Rochford Street Press announces the publication of ‘Truth in the Cage’ by Mohammad Ali Maleki

Rochdford Street Press and Verity La are proud to announce the publication of Mohammad Ali Maleki’s long awaited chapbook, Truth in the Cage. Written from within Manus Island detention centre, where Mohammad has been incarcerated for the last five years, Truth in the Cage is a powerful work of personal and political poetry.

Mohammad Ali Maleki is an Iranian poet and avid gardener who has been living in detention on Manus Island for five years. His poetry, written in Farsi, is translated into English by fellow detainee Mansour Shoushtari. Mohammad uses his mobile phone to send his poems to friends in Australia who help to edit, share and publish them. Mohammad’s poem ‘The Strong Sunflower’ was the impetus for, and first work published on, Verity La’s Discoursing Diaspora project. Since then, his writing has been published by online literary journal Bluepepper and by the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group. He has been a featured poet on Rochford Street Review and his poems and letters have been included in the Dear Prime Minister Project and at the Denmark Festival of Voice. His poem ‘Tears of Stone’ was shortlisted for the Red Room Company’s 2016 New Shoots Poetry Prize and received Special Commendation for extraordinary work in extreme circumstances. His poem ‘Silence Land’ was performed at the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival as part of the Writing Through Fences performance, Through the Moon. An essay about his writing is forthcoming in the Extreme Texts Issue of Jacket2 magazine. Despite living in extreme conditions, Mohammad continues to create poetry saying, ‘You can find my whole life in my poems, like a letter to God.’

“Mohammad Ali Maleki, along with translator Mansour Shoshtari, present an intimate and lyrical window into their world of exile as political prisoners of Australia. The work is woven with an embodied sense of their poetic and literary heritages, resulting in deeply engaging, contemplative and passionate poems.  Maleki’s direct use of language often opens out into a magical horror – no less real – implicating the reader as much as the poet in a deconstruction and reconstruction of identity. ‘What if the woollen jacket I am wearing unravels / and begins to fall apart?’. Truth in the Cage delivers truths, uncomfortable and often torturous, through a painterly language, providing much-needed clarity in these times of obfuscation and systematic silencing”

 – Janet Galbraith, Writing Through Fences

There will be a launch for Truth in the Cage on July 17 at The Sydney Poetry Lounge. The book will be available for purchase on the night. All profits go directly to Mohammad.

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Within Australia $10 plus $1 postage
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Outside Australia
$16 including postage

 

“Hawthorne has managed to deal with a horrific topic in a beautiful and poetic manner”: Beatriz Copello reviews ‘Dark Matters’ by Susan Hawthorne

Dark Matters: a novel by Susan Hawthorne (Spinifex Press, 2017).

DARK 300 (1)Dark Matters: a novel by Susan Hawthorne is a fascinating book which tells the story about women, their lives and their myths in a post-modernist style. Through diary sequences, poetry and narrative, we get to know Kate, Mercedes and Desi.

Kate and Mercedes were in a relationship, but their destiny took them through the cruel road of the dirty politics, where men abuse and violate women’s rights and bodies through torture. Desi is Kate’s niece, who like a patient embroiderer, stitch by stitch, is able to capture not only the cruel reality of her aunt’s experiences but also her inner strength. Intrigued by her aunt’s relationship with Mercedes and their political involvement, she travels to South America, visiting Argentina and Chile the country where Mercedes was originally from.

Hawthorne states that she started researching for Dark Matters in 2002 and I am not surprised. This book is a treasure of knowledge, not only of the dirty wars in Chile and Argentina but also of history, mythology, language, psychological and cross-cultural issues.

The author very cleverly presents reflections on language, particularly the language of poetry. The reader encounters profound thoughts that take them through the possibilities of words, lines and letters. It is admirable how Hawthorne teaches without preaching, shows without overwhelming and presents facts without being pedantic.

Dark Matters is also about the politics of being a woman and a lesbian. In a very poignant passage, Kate says, ‘How many women have to be killed before men’s violence is seen as real? How many women have to be injured and violated before their pain is verified? How many lesbians have to be tortured before our pain is made public.’

As a psychologist, I was impressed by Hawthorne’s ability to portray the mind of a character who has been deprived, not only of her freedom but also of any sensory stimulation.

