The terms of our
arrangement are revised
every three days. You
trace my bones, protruding
through my skin, as we
recap the clauses, their causes,
and intended effects. Let’s
press together the bodies we live in,
and, in doing so, express a great deal.
Let’s let in a modicum of wildness.
Let’s select for each other new monikers,
and mine our histories. Let’s act out
attentiveness to language, small acts
of understanding, setting all else aside
to erect a shelter under each other’s
smells, each other’s sounds.
All we want
to this night, this bed,
these woven fingers.
Charlotte Guest is a Western Australian writer and Publishing Officer at UWA Publishing. Her writing has appeared in Griffith Review, Overland, Westerly, Voiceworks, Cordite, Writ Poetry Review and elsewhere.
The world is on the edge of great catastrophe; Trump and Colonial xenophobia have already come after many, and though it is a time to pull closer to love and intersectional solidarity, let’s not overlook the vast importance of celebrating commercial, heteronormative expressions of class-based solvency. For tis the season for female-read* people to be berated into working harder at pretending they aren’t putting effort into their appearance, while simultaneously making sure to cover up their alienation and eye circles so as to secure a man-date for the upcoming day where we observe the holy communion that is chocolate wrappers and the supremacy of the prison that is monogamy. Because showing a hint of your minority stress and human anxiety isn’t cute and fuckable and we all know what a woman’s primary goal in life should be.
CAPRICORN (Dec 22 – Jan 19):
Expect an apology from your ex-lover around Valentine’s Day. But if he’s really sorry, he’ll be stripped bare, covered in shit and on all fours crawling towards you obsequiously with a bunch of black roses in his mouth. Don’t accept anything less.
AQUARIUS (Jan 20 – Feb 18):
You’re high from the elation of developing your pussy eating skills and swearing off cis, straight men forever. Your plaid, masculine, lesbro look has you very much off the MENu, and cackling all the way to the gay bars. Alas, you’re finding you still need some kind of deterrent for those Chucks and Lory’s who nevertheless find you fuckable and are therefore convinced you’re available, no matter how many times you yell over the dank electro, ‘I’m SUPER gay!’ It might be time to try out some kind of badge that says ‘I’m gay, but not the type of “gay” that sucks your cis, het dick. Sorry-not-sorry, Fella’.
PISCES (Feb 19 – March 20):
You and your pals would never do anything to exclude or make First Nations people feel uncomfortable. You said so yourself. You obviously deserve a pumpkin sticker! You did happen to mention that Aboriginal groups need to ‘let go’ of what white people did because your generation didn’t steal their children, take their land, or make them slaves and outcasts. You might not be joining the KKK Becky, but you and your white logic are about two steps away from voting for Pauline Hanson and supporting a wall on the Mexican-American border.
ARIES (March 21 – April 19):
If the polite arts scene makes you want to shave all your hair off and never wear a 50’s dress again, that’s understandable. Shun the crowds of clean girls who communicate all too loudly with their cream ballet flats: ‘I’m totally quirky and offbeat because I have a blunt fringe and wear chunky knit cardigans over my willowy frame. My five year goal is to get married, have 1.5 kids and cash in on my white privilege.’
TAURUS (April 20 – May 20):
Your uncle’s suggestion that you go on a juice fast and pick up meditation again were meant well, but maybe your ongoing struggle with anxiety and depression, including regular flare ups in suicidal ideation, aren’t a consequence of the acidity levels of your blood. Perhaps it’s rooted in the government driving you to self immolation through the pointless humiliation of work for the dole, the Centrelink benefits that are below the poverty line and the defunding of the arts that can no longer afford to offer you work. Or, maybe it’s the senselessly high housing prices that are getting you down, which means you face sharing a house in your forties, still yelling at teenage turds to clean their cum off the Persian rugs. Yeah, maybe it’s not the acidity levels of your blood.
GEMINI (May 21 – June 20):
Buddy, you’re all about supporting your LGBTQI+ friends, especially supporting your now firmly lesbian ex and her new girlfriend get on your cock. It doesn’t take a mystic to see you’re hungry for the fairytale lesbians who are flattered by your attempts to creep all up inside them. For some incomprehensible reason they’re aggressively offended by your shoddy industrial goth-boy company and friendly desire to initiate them into ginger butt plugs and veined dildos. It shouldn’t take the wisdom of the zodiac to figure out why.
CANCER (June 21 – July 22):
Oh honey, you’re in gross trouble if you’re mocking The Purity Myth and think it’s okay to ignore your friends every time your bf is up from Brisbane. You’ve ditched your older and wiser girlfriends, and though they’re clicking their tongues, you better believe they’re also chilling a pink martini in readiness for the day when you come crawling back after 6 years of gaslighting, casual sexism, economic abuse, suffocating cohabitation, diet pills and doing all the laundry. They’ll be ready with tissues, a moon cup and the ghastly truth about cis, white, straight men that you didn’t want to hear about the first time round. You won’t be making fun of Everyday Sexism then, darling.
LEO (July 23 – Aug 22):
You’re a young libertine who denounces property ownership and the fascist obsession with mowing the lawn. Marvellous! What’s that though? You’re not interested in reading female writers, not even Virginia Woolf, and it’s clear from your swagger and black, tight jeans that you strive to emulate the general distaste expressed towards women by Byron and Henry Miller. What a terrific rebel you are! No man ever has shaken off his class oppression but remained committed to misogyny and the maintenance of his power through female subjugation. You’re a fucking gem!
VIRGO (Aug 23 – Sept 22):
While you’re playing devil’s advocate and ‘fair mindedly’ having a chuckle about admiring Trump’s ability to at least create press for himself, all those who aren’t middle class, straight, white, cis men, are wondering whether they’ll have their few tenuous rights whipped away from them within the year. Whether they’ll have to use a coat hanger to give their rights tangibility, be kicked out of the country, or how they’ll survive the gunshots and daily threats from victoriously enraged, Neo Nazi beefcakes who yell, ‘We won! American belongs to men! Go back to Africa!’ But please, don’t think twice about your balanced and scaled, whitewashed polemic – of course Trump voters aren’t bigoted, they just didn’t trust a woman or a Jew to run their country.
LIBRA (Sept 23 – Oct 22):
Honey, no one is being fooled by you super weak, super ‘progressive’ I’m an equalist talk. It’s common knowledge that it’s a made-up term only used by white people drinking white wine, in loudly slurred tones in super mod kitchens. Nice try, but you’re becoming increasingly recognised as a cafe crusader and a heteronormativity apologist. But with the full moon in Leo coming up you better watch out for a brutally malignant awakening that’s going to have you returning to yoga classes as well as realising your male friends are the kinds of blokes who get called ‘nice guys’ but regularly sexually harass women.
