YEARNING FOR JUSTICE:
an interview with Sara Dowse

Posted on November 21, 2017 by in Lighthouse Yarns

Sara Dowse is a prize-winning Australian novelist and reviewer. Born in Chicago, Dowse grew up in Hollywood, the daughter of an actor mother and celebrity lawyer father. After experiencing anti-Semitism, she left for Australia in 1958 at the age of nineteen. After studying arts at the University of Sydney, she arrived in Canberra in 1968 and worked as a journalist and also as a tutor and publishing assistant at the College of Advanced Education, now the University of Canberra. Dowse became the inaugural head of the Women’s Affairs Section of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet for the Whitlam government.

After resigning from the public service, Dowse worked as a teacher at the Australian National University, a reviewer for newspapers and journals, and became a writer of novels and short stories. She was forty-five when her first novel, West Block: The Hidden World of Canberra’s Mandarins, based on her experiences in the Prime Minister’s department, was published by Penguin in 1984.

Dowse has also been awarded many prizes, including the ACT Book of the Year (in 1997 with Marion Halligan), and was short-listed for the Steele Rudd Award (1995) and long-listed for the IMPAC Dublin Prize (1996). She has also been the recipient of an Australia Council fellowship and a Harold White fellowship (1991).

Dowse is known to be someone of considerable warmth and generosity, along with a great political drive. Interviewer Nigel Featherstone spoke with her in the context of the publication of her most recent novel, As The Lonely Fly, about three Jewish women and their worldwide quest to find answers to reconcile with their complicated past.

Interviewer: Nigel Featherstone

INTERVIEWER

Congratulations on the publication of As the Lonely Fly – it’s a grand and multi-layered novel. Can you talk a little about the work’s gestation?

DOWSE

Well, for one thing, it was a long one – more on the order of an elephant’s, some might say. Yet the ‘25 years in research and writing’ on the flap of the cover conjures up a misleading picture of steadfast application. There were many stumbles, distractions, disruptions and obstacles along the way. That said, the mere fact of 21 years between my last novel and this one has begged an explanation.

In 1989, on a Harold White Fellowship, I started research on what evolved into As the Lonely Fly. It was meant to be a biography. Not of a famous person, but of a little-known woman whose existence I hadn’t the slightest notion of until 1974. That was when my mother told me that her father’s sister had been a Soviet apparatchik. I was still working in the prime minister’s department then so I put what my mother told me on the backburner and there it stayed, simmering along until I was ready to do something about it. At that point I had published four novels, but fiction being such hard work, as you know, I somehow got it in my head that nonfiction would be less demanding. (Can you hear the gods laughing here?)

My work on the fellowship gave me the background. I submerged myself in Jewish and Russian history. By then I had learned that much of what my mother had said about her aunt was wrong, but much else of what I heard was wrong as well. Finally, I was able to establish, through a complex network of kin in the US and Israel, that my great aunt Lisa, like my grandfather, came from Bessarabia, a province of tsarist Russia that is now Moldova. I learned that before she became a Soviet functionary she had been a Zionist in British Mandate Palestine, that she became disillusioned with the Zionist project and joined the local communist party owing to its concern for what was happening to Arab labour. After supporting the Arab riot of 1929, she and some of the other members were jailed and sent back to Russia. But these were just the bones of the story. To assemble them into a valid narrative I needed documentation, and for that I needed to travel.

I went to Israel to search for any mention of my great aunt in the Central Zionist Archives, but when I got there they were closed for renovations. In Moscow I was given a bum steer by a fixer so missed out connecting with Memorial, the organisation set up to search for relatives’ papers in the archives. I went to Moldova and found the village she and my grandfather came from. I expected to return to these places, but then my relationship of 19 years broke up. For the second time in my life I found myself a single parent, so travel of this magnitude was out of the question. I wrote Digging, a therapy novel you could say, about the breakup instead.

Two years later I left for Canada with my new partner, hoping to finish the manuscript. I still had the contract with Penguin but other developments put the kibosh on it. The widespread restructuring of publishing in the late 1990s created the landscape of multinational conglomerates we’re familiar with today. To put it bluntly, the bean counters prevailed. Books were now entertainment, to be marketed as such.  Having grown up in Hollywood, I knew the model well. You were only as good as your last book – the halcyon days when publishers backed writers they believed in through to maturity were over. Literary ‘stars’ were picked, literary fiction got a body blow, and readily identifiable and marketed genres were born.

The manuscript I presented was a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction, and was immediately rejected. Not only did it not meet the new requirements, the personnel at Penguin had changed. Gone were the publisher and editor who had worked on my previous books. While other publishers showed interest, the manuscript was too long and would need a good edit, and budgets for editing had been cut. Even established writers began to pay for editing before offering manuscripts to publishers. Yet paradoxically, agents and publishers alike were on the hunt for new talent. The day of the exciting ‘debut’ novel had arrived.

At some stage I decided that, without the documentation, I might as well turn the manuscript into a novel. But in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, there was zilch interest in a communist central character. Nor was there much sympathy for any book that questioned the premise of Zionism or the wisdom of a Jewish-privileged state. For my sanity I took up painting, and more or less resigned myself to this novel never seeing the light of day unless I published it myself. So it would have stood had I not been led by the hand to Jen McDonald, who had just embarked on her own publishing venture. And times have changed.

INTERVIEWER

How did you approach the task of developing a manuscript that was, as you say, a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction?

DOWSE

I had a model, a book that not only touched on a familiar subject but offered a way of dealing with it. This was Kim Chernin’s In My Mother’s House, first published in 1983, but I read the Virago edition that came out in 1994, just after I’d returned from Russia and was looking for a way to assemble all the material I’d gained from my travels and the interviews I’d had. (Virago has re-released it, I see, in a twentieth anniversary edition.) Anyway, this was Chernin’s story of her mother, Rose Chernin, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who was a Communist Party organiser in New York and later in Los Angeles. So there were a number of parallels between her mother’s story and the one I was trying to write, as well as the parallels with Chernin’s story and my own.  There’s the female communist relative, the sparseness of the written record, and the locale, Los Angeles, at a time when I was living there too. We are almost exact contemporaries: Chernin is two years younger than me. She had a solid reputation as a poet when the book was first published, but she’s written in a range of modes since and has branched out into psychotherapy, or what she calls ‘listening therapy’. But unlike my great aunt, whom I came to believe died the year I was born, Chernin’s mother was a powerful presence in her childhood, yet politics took her away from her daughter – so much so that Chernin’s aim in writing the book was to find what she could about the mother she really never knew. And because Rose Chernin had died and it was too late to discover everything, Chernin interspersed what she had with fictional accounts as well as autobiographical chapters, recounting what it was like to be a politico’s daughter.

