Issue 5: August – October 2012 Contents

(Carol Archer-Anna Couani, Macao-Elsewhere, mixed media on paper. 2011. From a photo by Anna Couani of Shirt Installation by sculptor Hilik Mirankar – installation in Queen Street Gallery.)

Following the Rhythm of the Journey: Heather Taylor Johnson reviews Asymmetry by Aidan Coleman.

Asymmetry by Aidan Coleman. Brandl & Shlesinger 2012

The atrium of the South Australian Writers’ Centre was as packed as I’ve ever seen it when Aidan Coleman said how thrilled he was for the turn out to his launch of Asymmetry. He’d told his friends and family that if they were ever going to attend one of his launches, this was it, because if ever there was a time for him to write the most important book of his life, this was it. The book, Coleman’s follow-up to the Kenneth Slessor Award shortlisted Avenues & Runways, is a testament to human strength and courage, as Coleman writes about a stroke which left him not only without the proper use of his body, but without words. We follow these poems as we would a path of recovery, beginning with ‘I speak an empty / comic bubble’ (‘The Question’, 13) and moving toward reading the newspaper, when words

…come off the page at
different speeds.

I catch, fumble,
As they enter
the head’s static, they switch –

I begin again,
slower, more concentratedly.

‘The Advertiser’, 19

Then begins the task of writing:

and pesters………………………sheets of butcher
‘s paper ………………..words…………..shiver
out of me……………………… lightning
through a turnstile

‘Steroids: The Book I’m Writing’, 33

And the determination to speak:

At the counter my first word
is the wrong foot.

But I make myself understood
and pocket change,
straightforwardly, natural.

A thank-you comes from a distance.

I have my book and my strategies
and time.

‘Coffee’, 43

Finally, once words have found their meaning, and the page, Coleman gives us love poems. In a near-perfect ode to the life he feels thankful to still have, the second half of the book is a collection of poems for Leana, Coleman’s wife who travelled with him on the difficult journey.

What I love most about Coleman’s writing is that each poem is rather short and the style somewhat simple. Not only does this work as an antidote to a heavy and very complex issue, but if feels as though the poems aren’t necessarily rounded off – as if there’s an inheirent inconclusiveness which can only be assuaged by the reading of the next poem, and the next poem, and the next, so that we follow the rhythm of the journey as Coleman did. The fact that he ends with love is a celebration. I adore this book. No pretension –just one small but miraculous word following the next.


Heather Taylor Johnson is the author of two poetry books, Exit Wounds and Letters to my Lover from a Small Mountain Town. Her third collection will be out in February from IP. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and occasionally teaches it at Flinders University. Her first novel, Pursuing Love and Death (HarperCollins), will be out in August.

Asymmetry is available from Brandl & Schlesinger or,%20Aidan

Gig Ryan reviews Pirate Rain by Jennifer Maiden & Beneath Our Armour by Peter Bakowski

Pirate Rain, Jennifer Maiden, Giramondo Publishing, & Beneath Our Armour, Peter Bakowski, Hunter Contemporary Australian Poets,

Jennifer Maiden’s previous book, Friendly Fire, won The Age Book of The Year in 2006, and in her latest book Pirate Rain, she re-introduces some familiar characters in her ‘cluster’ poems that wind around their several themes. Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt commiserate before the 2008 U.S. election, while another sequence of poems brings back two characters from Maiden’s 1990 novel Play with Knives – George Jeffreys, a probation officer, and his lover and ex-patient Clare Collins  (“who had killed her younger siblings as a child” repeats like an Homeric epithet), observing Hurricane Katrina, Beirut and a Somalian pirate ship. These long discursive sequences brim with comedy, irony, drama but uppermost is the possibility of evil or goodness in the world, and whether these are reactions to circumstance or inscribed in character. In these poems, the past co-exists with the present.

Most poems glimpse the chief protagonists in their moments of doubt and crisis – Hillary Clinton seeking succour from Eleanor Roosevelt, George Jeffreys amid the debris of a lurid New Orleans:

In the sixth hour of the storm,
George left the Southern Comfort with his friend,
forced open the door
and walked back towards the nightflood, easily
for the wind walked for him. Soon a broken angel
in stone floated past, and too distant a tiny
nightdress or a child.

