Garrido Salgado. photo by Tania Garrido

Juan Garrido Salgado immigrated to Australia from Chile in 1990, fleeing the regime that burned his poetry and imprisoned and tortured him for his political activism. He has published five books of poetry, and his poems have been widely translated. He has also translated collections of poetry from John Kinsella, Mike Ladd, Judith Beveridge, Dorothy Porter and MTC Cronin into Spanish, including Cronin’s Talking to Neruda’s Questions (2004). He translated five Aboriginal poets for Espejo de Tierra/ Earth Mirror a poetry anthology edited by Peter Minter (2008). With Steve Brock and Sergio Holas, Juan Garrido Salgado translated poems from Spanish into English for Poetry of the Earth: Mapuche Trilingual Anthology (2014). His later book Dialogue with Samuel Lafferte in Australia (2016) was published by Blank Rune Press.

Juan Garrido Salgado: six poems with translations

Juan Garrido Salgado: six poems with translations

I Invite Jorge Luis Borges to My Birthday to Play Chess with Me

after ‘The Game of Chess’ by J. L. Borges


Sitting at the board pending movements,
two seats, one occupied. The other waits for my guest.
The clock is breathing space. I hear footsteps and a cane in the corridor.
The game starts. In silence he moves his pieces, blindness accurately corrected.

In mid-July, I’m on the border between Cancer and Leo in my 59th year.
My heart is like an infinite sea shore. The shadow is my own boat.
The waves are the wings of a condor, drunk and angry with the sky,
wetting my dreams with the wild sound of a wounded bird.

You move your pieces as if devouring your body on this night.
You, blind Borges, on the east side of my table,
murmuring Homer as you make your first move.
You are my guest in this poem of chess; you control the attack.

We remain at the board, moving between the candles and the drinks.

The white pieces are yours, I say,
I prefer black to represent decolonisation in the game.
Perhaps it is a metaphor.


The pieces are transformed into modern figures:
Google castle; Catullus, Lesbia’s knight;
queens Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton;
the kings of all the colonies; Syria’s pawn soldiers;
the oblique bishops,shameful sins.

Please, I tell Borges, fill our glasses and let’s toast the illusion of peace.

As you wrote, in the East, the war has taken fire,
but in the West, weapons of mass destruction have created an inferno,
their colliding forces of power murdering mother earth.
We, the players, are taking a long pause for peace on my birthday.
I say, thanks to you Viejo Borges, chess master.
Who replies, this game is forever.


Invito a Jorge Luis Borges a mi cumpleaños a jugar al ajedrez conmigo


Sentado al tablero pendiente de movimientos
Dos asientos, uno ocupado. El otro en espera del huésped.
El reloj respira espacio. Oigo pasos y un bastón en el pasillo.
Comienza el juego. En silencio mueve sus piezas, la ceguera corrige con precisión.

A mediados de julio, estoy en la frontera entre Cáncer y Leo en mi 59
Mi corazón es una orilla infinita. La sombra es mi propio barco.
Las olas alas de un Cóndor borracho y enojado con el cielo
Mojando sueños en un sonido salvaje del ave herida.

Él mueve su pieza como si la noche devorara su cuerpo.
Tú, Borges al lado de esta mesa
Murmurando a Homero bajo tus primeros movimientos.
Le digo de nuevo, usted es mi invitado en este poema. Usted controla el ataque.

Nosotros, jugadores todavía en el tablero.
Nos movemos entre candelabros y bebidas.

Las piezas blancas son suyas, le digo.
Prefiero las negras por la razón de descolonizar el juego
Quizás esto sea una metáfora


Las piezas se transforman en figuras modernidad:
castillo de Google. caballero Lesbia de Catulo.
Margaret Thatcher o Hillary Clinton reinas modernas.
Rey de todas las colonias de la comarca. Los peones son de la guerra en Siria.
Obispo oblicuo y silencioso vergüenza de sus propios pecados.

Por favor, le sugiero Borges, llenar los vasos para brindar por la ilusión de la paz.

Como dijo en esta línea; En el este, la guerra se ha disparado
Pero en Occidente, las armas de destrucción masiva han creado un infierno,
Con su alianza de fuerzas de poder, está muriendo la madre tierra.
En mi cumpleaños somos jugadores tomando una larga pausa por la paz.
Le digo, gracias a ti viejo Borges, maestro
Quién responde: este juego es para siempre


I Am Reading the Line, ‘we live in a third-floor flat’

after ‘The Sadness of Creatures’, by Peter Porter

I am reading the line, ‘we live in a third-floor flat’ by Peter Porter
and my eyes climb my mind like a little boy up an old tree.
I go back to 1990, at the Pennington Hostel
when, after three months, we moved to a third-floor flat
with just a handful of English words and an old dictionary.
All we owned were clothes, toys, a black and white TV, and lots of worries.
A third-floor flat that gave us a home without beds, blankets for sleeping on the floor
and our first second-hand pots, plates, spoons and forks for this party of crying.

A third-floor flat where I do not recall seeing a single smile when we went downstairs,
only shut curtains and closed doors, the inhabitants steeped in silence.

A third-floor flat where in summer we lived with the sun as our closest neighbour,
no chance to rest inside the room that was hot like an oven all day.

A third-floor flat where at night we sensed cats drinking milk on top of the warm roof,
talking to the stars which filled the unfamiliar solitude of our new home.


Estoy Leyendo esta Línea ‘vivimos en un tercer piso de un edificio’

Poema basado en esta línea de Peter Porter

Estoy leyendo esta línea ‘vivimos en un tercer piso de un edificio’, de Peter Porter
mis ojos suben a la mente como niño a un árbol viejo,
vuelvo a 1990, a ese Albergue de Pennington.
Cuando, después de tres meses, nos trasladamos a un tercer piso
Con sólo un puñado de palabras en inglés y un viejo diccionario;
el resto eran ropas, juguetes y una tv en blanco y negro;
todo lo demás una gran cantidad de preocupaciones.

Tercer piso que nos dio un hogar sin camas, mantas para dormir en el suelo
Las primeras ollas de segunda mano, platos, cucharas y tenedores
para nuestra primera fiesta del llanto.

Tercer piso, no recuerdo haber visto ni una sola sonrisa bajando escaleras,
cortinas y puertas cerradas, pasos habitando el silencio.

Tercer piso que en verano vivimos con el sol como el vecino más cercano,
sin tiempo para descansar, con el fuego como un horno abierto todo el día.

Tercer piso, por la noche nos sentimos gatos que beben la leche sobre el techo hirviendo,
conversación con estrellas que llenan la soledad en este nuevo hogar.


As a Child on Nauru

“As a Child on Nauru I was NR03-283, but my name is Mohammad Ali Baqiri.”
As a child I had to pronounce those letters and numbers,
it was a cruel game that hurt my dreams.
In the midst of so much injustice
a guard howled from this torment of dust:
You, NR03-283. The guard said that to a child!
Now I am twenty-four, I ask, “Please bring back our stolen humanity.
I’ve experienced detention and its effects first hand
in ways I can’t yet explain.
I saw detention push the adults around me to the brink of hopelessness.
I witnessed self-harm and suicide attempts.
No one should have to go through that.”
“I was NR03-283, but my name is Mohammah Ali Baqiri.”
As a child my home was walls without windows to see the moon
or count the stars; even my dreams weren’t free.
My town was fences without gardens or birds
or animals to call my friends or play.
As a child the school where I went to learn English
was a room full of shadowy body-guards —
But they weren’t interested in talking to me,
even they were grudging teachers.
Still, I learnt enough to say —
“As a Child on Nauru I was NR03-283, but my name is Mohammad Ali Baqiri.”

