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

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

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


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

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

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

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

-Heather Taylor Johnson


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

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


Featured Writer Brendan Bonsack: Biographical Note


Brendan Bonsack- self portrait, 2017


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

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

Featured Writer Brendan Bonsack: Four Spoken Word Poems


25 Words or Less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“do something, anything”
is all that I said

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



Talk About the Apocalypse

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

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

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

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

I’ll send you a dream



The C-word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



A Doctor

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

she said: write me a poem
about the ocean

I said: alright
and I wrote:

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

she said: is that all?

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

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

I said: alright
and I read:

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

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

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

she said: go ahead, if you wish

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

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

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


-Brendan Bonsack


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

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


Vale John Ashbery

John Ashbery, widely regarded as one of the greats of English language poetry over the last half century, died on Sunday 3 September aged 90.

Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927 and grew up on an apple farm in the nearby village of Sodus. He wrote his first poem at age 8. His first book, Some Trees, was published in 1956, with a by W.H. Auden and was praised by Frank O’Hara, who likened Ashbery to Wallace Stevens. His 1962 collection, The Tennis Court Oath, was so abstract that many critics had trouble coming to terms with the collection, but his 1966 collection, Rivers and Mountains, was a National Book Award finalist and confirmed his position as a major US poet. This was confirmed when his 1975 collection,  Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle prize.

From an Australian perspective Ashbery was one of the major American poets, along with Frank O’Hara, Ted Berrigan and others, who provided a major influence to a generation of Australian poets from the mid 1960s. John Forbes was referring to this when he wrote in ‘To the Bobbydazzlers’:

on the beach I
look towards you
but the curve
of the Pacific
gets in the way
& I see stars
instead knocked
out by your poems
American poets,

Perth Poetry Festival – Keynote Address by Amanda Joy

As patron of the 2017 Perth Poetry Festival Amanda Joy delivered the 2017 Festival Keynote address on 17 August at the Northbridge Piazza Community Room.

Amanda Joy

Within days of being asked to make this address, the week before I left for Broome, I went to dinner with a group of poets, in a corner a candle had been lit for Fay Zwicky. We were told she would not make it through the following day.

When I think of memorable keynote addresses, without fail, the first to come to mind is Fay Zwicky’s opening speech from the Apropos Festival hosted by Writing WA a few years back. I still don’t entirely trust my recollection of what she said, there was some kind of hypnotic reverie involved, which existed outside the words and cast a spell over that entire week. It began with music, Fay Zwicky playing piano. Her talk was mostly autobiographical, quite practical, surprising, gracious and radiated great generosity in its advice to poets. I’m sure everyone there took away many things. Residual for me, the seed which took root, was her advocacy of fearlessness, not just in poetry but in our relating to others, a courage in reaching out, particularly poet to poet.  I very loosely paraphrase here, “if you admire someone’s writing, write to them, no matter how far away and loftily admired they might be” Her reach was as international as the points of reference evidenced in her writing. She illuminated those interconnections which sustain us and it seems right to invoke her presence here now, through her own words and those of a handful of Western Australian Women Poets.

There is a particular sentence in her essay Seeing and Recording a Local Ambience which has stayed with me as caution, friction and fascination since I first encountered it;

The Obscurity of Our Diction.

“The obscurity of our diction has been closer to vagueness of perception than to the obscurity of the complex consciousness. It embodies an uncertain grasp of the relationship between language and feeling, and of feeling and the natural world. Our poetic speech has lacked that edge of hardness and truth, which enables us to forgive an obvious clinging to convention, which we do in Hardy and Frost. What has been missing is the personal tone, the adjustment of the individual to the physicality of things.”

What an awareness this asks for! and she offers little consolation, rather opening a field of questions. Yes, as instructed, you can slow the moment of sensation, break it gently down, line by line to regulate the pace, as with all her writing the words seem to have absorbed more, codified more, than others can in entire books.

She writes of the lack of musicality, even the inert “thud” of the words of William Carlos Williams, of his visual rather than auditory imagination, not tuned to the mind’s ear, then discusses at length the heightened scrupulousness in his matching of language to physicality, of the appeal this concept of poetry might have to, in her words, “shallow democracy” shared by Australian and Americans.

And what a potent pairing of words that is “Shallow democracy” It speaks to a great deal more than a distrust of elevated or academic literary language and how specialized language can isolate.

In preparing for this talk, I was excited to find on the Giramondo website, her speech from the launch of Lucy Dougan’s book The Guardians. It contains so many gems but I loved this euphoric quote (which I have kept near my desk) “Whenever a poet manages to find language and structures that mimic and project her feelings, she’s actually chalking up a victory over oblivion. “

What our diction resists and what its resistance can say. A well crafted poem asks the reader/listener to move toward it to gain understanding.

