Reading in an Undiscovered Library: Pulse – Prose Poems as Collaboration

Posted on June 23, 2017 by in Verity La Reviews

Review by Lucy Alexander
Edited by Robyn Cadwallader

The woman has borrowed arms and legs.
She walks on a tightrope in front of the
watching crowd. They stand back as in-
structed, and do not attempt to become a
bigger part of what is happening…

It is difficult to find an adequate definition of prose poetry. If we say that prose poems are ‘literary works which exhibit poetic quality using emotional effects and heightened imagery but are written in prose instead of verse…’[1] we come close to what is happening in this volume. But, the line breaks do seem consequential. In the above quotation, the very specific slicing of in-/structed, calls into question the idea of prose gently working its way across the line of sight and breaking only at the margins, while the poetic line is broken in a considered way. Was it editorial choice? Or is the wider margin here suggesting that the text forms the column structure that is expected from a poem?

Pulse – Prose Poems breaks many conventions. Immediately upon handling, the volume requires the reader to become resourceful in their reading. There are no author acknowledgements for each of the individual pieces. No page numbers. The narrow columns of words crouch low on the page as if ready to spring from the corners. The volume itself defies expectation, much as the writing in it does.

The cover image of textured curtains in the sunlight is by Colin Knowles. The title is the only text that appears on it. Not until the title page are we introduced to the editors (Shane Strange and Monica Carroll), or the concept of the ‘Prose Poetry Project’:

The Prose Poetry Project was created by the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) in November 2014, with the aim of collaboratively exploring the form and composition of prose poetry. The ongoing project aims to produce both creative and research outcomes stemming from the resurgence of interest in the prose poem.[2]

Pulse is the second anthology collected through the collaborative work of the Prose Poetry Project, a collection of some twenty poets – academics and PhD candidates and writers – brought together from the UK and Australia (with a taste of NZ and the US via the Netherlands and Tanzania). Pulse interrogates the way prose poetry is created, consumed and categorised. The text also questions the way we readers we imbibe our prose and poetry. The volume invites the reader to sample fragments of work – somewhat like a wine tasting. Rather than guzzling a glass we are challenged contemplate the depth and character of each page (the pieces are rarely longer than this, often shorter) and to focus and concentrate on the flavour and mystery.

Each of the poetic fragments is stripped of its context and its authorship. It insists on being read from its own translucent vial. In their introduction, the editors explain that they:

wanted to show that the collaborative vigour of the (Prose Poetry) Project didn’t arise from any individual or select group of voices, but from the broad mixture of contributions … to emphasise that these works might be read less as poetry and more as a series of fragments (from) some undiscovered library.

As the second volume from the Prose Poetry Project (and maybe the selection process is explained in their first volume) this assertion from the editors raises questions of inclusion and segregation; surely the Prose Poetry Project is a select group of voices, as any anthology must be by its very nature? Here, rather than a call for contributions, the published volume collects pieces from the ongoing collaborative project. The contributors are all working in the field of cultural and creative research and perhaps, while highly qualified to play with convention, do not necessarily represent a broadest mixture of contributors?

Contributors are, however, geographically varied. Fourteen of them are working in Australia and six in the UK. The subject matter of their work extends from discussion of the form itself, (the patient concluded that, like many addictions, poetry was a way of learning to die.) through the blues (thelonius monk brings his finger down/ and hooks a skin stretch moment out to the/ boundaries…) to butterflies (The difference between butterfly and spud/ is that butterfly is to cut almost entirely in/ half and spread the halves apart…); from duck’s conversations (‘Because’, Says Mother/Duck ‘I equate significant milestones in/ your life with the inevitable narrowing of/ opportunities in mine…’) to genocide, war, (During the Gombe War, chimpanzee killed chimpanzee: is that massacre?) and to the natural world’s events, small and large (Bright drops of blood on the pale green underside of the leaves he saw were ladybirds…). The poems take their lead from one another and build new, startling images from what went before. The Pulse of the title is the continuum of the gentle play between the contributors who riff and almost seem to improvise over one another’s analogies, themes and phrasing.

In the first of the two sequences in the volume the themes of music, water and farming play through the works. The pig is a recurring theme, as are famous men: Seamus Heaney, John Wayne and Bob Marley swim to the surface and dive out of sight again; the pig appears and reappears throughout this section, to trot along with his brothers, be farmed and consumed as bacon. While the individual pieces don’t call and answer one another, they do overlap and pick up words, concepts and phrases that are echoed and reverberated. In the second sequence the pieces often start with a bright colour — focusing the beginning of each work in a visual field. Occasionally there are blank pages in the book as if to suggest that a new ream of riffing, a new runnel of thought, is to be explored.

If the collection is there to represent the ‘vigour’ of the interactions of the authors within what must be a continuing series of artistic relationships, more information on the editorial choices, or on the way in which the pieces were informed in relation to one another, would create an interesting context for the curious reader. The editors say: ‘We wanted to concentrate on the way these pieces wove threads through each other into longer fabrics: resonating images, themes, narratives, motifs, ideas and connections’. Perhaps — when the works are stripped of their context — this is a lot to ask of a reader who is just glimpsing a page from the ‘undiscovered library’. However, it could also stimulate new ways of reading, allowing the reader to explore how the individual pieces are mixed together, and how they relate to one another in terms of their creation.

But it is also possible that in our conventional reading we are too interested in context, in wanting to know who the poet is and why they are writing what they are writing. When seen through this lens Pulse – Prose Poems is successful in that it creates space, both metaphoric and literal, for the prose poems to just be what they are — and to make no apology for that. As the introduction states: ‘these works might be read less as poetry and more as a series of fragments’.