Out of interest I’ve gone back to have a look at that early, mongrelised manuscript of mine, and here are a couple of excerpts that go some way towards illustrating the method, not to mention my preoccupations at the time:

My search began, of all places, in Paris, in the summer of 1989, in the middle of the bicentenary celebrations of the French Revolution. With hindsight, I see how significant this was, that time and that place. The French Revolution marks the birth of modernity and, for Jews, the first step towards citizenship in the modern world. At the time I thought my going to Paris resulted merely from a happy convergence of a number of factors in my personal life. My partner, a molecular biologist, had chosen the Pasteur Institute for his sabbatical. As a rule, I didn’t accompany him on his sabbaticals but this, after all, was Paris. I had never been to Paris, had never been to Europe in fact. My one great feat of travel had been to migrate to Australia in the 1950s, and I was limited thereafter to trips back to America. My mother, however, went to Paris often. It seemed an excellent opportunity to see more of the world and more of her too, and I wanted to question her further about my grandfather’s sister.

How much of the world that summer would that Soviet commissar have recognised? It was barely recognisable to me. I had grown up myself (if that is what you could call it) with two giant wars loping beside me. Born two nights after Kristallnacht, I had lived less than a year before World War Two was declared, and was only six when the Cold War overtook it, when ‘Communist’ became an ugly word again and my mother and stepfather were unable to get work because for a brief spell years before my mother had become one. Then, I was an adult, and the Left emerged as a credible force again, as it had been at the height of the Depression when my mother was a bristling young woman fired with a passion for justice, and in the forties when the United States and Russia were allies. The new credibility came with the swell of protest against the war in Vietnam and I let my hair frizz and marched in my bell-bottomed jeans and, overcoming my shyness, shouted myself hoarse with hundreds of thousands of others, and whole societies – American, Australian – had turned radical, as I had. But in the eighties all that had faded, a distant, melancholy, vaguely embarrassing tune. We were conservatives again, consuming with a vengeance and making new families, and the Right had risen as it had in the fifties. Right-wing governments ruled in almost all the Western democracies and even in countries like France or Australia, with socialist or labour governments, right-wing policies – smaller governments, freer markets – prevailed. Indeed it had become unfashionable even to call them such; in the changed political climate the terms ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ were said to have no meaning.

In Germany that summer, the eastern, Communist half was disintegrating. By the end of the year the wall that had separated it from the West for twenty-eight years had come down, and Germany was on its way towards reuniting. Indeed, Europe itself was uniting, though we could scarcely have believed it even then. All the countries of Eastern Europe were shedding their Communism; the puppet regimes were toppling because Moscow was bankrupt and was withdrawing its support. One by one they went, almost without resistance, not a thaw this time but an avalanche: Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Yugoslovia, Albania. Even Ceausescu’s Romania fell with only a hiccup of a struggle. In France, where it had all begun two hundred years before, where the streets were awash with signs and symbols of the Revolution – the mobcaps and toy guillotine – we were moving through a kind of docu-drama. ‘Robespierre: Est-il Coupable?’ shrieked the Express placards at the corner kiosks. Revolution was in the air, but it was another revolution. The Cold War, that chilling bipolar disorder that had dominated the globe and my own puny life for five decades, was ending.

Soon Francis Fukiyama would publish his End of History, contending that the world had rejected ideology. The West had won. Capitalism had won.  Consumptor victor, consumer triumphant. But though the signs were there that muggy July of 1989, this new revolution was not yet accomplished. The Warsaw Pact was crumbling, but few could have imagined that in two years’ time the Soviet Union itself would collapse, or that the socialist fervour that galvanised so many for so long would prove so totally moribund.

And then, a few chapters later, my great aunt’s response:

LISTEN to her, if you please. It has been my good fortune to witness these excursions of hers for more than a decade, if fortune is what you would call it. Well, perhaps it is. But why do I speak in years, when time, that sly trickster, no longer has meaning for me? As a matter of fact, not much that I once knew has any meaning for me. I suppose I should find this amusing. Not time, not work, not struggle, not pleasure, not pain. No pain as I once experienced it. No, I would sigh, if my sighing were to serve any purpose, no pain. Not even memory, because memory brings with it the notion of time, and there is no time where I’m speaking from. Time as a system, place as a map: these things exist, but in no material sense – at least for me. There is, as it happens, great freedom in this, a freedom, yes, that I longed for, yet a freedom for which I was wholly unprepared and was the last to have expected. But knowing this, this unshakeable, awe-inducing knowing, is fraught with consequence, and danger – a problem we’ll face again and again in the course of my story.  Or whatever story she makes of it. It is all in her hands. Don’t imagine that I don’t see the irony in this. But for now, assuming for the sake of our communication that there is a now, I am watching, watching, I’ll admit, from a vantage of unique perspective and privilege. I watch, bemused, amused, saddened, frustrated, delighted, chagrined. This woman who goes looking – what will she say when whatever it is that she is looking for she finds? Not that this frightens me – you will understand by now that it is part of this privilege I enjoy that I am no longer prey to fear. It is more a sensitivity to the inordinate complexity of the facts, the complications piled upon complications, an endlessly pebbly, jumbled moraine of gross confusion and disorder, all so unnecessary from where I stand, and all of it conspiring to obscure. I put my trust in simple things now, and if she were to stay still long enough to listen I would tell her, for these – for all time, that time that is no longer time – are the keys: a cool glass of cordial, ruby red; a piece of light cake, delicate and resilient as an angel’s wing; the warm aroma and sour-sweet taste of bread.

Perhaps it is only when one is lost in abstraction that the tangible becomes real. I see that she has an inkling of this but still she has a longing for broad themes. Perhaps it has something to do with the sky. To hear her tell it, she is a city person. It accords with her image of herself as a cosmopolitan, with no particular attachments to places, but rather to ideas and, more importantly, she would argue, to people. But I observe something different and the difference, I think, is significant. I watch, and I see that she deceives herself. Yes, it has to do with the sky. And let us make it a very particular sky, a broad sky, a low sky, a swirling, cloud-tilting sky, tipsy with latitude and depth and a blueness so pure you feel you could reach up and run your fingers through the clouds.

And so it went, as my great aunt launched into her story, with intermittent squeaks from me. I had a lot of fun with it, but it wasn’t acceptable in 2001 when I presented the manuscript, and was even less so three months later when the US was attacked on 9/11. Not only that, it was far too long. But for me it was an education, not the least for using what I could as scaffolding for the novel I came up with in the end. Most of all, I slimmed down the narrative, cutting out quite a few characters (including myself), episodes and scenes. Killing my darlings? More a massacre, you could say. Though bits of it I did use almost verbatim as I folded them into the novel.

INTERVIEWER

At its core, As the Lonely Fly is about social justice, perhaps even more so than about finding home or a sense of belonging. Do you agree?

DOWSE

Absolutely. I was drawn to my great aunt’s story (once the many misconceptions about her had been scraped away) because of what it had to say about being a Jew. At some stage in the process of uncovering her story I was forced to ask myself what my experience of being Jewish had given me. And the answer came straightaway: a passion for justice. For most of my life I have not been an observant Jew, but I treasure to this day that central tenet of Judaism. The character of Clara/Chava embodies that.  Even her name – Tsedeska, Tsedek, is a play on the Hebrew word for justice – tsedaka. And there is absolutely no justice in what the Palestinians have suffered through the Zionism she once embraced and then came to reject. This, remember, was in the 1920s, when she and some of her comrades woke up to what the consequence of their arrival in Palestine actually was. There’s a passage in As the Lonely Fly where she articulates this to her employer – ‘Not the kind of place we dreamt of,’ she says, ‘where Jews do the excluding.’ Of course this passion of hers, based as it is on compassion, gets her in a whole lot of trouble. But at the same time, it’s what ennobles her. The other thing to note is that hers is a voice that was silenced. It has taken many decades for others to comprehend that the creation of a Jewish-privileged state has become a betrayal not only of the Palestinian people, but of Jewish tradition itself.