* All quotes come from an article entitled ‘As a Child on Nauru I was NR03-283, but my name is Mohammad Ali Baqiri’, written by Mohammad Ali Baqiri and published in The Guardian on Tuesday 15 March 2016


Como un Niño en el Centro de Detención de Nauru

“Como Niño en Nauru yo era solo un código NR03-283,
.                                               pero mi nombre es Mohammad Ali Baqiri.”
De niño tuve que pronunciar esas letras y números,
Fue un juego cruel que hirió mis sueños.
En medio de tanta injusticia
Un guardia aulló desde este tormento de polvo:
Oye tú, NR03-283. ¡El guardia le dijo al niño!
Ahora tengo veinticuatro años y pregunto:
.                                  “Por favor trae de vuelta a nuestra humanidad robada.
He experimentado la detención y sus efectos de primera mano
De maneras que todavía no puedo explicarla.
Vi que la detención empujaba a los adultos al borde de la desesperanza.
Fui testigo autolesiones e intentos de suicidio.
Nadie debería tener que pasar por esto. ”

“Yo fui ese código NR03-283, pero mi nombre es Mohammah Ali Baqiri.”
Cuando niño, mi hogar era paredes sin ventanas para ver la luna
O contar las estrellas; Incluso mis sueños no eran libres.
Mi ciudad se hizo de cercas sin jardines ni pájaros
Ni animales para llamar a mis amigos o jugar.

Cuando niño, la escuela donde aprendí inglés
Fue una habitación llena de sombríos guardias –
Pero no estaban interesados en hablar conmigo,
Incluso ellos fueron maestros a regañadientes.
Sin embargo, he aprendido lo suficiente para decir –
“Como Niño en Nauru yo fui este código NR03-283,
.                                 Aunque  mi nombre es Mohammad Ali Baqiri.”

* Todas las citas provienen de un artículo titulado ‘Como un Niño en Nauru yo era NR03-283, pero mi nombre es Mohammad Ali Baqiri’, escrito por Mohammad Ali Baqiri y publicado en The Guardian el martes 15 de marzo de 2016, Australia.


I’m a Citizen of the Earth

I’m not an ethnic…I was born on Mapudungun land in 1957

I’ m not a refugee…my suitcases were full of memories, tears and lost kisses

I’ m a political prisoner from Pinochet’s regime…but my cell was a dark and painful space

I don’t have a permanent visa to enter Australia

I’m only a fucking citizen

On this battered land

Pronouncing broken verses

Howling the hope that still grows like scorched seed

In the forest burned by the silence of water

Arrived to this shore long ago


Soy Ciudadano de la Tierra

no soy étnico ……. Nací en la tierra de Mapudungun, 1957

no soy un refugiado … mis maletas de la memoria se llenaron de lágrimas

y de besos perdidos

soy a un prisionero político del régimen de Pinochet …

pero mi celda fue espacio oscuro y doloroso

no tengo más visa permanente Australia

soy sólo uno más de estos culiao ciudadano

en esta tierra maltrecha

caminando con versos mal pronunciados

aullando a esa esperanza que sigue creciendo como semilla chamuscada

en el bosque quemado por el silencio del agua

que arribó por mucho tiempo en esta orilla.


How to Believe in Death?

To Gaddafi and his Green Revolution

How to believe in the unbelievable death
That occurs when greed plans war?
It is a cruel distribution of profit and power,
a murderous financial system’s insanity.
NATO & the USA have destroyed homes
With their occupying army of death.
NATO & the USA have made tears run in rivers of agony.
NATO & the USA’s eyes were only open to the prizes of the desert…

How to believe in this unbelievable death?
Walls fall onto the plates of Palestinian children,
They are fed the tears and the bones of the dead.
How to believe in this death
When hatred is a legalised document
Of the United Nations General Assembly?
How to believe in this death
When power conjures dictatorships and disappearances?
When power plans massacres and exile?
When power orchestrates famine and looting?

How to believe in this unbelievable death
When I remember a time I lived happily in my country?
I was a citizen of the streets and a student of hope!
How to believe in this death
When Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize
Living in his paradise of shit where death is celebrated?
How to believe in this death
When Gaddafi’s land was savagely invaded
As the Promised Land for the West?

How to believe in this unbelievable death
When you will not admit that what you really want is our copper,
Our oil, our salt, our rivers, our lands and our mountains?
Do you want our hearts, our bodies and our minds too?

How to believe in this unbelievable life
When you want us as slaves in your ‘free world’?

How to believe in this unbelievable death
When the revolution is pregnant
With Guevara’s spirit on earth
And with Indigenous ancestors’ dreams, carajo!!!


¿Cómo creerle a la muerte?

A Gaddafi y su revolución verde

Si el odio es una guerra planificada
Repartos de ganancias y poder.
Nada más que ganancias en crisis.
Pero la muerte de la ocupación
Tiene nombre de mi patria
Tiene hogares destruidos
Tiene llanto de ríos mudos del dolor,
Tiene ojos abiertos al olor del desierto.
Muros caídos en los platos de niños palestinos
Cuchareando lágrimas y huesos de tantos muertos

¿Cómo creerle a la muerte?
Si el odio es un documento legalizado
En la Asamblea General de naciones unidas
¿Cómo creerle a la muerte?
Si el poder fabrica dictadores y desaparecidos.
Planifica masacres y exilio
Planifica hambrunas y saqueos.

¿Cómo creerle a la muerte?
Si hubo un tiempo que viví en mi país feliz,
Fui ciudadano de calles y estudiante de la esperanza.
¿Cómo creerle a la muerte?
Si, Henry Kissinger tiene el premio Nobel de la Paz,
fue él quien sentencio a Salvador Allende.

¿Cómo creerle a la muerte?
Si, Barack Obama tiene el premio Nobel de la Paz.
En su paraíso hecho mierda,
Pero invade Libia y expulsa a Gaddafi
De la tierra prometida para el West.

¿Cómo creerle a la muerte?
Si no nos dicen que quieren nuestro Cobre.
Que quieren nuestro Petróleo
Nuestra Sal y nuestros ríos
Que quieren nuestro suelo y nuestras montañas
Que quieren nuestro corazón, cuerpos y mente.

¿Cómo creerle a la vida?
Si nos quieren esclavos en su mundo libre.
¿Cómo creerle a la muerte?
Si la revolución está preñada de verde, indígena y guevarista, Carajo!!!


Have we no voice, no tune?

after An Elegy upon the Death of the Dean of Paul’s, Dr. John Donne’, by Thomas Carew


Your voice fades with the footsteps of death

Eyes glaze beneath syllables of agony

Dry blood falls on uttered words

Music regrets bearing witness

To the speeches that brick Trump’s wall

Beyond meaning

Have we no voice left, no melody?

The poet battles

on the pages of these blank days


¿Ya no tenemos voz, ni melodía?

Poema inspirado  en la ‘Elegy upon of the Dean of Paul’s, Dr John Donne’ de Thomas Carew


la voz se apaga en los pasos de la muerte

la mirada tiene sílabas de la agonía

la sangre seca cae en la palabra  pronunciada

melodía se lamenta de ser testigo

del discurso que amuralla aquel muro de Trump

más allá de su sentido

¿ya no tenemos voz, ni melodía?

el poeta se compromete

en la página de estos días vacíos.

