How to live in a world that is burning (Omar Sakr)

Posted on February 3, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

1. there are many kinds of vision.

2. the nurse said getting glasses has been on her
to-do list since 2008         It’s a long list
but also, the world is burning
and what is the point of seeing all the colours
fire can become    if it all turns to ash

3. I haven’t figured out how to live
         in an unburned world

4. the nurse can’t see distances
It is the curse of our lazy, entitled generation
she laughs. This is her second shift of the day
and it is getting hard to see how not to laugh

5. the older patient beside me can only see distances
Between them

I hover in the void

6. I am constantly hard here

and not just because I suspect the gay couple
have been sucking each other off in the showers
a fluid exchange of themselves

7. in the void I am envy

but I am bled every day anyway
   & watching the red river
snake out       reminds my body
it is alive    & dying

  8. how can such a thin tube contain all the countries
  in my skin         so many mountains of fire

9. how can the world be burning &
               drowning at the same time

10. how can I be burning & drowning
at the same time   It is hard to see
through all these watery flames

11. the ultimate goal of hardness
is to soften   as the ultimate goal
of fire   is to change      no matter the cost
everything burns

                      12. every moment is designed to answer
     the question: who among us is a phoenix?


Omar Sakr is an Arab Australian poet and the poetry editor of The Lifted Brow. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Island, Overland, Meanjin, Cordite, Tincture, Mascara Literary Review, Going Down Swinging and Strange Horizons, among others. Anthologised in Best Australian Poems 2016 and Contemporary Australian Poetry, Omar also placed runner-up in the Judith Wright Poetry Prize.
His debut collection, These Wild Houses, is out now with Cordite Books. It will be launched on Friday 10 March at The Alderman in Brunswick.

Winter (K W George)

Posted on November 30, 2016 by in Heightened Talk

rain-1479304_960_720-1A 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.




Token (Anne Elvey)

Posted on November 9, 2016 by in Heightened Talk

fish-709886_640A scale catches the light. A gold coin
and a gold fish flash in the moat
of a university house. I am torn by this
writing whiteness, the attempt to read

myself otherwise, an urge to get out
of the way. The page is neither clean
nor blank. A seedpod falls from an imported
elm. The wind takes dry pennies

for a spin. Urban peak hour. The place
is all we have for now. The page
is asphalt, gravel, dirt. The line
is red and grey and, broken it signifies

corrugations of intent, a currency too far —
of people and fish and seasonal water.



photo credit: Monica Williams

photo credit: Monica Williams

Anne Elvey
is managing editor of Plumwood Mountain journal. She holds honorary appointments at Monash University and University of Divinity. Her publications include Kin (Five Islands, 2014) and This Flesh that You Know (Leaf Press, 2015). White on White is forthcoming from Cordite Books in 2017.



Posted on October 28, 2016 by in Events, Heightened Talk


The Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award, now in its second year, is named after one of Australia’s premier art dealers. All the paintings used in the competition are personally selected by (and from the collection of) Philip Bacon, the patron of Queensland’s only ekphrastic prize.

The word ‘ekphrasis’ comes from the Greek ‘ek’ (out) and ‘phrasis’ (speak), as well as the verb ‘ekphrazein’, which means to call an inanimate object by name. Artistically, ekphrasis is a rhetorical device in which a visual object, usually a work of art, is vividly described by another artistic medium — in this case, a poem under 12 lines in length.


Nathan Shepherdson announcing the Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award winners for 2016

This year’s Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award judges were Nathan Shepherdson and Chloë Callistemon. First prize went to Gail Hennessy, second prize to Matt Hetherington, while Ashley Haywood,  Gabrielle Higgins and Pam Schindler were highly commended.  

Verity La are proud to present all five ekphrasis, plus the artworks that inspired them.