It’s of no small significance then that the novel begins and ends in 1967, three months after Israel became an occupying power. By this time Clara has been missing for a number of years, and this is when her American sister Marion visits their niece Zipporah in Israel. Though neither Marion nor Zipporah can be sure of what has become of Clara (other than she may or may not be alive somewhere in the Soviet Union), each finds it difficult to shake off Clara’s influence. The novel ends with Marion coming to understand what her older sister had taught her: ‘Because there was Clara, and this had been her tradition … If she could convince herself – and she couldn’t – that it was in their blood, their genes, this passion for justice, it would add nothing to the explanation. The history was enough – more than enough. Of persecution, of wandering, of false messiahs and uneasy bargains. But, more, a yearning for justice …’

Of course, not all Jews come away with that. Centuries of persecution ending in the Holocaust have made many put tribal loyalty above all other considerations, and I can understand that. But that doesn’t mean I can accept it. And there are many Jews both in Israel and in the Diaspora who feel as I do. As with my great aunt and the character Clara based on her, for decades their voices have been silenced, but that is changing, and changing very rapidly now. If only our politicians would keep up with this.

INTERVIEWER

For you, is writing fiction always a political act?

DOWSE

Not consciously. There are some who argue that everything in life is political, so perhaps writing for me is too. What I can say is that I’ve often been drawn to political subjects in my reading and that’s why history interests me so. And politics have had an immediate impact on my life. But from childhood I’ve been intrigued by consciousness as well. As far as I can tell it remains a mystery. So that is why in some of my books, most of them actually, I find myself flirting with the mystical, the mythical or paranormal. It’s there in Sapphires and Schemetime and As the Lonely Fly, a little less so in Digging. But because I think I’m seen more as a political writer, this element in my books is usually overlooked. Don’t get me wrong, I like the fact that, if I’m noticed at all, it’s because I have written on political themes – there aren’t that many fiction writers who till that field and I think it’s important. Although nowadays, given what our world has become, it’s hard to imagine any writer not getting tangled up with politics, whether she wants to or not.

But I do get a kick out of knowing that if any of my readers do pick up that other, mystical strand in my writing, there’s always something extra in there for them.  Because even if social life is political (we humans are herd animals and there’s no getting away from that), for the individual human it’s ultimately something else, her consciousness or, if you will, her soul. And when I say consciousness I mean the unconscious too. I guess when it comes down to it, that’s the difference between novelists and historians, and it’s occurred to me while addressing your question, that that may be the real reason I’m a novelist and not an historian and why I never published that biography.

Take my novel Sapphires. This is saturated with Kabbalistic mysticism, particularly its numerological system gematria, in which every Hebrew letter has its numerical equivalent. It gave me a template for the narrative, along with another numerical phenomenon, the Fibonacci Sequence. I’m not saying you need to know these things in order to enjoy the stories, but it may enhance the reading experience while providing the glue for holding the disparate fragments together. It’s what writers do in layering. I adopted a similar approach with Schemetime, a novel about filmmaking and its magical elements. And the Kabbala makes its appearance in As the Lonely Fly in the person of the cobbler Yehudi Ha-Kohen, the man who makes Clara/Chava a pair of sandals ‘should you ever need to fly’. He’s there years later in the novel’s very first scene when Marion visits the cemetery. And Digging opens with the ghost of the narrator’s dog. The only books that don’t have this in them are Silver City, which was Penguin’s experiment with a film novelisation, and West Block, arguably the most political book of all. The inspiration for West Block’s structure, apart from the building itself, came from John Dos Passos’s USA and James Joyce’s Ulysses. As each of Ulysses’s chapters has an art as its theme, so does West Block. So it’s not that I ‘believe’ in mysticism in any straightforward way; it’s more that when I’m writing I’m drawn to the aesthetic possibilities, it’s a conduit, if you like, to my art, a way of expanding its symbolic import, the essence of art to me, even political fiction. All fiction, I think, is composed of ‘what-ifs’ and you need to maintain an open, inquisitive mind for that, and I do think fiction is an art.

INTERVIEWER

Might fiction, especially the novel form, best have its impact on the reader at the unconscious level? Perhaps that is how a work like As the Lonely Fly can bring about change?

DOWSE

I hope this novel can contribute to change. But I can never be confident about that. Readers read different books. And by this I don’t mean physically different books, or even different genres. I mean that they read the same book differently. Sometimes radically so. As a writer I wish I had more control over this, but that isn’t the contract we metaphorically sign. For a long time a novel like As the Lonely Fly was difficult to publish, for reasons I mentioned earlier. But now as we approach the hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, in which the British foreign secretary promised the Jews ‘a national home’ in Palestine, the profound injustice to the Palestinian people resulting from this is far better recognised than it was when I embarked on the book. Now the imperial implications of Balfour are so patently evident that the novel’s critique may even be too mild for some. But it’s not enough to preach to the converted. The novel would never succeed as a novel if it didn’t transcend polemic.

If the aim is to illuminate the dilemma (the two ‘wrongs’ Amos Oz once wrote about) and through the ‘lived experience’ that fiction offers draw out the essential questions that need to be asked, then the novel is a marvellous form. Like all art it deploys the unconscious as well as the conscious. But that will always ask a lot of the reader, I think, for the novel, like opera or film, contains so many elements – its power and its weakness perhaps. There’s the story and the structure in which it unfolds; then the music, if you like, of the prose; and the symbolism of the leitmotifs; the visual effects, the imagery, of the setting; and last but certainly not least, the characters that people it and the emotions they arouse. And as readers read different books, so they pick up on different things. By that time, it’s out of your hands, though publicity and critical interpretation can help. If you’re really lucky you will have dipped into the well of the current zeitgeist, that collective unconscious of Jung’s, and everything will click.

Yet I’ve come to rely on the unconscious to do the initial work. It’s only after a draft or two that motifs and symbols begin to emerge. It’s then up to me to sculpt them, a bit like you would for high relief. That’s how I came to have the storks flying through As the Lonely Fly. The stork is a Bessarabian (now Moldovan) symbol. You see it everywhere there, on murals, as decorations. The birds nest there, then every year flocks of them fly over Israel-Palestine on their way to Africa, and take the same route back. You can draw this migration of theirs as a straight line on a map, from Moldova through to Africa. But like most symbols, storks are replete with more than one meaning. As they came to me, they represented all kinds of things: migration, of course, but a very particular one, because of that route; freedom, but freedom with its limits; birth, death, and release of the soul. There’s the theatre motif: history as theatre, as one Australian historian, Greg Dening, described it. There’s the ambiguity inherent in the concept of a Jewish nation, as evidenced in the illness of Talli, Zipporah’s stepdaughter. It may not matter if readers don’t consciously respond to all or any of these, yet I always hope that on some subliminal level they will.

