Paean to a 1996 Psychotic Breakdown (Ariel Riveros Pavez)

Posted on September 22, 2017 by in Clozapine Clinic — The Frater Project

Endless digging
like a clown in
any Shakespeare play.

When psuche realised
that she breathed
with the plant

time became a taught rope
of sense and nonsense
and happiness

and it didn’t matter
if the word plant
was an actual plant

it didn’t matter
I thought numbers
were things
that I could ask
their what of?

The jumping
over chasms
faith has enough holes

it’s a ground I walked
M Rosencroyzer
and Guildernstern died

and I dug
sung
gave clouds names.

The play noted
man bites dog
in my suburbs today

and I claw this truth
by nail
and hammer
and sawfish tooth

hacking at the stone
that is the memory.

I planted a flag
on the forgetting island
it held writing

the soil of the island down to
magma silo depth
forged on herald

was no colour
symbol or army
cheer

but the plant
that breathed
with psuche

intervening
prior towards
my vegetal flesh

swich licour antigua
was the plant
was actually constellation
as signified

the signifier became flesh
the signified was anything else
universals.

Becoming a plant
in my own spyring
this scope
of Uraniborg as glass.

Becoming the signifier
not the word
the signified pointed at
the universe

picture the butterfly nebula
blown apart by a studio
of airconditioners

was the signified
meaning was image

signifier over signified
or here as fractured matheme

word is

Sf
Sd

so

word as becoming the thing it describes
___________________________
D

and

D = E + F

E being an image of the universe
elicited from just the butterfly
nebula

and F being a universal image
or universal thought-image

E and F are chiasm to each other

D there is the chiasm conflated.

The word becoming the thing it describes
is the loss of the vinculum of the sign
and all conflations and condensations
occuring from that loss

and only then did the sign reassemble
to the psychotogram

as there’s no allegory
and just talk

it’s a map.

Borges makes the map a territory. Jabes’ deserts sparked.

Some maps are lost in themselves
and territories that we’ve not onedered but twodered
and now we’ve threedered and can fourded.

I can afford my fare and fairness today.

That’s the price paid and no quid in return
but for the quiddity of wool and wolves
is where I can see ahead
but I’m not ending there

poetry being the play —
writing the consumable
thing, that cost me.

____________________________________________________________

Ariel Riveros is a Sydney-based writer. He was the founding editor of Australian Latino Press and organiser of The Blue Space Poetry Jam readings. His works have appeared in various publications including Southerly, Contrappasso Magazine, Mascara Review, FourW, Verity La, ETZ, Forgetting is So Long: An Anthology of Australian Love Poetry and Journal of Postcolonial Text. Ariel has featured at QPF 2017, Wollongong Writers Festival and Poetry at Sappho’s, amongst others. His chapbook of short stories Self Imposed House Arrest was published through Blank Rune Press in 2015. Ariel was also the winner of the 2016 Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW Poetry Prize.

The State of Australian Reality: Roanna Gonsalves’ The Permanent Resident and Anthony Macris’ Inexperience and other stories

Posted on September 19, 2017 by in Verity La Reviews

Review by David Thomas Henry Wright
Edited by Robyn Cadwallader

Roanna Gonsalves’ The Permanent Resident and Anthony Macris’ Inexperience and other stories are both short(er) story collections. Both were published in 2016 by University of Western Australia Publishing. Both explore contemporary definitions of Australian-ness and all that does (and does not) entail. Both highlight the importance and necessity for the short(er) story form as a requisite cultural space to reconfigure and reimagine the kaleidoscopic possibilities of Australian reality and fiction.

Australian permanent residents are holders of a P.R. visa who may remain in the country indefinitely, but are not citizens. Such status is the circumstance (or goal) of the numerous Sydney Goan Catholics of Gonsalves’ collection, The Permanent Resident. These characters include: a recent divorcee who has a boozy night out; a medical receptionist who debates taking the blame for a doctor’s mistake, and a woman who struggles to find Sichuan peppercorns at a local shopping centre on Easter morning. To summarise these stories is to reduce them to a list of everyday events mixed with a few scandalous headlines. Yet Gonsalves has an incredible ability to make these seemingly mundane actions utterly surprising: not only her protagonists’ choices, but the moral judgement she bestows upon them.

‘Curry Muncher 2.0’, for example, details the events surrounding Vincent, an international student from Bombay who is brutally beaten at a train station. Beyond the cruelty and kinesis of the violence, it is the perspective and eventual epiphanies of the narrator (also an international student, a co-worker in the same Indian restaurant who lives in the same Sydney suburb) that inflict the deepest impression. Reflecting on Vincent’s physical and verbal abuse, the narrator undermines the insult ‘curry muncher’, noting: ‘The way I understood it, curry, being a liquid, could be eaten with rice or one could even drink it as one did rasam and even sambhar. But there was no way one could munch curry as if it were a biscuit.’ (59) Later, when attempting to find a police station to report the crime, the injured Vincent refuses to let her walk home. The narrator notes: ‘I could not argue with the chivalry of a victim’. (62) Such narratorial wisdom, the delivery of which fluctuates between humourous and heart-breaking, pervades all stories in the collection, conferring them with aching poignancy. Tragicomic observations mixed with the occasional impressionistic metaphor illumine her characters’ entire souls. In ‘CIA (Australia)’, for example, the narrator describes the Aussie accent ‘like a waterfall, unable to be captured as it rushed over a rocky precipice’. (93) On occasion, this combination of specific detail, confident minimal action, intimate perspective, defamiliarised locale, and a penchant for the mot juste matches Alice Munro at her best.

‘The Teller in the Tale’ depicts the difficulty (literally and figuratively) for immigrants to comprehend and incorporate the narratives of their parents. The story echoes (or rather, is a variation on) the events in Nam Le’s Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice (2012).[1] The collection also includes notable experiments. ‘Christmas 2012’, for example, is a wry portrait of an Australian-Indian family sitting down to an ‘Australian’ Christmas dinner. ‘First Person’, a piece of flash fiction, scrambles text from randomly selected tourist websites providing information about Indigenous culture. The result is an effective meditation on the fogginess of contemporary understanding of Indigenous communities.

For the most part, however, Gonsalves’ collection opts for realism (in the Chekhovian sense of the word), and in this regard The Permanent Resident is a resounding success. In Two Directions for the Novel, Zadie Smith writes:

In healthy times, we cut multiple roads, allowing for the possibility of a Jean Genet as surely as a Graham Greene. These aren’t particularly healthy times. A breed of lyrical realism has had the freedom of the highway for some time now, with most other exits blocked.[2]

Like most of Gonsalves’ collection, Macris’ Inexperience and other stories begins with a similar approach towards lyrical realist narrative, but mid-way abandons these conventions.

This is a curious work that defies typical classification. The first half of the book, titled ‘Inexperience’, depicts the relationship struggles of a middle-class Australian couple as they attempt to travel through Europe. The second half, titled ‘Quiet Achievers’, is broken into three ‘other’ stories. The first, ‘Nest Egg’, details with great pedantry and relentlessness the narrator’s plan to save (or hoard) money. The second, ‘Triumph of the Will’, follows a shopkeeper’s struggles as a recently erected mall steals his customers and devours his profits. The final story, ‘The Quiet Achiever’, depicts the visits to a clinic where the narrator’s cousin has been driven to a nervous breakdown by the failure of his business.