SCORPIO (Oct 23 – Nov 21):
Conceivably, you’re not so much attracted to bratty Subs because they’re your preferred ‘submissive’, but because you need a 19 yr old wearing clip-in cat ears to shape the play date, you loafing grog-Dom. You’ve got all the sexual creativity of a white boy who’s grown up over-consuming one entitled man/two faux lesbians porn. Having no desire to learn the subtle art of domination while wanting to get sucked off on command isn’t a ‘kink’. That’s called being a sexually selfish simian and thinking you’re an uber Dom because you put on a body harness and have a scrotum.
SAGITTARIUS (Nov 22 – Dec 21):
The world is in vaster turmoil than usual. The result of which you hope will be a leftist backlash of seventies, cyber punk proportions. But remember, you can take a break from advocacy and activism so as to look after yourself. You aren’t one of those all too common femme-phobic fucks; the plodding, previous decade feminists who see frills, bows and ‘girly’ things as demeaning or for the intellectually frail. So get stuck into some self care and get cosy in the restorative world of cat cafes, Japanese selfie filters and Shoujo manga. Just because you shop for Gothic Lolita bonnets online doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Yaoi with an emphasis on tender emotions and anal torture. Nor does any of this preclude you from dismantling Trumpland and breaking the hands of those that try and re-enact his pussy grabbing fanaticism. You can get back to being a loud and proud Nasty Woman tomorrow.
* ‘female-read’ is the act of the ‘female’ gender being attributed to individuals who may or may not identity as women. A cisgender woman, non-binary individual, a-gender person, or trans man etc may be read and assumed to be female by others based on appearances. In this context, ‘read’ is used as a verb.
Gender attribution, whereby an observer decides which gender they believe another person to be, is linked to the default assumption that everyone ascribes to a binary gender identity which is tangible to anyone who observes another’s physicality, mannerisms and way of dress. This is furthermore linked to the monolithic idea that biology, certain genitals, body types, behaviour, interests and hair styles, for example, are inherent indicators of gender – as if the shape and texture of someone’s meat prison can and should lead to a static, causal assumption about that person.
Rachael Nielsen has a Bachelor of Writing from the University of Canberra and has studied literature at Oxford University and the Australian National University. Rachael has interned at the M16 Artspace, the National Library and at the ANU Press. Currently she is one of the Content co-Coordinators at Scissors Paper Pen and 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 short stories. Her work has been published by Curio, Woroni, Lip, Vegan ACT, 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.
Lucy Treloar was born in Malaysia and educated in Melbourne, England and Sweden. A graduate of the University of Melbourne and RMIT, Lucy is a writer and editor who has plied her trades in both Australia and Cambodia, where she lived for several years. Her abiding love for Southeast Asia is evident in her editing work, which focuses on English language translations of the region’s folk tales and modern narrative forms. In 2012 she won the Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award for her first novel, The Things We Tell Ourselves, and went on to be awarded a Varuna Publisher Fellowship for the same work in 2013. Her second novel, Salt Creek, was published to critical acclaim. It won the Indie Award for Debut Fiction, the Dobbie Literary Award, the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. The ample success of Treloar’s writing originates from her fascination with the world; this interview attempts to explore that fascination.
Interviewer: Stephen Samuel
I’d like to start off by discussing the title of your recently published novel. What importance does the physical landscape of Salt Creek have on you as a writer, on the story and on the characters?
I often fret over titles, but it was different with Salt Creek. I came across the name while travelling the backblocks of the Coorong, a wild and still fairly remote wetland region on the coast of South Australia – a few years ago now. Again and again I came across road signs to the small town of Salt Creek, and much like the grand melancholy of the landscape that I was exploring, those words hit with a sort of psychological blow. It sounded like some place on the edge of the world, like hope gone bad, and for some reason I found that very compelling.
I’d always known of the Coorong through fragmentary family tales (an ancestor was the first European to colonise the area) and in a distant sort of way had seen its possibilities for a fiction. But it was being there, experiencing it as a place rather than as an idea, that jumpstarted everything. It was something like an electric shock.
We kayaked up the thin ribbon of water known as the lagoon that separates the mainland from the windswept peninsula and roamed the peninsula’s vast dunes to the site of the old family homestead, finally emerging onto the roar of the Southern Ocean. Immediately, I began making notes of my observations, desperate to explore more of that desolate world, to put my quickly developing ideas into words, and terrified that someone else would have had the idea first. I know now that place and my feelings about place are more important to me than any idea or plot and close to being as important as character; then, I only knew wild elation and a drive to get started.
Every part of Salt Creek is saturated with landscape. It creates the social and geographic isolation that leads to all the events that unfold in the book. It is key to plot in terms of travel, farming practices and their effects on Indigenous lands and people, as well as in terms of social constraints and possibilities. And beyond this literal level, the ruination of landscape is a metaphor for the loss of family fortunes, the fragmenting of family, and the erosion or mutation of personal principle in various characters. I wanted the grand melancholy of the Coorong to permeate everything. It changes characters as much as it does events, tempering some, while destroying or even killing others. Through the pressures it applies, I aimed for characters to reveal their truest selves, both weaknesses and strengths.
I can see these things now, the layered significance of landscape, but while writing each day it was my feelings about that world – a strange combination of sadness, wonderment, shame – and the memory of my first visit that helped to sustain the book’s tone. The metaphorical resonances only became fully apparent to me after the book came out. I am always fascinated by the work that the unconscious self does.
Can you describe the process of creating the characters that would inhabit this literal and metaphorical landscape? Was there an ‘electric shock’ moment as there was with the landscape?
Characters and how they come into being on the page are an ongoing mystery to me, each derived from strange combinations of ideas, niggling doubts, observation, research, brainwaves, serendipitous events, and idle wondering. There’s no pattern to it. In some ways it’s more like discovering than creating them. But there is very often a moment – something like the ‘shock’ I feel when connecting with landscape – when the character leaps to life in my mind. Instantly, their way forward in the narrative feels more certain, and the material coheres around them.
At first there are the bare bones of characters, the place that I start with them. For instance, with Tully, the Ngarrindjeri youth who eventually comes to live with the Finch family, I had in mind fragmentary family stories: of the ‘mixed race’ son of an Indigenous stockman who lived with my forebears, and of my great-great grandmother, Annie (the model for Addie Finch), who it was said ‘ran wild with the blacks’. There was also an historical Indigenous figure who interested me: Dick Cubadji, a charismatic Waramungal man and ‘cultural broker’ who took Adelaide by storm in the 1880s. In my mind, Tully was a little like him – a bridge between Indigenous and European cultures. But it was writing a scene in which Tully was walking a track of the Coorong observed by Addie, and understanding what Addie was noticing, and imagining the two parallel and contradictory worlds that they occupied, that made me see them both suddenly, and their trajectory in the world of Salt Creek.