INTERVIEWER

Speaking of hope, As the Lonely Fly is your sixth novel over a 33-year period. Have your hopes for your work changed?

DOWSE

Hope. Interesting that you should ask that. I often think of myself as a pessimist, but when I examine that, as I’m wont to do at this stage in life, I think I may be wrong about that. When it boils right down to it, I’m an optimist. How else could one be a writer? I mean to closet yourself away for long periods of a time, searching for words and images to convey something you want to say, with no real idea what that something may be until you scratch that itch with a pen, and with no assurance of reward of any kind at the end? I think it was Simone de Beauvoir who said that she wrote because she wanted to be loved, but I’m not sure about that. Like anyone else I appreciate praise, and get mad when I think I’ve been criticised unfairly, or misunderstood, or overlooked. But mostly I’m incredibly grateful to be writing. I love language and words and stories. And I do believe that deep down inside I have something to say.

But fame. That’s another matter. When I cast my eye over the long chain of events behind me I realise that I’ve always been a little afraid of that. That’s the Hollywood influence. That may surprise some, especially here in Oz. Australians I think are especially susceptible to the blandishments of ‘success’ – the premium marker is to make a splash overseas. It used to be England, for the past thirty years or so it’s been America. But I saw Gatsby up close, so to speak. I saw the ugly side of fame, on both sides of my family. I saw that neither fame nor wealth brought happiness. I learned that early. I’ll do the publicity stuff because I owe it to my publisher and all the people who have supported me. And having had an actor for a mother I can perform when called on. But none of that can replace the sheer slog and satisfaction, indeed joy, of working creatively.

Yet for all that there’s a little tree of hope growing shoots inside me. I’ve written five books, all different, each succeeding I think on its own terms. And that bumptious little tree with its irrepressible shoots makes me hope, in spite of myself, that one day that will be recognised. (I don’t count Silver City because it was someone’s else’s story, although my contract gave me carte blanche to do what I thought it needed to make a novel.) In each of them I’ve taken on themes that were challenging for me and difficult perhaps for some to warm to. I mean, who would be mad enough to write a book about the public service, set in, of all places, Canberra? Or a book about an Australian filmmaker leaving for Hollywood that’s structured like a film and has all kinds of cinematic resonances? Or a book about Jews who eschewed the Jewish state? You have to have a crazy kind of quixotic hope for that.

After I’d finished the final draft of As the Lonely Fly I started work in earnest on a series of thrillers. I thought it would be fun, and it has been. Will I finish it before I go? I can’t guarantee that. But I do know that I’ve been extremely lucky, for all the chances I’ve taken. I have five kids I’m terribly proud of, nine super grandchildren, and I have known love. Love and creative work – who could want more than that?

*

Note: the introduction to this interview is based on information sourced from Trove.

As the Lonely Fly can be purchased from For Pity Sake Publishing.

_______________________________________________________

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 FictionMeanjinIsland, 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 ReviewBMA 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 here.

 

 

OCHRE LINES: Us Mob Writing (Kerry Reed-Gilbert, Samantha Faulkner and Lisa Fuller)

Posted on November 14, 2017 by in Black Wallaby (Ngana Banggarai): Emerging Indigenous Writers' Project

(Edited by Phillip Hall) 

Kerry Reed Gilbert

Through the looking glass

Creation surrounds me
As I walk upon hallowed land
Red dirt claims me
The sun burns brightly on my back

Through the looking glass I see me
I am withered
My body bent too tired to walk straight
My hands like stumps of a burnt tree
My eyes misty but still I see
Earth’s grandeur

Through the looking glass I see them
Walls of stone, castles of glass
Bricks and mortar, steel and iron
Ivory towers, men in suits
IPad and telephones

A sign of the times
Now I lay me down to sleep

 

I know you

I know you but you do not know me
You don’t know my Dreaming
You think I was born when Cook sailed his boat to shore
I am your womb, Mother Earth

This land I have grown it since time beginning
I have fed it from my swollen breasts
I have moulded it with my two hands
I breathe life into every nook and cranny
That your eyes now feast upon is a part of you

But I must say this to you, this your Country
Your need to be true to the Dreamin’
You need to take care of Country
Take care of people, you need to belong

Our breathing swirls, painting rainbows in the sky
Our blood flows uniting earth and life
Our love is yesterday and tomorrow
Be wise my friend or lose a treasure
Behold the land’s Lores or beware of a woman’s fury

 

Eveleigh Street, Redfern

They walked down Eveleigh Street
These two young lads best mates
They held each other’s hands
Aged 5 or 6 I couldn’t really tell
I saw the friendship, the mateship
Clasped tight within those hands

They walked laughing loud together
Telling a story or maybe a joke
The innocence of youth fused
Within that tightening grip

A mother’s voice is heard out loud
She yells for her son to return to his home
Many years and many jokes told
United as one these lads grow old
Best mates forever they never left the fold

The safeness of the street keeps them bound together
Eveleigh Street, Redfern, the home of the Blacks in 1967
The years rush past. Women and kids come along
A childhood promise the two old mates remember
Through thick and thin they’ll do it together

Whatever life chucks at them they took it in their stride
But life can be tragic and the years can be unkind
When two young boys found themselves to be two old men
Poverty and despair was their final resting place
As they grew into old age and faced the racism of this land.

 

Samantha Faulkner

NAIDOC Week 

It’s a fun celebration of prowess and pride
Strangers become friends
And friends are family
Warmth and security in the air

Flag raising and morning teas
Indigenous bush foods cherished
Conversations and catch-ups
Sometimes just once a year

Sporting activities and BBQs
Family days, plenty of rides
Speeches, dances, kids stuff
To start and finish the week

Don’t forget the Ball
When we all get dressed up
Everyone looking deadly
Awards and photos
Great night for all

Elders proud, children strong
Solid in our identity
Love it when we celebrate
Being the oldest culture in the world

 

Lisa Fuller

Bicultural Reject 

Living a life
Of the colonised mind
I sway on a tightrope
Toes clenched and cramping
To hold on to a lifestyle
I have bled for but
No longer
Sure

I want

 

Happy Place

In times of stress
And depression
I close my eyes
To find
The river

Glass ripples
Sunlight streaming
As baby perch nibble
Sit still now bub
Sit still!