The acknowledgements page reveals that the text has been assembled from works written and published in various journals (Southerly, Australian Writing Now, Antipodes, etc.) over the course of several years. The novella ‘Inexperience’ convenes three short stories: ‘The Ham Museum’, ‘Cloudscape with Cassette Tape and Duracells’, and ‘Sydney-Madrid’. While at times the bricolage is noticeable, the novella follows the conventions of traditional realism. An Australian couple go to Spain (via Aeroporto Leonardo da Vinci) and then Paris. Upon arrival, the narrator delights at the stylish Italian toilets, relishing his ability to piss in and on style. But European tourism, like his relationship and ironic sense of humour, fails to deliver. On the level of drama (and indeed, on the level of travelogue), the work is satisfying enough. But when contrasted with the accompanying short story cycle, the first section takes on a deeper sadness. The magic of Inexperience and other stories lies in its wider construction and contrasts.

Towards the end of ‘Inexperience’, the narrator writes: ‘you didn’t have to work so hard to be middle class in Australia. Being middle class in Europe looked like a real chore, with bad weather to boot’. (107) In a traditional novel, this would be the end of the first act of a romantic tale or a potent educational moment in the development of a Bildungsroman. In Inexperience’, however, the story simply ends with a bittersweet tierce de Picardie as the narrator recalls happier moments from his failed relationship. In the stories that follow, romance as well as classical notions of ‘character’ are abandoned. Inexperience and other stories describes itself as ‘a novella and accompanying story cycle’. Certainly, the works that follow ‘Inexperience’ provide accompaniment, or perhaps counter-melodies, to the initial refrain. The voice that emerges, constructing the hypothetical ‘nest egg’, can barely be regarded as ‘fiction’; it is reminiscent of the paragraphless prose of Thomas Bernhard or William Gaddis’s posthumously published Agapē Agape (2002), an extended bombast of stream-of-consciousness that depicts ‘the collapse of everything, of meaning, of language, of values, of art, disorder and dislocation wherever you look’.[3] One even wonders if the protagonist of ‘Inexperience’ is still narrating. Is he also the subject of ‘The Quiet Achiever’? Or does the text simply have an evolving style and force of its own?

‘Triumph of the Will’ differs again, depicting a down-on-his-luck character, similar to Bellow’s Tommy Wilhelm in Seize the Day, [4] though the beauty of the character seems absent. As Bellow’s novella (and indeed, The Permanent Resident) shows, the classical conventions of literary realism still have much to offer. The ‘Quiet Achievers’ half of Inexperience and other stories, however, is decidedly not romantic, thus setting up contrasts within the work as a whole, making it all the more tragic.

While The Permanent Resident displays the power of lyrical realism as a mode to depict Australian reality, Inexperience and other stories hints at new perspectives for the literary form. In addition, the daring combination of tradition and experimentation displayed in both collections emphasises the extent to which the short story form is taking the forefront in leading Australian literary culture.

 

[1] Nam Le, The Boat. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 2008.
[2] Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind. Hamish Hamilton: London, 2009, 71.
[3] William Gaddis, Agapē Agape. Viking Penguin: New York, 2002, p 2.
[4] Saul Bellow, Seize the Day. Viking: New York, 1956.

The Permanent Resident
Roanna Gonsalves
UWAP, 2016
280 pages, $24.99

Inexperience and other stories
Anthony Macris
UWAP, 2016
230 pages, $24.99

____________________________________________________________

David Thomas Henry Wright has been published in Southerly and Seizure. Recently, he was shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards inaugural Digital Literature Award. He was also shortlisted for the T.A.G. Hungerford Award, the Viva La Novella Award, and the Overland VU Short Story Prize. He has a Masters from The University of Edinburgh and has lectured at China’s top university, Tsinghua, where he developed courses in Creative Writing and Australian Literature. He co-edited Westerly: New Creative and is currently a PhD candidate at Murdoch. Find more from David at his website.

 

 

MARRIAGE EQUALITY STARS 2017 (Rachael Nielsen)

Posted on September 12, 2017 by in Stars

The Australian people are poised to see if those most comfortable with snail mail will give the freaks permission to get into bed with their heterosexual privilege and allow them to start legitimately shopping for blood diamonds at Tiffany’s. When this hate campaign of misinformation and misuse of millions of dollars is over and queers can get married once and for all, you Rainbow Normies better put your voice and heft behind the oncoming offensive to smash monosexual privilege and valorise polyamory as well. No skipping marches and civil disobedience in favour of shopping for a Labrador and painting your picket fence!

Gays should have equal opportunity to hop on board the super-highway to consolidating one’s privilege that is marriage, and to assimilate up the asshole of heteropatriarchy’s monosexual imperative. Then we can move onto more pressing matters, like oh, I don’t know…trans suicide prevention or bisexual mental health. 

At the very least gay marriage is a grand show of middle fingers to those that squeal, “YOU CAN’T HAVE THIS! YOU AREN’T STRAIGHT!” And all the cream-clutch wearing Christians who find the idea of gays receiving expensive flatware at their now legal shindigs will choke on their own doom-froth when the inevitable is granted. Let’s make this happen!

CAPRICORN (Dec 22 – Jan 19)
If a wedding-ringed, pseudo intellectual won’t sell you any of his magic mushrooms but will let you have them at his house in hopes of you and your gal pal forming a sticky girl-on-girl pantomime for his delectation, run baby, run. He’s the type to come at you in a mouldy corner of his dank marriage pad with his dick out in hopes of inspiring your sexual gladness. Don’t hang about: flick that left leaner and denounce his plea that you peg him the following Tuesday. Not just because weaklings who sign up for monogamy but expose themselves to unsuspecting pansexuals deserve CBT of the fatal kind, but because you can do so much better.

AQUARIUS (Jan 20 – Feb 18)
You’ve got your pentagram harness and a tin of condoms by your wrought iron bed; you’re ready to find a mate to bring back to your lady-lair for a solid session of erotic obliteration. Don’t shy away from absorbing every fluid they’ve got and hitting them in their bewildered face with a bamboo etiquette stick to berate them into going the distance. Plan your evening of spider greed for the next full moon that falls on a Friday. And like any good Sado Witch, once you’re done you’ll send your erotic friend off into the night because your boudoir is only for sleeping cats, Norwegian stoner doom and the worship of Artemis after 3am.

PISCES (Feb 19 – March 20)
You made the actually brilliant mistake of reading the terrifying, neo-masculinist drivel of Roosh V. But don’t despair, his sexism will rage-inspire you to get your nipples pierced, gain 20 kilos, shave yourself an undercut and braid your dark blue hair into a Viking Mohawk as a fuck you to him and his neurosexist, fatphobic bigotry. You know who you are allied to and who you love: so get out there and keep making your kink-witch feminist zines with those queerdos, glitter femmes, plaid lesbians, decedent rope witches and femme daddies. If you’re still feeling upset that a man like that exists and has a following, you can always send him anonymous death threats to cheer yourself up.

