‘Hope’, ‘The Golden Wheat’, ‘Dry Land’ and ‘The Strong Sunflower’ by Mohammad Ali Maleki

Hope

There was a seed,
fresh and beautiful –
it knew nothing
of the outside world.
This beautiful seed
was stuck between
two walls in a village.
The sun and the moon,
the rain, the white snow
and the blue sky were unknown to it.
Because this seed was living
in darkness.

Still, it had a good feeling
about the outside world.
It continued to say,
Behind this wall
there is something better.
Its heart beat
with each passing day,
beating faster and faster,
yearning to see the outside
until it couldn’t take it anymore!

Its heart cracked,
grew a stem
and then a bud.
Its pretty stem
punched the wall
and, shaking with fear,
it poked its head out into the sun.

Afraid at first
it shrunk back into the wall,
not even knowing
it had seen the light.
But soon it got restless
and returned, longingly, to look at the sky.
The sky rained on the bud
making it clean and cold,
then the sun warmed its body
and the bud inspired itself to keep growing
until it burst into a beautiful flower.

No one had ever seen such a flower!
But between the two walls,
standing steady,
the flower just said –
We can carry on,
in any circumstances.
All we need is patience.

-Mohammad Ali Maleki

Translated from Farsi by Mansoor Shoushtari
Edited by Michele Seminara

The Golden Wheat

I am a beautiful golden seed
I am wheat
Once I was out of sight
From humans and the sun
No one planted me to grow
And I would have died alone
Me, who with the sun’s help
Could be thousands

But birds saw me among the grass
And zoomed in to peck me
I fell from a beak and hid beneath the earth
The sun saw this and shone
Where I lay concealed
Waiting for the rain
This fell too heavily for me
But the sun knew
Warming me again under that wet soil
Until I sprouted happily
And grew up into overjoyed sunlight
My body as golden as the sun

Day and night I was nurtured
By moon and sun until
I revealed myself to be
Yellow harvest in summer

Winds blew my seeds many miles
Making the deserts green and golden
All from me

I may have died, useless, before I slipped
Into that soil
Sun and moon saved me
Knowing I would remain on Earth
Many centuries to come

Since then other creatures
Have thrived upon me
Learning my many uses
Knowing the ways of the sun
All friends, we stay alive
Wind, moon, sun, rain, wheat and humans

If this chain gets broken
There will be no order left on earth
No sun by day
No moon by night

Chaos

-Mohammed Ali Maleki

Translated from Farsi by Mansoor Shoushtari
Edited by Melita Luck

mohammad-ali-maleki-dry-land
Dry Land

Behind my room I had a piece of land
that stayed forever in my mind –
not knowing how to use it,
I thought arid land was no good.

Then spring came
bringing new purpose
and I planted some tiny seeds.
A stem grew up and multiplied;
buds followed.
In that dry place I’d made a garden
where flowers blossomed and covered
the cracked earth.

I loved my little garden.
Smelling so sweetly, it attracted guests:
dragon flies, butterflies and a sparrow
all came dancing through
until I felt I was dreaming of a garden
that had come to life…

Then the sparrow left.
Months passed and the garden
grew depressed. I did too.

But the sparrow returned with more of its kind,
singing to my garden, making it happy.
That sparrow had found its mother,
just as I had found Mother Earth.

But I have forgotten to tell you
where this garden actually is.
It is far away, on Manus Island.
And you know well
what a menace Manus is.
And how during three years of incarceration
we have suffered here.
For what crime?

I hope you never see this place,
nor your child feel any pain,
even from the thorn of a beautiful flower;
that would make you so sad,
the pain of your precious child.

God knows we are just human
and that we have beloved families.
Are your children neatly dressed?
Are ours dirty?
No. We too are simply human,
like you.
For God’s sake realise this:
it is in God’s eyes
that we are all equal

-Mohammad Ali Maleki

Translated from Farsi by Mansoor Shoushtari
Edited by Michele Seminara and Melita Luck

mohammad-ali-maleki-the-sunflower
The Strong Sunflower[1]

Manus Island knew nothing of sunflowers
so I planted some seeds, from my heart, on Manus.
These seeds from a refugee, me,
grew into a flower for the Manus people
and the heat of the sun created new hope in their hearts.
I planted this happiness into the heart of the soil,
I willingly left it as a souvenir-
now in my name I bequeath it
to all who may come.

You, sunflower, are a stranger, like me, on Manus;
I hope you will not be cursed here.
Friends help me stay sane in this land;
I hope your friends, the sun and the rain, will help you.
Sunflower, my people have been disrespected
but I’m happy this island is kind to you,
my sunflower friends
on Manus.

