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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‘Leaving Wilona’: Zalehah Turner interviews, John Karl Stokes, winner of the New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016

“Finally, the poem, [‘Leaving Wilona’] was edited, boiled down, bred up again, titled, questioned and left to season before being let out into the garden.”- John Stokes

Zalehah Turner: Take me through your poem, ‘Leaving Wilona’…

John Karl Stokes: Well no work of mine is destined to end up starting at the beginning. Here we have no exception. The last can be first.
I started with the idea of the speaker’s old home on the edge of Sydney harbour having “bitter-vine grown over with lies”. The “bitter” of course stands for both the bitter, real plant and its strangling habits and the hurt of revisiting.
We then move to the father, growing flowers (he is a displaced farmer and horticulturist) near the Harbour Bridge (he worked on it) on borrowed ground opposite the Royal Botanic Garden.
Humans enter the structure of the poem. Especially a Bavarian grandfather.
Followed by that is the marine, sensuous smell and knock of harbour water.
Next comes: “that you might find nothing under a memory” (speaker lifts a piece of roof iron). Which means a quick back-fill stanza is needed: – “the second mother” (don’t ask) and “fright and decay” rotting into regrowth.
Then, things get interesting: – the speaker/narrator knew and knows years in advance, that he should not come back again in the future. But he will. He will have that strange, but well known, feeling of meeting himself and his ghost going their opposite ways.
Then we have the final dance-beat. The punch-line ending. The bit that makes a poem. As with a much of my work, endings can take months or years to turn up. There is no exception here: –
“Brush past … alone … into the new ground” … … “Say nothing”.
That “say nothing” (to your ghost) is really interesting. Public event readers of those two words, “Say nothing”, have had a variety of ways of saying them. I was inclined to a poignant, “nothing you can do”, mood. Another reader has spoken them as a strange interaction between two ghosts “outside of time”. Another- and I feel now, I would sometimes prefer it this way – gave them out in a loud, bloody fury shocking an audience out of its slumber.
Finally, the poem was edited, boiled down, bred up again, titled, questioned and left to season before being let out into the garden.

Z.T.: What is the relationship between ‘Leaving Wilona’, the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, and the life (and death) of plants?

J.S.: The speaker in the poem, his father and his grandfathers have direct relationships. There was the growing, nurturing and disposal of the plants and their dependants. The family gatherings. The air and sight therapy in that garden especially, before the years of fumes. There is a meeting of first boy or girlfriend. There is the history: the speaker in the poem was once the Assistant Keeper of the Book of Peppercorn Rentals for the Crown, and later one of its Crown Surveyors for the area. There was the matter of the silent cycle of growth and decay which gives the death and life of plants to the new generations; to the courting and marriages of new people while the secret creek dries, goes under, and is renewed.

Z.T.: You’ve spoken about the strong connection of place and memory in your poetry in an interview with Nigel Featherstone. In your words, place and memory interweave and ‘place’ is a “dark angel”. Explain the connections to place, memory, nature, growth and decay in ‘Leaving Wilona’?

J.S.: Place, memory, nature, growth and decay form the opening path, to borrow somewhat pompously from the Buddhists. In this work we, writer, listener, watcher, singer in the brain and body, are led on a little journey through all these aspects of an ancient, derelict house and garden only to come to a shiver of memory we can’t explain. There’s the rub.

Z.T.: What is your personal experience of the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney?

J.S.: Many years of appreciating its beauty, its calming illusions, its secret places, its useful fruits, its temporary pausing of time, its modelling for me coming from the East Sydney Arts School, its funnelling of the world down to that distant, bitter-sweet romance of the leaving of flying boats to the “honeyed islands”.

Z.T.: Your spoke with Nigel Featherstone about the memory of a place being coloured by experience specifically, that of personal, traumatic experiences. Is ‘Leaving Wilona’ situated within such a context?

J.S.: Don’t think a context like that necessarily applies here. Yes, jolts like that do happen, but the hurt in this poem is a long-term loneliness and loss, particularly of a mother, but not nearly bad enough by world standards. The horror in this poem is ill-defined. It is a wild but long drawing of the wire.