Emily Kngwarreye, ‘Drying wildflowers’, 1990, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 122 cm


The Dichotomy of the Paper Flower  (Gail Hennessy)

After Emily Kngwarreye’s ‘Drying wildflowers’

in the touch of reflected stillness
rhizomes’ under-earth connections
link the knuckle bones of country

scaffolds of roots umbrella into a
blossoming of dried amber, a button
box of circles marbled into pattern

our eyes reach to Braille touch
the dryness of disparate wildness
the daubed precision of reflected stillness

autumn colour scatters to tessellate
an inland vision of sky-pooled water
x-rayed over a skin of parchment


Soon Ago  (Matt Hetherington)

After Emily Kngwarreye’s ‘Drying wildflowers’

we’re here, so let’s meet in the middle for as long as
the sun is warm and doesn’t make a sound
no one’s hiding anywhere, the air doesn’t cover its face
and earth offers soft things so they skin-drink the day
these hands are as busy as flies but
hope you’re not reading too fast
what’s known, what’s always shown, you can feel it
with seeds all around, no need to ask
what’s the point of a circle?  don’t get stuck
like a stick in the muddy, the sky is in the ground


On long walk away from away and waking with the sun  (Ashley Haywood)

After Emily Kngwarreye’s ‘Drying wildflowers’


light]  and          spoor    [who in the?]

                             circling               the lips  of

                  old graves                      futile tussock

                              mounds              and       roots

                              suppering on

                  ash      [smoke in the]

                  to feed  their   heavy      heads

                               [distance] full    of epitaphs

                                                             seeds  soon

                  the belongings of wind                             and [


Drying wildflowers  (Gabrielle Higgins)

After Emily Kngwarreye’s ‘Drying wildflowers’

it  all  moves…
these pleasing still
points of fore and background
though each mark
is felt…like recall

and I can only think of wattle
tangled in my hair…the cubby house
of weighted boughs of it
when I knew my spot


Dorothy Napangardi, 'Karntakurlangu Jukurrpa', 2005, acrylic on canvas,122 x 200 cm

Dorothy Napangardi, ‘Karntakurlangu Jukurrpa’ 2005, acrylic on canvas, 122 x 200 cm


Landscape (Pam Schindler)

After Dorothy Napangardi’s ‘Karntakurlangu Jukurrpa’

I remember arriving with the grasstree spikes
in creamy flower, taller than a man,
the birds balancing to feed
on such cones of sweetness
in the excited air —

the dead in their trees, speaking and sighing,
the wind in their leaves —

the locked and breaking
honeycomb of days

the hooked blanket of the land
the mesh of light
the tongues of the white rain



photo credit: Gina McDonald

photo credit: Gina McDonald

Gail Hennessy has been published widely in newspapers, literary supplements, journals and anthologies over the last forty years. In 2010 her collection, Witnessing, brought many of these published poems together with new poetry. Witnessing followed her Doctoral thesis, ‘Testiminio: Witnessing my Mother’s Life: Race and Identity in Twentieth Century Australia’. She has completed a second collection of poetry soon to be published.

photo credit: Di Cousens

photo credit: Di Cousens

Matt Hetherington is a writer, music-maker, and moderate self-promoter living in Brisbane. He has been writing poetry for over 30 years, and has published 4 poetry collections and over 300 poems.  His first all-haiku/senryu collection For Instance was published in March 2015 by Mulla Mulla Press.   He is also on the board of the Australian Haiku Society.

Pam Schindler is a Brisbane poet, and drew on memories of Moreton Island in writing this poem.  She is the author of one book of poems, A sky you could fall into (2010), and her work has been published in Australian journals including Meanjin, Hecate, Island, and Australian Poetry Journal.  She went to write in a Scottish castle as a Hawthornden Fellow in 2013.


Ashley Haywood is a writer, editor and poet. She has seen her creative and scholarly work published and performed in Australia and overseas. She recently received a PhD for her creative research thesis titled Harlequin Blue and The Picasso Experiment. Some of her most recent creative work appears in TEXT and Spineless Wonders’ anthology Out of Place. This ekphrasis poem belongs to a growing collection of iterations, another of which is forthcoming in Southerly. She is an Associate Editor at Rochford Street Review.

cobalt (Jordie Albiston)