Each commences with a character waking up – “Clare Collins woke up in the Paris Hilton. Paris // Hilton was on the TV. Fox News, having disastered // on Iraq, retrained its sites // on Paris Hilton, more in its scope…” yet, across time and continents, as if waking into a dream. Sleep and waking are some of many undercurrents  – “I rhyme most // nearest sleep, like children” is echoed in many poems that end on rhyme. Another theme in Maiden’s work is how events are depicted by the media, mostly TV, that thread through every colourful scene as with Orwell’s pervasive media in Nineteen Eighty-Four: the image replaces the real, as it interrupts, instigates or controls a character’s thought. A sympathetic reader is assumed, and sometimes addressed.  Another humming  layer is how poetry can elaborate these things, jostling time as effectively as television.  Maiden’s work energetically complicates rather than simplifies the world. “Whole as usual only in a crisis”  (‘Clare and Paris’) is one of many ideas these supremely multi-layered poems proffer:

Hillary Clinton woke up in Michigan
in the G.M. plant strike of 1936.
…McCain would win
if they just wanted someone deadly, with
a sheen of compromise…
………………………….(‘Hillary and Eleanor 1: The Companion’)

Peter Bakowski’s Beneath Our Armour traces the development of character, often locating an incident from the past to explain the present. Most are dramatic monologues and portrait poems of artists, an incident illuminating an existence outside of, or parallel with, their work – “The authority I bring to writing // I cannot bring to my life” (‘Portrait of Cyril Connolly, critic’), while other poems depict art as an aid in times of crisis. There is usually some split – just as the book’s title states –  some implied contradiction between life and art – for example the blues musician back at work in the railyards accidentally hearing his own record. Other poems are portraits of criminals,  similarly outside regular employment and regular society, and some autobiographical poems that reach into memory, nostalgia implied with the past tense .

Bakowski’s introduction states his desire to write clearly, to be readily understood, and these poems certainly achieve that.  One problem is that the voices of these characters tend to limpid sameness, and the explanatory voice often enters the prosaic. It is not style of speaking Bakowski wishes to replicate, but to evoke psychology through brief statements and observations. These poems commemorate what often seem inconsequential moments, yet many also wear a sense of foreboding, of tragedies past or to come, as in ‘Sylvia Plath writing in her journal’ – “7 a.m. // Beyond the bedpost // No mirage of glad husband…”  A few poems read like unedited oral histories, where the importance of getting down facts and memories – shorn of art  – seems an ill-fated intention.

Some descriptions are sensitively wrought:
The river is brown-hued, wide.
In its shallows small black fish appear,
hyphens of life

……………………..(‘At Brunswick Heads, New South Wales, September 2006’)

and at their best an understated profundity weaves through many of these poems.

-Gig Ryan


Gig Ryan is Poetry Editor at The Age newspaper (Melbourne) and a freelance reviewer. She has published numerous books including New and Selected Poems (Giramondo, Australia, 2011); Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, UK, 2012); songs with Disband, Six Goodbyes (1988), and Driving Past, Real Estate (1999), Travel (2006).

Pirate Rain is available from Giramondo Publishing:

Beneath Our Armour is available from Hunter Publishing

Practicing for the Novel: Lyndon Walker reflects on Tarcutta Wake by Josephine Rowe

Tarcutta Wake by Josephine Rowe. UQP 2012

There will be many far more informed reviews of this book than mine. Josephine is currently the darling young thing of the Australian Literary scene – something which must be good to experience in the first blush of flirtation with the literati, but can carry a sting in the tail if one doesn’t follow through and fulfil one’s young promise. I take note of my housemate’s initial response sometimes. She declared: “I noticed it on your couch and picked it up and started reading but was quickly bored. It didn’t hold my attention.”

So, to a certain extent, she (Josephine) reminds me of the poet Michael Dransfield in my own younger days. Michael had a lyrical gift and became a cult figure in Australia when he died, but that left him at the mercy of more boring lives who lived longer to write more and they punished him and his writing for the hype being larger than the eventual worth of the writing.

So let me go out on a limb and say that in many ways this offering from Josephine is a slight book. It reminds me of practice paragraphs at the writing workshop. They’re good for refining craft but I would not be rushing them into publication. If you go to a writing workshop in the US and make some connections then you are bound to get published in some local mags in the US. This causes reverence in cringy little Australia sometime. However…in my opinion, if her editors really loved her they would have waited for more substantial or coherent material.

For me this looks like “practicing for the novel” – but that does mean that I and many other of the 5,000 literature reading Australians are waiting for the novel. And the much praise coming to this little book will prepare the way for a good acceptance of the novel. The risk of course – it better be good – or that loving adulation could turn as sour as all get out as rapidly as milk in the sun. In the end it is like swept up notes from the floor of a writer. They are better than the average scribble but they are certainly not substantial. Keep in mind, this is only one opinion in the face of many at the moment.

