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Project Bali (Alice Allan)

Posted on April 1, 2016 by in TWT (Travel Write Translation)

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Smiles, smiles—how the Balinese can project.
– John Olsen, journal entry, September 1973.

Mum hadn’t left Australia in 45 years.

It took us six months to convince her that a trip to Ubud—the sedate Balinese city where yoga comes with cocktails—would be the perfect way to celebrate her 70th birthday. Her counter arguments usually had a kind of patriotic logic to them (‘Why would you want to leave Australia? We’ve got everything we need right here!’).

To be honest, there were plenty of other sedate tropical cities we could have chosen that wouldn’t have involved Mum applying for a passport. But we kids knew best, and we wanted our Bali trip. After many rounds of reasoning, cajoling, and promising we would actually save money, Mum got on a plane.

From Mum’s home in Canberra, a trip to Ubud involves both Sydney and Denpasar airports, the latter of which terrified her with its blunt warnings about what happens to people who break Indonesian law. She arrives somewhat shattered, but happy to be in the same place as all her kids and grandkids for the first time in years.

My mother falls squarely into the category of people who are happiest when doing. She’s not a receiver of massages or a sitter and drinker of cocktails. So in many ways, a private villa staffed by people whose main job is to make guests more comfortable is her purgatory. We kids who knew best were completely aware of this fact, and completely ignored it. Maybe because we so wanted to see her relax for a few days. More likely because we wanted our Bali trip.

A seven-day family holiday is just right. Seven days factors in one to run around comparing hotel rooms, two for sightseeing, two for lounging, and two to wonder how much longer you can stand the whole thing. By day four, Mum is spending more time by the pool. On day six, as we sit down to her birthday banquet, she’s all but sparkling. She smiles more than I’ve seen her smile in years.

‘I just want to thank all my family for all their love and support,’ she tells us. This woman, who only ever left Canberra when absolutely required, now has her own set of tie-dyed pants and a matching Bali t-shirt.

Then it’s day eight.

Suitcases are packed and drivers booked when my brother-in-law walks into the villa’s flower-filled lobby, grinning like a kid who’s hidden his mum’s keys. ‘Looks like our flight’s been cancelled,’ he proclaims. We laugh. Our eyes widen.

On neighbouring East Java, restless Mount Raung is awake, sending out a plume of ash that’s drifting over Denpasar airport. Flights in and out are being delayed, then delayed further, then cancelled.

Panic sets in. What about work? What about school? What about Mum? By the time we get hold of our respective airlines to ask about the next flight out, every seat back to Australia is full for a fortnight.

My younger brother and his wife start calculating how much money they’ll lose if they miss two weeks of work. My older brother has his travel insurance policy in his lap and is diligently highlighting sections relevant to natural disasters. My brother-in-law continues to grin, giggling every time Raung’s towering ash cloud appears on the TV.

Mum goes back to bed. Eventually, we all sleep.

In the morning, the poolside orchids are the same surreal purple they were the day before. The woman who has been silently placing offerings around the villa each morning—delicate bamboo trays filled with bright flowers, incense and other treats—completes her rounds as usual. Roosters begin their chorus. Kites appear at unlikely heights in a spotless sky.

But now we’re not on holiday. We’re off schedule. Stuck.

Everywhere we go, the Balinese keep smiling.


When I stumbled on John Olsen’s collected journals, Drawn from Life, I kept re-reading his Ubud entries from 1973, wishing I could have seen the city during that time. Within five years, this Newcastle-born painter would be awarded an OBE (the Order of Australia came much later, in 2001, followed by the Archibald in 2005). But before all that, when he took this trip to Bali with his friends, it sounded like all he really wanted was a break from the Australian art scene and a few quiet G&Ts.

I’m sure Olsen wouldn’t have considered himself ‘stuck’ in our situation. To him, this would have been more time to sketch with a sweating drink in easy reach. More time to take in the colours and details. More time to understand the people.


‘I work in my brother’s field this afternoon,’ says today’s taxi driver. ‘Black dust all over me.’

Every day the ash cloud hovers above Denpasar, another day’s worth of tourists doesn’t arrive, and another day’s worth stays on, increasingly grumpy and nervous about parting with their Rupiah. We hear that one Australian airline is offering free tickets to Fiji for travellers who had booked for Bali. Basically, no one wants to deal with Denpasar.

The Balinese keep smiling—‘projecting,’ as Olsen put it. I try to catch their faces in quieter moments to gauge whether they share our escalating panic, but the smiles are fixed. I resolve to make more of an effort with my shoddy Bahasa and to spend my remaining Rupiah in a way that seems useful.