Desi travels to Argentina where she visits ESMA, the centre of torture where many women were violated and tortured during the military dictatorship in the 70s. Desi, trying to understand her aunt’s past, reflects on the nature of the torturer and how true her words are: ‘The torturer is not after truth. Not even after information. The torturer wants to break the person who is subjected to pain, uncertainty, disorientation and humiliation. When it comes to women, the torturer wants to inflict shame on her. To do this, he will reduce her to her sex, by which he means her genitals.’

Hawthorne has created a character who is fully fleshed, Kate is not a cardboard cut-out. The reader learns about her past, her love and her ancestry. She was a prisoner, but only her body was imprisoned because her mind was never captured.

Kate relates myths and stories, creates poetry and beautifully describes her inner world. Kate’s inner strength reflects an inner strength that I imagine most lesbians in the past had to have in order to survive abuse, pain and persecution because homosexuality was previously considered a crime, a sin and a mental illness.

Hawthorne has managed to deal with a horrific topic in a beautiful and poetic manner. Very skilfully, she utilises short sentences to manage the tension and the drama. Even in the darkest moments, there is relief in the profundity of the thoughts, in the poetic narrative, and in the inspirational strength of Kate.

-Beatriz Copello


 

Dr Beatriz Copello writes poetry, fiction and plays. Her poetry books include Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations at the Edge of a Dream, Flowering Roots, Under the Gums Long Shade, and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish). Beatriz’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review as well as in many feminist publications. She has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers’ Festival, the NSW Writers’ Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), and Ubud (Bali) Writers’ Festival. She received an Emerging Writers Grant for Poetry and in 2003 she was awarded a Doctor of Creative Arts Degree (Creative Writing) from the University of Wollongong.

Dark Matters: a novel by Susan Hawthorne is available from Spinifex Press

Suzanne Bellamy launches Dark Matters by Susan Hawthorne

 

Teasing Threads – The Pleasure of Forgotten Movies: Oliver Stone’s ‘Alexander’

Chris Palazzolo seeks to rehabilitate the reputation of the criminally scorned Alexander, directed by Oliver Stone, 2005

Image result for alexander movie imagesThis isn’t really a forgotten movie. It gets a regular airing on Australian free-to-air tv, can be streamed on Netflix and has a special Director’s Cut version on dvd. I just feel the need, 12 years after its shabby reception by reviewers to call for some kind of critical rehabilitation of it. Shabby is an understatement. At its release in 2005, most reviewers dropped their daks around their ankles so fast they were tripping over themselves in their haste to drop a turd on it. I saw it twice in one week just to be certain I was watching the same movie, and each time the ancient Greek army descended from the Himalayas into the jungles of the Ganges plain, drunk on wine because they couldn’t drink the water, and throwing spears at attacking monkeys who they believed were native warriors, I thought, not since Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God, have such blood and guts images of world transforming incongruity been committed to the screen.

The story is this. In the 4th Century BCE, Alexander, heir to the Macedonian throne, currently ascendant among the Greek states, is educated in Aristotle’s Lyceum, where his precocious mind is filled with the most rarefied currents of Hellenistic thought – universal reason, and the ennobling of his sexuality (thus making the already perilous question of succession just that more impossible). On becoming king, he flees his scheming mother (who intends for him to consolidate Macedonian power in Greece) and embarks on a series of crazy military campaigns, conquering Persia, marching into Babylon, and then, in order to seed Greek civilisation in Asia, dragging his armies across the Himalayas into India where they eventually founder in constant fighting, mutiny, and sexual intrigue in the courts of wily Asian despots. After his death, and with no heir to hold it together, the Alexandrian empire quickly falls apart and is swept away.

Of course there are problems with this movie. These mainly stem from the narrative’s structure of staggered flashbacks which are executed so clumsily it’s like a truck double-clutching up a steep hill; it’s not until two thirds in that the movie really starts to build momentum.  On the other hand the overwrought dramatics seem to me to be perfectly justified. The subject is a man who conquered most of the known world, and a considerable chunk of the unknown world, before his death at age 33. An awful lot was packed into such a short life, much of it would’ve been overwrought. And the Scots and Irish accents for the Macedonians and English accents for the Greeks also makes sense. The movie is explicit in its analogy with western imperial adventures in the Middle East and Asia. The Macedonians were, to the older Greek states of antiquity, like the Scots and the Irish to the English of the Common Era; frontier states, tribal and restless. As the argy bargy of conquest, resistance and eventual accommodation (with the Scots at least) on the British Isles laid the foundations for Britain’s expansion into a global empire, so Macedonian ambition combined with Greek resources (economic and intellectual) made possible Alexander’s empire building.

