New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016 winner: ‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’ by Stuart Cooke

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stuart-cooke-picStuart Cooke lives on the Gold Coast, where he lectures in creative writing and literary studies at Griffith University. He has published collections of poetry, criticism and translation. His latest book, Opera was published by Five Islands Press in 2016. Stuart Cooke is the winner of the 2016 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize.

‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’: Zalehah Turner interviews Stuart Cooke

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‘Anneslea fragrans’ (the spitting plant): Zalehah Turner interviews Magdalena Ball, highly commended for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016

“Walking through a place like the Sydney Botanic Gardens is very much a sensual experience, and I feel that part of what a poet does is to slow down and pay attention to those experiences – to really smell, touch, taste and feel in a very deep way…” – Magdalena Ball

Zalehah Turner: What drew you to Anneleas frangrans, the spitting plant?

Magdalena Ball: As a writer, I tend to be drawn to anthropomorphism. I like the idea of trying to get inside the perspective of something non-human – an animal, a mineral or plant in a way that somehow comes back to the human condition. Trigger plants like Anneslea fragrans are easy to do this with, because plants are usually immobile (at least to human eyes) and making this beautiful, elegant flower, which also smells lovely, actually do something reactive and fast was evocative for me.

Z.T.: Can you tell me about your own experience of the ‘Anneslea fragrans’ in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney?

M.B.:
It has been quite a few years since I’ve been to the Botanic Garden, Sydney, but being rather verbal and a chronic teacher of my children, sometimes to their dismay, I tend to read every sign aloud. We had the children with us the last time and were doing a self-tour. There was a lot of excitement at the ‘Spitting Plant’, because it smelled and looked good and then did this seemingly un-plant-like thing of reacting when we very gently touched the flower, which was great fun. We spent a lot of time waiting and hoping for an insect to land (that didn’t happen). There’s a kind of mystery in that trigger – is it deliberate? Is it reflex? I sort of filed the plant away in my mind as something I wanted to explore, so when I found out about the competition, it was the natural choice.

Z.T.: In ‘Anneslea fragrans’ you open with “first there is touch”. The poem contains many references to the senses and even the interconnection between them: “most of what we taste is smell”. Why are all five senses so integral to your poem, ‘Anneslea fragrans’?

M.B.: The plant certainly lends itself to that – because it’s a tactile experience, but also because it does stimulate the senses so strongly – with the scent, the look and the feel of it…I also wanted to make that connection with the other senses that are on alert in the garden. Walking through a place like the Sydney Botanic Gardens is very much a sensual experience, and I feel that part of what a poet does is to slow down and pay attention to those experiences – to really smell, touch, taste and feel in a very deep way – not just on the surface of it, but to think about what it means to be smelling this smell, or having a tactile experience – what is the broader implication.

Z.T.: Are you interested in synaesthesia and if so, in what way does it inform your poem?

M.B.: I’m fascinated by synaesthesia. Even for people who operate in the centre of the spectrum, the senses themselves don’t function in isolation. Our sense of smell and taste are intimately connected (as I suggest in the poem) and there’s so much still to learn about, not only the connections between our senses and how we perceive, but the connection between our senses and illnesses or emotional state. I’m not at all certain that the separation of the senses is anything other than a human and perceptual response – it may be an agreed illusion or at least, entirely subjective. In the poem, I’m trying to embed myself a little more elementally into the natural world – to take a different perspective than the human. Of course, I’m limited to my own all-too-human linguistic capabilities, but I want to move a little deeper into empathy and the mixing of senses worked well for this, for me because animals and insects often use smell, colour and sound in ways that are more acute than humans are capable of.

Z.T.: You write in the second person. Who is the ‘you’ in the poem?

M.B.: I like the way poetry allows for multiple points of view simultaneously. So there are a few different versions of “you” that are being referred to at the same time in the poem. One of those is synonymous with ‘one’ – the human, including me. On another level, the ‘you’ is the reader and I like the idea of bringing the reader directly into the poem and making them a very direct participant and referent. The third ‘you’ could potentially be a companion, as well – a kind of single co-conspirator.