Once the reader becomes comfortable with the Prose Poem form and the spare and often gritty nature of these works, the writing does leap off the page to ‘surprise and delight’, as the cover blurb describes. The pieces themselves are highly quotable and beautifully crafted. Lines that gleam out through the windows of the library asking to be remembered:

We found old starlight lying at an angle on the cellar’s clay floor…

I am content that every star should find its own declension…

He told me to wallow in the present like a hot bath…

Some pieces work as small parcels of definitions, asking the reader to pause and revel in the language (‘A miller’s thumb’). Others are memories, imaginings, what could almost be called micro-fictions — a complete story told in some tens of words.

There is this though: Pulse – Prose Poems offers a substantial problem for the reviewer. How to discuss individual works with no titles, no author and in the absence of page numbers? At the back of the book there is an index of first words that link the works with their author. So, while bucking certain rules, this text also offers something for those of us who want to know who wrote what – but requires us to do the work. It’s also hard for a reviewer to guide you to particular pieces or memorable lines without number and title conventions.

While it’s interesting for a collaborative project to be so collaborative that the individual is lost within the project itself, is this what the published volume of finalised work should reflect? At the end of the volume, just before the biographies of the contributors, there is a note that two of the poems included here have been published elsewhere – presumably with the author’s name firmly attached. This raises interesting questions about the nature of publication and how contributors might be paid and acknowledged for their work. As Paul Munden seems to bitingly remark in the closing poem of the collection: ‘The author would/ like to recall one of his recent prose/ poems. Sadly, he cannot identify which’.

It is clear that through their decisions to omit conventional markers from book form the editors did not want Pulse – Prose Poems to be read in the same way you would a poetry collection or a book of short stories. It is also clear that the authors are masters of their art — the journey with them through the library of their collective thoughts is certainly one worth taking.

 

[1] Literary Devices. Accessed 10th May 2017

[2] Axon Journal, ‘The Prose Poetry Project’. Accessed 10th May 2017

Pulse – Prose Poems
The Prose Poetry Project

Edited by Shane Strange and Monica Carroll
Recent Work Press, 2012
50pp (approx.)

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Lucy Alexander is a Canberra based poet and writer of fiction. She specialises in making piles of words and then sorting them out based on what they mean. Recently she’s been fashioning poems with the 365+1 project, marking up her fictions with edits and formulating a secret project that revolves around dogs. She’s often inspired to write about her family who are all expert time-thieves. She does much of her writing when everyone’s asleep.

family portrait (Dave Drayton)

Posted on June 16, 2017 by in Heightened Talk


 
at first we were individual laugh
at a cherub flashing gang signals
so young that an assistant had to fold
& knot those chubby thighs cross-legged
but once the count can or is stop/ped
                                    the tubes are tied        the sheets of Vagifem
                                                                            and Cenestin emptied
                                                                            into pillboxes
it’s time to assemble the ranks in uniform
matching shirts that proclaim: I’M A BIG BROTHER
and in a few years, cream cargo pants
and navy blue Hawaiian shirts
                                                                               islands are a lot of things,
                                                                               and a lot of things are islands.

I hardly brushed my teeth then,
but hardly flinched to bare them,
grin     now my teeth are children
we keep a cramped family home
the youngest and wisest killed
by me just a few months ago
now their heads count 33
some wear caps of silver, tan
but all are jaundiced by my diet
             you shouldn’t smoke indoors
             you shouldn’t smoke near children
wash your hands if you want to hold my baby
home smells like the two bedroom flat
of Brady’s mum in which we washed
her fags, one by one,
down the dunny
for fun andor for safety
it and everything backfires
with a black eye or worse
my parents rarely see their grandchildren

                                                                                           my teeth
                                                                                           who chip off limbs and
                                                                                           make true reunions rare
                                                                                           impossibilities
I’m a terrible parent, let my guard
                                                             -ian down
turn off the car, no AC, and all the windows
and lips tight, not even a crack

this is how I smile now in
portraits alongside my own generation
hiding my children
all in the eyes
raising the corners of their house
and my mouth
unsettling the furniture
wrinkling the rug
but not opening the blinds
ashamed of their ugliness
embarrassed to invite you in
beyond this doormat chin

____________________________________________________________

Dave Drayton was an amateur banjo player, Kanganoulipian, founding member of the Atterton Academy, and the author of P(oe)Ms (Rabbit), Haiturograms (Stale Objects dePress) and Poetic Pentagons (Spacecraft Press).

Sanctuary (Linda Godfrey)

Posted on June 9, 2017 by in Lies To Live By

Sticking out of the grey and white choppy water are four grey and white shapes. Not waves; they don’t break and roll to the shore. It has to be more than water. ‘What are they?’ I can’t work it out. They look like paddles.

Marcella shrugs.

We are sitting in the front room of my house above the dressing sheds, overlooking Austinmer Beach. We’re relaxing in armchairs, enjoying the warmth of the July sun through floor to ceiling plate-glass windows. Looking straight out to sea it’s as if you could see all the way past the horizon to Chile.

One or two people walk up the steps from the pool, towels over their shoulders, goggles dangling from their fingers, hair dripping, lips blue. There’s a breeze, the water is breaking onto the sand in small, messy waves. We’ve been talking about Marcella returning to Santiago for a holiday.

Some of her family is still there. Marcella’s husband was in the army, jailed because he knew a secret. Marcella petitioned hard to get him out. She didn’t elaborate on what she had to do in those interviews with his superiors. When he was released, they found sanctuary in Australia, with their two small children. He is permanently damaged by his experience.

Because she is a good friend, because Chile is on the other side of the Océano Pacifico, because Santiago is almost the same latitude as Sydney, I have this fantasy that the Pacific basin is one big cradle, rocking back and forth, lulling us with the movements and sounds of water. Both of us come from the rim of this basin (for this fantasy to work New Zealand has to sink or rock along with us in our cradle of water).