-Juan Garrido Salgado


Juan Garrido Salgado immigrated to Australia from Chile in 1990, fleeing the regime that burned his poetry and imprisoned and tortured him for his political activism. He has published five books of poetry, and his poems have been widely translated. He has also translated collections of poetry from John Kinsella, Mike Ladd, Judith Beveridge, Dorothy Porter and MTC Cronin into Spanish, including Cronin’s Talking to Neruda’s Questions (2004). He translated five Aboriginal poets for Espejo de Tierra/ Earth Mirror a poetry anthology edited by Peter Minter (2008). With Steve Brock and Sergio Holas, Juan Garrido Salgado translated poems from Spanish into English for Poetry of the Earth: Mapuche Trilingual Anthology (2014). His later book Dialogue with Samuel Lafferte in Australia (2016) was published by Blank Rune Press.

ISSUE 21. January – March 2017


Luciano Prisco Terra, earth, osso, bone. acrylic on five panels.


Teasing Threads

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Empathy for a convict conflicts with the harsh reality of stolen land: James Dunk reviews ‘Cotter: A Novel’ by Richard Begbie

Cotter: A Novel by Richard Begbie (Longhead Press, 2016).

cotterWhile the ‘convict stain’ has become a tired cliché in Australian history writing, it is a more interesting facet of Australian fiction. The fact that many of the early British colonists were criminals transported here against their will complicates the common colonial narratives and generalisations, as Kate Grenville showed in her immensely popular The Secret River (2005). Through Australian historical fiction, readers have become introduced the ‘good convict’ drawn into terrible acts of violence partly, because of the injustices of penal transportation.

The protagonist of Richard Begbie’s third book, Cotter: A Novel, is a young Irish convict, sentenced to hang for the tantalising crime of Whiteboyism. The Whiteboys were members of a secret agrarian society who fought for fair rent and smallhold subsistence farming in the eighteenth century. Dressed in white smocks, they conducted violent, marvellously theatrical actions against the landlords and tithe collectors.

The novel follows one of forty Whiteboys sentenced to death in a Special Commission to deal with the menace in 1822: the young, aggrieved Garrett Cotter. It deals sympathetically with his plight, and follows him closely through a failed action, capture, and a Kafkaesque mass trial. Begbie quotes Edmund Burke on the function of English law in Ireland: a machine ‘as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment, and degradation of a people … as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.’ (p.13) Having prepared himself for execution, Cotter finds that his sentence has been commuted to transportation for life. Despite this clemency, Cotter feels crushed by the inestimable weight of English sovereignty, and this sense forms the backdrop for the colonial narrative which follows. As with the hundreds of thousands of men and women sent out in punishment from Europe to the Americas, Africa, Australia, and elsewhere, Cotter is disconcerted by the idea of transportation. The future is unknown to him.

Whiteboys were called ‘levellers’ by the landholders they fought, but this novel represents a later work of levelling. Convictism stains our colonial literature with the idea that Europeans in Australia were more sinned against than sinners. A novel that begins with a cold English trial and a sentence of transportation is set upon a trajectory to absolution. The narrative of Cotter withholds this, but in a deeper sense, the novel grants what justice, religion and conscience cannot.

Criminal justice had already sent Cotter into exile, and for him has no further moral claims. His Catholicism has little more purchase, offering only occasional consolation, and the memory of simpler times. When the roving, outcast priest Joseph Therry arrives at Lake George to hear Cotter’s confession, it is not any of the metropolitan sins that trouble him, but his betrayal of the Aboriginal man Onyong, by leading white men to his country. ‘‘Tis a terrible problem we have made for the Aborigines,’ Therry sighs, ‘and for ourselves as well.’ (p. 181) Cotter, perhaps sensing a certain hollowness, accepts the sacrament weakly, distracted by a more pressing moral drama than the one it invokes.

Cotter’s colonial story had begun as a genial one. Fortunate to be assigned to a fair master, he becomes adept at handling cattle, and earns the respect of his superiors. He begins the slow path to material success but English law still casts its pall over him. In New South Wales, the law was idiosyncratic and open to abuse, since it relied on untrained magistrates selected from a small pool of upstanding, heavily vested men. When Cotter is wrongly accused of stealing a horse by a vindictive neighbouring landholder, he is run through the vagaries of this law and eventually banished for four years beyond the limits of settlement. It was an unusual sentence; authorities were wary of the lawless interior and eager to prevent convict mobility and association. Cotter retires to country on the Murrumbidgee to which he has already been led by Onyong, a gift in a time of punishing drought. It is rich country, the cultivated hunting grounds of Onyong’s people, and will eventually be taken up by others in Cotter’s wake. However, Cotter has already led his master, Frank Kenny, to land near Lake George, also shown to him by Onyong. Kenny claimed the land as his own. Cotter is aware that it was a theft which he enabled.

Where others are half-conscious, or entirely oblivious, Cotter is aware of the collateral damage of this expansion because of the familiarity which has grown between Onyong and himself. The Irishman quickly comes to respect, even fear the Indigenous man, who is written compellingly as a person of grace and strength whom his people and colonists alike find impressive. Onyong even has a breastplate describing him as a king. Their cautious relationship is at the heart of the novel, which, despite the faint notes of impending catastrophe, lingers over this intimacy. The description on the dust jacket claims their connection reflects, ‘a haunting moment in Australia’s story, when white humility and aboriginal knowledge might have combined to produce a kinder stewardship’. The prologue suggests not only that the novel is set ‘between an echo of Ireland to the one side and the song of a people old as time on the other’ (p. 10), but that it has a program.

Cotter’s historicism is integral to this program. Like stories of other ordinary men and women, it is woven together from a sparse infrastructure of records. Some of its chapters begin with quotes from these newspapers, diaries and government orders. A rudimentary chronology runs throughout, with the year printed intermittently in large, bold type, so that it is not simply a novel set in the past, as in any other foreign land. It rather clothes itself in chronological and historical detail. Why then does its subtitle announce, quite gratuitously, that this is A Novel? With its frequent dialogue and access to Cotter’s inner self, it is unlikely to be confused with history. Does the title then seek grace, or permission? Does Begbie embed this narrative so definitively, borrowing authority from the historical sources interleaved between its chapters, so as to present an alternative colonial history?

Here, in the slow bleeding out of settler colonialism, such a project is problematic. In the late twentieth century, theories of criminal justice were rocked by provocations which studied the law’s actual function, asking whom it served. The cynical view of English criminal law in Cotter is in part a product of this critique. Law, as the Whiteboys discovered, served the propertied classes. However, we should also ask what work this novel does, and for whom.

Cotter takes a convict as its protagonist and goes to great lengths to establish a basic injustice in the way he has been treated by English law, so that in some degree the injustice against convicts is equated with injustice against Aboriginal peoples. All Cotter’s interactions with Aboriginal men and women are coloured by this inequity, which helps him sympathise with their plight. It also, however, helps produce a settler colonial palliative.

When Cotter is forced from land he has taken as his own, Begbie has his protagonist compare his loss at the hands of a free landholder with colonial dispossession: ‘It was as simple for Murray to take over country he had come to feel as part of him as it had been for himself to presume upon the blacks.’ (p. 294) This comparison is, if not disingenuous, egregious. While Burke’s relentless machine, English law, crushed Cotter almost to death, it was by no means the most perverse product of British imperial ingenuity. This was, rather, the racialised discourse which savaged the culture and dignity of peoples precisely as it pronounced them savages. This savagery, dressed as civility, was so effective that even intelligent men like Aubrey Murray could hold Aboriginal people culpable under his own, intruding law. ‘The plain fact,’ he pronounces, ‘is the average blackfellow won’t stick at anything … We must be kind and generous to them, but we also must acknowledge their limitations.’ (p. 294) The large landholding Murray, of course, had more to lose than Garrett Cotter in seeing colonialism for what it was.