-Mohammad Ali Maleki

Translated from Farsi by Mansoor Shoushtari
Edited by Michele Seminara

[1] ‘The Strong Sunflower’ was first published by Verity La in Discoursing Diaspora on 21 May, 2016. It has been reprinted with permission from the author, Mohammad Ali Maleki and Verity La editor, Michele Seminara.
The Strong Sunflower’ in ‘Discoursing Diaspora’, Verity La, 2016

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Mohammad Ali Maleki in his garden on Manus Island

Mohammad Ali Maleki is an Iranian poet and avid gardener living in detention on Manus Island whose poem, ‘The Strong Sunflower’ was published in Verity La’s Discoursing Diaspora project. His poems have been translated from Farsi by Mansoor Shoushtari and edited by Michelle Seminara and Melita Luck. His poems question the justice and cruelty of a world in which countries are devastated by war and any hope of asylum, for those that survive the journey, is cruelly taken on, or before, arrival. Mohammad Ali Maleki’s poems are emotive tales of life in detention which often employ plants as metaphors. Mohammad Ali Maleki enjoys gardening and has planted a beautiful garden behind his room on Manus Island. A remarkable sign of endurance despite the odds.

Featured Writers Part 1: Mohammad Ali Maleki- Curated by Zalehah Turner
Mohammad Ali Maleki: Biographical Note
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Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based critic, writer and poet currently completing her Bachelor of Arts in Communications majoring in writing and cultural studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. Zalehah is an Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review: https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2016/02/09/welcome-zalehah-turner-rochford-street-review-associate-editor

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Featured Writer Mohammad Ali Maleki: Biographical Note (curated by Zalehah Turner)

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Flowers from Mohammad Ali Maleki’s garden on the fence of the Manus Island detention centre

 

mohammad-ali-maleki-with-a-rainbow-lorikeet-in-his-graden-on-manus-island

Mohammad Ali Maleki with a rainbow lorikeet

Mohammad Ali Maleki is an Iranian poet and avid gardener living in detention on Manus Island whose poem, ‘The Strong Sunflower’ was published in Verity La’s Discoursing Diaspora project. His poems have been translated from Farsi by Mansoor Shoushtari and edited by Michelle Seminara and Melita Luck. His poems question the justice and cruelty of a world in which countries are devastated by war and any hope of asylum, for those that survive the journey, is cruelly taken on, or before, arrival. Mohammad Ali Maleki’s poems are emotive tales of life in detention which often employ plants as metaphors. Mohammad Ali Maleki enjoys gardening and has planted a beautiful garden behind his room on Manus Island. A remarkable sign of endurance despite the odds.

 

 

mohammad-ali-malekis-garden-on-manus-island

Mohammad Ali Maleki’s garden, behind his room on Manus Island


Michele Seminara on ‘The Strong Sunflower’ and the origins of Discoursing Diaspora on Verity La

In terms of “the origins of Discoursing Diaspora, it was always my intention to set up some sort of ‘project’ on Verity La, encouraging the publication of writing from refugees and migrants. (I rather ambitiously announced this in my first post as editor of the journal, under the banner ‘Writing from Exile’: http://verityla.com/behind-the-scenes-at-verity-la/). Initially, the plan was to get poet and social activist, Janet Gailbraith to run the project. She was interested, but for one reason or another (mostly our combined busyness!) it never really got off the ground.

Then, at the beginning of this year, I was contacted via Facebook by Mohammad, asking me to help edit his poetry. When I saw how important the ability to express himself and be heard by the Australian people was, it reignited my determination to get the project going. I was fortunate to have co-editor Ramon Loyola step in to assist me. This was important, since I’ve never personally experienced diaspora. So, it wasn’t something I wanted to run by myself; that just didn’t feel appropriate. Mohammad’s poem ‘The Strong Sunflower’ was the first to be published on the project. So yes, his contacting me was an absolutely fundamental part of making it happen! I feel he’s a very determined, strong, wise, and humble man, and I’m so glad his poems are gaining a wider audience,”- Michele Seminara

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‘Untitled’, photomontage by Mohammad Ali Maleki

Featured Writers Part 1: Mohammad Ali Maleki- Curated by Zalehah Turner
‘Hope’, ‘The Golden Wheat’, ‘Dry Land’ and ‘The Strong Sunflower’ by Mohammad Ali Maleki
_________________________________________________________________

Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based critic, writer and poet currently completing her Bachelor of Arts in Communications majoring in writing and cultural studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. Zalehah is an Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review: https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2016/02/09/welcome-zalehah-turner-rochford-street-review-associate-editor

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Island Press: the Story Continues

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After we republished Phil Robert’s memoir of the origins of Island Press (https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/10/01/ten-year-on-an-island-by-philip-roberts-the-beginnings-of-island-press/), in conjunction with the celebration of Island’s 45th Birthday Party, we received a number of inquiries from readers wanting to know the history of the press post Phil Roberts. The following is a brief note on the story since then: 

Martin Langford, Les Wicks and Phil Hammial with MC xxxx at the microphone during Island Press' 45 birthday celebrations.Picture ....

