ISSUE 23. July 2017 – September 2017


Teasing Threads


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Published by Rochford Street Press
ISSN 2200-9922


“The core of Unmaking Atoms”: Zalehah Turner interviews Magdalena Ball

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“Poetry was a way for me to give my grief the time and energy I felt it needed. A loss like the loss of a parent changes and reshapes you… My feelings at that point were so complex that only poetry felt right… I found I was writing a lot of poems, and these ultimately became the core of Unmaking Atoms.” – Magdalena Ball


Zalehah Turner: Can you tell me a little about the story behind Unmaking Atoms- your mother, your relationship with her, and your experience of her diagnosis and death?

unmaking_atomsMagdalena Ball: I was fairly far along with the writing of a novel when my mother got sick. She lived in the United States, and though, we spoke every week on FaceTime, I couldn’t tell how much weight she had lost. [Despite being] a lifelong hypochondriac, she underplayed her symptoms dramatically when it counted. I thought maybe she had a urinary tract infection. Her many doctors didn’t pick it up either, though she had classic cancer symptoms. Something only apparent to me in hindsight. It wasn’t until she was bleeding heavily that they decided to remove her kidney. At that point, we still had no idea that it was cancer. She was only seventeen when she had me and her marriage to my father was very short lived. So, my mother and I were very close, shifting the role of mother and daughter at times, as we grew up together, often just the two of us. Although the landscape of our lives changed pretty frequently with different partners, and much later, brothers.

I left the United States when I was about twenty to go to graduate school in England. Basically, I never went back [except for short visits]. I migrated to Australia with my husband a few years later. I probably didn’t visit the America as often as I should have, and she wouldn’t fly, so we were limited to electronic communication. The trip back to the US with three children was prohibitively expensive and difficult, though we did go back as a whole family two years before she became sick. I [also] visited several times on my own and with my eldest when he was eighteen months. Through her sickness, I went back and forth three times: the first to look after her, after her kidney operation in September /October; again, in December, after the cancer diagnosis; and one more time in January, when I didn’t quite make it in time. She died while I was en route, at Los Angeles Airport, but at least I was there for all the post-death stuff with my three maternal half-brothers. My mother never fully trusted her doctors, sometimes with good reason – they made a hash of her diagnosis. I was torn. I wanted to look after her and be with her. I had no idea, at any point, that she would die so soon, and [I needed] to be at home to take care of my three teenage children. It was a very intense time!

I kept working on my novel through the first visit. I was actually trading chapter by chapter critiques with another writer and kept to the schedule: writing on the plane, at night at my mother’s house when I couldn’t sleep, and in snatches of time. However, by the time I was home after my first visit, I found that I had lost my interest in writing prose. My feelings at that point were so complex that only poetry felt right. In the meantime, I found I was writing a lot of poems, and these ultimately became the core of Unmaking Atoms.

Zalehah: Many of the poems deal with the pain and loss of a loved one; her absence in the everyday, the future, and in the eternal. Can you elaborate?

Magdalena: I certainly wanted to explore the notion of loss – obviously in the context of the loss I was experiencing but I wanted also to go further than that. So much of what we are, and the way we perceive ourselves, falls away. Our skin cells die and are replaced every day, our hair falls out, our body changes, we lose track of people who once filled our lives – life is a progression of transformations. This is partly what I wanted to explore, in the context of loss, an exploration of identity and what remains as a constant in the face of all that loss.

Zalehah: Did the incredibly short time she was given create a situation in which you could only think about your feelings and deal with the loss afterwards and is this why writing poetry appealed to you?

Magdalena: I did a lot of writing on the many flights I took (Sydney to Richmond was about 25 hours in the air), but I also did a lot of work in the years following. The things that were drawing me during that time, and what still continues to draw me, usually involves many things are going on at once. Poetry handles that complexity very well – better, I think, than other art forms. Poetry allowed me to go a little deeper, and to also allow for enough ambiguity to invite the reader in. No one is immune from grief. Patti Smith says, ‘the privilege of being human is that we have our moment when we have to say goodbye’ – it’s part of the ‘human package’.

Zalehah: Did you find writing it a healing process, an attempt at understanding all that had happened, a journey that is still ongoing, and/ or a tribute to her memory?

Magdalena: Writing for me wasn’t so much a healing process, but a way to transform an unapproachable and therefore poisonous pain – this inchoate, black thing – into something that could be lived with. I found that as I wrote, I continually rediscovered my mother: the person she was, but also the person who I am through her. I feel her with me – not in a supernatural way, but just as a part of who I am now – her voice is always in my head. Writing kept me open to that; to letting this sense of loss become also a way to find her.

I think the key for me, has been not to shrink from the pain – not to look away. Talking about it is hard. I never wanted to whine, or to fall into the trap of misery. From the moment I returned to Australia, and even while I was away, dealing with all the stuff that has to be dealt with when someone dies, there were so many distractions. My husband and kids needed me to deal with their issues after I’d been away so much. My job needed my attention. I had food shopping to do. The house needed a vacuum. It would have been easy to let those distractions keep me from the painful act of reflecting.

Poetry was a way for me to give my grief the time and energy I felt it needed. A loss like the loss of a parent changes and reshapes you, and to pretend otherwise isn’t healthy. I’ve been exploring that grief endlessly – allowing it in and exploring the universal nature of it and finding great solace in community.

Zalehah: What poetic devices did you find best suited your subject and themes?

Magdalena: There are lots of devices that I find myself drawn to, again and again. Anthropomorphism and Personification are probably the devices that I’m most drawn to. I think the idea of moving away from a purely human perspective – I mean it’s always a human perspective – but to open myself to the notion of ‘difference’ and explore a sense that there may be other forms of intelligence and other ways of experiencing life, by allowing rocks to talk, or trees, or planets, lets me get a little closer to the heart of alienation, or love, or loss, without falling into cliché or standard tropes.

Zalehah: The title, Unmaking Atoms, is immediately provoking, and draws to mind atomic bombs, where the atom is split, yet somehow the verb unmaking suggests an ongoing process. In Unmaking Atoms, you’ve managed to create emotive, scientific jargon which is, at times, antagonistic, by the juxtaposition of contrasting or conflicting words or phrases. How did you find the balance, in Unmaking Atoms between emotion and science, not to mention, the connection (or contrast) between the two?

Magdalena: I think that there is an essential poetic underpinning to physics. I’m not the only one. The physicist Richard Feynman has likened poetry and physics: ‘The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination — stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which I am a part… What is the pattern or the meaning or the why?’ This stretching of the imagination is the same impetus in the scientist, as it is in the poet.