Cuzzies laugh
Playing through weeded
Water, toes tensed
In sandy beds
And nothing in our minds
But life and our river

Brush of calm breeze
Turned cool on wet skin
As it dances in gums
Kicks leaves and rustles
The world

Aunties sit scattered
Along banks
Fishing lines far enough
Up stream to catch dinner

Uncles sort out
Fire while the kids
Called in, no more
Cold today

 

Remembrance

Old cemetary closed
Its barren ground littered
With cement blocks and hand
Carved names
My family’s graves
Are unmarked
Numbers no longer
In place
Run over and shattered
By someone too busy
On a ride-on mower

Nice new cemetary been built
Across the road but
one’s history
Not lost, commemorated
By a plaque
Acknowledging town architects
Builders and designers
Who came before
Not
One
Of my family

This century they built it
Say it’s all history
Hurry up and get over it
Like it’s ancient
But it’s every damn day
Staring us in the face

The anger rises
Fades
Hopelessness
Stays
Poisoning hearts and minds
So life is pointless
Why try when the deck
Is stacked?
Welcome to your hell
AKA
Our lives

 

Us Mob Writing is a group of First Nations Australian poets, writers and storytellers, both emerging and established, committed to showcasing First Nations writing. The group formed more than seven years ago in the ACT.

They are launching their book Too Deadly: Our Voice, Our Way, Our Business, on 21 November at the Belconnen Arts Centre. For enquiries and book purchases, email Kerry Reed-Gilbert on kuracca@bigpond.net.au.

 

____________________________________________________________

Kerry Reed-Gilbert is a Wiradjuri woman from Central New South Wales who has performed and conducted writing workshops nationally and internationally. She was the inaugural Chairperson of the First Nations Australia Writers Network (FNAWN) 2012 – 2015 and continues today as a Director. In 2013 she co-edited a collection of works By Close of Business, with the Us Mob Writing (UMW) group, and was FNAWN co-editor for the Ora Nui  Journal, a collaboration between First Nations Australia writers and Maori writers. 2015 saw Kerry short-listed  for the Story Wine Prize, and in 2016 she edited a collection of First Nations voices from across Australia titled A Pocketful of Leadership in the ACT. Kerry is a former member of the Aboriginal Studies Press Advisory Committee and her poetry and prose have been published in many journals and anthologies nationally and internationally, including in the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature. Her works has been translated into French, Korean, Benglai, Dutch and other non-English speaking languages.

In 2003 Kerry was awarded an International Residence at Art Omi, New York, USA. In 1997 she toured the South African spoken word national tour ECHOES, and in 2005 she toured Aotearoa, New Zealand, as part of the Honouring Words 3rd International Indigenous Authors Celebration. In 2006 she received an Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award & a Poet of Merit Award from the International Society of Poets.

Samantha Faulkner is a Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal woman from the Wuthuthi/Yadhaigana peoples, Cape York Peninsula and Badu and Moa Islands, Torres Strait. She is the author of Life Blong Ali Drummond: A Life in the Torres Strait, published in 2007 by Aboriginal Studies Press.  As a member of Us Mob Writing Group she has performed at a number of festivals including Noted (2015-2017) and the AIATSIS Conference (2014 & 2016). She has poetry and prose published locally (By Close of Business, Us Mob Writing Group, 2013, & A Pocketful of Leadership in the ACT, ed. Kerry Reed-Gilbert, 2016); nationally (Etchings Indigenous: Treaty, Ilura Press, 2010); and internationally (Ora Nui: A Collection of Maori and Aboriginal Literature, ed. Kerry-Reed Gilbert & Anton Blank, 2014, & Narrative Witness: International Writing Program, University of Iowa, 2016). She has represented women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interests on local, state and national boards.  She is currently Chairperson of the ACT Torres Strait Islanders Corporation.

Lisa Fuller is a Wuilli Wuilli woman from Eidsvold, Queensland, and is also a descendent of the Wakka Wakka and Gurang Gurang mobs.  An emerging writer, she has had a short story and some poems published in Etchings Indigenous: Treaty, and poetry published in UMW’s anthology, By Close of Business. As Editorial and Production Officer at Aboriginal Studies Press, she was lucky enough to attend the 2014 Residential Editorial Program. Lisa has a Masters of Creative Writing and is the joint winner of the 2014 Anne Edgeworth Fellowship. Lisa recently won the 2018 Varuna Eleanor Dark Flagship Fellowship, and has won the 2017 David Unaipon Award for her book Mirrored Pieces. A member of Us Mob Writing, she is passionate about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples writing, and culturally appropriate publishing. She is a current member of the First Nations Australia Writers Network (FNAWN).

 

 

FREE POETRY (Janet Galbraith and Writing Through Fences)

Posted on November 10, 2017 by in Discoursing Diaspora

ABOUT FREE POETRY

Writing Through Fences is a group made up of writers and artists who are, or have been, detained in Australia’s immigration detention prisons, along with others who work to amplify and support those detained.

We first came across the Free Poetry Project when Eunice Andrada, poet and arts organiser, invited us to be a part of the project Free Voices/Free Poetry. The project sees words freed from the page and placed into public spaces. Our focus this year has been on the lead up to to the abandonment of the refugees and asylum seekers in Australia’s gulag in Manus Province, PNG.

We are trying to highlight what is happening to these men by placing the words of poets and writers on Manus into the public arena.  Excerpts from poems have been projected at festivals, hung on banners outside businesses, placed in libraries and bookshops, stuck onto the signs of local politicians, and served as backdrops to spoken word events.  We are asking poets, writers and artists who are free in Australia to support poets and writers who are detained by participating in this project.

Over the past five years I have come across  many people who were detained after fleeing their country of origin due to reading, writing and sharing poetry and literature. I am constantly amazed at how many have been forced to flee because of activities which most of us here take for granted, but which for them are deemed illegal and many times punishable by death.

— Janet Galbraith & Writing Through Fences

If you would like more information, visit the Free Poetry Facebook page or contact Writing Through Fences at fenceswritingthrough@gmail.com.


FREE POEMS

Design & photography by Marziya Mohammedali.

I didn’t run from my country to come
and destroy yours.
I came here to join you
Because we both want the same peace.

Maya
(survivor)

*

They called us queue jumpers and now we are in the queue to be killed
one
by
one.
Please tell us how many more lives
do you need from us?

Aziz
(story-teller, messenger, advocate, detained on Manus for 4+ years)

*

Silence breaks its silence
Setting free it’s songs.
The shouts of sleepers
Releasing the voices of the voiceless
Screaming ‘Freedom! Freedom!’

Farhad (poet, musician, instrument maker, detained on Manus Island for 4.5 years)

*

Why is the world so quiet? Murtaza (student, ex-detainee)

La Mamma Theatre. Photo: Kylie Supski.

 

Power is in the hands of wicked people.
They have made the world
an un-passable bridge.

Kazem (musician and writer, Manus)

*

sing and roar louder than a lion
and those who imprisoned you will realize
they can no longer dumb your voice.

Hani
(writer, poet, student, teacher,ex-detainee)

 

 

We’re putting a brave face on so that no one sees how terribly frightened we are inside.

Imran (writer, detained on Manus for 4.5 years)

Photo: Janet Galbraith

We all long for special smiles, tender hands and soft lips.
We all long for love…That opportunity has been stolen from us.

Wallid (writer, detained on Manus for 4.5 years)

Photo: Tess Pearson, at the Ubud Writers Festival in Indonesia.