Posted on October 14, 2016 by in Heightened Talk

Co–nclusion: following find in 1982 by local sponge diver Mehmed Çakir & 11 campaigns {over 22 000 descends} the Uluburun drowned in the Mediterranean
Sea at the end of the 14th century BC {see golden scarab inscribed ‘Nefertiti’} &
amongst other treasures of this Late Bronze Age trove    a single ingot of pure
blue glass    proving such perfectness lasts

             from Persia & Pompeii to Tang & Ming to the Congo & Zambia belt    you
             are my plenary blue    at rest upon fingers    tables of kings    you make love
             with eyes    make cats made of stone stare back    this is when I love you best              one stable isotope    11 meta states    a church where the Virgin locks out shock              & we’re safe    but sometimes the door divorces its hinge & Kobold the Goblin              gets a foot in    o wobbly-wobbly-precarious-psyche    stories packed with dirty              bomb endings    everything starts to turn black    sometimes you weep    way              down within & your tears fall silent like gamma ray ash    your grief can wipe
             out the world    sometimes you wail like a doomsday device    emit a steady sad-
             sad pulse    but you always mend & you always return    & you always remind
             no matter how hurt that “Mutual Assured Destruction” spells the word/world              mad


Jordie Albiston has published nine poetry collections and a handbook on poetic form.

Albiston possesses an ongoing pre-occupation with mathematical constructs and constraints, and the possibilities offered in terms of poetic structure. Her work has won many awards, including the Mary Gilmore Award and the 2010 NSW Premier’s Prize. She lives in Melbourne.




Posted on October 12, 2016 by in Events, Heightened Talk


A Portrait of Benjamin Frater by Martin Davis, 2014

By Tim Heffernan

It is significant that the poetry of Benjamin Frater is reprised for the 2016 Wollongong Writers Festival and that he will be an integral part of the Mad Poets Workshop to be held on 22 October, as well as the Mad Hatters Tea Party to be held on 27 November. It is as if Ben never left Wollongong University and the process of immersion in Ben’s poetry has been serendipitous – so much has come together, so magically.

Just last week I learned from Alise Blayney, Ben’s wife, that he wanted to run poetry workshops while people were waiting hours for their blood test results so they could receive their appropriate dose of Clozapine, the powerful anti-psychotic that eventually defeated Ben. These Clozapine Clinic Workshops were planned for Banks House in Bankstown but Ben became unwell and they never got off the ground… until now. Ben’s workshop program will inform the Wollongong Writers Festival’s Mad Poetry Workshop, which will include:

  • Surrealist games and Q & A
  • Automatic writing ‘first thought, best thought’
  • Poetic/Prosaic sketching – mind is shapely, art is shapeless
  • Response to stimulus – process of imaginative / symbolic association
  • Cut up experiments
  • Group collaborations

Benjamin Frater – Benefits for patients/Benefits for me

I have a long term interest in the poetry that emerges from individual experiences of madness. The first time I went mad in 1983 I took with me to the psych ward copies of Peter Kocan’s, The Other Side of the Fence and Kurt Vonnegut’s, Slaughterhouse Five. Back then I knew that the world would end if I did not live past my 24th birthday, so this was to be the only voluntary admission of my psychiatric career as I sought protection, asylum, from those who sought to kill me and end my world. It was a mad world then – a cold war, Reagan’s Star Wars, the invasion of Grenada, the bombing in Beirut, the downing of the Korean airliner KAL 007 over Russia, and my love had left me for good. That madness bit me again in 1985, with a couple of admissions to Kenmore Hospital. My poem, ‘Reasonable Delusions of a Religious Nature’, originally published in 2007 in Coral Hull’s Thylazine and reinvented as a prose poem earlier this year in Verity La was my way of making sense both of the world’s and my own madness. The poem finishes,

you look into a mirror and recollect a face.  confess  your  grand
delusion: leave  this  unholy place. promises  of  armageddon to
be unleashed when you were dead. the  asylum  had  been  your
shelter: the  atoms split inside  your head.  read  six  sane  years
later,  how we just missed world war three.  this was  your  mad
delusion. is it  truth  that  you now see? each  spring-time sense
the surge of see-saw swings  to  be swung: tranquilise sensation
so these spring songs can’t be sung.

Sadly, our world seems even madder now, a world where our very being, the ‘is’, explodes and decapitates itself on our YouTube feed. And sadly too, 2007 was the year that Ben Frater lost his life to the medication that was prescribed to save him from the horror that some call schizophrenia.