I tend to naturally think in the space between emotion and science – it feels quite ordinary to me. It might be because I’ve worked for the last twenty-seven years in a science job as a kind of language focused/ non-scientist. So, I’ve developed a way of fitting in that environment that skirts at the edge of science. It allows me to explore similar questions and do my own form of experimentation that is language, rather than formula based. I think that the deep, careful observation of a poet is a kind of science. It’s very different from a lab experiment, but it still plays out in a similar trajectory.

Zalehah: Are you an atheist (or not religious) and, if so, is science your way of understanding, or questioning, disease, death, and the possibilities or limitations of existence afterwards?

Magdalena: My family background is Jewish. I know I have the most Catholic name possible – my great grandmother was very distraught by Magdalena. Though my mother called herself culturally Jewish, she was actually a practising Hindu for most of her life, aside from a brief stint as a Zen Buddhist. She left very strict instructions for a Tibetan ritual to be performed over her body and left New York for Virginia to live close to her guru. So, I’ve had exposure to a lot of Eastern religions and I suppose I like to think of myself as a reasonably spiritual person, though I certainly don’t believe in a deity. I suppose, science tells us we’re all made up of the same stuff – that matter cannot be created or destroyed (the Law of Conservation of Mass). For some bizarre reason, this does oddly comfort and in some very small way, excite me (just the nerd in me). That said, I don’t think it’s fair to pitch science against religion. They’re not equivalents. Science is based on evidence, and isn’t meant to provide final answers. It’s always best evidence and repeatability, and scientists expect their work to be superseded. It’s part of the process. Faith is something else entirely and I think it can coincide with science, as long as, you see it as something that doesn’t contain a burden of proof.

Zalehah: Which are your favourite poems in it and why?

Magdalena: I’m not sure I can choose favourites, but I wrote the first set – ‘The Last Report of the Day’, ‘Charitable Crumb’, and ‘Luminous Air’ as a kind of trio in tribute to three writers – Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop and Edna St Vincent Millay – who I felt were almost like historic mothers to my work. I tried to contain their style and many of their lines and even some biographical details, while trying to create something that stood alone and had my own voice. It felt to me, as if I were in conversation with these three poets across time. As if, in my motherless state, I was leaning on them for the kind of unstinting support that mothers provide. It’s outrageous hubris I know, but there was something very enjoyable about doing that.

Zalehah: In ‘Ashes for the Earth’ you write in your mother’s voice, as one who has passed. Tell me about the importance of this poem and the variation in style and tone denoting a change in voice. What insights did you gain from writing ‘Ashes for the Earth’?

Magdalena: I don’t even know how it happened that I slipped into her voice when I was writing that poem. It felt a very natural thing to do. I did it again in ‘Six Realms’ though not as emotively. There’s a bit more of a wry edge in that one. This is partly what I meant by being able to continue to find my mother through the work. Writing the poem, felt almost like an extension of the Tibetan ceremony we held for her: like I was giving her permission to go. [It was] something I had to find in myself, because I wasn’t just sad, I was also angry and guilt-ridden. Letting go of my own pain, so I could see her off by taking her voice, felt a necessary step.

Zalehah: Which poets or specific poems did you draw on, or find connections with, when writing your book?

Magdalena: I’m a pretty regular reader of poetry, and am always inspired by other poets. Probably one of my biggest, most pervasive influences is Dorothy Porter. Her book, Other Worlds is a kind of gold standard for me on bringing together grief and science; the natural world and human pain. Of course, the influence of Emily Dickinson, Edna St Vincent Millay, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, and Gertrude Stein are quite strong through the book, but I was inspired by a lot of modern poets too. One example is Lisa Gorton’s Hotel Hyperion. Gorton also seems to walk a very fine line between the minute domestic and the grand scale; between big science and an often maternal emotion that appealed to me immediately and that continues to provide inspiration every time I return to the book.

Zalehah: Can you tell me about the new book that you have in the pipeline?

Magdalena: I’ve just finished writing a poetic memoir. I’ve tried to situate each of the poems in a specific historical context, so it’s not so much a book about my life, but about the nature of memory and time, primarily set in New York City in 1960s/ 70s /80s where I grew up. Time is such a complex thing to explore. We’re immersed in it. It makes up every aspect of how we define our lives, in linear intervals on a continuum, and yet the reality of experience doesn’t fit that very well at all. Time isn’t only relativistic in physics – it’s also relative psychologically. I wanted to play with the notion of time using a number of situations that happened to me, without discounting the dreamlike way we experience our lives. All those distractions, perspectives, sensations: our piecemeal memory that consists of different sensory imprints, not all of which are linguistic. Some of those experiences exist outside of language and I wanted to play with these forms of memory and perception.

So, while the book is in many respects deeply personal in that it traces a trajectory that is specifically mine, it’s all real in the sense of things that I can recall having happened. I didn’t want to shy from some of the more difficult things that took place. Some of the pieces were written in prose first to get the shape of them, but at the same time, I think there’s a scientific eye that is inquisitive in a fairly objective way. The tone is somewhat more upbeat than Unmaking Atoms. That said, I’m afraid I’m always a bit apocalyptic in my writing.



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Magdalena Ball

Interviewee: Magdalena Ball is a novelist, poet, reviewer, interviewer, and the editor of Compulsive Reader. She has been widely published in literary journals, anthologies, and is the author of several books of poetry and fiction. Her collection of poetry, Unmaking Atoms, was published by Ginninderra Press in 2017. Magdalena Ball was shortlisted for the Queensland Poetry Festival Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award 2017, the Bayside Poetry Awards 2015, and highly commended for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016. She also received commendations in the Poetry competition at the Morisset Lake Macquarie District Show.

Five poems from Unmaking Atoms
Unmaking Atoms by Magdalena Ball is available from Ginninderra Press
“the inner and outer worlds of the bereaved”: Malcolm St Hill reviews Magdalena Ball’s Unmaking Atoms


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Zalehah Turner

Interviewer: Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based poet, photographer, cultural journalist, and Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review (RSR). Zalehah is currently working on an intermedia poetry collection entitled, Critical condition, focused on the interstitial threshold between life and death in medical crises based on personal experience. Zalehah holds a BA in Communication with a major in writing and cultural studies from the University of Technology, Sydney where she continues to pursue pushing the boundaries of poetry and multimedia in Honours (Communication- Creative Writing).