ARIES (March 21 – April 19)
Dear lumberjack, plaid-humanist Lit-bros — if you’re going to insist with dispassionate shrugs that you aren’t a men’s’ rights activist or anything but men are just better at running the world, first try getting your pee entirely into the bowl 90% of the time. And try backing up your assertions with more than just, ‘My penis told me’, which is what your overly confident sham references to ‘studies’ and ‘biology’ amount to.

TAURUS (April 20 – May 20)
Look Lamb, not many can rest in the existential truth that nothing can protect you from the unblinking reality that we can never truly know another person, you are always alone in your shell, and all notions of owning another are futile attempts to control the inevitable, molecular chaos of the universe. But no ‘he’s-mine-see-we-have-matching-bands-of-gold-plating’ ownership ring will ever keep at bay the gnawing ‘knowing’ that anyone can leave you at any time. To run from this is to live in a sterilised state of false tranquillity free from lasting, toothy passion and the delectations of transgression. So ease up on the engagement ring talk, okay?

GEMINI (May 21 – June 20)
You’re against men and scientists who say ladies aren’t fit for all sorts of things like maths, engineering and horse riding, but you wouldn’t go in for sloppy rationalisations and wobbly evolutionary pop science so as to protect your entitlement to eat other species babies now, would you? No! Never! You’re a real emancipated thinker, not one of those centre-left hipsters who are as rebellious as General Pants.

CANCER (June 21 – July 22)
Honey baby, you better get yourself out of that small town you’re hiding in. Not only are you in the artistically brackish boonies, but your only dating options are your ex-boyfriend from sixth grade whose idea of a seduction is a shambling reintroduction consisting of ‘Hey you!’, or to try and seduce the staunchly straight, sprogged up twenty-two year olds that invited you to a book club which will inevitably descend into watching The Bachelor while drinking cheap white wine surrounded by dirty nappies.

LEO (July 23 – Aug 22)
Don’t fret over that man-scum one more minute! It’s not a sign of your self-worth that he only wanted you as a girlfriend shaped trophy. You are worthy of love; he was just after a geeky version of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and you were the right cup size for the job. Those types are only seeking to snare a semi-willing vagina and someone with a high tolerance for puerile babbling about Dragon Ball Z and Fifth Element pop vinyls. His cold heart isn’t worth thinking twice about…unless you’re thinking about psychically burning down his house. That’s worth the mental effort.

VIRGO (Aug 23 – Sept 22)
Military uniforms with a whiff of the Third Reich are one thing baby, but wearing a Swastika on your arm-cuff to a fetish night is another. Even in the spirit of historical re-enactment and kink positivity, that’s a no-no. No amount of ‘I’m into the power exchange of uniforms’ or ‘I’m into Nazi gear but I don’t like hate Jews’ is going to extricate you from the fact that you’re putting a death camp in a cat suit so that your white cock can sploosh the way it wants to.

LIBRA (Sept 23 – Oct 22)
Oh, so you’re a sub, are you? You’ve thoroughly convinced the kink community that you like to take orders with your aggressive begging of any and all Femme Dommes to hurt you in ways that get your taint twitching. You’re clearly a real submissive, raw with the need to concede and then refuse to do anything your Mistress says after ejaculating on her boots. Don’t worry. You’ll get what’s coming to you when Jupiter falls into alignment. Look out for a red-head who’s partial to forcing doughy, demanding white boys to read black, feminist, queer theory as an erotic ritual of servitude and is clad in a DIY shirt that reads ‘Your misogyny will tear us apart’. She’ll give you what you need.

SCORPIO (Oct 23 – Nov 21)
You don’t want this. You don’t want to be an empath, darling. You think you do because it sounds cool and rarefied, but the reality is you feel creeping premonitions, memory ghosts and expired love in the floor boards. And despite what you think, in an altercation with your cheating ambisweet you still can’t win the argument by screaming “I KNOW EVERYTHING! I FELT IT THROUGH THE WALL!”

SAGITTARIUS (Nov 22 – Dec 21)
All you want for Ostara is Pagan emancipation and a copy of the book Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. Maybe though, lower your expectations to getting a vegan burrito before heading to a sky-clad Spring ritual that’s kept dower and relatively secret on account of suburbia being entrenched with bourgeois simpletons whose humanism is still thoroughly infected by Christian hysterics. The days of having to hide your cheeky ‘Satanic Feminist’ crop top under a black jumper when passing school ovals are not over. Grab yourself a book on blood magic and a copy of The Misery of Christianity by Joachim Kahl to help get yourself through another year of being scowled at by yummy-mummies in black Jeeps.

 

____________________________________________________________

Rachael Nielsen has a Bachelor of Writing from the University of Canberra and has studied literature at Oxford University. She’s currently in her first year of a Masters in Writing and Publishing at RMIT. She is Assistant Editor for Grapple Publishing, as well as penning nasty little predictions for Verity La as part of her work writing The Stars. When she isn’t pouring her latent bile into The Stars she is writing about feminist issues and is fixated on flash fiction and poetry. Her work has been published by Curio, Woroni, Lip, the ACT Writers Centre, the ANU Women’s Department and Feminartsy. You can follow her ramblings about being an emerging writer and editor on Twitter @rachaelandjane.

 

BLOOD OATH
(Magdalena Ball and Rob Walker)

Posted on September 5, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

 

‘Blood Oath’: a multimedia collaboration by Magdalena Ball & Rob Walker
(Music credit: ‘Transport to the Heart’ by Martyn Bloor & M Elwell Romancito)

____________________________________________________________


Rob Walker and Magdalena Ball 
live over 1,000 kms apart but they’ve collaborated on several poems, creating synergies in words, sound, and space. Their collaborative poem ‘Radiology’ was published in the Medical Journal of Australia and in the 2016 Best Australian Science Writing. 

Rob Walker  lives in the Adelaide Hills. He writes poetry, memoir, short fiction and occasional music. His latest poetry collections are Original Clichés (Ginninderra Press), tropeland (Five Islands Press) and Policies & Procedures (Garron Press). Find more from Rob at his website.

Magdalena Ball is editor-in-chief of Compulsive Reader and is the author of several published books of poetry and fiction. Her latest novel is Black Cow (Bewrite Books) and her latest poetry collection is Unmaking Atoms (Ginninderra Press).

The Dunes (Kate Murdoch)

Posted on August 29, 2017 by in Lies To Live By

A single egg separated to form them. Yet Tamasine and Orla had rarely been apart. Once her twin met the boy, Orla spent more time alone. He was heavyset with the air of someone ready for a fight. Tamasine said she felt safe with him.

‘That’s because he’s scary,’ said Orla, eyes narrowed. ‘You’re safe because no one else wants to go near him. He has shifty eyes.’

‘Jealousy,’ sighed Tamasine and flicked a sheaf of blond hair over her shoulder. They sat opposite each other on their single beds, the roman blind tapped on the edge of the window in the late summer breeze. Their beds were unmade and strewn with magazines, nail polish bottles and discarded clothes.