I’m not sure if Ben ever listened to the radio, but if he did I’m thinking that he probably never would have thought he would one day be performing his poetry on Radio National. I came to hear Ben one Sunday morning just over four years ago as I listened to Lisa Nicol’s award winning radio documentary Pray Ho’tell, quickly entering a surreal world of poetry, madness, medication, love, yaks, domestic violence, Catholicism, Campbelltown and Wollongong University. Suddenly here was a poet whose poetry was madness, whose madness was poetry and much of his story had been played out in places so close to me.

The next time I heard Ben read was at a mental health consumer conference in 2014, So You Want To Change The Worldorganised by a fellow consumer worker Douglas Holmes. Douglas had videoed the footage of Ben reading at a Mad Pride concert in Campbelltown in 2006, and so I got to read my poetry with Ben and his partner Alise, also a mental health consumer worker. I think all those present understood how Ben’s poetry could still change our worlds and some of us promised to keep pushing the change. Ben’s Clozapine Clinic Workshop qualifies him as a mental health consumer worker too, I think.

Since then Alise has shared Ben with me in conversation and emails full of mutual coincidence and connections. While we are familiar with Ben’s love of Blake, Artaud and Ginsberg, with ‘visionary poetics’, it was through the work of Charles Bukowski and through the music Alise and Ben loved that I learned more of this man and this beautiful poetry charged relationship. Ben was Bukowski’s ‘The Man With the Beautiful Eyes’. I see Bukowski’s poem as a metaphor for the way the world and psychiatry traditionally responds to madness and I think that Ben’s poetry sought to change this.

but his eyes
they blazed

our parents,
we decided,
had wanted us
to stay away
from there
because they
never wanted us
to see a man
a strong natural

they had been
afraid of
the man with the

we were afraid
all throughout our lives
things like that
that nobody
to be
strong and
like that,
others would never
allow it,
and that
many people
would have to

(From ‘The Man with the Beautiful Eyesby Charles Bukowski)

Alise tells me that one of Ben’s favourite lines was from Arthur Rimbaud – ‘the poet is a thief of fire’. And Rimbaud could have been describing Ben when he wrote, ‘I say one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by an immense, long, deliberate derangement of the senses.’

A Photograph from Ben's Notebook

A Page from Ben’s Notebook

By Alise Blayney

Ben’s life was poetry and when it comes down to it that’s all that really matters, right?

The verse. One can be immortal as long as one leaves some work behind. I’m so glad Ben did. We made a secret pact, and promised each other that, ‘Poetry is the bottom line’.

I remember him saying at his Dad’s hotel: ‘We’re gonna eat, breathe, live, shit, piss and bleed poetry!’ After all, words and art are the only things which remain immortal.

These past 9 years I’ve been looking for signs of Ben everywhere. I catch glimpses of memories in flashback – the fiery flick of red hair on a bus, a sidewalk dweller whose eyes flash fever, a stranger on the train echoing a ‘hideous heckle of hoot hysteria’.

When I look back on his experiences of mental and emotional distress, I am reminded of the quote from R.D. Laing: ‘The laugh’s on us. They will see that what we call ‘schizophrenia’ was one of the forms in which, often through quite ordinary people, the light began to break through the cracks in our all-too-closed minds.’ (Laing, R.D. The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise. Harmondsworth, 1967, Penguin.)

That’s exactly what one could call Ben’s relationship with madness – a light that was cracking through, a light so powerful it penetrated through the everyday mundane and transported him into other dimensions. Ben was clearly ‘lifting the veil’ and having a consciousness expanding experience. His fascination with esoterica and the occult world can be seen throughout his poems.

benI was 24 years old when I met him at Wollongong University and he introduced me to these other worlds, quickly becoming my mentor, guide and peer, especially when it came to literature.

Laing also wrote that ‘Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through’. This quote reminds me so much of Ben’s work, and informs the nature of the peer support role Tim, I and many others do in the mental health sector today. We aim to support people through their recovery journey by empowering them to see that mental health issues are a profound part of the human experience. We don’t ask the question ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Instead we ask ‘What happened to you?’, which can in itself be a ‘breakthrough’ compared to the way traditional services have operated in the past.