But it’s not long before Bali’s many gods decide they’ve had enough of our panicky family, and the wind swings in our favour. Mum’s flight gets out in a tiny window before the entire airport shuts down for the day, and my sister’s family gets home too. Only four of us—my brother, his wife, my partner and I—end up with an uncertain wait for the next available seat.

The rest of Australia now knows about the people ‘stranded in paradise’, and there’s reasonable outrage at our sickening luck. The four of us switch between guilty elation to tense frustration many times a day, as dodgy WiFi and dodgier airline staff thwart our attempts to book a seat home.

‘What if we just get a plane to Perth and work it out from there?’ my brother offers.

‘Darwin’s by far the closest option,’ my sister-in-law counters.

‘Yeah but it doesn’t matter how close anything is if the airport’s closed… Maybe we should look at getting a boat to…somewhere.’ That was my incredibly useful suggestion.

‘We just need to relax, and wait,’ says my partner.

Eventually, we decide to pretend Ubud just wants us to stay.

The 2015 Mount Raung tantrum sputtered on from early July well into August. Once we got home, only six days late, I compulsively checked each airline’s flight status page in a highly unscientific effort to calculate how bad things might be for the people I’d met. I now understood that peace and quiet are luxuries the Balinese save for the wet season. Half the year is given over to a cycle of entertaining, pampering, feeding and watering the tourists. I wondered about the French café owner whose Balinese wife made gado-gado so sublime it restored my faith in just about everything, the young Ubud hipsters who’d cottoned on to white tourists’ love of complicated health drinks, and the woman who would station herself outside the pricey gelato shop, hand outstretched, eyes straining to meet those of the people who walked past her and her children.

Earlier in 2015, Australians had been told to ‘#BoycottBali’ after the execution of two of the Bali Nine by firing squad. Mount Raung was the island’s mid-year drama. Then, in November, another ash-spewing volcano made itself known—Lombok’s Mount Rinjani cancelled its own crop of flights.

Our little part in it all felt like disaster, but the people in Ubud had a completely different interpretation. When I found Olsen’s journal, I suddenly had the words for it, and saw the line connecting 1973 to 2015: ‘Smiles, smiles—how the Balinese can project. A shining mirror on their faces, they align it so that it picks up the light. They can believe in your humanity, too.’




Alice Allan’s poetry has appeared in Cordite, Rabbit, Plumwood Mountain and Australian Book Review. You can find more of her writing at

fuel oxygen ignition
(Alice Allan)

Posted on June 26, 2015 by in Heightened Talk

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you’ve mellowed quite a bit
your tinsel compliment

years on
a night in the country
all grown up and accessorised

standing under a floodlight
auditioning hundreds of winged hopefuls
flinging themselves at the whitegold centre

you point to the real moon heaving
over the dark sill of the range
and I say

that’s not the moon

it’s too bright
too fast
that’s a fire



Alice Allan’s poetry has appeared in Cordite, Rabbit, Plumwood Mountain and Australian Book Review. You can find more of her writing at


Posted on April 20, 2018 by in Verity La Poetry Podcast

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In this edition of the Verity La Poetry Podcast Alice Allan chats with David Adès about US poet W. S. Merwin along with David’s time spent in the Pittsburgh poetry community, coming back to Sydney, the role of editors and his poem The Bridge I Must Walk Across.

Missed our earlier episodes? Listen here!


David Adès returned to Australia in 2016 after living for five years in Pittsburgh. He is a Pushcart Prize nominated poet and short story writer and the author of Mapping the World (Wakefield Press/Friendly Street Poets, 2008), the chapbook Only the Questions Are Eternal (Garron Publishing, 2015) and Afloat in Light (UWA Publishing, 2017).

David won the Wirra Wirra Vineyards Short Story Prize (2005). Mapping the World was commended for the Fellowship of Australian Writers Anne Elder Award 2008.

David has been a member of Friendly Street Poets since 1979. He is a former Convenor of Friendly Street Poets and co-edited the Friendly Street Poetry Reader 26. He was also one of a volunteer team of editors of the inaugural Australian Poetry Members Anthology Metabolism published in 2012. His poetry has been published in numerous journals in Australia and the U.S. with publications also in Israel, Romania and New Zealand.

David’s poems have been read on the Australian radio poetry program Poetica and have also featured on the U.S. radio poetry program Prosody. He is one of 9 poets featured on a CD titled Adelaide 9. In 2014 David won the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize. His poems were also Highly Commended in the 2016 Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize and a finalist in the Dora and Alexander Raynes Poetry Prize 2016.