Orla pondered the word. Maybe she was, a little. The boy had dragged her sister into a fast-moving current whilst she stood lost on the shore. Tamasine walked with a saunter, her hips swayed. She wore bright pink lipstick and a trainer bra beneath her school dress. She spoke of them hidden in the high grass at the sand dunes, the rumble of the surf muffling it all.

Orla imagined what it would feel like to be chosen. For a boy to lie down with her and unbutton her dress, his fingers edging up her inner thigh. She blushed.

It was after school on a Friday and she waited for the train. Tamasine had been held back because her English assignment was late. Orla watched a plastic bag billow over the platform as an announcement crackled through the loudspeaker. A huddle of young mothers gathered near her, their prams arranged in a semi-circle. Grey smudges shadowed their eyes and their summer dresses were crinkled. Only a few years older, yet their faces were careworn, their postures slouched.

The sun prickled her skin and she shaded her eyes.

‘Hallo,’ a voice came from behind. She turned to see the boy, Rupe. Tamasine’s boyfriend. ‘I thought we were going to meet on the corner?’

Orla hesitated. His devouring gaze made her stomach swirl and her mouth dry. She touched her hair and gave a tentative smile.

‘Oh, I forgot. Sorry.’

‘Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s go. You’re on the wrong platform, you duffer.’

Rupe seized her hand and led her down the stairs to the tunnel beneath the tracks. It reeked of stale urine and decomposed rubbish.

The train had just screeched to a halt on platform six. A surge of panic rose in her chest as they sat at the back of the carriage. Rupe’s hand was on her knee as they sped towards Cronulla, brick veneer houses a brown blur outside the window, lurid graffiti zigzagged on paling fences.

A pang of nausea as she ventured another smile. ‘Beautiful day,’ she said.

‘You’re acting weird, Tams.’ He shrugged and kissed her neck, his lips warm and slippery. Orla tried not to shudder.

Her mother would be slicing carrots for the casserole. Her snack of two digestive biscuits and a glass of lemonade waiting on the bench. The squeak of the Hills Hoist as Mum pegged washing and her laughter as she bantered with Mrs Anderson over the fence.

At Cronulla station they jumped the gate to avoid the ticket collector. The descending sun turned the footpath orange as she followed. A broad back, close-cropped brown hair. The dunes appeared as they came to the top of a hill. Beside them the road hummed with traffic.

They reached the bottom of the hill and the beach. Salt-tinged air caressed her cheeks. The dunes towered near them, burnished ripples of sand undulating towards the vast sea, its teal waters winking light. The grasses whispered as they moved forward, as high as their shoulders. Orla held her breath—enclosed in a secret, or caught in a trap, she wasn’t sure. The grass tickled her calves and Rupe sat down in a small gap. He patted the space next to him. All she could see was olive green grass, sea, horizon and the deepening blue of sky.

‘It’s time, Tamasine,’ he said in a quiet voice.

Orla’s voice was high and thin. ‘Time for what?’

‘For this.’ He leaned over and kissed her hard, his tongue prying into every part of her mouth, his hand snaking up her thigh. She gasped and pulled back.

‘I’m not ready.’

Rupe panted, his face blotched red. ‘You said you were, last time. We planned this.’

Without waiting for an answer he pinioned her to the ground. She squirmed as he ripped her underpants off and kneaded her chest with his other hand. The metallic sound of a belt buckle as he undid himself.

‘No. No, I don’t want it.’

‘Yes, you do.’

Searing pain, warm trickle, rhythmic grunts. Orla wept in silence, sand clutched in her hands. The susurration of the grass and the endless roar of surf. The vast blue above as she rose from herself, her mind suspended.

It was almost dark as she travelled home on the near-empty train. She held her dress together where he had ripped off the buttons, sticky between her legs and dusted with sand. A middle-aged woman touched her shoulder and she recoiled.

‘You all right, love?’

A mute nod and the woman left her alone. A blue light flashed from her driveway as she staggered up the street.

***

The other women were kind, if a bit frazzled. Orla’s room was tiny, but big enough for the bassinet to stand next to the single bed. Magpies nested in the gum outside her window and squawked in tandem with her boy at dawn. Mum visited once a week and held him while she showered. Once she had seen her friends at the supermarket, shrieking with laughter. She ducked into the cleaning aisle, heart thundering as she touched her greased tails of hair.

Another time she saw her sister in the street. Tamasine stared at the mewling infant in the pram, before her gaze traversed Orla. Pity and scorn flitted across her features. She walked on without a word.

 

____________________________________________________________


Kate Murdoch
exhibited widely as a painter before turning her hand to writing. In between writing historical fiction, she enjoys writing short stories and flash fiction. Her stories have appeared in Eunoia Review, Spelk Fiction, Sick Lit Magazine, Ink In Thirds magazine, and Feminine Collective, among others. Kate’s debut historical fantasy novel Stone Circle will be published by Fireship Press in December 2017. Find Kate on her website and on Facebook and Twitter.

 

The Gentle Art of Releasing (Janette Dadd)

Posted on August 22, 2017 by in Clozapine Clinic — The Frater Project

(Edited by Alise Blayney & Tim Heffernan)

Bones                      

You’re in my dreams now.
I can’t get rid of you.
​​​​Your smell lingers on my nostril hair.

After seventeen weeks
​​​​it was mostly bones the fisherman found —
​​​​bones visited by scavengers.

At night I breathe you in
while waves arch above me,
​​​​their fine spray freezing me to the marrow.

 

Early Frosts

In raw weather what keeps you warm?
How do you deny the chill of knowing?

One phone call
and the chill curled
like a millipede inside her.

No rain; early frosts; him gone.

She wondered —
had he become one of the hollow people who sleep
under leaves and barter all the nothing they have
for a chance to escape from a world they no longer choose?

Her winter skin itched under coverings
like mites had bored in,
taking up lodgings.

Seventeen weeks she waited
while under her mime of living
she scratched herself raw.
Through bitter winter to spring she walked
towards the confirming thaw.

It came.
His winter skin
had shrivelled and flaked away
in fierce mourning winds,
bleached of blush, smile, laughter, fears,
leaving just stained rocks and jigsaw
bones to piece together.

 

The Gentle Art of Releasing

Tears we did not invite or even notice
salt our lips and tongue.

We cry privately in some corner
of a home, hospital, jail cell,
boarding school or boat taking us away
from family and country.
No public display, just tears.

We don’t wail our loss,
berate our enemy.
Even friends grow tired of that;
or fearful, not knowing what to do.

So we learn the gentle art and practise it
in sunny lounge rooms, bland hotels,
bleached shacks on a desert’s edge,
refugee camps with bodies
pressed close together.

 

____________________________________________________________

Janette Dadd has had two books published with Gininderra Press, Early Frosts in 2013 and Eve’s Tears in 2000.  Her work has appeared in the Five Islands Press anthologies The Best Poems of January 2006 and Voices from the Meadow, and in the Poets Union anthologies Sun and Sleet and Prismatics. Janette is a strong advocate for the poetic voice, facilitating Poets in the Vineyard over a number of years and organizing the Poetry Slam for the River of Art Festival. She has also been an Australian Poetry Café Poet and had work published in their member’s anthology.