I think Ben would have made an extraordinary peer worker, and this is the time to celebrate his work. He was dedicated to exploring the relationship between automatic writing and the schizophrenic vernacular, within which he saw the subconscious mind merging into consciousness. He lived between worlds, and wrote in his notebook how he considered the ‘Poet is Priest; Poetry as confession; Performance of Poetry is exorcism’.

Confession and exorcism are evident throughout all his verse, particularly in his first published work, Bughouse Meat. Here is an excerpt, entitled ‘The Argument’.


                      the dreamer who butchered his arm to challenge his reality,
                             now butchers his reality to challenge his arm.

My forearm is a wounded shark
My forearm is a crippled highway
My forearm is an imaginary tool
My forearm is a Nocturnal ballad of hieroglyphs,
                           a battered-birdwing,
                           a supplicatory of bleeding ghosts,
                           the end of a lion’s tyranny,
                           an ancient Crocodile skull,
                           the nightmare and war of Spring,
                           a Catholic Yak’s exorcism,
My forearm is our Golden fingerless child
                           a piece of Apocalyptic debris,
My forearm has closed eyelids,
                           is an Anti-american-warcraft,
                           the memory of wild horses,
                           its own executioner,
My forearm is Hell’s kiss of smothered lips,
                           your lack of perception,
                           the rage of a Blind Salamander,
                           a voyeur while I sleep,
                           a breast-less woman
                           and a toothless old man tapping his foot to the
                           rhythmic convulsions of a
                           dead ocean,
My forearm is the active desires of Akhenaton,
                           the left wing of Christ, the right fist of Allah
                           and a Sanskrit-stitch-path,
My forearm is the bloodblack-Sunrise,
                           a dead man’s trepidation, a dread man’s trepidation,
My forearm is A Subaqueous Prison,
                           the mind that eats your leg,
My forearm is tomorrow’s bitch, today’s whore and last night’s insomniac,
My forearm is a multitude of trenches and razor wire fences with the flesh
                           STILL HANGING ON!
My forearm: a Luna ladder,
                           a gutted reptile,
My forearm forces electricity down the blue throat,
My forearm is an arrow dreamt beyond this cell,
                           a Chinese Red Rhapsody,
                           an African Gunrunner,
                           an Alcoholic automobile,
My forearm is an Aborigine wounded by the white FleshFlash of numerous
My forearm is our unclear nuclear future,
My forearm bleeds its own delight
My forearm refuses to bomb its enemies and dives into the rubble
My forearm is a solar backlash
My forearm invites refugees, provides none but exists in asylum
My forearm is the culmination of Hissing Apples and rotten skin,
My forearm is a docile blonde occupational therapist
My forearm is an Alcibiadian: the father of Flagellation
My forearm: a Hysterical Spartan Junkie
My forearm includes four thousand, seven hundred and eighty one billion,
                           seven hundred and ten million, four thousand four hundred
                           and twenty two Tentacles and as many years of Marineric tradition,
My forearm breathes through incisions also known as gills
My forearm is Marvell’s dog,
                           a bashed cherub,
                           a thick vibrating web of Agony,
My forearm is a headless cemetery of flesh,
                           affected by a 205 year old poet,
My forearm is a liar and tomb; a Miltonian Mutiny that groans t’ward
                           the heavens,
My forearm is the unfurled Dragon abdomen with its five heads of blood and gristle,
My forearm remains remorseless for its mutilation
My forearm belongs to nobody
My forearm is a cut worm and blind maggot,
My forearm is a desperate corpse and Rabid carcass
My forearm desires the God of panicked birds and difficult Pyramids
My forearm is a sleepless cannibal,
My forearm is a liturgy of psychotic hooks displacing my mental weight
                           and suspends me nowhere in imagination,
My forearm is a meek neck waiting for the last train; our long red guillotine
My forearm bares the burden of backyard industry and institution,
My forearm witnessed the locusts under Paul’s eyelids
My forearm can’t wait for the gun to become a Mushroom
My forearm depicts a dappled sky and sickly horizon,
My forearm will inoculate your reams of dreams
My forearm leaves your clitorial gland Yowling!
My forearm requires “more legs!”
My forearm remains defiant in the face of C.B.T and E.C.T
My forearm cannot lose or loose this RAW-Shackle
My forearm is a pillar of assassination and Masturbation
My forearm is a burning song-stick,
My forearm is Wracked and demented with Seraphic sinew;
                           the exalted Koala-Gut,
My forearm is a preter-mortem-Islamic-nocturne,
                           a bulging dead foetus,
                           a legless Noctambulist,
                           a deformed tiger eye,
My forearm releases its ghost in gaseous-dead-dove
My forearm is a syntactical activist
My forearm eats its own sores and admires the half baked moon
My forearm sleeps on rubber pillows,
My forearm is my brother
My forearm is a Kangaroo Blood Cult
My forearm is my mad hairless dog
My forearm exposes limp wrists to solar blades – My RA executioner –
My forearm observes the bomb-hollowed-world holding hopeless candles,
                           invites the world’s collective Terror into its veins, up arterial trenches,
                           perforates my soul and shakes fire between trembling scales,
My forearm stinks of Shark-Cunt, feels underbelly stingray sex, withholds
                           Moray Eel masturbarion and all the corporeal grandeur of 
                           Marineric Mating
My forearm is the chant of a dead Nun, a tortured priest and dying lama
My forearm is the impure amazement and living memory of BLEEDING VEINS
                            AND BEATING WINGS!