While I agree with Oliver Stone when he said that homophobia was the reason critics were so down on his movie, I think its intellectual ambitions offended them more. As if the subject matter isn’t grandiose enough, the clear parallels it draws with the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 pushes its connotations to the absurd (Colin Farrell’s Alexander, with his tight blonde curls and small triangular nose, even looks like a camp George Bush). I think this is Stone’s point – the invasion of Iraq, the incoherence of the US government’s motives for invasion (was it eliminating WMDs, or avenging 911, or bringing democracy to the Middle East?) – was completely absurd. But then Stone’s own motives seem to be incoherent too. Is he comparing George Bush favourably or unfavourably with Alexander? I think it’s the latter, given that Alexander is portrayed as being open to influences from Asia, seeking to marry West and East and create hybrid civilisations, whereas George Bush, a famous Know Nothing, exhibited no curiosity whatsoever about the country he invaded. Still, it’s difficult to be sure. I think it’s important to note that the legend of Alexander the Great, the exemplar of imposing civilisation through military conquest, is an entirely European conceit. Indian historians barely rate him a mention, and Iraqi historians regard him as just another foreign tyrant.

– Chris Palazzolo

Teasing Threads – Ostia Antica by Peter Jeffery

Chris Palazzolo reads Ostia Antica, a cycle of poems by Peter Jeffery AOM

In this cycle of poems by the great West Australian poet Peter Jeffery there are two Ostias; one, Ostia Antica, a small Italian town near an ancient ruin 60kms west of Rome and a handful of kms inland from the river Tiber; the other, Ostia Lido, the port town of Imperial Rome located at the mouth of the Tiber. The geographical discrepancy between these two Ostias is the result of 2000 years of silting so that the Tiber now cuts an entirely different course to the sea. The focal point of this cycle is the distant flint of the river glimpsed between the grasses growing through the ruins, while spectres of the ancient entrepot parade through a gulf of remote memory.

Spectres are phenomena that confuse the distinction between inside and outside. Is a spectre something that is in the world, or is it some projection of the mind. The poems play with this confusion, drawing a parallel between the experience of the Australian poet wandering the ruins near Ostia Antica, circa 1970, and the Romans on their pleasure trips to the beaches and brothels of Ostia Lido. The spectres emerge from the crumbling simulacra among the ruins and crowd around the poet who, in his own metaphysical journey, has arrived at rootlessness and pleasure seeking. Through his own disenchantment the poet sees in this spectral Ostia the ancient world’s disenchanted termination.

An old cock with a lolling head,
I am too crushed on my foul perch
To clarion down dawn for Ostia
Morning city of Rome.

This is the Rome Tacitus wrote about; a great nation corrupted by a succession of weak, criminal and insane Caesars. And it is also the Rome of the Satyricon; its streetlife and pleasure spots. The poet projects his own sense of ruin into a sequence of decadent panoramas. He observes the proliferation of gods as prosperity and despotism pile complexity and inertia onto Roman life. He sees spectacles of enormous daily consumption in which the sea itself is drawn into nets to feed the expanding metropolis. He participates in the grotesque feasts of middle class holidaymakers, their desperate remedies for fading youth and vigour. He imagines himself stumbling through the rubbish discarded on the beaches. Everywhere he sees excess, overripeness, the falling point where energy and lust come apart.

All this reveals
That civilisation’s death
In this museum,
A most tasteful arena
for our taffeta minds
As tasteful as that day
When, above courtiers in wanton play
Nero unleashed tons of flowers
Drowning their screams in bowers
Of fragrant over-scented death.

But the poet’s restless senses will not accept such a death. There is a broiling rage in the long rolling lines of his verse. He fights against this dying Rome in the same way Laocoon fought against serpents entwining him, pushing and thrashing against it. This is the energy of the verse; this fighting, even as he feels himself succumbing to it. Sometimes it rises to megalomania, a fascistic glorification of virility, at other times an erotic fever dream of physical and emotional abandon.

No wonder they were brothers to the sea,
and saw the huge marriage feast of Neptune,
where nymphs and horses and gods trailed tails,
sexual, rhythmic and pulsing through water.
Their proudest stance
was prone or diving down
into the raptures of the deep,
where in bronzed love, these water gods
laughed ripples of minnows from their mouths.

These panoramas make a spectacular garment of literary and historical tropes which reveals the being towards death of the poet. Having reasoned god out of the world, the poet conceives of his existence as nothing more than a terminus of decaying mortality. He seeks meaning in travel, but finds the echo of his disenchantment in Ostia. But still, inspired by a brooch he sees in the museum, he’s consoled by the beauty and permanence of its setting, and clasps the garment together in a perfect phrase.