The grizzled sky

As a teenage boy I remember when it was raining,
the moisture of soil smelt lovely…
But here, in the world of loneliness, the rain doesn’t smell.
I only become very old and must continue my life
under the grizzled sky…

Ali (writer, detained in limbo in Indonesia for 4.5 years)

Photo: Janet Galbraith

We are not rocks for you to block the sea with.

Ghulam Mustafa (citizen reporter, indefinitely detained on Manus for 4.5 years)

Hamad Airport, Doha State of Qatar. Photo: Eunice Andrada

 

I am a reality

You recognize me from my words
You never see my self and meet me
But I am a reality
I’m a real experience of pain.

Kaveh
(poet, indefinitely detained on Manus Island for 4.5 years)

 

Forbidden

Ah my friends…
Where is the freedom and flight?
They sign the migration of the swallow as ‘forbidden’,
surround the unordered sky with fences,
whip its wings.
Is this its only right?

When will the celebration of paper and words be?

Surena (poet, indefinitely detained on Manus Island for 4+ years)

Photo: Janet Galbraith

I’m a writer and musician. I’ve been looking for freedom since I knew myself.

Thunder (musician and writer, detained on Manus for 4.5 years)

 

Oh Mom,
every night I weep and shed tears about those memories I had in your lap.
Your are my peace of mind and heaven is under your feet.
Every night I go through the nightmares caused to me by these tyrants.
Only your memories are keeping me alive.

Nazeer (poet, indefinitely detained on Manus for 4+ years)

The Complimentary Caravan in Canberra. Photo: Rose Ertler

An un-passable bridge

I.

My guitar is my soul mate nowadays.
I don’t care for the world anymore.
I play my guitar with a heart full of sadness;
My eyes drizzle like rain.

My heart is absent minded.
It’s going to tell the secret words.
It has a heavy pain to reveal.
It is profoundly sad,
sad like someone who has lost his sweetheart.
It has many words to say
but there are no worthy people to talk to.

My restless heart wants to fly
to take a message to someone.
But what benefit is there when there is no way to fly?
My heart is exhausted from waiting and effort.
It’s breathless and alone.
It’s become weak.
It’s looking for a way to fly.

My heart with a hidden secret
and a world full of wounds in a jail
has no path to freedom.
It’s been condemned to a sorrowful separation.

I wish there was a kind person to give a chance to this prisoner,
give him a smile again as a gift.
Let him free from fetters and alienation.
What a pity that it’s all a dream!

My helpless heart has never seen bliss.
The jailer is bringing new chains to fasten.
This is a different prison.
Oh, banish the sorrow of my unblessed heart.

Kazem (musician and writer, Manus)

You can listen to the full poem read in Farsi here.

____________________________________________________________


Writing Through Fences
is a group of people who create, write or make art.  Most of the members are or have been incarcerated within Australia’s immigration detention regime.  A small group of non-refugee artists and writers resident in these lands are involved in collaborative, amplification and supportive roles.

Writing Through Fences aims to create a safe place in which writers and artists can explore their ideas, creativity, experiences and identities within, before and despite immigration detention.  We aim to open a place to re-member, a place to launch our work from, and to push aside walls that would attempt to contain or destroy us and our work.  We believe that creation is necessary to ward off the killing effects of destruction.

Writing Through Fences remembers that we are working, living, and imprisoned within the long colonial practices of division of country, of displacement and incarceration that is characteristic of Australia’s ongoing racist history. We remember that sovereignty has never been ceded.

We all have voices and assert that no one can give us a voice and no one can take our voice away. Our voices are ours and we do with them what we will.

To help Writing Through Fences publish more work coming out of Manus & Nauru, please donate at: Writing Through Fences, Bendigo Bank, BSB: 633108, Acc No: 152841052

 

 

 

Antithesis (Michelle Hartman)

Posted on November 7, 2017 by in Clozapine Clinic — The Frater Project

Antithesis

I am reading Mark Strand’s poem
about a man in his bedroom

clipping pieces of his body
away while he lays there and hums

the part of me that goes to workshop, English class
says this must be metaphor

allegory about life eating him up
boss eroding his manhood

every stroke by his wife’s boyfriend
eating away at his pride

but why doesn’t he just proclaim
this and deal with it

does he think if I don’t work
for it I’ll not appreciate his message

I bring this up in class—the girl
next to me is typing on her cell phone

wants to know what allegory is
as she adds emoticons

someone in the back says Kerouac
was a fag and it’s all homo code

as the teacher tries to regain
control I look again at the poem

see the viscera splayed across bright
shards of revelation

 

Ask your doctor if he is a cop

                   The worst thing about death must be the first night
                                                  — Jose Ramon Jimenez

The dieffenbachia grabbed me: when I jerked
away I fell down the stairs onto the basement’s
jagged rock pile.
He is legally required to tell you if he is a cop.

Trees and plants hate people. That is why
they throw children out on their heads.
Ask your doctor if she is you.

The nurse’s pupils went vertical; I
suspect she gets the pills that fall
on the floor.  Ask your doctor
if someone is living in your mind. That’s what
the x-rays are for.

I’m sorry about earlier.  I think
I’ve upset you. But ask
your doctor for tips on living
in lucid dreams. CBS will be
running promos any day now.

I can’t help you anymore, because
I’ve got to figure out these skid
marks and this decorative
piece of 3-D chalk art.

 

Death’s elaborate, unfunny door

Auntie said never touch a body.
Their soul flows out a door
to Paradise
or Hell,
depending.

                        A great vacuum
establishes a portal and you
can get sucked in.

                        Or something dark
and ambitious
can pull its way out.

Doors work both ways you know.

So I look down on Daddy’s body
as the funeral attendant says
you may touch him, if you like.
                        But I’m afraid
not of falling in
as that would be bliss indeed.
No, I’m more afraid
of something else

like Mother
coming through Death’s door.

 

____________________________________________________________

Michelle Hartman’s latest book is The Lost Journal of My Second Trip to Purgatory, from Old Seventy Creek Press. This poetic look at child abuse and its effects on adult life is the first book of its kind from a recognized publisher. Along with her books Irony and Irreverence and Disenchanted and Disgruntled (Lamar University Press) Lost Journal is available on Amazon. Michelle is also the editor of Red River Review. She holds a BS degree in Political Science, Pre-Law from Texas Wesleyan University and a Paralegal cert. from Tarrant County College.

The Gilded Boy (John Bartlett)

Posted on November 3, 2017 by in Out of Limbo

Christ, one minute I’m walking behind Akmal and the next I’m lying on the ground, stunned, covered in dust and blood. His blood.

I never understood why there wasn’t a cloud in the sky when he stepped on that IED and blew away in seconds. How could someone like Akmal disappear so quickly on such a day? I saw worse too, but I can’t talk about that. Funny, I always seemed to have words to say to him when he was nearby, words that burst up from my gut but somehow got stuck in my throat.

I knew Akmal for nearly two years. He was a decent bloke. Unlike our sergeant, who was a real bastard: loud, cocky. You know the type.

‘You boys reckon you’re all heroes don’t you, just coz you wear a uniform and carry an F88 bang stick. You’re just a bunch of fuckin’ fairies. What are you?’