Paper Riddles (Lindsey Danis)

Posted on August 15, 2017 by in Out of Limbo

(Edited by Callie Doyle-Scott)

Freshman year of high school, someone hands me a note and a piece of candy. I eat the candy but puzzle over the note. Really it’s a series of numbers. It doesn’t make any sense. This is how Chris comes into my life: on paper, in riddles.

We attend an elite independent day school in the suburbs of Boston, filled with the entitled children of wealthy parents who all look like they stepped out of a J. Crew catalog, their LL Bean backpacks sagging with calculus problems and irregular French verbs. I’m drawn to glitter eyeshadow, fishnets, and cargo pants rather than khakis and sweater sets. I listen to Tori Amos instead of Dave Matthews Band. These things automatically make me an outsider, and they caught Chris’s attention.

My best friend is a chubby math geek from a trashy suburb. She scribbles and doodles and morphs the numbers on the note into letters by taking the square root of each coded numeral. Decoded, the note says something about coincidence and the colour of my eyes before asking whether I’ve been trying to say something all semester long as we passed in the hallways.

The note is romantic. At least we think it is, blushing and whispering, freshman girls who have never been kissed, but it’s also totally weird since I don’t know the guy who sent it.

We ask around in the hallways. The gay guy I crush on tells me he knows Chris and can pass him a note if I write one. What’s he like? I ask. Since Chris seems to think we have some sort of connection, I want to know.

He’s nice, my crush assures me, showing me Chris’s yearbook photo so I can put a face to the name. With his long hair, pimpled skin, regulation blue blazer and striped tie, Chris looks smart and a little bit feminine. I’m not instantly attracted to him, but I am curious. Plus, the seniors have already left school, getting out a month early for a capstone project. It feels unfair that someone I’ll never see in person gets the last word.

I write something open-ended and teenaged back. Like thanks, and no, and maybe let’s meet for coffee? Only we don’t meet right away. We trade another set of notes, then talk on the phone, and finally decide to get ice cream. He picks me up in a beater car.

Chris is tall and reedy, polite and engaged, but what are we doing? The sheer teenage awkwardness of it all makes me shy, so we fall back on discussing books and music. He orders strawberry ice cream and talks about how excited he is to go to McGill. I tell him about the YMCA trip I’m taking to Israel and Egypt. It feels exciting to be taken seriously by someone who’s a little weird, like me, and who survived my high school. By the time he drops me off, we can’t stop talking. I feel like I’ve known Chris for a long time and that sense of being understood gives me a high beyond mere attraction. Maybe we were cosmically connected, like he thought.

By the time I’m back from the Middle East, he’s at college. We swap massive eight-page letters penned in cramped handwriting. Whenever a new missive arrives, I take it upstairs and savour it, rereading the lines to know everything I can about Chris. When he mentions the Griffin and Sabine series, I special order every book. Scanning the fanciful, lust-filled letters for clues to what is happening, I feel certain this is life-changing.

Meanwhile, I join the gay-straight alliance to spend more time with my crush. He drags me to a citywide meeting and I freeze. It’s great that all these other kids are out and proud, but I’m just here to be an ally. I hang around, keeping my mouth shut, waiting for him to drive me home.

Chris drops out of McGill halfway through freshman year. He moves into his parent’s basement and our letters boomerang closer, until he moves to L.A. for a program in radio or audio, something technical and masculine and almost outmoded. I cannot understand how a smart misfit like him would willingly leave a top-tier university for his parent’s basement. I sink deep into his letters, needing to know what college, what life, will be like for me.

When summer comes again, I decide to go to camp. I offer to help teach fencing because it sounds fun, and I’m bored of the standard arts and crafts activities. I bond with the counselors who teach it, short Jewish women who attend rival Ivy League schools. Halfway through the summer I start arriving early to lessons. I lie on a flat rock beside the dining hall and watch entranced as one dark-haired instructor leads the campers back and forth in the fencer’s crab-like walk. You’re the best assistant, she says one day, her voice velvety in my ear. All the campers love you. They all want to hang out with you instead of fence. You’re so much more useful than the other staff. I am conscious only of her touch on my arm, the sudden nearness of her voice, and an unfamiliar trembling in my stomach.

I seek her out in my free time and memorise the way her hands move to punctuate her thoughts, how saliva collects in the corners of her mouth. I can’t stay away from her and I don’t understand it. But by the end of the summer I have two plans: I’m going to take fencing lessons when I get home, and I’m going to visit her on campus.

In the fall, Chris returns from L.A. and we meet in downtown Boston. He wears a suit and tie, his long hair pulled into a low ponytail. He appears suddenly grown-up in a way that confuses me. His job is mundane and doesn’t suit him, but he seems alright with it. I swallow my disappointment in his humdrum life: wasn’t he capable of so much more? We go another long period without contact.

It’s spring of my junior year. Prom is coming. So are the Indigo Girls, who’ve been a favorite band of mine for years. Taking Chris to the Prom feels like, if not my one shot at a high school romance, then a way to give our story a meaning that eludes. On the phone, I make awkward small talk before blurting out an invite.

No one’s ever invited me to Prom, Chris says. Sure.

We go for pizza. I buy a sparkly blue one-shoulder dress and try to decide how to style my chin-length hair.

A girl from the gay-straight alliance, Susie, finds out I’m going to see the Indigo Girls and offers my friend and me a ride to the show. Susie is a greasy insomniac poet whose older sister is best friends with Chris. We’ve grown friendly from the literary magazine and our connection is confirmed when we realize we’re both toting around The Bell Jar in our L.L. Bean backpacks.

The night of the concert, we huddle in front of the stage and talk until Susie offers me a sip of her Nantucket Nectar. Her petite hand brushes mine as I take the cup and the watermelon-strawberry juice shocks my mouth with its sweetness. I’m knocked off guard by her touch. She steps closer, and everything shifts.

While my head is still spinning, my friend leans over and says to Susie, At school everyone thinks we’re lesbians. But we’re not. They just think that cause we hang out a lot. My friend pulls me toward her. We like boys. Susie looks to me, waiting for a correction. I try to meet her eyes, but can’t say anything.

When the music starts, we crowd close to watch the musicians. There’s a rainbow light display and I point it out. Susie puts her arm around my shoulder and I am rooted to the spot, her skin against mine, suddenly wanting something my brain riots against. I’m drawn back to the fencing instructor and all those afternoons of careful observation. What I wanted then and what I want now crystallises, and a cold fear drowns my longing.

Prom plans are made without my knowledge. Chris’s family has a house on the Cape and we will all be sleeping over afterwards — Chris and I, and Susie and Susie’s date, a girl she’s been seeing from a wealthy western suburb. Chris sits down with my mother and explains how safe we will be and how no one will be drinking. I am left with nothing to do but go along.

I was looking forward to Prom, but when the big night arrives it feels empty. People I don’t like and never talk to mill around in fancy dresses, their shoes discarded under tables. No one eats because they don’t want to look fat. Susie is there with the girl and it isn’t a big deal for anyone, except me. We sit with her friends, who aren’t my friends, and I long for the formal event to be over because I can’t even talk to Chris over the music. I feel alone in the crowd.