Z.T.: Why did you write “there were no bees this year”? Australia has been so far spared from Colony Collapse Disorder but it may well be in our future. Are these lines in reference to a highly possible, near future? What are your thoughts on the world wide bee shortage and its effect on pollination and ecology?

M.B.: I believe there’s some disagreement about whether Australian bees are in decline even if we’ve been spared Colony Collapse so far. The number of bee-keepers has definitely declined and the use of antibiotics in beekeeping and pesticides (neonicotinoids) has dramatically increased here as elsewhere. From an anecdotal point of view, I’ve totally noticed the decline of bees in my own backyard. It’s palpable. Five years ago we had so many bees in Spring, I was worried my kids would get stung swimming and was considering calling in someone to relocate the hives (I didn’t in the end and we learned to co-habit). Now there are only a very few bees. I think that the worldwide bee shortage is a major ecological issue. Bees are critical in the human food chain and their role as pollinators is crucial to food production. Albert Einstein said “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination…no more men”.  Aside from the fact that the loss of any species is tragic, most particularly when it’s man-made, the loss of bees will have a dramatic impact on our own species’ ongoing ability to survive.

Z.T.: You have references throughout the poem to critically endangered species, including a list which ends with a mammal which is not. Humans. “What else is on the way out?” Do you feel that humans are ensuring their own extinction through harming the environment and war?

M.B.: Yes! I don’t want to be a prophet of doom, and in fact, it’s my nature to be positive. I don’t think giving up is a helpful approach, but all indications are that we’re headed for a sixth mass extinction that may well include the human race. Apparently, over the last century, species of vertebrates are dying out up to 114 times faster than they would have without human activity (that stat from Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University). I have no idea if this is reversible – Ehrlich suggests it is. I’m not an expert, but from where I’m sitting, I’m not seeing a trend towards increased conservation amongst worldwide governments.

Z.T.: “A day that might not last”. Why do you feel that?

M.B.: As above. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make every effort we can to save whatever species we can, and above all, to take notice now of the beauty that surrounds us – to give priority to using less resources, to living in a more sustainable way and lobbying our governments (and vote accordingly) to take climate change seriously. I probably sound a little like an eco-warrior, and I’m not really, and don’t feel art should necessarily be polemical, but I certainly know how precious the natural world is and how little hope we seem to be leaving for our children and grandchildren. Art does seem to me to be an appropriate means of exploring these issues and if nothing else, connecting dots that might not otherwise be connected. We’re not really so different at the end of the day from other animals or the plant world – we have a common goal of survival and well-being.

Z.T.: What are your thoughts on Botanic Gardens, conservation programs, and their efforts to save endangered flora?

M.B.: Utterly important on every level. I’m grateful for programs like the ecological restoration work, and wildlife and plant ecology programs, and support them wholeheartedly. I’m well-aware that these research projects go far beyond the confines of the Botanic gardens site.

Z.T.: Anything you’d like to add?

M.B.: I’m particularly appreciative of the opportunity to explore these themes poetically (and of competitions like New Shoots), because I think that opening a dialogue on conservation issues with the arts community is not only a natural affiliation, but one that can both link the reading population with the scientific population, and explore dystopian impacts in a way that hopefully reaches more people in new ways.

Z.T.: How does it make you feel to have been highly commended for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016?

M.B: Being highly commended for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016 was a particular honour for me, for a number of reasons. One is that the shortlist was seriously impressive, as were the winning and shortlisted poems. ‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’ by Stuart Cooke just blew me away, as did Stokes’ ‘Leaving Wilona’ and Bennett’s ‘our primitive lives’, and I felt strong synergies between what we all were striving for as poets.
Another reason this means a lot to me is the ecological nature of this project. I’m not sure I qualify as an ecopoet specifically, but much of my work has an ecological focus and being able to situate myself in this area means a lot to me.
I’ve been following the New Shoots project from its start and have been deeply moved and excited by the work being done by Tamryn Bennett, Eileen Chong, Eric Avery and Mark Tredinnick, and though I didn’t get to see the actual guided poetry walk at the Sydney Writers Festival (wish I had), I have been following it closely online.
Finally, I have a great deal of respect for The Red Room Company and the innovative work they’ve done over the years, from installing poetry on toilet room doors, working with prisoners, working with first nations cultures and lost languages, attempts to map disappearing places, and distributing poetry via carrier pigeon- to name a few of the projects that come to mind. Being associated with The Red Room Company and with Rochford Street Review (another organisation I’ve come to respect greatly) is a kind of prize in itself.