The narrator of Salt Creek, Hester Finch, was a little different. She evolved slowly for quite a while. The letter of a distant forebear of the 1850s was a huge help with her voice, but Hester became more angry, determined, and intelligent, pulled between independence and duty, loving people and resenting them. Strangely, the moment that really unlocked her was finding her true name (she had been Emily Back). She leapt to life for me in that moment. In fact, finding her name was a turning point for the book as a whole. It clarified everything, and was incredibly exciting.
Of course, sometimes characters seem to have their own ideas about who they are. I had no idea that Fred, Hester’s younger brother, would turn out to be gay – quite a surprise when I connected the dots! And I wanted Papa (Hester’s father) to be a Captain Ahab-type figure in a domestic setting. But again and again he resisted my attempts to amp him up into some more dramatic person – someone who shouted and rampaged. It just wasn’t him. His menace is of a quiet sort: pleasantness and reason contrasted with hypocrisy, self-righteousness and implacable will. No shocking moment of recognition with him, just him having his way, as he does throughout the book.
Can you describe the writing process of Salt Creek? It seems like there is a lot going on, steps forward and then back again as the characters developed into their roles.
Now that I’m working on my second book I find myself wondering – often – how I ever finished Salt Creek. The pain’s receded a little, but it was something like this: I start with handwriting – first thing in the morning or last thing at night – in a dimly lit and very quiet place. This material is the jumping off point for working on the computer in my office (blinds pulled down to minimise distraction), where I stay until I have written at least one thousand words. More is good, but no less. With Salt Creek I was trialing something different, writing wherever I felt energy and connection with the world of the book. I didn’t care about plot or sequence of events, though I had some major plot points that I always knew would be part of the story. Most of the book was written out of sequence.
The first two chapters of the book are the origins of the structure. What is now the second chapter was initially the first, but the book just seemed to whimper its way into existence, so I thought of Hester recalling her time on the Coorong from some way into an opaque future in England. It made her adult perspective and nostalgic tone come from somewhere real, and that set a number of other structural elements, such as the dual time frame, in motion. I wrote a few more chapters set in England without any clear idea of how they’d fit. The second draft was made from all the components of the first draft – building blocks, quilting squares: choose your metaphor – which I shifted around to create something pleasing, that had narrative traction. I did it by feel more than anything, though I used a couple of different tables to keep events, dates and character development working together at this stage.
It occurred to me later that I structured the book to read in the way that I read. I pick up a book, read from the beginning, then the last page and a little before, a bit from the middle, then back to the beginning. I’m not much interested in plot, resent intrusive authorial manipulations (books like Gone Girl really annoy me) and approach everything by following character and thinking about how they’re growing and changing over time, and how they respond to and act on events. The major structural change during editing was the removal of Fred as occasional first person narrator, which meant I had to rewrite some action from Hester’s point of view. The third and final draft related to strengthening motivation and tension in a scene near the end. (I don’t like being upset, and I had tried to spare my characters to the book’s detriment.) The first draft was fairly gruelling to write, but I really enjoyed the engagement with the editing phase – such a pleasure working with the publishers on this.
Were you nervous about writing an Indigenous character into a colonising story?
Nervous is a massive understatement. I existed in a state of acute anxiety over the issue throughout writing, editing and well into the post-publication phase. I was desperately aware of the pitfalls, and the more research I did, the more the problems seemed to expand. Very early, I pulled back from my original conception of having a fictional non-fiction strand running through the book, intended to document a little of the richness of Ngarrindjeri culture (though its ghostly remains appear here and there, such as in a description of how to cook duck) and proceeded with the Ngarrindjeri at a greater distance. Having a first person narrator helped with this, creating a blinker that limited what could be observed.
It’s incredibly problematic working in this area. I had no confidence that I could get an authentic understanding of the Indigenous perspective, and was very uneasy about trying to portray it. Tully’s thinking and motivations are fairly concealed from the reader – a deliberate decision. Research threw up so many things I would love to have explored further, but in the end I left it at hinting at a few of them, and leaving the rest. I would love to read a book about that time and that world from an Indigenous perspective, but really felt, and still feel, that the story was not mine to tell. I’ve had only positive feedback about Indigenous representation in the book from Indigenous readers, which has reduced my worries a little.
I think you have received only positive feedback for Salt Creek, including being shortlisted for the 2016 Miles Franklin Award. Does this affirmation of your writing propel you easily into your current project?
It’s a funny thing being published. None of it was what I’d expected. I think I was anticipating a sense of having ‘arrived’ in some way. But almost the moment the book came out, the goal posts began to shift. There’s always another thing to hope for, or to feel a sense of failure at not having achieved. I began to see that the positive critical response only matters up to a point. It’s lovely when a critic understands what I was trying to do and say (as well as noting things that were not part of my thinking at all), and I’m really happy for my publisher, but I can’t help being aware of shortcomings in the book and thinking of Samuel Beckett’s advice: ‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better’.
On a practical level, the reception of Salt Creek has made signing a contract for a new book easier, and it’s led to me getting an Arts Council grant that will cover a few of next year’s expenses: not insignificant factors in smoothing the path to writing. Now I’m facing the slight panic of early work on the next book: uneven quality, uncertain direction, vaporous characters, wooden voices. (I came across a really horrible early draft section from Salt Creek a few days ago and found it reassuring. Turns out comparing first draft material with a published book isn’t a good idea.) In the end though, like any writer, I’m sitting in my quiet room, calming my fear of failure and my busy mind for long enough to create something that feels true.
In a way it’s harder now, because I have some idea of the sustained commitment that’s needed. But it’s exhilarating too. The big thing I learned while writing Salt Creek, which I couldn’t know at the time, is that true engagement in the work of creation is the best part of the whole process (at least, for me), as hard as it sometimes seems. All of my thinking seems to circle back to the book, and my reading shapes around it. I start leaving little notes around the house from when I’ve had an idea. It’s when I feel most at peace.
Lucy Treloar’s Salt Creek is available from Pan Macmillan
Stephen Samuel’s first novel, Strange Eventful History, won the Varuna Fiction Award and was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for an Unpublished Manuscript. His short fiction has appeared in Tincture, SoftCopy and Dark Edifice.
I had heard a great deal about the Koo Wee Rup pub, what with one thing and another, so, while I was staying with them, the daughter and her bf took me out there for a look-see. Mind, there’s nothing much at Koo Wee Rup. For instance, there’s no Opera House. There’s asparagus, and one pub. The Royal Hotel. In spite of being royal, tiaras are not mandatory. And, in spite of there being no Opera House, as it turned out, there was plenty of high drama.