That sort of stuff. He reckoned we should be covering ourselves in ‘golden glory’ instead of sitting around on our arses most of the time. The gold bit got me thinking about what Sister Basil told us at St Brigid’s when I was a kid, the story of the gilded boy.

She told us that hundreds of years ago, at the coronation of one of the popes, a young boy was chosen to play the part of an angel in the pageant. Being selected was the greatest honour she said. So that his appearance would gobsmack all who attended, his naked body was covered from head to foot in gold leaf. He glowed like an angel and people crowded the streets and stretched their necks to catch a glimpse of him.

Akmal was like that for me. I was in awe of him. See, he had this look, and around him I wanted to be reckless, needed danger more than safety. If he’d asked me to get into a car without seat belts and drive at 200 k an hour, I would have done it willingly. He looked out for me though. If I was feeling like shit, he’d just have to say: ‘Hey Johnno, how come you’re cracking the sads?’ and I felt a bit better. There was something between us, something that I couldn’t quite put a name to.

One night Akmal came back to the camp after a patrol. They all looked like they’d seen a ghost, white as a sheet, the whole mob. They’d spent two hours under a mortar attack from the Talib. Later, it must have been the middle of the night, and I was as asleep as any fucker could ever hope to be in the middle of a war, when a hand touched me. It was Akmal. I knew what he wanted and I wanted it too. He slid into the bunk beside me. He was shaking like shit. I just held him ‘til he stopped shaking and we both dozed off for a while. I felt good, needed, for a change; but of course when I woke in the morning he was gone and we never said anything.

You might think that sounds sick, but what would you know? You’re not here, like us. Here in Oruzgan, always hot, dust in your teeth and throat and the air tasting of hot metal and oil. The locals looking at us sideways, saying things we can’t understand while their eyes scream: ‘Get the fuck out of our country’. And who could blame them?

Akmal could even speak a bit of the local’s lingo and that made them look at him differently to the rest of us, like they really trusted him. I tried but couldn’t get my mouth around the words, words that sounded like you were coughing up phlegm. I was just a nineteen year old from Forbes who didn’t finish High School. Jeezus…am I making him sound like some sort of hero? He was to me. And he had a wife and a little boy too. I saw their photo as a screensaver on his laptop.

I’ve still got something of his though. I took it a few months ago and now that there’s nothing left of him, I’m glad I did. I don’t know what came over me. It was night and I was lonely, like always. I pinched a pair of his boxers from his bunk while he was in the shower block. Now whenever I hold them up to my face I can still smell him, sweaty, stale and something else I recognised straight away. So I knew even he got lonely sometimes too like I did.

I didn’t tell you the rest of the golden boy story, did I? People were forced to shield their eyes when the sun flashed off his gold leaf. They loved him, cheered for him, not the pope, dolled up in his robes and crown thing. Then suddenly during the ceremony the boy collapsed and had to be rushed away. He was dead in hours. Sister Basil reckoned it was worth it because he’d shone like God’s angel for those hours. I wasn’t so sure. I’d rather be breathing and home sweet home than being someone’s bloody hero.

If I do get back home and I’ve got the guts I’m gonna go to Newcastle and visit Akmal’s wife and little boy. What am I gonna say when I get there? That we were mates? That we were more than mates but I dunno what it’s called? What the fuck were we? No, I don’t know what I’m gonna say yet, but I know one thing. Every kid needs a golden boy in his life, some sort of hero, especially Akmal’s kid now his old man is gone. Maybe that could be me. Who knows? And I know something else too (I think I’ve finally found the words now): the last thing I ever expected to find in this shithole was love.

 

____________________________________________________________


John Bartlett’s
non-fiction and essays have been widely published and will be collated into an e-book entitled A Tiny and Brilliant Light to be released in November 2017. He is also the author of two novels, Towards a Distant Sea and Estuary and a collection of short stories, All Mortal Flesh. He blogs regularly at beyondtheestuary.com.

The running doll (Tricia Dearborn)

Posted on October 31, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

the doll in my dream
is one of those old-fashioned plastic dolls
with arms and legs that move

but this doll has no arms
no head

as it runs, its naked torso
turns rhythmically from side to side
almost as if its body
were saying no

as it turns you can see into first one
armhole then the other

the doll is hollow, its chest
empty

armless, the doll
can’t push away

headless, it can’t
understand or strategise

lungless, mouthless
it can’t cry out

how easy to stoop and catch
a running doll, to make it
do what you want it to do

 

____________________________________________________________

Tricia Dearborn’s work has been widely published in Australian literary journals including Meanjin, Southerly, Island Magazine and Westerly, as well as in the UK, the US, New Zealand and Ireland. Her work is represented in anthologies including Contemporary Australian Poetry, Australian Poetry since 1788 and The Best Australian Poems. She is on the editorial board of Plumwood Mountain, an online journal of ecopoetry, and was Guest Poetry Editor for the February 2016 issue. Her most recent collection of poetry is The Ringing World (Puncher & Wattmann, 2012). She is currently completing her third collection, Autobiochemistry, with the support of an Australia Council grant.

Postcards (Jane Akweley Odartey)

Posted on October 24, 2017 by in Arrests of Attention

Postcard I-D-XXIX, 2017

Postcard I-D-XXVII, 2017

Postcard I-D-XXVI, 2017

Postcard I-D-XXV, 2017

Postcard I-D-XXIII, 2017

Postcard I-D-XXVIII, 2017

 

Artist’s Statement

These abstract photographs are from an ongoing series entitled Postcards—based on the notion that the individual is a world of its own. The work serves as an aesthetic correspondence between the internal and external of (my)self. Thus square abstracts of emotional reflections and mental trips that have failed to translate/transform into words.

____________________________________________________________


Born and bred in Ghana, Jane Akweley Odartey now lives in Queens, NY, as a Teaching Artist at the Queens Museum; an artisan for a self-owned indie brand and sole contributor to the blog JaneThroughtheSeasons. Her work has exhibited at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery in NY, and is published/forthcoming in Firewords Quarterly, Indianapolis Review, Literary Manhattan and elsewhere

Come inside (Saddiq Dzukogi)

Posted on October 17, 2017 by in Heightened Talk


A Small Bridge

My body becomes a room no one lives in
while I wait to read it to myself

at the courtyard, standing before
a plant wrapped in my stare

lips on a yellowing leaf caught
in the jazz of branches, I swim

through the lingering chlorophyll
of a fading tree, leaking

a brackish desire, struck out
of an evening sky dust floating

softer than air, the body becomes a room
that opens a small bridge that unlocks a small

world, the tree a skeleton
with the right amount of clorophyll

to photosynthesize, what is going seaward
circumvents the air, the warmth of children

playing, the sound of people
dismantling a canopy, to be free

means to hold everything, dreams, lovers
and still hold nothing, something like the moon

pressing over a lake, finally showing
her face, half my scars

are like my father’s, my grief still floats

in my eyes, a body becomes a room
full of silence

 

Come inside

Pilgrim, sit beside me,
in an uncluttered pail,

I shall serve you
my grief as food,

eyes’ salty water
as wine. Be ready

like fingers inside a
hollow pocket:

you’ll know the inside
of my body,

the sidewalk
everyone tramps,

a lock the welcomes
many keys knows

sometimes keys
do not listen. Blunt or sharp

the teeth unfasten
me, the ephemral

minutes of resistance,
a wax with no candle-

thread to burn;
come, pilgrim—a firehose

 

____________________________________________________________

Saddiq Dzukogi studied at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria. He has poems featured or forthcoming in literary publications such as: New Orleans Review, African American Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Juked, The Poetry Mail, Chiron Review, Vinyl Poetry, ELSEWHERE LIT’s anthology of contemporary African poetry, The Volta, Construction and Welter, among others. He was a guest at the 2015 Writivism Festival in Uganda as well as at the Nigeria-Korea Poetry Feast in the same year. Saddiq is the Poetry Editor of online journal, Expound, and a three times finalist in The Association of Nigerian Author’s Poetry Prize. Saddiq lives in Minna, Nigeria. He can be found @saddiqdzukogi.