Ben Frater’s full-length collection 6am in the Universe (which encompasses poems from Bughouse Meat) can be purchased from Grand Parade Poets.

Visit Wollongong Writers Festival for more details about the Mad Poets Workshop and Mad Hatters Tea Party.

To support the activity of the Mad Poets at Wollongong Writers Festival, donate here.


Tim Heffernan
lives in Wollongong. He was born in Hay, on the banks of the Murrumbidgee and after spending most of his life swimming upstream, has mysteriously ended up on the coast.

 Blayney is a poet and peer worker. She was the key to YEK’s semordnilap and Ben’s favourite Yakkity Yak. Glimpse her through 11:11, where there awaits a synchronistic soundtrack.

ben-frater1Benjamin Frater (27 February 1979 – 4 July 2007) was a talented and original poet who after many years suffering from schizophrenia died at 28. Pretty much unknown to the wider poetry community his only publication was Bughouse Meat (2003) a chapbook. At the time of his death he was working on Preyed Hotel a fragmentary epic centred on the Green Acre Tavern (where his father is licensee) but which also grows out of the joys and sufferings which marked so much of Ben’s life. From the age of 19 he kept returning to the Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong, where he was about a semester away from finishing his degree. (Having him on campus for nine years was like having a permanent Writer in Residence!)

Three things dominated Ben’s life: poetry, his illness and the devotion between him, his family and friends. Of course schizophrenia could make him a very demanding person at times (though the greatest demands were alas on Ben) but he was also extremely giving. As a friend and as a poet he was not a snob, and although his work was high powered and erudite, to the point of appearing elitist to some, this was a man who loved the work of Nick Cave and The Doors, who could surprise everyone by bursting into Country and Western numbers, and who loved playing the pokies at the Illawarra Leagues Club accompanied by a schooner of Guinness. He could use the world ‘yes!’ in conversation with great force, with his other aural trademark being a good natured giggle.

With the exception of the great Francis Webb it is not in an Australian poet’s job description that they be rhapsodic, surreal and visionary. Well this is where Ben came in and even went one better, creating ‘visions’ out of Campbelltown (his home town) Greenacre and Wollongong, with acres of his imagination populated by amongst other beings threatening minatours and scorpions, true, but above all by life affirming yaks. (For whatever reason he called himself the Catholic Yak, whilst this writer was the Protestant Elk!) At times Ben’s poetry may have been large, unwieldy and frequently nightmarish but with his extraordinary humour to back proceedings they were always written for an audience’s enjoyment. Anyone who heard him at his best (his joint book launch with fellow poet Rob Wilson or his recent, and last, recital at the Five Islands Brewery) will attest to this, though the power of his performance was such that like Hendrix at Woodstock he had to go last, no one could follow Ben.