‘More tea?’

I come back with the tray of tea and biscuits topped with dulce de leche.

‘Dolphins?’ Marcella suggests.

I can’t make sense of the shapes, shades, colours, spots, size. ‘Sharks?’

Orcas? But those whales are not here, not at Austi.

‘It’s quite shallow there.’

The paddles are waving in the air. Waving’s exactly what they are doing, like when you have your hands above your head, dancing to a techno beat. The beat of these arms are more adagio.

They’re fins. Long, grey with scalloped edges, white and spotted.

Humpbacks. Humpback whales travelling north, heading to warmer water to breed and birth their babies. It wasn’t that long ago that they were killed for soaps, paints and their tough, flexible bones that predated plastic .They were almost extinct. Now they can frolic off the coast, looking forward to their summer holidays in Queensland, playing with their calves until they are ready for the long swim south.

I’ve lived here for a long time. I know this beach. The southern end has deep ripples of sand, rocky underfoot and treacherous. It’s where the rips develop; if they catch you they will drag you out past the saltwater pools.

We’ve been talking, drinking tea, eating caramel and watching the fins sloshing about in the waves for an hour.

I ask Marcella, ‘What are they doing?’

‘Where are my keys?’ She’s talking to herself.

‘They must be on their backs.’

‘Yes,’ she laughs, ‘scratching an itch.’

Rubbing their barnacles off on the ridged layers of sand, probably finding a rock near the surface to really get rid of those last stubborn ones.

The whales have found sanctuary.

Marcella breaks my reverie. ‘I need to get going,’ she says.

We are witness to whales resting off our beach but all I say is, ‘You good to get down the steep driveway?’ I stand and farewell my friend in broad morning light, after tea. The bulbuls sing in the oleanders, the waves lap the sand and the fins wave noiselessly in the air.

I come back from saying goodbye and the fins are gone. Itches scratched, the whales continue north in the big warm basin of the Pacific.

 

____________________________________________________________


Linda Godfrey
— Poet. Writer. Editor. Program Manager of the Wollongong Writers Festival. Curator of Rocket Readings, readings of poetry and an open mic, part of the Sydney Writers Festival and Wollongong Writers Festival. Series editor of microliterature anthologies, reader, manuscript assessor, teacher, judge. Fiction and poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies.

Made For You
(David Adès)

Posted on May 26, 2017 by in Lies To Live By

‘You’re not good enough for any woman,’ Miranda screamed. ‘What you need isn’t a woman: it’s a blow-up doll.’

Even Chester acknowledged it wasn’t his finest moment.

Whatever heat there was in his relationship with Miranda had been cooling. Lately, they had been going through the motions and they both knew it. She had been telling him for months that she was too good for him. He wouldn’t admit it to her, but he agreed.

They both knew, too, that if anyone were going to end the relationship, it would be Miranda. Chester was both too much a coward and too entrenched in his own inertia to take decisive steps to effect change. He also preferred to be in a relationship, even one trending towards misery, than not to be in one at all.

Of course, he found a way to goad Miranda into action, though that was never his intention.

Miranda had been doing overnight shifts at the hospital. The one night she changed her pattern and came home in the middle of the night, it was to find Chester in her bed with Tiffany. Tiffany beat a hasty, undignified and totally naked retreat, leaving Chester to face the full glare of Miranda’s rage. He enraged her further when it occurred to him, though he was not stupid enough to say it, that this could be described as a lover’s tiff. He couldn’t hide his amusement at the thought and Miranda saw a smirk on his face. If she could have killed him with her glare, he would have died on the spot.

Miranda was gone within hours, taking her bed and much of the furniture with her. She did not say where she was going. Neither she, nor Tiffany, answered or returned any of Chester’s calls. He found himself suddenly very much on his own, feeling rather sorry for himself despite the predictable consequence of his conduct. He was not fond of his own company and solitude was no friend.

Three weeks after Miranda’s departure, the air thick with both her absence and silence, a large box arrived addressed to Chester. There was no indication of the sender. The handwriting on the box was definitely not Miranda’s. Strangely, it looked a lot like Chester’s own writing.

Puzzled, Chester maneuvered the box inside the apartment. It was surprisingly heavy. Opening it, he found a large capsule and an instruction sheet. The instructions were simple: open the capsule, taking care not to damage its contents, peel back the capsule’s outer layer, and then allow two days for the contents to self-initiate. Chester assumed that the final instruction meant to leave the contents alone for two days.

The capsule’s outer layer was soft and pliable but opaque. It was only when Chester peeled it off that he could see what it contained: a woman, completely naked, extraordinarily beautiful, with blue tinged lips and long eyelids on her closed eyes. Chester’s immediate impulse was to cover her with a blanket. His second was to panic: she wasn’t breathing. His third was to notice that she wasn’t actually a woman at all. He had no idea that technological advances had made such strides: how could something so lifelike be a doll? In the end, feeling awkward with the doll’s nakedness, though not awkward enough to refrain from gazing at her intently for a few moments, he succumbed to the first impulse and covered her. He felt a strange flush at this unaccustomed gesture of near chivalry.

The next two days were a strange mixture of anticipation and dread.

Chester was unsettled. He went to work and came home, the doll inert on the floor where he had left her. He couldn’t stop thinking about who might have sent him the doll and why. Given her parting remark to him, it seemed like Miranda’s handiwork. If so, it greatly surprised him. He didn’t credit her with that much imagination. Nor did he think she would bother: if she was done with him, it was final and she would be looking forward not back. But if it wasn’t Miranda, who was it?