Featured Writer issue 21: Four poems
Featured Artists issue 23


The Celebration of a Life Richly Lived: Ron Pretty Reviews ‘Many, and One’ by Lyn Hatherly

Many, and One by Lyn Hatherly Five Island Press 2017

Some readers may not be aware that this is a posthumous collection: sadly, Lyn Hatherly passed away in 2016. At the back of Many, and One, there is a biography of Lyn, so I don’t need to go through her life story in any great detail. But there are a number of things from that biography that I would like to take a few moments to highlight.

I got to know Lyn when I came to Melbourne to run Five Islands Press, the Australian Poetry Foundation and Blue Dog (which later became Australian Poetry Inc and Australian Poetry Journal) and it is true to say that none of those projects would have survived for very long without her — an observation that was confirmed after I retired to Wollongong and Kevin Brophy took over Five Islands Press. For both of us, Lyn was administrator, secretary and editor by turns; always there, always reliable, always cheerful.

She was a very careful editor and proof reader; she helped with the selection process for Blue Dog and was always a good sounding board when selections were being made for FIP.

The next thing that impressed me about Lyn was her knowledge of the myths, the ancient writers and philosophers; and particularly, her knowledge of, and authority on, the work of Sappho, that ancient Greek poet from the island of Lesbos on whom she had done her PhD. Some of the poems in the collection display the power of one of her translations; she translated Sappho for her degree. Lyn came to academic study late, as her biography explains, but she was an autodidact with a life-long love of literature and thirst for knowledge, both scientific and literary.

I know that Lyn had other arrows in her Sapphic quiver, chief among them her ability as a lecturer, workshop leader and mentor for writers. Others are better qualified to speak of this aspect of her life, but the number of people at Eltham with grateful memories of her attests to that, as does the workshop in Eltham she founded. The fact that it continues uninterrupted demonstrates her continuing creative influence.

That perhaps is a somewhat lengthy introduction, but it is important to remember that, as fine a poet as Lyn was, she composed her poetry while she was doing a myriad of other things, which makes the quality of her poetry even more remarkable.

Turning now to Many, and One. The first thing I would want to claim for it is that it is accessible and challenging. This is poetry to be enjoyed and appreciated by all who have a skerrick of interest in poetry.

Coincidentally, as I was preparing this review, I happened to see a documentary film about the great Hungarian composer and teacher Zoltán Kodály. He firmly believed that all of us have music in us, and the correct approach will bring it out. He also felt that Conservatoria around the world do music a great disservice by concentrating on a few gifted musicians at the expense of all others, who are left feeling second rate, demoralised.  I can attest to the truth of that, for I know a gifted pianist who, having won a scholarship to London, was there told that she would never make a concert pianist. The disappointment in a very real sense destroyed her life. Kodály believed in encouraging the love of music for people at any age, and the success of the annual  Brisbane Music School attests to the efficacy of his approach.

That story has a direct relevance to Lyn Hatherly, for, as Kodály in music, so Lyn believed that poetry is for all of us, not just the gifted few, as the success of her workshops attests. As does her own poetry, which demonstrates the power of a clear and accessible surface, vibrant images, precision and passion to convey rich and complex ideas. As we can see in this collection, there is a richness we can all enjoy.

The book is in 6 evocative sections, entitled, in turn, Many; Imagine; Love and Desire; Borrowed Breath; And One; and, finally a baker’s dozen of uncollected and selected poems. As the note on the text at the beginning indicates, some of these poems were in earlier collections, so it’s a new and selected edition. As well, Chris and Kevin have indicated in their note that “we have done our best to present the poems left unfinished in as complete a state as possible, in the arrangement that Lyn had worked out.” I think Lyn would have been very pleased with the result, for those poems fit seamlessly into the collection. Unstated there, of course, is the sense of loss those unfinished poem represent.

The next thing to notice is the title: Many, and One. We know that Lyn was a very careful editor, so why the comma? For me, its effect is to isolate and emphasise each term in the title, even as it insists on the link between them. There are a great many of us, and we live in a world of many wonderful things, and in a world that faces grave issues, as many of the poems suggest even as they stress the beauty and the power of the natural world. At the same time the title insists that we are one, that we live in one world and (despite the dreams of the astronauts) if we destroy it, there will be no other. Her poem, ‘The many’, explores this. Notice the way she segues from talking about the one, to bacteria, and finally to talking about all of us. (page 49). See also ‘We are many, but we are one’ on page 64.

The title thus connects seamlessly with the dominant theme of the collection. For many of the poems in this collection explore aspects of science and the natural world; her sense of delight in it; her sense of wonder. All her life this was an abiding interest of hers, and it came as no surprise when she told me some years ago that she and her partner Chris Peters were intent on building an ecologically sustainable home, which they did in Eltham. That’s the thing with Lyn: she didn’t just espouse her beliefs, she lived them.

So many of the poems in this collection reference this passion of hers. For instance, this one from page 12: ‘Hear Them’. Note the real sense of celebration throughout this poem, and especially in the last line of each stanza. The final stanza will give you a good sense of the poem:

How wise we were of sap and form
to found this green and wet-pocked earth
where plants take air and make it breathe
where streams and seas and clear lakes flood
where rocks have thawed to make good soil
the sun gives light and heat and fire
and all life forms shake with desire
together they shall sing a hallelujah.

That awareness of the natural world, the wonder of it, permeates the whole collection: the earth and everything in it, and everything on it is her text, how all of it’s connected, all of it is to be celebrated, insect, bird and animal, humans and our place in it, the love of partner, child and parent, the awareness of our origins, mythical and scientific; and where it is all headed. One, and Many indeed. So many poems could be chosen to illustrate this; but read, for instance, ‘At Dusk’, on page 45, where Hatherly seamlessly moves from suburban communters returning home to Shearwaters seeking their nest. The poem celebrates what they have in common.

There are a number of passionate and very sensual poems in the collection, such poems as ‘I see us’, ‘I breathe you’, ‘Labours of Love’, and others. Look how much she packs into ‘Flesh and light’ on page 41. It is both very sensual and scientific, invoking Newton and fields of energy, moving seamlessly from science to the passion and back again.

The energy of love can be moulded
into shapes in an unseen world.
I lean back into the tide of your love.
Its energy is clear as the layers of ocean
closest to the sky, where sunlight is held.

Such poems, of course, emphasise another kind of unity: that between lovers, and also, in a number of poems, between mother and child, or between her and her father. Those poems are almost painful in their beauty: as we read them, we can’t but reflect on Lyn’s delight in the world of the senses. So alive these poems!
Her awareness of what she is leaving gives a real poignancy to many of these poems. One that has a huge impact on me when I read it is ‘You believe’ on page 27. The poem is also a good example of Lyn’s ability to find the significant, evocative detail.