– Lyndon Walker


Lyndon Walker Is a Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Educator, Writer and Poet living in Melbourne. He has five published books of poetry and was awarded the Pablo Neruda Prize for poetry in 1996. He is currently working on two novels.

Tarcutta Wake is available from UQP

Review and Launch – a Michael Sharkey Double.

Sometimes the planets seem to line up and so it is with Michael Sharkey’s latest collection Another Fine Morning in Paradise. Rochford Street Review has been fortunate to be able to publish both a review by Heather Taylor Johnson and the Armidale launch speech by Anne Pender. These two views of Another Fine Morning in Paradise provides us with two different perspectives on the collection and will, hopefully, provoke some discussion – both on line and off.

Pointing a Tongued Sword: Heather Taylor Johnson reviews ‘Another Fine Morning in Paradise’ by Michael Sharkey

Michael Sharkey’s Another Fine Morning in Paradise. Five Islands Press, 2012

One of the things I love most about migrating to Australia from America is the lack of enthusiasm here for discussing cultural politics at a party. American’s have a habit of getting worked up and defensive when expounding upon the state of their country, and they love to verbally finger a wrongdoer; Australians speak wryly, almost out of the corners of their mouths. In America, one often leaves the conversation feeling angry, physically changed; in Australia, they have just had a chuckle and a drink. Sure, this may be a sweeping generalisation but it is something I find unendurable when I encounter it in America, and witty and charming when it happens in Australia, and this is what I think about – the witty and charming – when I read Another Fine Morning in Paradise, where Michael Sharkey performs what I have just described as Australian, in poetry.

In his latest book Sharkey points a tongued sword directly at Australia, but there is no sense of attack. His is a playful style, much the antithesis of some of our more prevalent migrant poets, such as Ali Alizadeh and Ouyang Yu, whose ‘digs’ at Australian culture and politics are not so much ‘elbow jabs’ as they are deeply felt and resonate in the gut. There is a great sense of discomfort in some of the poetry of Alizadeh and Yu because of its unswerving confrontation, but Sharkey skirts around the frank and is mischievously ironic in his themes. He creates what might seem to be alternative worlds where ‘there are such good things to eat, and no one’s sick: / the weather’s crackajack, the garden spruce’ and then offers the punch which takes us back to what we know: ‘Soon, they took a vote and ended this.’ (‘The Garden of Earthly Delights) That he offers his readers a paradise then takes it away without explanation encourages us to question how we feel about Australia, without being led. He does this in ‘The Superheroes in Old Comics’ which illustrates a comic book world and simultaneously questions our own values:

Families are dysfunctional in here.
It’s like real life, whatever that is.

………….Nobody’s black.
……………………………..No action happens
out of town.
………….There is no forest, desert,
………….No Indigenes exist.

tall buildings block the sky where now and then
a flying man or piston-engined airplane
happens by.

Sometimes his worlds are our worlds, literally, and there is no need to disguise them. The poem leading on from ‘The Superheroes in Old Comics’ is ‘Women in Their Houses on Their Own’, and it presents a man contemplating a woman – presumably his partner – eating dinner on a plane, flying through time zones, reminding him of two weeks earlier when she was eating alone while he was in another time zone, while his daughter will be eating out and other women will be eating in, alone. This sounds familiar enough, but Sharkey’s way is to offer us a small dose of absurdity, so that we can see the shallowness of our busy lives. I suppose, in following on, I need to say that one doesn’t need to walk away from Another Fine Morning in Paradise feeling guilty or depressed – I’m not sure one can – because the lilts in his rhythm, some of the poetic forms recalling a less jet-setting time, and the straightforwardness of his word choice is non-threatening. It’s jest-worthy sarcasm; that sideways sneer over a chuckle and a drink at a party.

This seems like a rounded way to end my review, but I cannot press save and send without discussing the final poem of the book: ‘Where the Bunyip Builds its Nest: Five Centos’. Centos are poems composed of other poets’ lines, and in this 200 line poem Sharkey has fittingly borrowed from only Australian poets to write a poem about Australia. More than a lyrical ode to the geography, the culture, the history of Australia; it is an ode to Australia’s finest voices:

And shall thy joyous lays no more be heard?
What songs were they the Sirens sung?
Against the shade-side of a bending gum
they chain us two by two, and whip and lash along.
We will not join the general groan,
O barren land! O blank bright day!
O hopeless wilderness without one fruit,
what words are left for Hope to say?