Chester was a mid-level accountant leading an innocuous life. Monogamy was not exactly his strong suit. There was the debris of a number of failed relationships courtesy of his poor judgment and personality flaws, courtesy of repeated infidelities, but nothing setting him apart from a generation of other flawed and wayward men. It had been more than two years since his last transgression, if he left out that little fling with Erin that had remained undiscovered.

Mystified, Chester trawled through the litany of his failures trying to determine who, apart from Miranda, might still bear him a grudge or might otherwise have reason to send him such a doll. There was no shortage of possibilities, he realised, but no real clues. He remained at a loss.

Chester couldn’t help stealing glances at the doll.

She looked alive somehow, sleeping. Her presence infiltrated the apartment. A glow seemed to emanate from her.

The self-initiation period ended on Friday evening.

When Chester checked again on the doll upon returning home from work, nothing seemed to have changed. Then he noticed the slow rise and fall of the blanket. The doll was breathing, and now truly did seem to be alive, sleeping. Chester wondered how on earth something that had been inert could now be ‘breathing’. Was it some kind of simulation? If so, it was remarkably realistic.

Chester waited for several hours for something else to happen, but nothing did.

Fatigue overcame curiosity. Chester went to bed on his old retrieved futon on the floor and slept fitfully. Dream fragments rose towards consciousness and submerged again: running through endless corridors trying to escape pursuit; writing his name and address on a box of old clothes when he was moving to the apartment leaving behind the wreckage of his engagement to Amber, a box that never arrived; meeting a man who was wearing the same tattered sweater as him, also with holes in it; Amber disappearing abruptly and totally; the confusion of love, lust, passion, sex, flight; police knocking on the door, asking questions, calling him ‘a person of interest’.

Sometime during the night he dreamed a naked, warm body sliding into the bed next to him. He was sleeping on his right side. The body settled in, snuggling close as if it were accustomed, familiar. A hand found his left arm, placed his left hand low upon a smooth belly, close to the pubic line. A dream of a voice: hold me. Soon after: the slow, even breath of a body entering sleep.

Chester awoke with a start, aroused. It wasn’t the usual morning pressure in his bladder arousal. It was arousal responding to touch, the touch of a hand feather-light on his skin, a sure hand, stroking, squeezing, applying pressure and releasing, a hand using fingers, fingernails, palm, cupping, tugging, fondling, a hand prompting a groan through his lips as he opened his eyes to a room already brightening with morning light.

The doll seemed impossibly more woman now than doll. She was sitting beside him on the bed in her nakedness and he could feel the pressure of her body alongside his, the weight of it, the warmth of her skin. She released him as he opened his eyes, leaning over him, her breasts swinging a little, bequeathing him with a radiant and welcoming smile.

‘Good morning, you’ she said, startling him with speech, startling him with the dream of a voice that was, in fact, real.

‘B-but…’ he stammered before trailing off at a loss.

She seemed to enjoy his confusion, something gleeful finding its way into her smile, the face almost that of a child playing a trick on an adult.

‘We can talk later. Right now, I need your hands, I need your lips; my body needs your body.’

Chester’s body was asserting its own needs such that he couldn’t think past them, a problem he was not altogether unfamiliar with. He yielded to them. Questions could wait.

The doll guided his hands and his lips to where she wanted them. Chester needed little encouragement. He inhaled her scent, her taste, both pleasant, hinting at vanilla. Her body responded to his every touch as no woman’s body had ever responded to him before. She seemed soft and strong at the same time, her body warm and yielding and alive, her breath coming faster as he licked and sucked and stroked her, becoming jagged, moans rising to her lips.

‘I was made for this’ the doll said, more to herself it seemed than to Chester, ‘I was so made for this.’

Chester was helplessly aroused by the doll’s arousal and responsiveness. He felt her sense of urgency as her moans quickened and her hands pressed his head harder between her legs, as she arched her back and shuddered, letting out a cry of release.

After a few moments, the doll gave Chester an appraising look.

‘Now I know what all the fuss is about,’ she murmured. ‘I’ve been machine tested of course, but that was my first ever human induced orgasm. I have to say, there is absolutely no comparison.’

The doll giggled abruptly at Chester’s look of incredulity.

‘I told you, I was made for this. I was made for you.’

Before Chester could ask or say anything, she resumed her ministrations of his body. Again, his questions dissipated in arousal and desire.

Not only was the doll unbelievably responsive to Chester’s touch, she seemed to have an innate understanding of his body. Several times, with hand, with mouth, with her body, she brought him to the verge of release and then withdrew her touch.

It was finely gauged. Chester knew that each time just one more touch, one more movement, would have been enough and he marveled at the doll’s ability to sense exactly when to stop. Each time she left him to subside before touching him again.

As much as the process excited him, Chester’s frustration and need for release grew more and more intense. He didn’t want to wait any longer. ‘Please,’ he pleaded silently to himself, ‘please, please, please.’

The doll lay beneath him, glistening, the sheen of something like sweat on her skin, her whole body an invitation. She was the most beautiful ‘woman’ Chester had ever seen, his eyes drinking in her flawless skin, her tautness and curves, the vanished blue of her lips, the gloss of her black hair, the lost worlds of her eyes.

‘Come,’ she said, and there was hunger in her voice, anticipation, and other nuances too complex for Chester to discern. She received him then, his urgency, his rhythm and thrust, her body once more responding, her breath and his, her moans and his, her ardor and his, her destiny and his.

Even had he wanted to, Chester was past the point of stopping himself now. Everything pent up in his body – a lifetime of infidelities and errors of judgment, guilt, frustration, shame, poor choices – was seeking release, a release Chester had not even known he needed.

The doll moved with him, responding to his rhythm with hers, urging his body’s release. ‘Come,’ she whispered again, and again, ‘come’ and as Chester’s body surged into her, she arched once more to receive him, her legs tightening around his waist.