You believe you’ll always remember this,
the spring-blue sky, shallower than summer,
fruit flowers above new green leaves,
wattles still showing a dull gold,
huge box trees creaming and scented
. . . . . . . . . . .
How could plant life keep flowering, fruiting, gifting us
without them (bees), bright as canaries in a mine?
I will remember this.

One of her great skills is in reminding us of the ongoing connectedness between history, myths and the present. These poems remind me of A D Hope’s comment that, “It is the meaning of the poet’s trade to recreate the myths and revive in men the energy by which they live.” (I like the ambivalence of the final “they” in that sentence.)  In the poem ‘Ulysses’ on page 37, just the title is enough. And I think Ovid would have been proud of her poem Daphne (P 17). We’ll all have our own favourites, of course, but for me, the best illustration of this feature of Lyn’s poetry is ‘The star people’ on page 73.

Such connectedness with the present also applies to the ancient philosophers. Look, for instance, at the way she brings Epicurus into the present in a poem like ‘Properties of air’ on page 39. He ‘formed the view,’ she tells us, ‘that matter is illusory’, and ‘We inhale Epicurus’s words.’ And he is very much with them as ‘We dream, you and I, on a lap of long grass.’

At first glance, Lyn’s poetry might appear artless, unstructured, but that’s because her effects come so naturally, so subtly, that it’s easy to overlook them. The poems are rich in the well chosen detail, the evocative phrase, the subtle patterns of sound, the carefully chosen line breaks. Let me give you just a few examples.
See for example, how much is encompassed in these short phrases from Daphne (17), how effective the sound patterning is, how competent the line breaks:

She stands staring at him
sinking her small feet in deep loose soil
until they take root, until her arms spread
in branches, and the white flesh of breasts
know a corselet of bark.

And consider this brief stanza from Cities (22). See how much she builds into these brief lines: the compression, the evocation, with so many of her ecological concerns packed into one brief stanza:

As consummate pack animals we rule
taming, excluding other life forms
even trees and lyrical birds
marching out each day, dragging in
bread from the global commons.

Look too, in the poem Ulysses, (P37) at the way this stanza, in one sentence, builds so beautifully to its butterfly conclusion:

Into this green-tinged underworld,
where vines wrap screens around tree-poles
and lianas that tracked the sun
end in coiled spirals on a floor
crawling with baby-flesh ferns,

two travellers flitted

Notice, too, how effectively she uses the stanza break there to foreground that final phrase.

I could go on multiplying examples of her skill, but I’ll leave to readers the pleasure of finding them for themselves. Those few though are sufficient to make clear the skill with which she weaves her magic: the sound patterning, the compression, the repetitions, the careful structures, the foregrounding, the phrase that make you look and look again.

I would like to finish by referring to the first and last poems, which so ably frame the collection as a whole. The first of them, ‘For a Good Life’, on page 11, is a poem that encompasses her philosophy in a few simple stanzas. Then, on page 81, is ‘Each Breath’, the last poem in the collection. So much is going on in this poem; it carries within it a suggestion of the history of evolution, and an awareness of the richness the world has to offer, and finally and most powerfully, her awareness of the direction in which she is headed. There are many powerful and evocative poems dealing with these questions in this collection, so this is a very appropriate poem on which to end:

I hold my breath, feel the faintness
my body’s panic, the increase in blood-born
carbon, the way some acts are not wilful.
Air and life have always interacted
the present crop of green and living things
nest in our hollow, sipping a mix of oxygen
nitrogen and argon from the fine layer
succouring our Earth: our global commons.
Every breath links us with our past
reminds us that we are all joined.

So I walk on, face forward to my future
while behind me foorprints like arrowheads
point to all I have left behind.

It’s a fine summing up, a statement of her personal philosophy and a revelation of her courage. So buy, read and re-read this book, even as we remember, and miss, the fine mind and generous spirit of the woman who produced it.

 – Ron Pretty


Ron Pretty has been publishing his poetry for 40 years. His eighth book of poetry, What the Afternoon Knows, was published in 2013. He has taught writing throughout Australia and in US, England and Austria. From 1983 to 1999 he was Head of Writing at the University of Wollongong. He was the director of Five Islands Press, for which he published 230 books by Australian poets in the 20 years 1987 – 2007. He taught creative writing at the University of Melbourne, 2004 – 2007. In 2012 the Australia Council for the Arts awarded him a residency in Rome.

Many, and One is available at

Lyn Hatherley’s obituary on Rochford Street Review

Featured Writer Magdalena Ball: Five Poems from ‘Unmaking Atoms’

Unmaking Atoms

Yesterday you said goodbye
for the third time
your breath lifting
the hair on my neck as you
whispered another vow.

I watched you leave
your lips barred, arms bridged
against an unyielding chest.

I’ve kept track of these
a book by the bedside
scribbling invisible letters
while I blank my face.

When you return
your breath is shallow
the bed colder than wind
but we pretend it’s warm
wake in silence
words hidden in the ledger of loss.

Because I’m a woman
I know you’re right
it’s my habit of hiding
meaning in parcels
beneath my skin.
If you reached out a finger
you’d find them
swollen against the veins
releasing a strange scent:
musk and sadness.

You said goodbye again
maybe it was just an ordinary wave
a little post-coffee blood
pieces of flesh
I might pick up while I wash
dirty dishes, tidy the counter.

I don’t know how to share
other than secretly
in lemon juice ink
knowing every word unspoken
is one step closer to the one
that sticks
the one that will unmake these atoms.


Ashes for the Earth

Walking slowly
distraction of hearth left
to those that still bleed
a forest grows around me.

Lichen and stone
vine, rock and leaf
each footstep goes deeper
into the soil
breaking down the loam
beneath incorporeal feet
crushing barriers in my mind.

This forest is a city
the buildings of memory
tug and sting
phantom pain
whispered against this journey.

Sound comes in even pulses
breath is a dream I once had
in the days when trees were buildings
and fear was a girdle
maintaining form.

My body unravels
through this
nameless place
those attachments
the hunger of the living
can be shed
though not easily.

I still taste salt on my tongue
still hear the soft call
of my children
their fingers looking for me
in black and white lacunae
echoes in the disappearing air
even as I continue
making ashes for the earth

it’s too late to turn back.


Mapping Pluto

In the corner of my eye
crude patterns of dark and light winked behind
averted vision, engaged the cones and rods
of my retina as a shadowy silhouette
then gone.

Not for the first time.

When I was no older than four or five you were
there, question mark on your chest
like a slogan T-shirt, appearing from the dreamworld
whispering my name when no one
else was answering the phone.