Who owns this voice? Who speaks?
All that I know about poetry is that it has
Familiar compound ghosts? No,
linen folded for the future:
iambics chide industrialists
and vanish in the gentle air.
Mild forgotten poems
drop their kiddies at the kindy.

Not only is it an impressive poem for its clever cut and paste structure, which one can imagine would have taken weeks – months – to gather and puzzle together, but each stanza is broken up into eight lines, adding to a sense of nostalgia for a closed form poetry not of our time, a sense of nostalgia for an Australia not of our time.

Another Fine Morning in Paradise isn’t a heavy read, though it is densely filled with poetry. I cannot say that it struck me to the core, emotionally, because that would not only be a lie but would represent a different kind of poetry. I can, however, say that I did briefly contemplate carrying this book around with me the next time I go to America, so when ‘certain’ people ask me what it’s like to live in Australia, what our ‘policies’ are (oh dear), I can lend them this book and duck out quickly, avoiding any ensuing confrontation.

–  Heather Taylor Johnson


Heather Taylor Johnson is the author of two poetry books, Exit Wounds and Letters to my Lover from a Small Mountain Town. Her third collection will be out in February from IP. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and occasionally teaches it at Flinders University. Her first novel, Pursuing Love and Death (HarperCollins), will be out in August.

Another Fine Morning In Paradise is available from Five Island Press:

Satire, Mischief and Joy: Anne Pender Launches Michael Sharkey’s Another Fine Morning in Paradise

Anne Pender Launch Speach for Michael Sharkey’s Another Fine Morning in Paradise, 20 April 2012, Armidale Art Society Gallery, Beardy Street Armidale.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here this evening to launch Michael Sharkey’s latest collection of poems, Another Fine Morning in Paradise. I believe this is Michael’s thirteenth volume of poetry. And true to form, Michael has supplied me with some intriguing, and rather detailed notes on one of the poems ‘Where the Bunyip Builds its Nest’.

But more about that in a few minutes. I’d like to dedicate this celebration to the memory of Bruce Bennett who died last Friday and who was a life-long supporter of Australian literature. Bruce wrote many fine essays about poetry and he was a fan of Michael’s work too.

The marvelously ironic title of this collection, Another Fine Morning in Paradise, immediately suggests satire, mischief and joy. All of these things are present and abundant in this collection. I have enjoyed reading these poems immensely. There is pleasure awaiting you in reading this poetry – intense pleasure. But there is a sting in this poetry and you won’t get off lightly. The poems on these silky pages will prick you, prod you and pin you to your seat. Have a look at the one called ‘And Afterwards’: no one is spared in this assault on funerary customs and the way we speak of the dead….

And yet in the reading, and in the midst of what sometimes feels like an attack, A total disturbance, a disorienting disruption of everything – the poems have a liberating effect – they are liberating at every level: intellectually, aesthetically and emotionally. There is nothing predictable in the phrasing, or in the narrative arc of the poems here. This is where Michael’s mastery of form, style and diction is so impressive. And before I get into some detail I want to stress the humour and astringency of so many of the poems in this collection.

Michael Sharkey is a satirist through and through. Have a look at the opening poem ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, or the second poem, ‘The Plain People of Paradise’, in which the speaker ponders eternity through the language of the real estate pages, complete with parodies of the spelling mistakes therein: one of his headings in this poem is ‘Sort After Neighbourhood’. Listen to the wit and sharpness of the opening lines:

‘How do the patron saints of age and illness
do their work? Do they have unions?

And then pressing the marvelous conceit, a few lines on:

Do angels have computers? …
What use are wings in office cubicles?

And then the devastating attack of these lines:

‘Who measures blood that’s spilled on earth? Who handles grief?


‘Some say Valhalla is a vast hall full of smoke
and cloudy trophies; others plump for golden city

walls of diamond, gleaming streets like burnished glass,
but what the inmates have to do, detained there

for eternity with klieg lights and no sleep
is anyone’s guess. …’

The power of allegory builds in the portrayal of heaven in a few scathing lines:

‘What use is /Heaven if the ones refused admission

Can’t be sent to some Nauru or Christmas Island
Of the damned to keep the ignorant in bliss?’

And so we have an ingenious shift to the concrete, a real place: Australia.

The closing sequences of this poem give us the self at last, as a Hieroglyph’ and the eerie invocation of the self on a tour of paradise:  ‘Collect your third eye at the door, enjoy your flight.’ This, like many of the poems in this book will stop you short with their breathtaking clarity of image, the sudden perfectly targeted attack on Arden, standing in perhaps for Armidale.