The fact that the injustice to convicts and Indigenous peoples is not comparable is clear from the function of the law. For all the injustice of transportation, convicts were enabled to make new lives, and many did. The same law indicted Aboriginal men and women for trespasses it could not possibly countenance, and bequeathed a perverse superiority on convicts and free alike as they took up land. Cotter knows this, and even welcomes it, since his success rode on the loss of these others. ‘He searched his heart, to discover that he shared something of the fatalism of both Murray and Onyong. It had been there all along. Even as he grieved for the man and his people, he was looking to a future for himself that included a pardon, a family, a remembered history.’ (p. 337).

For all Cotter’s knowing, he still stumbles into calling the country ‘his’, and for all his powerlessness, he still comes out with Onyong’s land. One of the pleasing results of writing the novel for Begbie, is that he has brought together descendants of Cotter and Onyong, who was an elder of the Ngambri nation. However, when the three met and were photographed together, it was on land that has belonged to the Cotter family since the events described in the novel, and the name Cotter is written across the land west of Canberra.

There is no doubt that the author feels remorse about the history of this country. He writes this into Cotter’s reflections, so that the novel, in turn, elicits remorse. Yet, this remorse is constructed from the sense of the inevitable which oppresses the pages. While Cotter takes opportunities to show his gratitude, and respect, white men and their cattle, fleeing drought, press further and further into the country. The depression that engulfs Cotter for a stretch is not that of the country, or its people, but of being at the mercy of climate, law, and history. Amends for Cotter’s betrayal would never be made.

The novel picks up pace in its final chapters: while the suffering of Onyong and his people escalate to the point of collapse, Cotter is on the up. Friends, family, and pastoral success promise to establish him in society, and to undo his intimacy with Onyong, his family, and his world, though retaining their knowledge of country. Onyong’s world disintegrates, and Cotter comes upon the vivacious young woman who had been betrothed to him, now begging for a drink outside a pub. Although she has aged terribly, they recognise each other, and he sees in her what his people have done. For they are all his people. ‘Cotter struggled for something to say, and found nothing’ (p. 352). Instead, he presses a sixpence into her hand, which brings this imagined history crashing indelicately into the bankrupt race relations of the present.

The novel’s trajectory suggests that guilt lies with the drought-prone climate, or cultural failures, or alcohol, or worse still, the idea that bad colonists were to blame for violence and dispossession – an extension of the invidious ‘bad convict’ trope. More profoundly, Cotter looks to impersonal structures, and the inarticulate tide of history, for cause. Whatever goodwill, or guilt, that may have surfaced in the colonists was overwhelmed by the advancing front of western law, agriculture, and economics; by the entire, self-perpetuating system of western ‘civilisation’. This is compelling, but insufficient, since it offers a quiet absolution. Rather, those responsible for the crimes of colonisation were landholders like Aubrey Murray and Frank Kenny, and men and women like Ann Russell and Garrett Cotter. The threshold of the dispossession of this country was a supreme and unforgivable denigration of Aboriginal law, knowledge, and culture, and of men, women and children, for personal and imperial gain. ‘At some points the novel enters contested areas,’ writes Begbie in his notes, but in fact it never strays from them.

-James Dunk


James Dunk is a historian and writer living in Sydney’s Inner West. He holds a PhD from the University of Sydney.

Cotter by Richard Begbie on ABC Books Plus

New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016 winner: ‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’ by Stuart Cooke





stuart-cooke-picStuart Cooke lives on the Gold Coast, where he lectures in creative writing and literary studies at Griffith University. He has published collections of poetry, criticism and translation. His latest book, Opera was published by Five Islands Press in 2016. Stuart Cooke is the winner of the 2016 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize.

‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’: Zalehah Turner interviews Stuart Cooke




A fascination with sound, individual words and language: Paul Scully talks about his latest book, ‘Suture Lines’

“To me, the best poetry engages the mind, the emotions and the senses, and words are what we have to work with, so I try to steep myself in them.”- Paul Scully

Suture Lines by Paul Scully (Guillotine Press, 2016).

suture-linesHow did your new collection, Suture Lines, come about?

Paul Scully: In many ways, Suture Lines (SL) grew out of my Master’s degree at Sydney University. Many of the poems first found life there. The time and the shaping and filtering that aims at a viable collection have also played a part, but I hope it has attained an independent existence.
Putting a collection together is a strange process. You bring the pieces together, assemble them into theme or relationship groupings, prune sections or omit poems that are below the standard of the rest or that don’t fit well with the bulk of the collection, read and reread, and try to be your own critic.
I had one established poet look at my first collection, An Existential Grammar (EG), and two poets look at SL, at different stages. For Suture Lines, feedback at the earlier stage focused me on pruning more aggressively with a view to making my voice more distinctive. At the later stage, it concentrated my attentions, on reorganising and reducing the number of sections and aiming at a punchier and more concentrated presentation. I really appreciate the time and effort all three poets spent on me.
Then there is trying to find a publisher if you are not a poet with a well-established publishing relationship, particularly if you go out seeking when the Government announces radical changes to arts sector funding. This seemed to mean that lists were being restricted until some funding surety was received, although that may have been a polite way of communicating lack of interest.
An Existential Grammar was published by Walleah Press, so was naturally my first port of call. Ralph Wessman there advised me that he wasn’t necessarily going to continue publishing and was restricting new work at that time. I’ve since read that he doesn’t often publish multiple works by the same author. I don’t know what Walleah’s current state of play is. So I had to look elsewhere.
Guillotine Press is quite a new publishing firm and I approached them at a time when they were looking for poetry in particular. Mark Rafidi has been very enthusiastic about my work and supportive. One of my friends has a volume coming out with him later this year and Mark wants to grow the enterprise.

How does Suture Lines differ from An Existential Grammar?

P.S.: There are more themed poem sequences (five versus one) and, at this stage of my writing, I think I have a greater fascination with sound, individual words and language per se. To me the best poetry engages the mind, the emotions and the senses, and words are what we have to work with, so I try to steep myself in them. Caitlin Maling’s blurb describes this as being “in thrall with language” and (very generously) in the nature of “birdsong”. To this extent Suture Lines is a somewhat more integrated read, I think.
On that score, David Musgrave made an interesting observation in his blurb that the collection deals with the “many forms and dimensions of love”. While I was certainly aware that love featured strongly in certain poems, I hadn’t intuited it as a more pervasive theme. I now think David is right and wonder how that came to be.
The title, Suture Lines, comes from a line in a poem, as did An Existential Grammar. To me, it speaks to what I hope is an unconscious wholeness emerging from the bits and pieces that make up the collection.

Can you describe some of the sequences?

