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.


Within Australia $10 plus $1 postage

Outside Australia
$16 including postage


Featured Artist Lisa Sharp: Biographical Note and Artist Statement


Lisa Sharp. photograph by Rowan Fotheringham (2017)

Lisa Sharp is a Malaysian-born Australian artist, writer, curator and co-gallery manager. Currently based in Sydney, her painting practice sets out to explore ‘painting’ as action, object and historical discourse, all at once. Following an earlier career as a lawyer, she holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honours in Painting from the National Art School, as well as Bachelors of Arts (English) and Laws from the University of Sydney and a Masters in Laws from the University of Technology, Sydney. Lisa likes to write and muse about art, art making and artists. Her blog is


Lisa Sharp Judith and Holofernes, 2016, (diptych) Italian Green Earth pigment bound in tempera, oil and beeswax on panel, 20.5 x 15.5 x 1.2 cm each. photograph by Lisa Sharp (2016)

Selected exhibitions

49 Sighs (solo) Factory 49
The Paddock III: Posted to New York, Aloft Harlem, New York
Annual Group Exhibition, Factory 49
RNPG at The Kiosk, The Kiosk, Katoomba
Ce qui aurait pu ne pas être, Galerie Abstract Project, Paris
Factory 49 at Supermarket Art Fair, Stockholm, Sweden
Support / Surface Movement, Factory 49 Outside Wall Painting

Hype, Creative Space 220
Painting Remnants (solo) Factory 49
Abbotsleigh Alumni Exhibition, Grace Cossington Smith Gallery
Annual Group Exhibition, Factory 49
The Paddock II: virtual fields, Factory 49
Unmake/make / dénouer/nouer (joint) Factory 49 Paris Pop Up

Directors’ Show, Factory 49
Breaking Space, Imperial Hotel Paddington
National Art School Postgraduate Exhibition, National Art School
Honours 2015, Library Stairwell Gallery
Another Day in Paradise, National Art School
The Paddock: Looking back at The Field, Library Stairwell Gallery
To Be Continued (2), Factory 49
Feral, Articulate Project Space (as arts writer)

Stilled Life, Sede Annandale
National Art School Graduate Exhibition, National Art School

Artist Statement

My practice explores the ways in which the form of painting, treated reductively, can conflate the material language, concrete processes and art history of painting. ‘Painting’ is action, object and ongoing historical discourse, all at once. A ‘painting’ can mean many things – it’s a verb, a noun, and also a narrative, and this dialogue underpins my approach. In my studio, ‘painting’ constantly slips between action, thing and conversation. In my mind’s eye, and then with my hands, I aim to make work that captures those slippages around the meaning of painting.

I work with the materiality of painting. The trio of support, surface and paint tend always to be addressed in my works, but to varying degrees and with an ongoing interrogation of the role each element plays. The absence, or surrogacy, of any of these elements can be telling. I am fascinated with the qualities of different materials, whether the absorbency of a surface or the origin of a pigment, and exposing the ways in which they function within a painting is quite often the basis for engaging with a work. Prioritising the role of the materials that underlie painting also shifts the emphasis from the pictorial to the structural and from composition to chance. The use of fairly traditional painting materials and practices alongside unconventional ones enables a playful, process-driven examination of painting while situating it within the contemporary visual arts.

IMG_Painting Weaving_28102016

Lisa Sharp Painting Weaving, 2016, copper pigment in acrylic polymer on woven cotton string and cotton duck canvas, 55 x 55 x 3 cm. photograph by Lisa Sharp (2016)

In some works, there is an emphasis on surface, whether through the result of repetitive actions of layering successively lean paint strata, in horizontal then vertical bands, as if weaving, or through actually weaving the canvas from string and torn strips.

My most recent series, the ‘paintless paintings’ uses the absence of paint to point to traditional materials, nomenclature, even expectations about painting as potentially expressive sources of meaning. In the absence of paint, the support and surface of the works become magnified, leading to an interest in the textile minutiae constituting a canvas surface, and the significance particularly of used textiles. I have been experimenting with domestically sourced textiles as surrogates for canvas.

One series is based on used muslin teabags and uses an embroidery hoop in place of a stretcher.  I found that the absence of paint only stressed the mundane, body-like qualities of the canvasses. The titling ironically references the death of painting as well as bodily ecstasy. The scale, and indeed the surrogate materials are domestic and feminized, offering alternative interpretations and readings of the paintings.