Z.T.: You mentioned that, ‘Leaving Wilona’ was connected to the longer poetic sequence, Drowned Haven. Tell me about Drowned Haven.

J.S.: Drowned Haven is subtitled ‘Confessions of drinker of sea-light’. It is a highly emotional, poetic sequence lamenting the rushing past, and ultimately, accepting of a painful hope for small futures*.
The drowning in this case refers to Port Jackson, a drowned estuary harbour and also, remembrance at once for our immigrants lost into the open seas.
We lament on the death by hospital neglect of the last, local, Australian aboriginal man living on his ancestral land on the peninsular: – ‘Man who lived under the spiders’. We have ‘Going from the Valley’; ‘Night surfers’ and ‘Midnight’s talk’. We have ‘A Girl is dancing in her green, green bonnet’ and ‘Mother. The birds are silent’. Then we come to ‘The Place, The History, the devil’s musician’ dealing with plants choking on their own fertility behind the McMansions overlooking the gardened swards of the children at play and the windswept, waterside brides under the palm trees.
Finally, we come to the specifics. A drowning which is to come by sea- and- storm-rise over the plants and creatures we share; a lonely, bewildered boy-child placed on the stone lions in the Gardens; a panicking wartime father shouting the Latin plant-names at him; a faint, sad hope that with the plants, and the bats coming in over the water gardens (“downward to darkness”), we will prevail. And nature with us. ‘The White foam sings’ (Stokes).

*For the technically minded, Drowned Haven currently stands at two lyrical “movements” of about 300 lines each in what my friend and far superior poet, Robert Adamson, might call The New Romanticism with added bite.

“We do not hide under the blankets …like the waspsand the leaves… we are blown away” (Hewitt).

Z.T.: Do you have anything else you would particularly like to add to give us some background into ‘Leaving Wilona’?

J.S.: I would like to say that for much of my writing life, I have dealt with “truth” as a guard against cant. I passionately knew that truth was larger than fact, and people need to identify themselves in the writing, unless you are too famous for words. It has only come to me very recently, only at the last decade, that there is another need. That of ‘theatre”, the emotional projection, the greater good. Watch your back. The Shadow Players are abroad.

‘Leaving Wilona’ by John Stokes: winner of the New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, 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.

Songs of truth and passion: an interview with John Stokes by Nigel Featherstone in Verity La

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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, 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 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.

-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

‘our primitive lives’: Zalehah Turner interviews John Bennett, highly commended for the New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016

“We forget just how fundamental plants are, especially primitive ones, like mosses and fungi (more animal than plant) for our air, water, soil.”- John Bennett

Zalehah Turner: In your notes you write, “This wall stands as a reminder that there is a story I want to trace.” Is ‘our primitive lives’ that story?

John Bennett: There are many other interconnecting stories: the garden as a Persian hunting park with walls keeping out the wild; botanic gardens arising from trade and empire and the rise of the consumer; the English landscape garden which, with poets and Italian painting (and Whig nationalist politics) helped shape the British idea of nature.
The Eora had no walls. Eden must have had a wall or fence through which we were expelled.
For 99% of human existence, hunter–gathering was the way of life, which has finished. In the last few years, the world population has tipped to urban not rural, and our agriculture has evolved quickly into industrial production. These changes are revolutionary and distance us from the natural processes collapsing through global warming, loss of biodiversity and habitat, the poisoning of the land, waterways and the seas. That’s a story.

Z.T.: You write, “my camera stitches connections”. Why did do you chose the combination of the visual image and prose poetry for ‘our primitive lives’?

J.B.: They complement each other, as well as possibly distracting each other – and we are so easily distracted in our culture. A photograph can reveal beauty or a truth beneath our noses and interrogate a text – not just illustrate. Poetry stitches connections too, an ability at the heart of the art. Poetry can connect the intimate, cosmic, mundane, sublime, thought and feeling. Hopefully the combination can nurture a creative engagement.

Z.T.: What is it about mixed media and ‘Photovoltaic poetry’ that is so essential to your understanding and expression of the world?