We drove out through the rural fringe of Melbourne, and the daughter and her bf were giggling about how they had been going to shout me an asparagus tour. It was a big joke. But I was well pleased at the idea of an asparagus tour, as I love eating asparagus, growing asparagus, all things asparagus. So their joke fell flat. But it was the wrong season. So no tour. But we did see the fallow asparagus beds stretching out to the horizon on either side of the road. The beauty of asparagus is that there is no need to fence it in.
Do you like rough pubs? Me, I’ve always had a penchant for a rough pub. They assured me the Koo Wee pub was really rough. So, good oh. But this was a full-on rough pub!
Fair enough. There was a purple rain cloud approaching, the drought had been biting hard, the bushfires had been outrageous. The pall of smoke across Victoria had been apocalyptic. So perhaps the boys got a bit carried away as the precious rain began to fall.
Let me try to paint the picture for you.
The front bar was heaving with very big men in very casual states of dress. Dress code! What dress code? Shorts, maybe a t-shirt. Maybe not. The daughter’s bf told me they were very big men because they only ate asparagus. But he was yanking my chain. These guys weren’t vegetarians.
The young couple went into the bistro at the back to have a parma and pot. A speciality of the region. Chicken parmigiana and a glass of beer. Called a pot in Victoria for a reason inscrutable to me. Because the blackboard menu was totally composed of what had once been a living creature — no asparagus at all — I gave the bistro a miss. So I was standing in the front bar having a smoke and a glass of a brutal white, looking out at the unforgettable sight of rain falling and giving the poor bastards on the fireground a break — WHEN — one of the very big guys fell with a mighty crash in through the swinging door onto the floor.
Then two or three other big guys fell in on top of him.
Then a few other big men indiscriminately poured their beers on top of them.
Then a guy who was just wearing shorts opened his fly and started to piss on them.
Then another guy who was just wearing shorts pulled them down and started to crap on them.
I retired to the bistro in ladylike confusion.
Which is marginally better than retiring stark mad in white satin.
A friend of the daughter’s — a cool, local chicky babe — told me the game, which is called Stacks On (as in stacks on the mill), is quite popular. It doesn’t necessarily have to rain for them to play it.
She also told me you can do anything you like at this pub — except behave.
I noticed there were no security guards. We had been to a rough pub in Pakenham the night before and there were three security guards, one of whom was from Sicily.
It seems the proprietor of the pub in Koo Wee Rup will occasionally say, as he is mopping down the bar with a damp rag — ‘Settle down, boys’ — but that is it as far as crowd control goes.
The daughter always warns me not to be weird when she takes me to a pub. I told her that I can guarantee that I will never be weird at the Koo Wee Rup pub.
‘Too chicken, eh?’ she riposted.
I replied — ‘Cluck cluck’.
Jennifer Compton lives in Melbourne and is a poet and playwright who also writes prose. Her stage play, The Goose In The Bottle, has been shortlisted for the Lysicrates Prize in Sydney, and will be performed on February 10 with the other two shortlisted plays, whereupon the audience will vote for the winner. In effect, a play slam.
And there we have it, folks! It’s the end of another publishing year for Verity La – and what a year it’s been! We’ve published close to one hundred poems, stories, artworks, interviews, editorials and reviews. We’ve established some important and innovative projects such as Discoursing Diaspora, Clozapine Clinic, and of course, our beloved Poetry Podcast. We’ve seen reader numbers soar, submission numbers treble, and welcomed new editors Laura MacPhee-Browne, Michelle McLaren, Ramon Loyola, Tim Heffernan and Alise Blayney. Plus, as a result of your generous donations, we’ve raised enough money to pay our writers (and buy our hardworking volunteer editors a Christmas tipple!) in 2017.
In light of this growth, our team need some time to catch their breath and prepare for the year ahead. So we’re signing off for 2016 a little earlier than usual, and will be closing our submissions portal on Monday December 19 through to 1 Feb, so we can get on top of all the brilliant work awaiting our attention and start 2017 afresh.
To help us in our endeavours, Alice Allan has bravely agreed to step into the role of Associate Editor. Alice’s writing can be found here on Verity La and in journals including Rabbit, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Westerly and Australian Book Review. She records the weekly podcast Poetry Says as well as our very own Verity La Poetry Podcast, while supporting her poetry habit as a freelance copywriter, editor and proofreader. We know she will be an AMAZING addition to our team and are over the moon she’s agreed to help out!
So that’s it from us. We’re proud of what Verity La has achieved this year and so grateful to YOU, our readers, for your heartfelt support, to our volunteer editors, and to our contributing writers for the gift of their words. Together, in 2017, we hope to continue making great things happen. Onwards!
On behalf of the editorial team
PS We’ve left you something under the Christmas tree (aka the Big Red Button). We hope it might help you negotiate this strange post-Trump world while we’re gone…
A man in a black suit on a white windswept beach. Wind snatching an umbrella, turning it into a batwing. Hands so cold and trembling fingers don’t work. Tingly feeling when you’re getting the flu and lying limply on the sofa, the dog’s wet nose nuzzling your palm. The stillness of the house on the first day back at school. Sudden roar of the footy crowd as you pass the stadium; shadows lengthening and a chill in the air. Sun on lemons in a blue bowl on an old oak table. Ripples on a lake and on the far side a lonely rower dipping his oars in golden water. Smell of baking Anzac biscuits. Coconut. Rain pattering the corrugated roof, gurgling down gutters. Stewed apples and cloves. Plump sultanas and the tang of peel. Cinnamon. Pushing soft buttery pastry with your fingers. Crunching crusted sugar between your teeth. Deep in the country the cold stiffness of sheets in a motel bed. A semi-trailer passing through, gearing down, the echo lingering long after the headlights have leapt across the ceiling. The vast night sky, sprinkled with stars like tacks on tarmac. Gossiping grain silos huddling for warmth on the horizon. In the dark and thickly-wooded forest, light drip drip dripping from the sky. Scratchy picnic rug under your back and shadows dappling your face. A grey hair not noticed before. The distant muted sounds of children, playing. Taste of tea in a plastic mug. First coffee of the day, and the pleasure when the barista remembers your name. Soft poached eggs on smoked salmon with wafers of toast; caviar popping against your teeth. Waking to the sonorous silence of snow. Pipes creaking, cracking. Sound distorted. Suspended from the chair-lift, skis dangling, and dropping a glove. First skier on the run, any run; the shush-shush of skis. Peeling off the beanie—hair hopelessly flattened. Red pram perambulating along a grey gloomy street. Walk through the park, kicking up dank leaves. Fingers fastening on fluff and a discarded movie ticket in the depths of your coat pocket. Sunday afternoon, someone burning off and the acrid smoke twisting and twirling towards twilight. Coals aglow in the grate. Ruby port in a crystal glass. Up the stairs, along the narrow corridor, the solitary walk to the room under the eaves and the high bed and the heavy covers, and the soft rumbling snore of traffic. Rainy day and the smell of urine in the subway. Beggar’s fraying, overlong sleeve. Gutters wetly splattered with cigarette butts, and a black limousine oozing down an oily city lane. In the doorway, a glimpse of the blanched bare feet of a child. Knotted hair. Bitten fingernails. Fragile and mottled elderly skin. The hesitancy of the rasping voice. Wispy white hair. Bone structure of a bird beneath your hands. Behind the door, the brown cardigan with leather-covered buttons hanging, helpless, on a hanger. The silence of a coffin on the workbench in the shed. Curls of shavings questioning the dark earth. Chisel with a worn handle, lying motionless. At peace. And the light. The light streaming through the high casement window.