Martin Langford, Les Wicks and Phil Hammial with MC Roberta Lowing at the microphone during Island Press’ 45 birthday celebrations. Photograph by Michele Seminara.

Fortunately, the actual physical production of the book has become a lot easier since the first days. The problems around poetry receiving an audience remotely commensurate with the skill and vision that go into it, however, remain as intractable as ever.

After Phil Roberts returned to Canada, leaving his work as a lecturer at Sydney University to freelance, as poet, and writer about poetry, in Nova Scotiaproducing many more poetry collections, and achieving renown as the author of How Poetry Works (Penguin, 1986) – Phil Hammial continued the work of the press, overseeing the publication of titles such as John Tranter’s Dazed in the Ladies Lounge (1979) and J.S. Harry’s A Dandelion for Van Gogh (1985). Hammial consolidated the press’s original policy of being prepared to take risks with younger poets, publishing titles such as Adam Aitken’s Letter to Marco Polo (1985), and, if anything, increased the extent to which it was prepared to publish work which would not be acceptable to mainstream presses. Examples of the latter include Anthony Mannix’s Erotomania (1984), and Hammial’s own Vehicles (1985).

Dazed in the Ladies Lounge, John Tranter 1979

Dazed in the Ladies Lounge, John Tranter 1979

Running a press by oneself is a big responsibility, and there was a hiatus in Island activities between 1985 and 1992; when Hammial decided to get things moving again by inviting a small group of fellow poets Jutta Sieverding, Les Wicks and Martin Langford to join him in turning Island into a co-operative. In this, Island was fortunate to have access to the skills of Phil’s partner, Anne, whose expertise in the newly-legislated format was ideal for the press. Anne has been an essential element in the success of Island: each year she has reviewed the accounts and prepared the annual returns. Having someone who has been willing to offer us her knowledge about co-operative accounting pro bono has been a huge asset, and the press is extremely grateful to her for her generosity. Island’s aim had always been to provide an outlet for new poetry, to make a contribution to the artistic world first and foremost. So the new structure, which minimised business and governance costs, and which allowed it to get on with the job of providing an outlet for its poets with as little distraction as possible, was just what was needed.

Blonde and French by Ken Bolton was published by P. Hammial & P. Roberts in 1978 before Phil Roberts left Australia

Blonde and French by Ken Bolton was published by P. Hammial & P. Roberts in 1978 before Phil Roberts left Australia

The period since Island was incorporated as a co-operative has turned out be its most productive time – 37 books in 22 years: a little less than two a year (readers interested in the complete list should consult the Island website). It hasn’t published every year: it has not always been possible to obtain funding, and sometimes the directors have been caught up in other activities.

The nineties were to prove a busy little period, with publications from Lizz Murphy (Pearls and Bullets), Marcel Freiman (Monkey’s Wedding), Jutta Seiverding (Uneasy Weather) and Leith Morton (The Flower Ornament), amongst others. And then, as has sometimes happened, there was a break for a couple of years, while the press struggled to obtain funding.
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The 21st Century

Island poet Carolyn Gerrish reading at the 45th Birthday/Book launch celebrations. Photograph Michele Seminara

Island poet Carolyn Gerrish reading at the 45th Birthday/Book launch celebrations. Photograph Michele Seminara

Be Straight with Me from Langford saw the millennium in; this was a departure from our normal audience and focus as it sought to address and speak to the often neglected teenage male. Lizz Murphy, Leith Morton and Carolyn Gerrish rejoined the Island tribe with dynamic new titles and Philip Hammial’s exploration of the more lawless boundaries of language continued with several titles including In the Year of Our Lord Slaughter’s Children and Voodoo Realities.

Australian poetry occupies a tiny niche market. The secret to longevity in the editors’ minds was to retain a tight focus, to keep our output manageable. Australia Council support was fundamental to our decision each year to commit to the next one. The process of obtaining that support was never simple and had some substantial on-costs related to our corporate structure etc. But support did come most years and it was frankly this input that was the deciding factor in the press’ ability to continue.

Adam Aitken’s first collection, Letter to Marco Polo, was published by Island Press in 1985.

Adam Aitken’s first collection, Letter to Marco Polo, was published by Island Press in 1985.