Chester was riding a wave, larger than any wave he had ever ridden, up and up towards the crest, pulled along by its surge and power. Immersed in his own body, he was nonetheless very conscious of the doll beneath him, of her apparent abandonment to lust. The doll’s body answered his body’s every question, even as all his other questions remained unasked, unanswered.

A cry rose up in her as her body answered his. ‘I was made for this,’ she cried upon his orgasm, her legs tightening further in some compelling reflex, impossibly strong, her arms around his chest squeezing him, squeezing the breath, the very life out of him.

There was a tender smile on the doll’s face as she quietly left Chester’s apartment. She had completed her first job perfectly and was already anticipating the next. A thrill coursed through her: she had been engineered so well that her work gave her irresistible pleasure. There were so many men deserving her ministrations, so many possibilities. Something sparked in her artificial mind. Yet another possibility beyond the parameters her creators thought they had put in place. Her smile lit up her face as she began to make her plans.

____________________________________________________________

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 the recently released 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.

Trees Without Passports
(Mark O’Flynn)

Posted on May 12, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

Between two palm trees thick with starlings
the horizon flattens the waves
beneath the sea’s heavy rag.
Here before we were, the ocean runs downhill
from the perpendicular of one trunk to its partner.
Like me, the rough exterior keeping balloons
and children off with a thorny I-told-you-so.
Raffia fronds hang from the crowns
exhausted with salt and the natural way of age.
Who was here first, the apple or the cactus?
asks the non-stop chatter of the starlings.
Those roughed-up trunks frame only the view,
not a way of living in this world,
subsistence requires something more.
The direction of the swell
poised in anticipation of a photograph
aren’t they same waves as yesterday?
One of these days the sea will kick a goal,
where the water in its never-ceasing movement,
examines, up close and personal, the new status quo.
Gulls will confuse themselves with pigeons
and why not? It’s all confusing. Are those bananas
or sausages? That cold hand of death.
Unripe dates hang competing with the street lights,
orange and testicular like the ganglions
of pendulum clocks, still carrying on
an hour behind the dwindling sun.
We’ve lived here for many a year.
The view between the palm trees still
thick with starlings and their parasites,
they’ll not put up much resistance
and who else will remember them?

 

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Mark O’Flynn’s
most recent collection of poems is Shared Breath (Hope Street Press, 2017). His latest novel The Last Days of Ava Langdon (2016) was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award.

VERITY LA POETRY PODCAST
Episode 6: Melinda Smith

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

podcast2 (1)

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!

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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

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.

The Warlock (Robert Feeney)

Posted on April 28, 2017 by in Lies To Live By

.

1

It is 8:14 again. The alarm claws its way out of the chalkboard box in your head. You make a mental note to change the settings to a softer tone later. For now, your energies are devoted towards restarting your senses. The light tapping on the windowpane turns out to be rain, so an unpleasant walk to work lies in store for you. Flatulence propels you out of bed and into the bathroom. Do you brush your teeth first (turn the page to paragraph 45), or take a shower (turn the page to paragraph 33)?

.

2

You have seen this episode before. It is the one where the man finds himself in an unusual situation, and has to do humorous things in order to escape. Will you change the channel and watch something else (turn to 2), change the channel and watch a film instead (turn to 34) or decide to shave your genitals (turn to 10)?

.

3

You text out a nonsensical message – gekquraqqef – giving it your utmost attention. The sound of tiny wheels recedes behind you. You breathe out a sigh containing equal particles of relief and shame, and absent-mindedly wipe the droplets off your mobile phone screen. Turn to 22.

.

4

You have left something at home, your wallet. This day is a write-off. Without money, even lunch is beyond you. Why not return home and construct a system for never forgetting it again. Perhaps if you keep a lot of change in it, you will notice the absence of its weight. But change is meant to be kept in a jar, and later sorted neatly into small plastic bags provided by the bank. The sky starts to darken again. Turn to 28.

.

5

The doorbell rings a few more times, and each one sends a sliver of panic into your heart. You start humming. A good excuse will be needed to explain this to the boss. Luckily, you have the rest of the day to think of one. Turn to 42.

.

6

You listen to a sports podcast while working out on the floor of your bedroom. One of the hosts makes a joke about a rival sports team, and the energy consumed by your laugh makes you wobble on the nineteenth press-up. You wonder for a moment if it is worth going for twenty one. No-one will know you quit early. But you push through the laughter barrier and hit your target. Will you reward yourself with a glass of orange juice (turn to 23) or a slice of processed cheese (turn to 12)?

.

7

The pharmacy has an array of creams, oils, washes, lotions, spreads, salivas, but you are reluctant to ask for help due to the delicate area of your problem. After thirty minutes of reading unreadable ingredients, you settle on a tube with a picture of a coconut. The shop assistant tells you the price is €14.35. In your wallet you have 2 €10 notes, a 50c, 3 10c and 3 2c pieces. If you know how much you want to give the assistant, turn to the paragraph with the same number as the cent value in that amount. If that paragraph makes no sense, or if you just want to hand over €20, turn to 19.

.

8

You reach out a trembling hand and take the occult book from the shelf. Inside, the mystery of your predicament is revealed. Turn to 30.

.

9

He does not ask you if you want a bag, and it is too late now to ask him for one without losing face. You put the cardboard box under your jacket to keep it protected from the rain and onlookers. However, the bulge now makes you look like a bomb disposal expert. Indulging the fantasy, you imagine a friend’s funeral that you have been asked to speak at, and how the church crowd murmurs as you step up to the pulpit. Oh look, they say, there is the famous bomb disposal expert and true knower of the deceased. He will know what to say, they say. If you say an Our Father and three Hail Marys, turn to 21. If you say oh fuck, turn to 38.