K W George is a Brisbane-based writer. She studied creative writing at the Queensland University of Technology, and has a master’s degree in Australian Gothic Literature. She has been published in Meanjin, Tincture, Going Down Swinging, WQ, and three Margaret River Press anthologies. In 2015 she was shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards in the Emerging Author / Unpublished Manuscript section.
There are trends in publishing, that is undeniable, but some writers refuse to do anything other than go their own way. Enter Anthony Macris.
Macris is an Australian writer and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Technology, Sydney. His first novel in the Capital series, Capital, Volume One, won him a listing as Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist 1998, and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Southeast Asian section) Best First Book 1998. His book reviews, articles and features have appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, Griffith Review and The Bulletin for over a decade. He is also the author of When Horse Became Saw, his family’s inspirational story and a powerful evocation of the world of autism, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards: Non-fiction category.
Published in 2016, Inexperience and Other Stories (University of Western Australia Press) is his latest work. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Macris charts laconically the impersonality of modern urban life, loneliness in a crowded world, and the absence of ideals, beliefs, commitments’.
Interviewer: Nigel Featherstone
Congratulations on the publication of Inexperience and Other Stories. What was the motivation for the collection?
Thanks for that. With Inexperience the novella I wanted to write about the couple and about love. It’s a theme that’s always fascinated me: what holds people together, two people who have at one point ‘chosen’ each other, and what can drive them apart. So that’s at the core of it. My couple in this instance are a standard boy/girl couple in their mid twenties, so you get that sense of youth, but youth that’s also embarking on major life decisions. I also wanted to write about this notion of going on a grand adventure that doesn’t quite live up to expectations: hence the title Inexperience. So, my young couple save and save for this long European trip that they think will be some kind of transcendent experience in itself, and it doesn’t quite turn out like that. I was originally going to call it Transcendence, but I thought that was a bit much.
That’s at the core of it: the way we strive to raise ourselves up, make ourselves more than who we are. It’s a wonderful, noble and fraught thing. We all do it one way or another, in small ways, in big ways. We raise ourselves up, we fall, we do it alone, we do it together, we have a stumble, we come crashing down from a very great height, we have the best of intentions, we do it out of vanity: the combinations are endless. But it’s all a learning process, one that never ends. I finally decided on Inexperience as the title because I thought that was more concrete: it’s more humble, more of this world. It’s the moment of stumbling, of not getting it quite right, of falling that little bit short because either the situation is bigger than you are, or you’re just not quite up to it at whichever stage of your life you’re in. So that’s the kind of thematic big picture.
I also wanted to write about what it means to be Australian. Our young heroes set off to Europe quite innocent and wide-eyed. They seem to think that everyone will see them as the fresh young cousins of the Anglo-sphere, first worlders like the American or Brits, but with none of the politically inconvenient baggage. They soon find that’s not really the case all the time, that not everyone sees Australians – at that general, national level – as the benevolent citizens of some far-flung Arcadia.
Inexperience is a wonderful title, especially in terms of hinting at the idea of never knowing enough to get by. What attracts you to the novella form?
Thanks for those kinds words about the title. I wanted something pretty straightforward to sum up the theme, and that one came pretty easily, which was good: I usually struggle with titles. As for the novella form: well, different kinds of stories require different degrees of development. You have to gauge how big the story is and fit it to the appropriate length. This one had a limited cast, the two romantic leads, and a fairly simple story without a subplot, so I think you can only go so far with that. But I also wanted more than short story length so I could develop another level of complexity: how I told the story.
One of things I try to do in my work is tell interesting stories, but to try and tell them in fresh and interesting ways. Whether I succeed or not is for others to judge I suppose, but I’m always looking to do things at a bit of angle. I still want the story to be clear, to have central conflicts with forward movement, etc, but that doesn’t always come out in the standard way. I think this can lead to thinking my work is a bit disjointed or lacking in coherence, but I think it’s just because I’m doing something a little unexpected.
For example, the novella Inexperience is divided into two spheres: the heavenly sphere and the earthly sphere. This compositional element finds its core expression in the painting my couple sees in Toledo, ‘The Burial of the Count of Orgaz’, which is all angels and swirling clouds in the top half, all flesh-blood men below. So the story’s events and settings all reflect shuttling between these two spheres: the banalities of travel and the transcendence of art; the mundanity of the everyday that forms the life of any couple, and the sublime moments of love that make it all worthwhile. Throughout the novella these spheres intermingle in unexpected and sometimes ironic ways. The story’s design in this instance called for something shorter than a novel so all this could be controlled adequately: it was quite fiddly to do, or at least I found it so. But that’s one thing I’m always trying to do in my work. Find a form that embodies the theme. I think that’s one way you can get more innovative forms.
Inexperience begins: ‘We were in Australia, in shabby modernity, and we were restless, unbearably restless. So we decided to go to Europe. Exhausted, decaying Europe’. What do you think drives your ongoing interest in the averageness of Western life?
I’ve always been interested in the way experience is shaped by pre-existing social forms that determine our lives, that become the templates for our experiences. So, in Inexperience, we get a classic rite of passage relevant to this particular group: in my couple’s case, the cultural pilgrimage that ‘new worlders’ like Australians make to mother Europe. It’s as if we plot our individuality on these pre-existing grids. So there’s this duality that fascinates me: experiences that are touted as unique, but are underwritten by a form that is just about guaranteed to make them banal: sometimes they’re ultimately commodities, even the most sublime experiences.
So when my couple finally front up to this beautiful ancient church in Toledo to see the astonishing painting that is the ‘Burial of the Count of Orgaz’, they have to get past a cash register first. I know this sounds all very disenchanting, that we’re stuck with a familiar position that says the act of commercializing everything degrades everything. Now, I’m always wary of any totalising argument. So let’s just say there are degrees (there’s some grudging optimism for you!). But I’d still argue that, for the most part, the process of commodification does create at the very least a kind of unease, a conflictedness that infects just about everything it touches.