I urge you to look closely at the glorious poem called  ‘The Paradise of Kevins’:  it is the Gold Coast’. And here I’m enthralled by Michael’s language of attack and its music; take the second stanza:

‘Mothers in law, all those widows
who wondered while reading brochures when
not busting their backs having children and
wiping the snot and the crap from the kids
who’d grow up to be Kevins and girls that
the Kevins would marry, now occupy units
on package-deal holidays, nannied by
daughters or sons now divorced, through snares of resorts.’

Michael’s nimble critique of the shallow tracings of contemporary nature tourism in another poem called  ‘Nothing to it’ continues the satire on our fetishizing of the banal and our tendency to blunder past the sacred.

Existential questions in Michael’s ‘Ode to Shoes’ are comical and gentle. We are treated to mesmerizing rhythm and comic brilliance as the speaker contemplates the bizarre materials in which we clothe our feet: ‘Brothel creepers’, ‘country boots’, ‘plastic clouds in labs and surgeries and wards’. He says

How many personalities do you assign to us?
What selves are hiding in our closets or at large among the world?
What is it that your many tongues are trying to relate?

The poem seethes with a driving energy, arriving at the final lines

‘Roman sandals, hobnailed toughs, we see your passion play;
you, dress shoes on a coffined corpse, absurdity that fits.’

One of the further pleasures of this collection is its variety of mood and style. ‘Young Woman with a Tea-Towel’ is simple, direct, moving – with the grace of a portrait, it is itself painterly, but it is stripped back, not a word too many in this lament. I think it is one of my favourites.

I want to draw attention to the majesty of argument woven in many of these poems, their swiftness, lightness and Swiftian quality of close examination of us. I’m thinking of the supple lines of a poem called ‘The Sight of Blood Each Day’ with its striking conclusion. The narrative arc of this short poem stays with me; I hope Michael will read this to us.

I said earlier that you are pinned to your seat and I meant it. There are stinging lines about our country, such as ‘The nation’s business is ham acting’. Life in a university near you keeps reappearing and no one is spared. Take the lines:

Academically speaking, teaching’s really spaz
But who expects to make an impression when every
Contact confirms that your life is under a hex.

And in this as other poems we are saved by comic fury, saved by compassion and humour:

         This Sargasso Sea hosts other crawlies, monsters with
Two driving motives: knowledge they’re hopeless as teachers, and toadying
Up to the setters of targets for others.

I won’t give away the ending.

Comedy is intense in the swirling poem about drunkenness called ‘Heroes of Australia’. It begins

In bedrooms of Australia they are waking up and saying
What did I say and you know you should have stopped me and
My God did I say that and saying never that’s the end of it no more
I’m giving up and swearing off it while their heads are full of saucepans
falling endlessly to floors made out of steel.

I mentioned that Michael supplied me with some notes that explain the extraordinary final poem in the collection called ‘Where the Bunyip Builds its Nest’. This is a poem made up of 200 lines drawn from the poetry of Australian poems written over the last 200 years. So in other words each line has been taken from another poet’s work. There is a guide at the back of the book to the source of each line. But the narrative and the structure are Michael’s. Michael says that he had no specific model in mind but thinks of Ashbery’s cut up narratives or possibly Pound’s idea of a poem containing history. The title recalls a poem written in 1885 by Mary Hannay Foott called ‘Where the Pelican Builds its Nest’. This last poem of Michael’s is a remarkable piece. Clever, witty, artful and rich in the way it brings a poetic history to life, but moulded into something else, something Sharkean. The final three lines of the last section called ‘Galah Songs’ come from three contemporary Australian poets: Bronwyn Lea, MTC Cronin and Peter Minter. Here are the last three lines:

Socrates said when our feet hurt we hurt all over.
My way is I make a huge fuss and then I get over it.
Lines I improve, boundaries erode

I commend the extraordinary Bunyip poem to you. Thank you Michael for this book; I have great pleasure in wishing you every success with it. Let’s drink a toast to Michael and Another Fine Morning in Paradise

– Anne Pender


Anne Pender is Associate Professor of English and Theatre Studies at the University of New England, Armidale. She is also an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, currently working on a major study of Australian actors from 1950 until the present. Her publications include a study of Christina Stead, studies of the theatre of Nick Enright, a biography of Barry Humphries (One Man Show: The Stages of Barry Humphries, Sydney: ABC Books, 2010) and a recently completed study of writers abroad: Reverse Diaspora: Australian Expatriate Writers in Britain 1830-2010 (for the AustLit online Australian Literature Resource).