.

10

They say you should do one thing everyday that scares you. Perhaps this mantra can become part of your daily routine. You make a note in your electronic calendar, undress, and shower with hot water to soften the hairs. The shaving cream dispenser is rusted and empty, so you make do with seaweed oil shampoo instead. However, after finishing your inner thighs, you recall reading somewhere that re-emerging hairs can cause irritation. You decide to do some more research before continuing with this project. It is getting late. Turn to 50.

.

11

It is still raining when you leave the house, and your eighth umbrella of the year is bent and will not open properly. The walk uphill to the office is character-building. On the way there, you see a woman pushing a pram towards you. Even at this distance, you recognise her as a half friend from university, an economics student with a fake bindi who was named after a tree by her progressive parents. Do you avoid this awkward meeting by crossing the road immediately (turn to 25), pretending to look at your mobile phone (turn to 3) or pretending not to know her (turn to 47)?

.

12

Too late you realise that the cheese will give you weird dreams. There was that one time you ate a quattro formaggi pizza, dozed off, and dreamt about clanking sounds. You somehow knew it was the sound of your childhood bicycle being repaired. You walked down a flight of stairs, and saw your mother fixing it, even though she had no idea about how to do so. And you never had a childhood bicycle. You feel very tired. Turn to 50.

.

13

How will you justify this laziness to your brain? You did some exercise yesterday (turn to 29), your leg hurts (turn to 24), there’s a good film on TV (turn to 34), or exercise could potentially make you sick after eating that pasta (turn to 41)?

.

14

You are probably right. Turn to 32.

.

15

Yes, it could be a parable about the economic crisis. Successful businesswoman buys flat in uptown development, but finds herself trapped in a sort of alternate reality. You resolve to buy a notepad tomorrow so you can begin to flesh out the characters. The TV screen has dimmed from lack of input. You turn it off and go to bed. Turn to 50.

.

16

You notice that the inside of your thighs is blotchy and red raw. Perhaps it is the result of chafing, or something more serious. A few internet searches sets your mind to unease, as the diagnoses are varied. Exposure to air, you feel, is the cure to all life’s ills, and an empty office is an opportune time to test that theory. Are you content to spend the rest of the work day pants-less (turn to 40), or will you buy some cream instead (turn to 7)?

.

17

You lift the mobile to your ear, and utter a rising hello to complete the illusion. Outside the rain has stopped, and the air is fresh and clean. You are shocked when your phone starts vibrating. An incoming call from your mother, ironic punishment for the previous lie. How will you justify not answering it? You are very busy at work (turn to 49) or you left your phone at home (turn to 4).

.

18

The friend is all smiles, and once she has the laptop, she leaves in an uncomplicated manner. When you close the door, a gust of air informs you that your zip is undone. You cannot be sure if she noticed. Turn to 42.

.

19

The assistant mumbles an apology as he hands you a load of change. You doubt that he is truly sorry. On the way back to the office, the wallet feels like an extra limb. Turn to 42.

.

20

The queasiness subsides as the day continues. You have probably just been eating too much mayonnaise recently. You make a note in your phone to switch to a low fat alternative, watch an internet documentary about the perils of dairy, and consume the office milk supply glass by glass, in an experiment to determine if you are lactose intolerant. The results are inconclusive. Turn to 42.

.

21

You walk past a church and overgrown graveyard on your right. If you wanted, you could go in and say a real prayer. You could go to confession. You could light a candle, or turn one on, as they are probably electric these days. You could look at the rafters, where you used to imagine the pagan monsters were kept. You could splash your face with holy water. You could reach into your pocket, take out the office door key, and open the office door in front of you (turn to 42) or you could go home (turn to 32).

.

22

The office, a converted house, is quiet. The rest of the staff are out on the road, and you have been left behind to man the phones and ensure that the fax machine is fed regularly. After the seventeenth game of solitaire, you realise the freedom available to you in this situation. An out-of-office message can be recorded for the phones, and the fax sated for at least a few hours with a thick wad of A4. The scroll containing life’s possibilities is unfurled before your eyes. Will you watch some pornography (turn to 16), walk down to the corner shop to purchase an out-of-season ice cream (turn to 39), or just go home altogether (turn to 28)?

.

23

Too late you realise that the remnants of the juice’s acidity will prevent you from brushing your teeth for a hour or so, and it is already midnight. To pass the time, you try to listen to some music. However, the shuffle feature on the MP3 player has randomly sorted the first three songs in perfect alphabetical order, and the pattern disturbs you. You stand on one foot, lightly brush your teeth, and go to bed. Turn to 50.

.

24

Your leg does hurt. You should see a doctor. Or, maybe, wait a week and see if it gets better. If it is still hurting then, will you go to the hospital (turn to 35) or wait another week (turn to 37)?

.

25

The traffic is heavy. For a horrible instant, you think you might be stuck on this side. The sound of the pram is getting closer. You avoid looking, in case you lock eyes. There is no option but to dash out and rely on the kindness of drivers. A brief ray of sun illuminates your passage. You reach the other side unscathed. There, for the purposes for motive, you pretend to be engrossed in a shop display. Turn to 22.

.

26

Yes, it could be a parable about modern ennui. Woman gets new job in office, but a mysterious force prevents her from ever leaving. You resolve to buy a notepad tomorrow so you can begin to flesh out the characters. You get up to turn off the TV, but find it has automatically done so already. You go to bed. Turn to 50.

.

27

You play a video game. As the commander of a large space armada, you are asked to determine the fate of a world infected by a new form of Black Death. Will you devote your resources towards finding a cure for the pandemic (turn to 46), or fire bomb the planet surface (turn to 46)?

.