P.S.: The ‘Librarians of Alexandria’ sequence in Suture Lines began with the ‘Cincinnatus’ sequence in An Existential Grammar. Cincinnatus was appointed dictator for the defence of Rome, then renounced the position when the job was done, though the detail is far more nuanced than that simple summary. I had enjoyed getting into the mind of an historical figure and creating a hopefully personal sub-text to the reported history. I had always been taken with the notion of storing all the wisdom of the world in a single place, one of the reported motivations for the Royal Library, and the sequence grew from there. The burning of the library on the order of a Coptic patriarch was an act of unspeakable barbarism. Maybe I’ll return to the library someday.
The ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’ sequence in Suture Lines came from my master’s dissertation. It is based on the Attar’s Conference of the Birds, a Persian classic. I hadn’t read the original in full (in translation obviously) at the very early stage. I don’t really know why I was attracted to it, other than I’d read Rumi and about Sufism, and was intrigued about a mystical form of Islam when we read so much about fundamentalism. I was also fascinated by the whirling dervishes of a particular Sufi sect in Turkey and am a sucker for birds.
The plan had been to write an Australian version. I found that Anne Fairbairn had already done so, albeit in a stripped-down form, so changed tack. I was mightily relieved at this after I realised the enormity of my original intention. I wanted to use classic forms as well as free verse, the original having been written in couplets of fixed syllabic length and rhyme points, and mirror somehow the allegories that Attar inserts into the narrative. I came across Tim Low’s Where Song Began in the process of working on the poems and its thesis that the first song birds came from Australia and PNG. It provided a rich source of material to draw from. This was important in the end since there are so many bird poems out there and I needed some element of differentiation.
The ‘Face Value’ sequence in Suture Lines was originally two sequences. The first drew from a magazine article and the second, from something that happened to my brother in London. The magazine article was about a couple, the male of whom suffered from face blindness, the inability to recognise facial features. Sufferers use other cues to navigate the world of relationships. The article described incidents from the man’s life and the woman’s challenges in dealing with a beloved who couldn’t recognise her in a conventional manner.
As for my brother, he is a priest in the East End of London. Someone stole the crucifix from the wall of his church. After a few days, the guy found the Twitter world ablaze with news of the theft, was overcome with guilt, and returned the crucifix. They were the starting points at least. I put the two sequences together as part of consolidating the manuscript under the notion that things are not always what they first seem.
All this sounds a bit manufactured. While there is some degree of planning, the process for me is organic, whatever that means, and I’d like to think that quality persists.

What distinguishes your poetry?

P.S.: Like many people I am often attracted to the side-track and alley-way, even when the ostensible topic is well-covered. In the ‘Librarians of Alexandria’, I found that one of the librarians was credited with developing the first cataloguing system. I eventually landed on him whining to his regular courtesan about how the scholars annoy him because they can’t remember where things are and she comes up with the idea to give them a kind of guide to that effect. For the hoopoe/ sheikh figure in my take on The Conference of the Birds, the role is split between a marbled frogmouth, not “its tawny cousin”, perhaps the more obvious choice, and the reclusive bristlebird. The underlying element of duality in Sufism is hopefully more powerful because of it. For the religious part of ‘Face Value’, a garage sale at a convent around the corner from where I live gave me a new angle.
I am especially pleased when a poem ends in an unexpected place (even to me). For instance, the catalogue poem which ends with the courtesan reflecting on her role, not the librarian’s and a poem about a visit to the Arctic which ends with a comment that the greatest gods pray for irrelevance.

An Existential Grammar acknowledges your father, Kenrick Scully (pseudonym John Dawes). What has been his influence on your writing?

P.S.: A parent obviously influences in all sorts of ways. For me as a writer, in the first place, that my father wrote. Our place was always overflowing with books. Secondly, that he wrote poetry, as well as novels, non-fiction, plays, children’s verse and journalism. His work is not well known these days but, in his day, he encouraged poets like Peter Skrzynecki. My brother, Kevin, has written a book that covers Dad’s career (and many other things). I don’t think I write anything like my father, though, and I have never consciously sought to do so, nor not to do so.

You have worked in finance. T. S Eliot also. Has that darkened your writing as it is reported to have done for him?

P.S.: If I could write like Eliot, I’d take light, dark, anything!
The short answer is no. I came at finance as a professional choice when I was young out of an interest in maths (via actuarial studies). I worked in it full time for some 25-30 years and still work part-time in it. It’s conventional to think of a sector in unitary terms, whereas there’s considerable diversity and people of all sorts of opinions and interests. Some of the biggest supporters of action on climate change, for example, are in insurance.
One thing it has done is deepen my interest in poetry (and literature generally) if anything, as another means of being a more rounded person.
You asked about my view on the cuts in arts from this perspective. I don’t think there was any financial motivation in the original decision. It was purely political.

-Paul Scully

Paul Scully
is a Sydney-based poet and author of two collections, An Existential Grammar by published by Walleah Press in 2014 and Suture Lines by Guillotine Press in 2016. His work has appeared in print and online journals in Australia and the USA. He is a current Board member of Australian Poetry.

Purchase Suture Lines by Paul Scully from Guillotine Press

Adventurous, challenging and thoughtful: Paul Scully reviews ‘Our Lady of the Fence Post’ by J.H. Crone

Our Lady of the Fence Post by J. H. Crone (UWA Publishing, 2016).

our_lady_of_the_fence_postH. Crone’s Our Lady of the Fence Post, a book-length poetic dissertation of sorts, begins as an imaginative interleaving of two narratives: the effects on the seaside community of Sunshine Bay (a cipher for Coogee) of the Bali bombings and the sighting of a Marian apparition there. The community is particularised through “bystander” characters including, Mari, Maria de Jesus, Joe, and Mae who have their own stories and afford the work a vital personal dimension. The loci and vessels of connection are place, religion (Islam, Catholicism and, more distantly, Hinduism), and the secondary impacts that “great” events wreak on “collateral” and individual lives. Crone goes so far as to hint at causality, as well as connection, by having an expert suggest that the sightings are a manifestation of the spiritual unease the bombings and their antecedents have engendered.

The Balinese exemplify the “collateral”: affected by the terrorism of the bombers, the tourists, assertive of their right to behave as they wish, and then, the withdrawal of tourism.

The names of the women play on a sea/ mother/ “Mary” theme, as per a quotation from H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) cited by Crone. Mari owns a baker’s shop near the site of the apparitions, and is married to Joe, a man deeply affected by the bombings with a tendency towards violence. Mari is given the “briny taste of a fat lip” by Joe; Jesus/Maria is a sighter of Mary and mother to a son who died in the bombings; and Mae is a reporter with a religious upbringing.

The interleaving is illustrated stylistically in the poem, ‘How to Make Terrorists Pay’, where the lines alternate between the actions and reactions of schoolgirls and other protestors and those of Joe, as he attempts to navigate a way through them.

Crone widens her ambit as the verses progress to bring in Anzac Day, the Cronulla riots (relocated to Sunshine Bay), the war in Iraq, the rise in local influence of Islamic State, racism, and the demonisation of refugees. She also fashions a disquisition on the feminine and feminist in the poem, ‘The Inquisition’. It contextualises this concern by examining church historical views on the figure of Mary, the mother of Jesus, parallels in Greek mythology, and the conflict between a nun theologian and an exclusively male church hierarchy. A dying and unbelieving cancer patient observes, “The more the Virgin/ is elevated, the lower the status of women of ordinary birth.” I have italicised ‘virgin’ to highlight Crone’s analysis of the paradoxical refutation of female sexuality, yet glorification of motherhood as the defining female role inherent in the virgin icon.

The role of women is otherwise illustrated in the reflected musings and dialogues of Mari and Maria, their respective wife-husband and reimagined mother-son relationships and developments in their lives over the course of the work, and Mae’s Damascene evolution from reporter to disability worker. These three women eventually chart new lives for themselves since, for Crone, “resurrection” (used in the title of two poems) is personally determined─ Mae concludes:

The memory of Maria’s intense joy
in the midst of the sublime nonsense of the storm
has become a symbol in my mind
for the feeling
that I have finally become─
who I truly am.

While Crone risks diffuseness at times as she opens her gaze, the progression reads naturally enough and allows her to illustrate how a prisoner converts to Islam and radicalises as the book closes.

The work can clearly be read as modern allegorical. By way of illustration, the strongest impressions on my first reading were of the stories and overall tone. There is, however, resolute craft at work. Crone employs a range of poetic forms, from the conventional and even, exotic, such as the triolet and sestina, as well as, concrete-style forms, direct citations, prose poetry, dream sequences, faux riddles and reportage, social media formats, and elements of farce. The poem, ‘The Universal Bum Puppet Show’, presents a political comedy skit of obvious provenance at an A-lister party! Her mode of address also ranges from the direct to the speculative and her language from the prosaic to the more symbolic and imagistic. All this not only provides visual and textual variety but also reflects the multiple angles through which Crone transects her material.