Alice Allan’s poetry has been published in previous issues of Verity La as well as in CorditeRabbit and Australian Book Review. She is the creator and convenor of the Verity La Poetry Podcast and produces her own regular podcast, Poetry Says.

Episode 7: David Stavanger

Posted on July 28, 2017 by in Verity La Poetry Podcast

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In this edition of the Verity La Poetry Podcast Alice Allan and Tim Heffernan talk with with David Stavanger about the launch of the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival along with his poem The Electric Journal, published as part of our Clozapine Clinic project.

Ahead of the Clozapine Clinic’s presence at QPF this year, we also talk about the question of writing as therapy and whether such writing has, or needs to have, ‘merit’ (and who gets to decide what that means).

Missed our earlier episodes? Listen here!


David Stavanger is a poet, performer and cultural producer. In 2013 he won the Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, resulting in the release of The Special (UQP), his first full-length collection of poetry which was also awarded the 2015 Wesley Michel Wright Poetry Prize. David is the Co-Director of the Queensland Poetry Festival. His recent prose-poem ‘The Electric Journal’ was a finalist of the 2016 Newcastle Poetry prize. At the 2014 Queensland Literary Awards he received a Queensland Writing Fellowship. He is also sometimes known as pioneering Green Room-nominated ‘spoken weird’ artist Ghostboy, winning the 2005 Nimbin Performance Poetry World Cup and establishing poetry slam in QLD via his work with the State Library and Woodford Folk Festival.


Alice Allan’s poetry has been published in previous issues of Verity La as well as in CorditeRabbit and Australian Book Review. She is the creator and convenor of the Verity La Poetry Podcast and produces her own regular podcast, Poetry Says.


Posted on June 2, 2017 by in


Posted on June 2, 2017 by in

Episode 6: Melinda Smith

Posted on May 5, 2017 by in Verity La Poetry Podcast

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In this edition of the Verity La Poetry Podcast Alice Allan and Michele Seminara chat with Melinda Smith about her new book, Goodbye Cruel, just published by Pitt Street Poetry.

We also hear how Melinda’s poem manifest was created, before diving into a discussion of motherhood and writing. Melinda talks about how she tackled the theme of suicide in Goodbye, Cruel, and about how Janet Frame’s poem The Suicides was an important cornerstone for her.

Finally we hear what’s been happening in the Canberra poetry scene over the past few years and consider how much things have changed since the days of Wright and Hope.

Missed our earlier episodes? Listen here!


ACT poet Melinda Smith
won the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary award for her fourth book of poems, Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call. Her poems have been anthologised widely in Australia and overseas, and translated into multiple languages.

Melinda’s next collection, Goodbye, Cruel, will be launched on Saturday 8 April at the 2017 Newcastle Writers Festival, where she will also be making a number of other appearances. A Canberra launch of Goodbye, Cruel will take place on Thursday 20 April, with appearances at Muse Canberra & Manning Clark House on the 23rd & 27th.

Melinda is currently poetry editor of the Canberra Times.


Alice Allan’s poetry has been published in previous issues of Verity La as well as in CorditeRabbit and Australian Book Review. She is the creator and convenor of the Verity La Poetry Podcast and produces her own weekly podcast, Poetry Says.

Episode 5: Anne Elvey and Phillip Hall on Ecopoetry

Posted on March 3, 2017 by in Verity La Poetry Podcast

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If you’re thinking birds, trees and butterflies, take a seat.

Join Anne Elvey and Phillip Hall as they pick their way through defining ecopoetry (vs ‘nature poetry’), looking at the work of the praise poem and the lament, and wondering what it all means for the work poets do away from the page.

To get deeper into the discussion check out Harriet Tarlo’s editorial for the latest edition of Plumwood Mountain, Robin Cadwallader’s review of John Kinsella’s The Vision of Error: A Sextet of Activist Poems, and grab yourself a copy of Bonny Cassidy’s Final Theory (Giramondo, 2014).

Missed our earlier episodes? Listen here!


photo credit: Monica Williams

photo credit: Monica Williams

Anne Elvey
is managing editor of Plumwood Mountain: An Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics. Her recent publications include: Kin (2014), shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize, and This flesh that you know (2015), international winner of the Overleaf Chapbook Manuscript Award. White on White is forthcoming from Cordite Books in 2018. Anne holds honorary appointments at University of Divinity and Monash University.