I’m relieved when it ends and Chris and I drive down to the Cape. We’ve seen each other so few times that each occasion feels momentous. We lie in the grass and look at the stars, the ocean crashing beneath us as we wait for the others. I feel like I’m supposed to be in love with you or something, Chris says, but I’m not. His words cut to the bone. He’s not. He’s not? What has all of this been for, then? I study the stars as his words float between us, grasping onto the sound of the waves hitting the seawall, desperate for something to steady me.

Susie and her date arrive and we stay up, talking about nonsense. I push away thoughts about what I want, because I’m too nervous to say any of it out loud. Chris and I fall asleep on separate sofas; Susie and her date sleep in the guest room. Later they tell me they left me a bed and I try not to think about them squeezed into one twin together.

Back at school, I feel sick over how cowardly I’ve been. I pour my feelings into poems scribbled in margins during free periods and classes. The words won’t stop coming. A couple of weeks later, I see Susie again when the GSA holds a party to watch the Ellen coming-out episode. My old crush convinces me to read one of my poems. I sputter through an apology of sorts for squirming away from Susie at the concert. I need her to hear this, even if it’s difficult to grab the breath to acknowledge it. Susie sits next to her girlfriend; they hold hands, but her eyes are on me. She comes over afterwards and places a cool hand on mine. I like your poems. Then she too is gone.

Prom was the last time I tried making Chris, and myself, into something we weren’t. My expectations for a traditional high school romance fell apart under the nascent realisation that he could never be the person I really wanted. His rejection stung, but mostly because our relationship had all the trappings of a fairy-tale, so I’d let myself believe we had some cosmic connection, like he’d always said. It was becoming harder for me to ignore the fact that I just wasn’t that kind of girl. Even though his rejection on prom night shook me, I worried more about how things had ended with Susie. More than anything I wished I’d been brave enough to grab her hand when she reached for me, and face what I’d resisted.

 

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Lindsey Danis is a writer living in the Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared most recently in Razor Literary Magazine, Mortar Magazine, and AfterEllen. When not writing, you can find her cooking, hiking, kayaking, and traveling. Find her on Twitter @lindseydanis or at lindseydanis.com.

 

THE HEART OF AUSTRALIAN DARKNESS: An Interview with Mark Brandi

Posted on August 8, 2017 by in Lighthouse Yarns

Verity La is all about new and exciting voices in Australian literature, so allow us to introduce you to Mark Brandi. Mark has been published, broadcast and shortlisted in journals and competitions in Australia and internationally. He graduated from a criminal justice degree and his career includes roles as a policy advisor and project officer in the Victorian Government’s Department of Justice, before changing direction and deciding to write. Mark’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Age, the Big Issue, and is often broadcast on Radio National. He is the winner of the 2016 UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger for his first novel, Wimmera (Hachette, 2017), which he developed during two residential fellowships at Varuna, the writers’ house at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Growing up Italian in a rural Victorian town has influenced much of Mark’s work.

Interviewer: Nigel Featherstone

INTERVIEWER

Congratulations for Wimmera. It is an enthralling, multi-layered, and intricate novel. What was your inspiration for writing it?

BRANDI

Thanks so much.

It grew quite organically (I’m not a planner, in writing or in life), so the precise inspiration is hard to nail down. When first drafting, I tried to let things flow – there was little self-censorship, and I was mostly guided by what felt right for each character. Still, looking back, I can see a few sparks which may have lead to Wimmera.

Growing up Italian in a country town definitely inspired the setting. I’ve spent almost all of my adult life in the city, but much of my writing is still drawn to those rural roots. There must be some unresolved concerns, some kind of truth I’m seeking – I don’t know what it is exactly, or if I’ll ever find it … more like an itch, I suppose. I keep scratching at it.

But my previous career also played a part. I studied criminal justice and worked pretty extensively in the system, including a stint as an adviser to the corrections minister. With three older brothers also working in policing, it was probably inevitable that a crime would feature in my writing (even if I never set out to write a literary crime novel). Although, thinking about it now, some of my favourite books also feature a crime at their centre, even if not identified within the genre.

Speaking of, Albert Camus’s The Outsider hit a particular nerve. I loved his restrained, pared-back style – he allows the reader to enter that sunstruck Algerian world, to walk those hot streets. But more than that, the subject intrigued me – a community judges a man not for his crime, but for his failure to take part in social norms. While I read it many years before I began writing Wimmera, I think it planted a seed.

INTERVIEWER

There is a sense in the novel about the innocence of boyhood, which is contrasted with the messiness of male adulthood. Is that how you see the work at a thematic level?

BRANDI

I’m pleased you picked up on that.

When you’re a child (or a teenager) your world can seem very small, revolving in a tight orbit of family, friends, and school. When those structures inevitably shift and fragment, it can be difficult to know your place.

I think that’s true irrespective of gender, but perhaps more unspoken among young men. It’s definitely a factor for the boys in Wimmera, and compounds the impact of what transpires.

The innocence of their boyhood is also heightened by the period (1980s), as well as the rural location. It’s probably a terrible generalisation, but a different parental mindset seemed to prevail back then, with kids often let loose from the house with little monitoring (especially in rural areas). As long as you were home by dusk, all was okay.

That sense of freedom, a blissful naivety, is something I wanted to capture – the warmth of friendship and the seemingly endless summer holidays, alive with possibilities.

But there are also unspoken dangers, which are sensed by the boys, though not fully understood. Those darker elements are part of an inscrutable adult world, obscured from their view and understanding, but increasingly (and worryingly) apparent to the reader.

INTERVIEWER

Let’s talk about those darker elements. There’s a darkness to masculinity, and there’s a darkness to the particular form of masculinity that emanates from rural Australia (no matter what the era). In writing Wimmera, what was your approach to exploring and rendering the darker side of the narrative?

BRANDI

I think that’s true (about the darker aspects of masculinity). And perhaps it can be especially stark in rural Australia, where physicality tends to dominate. Also, in small rural communities, men can often significantly outnumber the female population – this can become quite toxic, and dangerous.

But there’s no ducking it (when writing that darker side) – you have to go inside the heads and hearts of those characters. Whether it’s the schoolyard bully, the dickhead in the local pub, or the dangerous predator – as a writer, you try to understand what makes them tick. It’s only then you present a rounded view, some light and shade that shows the complexity of human nature. Very few people in this world are ‘all bad’ (or, ‘all good’, for that matter).

In the case of Ronnie, writing his scenes was always draining. Initially, my process was more academic, tapping into my experience in the justice system. But the story forced me deeper, made me delve into the motivations, urges, and careful manipulations of an extremely dangerous man – someone who picks his targets carefully.

I had to walk in his shoes and try to understand his proclivities (whether I liked it or not). It was gut wrenching, but completely necessary if I was to do the story justice.

INTERVIEWER

For you, is writing fiction an act of compassion and/or empathy?

BRANDI

That’s a great way to think about it.

It’s sometimes said that compassion is empathy put into action – so perhaps the act of writing is compassion in itself.

Most of my writing is focused on character, so there has to be empathy (if I’m to do it well). That isn’t to say I need paint a sympathetic portrait – empathy and sympathy are too often confused.