Another Fine Morning In Paradise is available from Five Island Press:

A Fraught-Filled Game: Dianne Dean reviews ‘The Dragon and the Crow’ by T. B. McKenzie.

The Dragon and the Crow by T. B. McKenzie. Dragonfall Press, 2011

You live in a world where everyone has a particular skill – how would you hide that you do not? How would you feel?

Young Brin of T.B. McKenzie’s The Dragon and the Crow is still a boy, he hasn’t as yet earned the name of his father. Every day is filled with pain, anger, jealousy and frustration as his peers learn how to harness the ‘magick’ they are doled out each day. He, on the other hand, must find ever inventive ways of disguising his own lack of magick. Convinced that he would receive full measure on the day he was to be named, Brin plays a fraught-filled game that has him constantly on the edge of being discovered.

In fact, at times it was hard to believe that no-one had discovered his secret as those around him perform acts of magick to heal, mend, communicate and a score of other things that assist their daily lives. But then I was given to wonder that in a world where everyone is expected to have the skill then any observed lapses would be easily reasoned away – particularly for a young child still learning the rudiments of spell-casting.

And yet that there would be one without magick was prophesised – a child that would ‘right an ancient crime’.

So our Brin gets drawn into a power struggle, one in which he feels very much to be the cat’s paw, powerless to determine his own destiny and unsure as to who to trust.

McKenzie begins the first book of his series, Magickless, with one of his more twisted characters, The Hen – a nameless man in which Brin eventually finds many reflections of himself.  Each event within the story unfolds more of the world and more of players. Simple motives become more complex as the plot thickens with more tangles. This approach by the author lends a reality to his story telling with his King and his Witch becoming multi-dimensional – I am still not totally certain as to who will end being the ‘good’ and who the ‘bad in this series – and not even sure that that designation will be totally appropriate to the side that wins out. You will need to make your own decision.

You will be drawn deeply into Arkadia as you try to determine where the twists will lead you. And there are some nice subplots that develop some interesting characters to add depth to an already masterfully woven novel.

McKenzie also scores well on his development of a language of spells, something that isn’t as easy as it, no pun intended, sounds. He says on his own blog that he was looking for something that would not sound like latin and had a runic feel to it. What he has made has a distinctly musical sound.  In his words:  “Solresol can be sung. What better way to cast a magick spell?”

The novel centres around the restrictions of expectation. Sons are expected to follow their father’s professions. The names they take as adults are expected to be those of their fathers. Brin’s father expects him to be a Mender – an expectation that binds Brin tightly, even leavened with love as it is. It is wish to fulfill this expectation that motivates Brin throughout the novel until he begins to reluctantly grow away from it. Most will live within their restrictions, happily even, but for others the frustration is too much.

McKenzie is also asking us to consider whether or not the ends justifies the means. Once there was a trend within fantasy novels that the good are unblemished and the evil are stained black. The characters of The Dragon and The Crow do not stand on each end of the spectrum.

Those that are painted as good at the beginning of the story are soon found to have committed acts that can only be defined as evil to achieve their ends – but are they evil?

Those that stand as enemies of the land also seem to have reason and compassion in their hearts – so are they evil or not?

Even Brin finds himself doing things that he finds distasteful and even repugnant in the attempt to reach an end that will satisfy the expectations of his family and his community.

… and at the novel’s end we are still left to wonder who Brin should trust.

Perhaps he should trust himself.


– Dianne Dean


Dianne Dean is based in North East Victoria. Her first children’s book is currently with a publisher and will be released in early 2013. She can be found at

Dragonfall Press can be found at

Treading the lesser-known path: Gig Ryan Reviews ‘One Under Bacchus’ by Duncan Hose

 One Under Bacchus by Duncan Hose. Inken Publisch, 2011

This review is based on Gig Ryan’s launch speech, Saturday July 9, 2011, Melbourne Trades Hall.

When Duncan Hose won the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2010 with his poem ‘The Allegory of Edward Trouble’ –  a colourful and brilliant re-imagining of Ned Kelly’s life and meaning where “blood stains the hydrangeas” (immediately we’re aware of a colonised country, not yet claiming Lawson’s wattle as its emblem), “My heart mulched and tartan like the / golden bogs of Tasmania”) – it signalled a huge change in the reception of Australian poetry.  When a prize renowned mainly for its well-rewarded conservatism and staidness goes to an adventurous, thoughtful, funny, searching work, we can breathe a sigh of relief that the best doesn’t have to “waste its sweetness on the desert air”, though sweet doesn’t much apply to that particular poem.