In the poem The Stone Dolphin, from Three Songs of Love and Hate, she writes:

The language of tyranny had to be
learnt if anything were to be said

and later in the same poem:

True grief is tongueless when the dumb
define love’s death
In a fiercely fathered and unmothered world
words are wrung from the rack

These are origins, not conclusions. As in so many of her poems she destabilizes language by critiquing the same tool she is working with, she renders it precarious through a restructuring, each orphaned word crammed to bursting point with the weight of greater meaning, yet retaining its most seductive qualities.

I was reminded of the final stanza’s of Morgan Yasbincek’s poem Pilgrim, from White Camel

for two days she sits broody in the camper chair, her cup held still
on ten fingertips, then she moves like that woma python woman
from Uluru, the child a light under the sand of her
tasting the air, she enters a gathering in the centre of Alice, finds
the Arrente woman who gives her some words to see with, permission
to enter her land

These complex networks. Words which have come from another physicality, which have not only been seeded by the shape of things in that particular locale but also allow the alignment of the individual to that same physicality. This is not abstract theory, become bilingual and your tongue will develop a new muscularity, your hypothalamus will vibrate differently, your pituitary gland will secrete a new dose of hormones.

When in Swamp, Nandi Chinna asks “How many footsteps will it take/ to walk a place into the body?” the body keeps walking, the rhythm of movement through terrain becomes the body and the words-as-poem, a new form.

When poetry strives for this alignment, evidences this adjustment, it sings. Not merely as vocality, onomatopoeia, in cadence, meter, or a layering of meaning. Something happens spatially. We are drawn into another place, another encounter, it situates us in a “constellation” complete with its own rhythm.

There is a great poem by Caitlin Maling, I came across originally in Going Down Swinging from her book Conversations I’ve Never Had, called Holiday, it begins with an aerial view of Perth.  (our freshly arrived interstate and international guests may appreciate this view from an airplane)

Perth from above is a cockroach.
It sits there, brown and laconic, and
the microwave of summer can’t shift it”

Discomforting for many reasons, not least because it likens Perth to a cockroach, but also everything suburban becomes cockroach, not diffused by the word like it actually is a cockroach. The language in it is hard, the line breaks as dissociated and dislocated as the idea of a city which clings to country like an insect “twitching intermittently”

The precision of our diction, the map which is our diction, leads to and from the reader/listener’s body through the sentence and from and to share the poet’s body and its yearnings, where they are located, not simply geographically and physically but psychically, spiritually and ineluctably, politically.

Set this beside Yamatji poet, Charmaine Papertalk-Green’s Don’t Want me To Talk, published in Cordite and also The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry.

You don’t want me to talk about
Mining or its impact on country
You don’t want me to talk about
The concept and construct of ‘whiteness’
And how dominant and real it is
You don’t want me to talk about
The art vultures here and everywhere
Modern day art missionaries
Guiding us on the great white canvas
You don’t want me to talk about
Treaties or invasion of this land
It’s a shared true history- lets heal
You don’t want me to talk about
How reconciliation could be the wrong word
You don’t want me to talk about
Native titles way of moving across
The Midwest and Murchison landscape
You don’t want me to talk at all
Most of the time
You want me to nod, smile and listen
You don’t want me to talk about
How I have got a voice
And you don’t listen

There are voices not represented in this room. While we gather under the banner of ‘celebrating diversity’, lets also have a heightened awareness of where it isn’t and why its important to do so.

In the rarefied context of several days of poets reading their poems we have the benefit of entering not only the poet’s diction but an immersion in the intonation, to observe the facial expressions and physical presence. To commune through a shared embodiment of words, the texture of those words over tongues and into ears, as spirit, as wind or other movement over terrain. This week as we make those maps. Maps of this precious time we have together, this transient field of relations we co create and its capacity to change us, as poets and people.

I’ll now read Fay Zwicky’s ‘The Poet Asks Forgiveness’ from Kaddish.

Dead to the world I have failed you
Forgive me, traveller.

Thirsty, I was no fountain
Hungry, I was not bread
Tired, I was no pillow

Forgive my unwritten poems:
the many I have frozen with irony
the many I have trampled with anger
the many I have rejected in self-defence
the many I have ignored in fear

unaware, blind or fearful
I ignored them.
They clamoured everywhere
those unwritten poems.
They sought me out day and night
and I turned them away.

Forgive me the colours
they might have worn
Forgive me their eclipsed faces
They dared not venture from
the unwritten lines.