In the lean years
your celebrity reduced to dark glasses and exo-status
I tried to keep you close through long nights
thrashing in my hallucinations
the nightmare of your voice, muted music
Holst’s Renewer, unwritten, unknown
like a true god of the underworld.

Let’s not pretend you’re nameless
hovering just there, in the ICU
lurking like an unwanted friend
against the metal tang of machinery
monitors, ventilators, keeping life going
while you wait, wait, always waiting
for the soft touch of flesh.

When I finally find you, looking
directly into your dark face
tenderly tracing bony cheekbones with my fingers
alien scent against my skin
will I feel this same hot longing
hollow pain driving my hands to knit and unknit
or will I know you implicitly
all the geysers, craters, moons and rings mapped
familiar as a welcome home.


Watagan Walk

There was a moment
Mount Warrawolong in view
throat constricted with the effort of climbing
where I stopped thinking about you.

Only fools would work this hard
I heard you say
but it was just wind in my ears
clouds parting briefly for a shot of blue.

Past boulders covered in moss
Illawarra flames, red cedar branches
walking barefoot, my feet treading
lightly on broken promises
like the memory of kinship
a wedge-tailed eagle overhead
eyes squinting against summer sun.

How easy it would be
to reject this gift
that was never mine
an exception to the rule
city girl on the hill
in plastic sunnies and khakis
lips whiter than the
ice cream mountain top.

Yet I call this forest home
find my own handprint
in abandoned caves
recognise goannas blending to bark
the screech of lorikeet and cockatoo
more familiar than a honking horn.

Eucalyptus breath
draws me back
as if it were a return
c’mon it says
your body is earth bound
this soil, this smell.


Redhead Beach

Arriving, never fully
at this beach
closed due to rough surf
snuck in, an interloper
sand from another time
between these toes

not one molecule
other than the enamel
on my teeth
the cartilage in my bones
from that person
on that beach
but here again
memory finding itself
the water hitting the shore
in patterns fully familiar
the rocky outcrops
shark tower

blue on blue
like heartbreak
your eyes against the ocean
the ocean against the sky

a seagull nods
as if to say
yes, me too
refreshed but not renewed

a network of cellular
connections between neurons
a conduit that survives
even the startling indigo
of that light

alone, always
but never quite
without you.

-Magdalena Ball


The poems are a selection from Magdalena Ball’s ‘Unmaking Atoms’ (Ginninderra Press 2017) and are republished in Rochford Street Review with the author’s permission. They include, ‘Mapping Pluto’ which was shortlisted for the 2015 Bayside Poetry Awards, and ‘Watagan Walk’ and ‘Redhead Beach’, versions of which were awarded commendations in the Poetry competition at the Morisset Lake Macquarie District Show.


highres headshot

Magdalena Ball. photograph by Morgan Hardy Bell (2017).

Magdalena Ball is a novelist, poet, reviewer, interviewer, and the editor of Compulsive Reader. She has been widely published in literary journals, anthologies, and is the author of several books of poetry and fiction. Her collection of poetry, Unmaking Atoms, was published by Ginninderra Press this year. Magdalena Ball was shortlisted for the Queensland Poetry Festival Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award 2017, the Bayside Poetry Awards 2015, and highly commended for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016. She also received commendations in the Poetry competition at the Morisset Lake Macquarie District Show.



Unmaking Atoms by Magdalena Ball is available from Ginninderra Press

“The core of Unmaking Atoms”: Zalehah Turner interviews Magdalena Ball

“the inner and outer worlds of the bereaved”: Malcolm St Hill reviews Magdalena Ball’s Unmaking Atoms


Featured Writer Magdalena Ball: Biographical Note

highres headshot

Magdalena Ball. photograph by Morgan Hardy Bell (2017).


Magdalena Ball is a novelist, poet, reviewer, interviewer, and the editor of Compulsive Reader. She has been widely published in literary journals, anthologies, and is the author of several books of poetry and fiction. Her collection of poetry, Unmaking Atoms, was published by Ginninderra Press in 2017. Magdalena Ball was shortlisted for the Queensland Poetry Festival Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award 2017, the Bayside Poetry Awards 2015, and highly commended for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016. She also received commendations in the Poetry competition at the Morisset Lake Macquarie District Show.


Five poems from Unmaking Atoms

Unmaking Atoms by Magdalena Ball is available from Ginninderra Press

“The core of Unmaking Atoms”: Zalehah Turner interviews Magdalena Ball

“the inner and outer worlds of the bereaved”: Malcolm St Hill reviews Magdalena Ball’s Unmaking Atoms

The Absence of Painting: Lisa Sharp reviews ‘Joe Wilson Painting etc’ at STACKS PROJECTS

Joe Wilson Painting etc. catalogue essay. An exhibition at STACKS Projects artist run gallery and project space, 191 Victoria Rd, Potts Point, NSW runs from 21 September to 8 October, 2017.

So, what has happened when you go to an exhibition of paintings only to find that Painting has turned its back and left the room? This is a room you may find yourself in at one of Joe Wilson’s exhibitions and it is a provocative quandary when encountering his work. Left inside the room are a collection of objects, that point to the absence of Painting, much as a recent departure from the stage of a Big Personality. There is a sense of having just missed the main act, tempered by a little uncertainty about the objects left scattered on stage. The end-of concert announcement ‘Elvis has left the building’ comes to mind.

In this room, the works tell of painting through its absence. They do this by adopting its familiar form, referencing formalism, and by utilising a pseudo-materiality that is filled with insight and humour. Carefully assembled is a collection of objects that are associated with and which indubitably point to painting. They point to the imprimatur of painting and not, as one might expect, the well-mined arenas of painting activity as inspired spiritual process, its medium as skill-based, its output as an aesthetically valued product for lengthy gazing upon. The material elements of painting are not present but are recognisable in their absence, through references, substitution and word play. For Joe Wilson lays bare, as if on a stage the entire set of conventions that surround an exhibition of paintings. A Wilson exhibition is a work site and the works are exhibited as moveable and transitory artefacts of the exhibition apparatus – the making, staging, crating, transport and installation of painting.