Ned Kelly poems both open and close  Hose’s striking second book, One Under Bacchus. Hose investigates how these national myths have influenced or even formed us, but further this book follows a particular trajectory: after the idealised bushranger, Hose then moves on to the tale of Alexander Pearce, an escaped convict who ate his dead mates to survive:

…………..these leg bracelets
keep us awake with their chewing, four days on the heath
…………..Hell hath little flowers, white honey bunches limned with red
The sky tho circumpolar hath no regular sun, only grays more illumined
Less cloaked, like a promise’s promise my running mate’s
…………..A convict’s convict whom I chose once I knowed
He spells his name ‘Charels’…
I will make myself live for a scoop of Hobart liquor
…………..Before taking the drop, since we did abscond & have already
Eaten Terence Diggory.

                            ‘On the Work of Pearce’s British Addictions’

That is, the mythologising of place includes both the idealised and the demonised. Then follows a series of poems on types of imperialism – the sort of anxieties of influence that some Australians feel, with actual ancestry often in another hemisphere, and intellectual ancestry often in U.K. or U.S., these poems feature America, the fur trade, Napoleon, Berrigan, followed by poems about Scotland and Ireland, that is, a short history of the colonised or slaughtered – the poet travels “hatless in the white and shining air” (to quote Berrigan’s ‘A New Old Song’), here the contrast is between an idealised past, an idealised quest and our seemingly less heroic present:

Auntie Elko’s brought photos of the ‘smog-o-the-wilderness‘   that’s
……………………………..the visible realm

‘One Under Bacchus’

and  in ‘Pasties of Iona’:

rather than ‘mekin pilgrimage’ we
drag the cursor over the sacred island &
pants off on the sixth floor
…………………… the bejesus oot ay it.

The next section has a few ‘love’ poems, followed by a return to Hobart’s settlement, then a Blue Hills sequence (a kind of homage to Laurie Duggan’s neverending Blue Hills) with Aussie attitudes displayed “Europeans – stay in Europe!”: substitute nationality here and we have current government policy in fact – the timelessness of Poetry! – thus showing the nagging ambiguity of Australia’s relation to the rest of world. The book finishes with the longest poem  ‘Edward Trouble’. There’s a constant satirising of pretensions to nationalism, and awareness of the lie of a solely British ‘civilisation’ – “Saturday morning upholstered with the silks / and dressinggowns of chinese Australia”, that is, there are constant reminders of the various types of dispossession on which Australia is founded:

……………………..avenging crows
Suggest new hats for the colony.

‘A wedding party’



The                                         Glamour
Of a beggared Australian syntax
Souths                     plant in the ‘native’ section             instruments of death

…………As decoration                       those black-bunged marsupials by god

We’d pat them to death if we could

‘Anglo but Cosmic’

Hose uses a courtly excruciating language of archaic spellings, misspellings, neologisms – there’s both a seriousness of intent and a gracefully light-footed style, like a Watteau painting, half Moby Dick in his high-falutin’ language, half Horatio Hornblower in the noble heroics at work in much of his historic diggings. He mixes words of Scots, Irish, French, 19th Century English, that is, these poems enact through their language the history they are dissecting and critiquing.

These poems don’t strain for an affectlessly confident relaxation that Berrigan sometimes wants, but for a highly-strung language – that suddenly thuds down into a joke, jokes that lurch with meaning. – “he was a skald Father, he drank to think”.  There is appropriately ‘Sonnet to Ted’ here, followed by  the amusingly-titled ‘Typical American Poem’:

Zorro had the dream contented
By the view one would see
…………From the guillotine
Forest around full of crow [sounds]
……………………………..& grubs
Like a period piece on BBC TV
……………………………..Zorro drives
Through the giant Drive In.

Jim’s drapes sure are Dusty.

Zorro, like Kelly, is also a masked hero, creating his own icon.  Also look at the two pictures by Hose in this book – one a half-naked masked woman, the other a young hare – these again contrast the mask of Art, of Civilisation, with Nature.But this book finishes with  the “totemised and trophied”  Kelly:

I too was a bird lover tho’ mostly / I shot them…
I belong to the majority mob w.../…  the minority
………….philosophy ….  the forge
to cast a bigot

Duncan Hose treads the lesser-known path of maverick Australian poets such as Norman Talbot, John Watson and Javant Biarujia – that is, like all good must-read poets, he invents a new language, full of playful disguises and serious intent, reaffirming Baudelaire’s view that only the human-made is beautiful.