‘Anneslea fragrans’ by Magdalena Ball: highly commended for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016
New Shoots Poetry Prizes: the winning and highly commended poets
The winning and highly commended poems from the New Shoots Poetry Prizes can also be found on The Red Room Company’s website.

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Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is a novelist, poet, reviewer, interviewer, and the editor of Compulsive Reader. She has been widely published in literary journals, anthologies, and is the author of several books of poetry and fiction. Her most recent work includes, the novel, Black Cow (Bewrite Books), and the collection of poetry, Unmaking Atoms (forthcoming, Ginninderra Press).

-Zalehah Turner

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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

New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016 Special Commendation: ‘Tears of Stone’ by Mohammad Ali Maleki

‘Tears of Stone’ by Mohammad Ali Maleki was shortlisted for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016 and received Special Commendation for extraordinary work in extreme circumstances. Mohammad Ali Maleki currently lives in detention on Manus Island.

“You can find my whole life in my poems like a letter to God.”- Mohammad Ali Maleki

Tears of Stone

The land of this island
is a hot, dry desert.
The colour of its soil
is yellow and red.
The waves of its sea
croon a soothing song.

The ocean shimmers
like a rainbow.
The birds of its jungle
sing gaily.
The colours of its parrots
are renowned around the world.

They brought me here forcibly.
I came to this land with no choice.
It doesn’t have rich soil –
They threw sulphur
so no flowers grow at all.
It’s true I am a stranger;
I have no one here.
I can’t trust anyone
with my heartfelt words.
That’s why I created my garden.
They laughed, saying, that’s impossible,
because of the dry, sulphured soil.
But a single, beautiful tree grew in my sight.
A faraway old, old tree…
Its bark was rotten
but it grew in good earth –
They threw no sulphur there.

I filled buckets with this soil,
pouring it onto my sad patch of land.
I did this for many days;
I felt helpless, doing it on my own.

There was a big stone
on my dry land.
I tried, but couldn’t dig it out.
I left it, finally, where it was.
When I threw soil there

I would push it with my hands,
smoothing it around the stone
until the ground grew level
and ready for seeds.

I asked many people
for seeds to plant in my garden.
They said, we can’t afford that!
You are a prisoner here,
we can’t give you seeds.
I had no hope.

A week passed…
While tending my garden
I saw that a bud had sprouted beside the stone –
I was so happy I kissed the bud!

But my bud was weak,
in need of water.
I asked, what should I do, God?
Here the water is salty,
it will hurt my bud.
I had no sweet water to give it.

God didn’t love me enough
to rain on my garden.
So I spoke to the bud
and told it not to get hopeless.
Days later, when the bud was exhausted
an idea came into my mind.
I sat by the bud’s side
recounting my bad memories
and weeping down onto its soil.
It was my task, every day,
weeping onto the bud.
It used to drink my tears –
We both had no choice.

One night, I went to cry for my bud.
I tried so hard but couldn’t weep.
The stone was my witness!
I wanted to give tears to the

bud but my eyes were dry.
What should I do now?
I was angry with myself
for having no tears
left to give to my garden.
I was disappointed in my eyes.

Suddenly, I heard a sound.
I didn’t know what it was.
I searched the whole garden
and saw nothing there…
but when I went to my garden in the morning
I saw water everywhere!
I looked at the sky –
there was no sign of rain
and all the other earth was dry.
Then I saw that the big stone in my garden
had a cleft right through its heart.
From the hard centre of the stone
a stream of water ran out.
From the source of this stone
my garden was flooded and fed.

My bud became cheerful
and turned into a flower.
After a few months, even a rose grew!

My dear, sweet stone,
I will love you forever.
I wish many people
could learn from you.
I wish they could learn
as you did
how to soften
their hard hearts.