IMG_49 Sighs at Factory 49_24071717 (1)

Lisa Sharp 49 Sighs, 2017, 2017, glue gesso on canvas with beeswax varnish and a copper tack, 10 x 10 x 10 cm each (installation view) Factory 49, Sydney. photograph by Lisa Sharp (2017)

A recent exhibition, 49 Sighs was an installation of 49 paintless paintings. Once more, building upon the material language and rhythms of a painter preparing for painting, these stiffened forms, molds of trapped air (my breath, a sigh) illustrate the unusual qualities of gesso, a traditional primer used to prepare a surface for painting. These interactions and metaphors were made possible between a collision of materials, form, process and body. I was playing with the idea that a painting could be absent of paint yet still be about painting.

IMG_A single sigh (pain)_240717

A Single Sigh, 2017, 2017, glue gesso on canvas with beeswax varnish and a copper tack, 10 x 10 x 10 cm. Factory 49, Sydney. photograph by Lisa Sharp (2017)

What constitutes painting? is a question which continues to feed and direct my practice. What are the material (and socio-political) conditions of its creation, and how do they affect its impact and meaning? Taking the most basic material structure of painting – paint on stretched canvas – as a fixed position from which to invert, interrogate and experiment, I continue to paint, and make paintings that speak to the history of painting.

-Lisa Sharp



ISSUE 24. Double Issue October 2017 – March 2018

photographers-shadow 3

Photographer’s Shadow. Anna Couani. Photograph 2017



  • Featured Writers:



Loading Now




Published by Rochford Street Press
ISSN 2200-9922

“An art work has to be approached—there are the footsteps”: Judith Rodriguez launched ‘Footsteps’ by Greg Rochlin at Collected Works Bookshop

Judith Rodriguez launches Footsteps by Greg Rochlin (Littlefox Press, 2016), 2.00pm, 22 October 2016 at Collected Works Bookshop

Footsteps A5 cover art etch linesHow long have I known Greg Rochlin? I don’t know. There are friendships where you’ve known someone for years but never felt you’ve known them. And there are those you’ve met, in class, on a committee, at a dinner, and they become part of your friendship circle; your life is changed that bit by them, they expand your world. Greg is one of those.

I can’t actually remember the CAE group he was in. But at Yak and then at the Moat meetings of poets, he’s an irregular regular, whose poems always create interest and sometimes discussion.

Should I add that Greg takes part in the Melbourne productions of plays in French? An extra language is an extra string to your bow; it opens up another literature in the medium in which it is best met—its own language. And it gets you thinking constructively about language, because other languages behave differently from English.

Greg is the only student poet I’ve known who has proposed a new and difficult poem form, the villanellette. It is, if you like, a parody of the villanelle that shows both its problems and its finesse. A trial and critique that both entertains and exercises the poet.

Now we have Footsteps—what a modest title, by a poet who understands that one is always going somewhere, making a fresh start, directing the words to be different from say, just conversation or a business mission statement. An art work has to be approached—there are the footsteps.

– Judith Rodriguez

Judith Rodriguez is a Melbourne poet. Her recent books are Manatee (2007) and The Hanging of Minnie Thwaites (2012). She wrote the libretto for Moya Henderson’s opera Lindy which was performed at the Sydney Opera House in 2002. She taught at La Trobe University (1969–1985) and Deakin University (1998–2003). Judith is a recipient of the Christopher Brennan Award.


Featured Writer Darby Hudson: ‘WALK’



“To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home…”

-Charles Baudelaire on the flâneur (The Painter of Modern Life, Le Figaro, 1863)

The way you walk is your walk.
From a great distance, you can recognise your mum or brother by the shape of their walk, a mile away.

WALK 2 Darby Hudson

Your walk is your DNA in motion.
Your walk is your spirit saddling your body like a horse and taking it for a ride.

WALK 3 Darby Hudson

When you meet someone for the first time and they walk towards you,
you witness their vulnerability though the nakedness of space –
you see their whole body unconsciously attempt to own the earth in the face of impossibility.
It’s why when you see someone with a swagger, or a
.                    dance
.       move,
it gives you a sense of sorrow.
These are moves for an earth unowned, a life unlived.
But it’s why a walking conversation with a good friend is one of
the loveliest things possible.
And you are never alone.
Not alone at all.
If you want to summon the familiarity of your spirit, all you have to do is
walk the earth.
Even if it’s down to the shops.