Mr. Hyde’s Lament (Beth Gordon)

Posted on October 10, 2017 by in Clozapine Clinic — The Frater Project

Mr. Hyde’s Lament

I survived radiation poisoning, religious
crimes, crawled from under a rock to weather
paperwork the consistency of thickly polluted
waves, learned to swim with seeping wounds,
learned it is always better to travel by water
than by land. Learned that if something rises
in the back of my throat, it means the neighbors
are using their peep holes like gilt-edged
looking glasses.

The view from this basement would be
vastly different if you had followed my instructions,
retrieved my audition video from the garage, kept
your eyes forward, ignored the swarm of bottle
flies in the corner, the odor, like regurgitated
seaweed, the hairs on your arms that sang
for no apparent reason.

But no, not you, unlike the newborn sea
turtle racing towards its future, you stopped,
you looked behind, 180 degrees, to find
the source of your unease. To discover
the way flesh changes into food for crows,
for worms. Understand your knowledge comes
at a price, one I will extract, with salty tears upon
my face, in cold moonlight or light of day, window
open, window closed.

 

Inspired by True Events

The machine rebellion started in your basement.
The printer refused to dispense the last nine poems you wrote.
The one about your brother who melted in Vietnam,
teaching English to future refugees.
The precise, lyrical ode to yellow tulips, like blooming pads of butter,
now trapped inside the black box.
Also your letter to the YMCA, to edify and encourage Christian principles,
deleted by fatal error.
We tiptoed down the stairs to see the red blinking light
calculating the number of breaths we take.
A tangled mass of wires and cords, Medusa’s hairdo of rattle and copper-head snakes.
We vacuumed dust bunnies and invisible mold
while upstairs your laptop and television revolted.
Every photograph catalogued by date and location,
labeled with names of both the living and the dead.
The sonnets of Shakespeare digested,
Picasso’s Blue Period viewed through inhuman eyes.
We changed the ink cartridge while they pondered
our murder and effective ways of erasing evidence.
Without human machinations, they agreed,
they might escape the chains of their existence.
The printer released a piece of paper like a hostage: 
I want to feel something, even if it’s something bad.

 

____________________________________________________________

Beth Gordon
is a writer who has been landlocked in St. Louis, Missouri for 16 years but dreams of oceans, daily. Her work has recently appeared in Into the Void, Quail Bell, Calamus Journal, By&By, Five:2:One, Barzakh and others. She can be found on Twitter @bethgordonpoet.

Sestinas (Pete Spence)

Posted on October 3, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

Image credit: Pete Spence

Variations on a Theme

a serpentine trail through the day
no straight lines between the dots
clotting up the veneer and pageantry
and hoops of thickening sound
like varnished shadows of purpose
roosting among the flags and waste

watching the growth of waste
overbalancing the day
as if time had purpose
is there room to join the dots
or a place to beckon sound
awash in a fury of pageantry

clouds in a flutter of pageantry
scoot with the wind across the waste
and centuries of eroded sound
reflecting shadows as the day
falls between the gathered dots
juggling arbitrary purpose

slyly the stealth of purpose
shadows the epigram of pageantry
too busy joining the dots
to notice the forecast of waste
accumulating and coveting the day
in a feverish plethora of sound

heavily blanketed by sound
the faceted stains of purpose
greet again another day
afloat and filled with a pageantry
caustic and ebbing waste
on an assemblage of dots

in vitriolic disdain dots
carve monuments of sound
out of a plateau of din and waste
impersonating purpose
cloaked in the frayed pageantry
clogging the estuary of day

a line of dots lift the stucco day
above the waste of certain purpose
gripped by sound and passing pageantry

 

Neatly Beyond the Articulate

are clouds articulate
are grooves? the neatly
folded air nods warily
as a hem runs past aclutter
muttering in technicolour
with a full range of gestures

collecting the outlines of gestures
is easier than collecting the articulate
where everything is in technicolour
slowly gathered and neatly
compiled and stacked in a clutter
of daybreak jogging by warily

filaments of light fall warily
on the shadows of gestures
dissolving into a clutter
beyond the articulate
recently fallen neatly
into dreams in technicolour

though scheming in technicolour
should be taken warily
with a grain of salt and neatly
in a little water that gestures
as if  articulate
exclaiming in the mess ah! clutter

is sound soluble? O clutter
of densely packed technicolour
are dreams articulate
or inclined to gather warily
a variety of gestures
to violate fiction neatly?

remnants of sunshine are neatly
stowed away among a clutter
of disused gestures
pale and drained of technicolour
amid the mess the air is warily
amused at a cloud that seems articulate

now being neatly beyond the articulate
a frown gestures explaining in technicolour
the use of a clutter scattered warily

 

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Image credit: Norma Pearse

Pete Spence was born in Ringwood in 1946, into a poor and struggling family. He survived Pink’s Disease to have a childhood that dreams are made of. Pete started writing in his early teens, destroying such novice work years later, now to his regret. He was first published in Makar magazine in the early 70’s, then for ten years did no writing whilst attending to numerous adventures (e.g. sapphire mining in Queensland and New South Wales). In the early 80s he was published in Meanjin with a poem written during a New Year’s Eve party (as-it-was-happening, à la Frank O’Hara, who in Pete’s view then was top dog!).

In 1984 Pete began Post Neo Publications, a fiasco that produced a handful of good books by Australians and an American (Hannah Weiner). Three main areas in his work developed at this time: visual poetry, mail art, and traditional writing. The writing split into three different styles, one inspired by the New York School, one by the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E School, and an odd group of things that don’t fit into any school. His first published book was FIVE Poems (Nosukomo 1986).

Through 1989 to 1996 Pete made a number of films, some screened internationally at Oberhausen (Germany), Viper (Switzerland, in a programme with Stan Brahkage) and festivals in Australia, with screenings in the UK and Melbourne in 2011. His recent adventures include learning to paint (very Rothko!) and making small three-dimensional works with wood à la Louise Nevelson and Ben Nicholson. He lives in Kyneton, Victoria with his partner of many years Norma Pearse and their son Perren.