I might just say a few words about the opening line you’ve quoted: it’s been appearing a lot in the reviews, which I think I’m happy about. I wanted to have a grand, sweeping opening, something quite Olympian, but also tongue-in-cheek. I mean, Australia and Europe are disposed of in sentence. I must have re-written that line 50 times. I’ve always liked this idea of a first sentence that contains the whole narrative in moment of foreshadowing: it’s a formal nod – albeit a very oblique one – to Kafka’s Metamorphosis. But there’s a key phrase in the opening sentence that speaks to the notion you’ve raised of western averageness: ‘shabby modernity’. Inexperience the novella is set – as is the whole collection – in the 1980s. This is an interesting decade, and I think somewhat neglected. It’s not quite old enough to be historical yet. (I read a great line somewhere that said nothing is as dated as the recent past.) But I find it a very interesting decade, a real ugly duckling period. Australia hadn’t yet reinvented itself as the glittering postmodern entity it thinks of itself today. The tug of war had started, but in those pre-internet, pre-social media days, I’d say that it was still an entity of modernity, and one not quite sure of where it was going.
There’s one feature of the Australian suburbs that sums up this notion of shabby modernity for me. You know those small suburban shopping strips, very generic, just a small row of shops, a newsagent, a hairdresser, a fish and chip shop, a small bottle shop? Just one long building made of brick, lots of glass and aluminium, built in the 1950s, that always seemed to have looked downtrodden from the moment they went up? That’s exactly what I mean by shabby modernity. That’s where, as Australians, a lot of us come from, and if we didn’t directly, it still forms a substratum to our shared experience. And these places are still everywhere in the suburbs. They’ve got a kind of stark, sobering truth to them I like.
That’s why I featured that setting in one of the collection’s stories, ‘Triumph of the Will’. I wanted to get across this sense of Australia emerging out of some staid, tail-end modernity, and into the uncertainties of a globalised postmodernism. I see the social context of the stories as a whole straddling those two worlds. My characters Carol and her boyfriend are, at this stage of their lives, caught in between these worlds. That’s where their hopes and dreams and ambitions are being played out. And they don’t even know it. Later, in my novel Great Western Highway, I push a similar couple along the timeline a little more: into the 1990s, and into a postmodernity in full swing.
What do you enjoy most about the shorter form?
Short stories are an incredible challenge and I’m in awe of those writers who can do them well again and again: Maupassant, Chekhov, and Flannery O’Connor, to name just a few. For me, at any rate, as soon as you start writing a short story, it’s as if a pistol has gone off and you’re already racing for the finish line. You’ve got to do so much at once for it to work: establish voice, the characters, some kind of situation or conflict, the style or diction you want, and so on. You don’t have the novelist’s luxury of seeing how it will all go, of writing into things for a while in the hope that things will reveal themselves.
To write an effective short story I think you need to be quite specific about what you want to achieve from the start. And that’s a great discipline in itself, formulating something concrete in your mind, then executing it. Of course it’s not always as simple as that: there can be this mass of crisscrossing paths between the thought and the execution. But as an exercise in task setting, there’s nothing quite like subjecting yourself to the rigour needed to pull off a decent short story.
In Inexperience, a big influence on my approach for a couple of the stories was Joyce’s Dubliners, which I think contains one of the greatest short stories ever written, ‘Eveline’. I love its blend of pathos, drama, and stillness. I also love its contrast of crystalline poetic diction and authenticity of voice, and the way Joyce brings those factors to bear on the quiet desperation of his characters. It’s just an astonishing piece and a real touchstone for me when I think about the short story form. This kind of influence – definitely only in the aspirational mode! – is at work on the two last stories, ‘Triumph of the Will’ and ‘The Quiet Achiever’. The influences on the longer story, ‘The Nest Egg’, are different, and somewhat more experimental, for want of a better term.
I see ‘The Nest Egg’ as a kind of cross between Samuel Beckett and Descartes. I remember being struck by reading Descartes’ ‘Meditations’ when I did philosophy as an undergraduate at Sydney University. I liked this idea of conducting a self-critique wherein you try to answer some fundamental question about existence. So instead of posing the question of how do I know I exist, which gives us the famous cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am, I wanted to pose the foundational question: what do I need to do to exist in a material, economic sense? This was an early attempt to explore the theme of capital and market forces in my work. Now, I’m a fiction writer: I didn’t want to write a philosophical essay. So the kind of language I looked to was that of Samuel Beckett, a kind of interior monologue that glides between image and reflection without ever quite settling on either as a dominant mode.
Also, with ‘The Nest Egg’, I wanted to try to structure something that had forward movement, that would keep the reader wanting to turn the page, but that didn’t rely on the traditional machinery of plot or story. I’m always looking for ways to do this. I like the notion that the act of reading draws you on and on. A lot of experimental approaches dispense with this as nearly a badge of honour: we don’t need that stuff, language or thought or whatever, is enough in itself. So in some ways I’m rebelling against this standard type of experimentation by trying to find a way of maintaining compelling forward movement, though not necessarily with traditional story dynamics. I tried this again on a bigger scale in my first novel, Capital, Volume One.
That’s another great thing about short stories. You’re not making a huge time commitment on any individual piece (not years, at any rate, as you do for a novel), so you can treat them like mini-laboratories to try things out.
You have been an active writer for a significant period of time now. Has your overall ambition – or writerly project – changed?
Ambition is an interesting word. I think a lot about it. In Inexperience and Other Stories, in some of the very early work it contains, I see a tremendous energy there, the energy of youthful ambition. I can feel an almost unbearable pressure behind those pages, as if all my hopes and desires as an artist are pressing from behind but can’t quite get through. But, then again, I suppose it always feels like that. I’ve always only ever wanted to make beautiful, inspiring, complex things. It’s a very curious drive. It’s central to who I am. In the periods of my life when I haven’t been able to do it – for example some long stretches when I’ve had to raise money for my son’s therapy – I’ve been so utterly miserable life hasn’t seemed worth living.
There have been certain moments in my life where this drive to make art was revealed to me. I remember walking home from school one day, I must have been 11 or 12. I was walking along, lost in my own thoughts and senses. And I had this sudden awareness of the combined power of the mind and of sensing to produce things, to make things. It was a very odd moment. I realised that you not only passively received the world, but that your mind and senses were active in constructing it. And that if this was the case, then you could make, do, or think anything. The vehicle for this kind of reverse projection was art. These were the blank screens you could project your version of the world on. These were the empty vessels you could fill with your thoughts, your perceptions, your senses. Now I know this sounds a bit much for a boy that age, and I’m of course articulating it in ways that a boy that age wouldn’t, couldn’t, but I’ve thought about that moment for decades, and this is the first time I’ve tried to articulate it. That moment was a turning point in my life. The whole prospect of it was thrilling, intoxicating, utterly empowering.