That point is relevant also to your previous question, with respect to the darker aspects of the story. When exploring the more malevolent figures, I had to approach their world with a degree of care, being mindful of the sensitivity of the issues for some readers. That said, no one wants to read flat caricatures of villains – it never seems real.

It might be stating the obvious, but people are incredibly complex. In seeking to understand (and vividly depict) those who might do terrible things (or good things), we need a degree of empathy (even if we might not always admit to it). Characterising people as ‘evil’ only takes you so far – this isn’t to excuse or diminish their crimes, but to better understand them.

But, as writers, we need not lay this all out on the page – so much is often better left unsaid and for the reader to uncover. Cormac McCarthy is a master of this – there is so little interiority shown of his characters, but you still feel a deep understanding and respect shining through them.

INTERVIEWER

You have mentioned Camus and McCarthy. Who are the other novelists that have inspired you?

BRANDI

I’m most attracted to writers whose characters dwell outside the mainstream.

As a kid, I enjoyed Stephen King – I’d often steal his books from my brother, and I loved scaring myself to death. I read Salem’s Lot far too many times (which probably explains my irrational childhood fear of vampires). King has a real knack for creating characters you care about.

As an adult, my preference is for lean, sparse prose – MJ Hyland’s This Is How is a standout of the last few years. More recently, I enjoyed Jesse Ball’s A Cure for Suicide and How to Set a Fire and Why, and Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation. I suppose I admire novels (and novelists) that trust the reader, allowing space for us to invest ourselves, to add our own interpretation.

I also loved Favel Parrett’s Past the Shallows for its delicate depiction of young people grappling with troubled family life. Similarly, both Sofie Laguna (The Eye of the Sheep) and Sonya Hartnett (Golden Boys) show the lives of children with nuance and subtlety.

And while she’s known more for her non-fiction, I’ll cheat and include Helen Garner. I recently read This House of Grief and was struck by the writing – her dignified and respectful portrayal of tragedy is, at times, breathtaking.

INTERVIEWER

What are your hopes for Wimmera?

BRANDI

Accolades are great, but what matters is the conversation with each reader.

One of the most gratifying things has been hearing from those who have read the book and felt a connection to the story and its characters. Reading is, after all, an intensely personal experience.

All the stories I’ve loved become part of who I am – they never quite leave me. So my greatest hope is that readers might engage deeply with Wimmera, and that Fab and Ben (and yes, even Ronnie) might linger long after they’ve read the final page.

*

Wimmera can be purchased from Hachette Australia

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Nigel Featherstone (by Jonny Lewis 2012)

Nigel Featherstone is an Australian writer of adult fiction – his contemporary dramas plunge into family dynamics, new relationship types, masculinity, history, and the lure of secrets. He is the author of three novellas: The Beach Volcano (Blemish Books, 2014), I’m Ready Now (Blemish Books, 2012), and Fall on Me (Blemish Books, 2011). His novel Remnants (Pandanus Books, 2005) was published to acclaim, as was his story collection Joy (2000). In 2015 Featherstone was commissioned by the Goulburn Regional Conservatorium to write the libretti for a new work that is being composed by James Humberstone from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Featherstone is also the author of 50 stories published in Australian literary journals including the Review of Australian Fiction, Meanjin, Island, and Overland, as well as in the US. Between 2007 and 2014 he was a frequent contributor to Panorama, the weekend magazine of the Canberra Times, and the Fairfax Media network more broadly. Featherstone has also written for Australian Book Review, BMA Magazine, and Capital. He has been awarded residencies at Varuna (Blue Mountains), Bundanon (Shoalhaven River), and the Kingsbridge Gatekeeper’s Cottage, courtesy of the Launceston City Council, Tasmania; in 2013 he was a Creative Fellow at the Australian Defence Force Academy/UNSW Canberra. Featherstone was the founding editor of Verity La (2010-2014), for which he received a 2012 Canberra Critics Circle Award. He lives on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales. Visit Nigel’s website for more.

The Ship (Nathan Curnow)

Posted on August 1, 2017 by in Flash Fiction, Lies To Live By

The radio says there’s an overnight storm arriving at 1am, so he sets the alarm clock on the floor of his room, beside his mattress in the bare apartment. After twenty years of marriage he was almost back to living in a student share house, but he discovered a cheap one bedroom across town that’s as empty as his allocated car park. He knew calling it quits meant financial disaster, now he’s renting for the rest of his life. He needs time to find his feet and he’ll find them soon, a lie that he’s telling his kids.

The storm driving in is meant to get wild. It’s been weeks since the last one hit. He’s been trying to keep busy with twelve-hour shifts and watching dvds on the laptop. He barely earns enough to contribute to school fees, meet rent and buy fresh food. It takes a month of saving to go on a date because he pays for her meal like a gentleman. Is this what he chose, this separateness, a life he can barely afford? Travelling is out, so he rides each storm, like the one that’s coming in tonight.

His alarm starts squawking like a pirate’s macaw, so he slaps it in the face. What he’s about to do might be an ancient pastime, which makes him feel less pathetic. The gale is battering every angle outside, beating windows in aluminium frames. The gutters are clogged and the rainwater falls, splattering on the concrete beneath. He’s half asleep as the storm hauls the trees, a branch scraping the corrugated fence. A new world has arrived that doesn’t cost a thing, so he lies there just like he’s practised.

He imagines he’s travelling in the bowels of a ship, as if everything led to that. He’s on an adventure, far off the coast, in a liminal wave of chaos. He’s alone but seafaring, lurching along to a destination that’s bound to come—the eye of a storm, the ocean bed or calm water with a fine horizon. Wherever he’s going, something is happening and he’s been waiting for something so long. Tonight it’s as if he rebuilt his life, going places after years of coping.

He stays in that ship as long as he can, before the storm passes and sleep returns, before morning and the choices he’ll have to make, like what he’ll cook just for himself. One day he’ll remember that man on the floor imagining beneath the covers. He’ll have company then, a new wife perhaps or maybe an irregular lover. No one will know that he’d wake at night while his kids across town slept through. But there must be others in their own low ships, with only weather and a way to be.

 

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Nathan Curnow
lives in Ballarat and is a past editor of Going Down SwingingHis previous books include The Ghost Poetry ProjectRADAR, and The Apocalypse Awards (Australian Scholarly Publishing). He has won numerous prizes and appears regularly at festivals across the country, although he is often thrown by his notes.

 

 

Lyricism, Imagination and Vigour: Michelle Cahill’s The Herring Lass (Reviewed by Ben Hession)

Posted on July 25, 2017 by in Verity La Reviews

(Edited by Robyn Cadwallader)

It has been a long time between poetry collections for Michelle Cahill, but her latest, The Herring Lass, proves the wait has been worth it, with a range of poems that mix elements of taut, strong lyricism, imagination and intellectual vigour. The Herring Lass is Cahill’s third full length collection, appearing just after her recent book of short stories, Letter to Pessoa, though many of its poems were written and published roughly concomitant to the pieces in Pessoa.