His close friend Habib Zeitouneh tells how at Airds High School Ben was part of an ‘arty’ group which was respected because of their ability at winning debating competitions and academic prizes. In year 12 he organized a reading in the Matador Room at his father’s Golf View Hotel, Guilford with over one hundred hearing him read his own work, with his grandmother Florence Bond as special guest. Habib describes Florence was Ben’s first ‘go to person’ in poetry. Ten years later it was Ben who had this role, however briefly, among many younger writers of Wollongong. Earlier with Rob Wilson, Tim Cahill and Ben Michell he had formed the Syntactical Activists, a group dedicated to poetry and undergrad goodtimes. With Rob he instituted ‘shoot outs’ marathon phone calls where each bombarded the other with words, phrases and indeed poems. Ben, although forced by his illness to so often operate on his own was still a very loyal colleague to all.

Ben’s love of poetry started with such adolescent staples as Pound, Eliot, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and the Beats. This expanded to include the Russian Futurists (who helped him find new verse directions) Francis Webb (whom he felt was Australia’s greatest poet) and the problematic Antonin Artaud (who could cause him great suffering). His great love was Allen Ginsberg, about whom and whose work Ben probably knew more than anyone in the country. Even better Ben’s Ginsberg was not that tiresome beatnik/hippy media construct but the serious, well educated poet who saw himself in a tradition extending back to Walt Whitman, William Blake, John Milton and Edmond Spencer. This was a club that at no matter how junior a level Ben wished to join. I once called him at the Greenacre Tavern, as basic a pub as any in southwest Sydney, and there he was in the bar reading Spencer’s The Fairy Queen! It was out of such (seeming) incongruities that much of his verse was assembled.

Ben’s illness combined with a quite strong reserve meant he never appeared throughout Australia on any reading or festival circuit. Nor did he submit many poems to journals. Outside of Wollongong he once read in the open section at Melbourne’s John Barleycorn Hotel and last September in Campbelltown at Mad Pride an event centred around artists and writers suffering similarly to Ben who wished to show that psychotic afflictions didn’t invalidate what they produced. His success there was a great fillip to Ben and this plus the love of his fiancée poet Alise Blayney and the friendship of many Wollongong writers helped in the promise of greater things. Only hours before his death all were discussing an appearance at the forthcoming Newcastle Young Writer’s Festival.

Like similar ambitious poets (Fernando Pessoa, Thomas Lovell Beddoes) who died with gigantic plans less than fulfilled, Ben left boxes and notebooks of poems drafts and fragments. Will Australian literature be able to accommodate a young, near to unknown, non-careerist, yet extremely prolific deceased poet? We hope so. Volumes are being planned. He is survived by his parents Howard and Denise, siblings Mathew, Nicole and Shane, a niece and nephews, Alise and many friends.

(Alan Wearne, in memoriam, 1998)









INsects (Anna Spargo-Ryan)

Posted on September 28, 2016 by in Heightened Talk


On  windy  days  she  went back to the building to find the
shreds of skin he had left there. She caught the elevator to
the  top  floor.  It  swagged  in  the  bluster, north to south
with the crosswind,  and  so did she. Sometimes the room
was  packed  with  people,  an  ant  colony  contained in  a
plastic  box , but  not  today.  She  searched  for  his  DNA,
embedded there,  picked  up  on  the  soles  of   shoes  and
deposited, later, in an empty apartment. Her  heart  filled
with  insects  and  they  clawed  at  her  sternum  and  her
coronary  plexus  and  her  left  vagus  nerve, all  legs  and
wings,  their   piercing   soprano   voices.   She  found  the
pieces in corners  and  edges  and  dropped them into her
pockets,  exited into the sunlight as a thief  and  her heart
cracked  out  across  the  lawn,  a  mosquito  zapper.   The
people ate packed  lunches and watched her go with their
jellied eyes.


Anna Spargo-Ryan
is the Melbourne-based author of The Paper House. Her short fiction has been published in Kill Your Darlings, and she also writes on parenting and mental health for the GuardianOverland and Daily Life, among other publications.