Joe Wilson, ‘Half Arsed’, 2017. Acrylic and timber, 42 x 42 x 7 cm
(Image courtesy the artist)

As a mere viewer you will be caught up in this staging, as your role in the gallery is assessed. Within the exhibition space of Painting etc, you may find that your entry is facilitated but your spectating can be confounded by the transitory narrative conveyed by the works. The shop-like window of the gallery displays a blue painting bespoke-packed in an orange suitcase. On entry, The Hand, 2017 a hand-rail painted in safety yellow seems to escort, support and guide you in your viewing journey. Then you see paintings in various stages of installation – wrapped for travel, leaning on a wall, hung. Usually white monochromes, they resist being seen again whenever, they remain resolutely crated and unpacked. Occasionally mounted plinth-like on white pallets these works take on a monumental, if slightly absurdist quality. The packing pallet, with its irresistible homophonic reference to a painter’s palette is a recurring Wilson motif, and a gently satirical dig at the paraphernalia, the etcetera of painting, that is the subject of the exhibition.

Clearly at home in the gallery, and fluent in the non-objective vernacular, the works are clean-lined, restrained, well-crafted objects presented in an elegant and reductive vocabulary. You see timber frames, flat colours, monochromatic surfaces, geometric compositions, ready-mades and rectilinearity. It is familiar, and almost too well -done. There is a tension in the room, and it’s a tension created from flawless execution undercut by absence. In a strange inversion of their objecthood, the works resemble – maybe even mimic – images, functioning as reflections, understudies and surrogates of painting. In doing so, the works take on the appearance, semblance, expectation, the simulacra of art, as if what we know and have come to expect of painting has been held up to a mirror, and reproduced.

Situating himself as a painter, Joe Wilson, who also works as an art installer and art school studio technician, is broadly concerned with “elements, situational and compositional, beyond the confines of the painter’s canvas”. Indeed his recent research for his Masters of Fine Art posited painting as Dislocated Object and examined Mobility and Transfer in the Presentation of Painting. And when painting is transient, on the move, or just passing through, then its absence becomes very much a concept explored within each exhibition. Absence is instigated, and then perpetuated by the works’ consideration of the marginalia of roles and agencies that take place behind and beyond the surface of painting. In talking to Joe, he elaborates on a theory he has about the object-image dichotomy, (a central tenet dating from the birth of non-objective painting), seeing it rather as an object-image collusion. This is a co-dependant relationship specific to our contemporary age of ubiquitous media, where the image can not only extend the reach of the object, but also become a work in its own right.

Joe Wilson, ‘Digital collage 3 (thinker)’, 2017. Image courtesy the artist

Another, instance of painting turning its back on a room was Wilson’s earlier exhibition Verso (February 2017, Rayner Hoff Space, National Art School). A verso is a technical term for the reverse side of a painting and in considering painting’s verso we are looking at its back. In that show, the physical site had been renovated to preserve multiple layers of the building’s prosaically utilitarian use, and this facilitated the presentation of painting’s absence in utilitarian disguise. A dolly, a ramp, crates, ladders and flights of steps were interwoven with the presentation of paintings on the walls, suggesting movement, transition and production. In several works, with disarming conceptual perspicacity, Wilson uses chroma-key paint as well as textiles as canvas. A chroma- key is not only a ready-made colour monochrome but is blue / green colour keyed to ‘disappear’ digitally,

The use of a disappearing colour for an exhibition of absent paintings recalls a tale from early painting mythology. The ancient Greek myth of Zeuxis and Parrhasios had two renowned painters in a contest. While Zeuxis produced a painting superior in illusion (birds flew down to taste the painted grapes) it was Parrrhasios who won, for his painting of a curtain which had deceived everyone. The point of the story was not that the curtain was particularly well painted, but that the viewers didn’t see it as painting because they didn’t expect to see it. Instead, the viewers placed all their hope and anticipation in painting that was not there, but was absent.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Painting has left the building. Thank you and goodnight.

 – Lisa Sharp


Lisa Sharp is a Malaysian-born Australian artist, writer and curator currently living and working in Sydney. Following an earlier career in the law, she recently attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts (with Honours in Painting) at the National Art School. Lisa likes to write and muse about art, art making and artists and blogs at 

Details of the exhibition can be found at

“unearthed, precious and intimate”- Emma Cooper reviews ‘Thea Astley: Selected Poems’

Thea Astley: Selected Poems edited by Cheryl Taylor (UQP 2017).

Thea Astley UQPThis collection illustrates Thea Astley’s rarely acknowledged passion for poetry. The way verse contributed to her development as an Australian literary icon is often overlooked, let alone documented so insightfully. Editor, Cheryl Taylor, has compiled Selected Poems in so that Astley’s writing seems unearthed, precious and intimate. The poems are arranged in chronological order, along with careful biographical notes, documenting Astley’s growth from schoolgirl to celebrated and cerebral author. By tracing her making through her poems, the collection shows the formative writing processes that led to her renowned style. The book is an unfurling of Astley’s progress, in both writing and living.

Thea Astley is best known for her fiction. She published seventeen novels, received the Miles Franklin Award four times, more times than any other author in her lifetime, and wrote until her death in 2004. In 1989, she won the Patrick White Award for her contributions to Australian literature and her novels have received numerous accolades. Works such as The Well-Dressed Explorer (1962), The Slow Natives (1965), It’s Always Raining in Mango (1987), The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow (1996), and Drylands (1999) are testament to Astley’s artistry. Unsurprisingly, her propensity for lush imagery and the precision of her syntax is well suited to poetry. Across the two modes, there is a persistence of themes and style: an affinity for water and the Queensland landscapes of her youth; a dexterity and opulence in her language; and a humour and ferocity in her social commentary.

Selected Poems were collated from Thea Astley’s archive in the Fryer Library, University of Queensland, which contains over two hundred poems, mostly from two lined schoolbooks. About twenty-five pieces were published during her lifetime. Most, however, were produced very early in her writing career. As expected in a chronological collection, the best work appears later in Selected Poems and most of these have never been published. The section Adulthood includes pieces from Exercise Book B in the archive. It appears Astley originally gathered these poems for a collection, but abandoned the project. These pieces, and Astley’s use of first-person narration within them, are the most revealing and eloquent in Selected Poems.