J.B.: Our culture has become overwhelmingly visually based, despite music being a vital art. Yet the visual is so powerful. I cannot draw or paint and the environment here is so beautiful. To show the beauty of the natural world is important now that we are distanced from it.
My current project is Eos: text, video and images of predawn when the visual can be sublime. Yet in the fifteen minutes before sunrise, colour fades and other senses come into play. Eos is an opportunity to become intimate with traditional elements – earth, water, air and light – and gain some understanding of our ancestors’ experience of a world before farming, roads or cities; before writing, machines, electrification or algorithms.
At the same time we are creative, playful and curious. We were reliant on machines and now, rely on technology. My art uses word processing and digital photography – I ask in one poem:

…My lens slams light onto an oxidised
silicon semiconductor powered by charged lithium ions
processed by robots and third world labour. Is this appropriate
technology to attempt intimacy with the environment?

Z.T.: ‘Our primitive lives’ takes in history, landscape, ecology, photosynthesis and the beginnings of life. Can you tell me a little about their interconnections in the ‘present’ and specifically in ‘our primitive lives’?

J.B.: Aldo Leopold was one of the first to value historical, cultural and scientific aspects of a place or landscape as part of its aesthetic appreciation, of its presence I would say. We need such understanding to see clearly, or in the words of Arran Gare (1995, p.160), to ‘enable individuals to construct narratives which can relate their own lives to a new grand narrative, the global struggle for an environmentally sustainable civilisation.’ Poetry has a vital role to play. When I was a boy, I thought the wars were coming to an end and progress (a relatively recent idea) was inevitable. There’s a cornucopia of violent conflicts, unfair trade, continuing famines, violence against women, and the ongoing war with nature. A war the NSW Baird Government is continuing, passing a bill last week to weaken land clearing laws. Australia is mostly an urban world deracinated from the natural processes that donate fresh air, clean water and food. How many of us can name any of the eight desert mammals we have sent extinct since invasion?

Z.T.: Why do you turn your attention to the cliff face in Sydney Harbour and away from the Harbour Bridge in ‘our primitive lives’?

J.B.: I lived in Sydney for thirty-five years and know the Bridge and Opera House; they oil the massive engine of Instagram, flooding 8 million images every day. The wall is a more subtle aesthetic treasure, packed with the marks and deposits of humans and nature – it is a vertical version of Darwin’s ‘tangled bank’.
Cézanne wrote in a letter to his son on 8 September 1906, ‘Here on the bank of the river the motifs multiply, the same subject seen from a different angle offers subject for study of the most powerful interest and so varied that I think I could occupy myself for months without changing place’ (Galenson, 2002, p.52).
The same could apply to this beautiful wall.

Z.T.: When writing about plants, you chose Commelina, moss and fungi, and added that, “the intimacy of slime lives with me”. When focusing on the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney you chose the cliff face. What particularly drew your attention to them, what is their connection and why do you feel so strongly about them?

J.B.: More than half of us are alien, cells that belong to other lives, and even our own cells are powered by mitochondria that were once primitive bacterial cells. We are symbiotic creatures intimately connected to our environment, but are stuck with damaging Platonic, Christian, Cartesian dichotomies: body/mind; reason/emotion; nature/culture. Reason is thought to be fundamental to our species and separating us from other animals, but consciousness is overrated. Much of our feelings, perceptions, attitudes, actions are achievements are hidden from us.

Z.T.: Commelina is known for its short life and referred to commonly as dayflowers. Why is this contrast between the short life span of a dayflower and immense stretch of time since the beginning of life so important to your poetry and ‘our primitive lives’?

J.B.: What will this wall look like in a thousand years? The time span of a politician’s thinking is four years, most of us have even less. Some struggle to survive from day to day, but the vast majority of us in the ‘first world’ have the opportunity to look ahead to what we are leaving our children. We can also remind ourselves that we are about ten billion years old (our materials are star stuff).
We now have responsibilities, have to manage habitats and species or we would lose both. An estimated ten per cent of the 28,000 plants introduced into Australia to feed stock, decorate gardens, or accidental invaders, would take over.

Z.T.: You write, “I think it’s plants that can mend the earth”. Can you elaborate?