Phillip Hall is a poet, reviewer and essayist working as an editor with Verity La’s Emerging Indigenous Writers Project and as a poetry reader at Overland. From 2011 to 2015 he lived in the Gulf of Carpentaria where he ran sport and camp programs designed to re-engage and foster emotional resilience, cooperative group learning and safe decision-making. In 2014 he published Sweetened in Coals. In 2015 he published Diwurruwurru, a book of his collaborations with the Borroloola Poetry Club. He is currently working on a collection of place-based poetry called Fume. This project celebrates First Australians in the Northern Territory’s Gulf of Carpentaria. Phillip now lives in Melbourne’s Sunshine (western suburbs) where he is a very passionate member of the Western Bulldogs Football Club.


Alice Allan’s poetry has been published in previous issues of Verity La as well as in CorditeRabbit and Australian Book Review. She is the creator and convenor of the Verity La Poetry Podcast and produces her own weekly podcast, Poetry Says.


Posted on December 3, 2016 by in An editorial-shaped box

statelibqld_2_391461_happy_crowd_in_queen_street_celebrating_the_arrival_of_american_forces_brisbane_1941-2And there we have it, folks! It’s the end of another publishing year for Verity La – and what a year it’s been! We’ve published close to one hundred poems, stories, artworks, interviews, editorials and reviews. We’ve established some important and innovative projects such as Discoursing Diaspora, Clozapine Clinic, and of course, our beloved Poetry Podcast. We’ve seen reader numbers soar, submission numbers treble, and welcomed new editors Laura MacPhee-Browne, Michelle McLaren, Ramon Loyola, Tim Heffernan and Alise Blayney. Plus, as a result of your generous donations, we’ve raised enough money to pay our writers (and buy our hardworking volunteer editors a Christmas tipple!) in 2017.


In light of this growth, our team need some time to catch their breath and prepare for the year ahead. So we’re signing off for 2016 a little earlier than usual, and will be closing our submissions portal on Monday December 19 through to 1 Feb, so we can get on top of all the brilliant work awaiting our attention and start 2017 afresh.

To help us in our endeavours, Alice Allan has bravely agreed to step into the role of Associate Editor. Alice’s writing can be found here on Verity La and in journals including Rabbit, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Westerly and Australian Book Review. She records the weekly podcast Poetry Says as well as our very own Verity La Poetry Podcast, while supporting her poetry habit as a freelance copywriter, editor and proofreader. We know she will be an AMAZING addition to our team and are over the moon she’s agreed to help out!

So that’s it from us. We’re proud of what Verity La has achieved this year and so grateful to YOU, our readers, for your heartfelt support, to our volunteer editors, and to our contributing writers for the gift of their words. Together, in 2017, we hope to continue making great things happen. Onwards!

Michele Seminara
On behalf of the editorial team

PS We’ve left you something under the Christmas tree (aka the Big Red Button). We hope it might help you negotiate this strange post-Trump world while we’re gone…


Episode 4: Ben Frater

Posted on October 21, 2016 by in Verity La Poetry Podcast

podcast2 (1)This month we’re celebrating the work of Ben Frater with Tim Heffernan and Alise Blayney.

To kick off, Tim shares his plans for the upcoming Mad Poets Workshop, Panel and Performances, inspired by Ben’s own original ideas and experiences. Then we question the romanticisation of the mad poet vs the unromantic reality, and talk about what it takes to reshape pain and trauma into something that might actually move an audience.

We hear Ben perform ‘The Argument’ (watch Ben in action here), while Alise talks about its creation and Tim discusses how hearing the poem affected him. Finally, Tim reads and discusses his own mad poem, ‘Reasonable Delusions of a Religious Nature’.

Missed our earlier episodes? Listen here!

To purchase Ben Frater’s collection, 6am in the Universe, visit Grand Parade Poets.

And if you loved the music check out Alise’s Mad Poets Playlist.



Alice Allan’s poetry has been published in previous issues of Verity La as well as in CorditeRabbit and Australian Book Review. She is the creator and convenor of the Verity La Poetry Podcast, as well as producing her own weekly podcast, Poetry Says.


Tim Heffernan
lives in Wollongong. He was born in Hay, on the banks of the Murrumbidgee and after spending most of his life swimming upstream, has mysteriously ended up on the coast.


Alise Blayney is a poet and peer worker. She was the key to YEK’s semordnilap and Ben’s favourite Yakkity Yak. Glimpse her through 11:11, where there awaits a synchronistic soundtrack.