The first half of the collection contains the poems Astley produced in her childhood, adolescence, and student years at All Hallows Convent in Brisbane and her time at University of Queensland, until the age of 20. The initial poems, mostly from Exercise Book A, seem as if penned between the margins of textbooks: they are youthful, sentimental and full of zeal. It’s easy to imagine a teenage Astley, in wartime Brisbane, in the pages: her fondness for landscape and dreaming; her spirited accounts of first love. Phrases such as ‘shadows hurled/ With windy cloaks like swelling waves’ and ‘chained to a tottering world’ in ‘Poem [1]’ foreshadow the themes, style and sound patterning which feature in her later fiction. When Astley, interviewed in 1990, referred to writing ‘poetry in adolescence’ as though it were an affliction, she was likely recalling these poems. She referred to them as ‘a form of acne – I think I’m having a poem’. Although this hardly applies to Astley’s work – which, even so early in her writing career, is ripe with careful sensory detail and demonstrates her growing fascination with language and lyrical conventions – it is interesting to keep her dismissal of her early poetry in mind. There is a strong self-awareness in her adolescent poems. In ‘Creation’, she wrote of ‘loneliness’ and her impatience to experience the world, stating it ‘must be part of my making’. Her cry, ‘But O God! The pain in the making’ is satirical and self-deprecating; yet, as the ambition in her poems reveals, she was inspired and energised in her creative development. During her university years, this determination grew and she experimented with traditional forms and meter. Her work, which involves allusions to classic poetry and translations of French lyric poets, shows her honing her skills through emulation.

The poems in the second half of Selected Poems are sharper, wittier and, in their preoccupation with nature, stronger and more specific. From Exercise Book B, these poems were created between 1945 and 1957: a time of significant transition in Astley’s life. Her courtship and the early years of her marriage to husband, Jack Gregson; the resulting estrangement from her parents; moving to various parts of Australia; and her work as a high-school teacher: inklings of these biographical traits leak into her poetry. Astley’s poems move through remembered spaces and map the landscapes and seascapes of her youth. She wrote sonnets to Queensland islands in ‘Magnetic’ and ‘Whitsundays’; described ‘rhyming beaches’ and ‘the blue sea… sucking the shore’s white rind’ in her poem ‘Dunes’. However, when the scenery leaves her cold, such as that in ‘Hunters Hill [1]’, she is just as poetic:

When you see this flattened landscape
Creeping like a tired crustacean
Over a sea-bed; when you see
Tired claws of suburbs scrabbling
At the greenness; pray for us now.

As in her fiction, Astley’s poetry often describes the drudgery of suburbia and small towns. In ‘Hunters Hill [1]’, she writes of returning to a mythical Queensland, stating ‘my feet, time-tortured, crave / Familiar floors.’ The ambivalent feelings she conveys towards her surrounds – changes of residence, travel, nostalgia, her relationship with her husband – recur like the ‘rain’s incessant drumming’ in her poem ‘A Warning’. Rain and movement in bodies of water are enduring themes throughout the Adulthood section of Selected Poems; their descriptions are among the most memorable and moving of Taylor’s selection.

The majority of Thea Astley’s poetic output is included in this collection, offering a rare and very personal view into her life and creative process – more personal, perhaps, for the moments of imperfection in some poems. Watching Astley refine the skills and imagery she accomplished in her fiction is where the real pleasure in reading Selected Poems lies. While the collection may be unremarkable for readers indifferent or unfamiliar with her fiction, Astley’s innovative contributions to Australian literature and the full scope of her creative work deserve to be acknowledged and Cheryl Taylor does this elegantly.

-Emma Cooper


Emma Cooper is a writer living in Sydney. She is working on a novel called The Horizontal Woman and studying a Master of Creative Writing at the University of Sydney. Emma is originally from Cairns, Australia.

Thea Astley: Selected Poems (2017) is available from UQP


“the inner and outer worlds of the bereaved”: Malcolm St Hill reviews Magdalena Ball’s ‘Unmaking Atoms’

Unmaking Atoms by Magdalena Ball (Ginninderra Press 2017).

unmaking_atomsMagdalena Ball’s Unmaking Atoms, her second full-length collection, is a prodigious and often heart-wrenching array of poems, speaking to themes of loss and grief. In the ninety-two, generally short pieces, Ball projects an astounding breadth of knowledge, particularly in science, and mines this in unique and skillful ways.

The death of a parent is the predominant subject of this collection. Ball examines this primarily from the perspective of a bereaved daughter. In ‘Irrational Heart’, one of the longer poems in the collection, the daughter negotiates the ‘untempered rawness’ of loss, the silence and permanence of her suffering:


when the wash is done, lights off
kids in bed
leather gloves come out
silently punch the wall, which never yields.

She walks her ‘dreams alone’, hoping to find the parent in the liminality of sleep. She sorts her mother’s belongings, a mundane but necessary act of bereavement, and contemplates staying up all night, baking cookies to ‘negotiate the hurt.’

Symbols of loss haunt these poems. In ‘Inside Your Darkest Everything’, which references Frida Kahlo, the deceased is ‘the dull scent of memory/ that lingers on the drapes’, and ‘a neat row of shoes/ that won’t be worn again’. ‘Yellow Jacquard’, apologizes to the parent for disliking the inherited jacquard sofa, a striking object, which mocks the child, with its ‘stupidly/ happy flowers’ sign-posting loss.

There is a sense, at times, of the parental eye watching over the child. In ‘Cold Mirror’, ‘…you’re everywhere/ a peek-a-boo phantom dropping by/ to check my progress’. In other poems, the mother is the persona and we witness death from the deceased’s point of view. In ‘Ashes for the Earth’, the mother tells the reader that,

I still taste the salt on my tongue
still hear the soft call
of my children
their fingers looking for me
in black and white lacunae

‘In Situ’, describes friends and family gathering around the bereaved and portrays grief as so intensely personal that others cannot possibly understand the suffering. Those around the daughter comment that her mother looked peaceful, while she thinks otherwise, that ‘a grimace is not a smile’. According to them, death ‘was the natural order of things’, and when they left, they smiled, ‘empty containers in hand’. This poem encapsulates the feelings of emptiness and isolation in the face of well-intentioned others, with their awkwardness and insensitivity. It is a poem of contradictions. There was ‘much to do, but nothing more to be done’. There was ‘hunger and too much food’. There was barrenness and comfort. These are the inner and outer worlds of the bereaved, the disconnect emphasising the estrangement of the daughter from those around her.

Ball likens the isolation of grief to that of Planet Nine (in the poem of the same name), the predicted but unobserved outer planet of the solar system. This is one of many references to astronomy in the collection. There is some consolation, however, in an earlier planetary poem, ‘Maven on Mars’, about a spacecraft exploring the atmosphere of the Red Planet. Maven, in the vastness of space is ‘…never alone/ no matter how dark/ or cold’.

Life in the fog of loss is not without hope and Ball suggests that, in time, some healing will occur. ‘Relief comes in bursts of sunlight’, says the persona in ‘Dark Matter Wants to be Alone’ and in the final stanza of ‘Hieroglyphics’, ‘finding a tincture of who you were/ each detail of your absence, bringing back/ the line and curve that makes us whole.’ In the end though, the sting of loss lingers as in ‘Qualia’, where ‘years haven’t covered/ everything in rosy patina’, and that grief is ‘…still ugly/ fresh enough to be raw’.