WALK 1 Darby Hudson

-Darby Hudson

WALK is an illustrated poem. The full text of the poem, ‘WALK’, has been published in Rochford Street Review along with a number of illustrated pages from Darby Hudson’s mixed media book with the author’s permission.

Darby Hudson is a writer and artist from Melbourne, Australia. His poetry has been published in wet concrete, old trees, thin air, Best Australian Poems, Meanjin, and Cordite. His little book WALK, an illustrated poem, was independently published in 2017.

WALK is available from Readings Bookstores online


Featured Writer Darby Hudson: Biographical Note

Darby Hudson pic

Darby Hudson. self portrait (2017).


Darby Hudson is a writer and artist from Melbourne, Australia. His poetry has been published in wet concrete, old trees, thin air, Best Australian Poems, Meanjin, and Cordite. His little book WALK, an illustrated poem, was independently published in 2017.

WALK is available from Readings Bookstores online

Featured Writer Darby Hudson: ‘WALK’


“Dark Convicts is an enterprising and exemplary work”: Tony Voss reviews ‘Dark Convicts’ by Judy Johnson

Dark Convicts: Ex-slaves on the First Fleet by Judy Johnson (UWA Publishing, 2017).

Dark_convicts_coverThe subtitle of Dark Convicts identifies these men (as it happens they are all male) as ex-slaves on the First Fleet: eleven black prisoner-pioneers who are among ‘the founders of Australia’, as the continental commonwealth would become known. The site of their enslavement had been what would in its turn become known as the United States of America.

They had gained their freedom by enlisting in the British Imperial and Loyalist forces during the War of Independence. Some of their fellows had been resettled in Canada and other British colonies, but many of the over 8,000 fugitive slaves who defected were shipped over to a new life in London. They had left the caste of slavery, but they could not escape the class of poverty. In the metropolis, they had no access to charity, no respect from their emancipators and little chance of gainful and dignified employment. In desperation, no doubt, many turned to crime.

Ironically, it was that decision that admitted them to the relentless record-keeping of the British Imperial and mercantile machine of state and so preserved at least the skeleton of their stories for this poet to revisit and recapture in this engaging and moving book. The substantial sequence of nearly fifty poems is interspersed with a prose commentary which identifies speakers and protagonists, sustains the narrative and contextualises the action.

Judy Johnson is directly engaged in this story since she is descended from two of the Dark Convicts, John Martin and John Randall. Martin married the daughter of his best friend Randall and their descendants now probably number 25,000. If any of them read poetry, they will be proud of the achievement of their congener. The sequence of poems concentrates on ‘the flavour of the life and times’ of the two ancestors. The poems evoke much of the detail and general condition of the early years of the New South Wales settlement.

Martin, sentenced at the Old Bailey to seven years transportation. He spent three years in Newgate and two years aboard the hulk Ceres (remember Great Expectations), where Randall was also held. It was there the two probably became friends. By the time Martin reached Sydney Cove, he had only eighteen months of his sentence to serve but had to wait until 1792 to be restored to liberty and granted 50 acres of the Northern Boundary Farm, Parramatta. His conduct had been exemplary, and he had among other duties been a member of the night watch. On the same day, Randall who had served as one of the governor’s three ‘game shooters’, and thus enjoyed some freedom of movement and encounter with the indigenous people, received a grant of 60 adjacent acres.

However, not all the Dark Convicts settled as happily as Martin and Randall. All suffered drought and famine: most succumbed to scurvy, dysentery or venereal disease. Many, Martin among them, were mercilessly flogged for minor infringements of whatever the code was. Within the first few years, several men and women were executed. In June of the first year, two young men, both in their early twenties, were hanged. Samuel Peyton for the theft of ‘shirts, stockings and combs’, and Edward Corbet for attempting to escape into the bush.

Judy Johnson neatly captures the coordinates of imperial rule. Her poem on the first church service is called ‘Church Tree’, the poem on the first hangings is called ‘Death Tree’. Equally telling is John Martin’s ironic recall of Governor Philip’s own words in ‘John Martin’s Twenty-Five Lashes’: ‘there will be no slavery in New South Wales. The sequence maintains a balance between details of experience, observation and sensation on the one hand and the overall purpose and shape and moral ambiguity of the enterprise on the other.