Sympathy appears to be reserved for the Balinese and the female characters, and nuance largely for the later. While these are clear authorial choices, consistent with Crone’s foci, and understandable given poetry’s emphasis on economy, it does lend an air of the stereotype to the other characters, at times a little at odds with the otherwise, insightful and perceptive work. As always there is an exception to this, when Crone likens Joe’s heart to “a doe-eyed pygmy possum/ in a pool of snowmelt caused by the thrum/ of a new power plant”. As well, I found the incursion of Ginger Mick, coming unheralded and unrepeated, and a little jarring. The writing here is well-crafted, though, strongly echoic of C. J. Dennis’ diction, as best as I can recall, enhanced by incorporations from the original, and illustrates a continuity of attitude I assume Crone wants to convey, but is slighted somewhat by a similar unidimensionality.

Despite these quibbles, Our Lady of the Fence Post is adventurous, “spirited” (to quote Peter Minter from the title pages), challenging and thoughtful, and exhibits a conviction in the role of characterisation and an assured poetic versatility.

-Paul Scully


Paul Scully is a Sydney-based poet and author of two collections, An Existential Grammar by published by Walleah Press in 2014 and Suture Lines by Guillotine Press in 2016. His work has appeared in print and online journals in Australia and the USA. He is a current Board member of Australian Poetry and is a member of a poetry group at which J.H.Crone is a periodic attendee.

Purchase Our Lady of the Fence Post by J. H. Crone from UWA Publishing
Read Our Lady of the Fence Post (extract) by J. H. Crone

Linguistically and Conceptually Challenging: Alison-Jane Hunter reviews ‘Wild Gestures’ by Lucy Durneen

Wild Gestures: Stories by Lucy Durneen (MidnightSun Publishing, 2017).

wild-gestures-659x1024Lucy Durneen’s collection of short stories, Wild Gestures, sets out to challenge the reader both linguistically and conceptually. There are loose threads that link the narratives together, mostly surrounding the sense of infinite darkness in her world paradigm. Her themes revolve around lost opportunities and a Hardyesque sense of the inevitability of failure and betrayal. The protagonists are lost and seeking meaning in their lives through actions, relationships and control of the external world and each is doomed to failure.

The opening narrative, Time is a River without Banks, is a tumultuous story of a mother’s attempt to protect her child from all pain and the inevitable loss of life this induces. Excluded from the world, the mother loses all she seeks to cherish, until she finally loses her voice “the mother was reduced to a language of absence”. The gothic elements of the narrative reminded me strongly of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. The horror felt by the mother and her exclusion from reality (literally and figuratively blocking out doors and windows) has that juxtaposition of spiritual hyperbole only found in pure gothic narratives. The lack of control, or the wild gestures of the title, are haunting and reinforce the sense of impending doom present from the outset.

The imagery in the narratives are powerful and constantly reinforced. However, while, the metaphors and imagery work well, the similes often feel a little contrived. In Noli mi tangere, the protagonist considers the nature of love as a young girl. She opens with: “When he asked her to go down to the promenade she thought; so this is what it feels like. Love. It felt less incredible than she had imagined.” This feels honest and has the ambiguous questioning tone of a young girl but the additional sentence: “To be honest, if felt more like the start of Mono, or her period” feels forced – an extension that is unnecessary. The language of gothic is already rich and tending to the repetitious, so extending on an extension undermines the power of the complexity of the language used.

The rather graphic references to sex and sexuality in the narratives also tend to feel rather ugly and simultaneously slightly prudish: we are invited to disapprove as much as to feel the emptiness of the failed intimacy. In The Old Madness and the Sea, we are given the sub chapter opening: “Murray didn’t feel very much to blame, if he was honest. He felt sudden gusts of entitlement to infidelity. He was no more than an aimless moon orbiting within a bigger system that made cheating possible.” His lies compound as he sets out to claim a “veneer of authenticity” to his behaviour. For the reader, the negativity of the paradigm in which a man has such a sense of entitlement creates a sense of bathos: at such times the characters can move from gothic to the absurd. This fundamental nihilism undermines the nobility of the wild gestures themselves, which are essentially life affirming through the imperative to act and to claim rather than to accept and die without having at least tried to change or control the world.

Interestingly, it is the female lead who salvages some meaning from the relationship: one in which the man fails even to learn her name correctly. “I don’t know when we’re going to start being honest with each other, but I thought it might be handy if your wife comes looking for me.” Here, the woman implicitly has taken control of his nihilism and invested it with a purpose which betrays his own implicit cruelty. However, despite her challenge, the underlying nihilism is so ugly that it is hard to perceive strength in her actions or admire her determination to salvage meaning and so, the wild gesture is betrayed at every level.

In the same way that Plath’s The Bell Jar is highly seductive yet ultimately betraying of youth and hope, so too the nihilism coupled with the seductive qualities of the writing, invite destruction of hope and emotional growth through the vicarious experiences of the narratives. Yet in the very same short story, Durneen has a fascinating paragraph that is life-affirming, when she speaks of the Samoan perceptions of facial tattoos: “When Samoans tattoo their faces, he learned, they are recording marks in time…To illustrate yourself in this way could only be a beautiful thing, an art, not a monstrosity.” This critical difference also claims positivity for the wild gestures. They reflect, even if they do not carry, meaning. It is their repetition and our reflection on them that mark us out as very human, with all our frailties exposed yet celebrated.

The penultimate narrative, This is Eden, contains this powerful image: “A long laugh roars through the divorce party and what I am reminded of is a school of sharks…How appropriate this is for animals that have to keep moving or die.” Perhaps this is the key message of this challenging text: that life itself has intrinsic value, however horrendous or betraying the experience. The narrative finishes with the biblical image of the apple, “the juice… bitter and old… that feeling, young and sweet.” For Durneen, this is knowledge – a woman’s birthright through the actions of a mythical first woman. Knowledge is to be claimed: “I think of it now, and I bite and I bite and I bite.”

Is pain our raison d’être as women in the current political and social climate? I hope she’s wrong but until I’m sure, I’ll continue to make my own wild gestures and seek meaning in this crazy world.

-Alison-Jane Hunter


Alison-Jane Hunter is an insatiable reader. Her book reviews have been published in the South Australian English Teachers’ Association journal, Opinion, and her theatre reviews, in FringeReview- Adelaide.

Purchase Wild Gestures by Lucy Durneen from MidnightSun Publishing

‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’ by Stuart Cooke: Zalehah Turner interviews the winner of the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016

“ ‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’ will form part of my next collection, which will be a kind of bestiary or garden composed of poems about a variety of animals, insects, plants and other things.”- Stuart Cooke

Zalehah Turner: Tell me about the themes in ‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’: the power of storms; the life of trees; the life cycle in Tasmania and other forests; ‘aged into agelessness, less than age’, ‘too slowly for change’ and the vast expanse of time stretching back to Gondwana?

Stuart Cooke: The poem passes through different levels of observation/ perception, starting with a broad consideration of time and space, including Gondwanan or evolutionary space-time, before moving to the more human level of the trunk itself, before ending with the microscopic – the epiphytes and termites, etc. The poem isn’t about ‘penetrating’ or getting to the ‘essence’ of the myrtle trunk; rather, as we move closer, its complexity increases.

Z.T.: There is also an absence of human presence in ‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’. Is this intentional and if so, can you elaborate?

