FREE POETRY (Janet Galbraith and Writing Through Fences)

Posted on November 10, 2017 by in Discoursing Diaspora


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


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.



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

(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.

(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.

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



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


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


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,

                        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

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

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