The story told in Dark Convicts is preserved in many sources, and the poet is scrupulous in her acknowledgements, italicising quotations from the journals and books she has used. The power of the work, however, emanates from the poet’s disposition of the information and of the words of many of the original First Fleeters. The story covers nearly forty years, from just before the war of 1776, to 1812, when John Martin, 57, marries Mary, 19, daughter of John Randall and Mary Butler.

The poet’s basic decision on the poem’s form was to give it a kind of unity, or homogeneity, by settling ‘on a thirteen spoken-syllable line’. It sounds like a rough-and-ready metre, but the brave decision does seem, albeit unevenly, to pay off. All the poems are subjected to this measure, yet the poet achieves variety and liveliness in several prosodic ways. Many of the poems are given to the different voices of the participants (the two central characters, other convicts, the parson, the governor, soldiers, and officials). Stanzaic form varies from poem to poem, and the poet makes telling use of internal and, occasionally, end rhyme. There are also some skilful uses of quite strict prosodic forms.

The first poem, for example, is ‘George Washington’s Lost Slave Villanelle’, in which the General urges resistance against the British, or else the Americans will ‘be subjugated much like the slaves we own’. The thirteen-syllable line seems to struggle with the rhyme scheme and refrain of the verse form. However, the awkwardness of the resulting rhythm is right for what is a compromised defence of slavery recalling Johnson’s question: ‘How is that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?’

In ‘Eleven Black Scoundrels Bound for the First Fleet’ which is ‘to be sung to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas’, the strict line-length doesn’t appear to harmonise with the form of the song. However, in ‘Farewell and Adieu Old England’, the strict line length is matched to a form of rhymed and half-rhymed quatrains which gives us an engaging sea-shanty. ‘Black Caesar’s Pantoum or The Bear is Hungry’, a poem spoken by David Collins, the Judge Advocate, about the incorrigible giant who became Australia’s first bushranger (eventually shot dead by a bounty-hunting fellow convict), is a triumph. A pantoum (also ‘pantun’) is a Malay verse form composed of quatrains, using assonance and a complex pattern of line repetition. Judy Johnson handles the form deftly and suits it to the speaker’s thoughts, combining direct quotation from Collins with her own imagined words.

Apart from the formal and prosodic pleasures of poetry, Dark Convicts testifies to the poet’s feel for and delight in words themselves. George Worgan, surgeon on the Sirius, writing home ‘On the Pleasures of Exploration’, speaks of ‘a bottle or two of O be joyful thrust into our knapsacks’. The ‘Game Shooters for the Governor’ talk of the ‘frizzen’ and the ‘flash pan’ of their weapon, the flintlock. Although Black Caesar’s assassin is ‘No pudding-sleeve/ parson’, he does intend ‘to conduct a service with/ his musket’.

Dark Convicts is an enterprising and exemplary work. It should engage many Australian general readers and will certainly interest both the readers and the writers of poetry.

-Tony Voss


Tony Voss retired from a University teaching career in South Africa in 1995 and emigrated to Sydney the following year. He continues to publish academic research papers and poetry, mostly in South African journals.

Read an extract from Dark Convicts: Ex-slaves on the First Fleet

Dark Convicts: Ex-slaves on the First Fleet by Judy Johnson is available from UWA Publishing


“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


“Suture Lines reflects Scully’s passion as a poet and scholar”: Malcolm St Hill reviews ‘Suture Lines’ by Paul Scully

suture-linesThere is not a simple label that could be applied to Paul Scully’s second collection, Suture Lines (Guillotine Press, 2016). The title suggests the melding of adjacent and related parts. This is the context of the beginning of the poem in which the term appears, ‘StoryBird 1: Gondwanaland’, dealing with the formation of the ancient supercontinent. While the five sections of the work are more disparate than the title implies, their ‘amassing’ is manifested through Scully’s erudition and recurrent motifs which are embroidered throughout.