Ball leans heavily on physics as well as astronomy and other sciences for metaphoric effect. At times, this demands work from the reader. While it’s necessary to ascertain the meanings of some of the scientific terms, the reward is to witness the acuity of their use. The moment of death is a slide into the ‘atomic mess’. It is an arresting, almost visceral image, from the poem ‘Atomic Mess’, but it also represents the point of release from suffering. Apart from its conspicuous inclusion in the collection’s title, this is the first of many references to atoms. The persona describes herself in ‘Most of Everything is Nothing’, as ‘a conduit of buzzing atoms/ moving by kinetic heat’. There is a striking paradox between the self as a sentient being and as a collection of atoms, molecules, cells or other fundamental building blocks of life. We are both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.

Ball assays grief with sensitivity and skill in this deep exploration of the emotional impact of death. The poems are poignant but never sentimental and the prevalent references to science provide a unique counterpoint, keeping the collection fresh and alive. Technical knowledge is married beautifully with the healing power of poetry and Ball carries ‘…all this/ responsibility/ all this breath’, with equanimity and poise.

-Malcolm St Hill


MSH Bio Pic (1)

Malcolm St Hill

Malcolm St Hill lives in Newcastle and is a poet and independent researcher focused on the literary memory of the Great War, particularly that of Australian soldier-poets. His recent poems have appeared in the 2016 and 2015 ‘Grieve’ anthologies. He was the winner of the Morisset Show ‘Lake Macquarie Moments’ Poetry Competition in 2016.



Unmaking Atoms by Magdalena Ball is available from Ginninderra Press

Five poems from Unmaking Atoms

“The core of Unmaking Atoms”: Zalehah Turner interviews Magdalena Ball

Featured Writer Andy Jackson: Biographical Note


Andy Jackson


Andy Jackson lives in Castlemaine, and has featured at literary events and arts festivals in Australia, India, USA and Ireland. He was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Prize for Poetry for Among the regulars (Papertiger 2010), and won the 2013 Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize for The thin bridge. Andy’s most recent collections are Immune Systems (Transit Lounge 2015), and the chapbook That knocking (Little Windows 2016). His new book, Music our bodies can’t hold (Hunter Publishers), consists of portrait poems of other people with Marfan Syndrome.

Music our bodies can’t hold is available from Hunter Publishers

Heather Taylor Johnson launches Andy Jackson’s Music our bodies can’t hold

Andy Jackson: Three poems from Music our bodies can’t hold

Featured Writer Andy Jackson: Three Poems


Here we are at the enclosure, watching
.                                   a pair of giraffes in the distance, slowly
nodding as they walk away.  Fences
.                                   like these keep us separate from the animals,

and the animals from us.  My heart
.                                   so far is good.  I’ve not followed my mom into
sudden agony and surgery.  The okapis are threatened

.                                   and are here.  I love their deep brown hides,
their zebra legs, their quietness.  I’m torn
.                                   between reading the signs and just standing
here, watching them breathe.  All our group

.                                   have Marfan, but it doesn’t have us.
Nearby, an ostrich is lowering itself gently
.                                   to the earth, its neck honest and determined

as a spine.  I want a shirt that says no I don’t
.                                   play basketball
.  I play the clarinet and dance.
There’s surgery and medication.  There’s a drift
.                                   of snow leopards, a pride of lions.  We raise

money.  We want to save ourselves.

b. 2000



What use is music your body can’t hold,
that can’t take you from this world?

I met a man who wouldn’t play the drum
until he’d stroked it, given thanks to the doe –

we have lost this.  All night, the freeway’s racket,
its metallic breath.  Any day now, I could leave.

O God, you do not exist –
but you are hidden in this tumour,

this slow-leaking valve of my heart – your gifts,
they have broken me into understanding.

As a child, I would leap into my own
little rituals of numbers and joy.

The icon offers the empty space at its centre.
I only love this world because I love the other.

We are this knot in a string whose ends extend
forever in both directions.  The compositions?

I’d not change a note.  But I could have said less.


1944 – 2013



I would be giving in to a myth of sameness which I think can destroy us” – Audre Lorde

sometimes I wake into a quiet sadness
blood pooling in my mouth
bones on fire – this is the worst
and best thing that has ever happened to me

one morning I couldn’t walk
the white coats
gave me a chair –
I became an adult
while they tried to work it out
the closest was marfanoid habitus
til a sudden knife in the chest
gave me enough points for the full diagnosis
hearing it, I felt sick

I have mitral valve prolapse, regurgitation
multiple pulmonary nodules
I get short of breath and produce
excessive mucous (clearly I’m very attractive)
my joints are hypermobile
and dislocate (they go out more than I do)
I’m the walking rubber-band

comments and names at school –
don’t cross your legs, you look disgusting
spider-woman, anorexic slut

other things I can’t write

doctors accused my parents of abuse
threatened me with feeding tubes –
ironic, it was only all this pointing at my bones
that gave me an eating disorder

since I joined Chronic Illness Peer Support
they can’t shut me up
we go on camps, socials, talk about whatever we need to
I meet the most incredible people
and call them my friends
(my dog helps me enormously with my grief)

I’m so motivated people find me exhausting
started studying nursing
but they told me I was too unwell
cried so hard I broke a rib – now it’s psych

I haemorrhaged every day for eighteen months
clots bigger than my hand
doubled over in pain until I passed out
I think about my future a lot
imagine a husband, two golden retrievers
a blue house by the beach, veggie patch
all the people I will help
life is extraordinary and so are you

now look at this photo and tell me
you still want sameness

b. 1992


-Andy Jackson


‘Lindsey’, ‘John’ and ‘Jess’ were published in Music our bodies can’t hold (Hunter Publishers 2017). They have republished here with the author’s permission.



Andy Jackson

Andy Jackson lives in Castlemaine, and has featured at literary events and arts festivals in Australia, India, USA and Ireland. He was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Prize for Poetry for Among the regulars (Papertiger 2010), and won the 2013 Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize for The thin bridge. Andy’s most recent collections are Immune Systems (Transit Lounge 2015), and the chapbook That knocking (Little Windows 2016). His new book, Music our bodies can’t hold (Hunter Publishers), consists of portrait poems of other people with Marfan Syndrome.

Music our bodies can’t hold is available from Hunter Publishers

Andy Jackson: Biographical Note

Heather Taylor Johnson launches Andy Jackson’s Music our bodies can’t hold