Those familiar with Cahill’s work will recognise a definite shift in tenor from the poems in her first collection, The Accidental Cage. The sunny, even sanguine, suburban domesticity of  ‘Stepping through Glass’, from that collection, has been replaced by something more bleak and grey, like the sky in the book’s cover portrait, ‘The Fisher Girl’, who might easily be the eponymous ‘Lass’ herself. ‘The Herring Lass’ character is singularly burdened as she ‘tramps from port to port’ and ‘stands by a trough in the dark, guttering cold’. This poem, which opens the collection, sets much of its tone.

The overall trajectory of Cahill’s work is marked, in The Herring Lass, by a move away from the glistening, pure inventiveness of The Accidental Cage to a consolidation and continuation of the direction begun with her second collection, Vishvarupa. In this latest book, Cahill concentrates on precisely crafting rhythms and meters to provide a holistic, palpable sense of her subjects, be they human, animal, or landscape. Cahill has always been a lyric poet, and in The Herring Lass the tensions between the formal strictures of lyricism, and the modern world and postmodern interrogation, provide her work with a distinct vitality. In many of the poems, tension is set within dramatic monologues in a variety of voices. For instance, in ‘Interlude’ we see an NGO executive caught between the fraught personal world of past and present marriages and family, versus the cynicism and angst that develops from compassion-fatigue in a climate relentlessly hostile to refugees. The mood of haltered frustration is mirrored by almost staccato rhythms: ‘I could write more — hours spent in earshot of innocent/ men tried by narrow halls, waiting for visas’. (19) Similarly, in ‘Day of a Seal, qw1820’ both rhythm and split line structure suggest the perspective of a creature caught in a climate of disjuncture, whose kind are routinely slaughtered for money. This in turn carries overtones of its wider implications: the colonial imperatives of economic exploitation and autochthonic dissolution:

 

Tuesday afternoon, Bass Strait’s shadows

ring the slaughter sands.

A man in sandals reeks as he wheels his rage

with a pivot, swings his heft.

A half-caste. I watch him clench the haft,

before the first blow shocks.

He braces and repeats.  (22)

 

Rhythm and form carry an Imagistic direct detailing of the scene and establish a vivid realism that avoids sentimentality. The creation of character echoes something of the alternate, but complete personages, or heteronyms, employed by the author in Letter to Pessoa, where pastiche is used to educe aspects of personal identity that render it a pronounced and self-reflexive creation. In The Herring Lass, such postmodern effects are more subtly employed as the author allows her characters to be autonomously embodied, becoming emblematic of the individual’s struggles with colonialism, identity, historicity and gender. They come to ‘live’ out their alterity amidst prevailing cultures which either marginalise them or have erased them altogether. One of Cahill’s achievements in The Herring Lass is the degree to which she has been able to give these characters ‘life’.

This is particularly so in ‘Thylacine’, and its companion piece, ‘The Vanishing’, where the native species hunted to extinction become an object of plunder to be exhibited as an item of conquest, and neither science nor art can bring them back from the dead. The current of rhythm and meter ironically carries the history of the thylacine as a simultaneously indigenous threat and spectacle. The creature of the latter poem is hunted with an empty, voyeuristic gaze:

 

Have I slept for a week already?

A finger puppet in snow, a Visitorian?

The post-identity theory and cli-fi symposium

may never make amends. Before Twitter

or the allegory goes viral. (25)

 

The Tasmanian tiger’s self-awareness here makes it a focus for our empathy, thus deepening the sense of its loss. The breadth of the spectacle renders this loss an even greater, societal one, as much as anything purely ecological.

Cahill explores the potential of the lyric to create identity as a tool for deconstructing the often concealed mechanisms and history of power and displacement. In ‘The Grieving Sonnets’, the landscape becomes the narrator. The fourth sonnet sees Bindi Irwin become a signifier of celebrity, and the embodiment of a white substitute for a loss of the richer spirit of the place, condemned to what the first sonnet describes as ‘history’s hole’. With its other references to native fauna, as well as ‘harbourside galleries’ and jet skis and fibreglass boats speeding by, ‘The Grieving Sonnets’ gives us a recognisably Australian space and thus invites us all to be mourners, wherein grief becomes an act of awareness that must also be political.

Michelle Cahill

In ‘Youth, by Josephine Jayshree Conrady’, identity is explored as a take on Joseph Conrad’s fictional voyages through the eponymous character’s own gender fluidity over a world of sea borne journeys. Via Josephine, Cahill offers a kind of counterpoint to the cis-masculine narratives of the past, including Conrad’s own, simultaneously deconstructing them and opening the space for alternate narratives.

Yet the monologue is not the only strategy that proves effective in The Herring Lass. For example, in ‘Harbour’, a Heaney-esque Scottish world dominates the poem, but is finally disrupted by the displacement experienced by an African refugee and his flashback of ‘Zambia’s swamps — all the drowned past’. And in ‘After Fukushima’, lyrical poetry becomes negated in a manner that echoes Theodor Adorno’s response to the Holocaust with the concluding line: ‘No figures of speech — nothing to speak of’.

Not that all of The Herring Lass is political, and in ‘Night Roads’ we see Cahill’s command of her medium. The poem captures succinctly the night-time chaos created by a ten tonne truck veering off the road: ‘Radios freeze, phones tri-tone between GPS signals,/ power cuts, fallen trees. Each hand-written envelope/ is bundled, tied to the hope of tomorrow’s promise’. (29) But this is neatly supplanted by the morning’s ‘minor narratives’ and softening blanket of snow that covers the landscape, including the skid-marks. ‘Renovations’, meanwhile, offers a humorous insight into a post-marriage domain. And ‘Taboo’ takes aim at notions of feminine propriety versus the casual fling.

Cahill has described herself as a literary activist, but she is not a polemicist. The Herring Lass demonstrates Cahill’s strength of balance, measure and maturity as a writer. Perhaps, however, the breadth of her ability may have also been used against her, as her poetry might not be considered ‘Indian’ enough, or ‘Australian’ enough to be easily packaged and marketable. That Cahill has received numerous invitations to speak on culturally and linguistically diverse issues in Australian literature yet still found it difficult to get The Herring Lass published here could be attributed to her understandable refusal to have her writing readily contained within a CALD box. Ironically, the history of literature is replete with white, European poets writing on the exotic or the ethnic ‘other’. Maybe it has been white privilege which has enabled this and which is threatened by the tables being turned. But in this denial of availability of good work, the loss is the reader’s. With Letter to Pessoa winning the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing as part of the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards this year, Australian publishers might yet prove to be more receptive to Cahill’s work generally. One may hope so, and that her muse is not too distant from her, so we may see another volume of poetry, sooner rather than later.

 

The Herring Lass
Michelle Cahill,
Arc Publications, 2016
78 pages

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Ben Hession is a Wollongong based writer. His poetry has been published by Eureka Street, International Chinese Language Forum, Cordite Poetry ReviewVerity La, Mascara Literary Review and Bluepepper, as well as the Live Poets anthology Can I Tell You A Secret? Ben’s poem, ‘A Song of Numbers’,  was shortlisted for the 2013 Australian Poetry Science Poetry award. Ben is also a music journalist and is involved with community broadcasting.

 

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