‘StoryBird 1’ is an early poem in ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’, a signature section in this collection. It is inspired and informed by the Persian classic The Conference of the Birds by Sufi poet, Farid ud-Din Attar. In a two page introduction, a precis of his 2016 Southerly essay, ‘ReConferencing the Birds’, Scully explains that the group of birds in Conference are on a quest to find Simorgh, their king. The leader of the birds, a hoopoe (an iconic Eurasian bird and the national bird of Israel) takes them on a journey through seven valleys, each a symbol of progress towards their goal.

Scully’s hoopoe figures, the two birds in his rendition, are Australian natives: the marbled frogmouth and the bristlebird. The particular birds were selected, perhaps, because of their rarity and reverential place in Australian ornithology. The former is a relative of the tawny frogmouth, a bird that many would recognise, while the latter is elusive and officially endangered. The reader is introduced to the frogmouth in ‘The Accidental Priest’, and to the bristlebird, a ‘patient, shy, protective bird’ in the poem which follows, ‘Sage-Brush Sentinels’. In both poems, Scully describes the birds’ habitat and simultaneously alludes to their spiritual significance. The frogmouth is ‘an abbess—// of her tawny cousin’ in ‘The Accidental Priest’. ‘Sage-Brush Sentinels’ is referred to as a ‘psalm’, with the bristlebird as its centrepiece.

Scully’s hoopoe surrogates needle their way through the poems, eventually landing their charges where they started. In ‘The Observatory Pool’, the ‘pilgrim flock’, led by the twosome, come to a pool, a metaphor for Attar’s king and court. Expecting to see a deity, they see their own reflection and in turn, realise that the one they are seeking is a manifestation of the self.

The fifteen poems of this avian journey vary in the intensity of their allegorical significance. The ostensibly literal poems provide an introduction to bird life and lore. The sexual habits of the superb fairy-wren are described in ‘StoryBird 2: Superb, Purposeful Sluts’ (a somewhat jarring title) and in ‘[Songs of the Reviled]’ pest and nuisance species are variously treated with respect and disdain. Scully grants the crows ‘clemency’, deferring to their unique place in the Australian consciousness and ear. The sacred ibis is afforded respect, cast as a victim, ‘profaned by an urban smudge’. However, the Indian myna is not spared, as Scully takes aim at its ‘lice and the displacement of locals, especially its native cousin.’ ‘StoryBird 3: The Origin of Song’, draws on the work of Australian biologist Tim Low, who challenged orthodoxy and posited that birdsong originated in Australia and New Guinea and not the Northern Hemisphere.

The other signature section of Suture Lines, ‘The Librarians of Alexandria’, also begins with an introduction, contextualising the poems which follow; explaining Scully’s creative approach and assisting the reader to navigate them. The generosity of these introductions shows respect for the reader and Scully strikes a careful balance between revealing too much and not enough.

The section traces the machinations of the first, third and sixth librarians of the Great Library of Alexandria. ‘There is conjecture,’ says Scully, ‘as to the identities of the head librarians’. This gives him licence to nominate particular individuals as his protagonists and to enliven the narrative with selected ‘facts’ from the library’s history. It reads like a poetical version of historical fiction. The section starts with Demetrius, the first librarian, with his ‘caterpillar eyebrows/ and pedagogic feet’. In ‘Peripatos’, Demetrius lays out his vision for the library before the Pharaoh but stumbles when questioned about the design. “There is more space than building,” the Pharaoh says. Demetrius wants to reply that ‘an enquiring mind is a plain, not a paddock,’ but chokes and responds politely, limping out ‘a few braided syllables’.

The third librarian, Callimachus develops, seemingly the brainchild of his courtesan, the first system of library cataloguing. ‘The Pinakes: A Catalogue’ and ‘(F)Re(e)-versed’ trace the genesis and roll out of the system, a response to his frustration at watching scholars walking the halls seeking items from ‘the bins that held the scrolls’.

No text was binned
without Callimachus’ eyes filing it for later enquiry, his memory sure, finely bladed.

In the seasoned arms of his long-frequented courtesan, he mused as to why
his wards’ daily ferrying did not make a track of similar remembering for them.

The courtesan suggests that he ‘commit the sequence of his mind to stylus and pinax tablet as a label/ above each bin’.