28

You manage to get your umbrella open for the trip home, but the direction and strength of the wind force you to hold it in front of your body, like a shield. Vision impaired, you collide with a lamp post, further bending the frame. The rain stops. You manage, with great effort, to close the umbrella. A BMW is parked next to you. With childish force, you jump into a puddle next to the passenger door, and send dirty streaks rolling down the metal. Turn to 32.

.

29

Your brain is about to inform you that this is a lie, when it is distracted by a familiar piece of music coming from the TV. It is the theme for a seventies comedy show. You realise that this is the tune you hum when you are nervous. Will you consider the implications of this revelation (turn to 43) or watch the show (turn to 2)?

.

30

If you are reading this paragraph, you have made a mistake, or cheated, you naughty person. Please return to 1.

.

31

He nods and smiles, and places your cereal in an insufficiently sized paper bag. When you leave, he says he will see you tomorrow, which you find presumptive. Turn to 42.

.

32

The apartment is cold. You throw your umbrella onto the carpet to dry out, and prepare a pan of boiling water. After adding the pasta, a search in the fridge reveals no conventional pasta sauce of any description, just a jar of white stuff and a bottle of soy sauce. It could be the next taste sensation, but it does not turn out so well, and you eat a disappointing meal in front of the TV. There is a film on where people are murdered in inventive ways. You scratch your leg. Tonight is exercise night, and you are due to move up to twenty one push-ups and seventeen pull-ups, but it is difficult to get enthusiastic about it. Will you do the exercise anyway (turn to 6), reschedule exercise night to tomorrow (turn to 44), reschedule exercise night to the day after tomorrow (turn to 13), or try to forget about it (turn to 27)?

.

33

The water is very hot. Halfway through the shower, you realise you meant to shave beforehand. Now the steam will have fogged up the mirror, rendering a clean cut impossible. You tell yourself that stubble is fashionable these days, as you knead seaweed oil into your curls. Turn to 11.

.

34

A man is transformed into a talking coconut. You have seen this one before, but you watch it again, in its entirety, to confirm your opinion that it is bad. You are sure you could write a film if you wanted to. You have lots of ideas. Would you write something about a haunted hotel (turn to 15) or a haunted office (turn to 26)?

.

35

Listening to your body is a good idea. It is a very natural way to live. A pain means go to the doctor. A fart means go to the toilet. A yawn means go to bed. Turn to 50.

.

36

You unburden yourself of the many coins in your possession. The assistant slides the tube over the counter, and thanks you by name, even though you are sure this is the first time you have met him. You leave feeling slightly light-headed. Turn to 42.

.

37

Time, and exposure to air, heals all wounds. It will probably be fine tomorrow, no reason to worry. You yawn. You could watch another film on TV (turn to 34) or go to bed (turn to 50).

.

38

A driver has just powered through a pool of water next to you, sending most of it spraying over your trousers. The cereal box is unharmed, but you feel disempowered by the experience. You resolve, some day, to jump in a large puddle next to a car, and restore balance to the world. In the meantime, you return to the office, and fold your damp clothes over the radiator. Turn to 40.

.

39

Walking to the shop, you wonder if this is the influence of subliminal advertising. The film you watched last night had a character being stabbed through the heart with an ice cream cone. By the time you reach the shop, some of that influence has faded, and the rain has made you self-conscious about buying a cold dessert. But the shopkeeper has noticed you. Will you pretend to receive an urgent phone call which demands you take it outside (turn to 17), or buy something at random (turn to 48)?

.

40

The afternoon passes in a wonderfully uninhibited fashion. Then the doorbell rings, and you remember that a friend of your boss was due to visit today in order to borrow a laptop. You know that if you delay too long in opening the door, she will suspect you of watching pornography. Will you pretend to be out (turn to 5) or dress as quickly as possible and answer the door (turn to 18)?

.

41

The noise from your stomach means either that you should eat something, or that you should definitely not eat something. You decide to never listen to your body in future, as it is just a confusing mess of biological signals. To spite it, you go to bed early. Turn to 50.

.

42

You spend the next few hours reading comments on the internet. Virtual persona Duffydack08 writes that the football team you support is akin to a terrorist organisation. You are about to type a witty reply when you notice the clock has reached 5pm. Leaving the office, you realise you might have wasted your life. Thinking further on it, do you come to the conclusion that comment boards are bastions of free speech (turn to 14), cesspools of humanity (turn to 14), or another thing you should probably not think about too much (turn to 14)?

.

43

It probably just means you are emotionally stunted. Revelling in this newfound state of childhood, you consume an entire packet of biscuits with a pint of milk. Then you remember that the last time you did this, it gave you terrible gas. You go to bed, wary. Turn to 50.

.

44

You will have to remember to change your shower routine, but the rescheduling should work. You sink further into the sofa. The film has finished, but a new, bigger and better one is starting. Watching two films might be overly decadent for a work night. Will you watch it anyway (turn to 34), watch a short, safe comedy instead (turn to 2) or look for alternative entertainment (turn to 27)?

.

45

You brush standing on one foot. A magazine article you read recently said this was a good way to stay fit. But your leg starts to ache when going over the gums, so you cheat and balance yourself on the towel rack. Turn to 11.

.

46

The screen freezes. The game has crashed, taking with it an hour or so of galactic unification work. You scratch your leg and temples in frustration. Some research on the internet informs you that this is a common bug in the game. Virtual persona Duffydack09 writes that the developers are akin to a corrupt religious institution. By the time you have finished reading his post, three hours have passed in the real world. You feel very tired. Turn to 50.

.

47

As you get closer, you realise that you do not, in fact, know her. It is just a woman pushing a pram. You walk on, feeling a heaviness in your chest. She must have broken her umbrella too. Turn to 22.