J.B.: We forget just how fundamental plants are, especially primitive ones like mosses and fungi (more animal than plant) for our air, water, soil. If only our natural environment was richer worldwide . . . Evidence is increasing from multiple scientific fields that exposure to the natural environment can improve human health and wellness. So it goes back to both natural aesthetics and the fundamentals of healthy ecosystems.
It’s great that Red Room has the energy and ideas to drive poets to further creativity.

Z.T.: Congratulations on being highly commended for the New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016. Is there anything you’d like to say about winning the award for ‘our primitive lives’?

J.B.: I’d like to thank judges for enjoying a poem revelling in discursivity – not that common these days…and congratulations to the Red Room for opening up new challenges for poets and new inventive spaces for poetry to breathe in.

Reference list

Galenson, D. 2002, Painting outside the lines: patterns of creativity in modern art, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, US.

Gare, A. 1995, Postmodernism and the environmental crisis, Routledge, London and New York.

‘our primitive lives’ by John Bennett: highly commended for the New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney 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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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.

 

-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

‘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

mohammad-ali-maleki-in-his-garden-on-manus-island

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

mohammad-ali-maleki-in-his-garden-on-manus-island

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

__________________________________________________________________

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 highly commended: ‘Anneslea fragrans’ by Magdalena Ball

Anneslea fragrans

First there is touch
teasing evergreen into position
waking naked
against sunlight
hot plasma in the morning
opens bracts

you can feel the tension
the garden on full alert

each root tip
the locus of electrical signals
reacting to groping fingers
sharp to the eye, but yielding
ready for the spit
scenting the air in anticipation
chemical compounds
communicating a warning
from the roots

there were no bees this year

silence buzzed through the air
an absence of sound
the hives empty
epithelial tissues connecting
to nothing

the air hurt with it

your eyes adjusting
the yellow cream points
unfiltered, unfettered
ready to pollinate
plant, interrupted

what else is on the way out

the list grows long
Javan Rhinos, Vaquita
Sumatran Tiger
Man

pulses like sound waves
transmitted in
voltage-based signaling
a green nervous system
sending out alcohols, aldehydes, ketones
plant to plant
the botanical telegraph

with your bad hearing
you’ll need to get down to earth level
to get the phytomorphic shivers

the splitting of senses
is a human-only perversion
most of what we taste is smell
taking the warning in vibrations
against the skull
terroir, a bitter crunch, crumbing
against the lips
almost desire

the spitting plant waits
Corymbs branching outward into warmth

a day that might not last
ineffably sad
ready for evolution.

-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).

 

 

 

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

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New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016 winner: ‘Leaving Wilona’ by John Stokes

Leaving Wilona

Here it was lost, that blood-quiet ground;
guilt and imaginary loves gripping
the shade trunks of bitter-vine
that joined one year to another
across the face of the old house
grown over with lies

The father grew, here, hollyhocks,
sweet peas, English stocks
nodding within sight of the Harbour Bridge
weeping in rows through old
Uncle Butler Airways’ field
to a green, quilted sea, where

each slap of each sly curve of
wave rots the gentle fish-wharf
and this harbour still smells
like a warm girl; the alien
grandfather, silver haired, still haunts
a German fig-treed sky

Fright and decay…
Decay is where the root
drew sustenance, here,
where the second mother bloomed
at The Gardens, where voices grew
Never go back
silent, more insistent

and even then you would know
unwisely, that you should not
come here again: that you might find
nothing under a memory
or feel your blood creak
like that old door
………….
or see your own face pass through a gateway,
blank, unwarned
full of schemes for the new growth
clicking between illusion
and its memory; comforts
living in those small eternities

between a word and its soft-mouthed
speaking in the New World…

Brush past, alone, into
the raw ground…

Say nothing.

-John Stokes

‘Leaving Wilnoa’ is from the flower-drum sequence

john-stokes-pic

John Stokes

John Stokes is renowned internationally for his passionate campaign for plain-speaking in literature. He has won or been short-listed for many prizes and long-listed 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.