The Incandescent (Chris Lynch)

Posted on September 21, 2016 by in Heightened Talk

And you. When you saunter in, glowing

like a tomboy, blue as a blowtorch and blazing.

Made of glass you would shatter, but born of fire you

can burn, like some fierce feathered creature gently

pouring some wine. Standing this close I can feel

all your doubts. Am with you, through them. Let my loose

thumb snag on the loop at your hips, as you scorch

my throat with your hesitant nose. Let us pause,

to breathe in our breaths then… let bright covers

blow open, and spill the hot weight of your chest—

let your cage cave in to the fire, your lips

open up to your core; and I will soothe you, all

the way down to your black, curly ashes—hold

your bold, bright egg in my fingers as it hatches.



Chris Lynch
 grew up in Papua New Guinea and is now based in Melbourne. His poetry has appeared in Cordite, Tincture Journal, Apex Magazine, Blackmail Press, Islet, Peril Magazine, SpeedPoets, Stars Like Sand: Australian speculative poetry, and the Poetry & Place Anthology 2015, among others. Currently working on his first collection of poetry, he blogs occasionally at

Love Song (Sandra Renew)

Posted on September 14, 2016 by in Heightened Talk

beneath her scarf, her honour—

everything lowers to its haunches, puffs out its cheeks

vulnerable to reality even hope sinks.

I would blow my hope alive with my last breath

but what pulls us and holds us together

is neither cement, nor clay, nor consoling comfort—


when her father and brothers come knocking

even the scarf will not protect her.



Note: the first line of the poem, ‘beneath her scarf her honour’,  comes  from  p.119  of I Am The Beggar Of The World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan,translated by Eliza Grimwold (Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York, 2014).


photo-for-poetry-2015-1Sandra Renew’s poetry expresses her opinions on the state of the world. She wonders who sleeps at night? Who is lucky enough to live in safety and peace? Her poetry is informed by her many years working in war zones, in Indigenous communities and on the fringes of heterosexuality.

Her poetry comments on contemporary issues and questions: war, language, environment, climate and the planet’s health, translation, dislocation, migration, terrorism, border crossings, dissent, gender, protest, human rights and freedoms.

Sandra has published several books including Projected on the Wall (Ginninderra Press, Pocket Poets series, 2015); Flood, Fire and Drought, an anthology exploring the effect of weather events on the Australian Landscape (ed. by Suzanne Edgar, Kathleen Kituai, Sandra Renew and Hazel Hall, Ginninderra Press, 2015); and One Last Border: Poems for refugees by Hazel Hall, Moya Pacey and Sandra Renew (Ginninderra Press, 2015). Who sleeps at night is forthcoming with Ginninderra in December 2016.

Sandra’s tanka and tanka prose have also been published in journals internationally, and her poetry has appeared in journals such as Eureka Street, Right Now, Burley and Scum.  You can learn more about Sandra at her website, Guerilla Poet.

Mercury (Ben Hession)

Posted on September 7, 2016 by in Heightened Talk

2666809329_202457fb0aEstrangement has its latitudes,
the most hospitable to residency, here:
trembling, trying to avoid extremes —
every day you are busy celebrating
two birthdays, slowly, you can have
your medication and take it too.

The first fall occurred at sunset,
that great star of lubricity creeping away:
age threatening to freeze every dimension
adding matter to memory — to keep warm
you retreat towards holographic nostalgia:
with one tired step after another.

Dawn inspires a youthful seriousness,
until the sun overburdens, with its abrasive
return. A lassitude circumnavigates
at the steady pace of your moveable
heimat. You carry the beauty you found
to be bitter, and a sense of obligation,
whilst casting a grave shadow
of hope that serves as your mirror.



Ben Hession
is a Wollongong based writer. His poetry has been published in Eureka Street, International Chinese Language Forum, Cordite, and Can I Tell You A Secret?, the Don Bank Live Poets anthology. Ben’s poem, ‘A Song of Numbers’, was shortlisted for the 2013 Australian Poetry Science Poetry Prize. He is due to have a poem published in the upcoming issue of Mascara Literary Review. Ben is also a music journalist and a broadcaster on community radio.