Under each inert hour of my silence
died a poem, unheeded


 – Amanda Joy


Amanda Joy was born and raised in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia. Her first full-length book, Snake Like Charms, is part of the UWAP Poetry series. Her poem ‘Tailings’ won the 2016 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. She is the author of two chapbooks, Not Enough to Fold and Orchid Poems.

The 2017 Perth Poetry Festival ran from 11th to the 20th of August https://wapoets.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/2017-perth-poetry-festival/

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

Silence Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

All things returning to their starting place…

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zalehah: Tell me about writing poetry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mohammad: We can’t focus on something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mohammad: Thank you.


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


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


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

Answers Just Beyond Our Grasp: Colleen Keating launches ‘Black Mountain’ by Carol Chandler

Black Mountain by Carol Chandler, Ginninderra Press 2017, was launched by Colleen Keating at Better Read Than Dead Bookshop, Newtown, on 6 August

Carol Chandler, (left) and Colleen Keating at the launch of Black Mountain

Firstly I invite a pause for us to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, on which we gather and   to pay respect for Elders past and present.

What a gathering in this wonderful environment of books and music and art, and what a great honour for Carol that you have taken the time to be with her to celebrate.

Most of you would be aware writing is a lonely trek, a long haul,  a footslog, an odyssey. Sometimes lost in the bush,  sometimes all at sea, sometimes desert-dry, sometimes energising but mostly a solitary and gruelling task. As a writing community we appreciate that, and we are here to honour the loneliness of the long distance writer and to celebrate Carol’s successful outcome. And what an outcome.

Black Mountain is a psychological thriller –  and what a thriller. What a journey!  We are taken by the narrator, Sarah, into the back waters of a country area, a place up in the hills not far from the coast in a lonely desolate ‘neck of the woods’.  Sarah, a teacher  has escaped from this town and this life, but on, page one, she is drawn back into its eerie world  trying to make sense of the past and find out what really happened to her brother Liam who died in a house fire.  By page eight we are woven into the mystery and, for us, there is no return .

You and I know how easy it is to get caught back into the dark web of our past,  –   into the tangle of relatives, families , friends. . . where there are all the hurts and intrigues, suicide, murders, lovers, drugs  and especially secrets, lies and cover ups.

People are watching …..the threat of dogs always in the background..… the sharpness of the knife edge that glints in the moon light…….   that scary feeling you are being followed and  that strand of foreshadowing…. and  of course the world of gossip.

Even when we escape to the coast, the ocean doesn’t give us reprieve, not even a breather. We are kept in the dark web of intrigue.

Carol has given us a thriller. Everyone loves a good mystery……  but here there is the added complexity of human psychology,   what’s beneath the surface in human action and reaction .

The pivotal characters Freya and Tyler and the mystery of Lola a young girl who has disappeared, gives us a sense of place and how that connects with identity.

And with  the pains of the past that hold their secrets and hold us in their mystery, we become caught in the struggle and search for meaning.

What is it all about? ……. We are immersed in a thriller . . . a metaphor for life, where the questions materialise at every turn, but the answers are just beyond our grasp.

The many characters, that fill this small world of intrigue, even Aden and Radic and the dogs Nero and Jet and the mountain all are colourful and well formed. One could possibility recognise archetypes from Carl Jung’s  collective unconscious but this is held lightly,  This is not a philosophy book, it is a short psychological thriller to take to bed,  or curl up one rainy afternoon and enjoy an escape for a few hours.

Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter says: “Words are in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic” and Black Mountain has the magic of a good read.

I  congratulate Carol and proudly declare Black Mountain launched.

Black Mountain is available from https://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/store.php?product/page/1373/%2A+Carol+Chandler+%2F+Black+Mountain

Colleen Keating. belongs to the Women Writers Network that meets every Wednesday at the NSW Writers Centre in Roselle .  Her collection of poetry, A Call to Listen is available from Grinninderra Press and her second collection, Fire on Water, is forthcoming from the same publisher. Colleen can be found at http://colleenkeatingpoet.com.au/

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

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

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

The wisdom of knowing where
something begins how it will end

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

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

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

-Barbara Boyd-Anderson


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

Les Wicks launches Open & Unfold by Cecilia Morris.

A selection of poetry from Open & Unfold by Cecilia Morris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Anna Forsyth


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

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

Amanda Anastasi launches We the Mapless by Ian McBryde


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

Don’t Go Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wharf 3 Moama

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

The river is a caretaker of openness.
Travellers converse.

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

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

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

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


We’re in a rain shadow

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

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

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

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


Beachworth Abandoned Hospital

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

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

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

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


– Cecilia Morris


Launch CM

Cecilia Morris. photograph by Lexi Johnston

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

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