There is a single poem dealing with Aristophanes, the sixth librarian. ‘Marks of Distinction (The Invention of Punctuation)’ explains his legacy; ‘komma, kolon, periodos’, solving the dilemma of ‘UPPERCASEDENSITYOFUNBROKENLETTERS// encamped to the margin/ of the papyrus’, providing the fulcrum to lever and align meaning with intention. The poem is emblematic of Scully’s approach to re-imagining history, a fitting and satisfying conclusion to a group of poems which are both playful and informative.

The remaining three sections of the work are more loosely bound. Exceptions are a short sequence about an unusual medical condition, face blindness, in the sequence ‘Face Value’, and a number of religiously themed poems in the ‘Pseudepigrapha’ sequence in the same section. Beyond this sequence, religious terms and allusions are a feature of the work and combined with a plethora of avian references, watermark the collection.

Many specific birds are named in Suture Lines, including the albatross in ‘The Longbow of the Albatross’, contained in the opening section, ‘Heart and Hearth’. Here Scully weighs elements of this enigmatic bird, against literary and religious imagery. The literary allusions come primarily from Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Scully writes that ‘Samuel Taylor well knew, though, the pious bird/ as an unpencilled architect of myth, a cumulus/ of fortune and hope’. Scully also references Australian playwriting doyen, Ray Lawler and his little-known play, The Man Who Shot the Albatross.

Lawler knew it too
when he noosed Bligh’s neck with the albatross

in the title of the play that charted an inner life
for the captain and governor…

The nod to Lawler is characteristic of poems in the first section of Suture Lines where Scully registers the influence of other poets as either a response or dedication to a poem or poet or as ‘unacknowledged references to…’ their poems. Judith Beveridge, Pam Brown and Michelle Leber are included in this framework.

The final section of the collection, ‘Beyond the Dingo Fence’, includes poems which describe polar ice and frozen seas, and others depicting coastal landscapes. In the last poem, also called ‘Beyond the Dingo Fence’, Scully presents a hardened outback loner whose ‘hair was boot-heel pressed spinifex’ and who ‘preferred goanna oil to affection’. The image of the outcast recalls similar poems in the first section of the work, ‘Laneway Tom’ and ‘Singular Voices in The Strand II’. These poems similarly examine those on the margins; a man on the poverty line who resides in a laneway shed, and a homeless person with a ‘second voice hidden/ in his ear’.

Suture Lines reflects Scully’s passion as a poet and scholar. He draws on knowledge across many fields; ornithology, ancient history and literature, to name a few. He is inventive in his treatment of these spheres of interest. His eye for landscape and the human condition is acute. The result is as ‘sure (and) finely bladed’ as Callimachus’ memory, a collection that will inform in surprising ways and have the reader wanting to dig deeper.

-Malcolm St Hill


M St Hill pic

Malcolm St Hill. photograph by Kim Jordan (2017)

Malcolm St Hill lives in Newcastle and is a poet and independent researcher focused on the literary memory of the Great War, particularly that of Australian soldier-poets. He was the winner of the Morisset Show ‘Lake Macquarie Moments’ Poetry Competition in 2016 and has poems forthcoming in Brew: 30 Years of Poetry at the Pub, which will be launched at the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2018.

Suture Lines is available from booktopia

Paul Scully talks about Suture Lines to Zalehah Turner

Featured Writer Les Wicks: Four Poems

Emily Takes Off

The surgeons wanted to cut them out
but she had other ideas, albeit
half-formed like those lumps on her shoulder blades.

Scans were inconclusive
but the medical profession poked-prodded
to a point where bruises blossomed across her back.

There were suggestions surgery
could leave a tattoo of pain across her adult life…
all within acceptable boundaries
drawn by those without affliction.

As the skin began to split around
the urgencies on her scapulae
doctors sought orders from the court.

Her parents took the family on an extended holiday.
Process servers fretted about the vacated home but
all the neighbours refused to answer questions –
common good, common purpose.

Emily’s wings required some adaptation
but she thrived above the clods of debate, that
aggregate of rules, those
endless line markers at their bitumen.

Her party-dress of clouds now skims the globe.


The Love-It-Till-You-Don’t Club, Kingscliff

Terry. Vietnam.
That word is enough, they
cured the cancer. Big deal.
With his Seniors Card rode the bus to pick up Nembutal.
For years he felt there was magic yet in his world, plus
he lived near the beach.

Friends will be there
but by obligation “not there” –
this loving called death must legally be done in solitude.
Booked into the Sunshine Motel.