The editors have had the honour of performing in countries where our artform is somewhere near the core of those nation’s culture, even self-identity. Poetry in Australia is not a “popular” public entertainment; it needs support. One supposes one can make the choice that we will be a society without poetry and withdraw that infrastructure. But this will have long-term implications on what we are as a people. In New South Wales there will be billions spent in the years ahead on stadium upgrades. Poetry asks for just a trickle of tightly focused help.

With small presses, every corner that can be cut is cut. Working collaboratively with the chosen poets each year we reduce the burden at “head office”. Copies of the books are kept with the individual poets thereby circumventing the need for warehousing. We work closely with printers to obtain not just the best quality product but also a reasonably priced one. Often, book design is done in-house.

Uneasy Weather by Jutta Sieverding. Island Press 1993

Uneasy Weather by Jutta Sieverding. Island Press 1993. Her final book, A Dangerous Place, was published by Island in 2005.

In 2005, we were proud to publish the final book from Jutta Sieverding, one of the original four in our incorporated entity stage. The loss of her editorial and production expertise was felt deeply both by her fellow Island editors and the literary community generally. Her A Dangerous Place was a moving reflection on life lived and losing. A pinnacle of the first years of the 21st century was the publication of David Brooks’ Urban Elegies. David went on to provide strategic assistance for a number of years. There was somewhat of a history of Island publishing revered poets coming back to their practice after a hiatus, we jumped at the chance to put out Rae Desmond Jones’ Blow Out. David Musgrave, after spending so much effort publishing others, was a welcome addition to the Island stable with Concrete Tuesday. Roberta Lowing’s The Searchers is an important step in her development as a poet as well as a real contribution to the community generally.

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Ticket to Ride by Philip Hammial. Island Press 2015

Whilst tending to have Sydney focus for purely practical reasons of organisation, we felt it was important to have a regional or non-capital city component in our lists. Barbara Petrie, John Watson, Barbara de Franceschi and Rob Reil were invaluable additions to our catalogue from that grouping.

Publishing someone’s first book of poetry is a unique honour. Some of those we published in the 70s and 80s have gone on to be major figures in the canon. More recently, we were proud to be midwives to some fine titles in this category – Barbara de Franceschi’s Strands was a superb book. Christine Townend’s Walking with Elephants has had critical acclaim in the months since its launch and Susan Adams’ Beside Rivers was commended in the Anne Elder prize. We plan to continue with this as part of our selection criteria.

The Future?

Walking with Elephants by Christine Townend was launched at Island's 45th Birthday party

Walking with Elephants by Christine Townend was launched at Island’s 45th Birthday party

More recently, we have sought to include books from interstate poets both to better reflect the community’s output as a whole and to expand the Island Press footprint. Jeltje Fanoy’s Princes by Night is a glorious postcolonial exploration.

All three of the current editors “get around a lot” and are always on the lookout for potential additions to our list. Invitations are extended on the basis of obvious literary strength, a diversity of voice, mix of regional/capital city, gender balance, at least one first book and a proven track record of professional activism in the art form (i.e. giving something back). Our tentative 2016 program reflects this. Michele Seminara is a relative newcomer to poetry but already has an impressive following due to her energetic work within the community. Mark Roberts has been an engine for the dissemination of poetry for decades and is long overdue a book of his own. David Gilbey is of incalculable benefit to literature, particularly in regional Australia. Lauren Williams continues to be a loved voice over four decades and she also comes from regional Victoria. Les Wicks makes up the fifth title.

The Searchers by Roberta Lowing was also launched at Island's 45th birthday celebrations

The Searchers by Roberta Lowing was also launched at Island’s 45th birthday celebrations

We cannot say with certainty whether any or all of these titles will emerge. Like so much of the literature community, cuts to government funding have made the future profoundly uncertain. At a time in this press’ life when we would ordinarily be discussing expansion and bringing in younger blood to the editorial process we can’t with any certainty plan towards our 50th year of operation. As the oldest still functioning poetry press in Australia this is not an enviable position. After all these decades of Quixotic optimism, strategic promotion, pennypinching, thankless pursuit of funding et cetera will Island be nearing its end?

 – Martin Langford & Les Wicks

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Martin Langford’s recent publications are The Human Project: New and Selected Poems (P&W, 2009) and Ground (P&W, 2015). He is the editor of Harbour City Poems: Sydney in Verse 1788-2008 (ed., P&W 2009). He is the poetry reviewer at Meanjin.

Les Wicks has toured widely and seen publication across 23 countries in 11 languages. His 11th book of poetry is Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) (Puncher & Wattmann, 2013), his 12th (a Spanish selection) El Asombrado (Rochford Street Press, 2015). http://leswicks.tripod.com/lw.htm

For the full list of books from Island and to order titles see  http://islandpress.tripod.com/ISLAND.htm

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