Till set down
In a book –
Rigid casting of print –
The jewel cannot shift,
In its brooch,
For yet, a thousand years!

Readers interested in obtaining a copy of this fascinating cycle can contact the author by email. peter.jeffery@iinet.com.au

– Chris Palazzolo

 

 

Contemporary Irish Poetry Featured Writer: Annemarie Ní Churreáin

Four Poems              Contemporary Irish Poetry Index


Annemarie Ní Churreáin is a poet and writer from northwest Ireland. She has been awarded literary fellowships by Akademie Schloss Solitude (Germany), Jack Kerouac House (Orlando) and Hawthornden Castle (Scotland). In 2016, Annemarie was the recipient of a Next Generation Artists Award from the Arts Council of Ireland. In Autumn 2017, Annemarie’s debut collection  BLOODROOT is being launched by Doire Press, Galway.

Further information

Interviews

 

Teasing Threads – on housework music

Chris Palazzolo offers some thoughts on remunerated housework.

TImage result for dancing housewives imageshe Family Tax Benefit is an example of how neo-liberal theory which underpins the fiscal and monetary policy settings of the Australian government has reconciled itself with socialist feminist theory which was the first economic theory to recognise the home as a vital unit in a modern capitalist economy and how the labour transacted therein should be remunerated. Whether the home worksite should be subject to the same OHS regulations and insurance as other Australian workplaces is a political question, especially when one considers that many workplaces are now under electronic surveillance; economic justice, which includes protection of the body, the ‘instrument’ of performing labour and making a living (the government’s domestic violence campaign as a kind of labour rights question) can find itself opposed to privacy.

As a househusband in a single income household I can, for the sake of this argument, define myself as an employee of my wife who pays me a wage to perform the duties of housekeeping, that is to say to create conditions favourable to the regeneration of her energies so that she can reproduce her daily labours in her place of employment; and an employee of the Australian taxpayer, because I receive FTB as a supplementary payment for the raising of three future workers and taxpayers.

One of the nicest conditions of my employment is that I can play any music I want to as I perform my duties. This is important because having laboured in a workplace where a loop-tape played Whitney Huston’s ‘I will always love you’ on average six times a day, I’ve long felt that the music workers are forced to work to should be covered by OHS. Furthermore, if the home is no longer a completely private space, then the aesthetic and performative aspects of housework are now of public interest. Here are a couple of my favourite housework accompaniments.

Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra. I have this piece on record and I’ve played it so much over the last four years it’s a wonder the grooves haven’t worn off. It’s the perfect accompaniment for my morning chores; making beds, stacking breakfast dishes, doing the washing. The depersonalised whine and the squelching electronic ostinato of moogs and mellotrons alternating with the skipping ostinato pluck of a bass guitar puts me into a machinelike trance. I’m a 1966 model human, and that’s why the technology of this piece harmonises so perfectly with my body-mind; it’s like two machines of the same generation communicating. The dirge at the end of side one, threaded with a kind of gamelan type chime punctuating each phrase in a halting rhythm and torn by mid-volume electronic shrieks, like the cries of terror of all the innocents abused in the long wind-tunnel of history, fills my bright morning house with reflective melancholy.

Concertino for piano and orchestra by Arthur Honegger. This piece I normally play during the last phase of my evening labours, namely sweeping up, wiping surfaces and stacking and washing dishes after dinner, while my wife bathes the kids. The exposition and first subject is a tick tock clockwork interplay between piano and orchestra. It echoes the division of labour in the house, making the whole process like a mechanised diorama in which the automata perform their programmed tasks to achieve a single objective (kids in bed). The childlike mood of the first subject takes on a tone of menace in the second subject in order to remind us that this process is not just playful, it is also serious; if kids act up they need to be coerced; kids running amok and a messy house is the first step to squalor, ants and DCP. The final subject, a stern vigilant theme played by two saxophones, embroidered by a staccato argument between the piano and a muted trumpet, rhythmically underpinned by plodding arpeggios on the basses, is the gendarmes sending the scrapping shouting monsters to bed.