-Mohammad Ali Maleki

translated from Farsi by Mansoor Shoushtari
edited by Michelle Seminara

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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, ‘Tears of Stone’ was shortlisted for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016. Mohammad Ali Maleki is the featured writer in current issue of Rochford Street Review. His poem, ‘The Strong Sunflower’ was originally published in Verity La’s Discoursing Diaspora project. Mohammad Ali Maleki’s poems are translated from Farsi by Mansoor Shoushtari and edited by Michelle Seminara and Melita Luck. Mohammad Ali Maleki’s poems are emotive tales of life in detention which often employ plants as metaphors. He also enjoys gardening and has planted a beautiful garden behind his room on Manus Island.

Featured Writers Part 1: Mohammad Ali Maleki- Curated by Zalehah Turner
Mohammad Ali Maleki: Biographical Note

 

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

Mohammad Ali Maleki and Mansoor Shoushtari both live in detention on Manus Island. Donate this Christmas for a better future for the refugees currently living in detention.

Refugee Action Coalition (RAC):

You can donate to RAC by:
sending a cheque made out to Refugee Action Coalition to PO Box 433, Newtown NSW 2042 or
making a direct deposit to BSB: 062018 Account Number: 10118562, Account name: RAC, bank: Commonwealth Bank

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC)

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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

New Shoots Poetry Prizes: the winners and highly commended

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CONGRATULATIONS to the winning and highly commended poets in New Shoots Poetry Prizes!

Rochford Street Review, The Red Room Company and the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney are proud to announce and congratulate the winning and highly commended poets for the New Shoots Poetry Prizes. Congratulations to New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016 winner, Stuart Cooke for ‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’ and Magdalena Ball for the highly commended, ‘Anneslea fragrans’. Congratulations also go to the New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016 winner, John Karl Stokes for ‘Leaving Wilona’ and John Bennett for the highly commended, ‘our primitive lives’.

The four, award winning, plant inspired poems were published today, 1 December in the current issue 20, of Rochford Street Review and on The Red Room Company website. Interviews with the poets discussing their poems will be posted in the next few weeks.

Congratulations also go to one of poets shortlisted for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016, Mohammad Ali Maleki, whose poem, ‘Tears of Stone’ has been given, special commendation for extraordinary work in extreme circumstances and published in Rochford Street Review.

The prizes are a joint initiative of The Red Room Company, Rochford Street Review and the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney with the selection panel comprising of the Director of The Red Room Company, Tamryn Bennett and Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review, Zalehah Turner.

The New Shoots Poetry Prizes offered eco warriors to plant loving poets the chance to create poems around The Red Room Company’s plant inspired poetry project for 2016, New Shoots. All submissions will be included in an e-book anthology (forthcoming).

John Stokes, the winner of the New Shoots Royal, Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016, wished to pass on his “thanks to the organisers and the judges; with a special thanks to [his] fellow writers for making this such a rich and interesting exercise.”

New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016
Winner: 
Stuart Cooke – ‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk
Highly Commended: Magdalena Ball – ‘Anneslea fragrans
*Special Commendation: Mohammad Ali Maleki – ‘Tears of Stone

New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016
Winner:
John Karl Stokes – ‘Leaving Wilona
Highly Commended: John Bennett – ‘our primitive lives

New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016

Winner:Fallen Myrtle Trunk’ by Stuart Cooke

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Stuart Cooke

Stuart Cooke lives on the Gold Coast, where he lectures in creative writing and literary studies at Griffith University. He has published collections of poetry, criticism and translation. His latest book, Opera was published by Five Islands Press in 2016. Stuart Cooke is the winner of the 2016 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize.

 

 

Highly Commended: Anneslea fragrans’ by Magdalena Ball

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Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is a novelist, poet, reviewer, interviewer, and the editor of Compulsive Reader. She has been widely published in literary journals, anthologies, and is the author of several books of poetry and fiction. Her most recent work includes, the novel, Black Cow (Bewrite Books), and the collection of poetry, Unmaking Atoms (forthcoming, Ginninderra Press).