Now, what is that drive? That fundamental drive to make art? Where does it come from? I wouldn’t have a clue. So, to finally answer your question, it would appear that in one sense nothing for me has ever changed. There’s only been this desire to make these projections, to fashion these artefacts of words that somehow capture the particular world I’m trying to create.
It’s all very well to start out with such pureness of heart, but soon you find that your drives have to be channelled into a chosen art form and the cultural and market forces that shape it. You need to pick themes, forms, make decisions about your audience, and about the kind of writer you want to be. The stories in Inexperience and Other Stories are, for the most part, the first full attempt I made to turn myself into a real writer, someone who was trying to say something they thought was of importance to an audience who might want to listen. And it’s interesting how the themes I go on to develop later – on a much larger scale in the Capital novels and in When Horse Became Saw – are pretty much all there. I think they basically come down to two: love and market forces. It doesn’t seem a lot, does it? At least I’m not just a one-trick pony: I’ve got two!
But there is a flipside to this: I also think my work has changed a lot over the years. If you look at the trajectory that goes through from Inexperience to the Capital novels, in one way it’s a thinking through of finding new narrative forms that can capture larger developments in a world driven by market forces. And I use a range of tools derived from various literary movements to fashion something of my own that can grasp that: in that trajectory there’s the self-conscious, modernist commitment to making it new, to shaping a new novelistic language to capture new realities.
When Horse Became Saw is somewhat different. It’s a melding of realist and essayistic forms: the best name for it is probably creative non-fiction, to use a term that’s currently being bandied about. When Horse Became Saw was born of a kind of parental rage at how badly we let down our children with disabilities: in my case severe autism. It’s a much more emotional book. I call it my Aristotelian book: driven by pity and fear. It was a book in which I wanted to communicate with a large audience, so I put aside my usual baroque narrative machinery. It was a liberating experience, and it’s a book I’m very proud of, but I still like to think it does something interesting with form: I can’t seem to stop myself trying to do something different. Nevertheless, it was still a step outside the trajectory of my main work. I’m back to that now.
I’ve been working on the third part of Capital for some years, but it’s slow going. The Capital novels just take forever. It’s a return to my early childhood, part of the great looking back that overcomes you with time, that rises behind you in a great cresting wave of the past. You shouldn’t live in its shadow, but it can be hard not to. It’s an odd thing to do, to create works that draw from different periods of your life. Recently there have been days I’ve spent writing when I’ve become seven years old, and I’m amazed when a man in his mid-50s stares back at me from the mirror.
Nigel Featherstone is an Australian writer. His most recent work is the novella The Beach Volcano (Blemish Books, 2014), which has been described as ‘Elegant and original’ (Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald), ‘Accomplished – an intense fiction range’ (Peter Pierce, Canberra Times), and ‘Utterly enthralling’ (Walter Mason, Newtown Review of Books), and was recognised with a 2014 Canberra Critics Circle Award. His previous novella, I’m Ready Now (Blemish Books, 2012), was shortlisted for the 2013 ACT Book of the Year.
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. Featherstone has been awarded residencies at Varuna (Blue Mountains) and Bundanon (Shoalhaven River); in 2013 he was a Creative Fellow at the Australian Defence Force Academy/UNSW Canberra. On a contract basis he currently facilitates the ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY program, which is funded by the Australia Council for the Arts. Featherstone was the founding editor of Verity La. He lives on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales. More information at www.opentopublic.com.au
(edited by Ramon Loyola & Michele Seminara)
Proof of Life
By Mark William Jackson
If asked for proof of identity
I can pull a card from my sacred wallet
that lists a name, address & birthdate.
But in too many stretches, if you seek proof of life,
search their souls to find the holes
where memories were thrown like grenades,
a cavum of screams & cries where love died
in a sandstorm of politics & attempts to escape.
Huddled in the hull of a desperate raft,
holding on to family, hoping for a life.
At the end of mine, through grace and luck,
I hope to say, ‘I’ve enjoyed a full life’.
But so many, grabbing for straws,
can only dream of saying, ‘we survived’.
Because that’s where we all went
By Angelene Karas
1950s. Post-war period. The time when they came by the boatload.
28 days was how long it took to get from Kozani & Vartholomio to Melbourne.
My family, strong and determined, came to Australia when they had no other choice.
‘I came here when I was 21.’
‘Because, where else was I going to go?’
‘What happened when you got here?’
‘I worked many jobs.’
‘Were the people nice?’
‘Some were. There was a gentleman who helped me get to Melbourne from the detention centre in Albury.’
‘Why were you there?’
‘Because that’s where we all went. Our rights were shorn like fleece.’
The advice he gave me: this is the lucky country. Work hard. Be somebody.
And—especially—be better than those who came before you.
(because I am a daughter) of diaspora
By Eunice Andrada
and by default—
an open sea,
what language will not meet me
They convince my mother
her voice is a selfish tide,
claiming words that are not meant
this roiling carcass of ocean
making ragdolls of our foreign limbs.
In the end, nothing less than our brown skin
married to seabed.
When I return to the storm
of my islands
with a belly full of first world,
I wrangle together the language I grew up with
yet still have to rehearse.
I play with the familiar rattle of consonants
on my tongue and do not think myself
I am lost in the strangeness of my hometown.
By the street corner, a man in
speaks to me in careful English.
Where are you going?
I don’t answer,
offended that he recognised
the mongrel flag I call my face.
I want to say to him, We are the same.
Pareho lang po tayo.
I know my bleached accent,
the dollars in my wallet
sing another anthem.
My voice is an open-casket funeral,
haunted by the questions
How long have you been here?
How long are you staying?
I am above water,
holding onto a country that can drown
with or without me.
What they don’t tell you
about returning home
is that home will have already
forgotten your eyes,
hidden away the poems
you wrote for it.
All of diaspora has felt
it in the backs of their throats:
the joke of being unwanted in a new country,
of being unneeded in your own homeland
where the warmest pulsing thing
has already left.
I am off the coast of an island eight hours away from my grandmother’s old Parañaque apartment. The boatman says I swim well and beckons me to go underwater. He wants me to see what he sees. I unclip my vest and dive. Here, the world is prismatic and unspeaking. I kick my legs into a school of fish. It erupts into blue confetti before drawing together again. There are corals that look like bullions of gold; I remind myself, they, too, are homes for smaller creatures. There is the unrelenting deep and the uncertainty of return. There is my half-brother, Lemuel. Another love the ocean refused to return. I break the water’s skin and reintroduce myself to air. I thank him for guiding me. We make the quiet journey back to the mainland, where I plan to waste my money on cheap cocktails and souvenirs. My friend sings under her breath, just loud enough to hear over the motor engine. It is late afternoon and there is the ocean, surrounding us like a reminder. The boat slows to a halt meters away from the shore. The boatmen draw the ladder down to the water and begin to thank us, ushering light-skinned hands down the vessel. One of them turns to me, asks where my mother is from. Iloilo. He nudges the other boatman and they smile, say they could tell from the way I speak. I am reminded of my mother’s hurt. How it never failed to sound like a river, no matter how broken her voice had become. How the name for the people she had come from translates to where the water flows down. The boatman says he can tell from the way I speak. I look to my feet. They are lost underwater.