S.C.: I’m not sure that I’d agree with the assertion here. The poem is entirely about the perception of the trunk – that is, it is thoroughly bound up with human forms of understanding, relation and expression. The language isn’t the result of my solitary imagination, but rather it draws from botany and biology, not to mention the work of other poets – in other words, discourses developed over long periods of human-myrtle relation. Of course, it’s true that there aren’t any explicit human characters in the poem; this is because my objective was to make the trunk a character itself, to reveal drama and history in a living, non-human thing. Humans are part of this, but I didn’t want them to be in the centre of the frame.

Z.T.: What drew you to ‘Mountain Myrtle’? You grew up in Sydney and Hobart. Did you feel a personal connection to Marie E. J. Pitt’s poem expressing the power of the Tasmanian flora and landscape?

S.C.: Not really. Part of my composition process was to find poems by other poets about myrtles. Pitt’s poem demanded inclusion because it was closest both in terms of subject and location, and also because it did things that I was interested in – it imagined the mythopoetic power of the myrtle, and how it was bound up in the wild, “moaning” weather of Western Tasmania. Very few Anglo-Western poems grant so much power and agency to non-human things, and particularly plants.

Z.T.: Do you see the ‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’ in a Tasmania forest?

S.C.: Yes. Another crucial part of the composition process was to find a fallen myrtle trunk, observe it closely and patiently, and take detailed field notes. This particular trunk was on the edge of Lake Burbury in Western Tasmania.

Z.T.: There are many references to music and sound, both in the echoes from ‘Mountain Myrtle’, ‘songs to/ of lonely places’, and in connecting lines such as, ‘cavern hymns’. Your latest book is entitled, Opera, as is, a poem you wrote in 2012. Tell me about the links to fugues and cavern hymns in cool, temperate forests and your poetry?

S.C.: The world becomes a world through wave-form. Waves are characterised by the accumulation of constancy – the repetition of troughs and peaks – and the repetition of contrasts – the shifts between troughs and peaks. Both music and poetry operate through the association of these harmonic clusters and melodic contrasts, and of course poetry plays at the intersection that language straddles between sound and signification. But in the production of images poetry differs from music, and veers closer towards painting. From painting poetry also departs when it seeks to produce or defer meanings in tandem with sounds and images. Somewhere in the triangulation of music, painting and prose there is poetry. Taken as a whole, that triangulation is the drive towards sonorous, vivid expression, which is channelled and/ or produced by the body. As the body is the locus for art in human terms, I see myriad bodies, of all different kinds, expressing, composing, articulating. This is why it’s important not to overshadow the expression of the Myrtle with human subject positions: if my language was going to get anywhere near the tree’s, then I needed to leave it out there, to see what happened to the tree itself, instead of turning to a human character or locus for an easy translation or way out of the scene.

Z.T.: Tell me about the echoes that run through this poem from ‘Mountain Myrtle’ and ‘Out of Sorts and Looking at Elms’, the way they interconnect in ‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’ and the connection between all three poems?

S.C.: Pitt’s ‘Mountain Myrtle’ is a very sonorous poem: it’s about the Myrtle’s slowly ageing “songs” within the wild, cacophonous orchestra of the Western Tasmanian forests. One of the things that’s so striking is how, despite the onrushing of everything, the “creeping” moss, the “leaping” storm – everything is in the gerund – the Myrtle remains steadfast, almost supernatural, and certainly magical. This tension between the immanence of death and decay – of chaos – and the apparent tranquillity and stasis of the present, of a thing in the present – of order, if you like – was interesting to me as well.

‘Out of Sorts and Looking at Elms’ is a very different poem, and of course not about myrtles. But I was reading Simon’s book at the time and I thought it appropriate to include. It’s a much quieter poem, and a much more botanical one, more much about close observation, although West’s imagination is no less interesting:

A mouthing eddy where a bough once broke off.
One branch, there, could be pleading help
where it reaches out. Others arch hardened spines
as if they were locked in struggle with gravity.

Even though the tone of the poem is quite naturalistic, I love the interplay between what is apparent – what is visible – and what is possible – what these things that we can see might suggest about what is happening. The speculative spirit of this poem is very close to that of my own.

Z.T.: I haven’t read ‘Out of Sorts and Looking at Elms’. Could you tell me a little more about it?

S.C.: The poem is from Simon’s 2011 collection, The Yellow Gum’s Conversion. It’s a great book, extremely sophisticated and very accomplished. I don’t want to wax lyrical about how wonderfully clear and simple the language is – too often that implies a claim that the best poetry is somehow the clearest – because, while there are indeed moments of tremendous, even shocking, clarity, what’s really going on in these poems is a very attentive mapping of human cognition, where things emerge in consciousness only to be submerged moments later, where the ceaseless interplay of mind and landscape can be resolved briefly enough for startling, though not always revelatory, insights.

Z.T.: Your poem evokes the power of thunderstorms, and the expanse of time beyond that of the human race but it is mournful. Bright colours appear, the life of creatures who live in fallen trees and rotting wood. Yet, ‘one branch, there, pleads help’. Why a fallen trunk?

S.C.: I like to think that there’s a kind of joy in the revelation that the poem proposes, but while writing it I was also keenly aware of the various threats that Tasmanian Myrtles face (and here again human presence looms large). In recent years, Myrtle wilt, a parasitic fungus, has become a serious problem due to poor logging practices (in the poem: the “wilt lulled by such knots”). And the increasing frequency and temperature of bush fires is perhaps the most serious problem of all: Myrtle forests cannot survive strong fire, and must re-establish from neighbouring areas. But these neighbouring areas are becoming increasingly scarce. Generally, Myrtle forests only form once a wet sclerophyll forest reaches maturity, taking several hundred years to do so. Of course, Aboriginal people knew that Myrtles can survive light fires, but these burning practices rarely occur in the contemporary Western Tasmanian ‘wilderness’.

Z.T.: Why youm, youm’re and yourm? Why did you use the second person but alter the word? Has it any connection to ‘yourn’? Is the ‘m’ for myrtle? Why did ‘you’ not seem sufficient?

S.C.: Simply, ‘youm’ is a pluralised second-person address. In Australia we have ‘youse’, but formally English doesn’t have this pronoun. I wanted to write with one here because the question of cognition and its individuation, while complex enough for humans, is even more complex for other species, particularly plants. The ‘m’ is there because it vibrates bodily; when we speak the word it moves through us and escapes us, just as a communal mind or agency might escape any one body or actor.

Z.T.: In ‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’, two to three stanzas are grouped together to form four, falling shapes. What are your feelings on concrete poetry and why the slow, fluid fall for ‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’?

S.C.: I’m actually writing this in Brazil, where poets like Augusto de Campos and Décio Pignatari were globally influential pioneers of concrete poetry. But as much as I love concrete poetics, I also want to keep a certain distance between them and my poem. In my designing of ‘Myrtle Trunk’ I didn’t want the typographical features to do anything other than enhance the line – i.e. the line for me has to remain paramount: the line is where we as readers are going, and thus it must satisfy us. Often I think the failure of some concrete poems is to do with an emptiness produced by their typography, which invites us to consider language, but then the language itself gives us nothing. Conversely, I want my poem to have two levels: the first is the visual or framed reception of the work as a whole, where I draw on concrete poetics in shaping the text to suggest something of its subject (the form is slowly shrinking across the pages, like the biodegrading trunk); but the second level is to do with the slower experience of reading each line in succession. The painterly reading – where we ‘stand back’ and look at the whole work – is extended by closer reading.

Z.T.: Tell me about the form and themes of the poems in your latest book, Opera?