‘Leaving Wilona’: Zalehah Turner interviews, John Karl Stokes, winner of the New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016

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New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016 highly commended: ‘our primitive lives’ by John Bennett

our primitive lives

1

The Opera House squats on Djubuguli, once a tidal island
facing a sandstone cliff bracing our first farm whose sandy,
tough conditions dealt a pitiful crop of wheat and barley.
Tourists worship the radiant sails and Harbour Bridge ribs,
I focus on the wall. Commelina is fingering the rock, native,
edible, but confused with Tradescantia luminensis (a toxic weed
with white flowers known by a sour alias ‘Wandering Jew’).
The immigrants ate the juicy leaves to limit scurvy, called it
scurvy plant, but knowledge for the Eora was just a way of life.

The bailey is haemorrhaging slime moulds (fungi), algae, moss
and lichen, smears of colour bleed into curdled patterns, moist
voluptuous erosions and exhalations of precarious vocabularies,
hieroglyphs are living low relief. I wonder how it all smells.

My camera stitches connections, less intimate than harvesting moss
and its green simplicity, leaves one-cell thick on simple stems, handy
for bedding, dressing wounds, starting fires, or than vertical gardening,
or botanical exploration with loupes and textbook, but offering insight.

jb-image-1

2

As a child I splashed through puddles, slithered in mud, waste grounds
were playgrounds, dirt was the natural skin and now I celebrate
this neglected landscape of deflated hills, streams, swamp and desert.
What’s a wall to slime and roots but an opportunity?
This surface succours ancestors of all plants, of all 4,000 trees
the Garden wears, including my favourite, a monumental Flooded Gum
bleached by sunlight near Maiden Theatre. Plants have thrived here
for 200 years but figuring the ecology is a modern adventure.

An aesthetic approach to nature’s nooks and crannies threads life,
blurred bands of iron oxide and desert textures onto silicon memory.
This sandstone wall, 200 metres deep, poured from Broken Hill,
laid down and rammed with few collisions and only minor folding.
It’s a piece of art that moulds the marks of men and machine, as new
to the Eora as this perpendicular boundary to the Governor’s Domain,
the wind and rain plucks the grains out one by one.

jb-image-2

3.

The intimacy of slime lives with me. We are more than ‘digital archives
from the African Pliocene’. Just as cyanobacteria infiltrated chloroplasts
donating a one-off miracle to plants (the ‘green fuse’ of photosynthesis)
‘proteobacteria’ developed the engine that mitochondria use to power
our cells from oxygen – and the world slowly filled with life.

We can’t insulate landscape from history, history from prehistory,
biology from botany, life from lives. Through a Port Jackson Fig
the lapis lazuli sky dissolves around bright cockatoos raising their
scratchy voices and sulphur crests. The fig runs roots down fissures
in the rock with primitives clinging on, ferns sprout fractal wings
and grasses love a pinch of soil. What’s left of Darwin’s tangled bank
flowering elegantly from algal scum these last 500 million years
is in retreat, the sheer variety being locked away in seed banks.
I think that it’s plants that can mend the earth.

jb-image-3

Note:
This wall stands as a reminder that there is a story I want to trace. A 1788 sketch by William Dawes and John Hunter, ‘Sydney Cove, Port Jackson’, gives Djubuguli a sharp nose with a bald head. Leseur’s ‘Plan de La Ville de Sydney’ from four years later shows an aerial perspective suggesting a cliff. Neither show a Gadigal gathering place, or the Blackbutts, Red Bloodwoods and Sydney Peppermints towering above echidnas, antechinus and wallabies, or Aborigines hunting geese and duck in the swampy foreshores, drained and filled to enlarge the original farm now the Royal Botanic Garden. Governor Phillip built a brick hut for his kidnapped friend/informant Bennelong, leader of the Wangal clan, on Djubuguli, hence the new name Bennelong Point.

jb-image-4

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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‘.