Mark William Jackson’s work has appeared in various journals including; Best Australian Poems, Popshot, Going Down Swinging, Cordite, Rabbit Poetry Journal, Verity La and Tincture. For more information visit http://markwmjackson.com
Angelene Karas is a Masters of Teaching (Secondary) student in her final year at Western Sydney University. She is currently volunteering at a Sydney non-for-profit poetry based company. Her poetry has been previously published in the CrUWSible magazine and The Wild Goose e-Literary Magazine. Angelene enjoys The Simpsons, coffee and of course, poetry.
Eunice Andrada is a Filipino-Australian poet, journalist and teaching artist based in Sydney. Her poems have been featured in Peril, Voiceworks, and Deep Water Literary Review, among others. Featured in the Guardian, CNN and other media, her poetry has also been performed in diverse international stages, from the Sydney Opera House to the UN Climate Negotiations in Paris. She was awarded the John Marsden & Hachette Australia Poetry Prize in 2014. In 2016, she was honoured by Australian Poetry as the first of their 30 Under 30 Poets. Her first collection of poetry is forthcoming.
Verity La are proud to publish the three winning entries from the 2016 Wollongong Writers Festival Mad Poets Workshop. These poems are the first to be published as part of Clozapine Clinic, a new ongoing project established to honour the work and life of poet Benjamin Frater. Project editors Alise Blayney & Tim Heffernan aim to support writers with mental health issues wanting to howl!!! Check it out & listen up.
Spinning (Kyra Thomsen)
I spin myself into a frenzy
legs lurching in and out like a spider building a web
unravelling my inner-silk
exposing my underbelly.
The tea is too hot to drink but thank you and
I don’t take sugar
You used to help me sweep the old cobwebs
the ones still held together with pride
after all this time.
Incisors and molars gnash in a bony crush.
You wake me at midnight
to tell me I’ve been tossing
Dissatisfactions (Andrea Rashbrook)
I’m not happy with my body.
With the muscle tone I lost in childbirth.
The scars that I got in childbirth
The fear that I felt in childbirth
I’m not happy with my clenching jaw
With stress spasm shoulders
With my broiling acid gut
That all this comes from my head.
I’m not happy with the pain I’ve caused
Speaking up, lashing out, unremembered outbursts.
Casting off smothering attention
To cry terrified, alone and shaking.
I’m not happy with the perfect life I have created, seeking happiness.
Working so damn hard for happiness.
Labouring, screaming, fighting for happiness
Never reaching a calm at the centre of the storm.
Grief for hire (Alise Blayney)
I AM grief for hire, a Poetess – not PTSDs marauded Duchess, nor the Black Dog’s mistress. I used to be the clinical Countess of Distress!
I HAVE a broken aorta, when under hypnosis ticks with postmodern tacky-cardia.
I HEAR absinthe’s green fairy whirlpool crash like car smash glass into community houso’s observation hole.
I SEE invisible cloaked entities dressed as spiritual emergencies, infecting those whose senses are not anaesthetised. They incubi and succubi my white hospital gown like a djinn and tonic lullaby.
I WOULD drop vowels for Rhett Butler, do post traumatic time behind the fishbowl for Scarlett O’Hara.
I WANT soft asylum, 33 inch vinyl and spinning Roy Orbison.
I AM Rimbaud’s THIEF of FIRE, a Poetess. Not PTSDs marauded Duchess, nor the Black Dog’s mistress. I used to be the clinical Countess of Distress.
I PRETEND that 9 years ago, I wasn’t a sensory deprived TANKED mess.
I FEEL ambidextrous with the crookedness, and RAGE over the cuckoo clock’s rooftops.
I TELL Blake his RINTRAH has gone too far – knockout pills and acute amnesia wrack with wrath, a reprobate wrecking ball.
I TOUCH marriage of perception through chemical incarceration and sink into delirium – the quack tells me I look like the spokesperson for vandalism!
I WORRY that the rough of the dialogue does your head in and that the curse of the coarse is coercion of sin.
I CRY because Mr Disney never told me the looking glass felt so like sheer fucking fear.
I SMILE when you spit delirious “the road of HER excess leads you to the palace of resilience.”
I AM the serrated jaw of Dante’s grand larceny circle. I lurk between the 5th of anger, the 7th of murder.
I UNDERSTAND when God gives you a gift, the angel of shibboleth gives you a whip.
I SAY drink the sweet elixir and watch your syntax sizzle off my rapid cycling tongue, to a beat that just belts on and on and on.
I DREAM of astral travel and meeting you in the ether, lucid and tender, where
I TRY to exalt this zyprexa stupor into the stars / release my pressure points into the ooh la la stars.
I HOPE to enter your white wonderland chamber, but your syntactical activist tongue SHIPWRECKS my lips, until I’m trembling and sick.
I LOVE that you said poetry is both confession and exorcism – so we should Houdini out of the syntax straight jacket by sticking it to big pharma!
I am GRIEF FOR HIRE. Tell seclusion and restraint I want ceasefire.
Want more Mad Poets? Go to the Wollongong Writers Festival website for details on the Ben Frater Retrospective and Mad Poets Readings and Tea Party, to take place on Sunday 27 November.
Kyra Thomsen is a writer and editor from Wollongong who currently works full-time as a content manager and is deputy editor of Writer’s Edit. Her work has been previously published in print and online for several publications including Tide, Kindling, Mascara Literary Review and Seizure, and her short story ‘Buzzing’ was recently published in Spineless Wonders’ Slinkies e-series.
Andrea Rashbrook is returning to Australia and creative writing after a long hiatus in Italy. She hopes to have a longer bio before too long.
Alise Blayney graduated as a Creative Writing student at the University of Wollongong in 2007. She is intrigued by the relationship between mental and emotional distress, and creativity.
Her chosen medium to explore this is through poetry, by exploring break-down and moving towards break-through. She is interested in the different explanatory frameworks of how people make sense of what has happened to them, and how the power of language can shape, transform and rebuild identity. She is deeply moved by seeing people become the director of their own recovery journey.
John Chavers enjoys working as a writer, artist, photographer, and general creator. Most recently, his writing and artwork have been accepted at The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library So It Goes 2016 Literary Journal, 3Elements Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Ascent, Birch Gang Review, Four Ties Lit Review, Ground Fresh Thursday, Silver Apples and The Ogham Stone, among others. John’s residency fellowships include Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He has a fascination for the diminutive, works of art on paper, and the desert. John lives in Austin, Texas.