 

 

 

*Special Commendation:Tears of Stone‘ by Mohammad Ali Maleki

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Mohammad Ali Maleki

Mohammad Ali Maleki is an Iranian poet and avid gardener living in detention on Manus Island whose poem, ‘Tears of Stone’ was shortlisted for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016. Mohammad Ali Maleki is the featured writer in current issue of Rochford Street Review. His poem, ‘The Strong Sunflower’ was originally published in Verity La’s Discoursing Diaspora project. Mohammad Ali Maleki’s poems are translated from Farsi by Mansoor Shoushtari and edited by Michelle Seminara and Melita Luck. Mohammad Ali Maleki’s poems are emotive tales of life in detention which often employ plants as metaphors. He also enjoys gardening and has planted a beautiful garden behind his room on Manus Island.

 

 

New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016

Winner: Leaving Wilnoa’ by John Stokes

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John Stokes

John Stokes is renowned internationally for his passionate campaign for plain-speaking in literature. He has won, been short-listed, or long-listed for many prizes including, longlisted for both the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s and Montreal International Poetry Prizes in 2014 and 2015, respectively. His third book, Fire in the Afternoon was published in the Poets and Perspectives series by Halstead Press in 2014 and won the ATC Writing and Publishing Awards 2015 for best poetry book of the year.

 

N.B. The judges of the New Shoots Poetry Prizes were unaware that ‘Leaving Wilona’ by John Karl Stokes was previously published in ‘Fire in the Afternoon’ (Halstead Press, 2014) at the time of the selection and announcement.

Highly Commended:our primitive lives’ by John Bennett

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John Bennett

John Bennett has won the Mattara (now Newcastle) Prize and the David Tribe Prize and is represented in Puncher and Wattmann’s Contemporary Australian Anthology. A documentary on his work was broadcast by ABC Radio National’s Earshot in February 2016. His PhD updates a Defence of Poetry and he now melds poetry and image with Photovoltaic poetry.

 

 

*Special Commendation was an award that was created after the New Shoots Poetry Prizes submission guidelines were written

Selection panel: Dr Tamryn Bennet, Artistic Director of The Red Room Company and Zalehah Turner, Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review

Plant a seed of inspiration in your mind’s eye and let it grow into a poem.

Submissions to New Shoots Poetry Prizes have closed but the New Shoots online submission form remains open for plant-inspired poems. Poems submitted will be published on the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney website in 2017.

The winning and highly commended poems from the New Shoots Poetry Prizes can also be found on The Red Room Company‘s website.

-Zalehah Turner

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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

New Shoots Poetry Prizes: the Shortlists

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Rochford Street Review and The Red Room Company are proud to announce the shortlists for the New Shoots Poetry Prizes. Thank-you to everyone who submitted. All submissions were inspiring and thought-provoking. There was an interesting range of styles and forms used to express a variety of plant-based themes; all of which deserve commendation. The winning and highly commended poems will be announced on 1 December and published in Rochford Street Review.

New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016

‘Anneslea fragrans’- Magdalena Ball
‘strangler fig’- Chloë Callistemon
‘Aboreal sorority’- Anne M. Carson
‘Antarctic Beech’- Stuart Cooke
‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’- Stuart Cooke
‘The Cootamundra Wattle’- Penelope Cottier
Corymbia ficifolia’- Anne Elvey
‘What is commonly called a weed’- Jeremy Gadd
‘sensurious’- Ian Gibbins
‘Coirëflower’- Shaneen Goodwin
‘White mangrove (Avicennia marina subsp. australasica)’- Annie Hunter
‘vitis vinifera’- Miguel Jacq
‘Sheoak’- Mike Ladd
‘Tears of Stone’- Mohammad Ali Maleki
‘Agapanthus’- Moya Pacey
‘On Seurat in my back yard’- Frances Rouse
‘Sufficient Harvest’- John Karl Stokes

New Shoots Royal Botanical Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016

‘our primitive lives’- John Bennett
‘Green warriors’- Jenny Blackford
‘Sydney Rock Orchid’- Kathryn Fry
 ‘How Deep is Your Love’- Julie Maclean
‘Leaving Wilona’- John Karl Stokes

Download a pdf of the shortlisted poets

Selection panel: Dr Tamryn Bennet, Director of The Red Room Company and Zalehah Turner, Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review

Plant a seed of inspiration in your mind’s eye and let it grow into a poem

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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