‘Open Sesame’ by Kool and the Gang. Three minute pop songs are usually too short for weekly housework (I can’t get any momentum because I have to continually change the selection), but suit better the process of housework on Saturday mornings. We expect the kids to make their beds and tidy their rooms on Saturdays which is an extra division of labour making the process more segmented and episodic. ‘Open Sesame’ is a disco number from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack featuring Kool as the genie of sound telling everybody to dance. It opens with a big gong, Kool’s reverberating baritone cries ‘Open Sesame!’ and we’re transported to ancient Persia. Magic spells are woven by the wavelike arpeggios of choir and trumpet over disco drums and bass. My favourite bit of instrumentation is the funky wobble board to get the nightclubs of Babylon moving. My wishes for three tidy bedrooms are rarely granted though.

– Chris Palazzolo

Doireann Ní Ghríofa Filíocht

Doireann Ní Ghríofa Poetry

Biographical Note              Contemporary Irish Poetry Index

marginalia (foraois nach féidir)
marginalia (an impossible forest)

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marginalia (foraois nach féidir)

ní fheiceann
tusa anseo

ach seomra
folamh,

ach
in adhmad

an chláir sciorta,
feicimse foraois

faoi dhraíocht,
foraois nach féidir

dul tríthi,
agus ar ghéag

ann, tá
ulchabhán

aonair
faoi cheilt

a ghob
cuartha

ciúnaithe,
faoi gheasa,

a shúile
bioracha

duaithnithe –
dhá shnaidhm

dhonna
sa chlár,

sa choill
sin, agus

a amharc
uasal orm,

a deir
Feicim

cad é atá fút
fút, fút

fút. Feicim
cad é atá fút.

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marginalia (an impossible forest)

you see nothing
here, only

an empty
room

but in
the timber

of that baseboard
I see a forest

bewitched, an impossible
forest that cannot exist,

so we could never
plot a crossing

through it,
and on a branch

there, a single
owl hides,

his curved
beak

silenced,
spellbound,

shrill
eyes

disguised
as twin brown

knots
in the wood,

in the woods,
and

his gaze,
gallant, smooth,

that seems to say
I see

what lurks under you,
yes you, yes you.

I see what’s under
you.

‘marginalia’ appeared in Oighear (Coiscéim, 2017). Translations by Doireann Ní Ghríofa.

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Doireann Ní Ghríofa. Photo by Bríd O’Donovan, 2016

Teasing Threads – On reading as public service.

Chris Palazzolo wonders how we can read when there’s no time or space to read.

Image result for trecento imagesTo be a reader in 21st century Australia is to be like the public agent in William Burroughs’ The Soft Machine – standing on a street, receiving messages and instructions from random fleeting scraps of signs like a page of a newspaper blowing past or a song on a passing car radio. The bewildering, oceanic quantities of signs our culture industries pump out makes reading necessarily a fragmentary, grasping and furtive activity. Our culture’s overvaluation of a certain definition of ‘production’ – that is of a perpetual one way, from inside to outside pushing out (what Burroughs himself called ‘sending’) and which covers a range of phenomena from KPIs in business and publishing quotas in academia to the emoting on social media and tv talent shows like The Voice –  makes reading something vaguely suspect, interior and receptive, a passive ‘absorbing’ that seems suspiciously layabout.

But we are all readers, all of the time. Even when we believe our minds are switched off to any external signs while we’re dutifully producing, we’re still snatching them from here and there, like Burroughs’ agent, feeling our way, with our semiotic sensors, through the maelstrom of the 21st century socius. We certainly wouldn’t last very long here if we weren’t constantly reading. Even the most trivial of signs – Fitzy and Simey on FM radio banging on about Kendall Jenner, or the covers of Woman’s Weekly and Marie Claire sitting in waiting rooms, or on loungeroom coffee tables – provide a perpetual source of low level semiotic illumination that keeps the daily socius ‘legible’. ‘Serious’ reading, whether of the monastic exegetical type or the 19th century Matthew Arnold type, or the ‘close readings’ of the New Critics, or the deconstructionists of the late 20th century, is still the exclusive provenance of the universities. But even there there is less and less space, as the borglike ‘resistance is futile’ logic of consumer capitalism (modes of productiveness and efficiency) opens those spaces out onto the socius where Burroughs’ schizoid agent seems to be the only hope for any kind of critical reading.