Benjamin  Frater
(27 February 1979 – 4 July 2007) was a talented and original poet who after many years suffering from schizophrenia died at 28. Pretty much unknown to the wider poetry community, his only publication was Bughouse Meat (2003), a chapbook. At the time of his death he was working on Preyed Hotel, a fragmentary epic centred on the Green Acre Tavern (where his father is licensee) but which also grew out of the joys and sufferings which marked so much of Ben’s life. From the age of 19 he kept returning to the Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong, where he was about a semester away from finishing his degree. (Having him on campus for nine years was like having a permanent Writer in Residence!)

Three things dominated Ben’s life: poetry, his illness and the devotion between him, his family and friends. Of course schizophrenia could make him a very demanding person at times (though the greatest demands were alas on Ben) but he was also extremely giving. As a friend and as a poet he was not a snob, and although his work was high powered and erudite, to the point of appearing elitist to some, this was a man who loved the work of Nick Cave and The Doors, who could surprise everyone by bursting into Country and Western numbers, and who loved playing the pokies at the Illawarra Leagues Club accompanied by a schooner of Guinness. He could use the world ‘yes!’ in conversation with great force, with his other aural trademark being a good natured giggle.

With the exception of the great Francis Webb it is not in an Australian poet’s job description that they be rhapsodic, surreal and visionary. Well this is where Ben came in and even went one better, creating ‘visions’ out of Campbelltown (his home town) Greenacre and Wollongong, with acres of his imagination populated by amongst other beings threatening minatours and scorpions, true, but above all by life affirming yaks. (For whatever reason he called himself the Catholic Yak, whilst this writer was the Protestant Elk!) At times Ben’s poetry may have been large, unwieldy and frequently nightmarish but with his extraordinary humour to back proceedings they were always written for an audience’s enjoyment. Anyone who heard him at his best (his joint book launch with fellow poet Rob Wilson or his recent, and last, recital at the Five Islands Brewery) will attest to this, though the power of his performance was such that like Hendrix at Woodstock he had to go last, no one could follow Ben.

His close friend Habib Zeitouneh tells how at Airds High School Ben was part of an ‘arty’ group which was respected because of their ability at winning debating competitions and academic prizes. In year 12 he organized a reading in the Matador Room at his father’s Golf View Hotel, Guilford with over one hundred hearing him read his own work, with his grandmother Florence Bond as special guest. Habib describes Florence was Ben’s first ‘go to person’ in poetry. Ten years later it was Ben who had this role, however briefly, among many younger writers of Wollongong. Earlier with Rob Wilson, Tim Cahill and Ben Michell he had formed the Syntactical Activists, a group dedicated to poetry and undergrad goodtimes. With Rob he instituted ‘shoot outs’ marathon phone calls where each bombarded the other with words, phrases and indeed poems. Ben, although forced by his illness to so often operate on his own was still a very loyal colleague to all.

Ben’s love of poetry started with such adolescent staples as Pound, Eliot, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and the Beats. This expanded to include the Russian Futurists (who helped him find new verse directions) Francis Webb (whom he felt was Australia’s greatest poet) and the problematic Antonin Artaud (who could cause him great suffering). His great love was Allen Ginsberg, about whom and whose work Ben probably knew more than anyone in the country. Even better Ben’s Ginsberg was not that tiresome beatnik/hippy media construct but the serious, well educated poet who saw himself in a tradition extending back to Walt Whitman, William Blake, John Milton and Edmond Spencer. This was a club that at no matter how junior a level Ben wished to join. I once called him at the Greenacre Tavern, as basic a pub as any in southwest Sydney, and there he was in the bar reading Spencer’s The Fairy Queen! It was out of such (seeming) incongruities that much of his verse was assembled.

Ben’s illness combined with a quite strong reserve meant he never appeared throughout Australia on any reading or festival circuit. Nor did he submit many poems to journals. Outside of Wollongong he once read in the open section at Melbourne’s John Barleycorn Hotel and last September in Campbelltown at Mad Pride an event centred around artists and writers suffering similarly to Ben who wished to show that psychotic afflictions didn’t invalidate what they produced. His success there was a great fillip to Ben and this plus the love of his fiancée poet Alise Blayney and the friendship of many Wollongong writers helped in the promise of greater things. Only hours before his death all were discussing an appearance at the forthcoming Newcastle Young Writer’s Festival.

Like similar ambitious poets (Fernando Pessoa, Thomas Lovell Beddoes) who died with gigantic plans less than fulfilled, Ben left boxes and notebooks of poems drafts and fragments. Will Australian literature be able to accommodate a young, near to unknown, non-careerist, yet extremely prolific deceased poet? We hope so. Volumes are being planned. He is survived by his parents Howard and Denise, siblings Mathew, Nicole and Shane, a niece and nephews, Alise and many friends.

(Alan Wearne, in memoriam, 1998)