S.C.: Opera is the accumulation of close to a decade of thinking about the relationship between voice, land and line in Australian and Latin American poetics. The book imagines a kind of trans-Pacific synthesis of geographies and histories, and of animal, human and inorganic potency. It’s also a book about love, and the all-consuming, though often ephemeral, nature of it. I felt frustrated by the state of Australian poetry when I started writing Opera, and I wanted something new. So I turned first to a lot of Aboriginal and Mapuche poetry, both song poetry and written, and second to a range of Latin Americans, particularly baroque and neo-baroque poets like Pablo de Rokha, Coral Bracho, Vicente Huidobro and Raúl Zurita, and Pablo Neruda’s Residencia en la tierra (one of my favourite books). I felt in their work an irrepressible power and an emotional expressivity that I hadn’t ever seen in English-language poets; the liquid grammar and long, pulsing lines came with a deep, quasi-subterranean commitment to the importance of enunciation. I was also travelling quite a lot, particularly in Chile, but also in the West Kimberley, and these landscapes became the basis of the poems. The result, I like to think, is a very densely layered and many-sided language, which is also very emotional, very ‘heart-felt’ (in terms of a driving, rhythmic power that motivated the composition). I’m so happy with the way it turned out – Five Islands Press did such a great job – and it was incredibly generous of John Wolseley to allow me to use a detail from one of his Patagonia-Tasmania works on the cover, which fits perfectly with the scope and intention of the poetry.

‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’ will form part of my next collection, which will be a kind of bestiary or garden composed of poems about a variety of animals, insects, plants and other things.

Z.T.: How did you feel about winning the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016?

S.C.: I was delighted with the news, and feel extremely humbled and happy that the judges thought so kindly of my poem. Any project that encourages creative contemplation of, or engagement with, the non-human world is certainly a worthy one, so it’s extra-special to be recognised in this way as a part of the New Shoots project.

Rochford Street Review wishes to thank everyone who participated in the New Shoots Poetry Prizes and most especially, to the winners, highly commended, and special commendation poets for such wonderful, plant-inspired poetry! Their poems can be found in issue 20 of Rochford Street Review and on The Red Room Company’s website. The New Shoots e-book is forthcoming (2017).

‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’ by Stuart Cooke: winner of the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016
New Shoots Poetry Prizes: the winning and highly commended poets
The winning and highly commended poems from the New Shoots Poetry Prizes can also be found on The Red Room Company’s website.


Stuart Cooke

Stuart Cooke lives on the Gold Coast, where he lectures in creative writing and literary studies at Griffith University. He has published collections of poetry, criticism and translation. His latest book, Opera was published by Five Islands Press in 2016. Stuart Cooke is the winner of the 2016 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize.



Purchase Opera by Stuart Cooke (Five Island Press 2016)


-Zalehah Turner


Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based critic, writer, poet and Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review. She is commencing Honours (BA Communication) at the University of Technology, Sydney in 2017.: https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2016/02/09/welcome-zalehah-turner-rochford-street-review-associate-editor

A thought-provoking, immersive multimedia experience: Zalehah Turner reviews ‘EXIT’ at UNSW Galleries

EXIT (2008/2015) created by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, with Laura Kurgan, Mark Hansen, and Ben Rubin, in collaboration with Robert Gerard Pietrusko and Stewart Smith. UNSW Galleries – Part of the Sydney Festival. 7 January to 25 March 2017.

EXIT is a monument to the present time that traces the movement of our world.”- Hervé Chandès, General Director of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris.


EXIT (2008-2015). view of the installation, EXIT. collection: Fondation Cartier pou l’art contemporain, Paris. Diller Socfidio+ Renfro, Laura Kurgan, Mark Hansen, and Ben Rubin, in collaboration with Robert Gerard Pietrusko and Stewart Smith. photo by Luc Boegly.

As part of the Sydney Festival, UNSW Galleries presents the Australian premiere of EXIT, a 360-degree immersive installation based on a concept by philosopher and urbanist, Paul Virilio and commissioned by Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain for its 2008 exhibition, Native Land, Stop Eject. Hervé Chandès, General Director of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris stated that, “EXIT is a monument to the present time that traces the movement of our world.” Updated in 2015 for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris, EXIT is an impressive multidisciplinary team effort created by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, a New York-based studio of artists and architects, in collaboration with Laura Kurgan, Mark Hansen, Ben Rubin, Robert Gerard Pietrusko, Stewart Smith, and a team of scientists and geographers.

Lord Mayor, Clover Moore who opened the exhibition at UNSW Galleries on 6 January 2017, declared that EXIT was “riveting, overwhelming and informative” and “one of the most powerful exhibitions of our time.” Clover Moore had first seen it in Paris in 2015 and was instrumental in bringing it to Australia for the 2017 Sydney Festival.

EXIT runs from 7 January to 25 March at UNSW Galleries and is free to the public. It reflects the university’s desire to push the boundaries between art and technology; as well as its ambition to situate itself at the forefront of debate and policy response to the biggest issues of our time.

EXIT – Virilio, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Hansen, Kurgan, Rubin, Pietrusko, Smith – 2008-2015. Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. 30 November 2015.

The 45-minute multimedia work breathes life into statistics gathered from over one hundred sources reflecting the increasing pressures which the world faces today, including the unprecedented rise in displaced populations; migrants and refugees who are forced to leave their homes. The audio and visual impact of EXIT creates a sense of urgency with a 3D panoramic view of an orbiting globe moving across the screen in almost full circle, broken only by the entrance and exit. Each time it begins its cycle, the audience is stuck by the visual and auditory representation of data and statistics which fall under the six themes: Population Shifts: Cities, Remittances: Sending Money Home, Political Refugees and Forced Migration, Natural Disasters, Rising Seas and Sinking Cities, and Speechless and Deforestation.

The data collected from a variety of sources has been geo-coded, processed through a programming language, and translated visually to provide the greatest impact. One can’t help but feel a sense of dread. EXIT is a projection of the present, an insight into the future and a call to action. The multimedia event is art as social commentary. The six themes of EXIT cover significant issues with the animated facts and figures behind the events designed to provoke thought, encourage discussions and initiate change.

Terre Natale, Ailleurs commence ici – Paul Virilio – 2009. Produced by Axelle Poisson. Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. 10 November 2015.

Upon entering and leaving EXIT at UNSW Galleries, the audience is addressed by Paul Virilio who discusses the central themes and the impact of climate change whilst walking towards the viewer in a video in French with English subtitles commissioned by Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in 2009. Virilio asserts that, “It is almost as if history is on the move again.” Adding that, “It’s almost as though the sky, and the clouds in it and the pollution of it, were making their entry into history. Not the history of the seasons, summer, autumn, winter, but of population flows, of zones now uninhabitable for reasons that aren’t just to do with desertification, but with disappearance, with submersion of land. This is the future.”

UNSW Galleries Director Felicity Fenner confirmed that, “This is a must-see ‘wake-up call’ to Australian audiences.” She added that, “EXIT encapsulates three of the Grand Challenges currently being investigated by UNSW researchers – climate change, refugees, and global inequality.” As part of their Grand Challenges initiative, UNSW has organised a program of public discussions which includes a talk given by EXIT’s US-based creators.

EXIT at UNSW Galleries is a thought-provoking, immersive multimedia experience that is essential viewing and one of the visual art highlights of this Sydney Festival.

-Zalehah Turner

Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based critic, writer and poet currently completing her Bachelor of Arts in Communications majoring in writing and cultural studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. Zalehah is an Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review: https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2016/02/09/welcome-zalehah-turner-rochford-street-review-associate-editor

exhibition: EXIT
where: UNSW Galleries cnr. Oxford St and Greens Rd, Paddington, NSW 2021.
dates: 7 January – 25 March 2017
opening hours: Tuesday–Saturday 10am–5pm
cost: free
information: https://www.artdesign.unsw.edu.au/unsw-galleries/exit