– Gig Ryan


Gig Ryan is Poetry Editor at The Age newspaper (Melbourne) and a freelance reviewer. She has published numerous books including New and Selected Poems (Giramondo, Australia, 2011); Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, UK, 2012); songs with Disband, Six Goodbyes (1988), and Driving Past, Real Estate (1999), Travel (2006).

One Under Bacchus is available from inken publisch

Gossamer and Robust: Paul Summers reviews ‘Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks’ by Jean Kent

Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks by Jean Kent. Pitt Street Poetry 2012

The cover of the paper-back edition.

We learn to shy away from certain adjectives in the columns and rows of our review copy. Beautiful is one such, and it is only right that we demonstrate care in its overuse or in diminishing it to a passé superlative. However, I’m sat here with the limited-edition, hard-back version of Jean Kent’s new book, Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks and I’m finding it difficult not to employ it.

The book is, in every way, a sensory delight; from the incredibly high production values imbued in the embossed, sanguine, Indian-cloth cover, and for which Pitt Street Poetry should be congratulated, to Oliver Watts’ sparse yet captivating pencil drawings and that’s before we even hit upon the words.

Jean Kent’s poetry is both gentle and powerful. It is tender and brutal, gossamer and robust, like ‘an argument with air’. The palette of her reference shifts effortlessly between continents, between epochs and psychologies, from Rilke to The Animals. She is a poet ‘swinging on the ropes of curiosity and hunger, gifting us distilled studies on belonging and separateness, on trauma & repair. They are studies which are painterly in their detail, filmic in their exactness but always affording us with the luxury of space in which to think and share, to absorb the weight of meanings, ‘like the still spaces we enter when music moves us’.

It is a book borne in the historicism of Soviet-era Eastern European displacement & persecution, a time of gulags & mass graves, but it belongs very much to the present. It represents an act of understanding, of reflection and translation, of love and empathy, of our vicarious ownership of the trauma of others. There are also the beginnings of a sense of healing or reparation, of acquiring a fortitude and momentum to keep us moving forwards rather than being anchored into stasis by the dead-weight of our mutual ghosts.

                          …..There is a waft

of cooking kugelis from the kitchen –
a comfort of sour cream and potatoes so thick
it is a snowdrift over all the blood and damage,
the graves under the birches, the faces swept off,
snarled away to Siberia or foreign
safety…  There is a waft

of rotting apples and the woman’s incinerator,
disposing of everything no longer wanted.”

‘The Old Family House’

Wringing out innovative imagery from the mundane and familiar, Jean Kent is a genuine lexicon-whisperer taming language, creating for us a feast which is incredibly rich but never sickly.

This is a book of love and of loss, of empathy & compassion, of celebration and remembrance, of trauma and attempted reparation, of bewilderment & understanding. It is a struggle to learn the intricacies of a language not quite your own. Within its pages, Kent humbly summons the ghosts of bitter history and explores the rawness of their legacy on others without ever been moribund or hopeless, without ever falling into the traps of the saccharin or the sentimental. There is palpable sense of her ownership of these stories, however vicarious, and like the most compassionate of nurses she tends to the wounds of the narratives which have made us, and in this case, our lovers, who we are.

The streets of Paris and Lithuania are carefully animated into life, although her Australian home is never far away. She addresses, full-on, the tangle of past and present, of meme and gene, of the forgotten or denied, the familiar and the alien, and in doing so she has created a volume of intricate and moving correspondences from a place few of us are equipped to travel, let alone make sense of.

It does not attempt give us answers but is flawless in pursuing the inquiry.

So much gets lost
Between the words on one page with their scythes
And floating hats, the letters alive like the air in the forest
With gnats and bird swoops and antler hooks

And the words on the other, those cubes of ice
With small bodies trapped inside…
So much

Gets lost

‘My Father-in-law Translates a Lithuanian Poem’

Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks is a rare thing. It is a poetry book in which there are no low-points, no pauses for breath. It is a beautiful thing and I strongly recommend you get yourself a copy.

– Paul Summers


Note: Paul was reviewing the limited edition hard cover version of Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks. This edition consists of 276 signed and numbered copies, with drawings by Sydney artist Oliver Watts. It is a sewn cloth bound volume with a red/ silk bookmark ribbon.102pp. 230 x 145 mm. There is also a paper back version available. Both versions are available from Pitt Street Poetry

Paul Summers is a northumbrian poet who lives in Central Queensland. his poems have appeared widely in print for over two decades and has performed his work all over the world. A founding co-editor of the ‘leftfield’ UK magazines billy liar and liar republic, he has also written for tv, film, radio, theatre and collaborated many times with artists and musicians on mixed-media projects and public art.