But what is the purpose of critical reading? Is it to reveal truth and beauty or the mechanics of ideology? I don’t see why it can’t be both. It should really depend on the mood of the ‘agent’ who’s taking the trouble to read critically. If most citizens have neither the time nor the energy to think about the interplay of melodic motifs and lyrics in the song that’s playing on their radio as they sit in peak hour traffic, then the critical reader is there to speak to that half-minded and low priority, and yet nonetheless thoroughly contemporary and shared experience of hearing that song and perhaps, momentarily, being ‘taken with’ it, before the lights turn green. That’s what critical reading addresses; the ‘taken-withness’ of something. I’ve been taken with that song with the line ‘My heart is a ghost town,’ which I heard on my car radio, but didn’t catch who sung it cos my kids were mucking around in the back seat at the time (the song is by Adam Lambert). Is this experience important? No. What’s important is delivering myself and my kids, safely, at a destined parking spot to do shopping, pay bill, see doctor, etc. But, momentarily, amid the regulated catastrophe of internal combustion machines, I’m taken with a metaphor of desertification. I’m struck by this, not because the line is particularly original, but because of the way it’s sung; it’s shouted out, over a skipping electronic beat, with a reverberation to give the words added sharpness. It is both a cry of distress and of exultation, like a state of being achieved – no people, no movement, absolute stillness. In the cabin of my car, I’m enthralled by its desolation, just for a moment. I recall another song, about desolation in traffic; U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’. The lyrics of this song actually are about sitting in traffic, with apocalyptic visions of the everyday, and they also have the word Heart in its opening line. The Heart in both these songs signifies the same kind of centredness as the monad signified in Leibniz – the centre, the subject, the thinking-feeling I. By using Heart to signify the seat of subjectivity, these song lyrics reveal their descent from the lyrics of the Troubadours and the poets of the Trecento – dove sol con Amor seggio/ quasi visibilmente il cor traluce.

– Chris Palazzolo

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Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and was, until recently, manager of one of the last video shops in the world. His novel, Scene and Circles, is available from https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/449419

Juan Garrido Salgado- biographical note

Juan's Launch 17

Juan Garrido Salgado. photo by Tania Garrido

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

Juan Garrido Salgado: six poems with translations

Teasing Threads – ’22 Years to Life’ by Mohammed Massoud Morsi

Chris Palazzolo reads 22 Years to Life, by Mohammed Massoud Morsi, 2015

33842117Like most Australians my daily routines are spent sweetly oblivious of the hell many of the world’s peoples endure. I step out my front door and I don’t wonder whether a sniper’s bullet is going to take me out; I send my kids to school and I don’t worry that I might be pulling their bodies out of its rubble later in the day. Reading Mohammed Massoud Morsi’s novella, 22 Years to Life, is like an irruption of this daily hell into my ambivalent Australian paradise. In the peaceful early scenes of the novella, Fathi and Farida, a young Gazan couple, travel to Canada for fertility treatment. The glimpses of my kind of life (in Canadian form) – the quiet, well-ordered streets, the safe houses, the civil and legal safeguards of private life – are Morsi’s narrative doorway for me. They are the conduit into a world where houses and walls are no protection to the human animal and where any kind of intimate life is routinely annihilated.

The narrative actually turns on two forms of intimacy. The first form, the one that’s to be annihilated, is the one we in the West take for granted is available to us whether we choose it or not – the intimacy of love, companionship and family. The second form is the annihilating form. It follows in the tradition of stories from the Iliad to The Naked and the Dead – the intimacy of war. In the early scenes of the novella we see the first form grow. The opening scene is the moment Fathi (the narrator) sees Farida for the first time. We follow their courtship and marriage, their attempts to have a child, their struggles with fertility and finally their success when a son is born and they set up home in Al-Mawasi on the coast. Around them, during this time of peace, we see the beginnings of a civil society, crabbed and secretive under relentless Israeli sanctions, curfews and no-go zones, but tentatively building homes, markets and schools.

War is coming. Embedded in this provisional society is Hamas, and its network of tunnels, arms smuggling, and recruitment cells. Its activities provoke the Israel-Gaza Conflict of 2014. War asserts its rights over all tenderness and love. First, it destroys all privacy by blowing everything inside out; it blows out cars and houses and bedrooms. And then it kills the exposed people by the hundreds. It blows them inside out too, limbs and guts and brains all over the street. The first intimacy is eviscerated. All that’s left is the second intimacy – the intimacy of hatred and revenge. The book ends with a kind of micro-perception of the same intimacy that it opened with, though not of love, but of hatred. A new recruit to Hamas sees the fear and youthfulness of the Israeli soldiers he attacks in a suicidal frenzy, and whispers metaphysical comfort to them as they die. Palestinian. Israeli. Their bodies rot as one.

– Chris Palazzolo

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Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and was, until recently, manager of one of the last video shops in the world. His novel, Scene and Circles, is available from https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/449419