He belongs to a group that helps their members live & die.
Never too much pain, nor much joy
he remembers the boy he was
& apologises at the air.

Medicine can be tougher than the patient.
Lost his way at Falldown Bay.
Never too much pain.
Those who cared flapped about him pesky precious,
orbited his damage for years.

There were pinnacles in his life.
Marlene & her hippy dresses,
she could tea away apocalypse.
Cowboyhat Hannah just got to scootin’
as Daisy went & flowered straight out of the garden.
It’s not that it matters, small tears
in an old t-shirt. They were all so piss-weak
& twice as strong as him.

Not a dole bludger,
that pride above disability.
Mate/employer Davo reckons
he can’t cope without him
(should never have been a builder anyway).
Davo whinges a lot, reckons he’s just a man
fighting depression, custody, bankruptcy but
he  never served.

Terry served, knew a few miracles.
Still shrugs, thinks big deal.

Slipping away, this day
people will drop by around 7pm, check there’s no pulse.
The road to well is sometimes a dead end.
Call box notification to police, because those
hard-pressed cleaning staff aren’t paid enough for bodies.
Terry will be honoured, a forward scout again, trailblazing
in the territories beyond hurt.


The Last Trick –  Colloquium Perspectives on the Arts
in Post-literary, Poly-liminal Aggregations

With the Australian Empire on its knees
(& unable to afford the arthroscopy)
I was invited to address a modest gathering of minds
to discuss the Twenty Doctrinal Errors.

Parliamentarians promised to save our misspelt solds.
My position in the Temple was dependent
on the continued satiation of grandees.
This involved  robust video presentations of puppies plus
the adornment of statues featuring
that reified, reassuring, retooled Roman god Quotidian.

Not for lack of effort
though as the years drag on my pretention
has become more prefab.
Authorities became concerned & a
clerical constabulary questioned my
grammatical life choices.

I fell.
Not in a graceful mort d’un cygne way more
abattoir chute.
I zeroed.

So with nothing left, retreated to my reservation
(1970’s working class apartment)
& there await developments.

Swapping meals with my friend in #8
(Mustafa’s a bit heavy on the meat –
me on the dairy –
we both believe in garlic & mushrooms)
I defend the right to die
alongside discouraging my ex-lover’s suicide.
Yesterday rode my bike by the bay,
this irrelevance is a sanctity.


Grand Mal

He knew her when they were seeds.
Now they flash their Seniors Cards & call it dance
He wasn’t ready, ever.
This life is birdcall across scree…
deep & meaningless as any deity.
Thoughts proclaim territory
as that territory shrugs.

A table with a view.
Meeting her again, both
are fat on good intentions. The nests are brimming
with dependents. This anthem of glut
has clogged the world

& isn’t enough.
Not by a long shot.

So later they rut mindful of
backs & knees.
So unexpected: she had worn just comfort underwear,
he hadn’t shaved his back.

Age will give you everything, don’t struggle.
Turn down the lights
& remember your medication.


– Les Wicks


Les Wicks

Les Wicks. photograph by Susan Adams (2014).

Les Wicks’ 13th book of poetry is Getting By Not Fitting In (Island, 2016). For 40 years Les has been a figure of substance in the Australian literary community. He has been a guest at most of his nation’s literary festivals alongside a substantial list of international ones, including Festival de Poesia Medellin, World Poetry Festival (Delhi), Beyond Baroque (L.A.), Austin International Poetry Festival, FI PTR (Can), Vilenica Festival, Struga Poetry Evenings (Mac), Festival Poesia de Granada (Nicaragua), and International Poetry Festival Istanbul. His poetry has been published in over 350 different newspapers, anthologies and magazines across 28 countries and in 13 different languages. Les is seen as both a “stage” and “page” poet. His work is a mixture of accessibility and dense use of language. He is a master of capturing the vernacular. His poems are both humorous and fierce, often in the same poem. Les is equally well known is his work as a publisher and editor. Most people will remember Artransit which put poetry and art into Sydney and Newcastle buses. However, that is just one of dozens of similar roles: some predictable, like literary magazines, while others range as far afield as publishing a poem on the surface of a river. The most recent poetry anthologies he has co- edited and published are Guide to Sydney Rivers and AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia. He has coordinated workshops across the country. website:

Getting By Not Fitting In is available from Island Press