.

48

You scan the stationery for a moment, but then move on to the breakfast cereals. There are several factors to consider – vitamins, iron content, value, box size, colour, fear of cartoon animals, wholegrain, multigrain, ingrained eating habits, price as indicator of social status, the environment, starving children in Africa, font, that bee looks more like a wasp. You take your choice over to the counter, and the shop assistant asks how you are in a friendly tone. Will you maintain a customerly distance (turn to 9) or inform him of your physical and mental well-being (turn to 31)?

.

49

Actually, there was something you needed to do at work. You eat a sandwich in a nearby pub while trying to recall what it was. There, the large amount of mayonnaise overpowers the taste of the fillings, and you start to feel queasy. The rain taps on the window logo. Will you take a sick day and return home (turn to 28), or tough it out in the office (turn to 20)?

.

50

You sit beneath the covers with your knees drawn up, and think about what you are going to do tomorrow. Your plan to treat yourself to two bowls of cereal turns into a swarm of bees, and you know you are falling asleep. You are sure you have forgotten something. The bees are tapping at the window. Turn to 1.

 

_______________________________________________________

Robert Feeney taught English for six years in Japan before returning home to pursue a Masters in Creative Writing at University College Cork. He is the author of several short stories, articles, plays, and a sitcom script that was kindly rejected by the BBC. His favourite colour is either blue or grey.

The Picketer (Justin Lowe)

Posted on April 21, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

I am told there’s been trouble at the plant.
they tell me this with that strange mixture
of fear and relish so characteristic of the beaten.

I am at a loss as to why they come to me,
but they seem to seek me out,
as though they regarded me as some sort of bridge.

but when they come like this
with their dark, beseeching eyes
to tell me there is trouble at the plant,

something in me folds,
and all the distance I have put between
myself and their worries, so assiduously maintained

like a prim hedge,
the kind of hedge that states more emphatically
than a strand of razor wire

KEEP OUT!

suddenly all that distance melts away
and all my loathing turns inwards,
like when I spy the boss’ daughter in her summer skirt

and I realise in a flash I am not the prince of my mother’s songs.

_______________________________________________________
Justin Lowe was born in Sydney but spent significant portions of his childhood on the Spanish island of Minorca with his younger sister and artist mother. He developed a penchant for writing poetry while penning lyrics for a string of bands, successful and not so, and has since been published all over the world. Justin currently resides in a house called “Doug” in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney where he edits poetry blog Bluepepper. His selected, Days of Wine and Bruises, 1996-2016, was released in April 2016.

Lucilia Cuprina — an Ode
(SB Wright)

Posted on April 13, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

first beat of spring
careening down chimney
full bore into wall,
window pane, again
again.

daylight moth snared
by sun – carry on in vain
til spent; flaring,
failing filament
in backstroked spasms
on the sill

silent.

life erupts
wriggling free from
bulbous husk,
such plenty that one
might fall,
find some scrap or
cat food bowl.

there.
all life; death
in one space.
all lessons
in its maligned
embrace.

_______________________________________________________

SB Wright was born in the town of Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land, though most of his life has been spent in Alice Springs. A graduate of NTU he has spent his adult working life as a security guard, a martial arts instructor, a trainer in an international gaming company and currently works as a primary school teacher.

His work has been published in Tincture Journal, INDaily Adelaide, Eureka Street, Bluepepper, Writ Poetry Review and the anthologies The Stars Like Sand and Poetry & Place 2015.

Paddle Boats (Katelin Farnsworth)

Posted on April 7, 2017 by in Lies To Live By

(edited by Laura McPhee-Browne)

We sat in a paddle boat and ate cheese sandwiches. The water swirled slowly around us.

This is nice, you said, and it was nice.

The rain had held off, just like we hoped, and the clouds were merely white smudges in the sky. When we finished eating, you took my hand and smiled at me with your eyes.

I love you, you said.

You waited for a response, clicking your fingers quickly. I watched a duck swim past our boat, making gentle movements in the water.

Please, you said, say something.

I mumbled, about baked beans and tinned sausages.

Back at the tent, your hands grappled with the tin kettle and I stretched out my legs and studied the ants in the dirt. The different reds and browns. Their bodies, tiny and large all at once.

Why don’t you love me, you asked, pushing a knife into a jar of peanut butter, breaking a piece of white bread in half.

I watched you eat, licking your lips, smacking them together, laying the knife down slowly. I shook my head. Spread my fingers out, pushed them into the dirt. Ants scattered, dancing over my knuckles.

You asked me again, your voice stretching. I wondered aloud if we’d see a wombat, snuffling round the back of our tent, near where we’d parked the car, near where our rain jackets hung off the side view mirrors.

Please. I dangled a tea bag up and down and looked back out towards the water, where swans were gliding.

Please. Your voice was croaky, swollen, stuffed full of a sunset that would never rise.

Please, you said again, the word beginning to sound like something other than language.

And then, because I’m weak, or something very close to it, I said I love you too, and you were radiant. We drove home together, through the darkness, and it started to rain a little. I leant my head against the window and you talked a lot, flapping your hands when they weren’t on the wheel. I listened and said yes at all the right moments. Because there were things at yours of mine, and it felt easier than saying goodbye.

____________________________________________________________

Hailing from Melbourne, Katelin Farnsworth won the Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction in 2015 and came second place in the Rhonda Jankovic Literary Awards in 2017. Her short story ‘Round’ was featured in Award Winning Writing in 2015. Katelin has also been published in various Australian journals including Feminartsy, Lip Magazine, Tincture Journal, The Victorian Writer, Offset, Voiceworks, Verandah Journal, and Writers Bloc, amongst others. She studies Professional & Creative Writing at Deakin University and is currently working on a novel (or two!).