 

 

‘our primitive lives’: Zalehah Turner interviews John Bennett, highly commended for the New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016

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

Fallen Myrtle Trunk

in the temperate forests, the wet
.              sclerophyll forests, where the wind
.                               moans in yourm leaves, a storm beating
.                                         in muffled drums at the entrance
.                                                  to the underworld, the lands
.                                                           of Gondwana, motherland of Australia,
.                                                               South America, the hundreds
.                                                                of years creeping, the moss about youm creeping
.                                                                 the growling thunder, the black sou’-wester
.                                                                 —by youm all this recedes, falls
.                                                                 like wilting springs

.                                                                 aged into agelessness, less
.                                                                 than age, giant
.                                                                 fullness, monoforest
.                                                                 bulk
.                                                                 of years and slowness
.                                                                 hint of snake while touch crumbles
.                                                                 like chocolate flakes, vibration vanishes
.                                                                 in yourm tomb, tombing
.                                                                 yourm slumber rots, beachwards
.                                                                 a giant petrified in light

.                                                                 imperceptible scuttle scattered
.                                                                 deeply, cavern hymns at
.                                                                  cave hertz, yourm august
.                                                                    specific music, cylindrical fugue
.                                                                       of dark brown scales, closed soft pink
.                                                                           to reddish grain, edified with mountain
.                                                                              ash memory, guardian of closed passage
.                                                                                    pillar of larger sky, of facts like clouds
.                                                                                                          their sky ways wending

 

youm known the songs of lonely places
.             the ways of wet and wind, youm moan
.                          of fire, unless the flames come slowly
.                                      for yourm return to drowsy
.                                                droning, the intoning
.                                                        of the wizard priests
.                                                              the sough of the southern seas
.                                                                 youm’re the stage before the sea
.                                                                 the ground’s stage, for all sea-yearning

.                                                                 yourm limbed stances
.                                                                 form too slowly for change, beneath
.                                                                 such gestures the black flock shelters,shadowed
.                                                                 in yourm underside, that invisible realm
.                                                                 of canal venom and webbed vein

.                                                                 to the light youm present carpet bridge, seedling
.                                                                 lives held by yourm unfolding descent, dark-
.                                                                  plumed monarch, ebony laced
.                                                                   with wing, by the mountain rills
.                                                                     down to the parched saplings
.                                                                        on the shore of a receding lake
.                                                                            youm know too much
.                                                                                of that escarpment beyond, rest
.                                                                                   pray, yourm beast prepares for return

 

while everything frizzes, shifts
.                 brushed and squeeze, sway
.                                     youm remain sound-
.                                                 like, a solid gradient an always
.                                                         line, travelling
.                                                             and unravelling through the same place

.                                                                yourm skin mimics lake ripple
.                                                                grooved rivulets criss-cross like thickened years
.                                                                currents of stone into softer solid
.                                                                edging damp, ripples merged with moss
.                                                                the land’s dry, soft with moss
.                                                                a surface of crawling speckleds, blood legs and
.                                                                black bodies, orange-like
.                                                                 fruiting bodies protruding from
.                                                                  yourm furry, whaled bulk

.                                                                   moss colony, moss scape, the stick shade
.                                                                     of a seedling wobbles
.                                                                      on yourm chest flecked with sonnet,leaf voltas
.                                                                                                their dark green, lost brilliance

 

then fresh reds, pinked to orange faded
.           ragged, triangled teeth
.                           and fruits of three small
.                                         winged nuts, subtle flourish
.                                                  of yellow-green catkins, now a mouthing
.                                                          eddy where a bough broke off
.                                                              airborne spores of wilt lulled by such knots
.                                                                have settled on yourm wound

.                                                                 one branch, there, pleads help
.                                                                 by reaching, others
.                                                                  arch hardened spines around gravity’s slide
.                                                                   while youm host the epiphytes
.                                                                     while the termites elaborate
.                                                                       yourm runnelled intentions
.                                                                         while moss slowly fingers, surrounds
.                                                                              slowly devours these juts of twig
.                                                                                    slowly devours its own ground
.                                                                                         which youm perform patiently for it
.

-Stuart Cooke


‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’ contains echoes of the following poems:
‘Mountain Myrtle’, by Marie E. J. Pitt
‘Out of Sorts and Looking at Elms’, by Simon West

stuart-cooke-pic

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.

 


‘Fallen Myrtle Trunk’: Zalehah Turner interviews Stuart Cooke

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