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Lullaby #5

by Anne Elvey

Vahni Capildeo


For a never-to-be-finished farewell


In memory   in false memory

The rain tree stood   the saman

Canopied us   the vast dome

Had not been cut down

O why

was it cut down?

Black gateway

Tearing the drive with amber

Dropping pods akin to figs

Dried and gummy

It ploughed up

the concrete into furrows,

a rough sea greyed to a halt;

We stood

would not have stopped there;

In true fact

would’ve tapped into,

hooked, root-shaken foundations,

Small leaves up above

Small-twigged memory spread

Over us

caused ruin;

What kept us back

Hooked and shaken


to drop a branch,

hit a child

As we were

hit the roof

Only going to say


hit the T.V. aerial

BANG!   e   x   p   l   o   s   i   o   n



why was it cut down?



You want

Loan words

the house to fall down?


There was another reason.


Tree   wake and sleep

Tell me why

Live and die   with me

it was cut down?


Tree    wake and live

Strangers would park up

Sleep and die   with me

to have sex

by our gate;

the tree had to go,

it hid them.


O –


Tree   live and sleep

Die and wake   with me


Lullaby #6


Nocturne #2

by Anne Elvey

Vahni Capildeo


I am

so tired and full of tears,

said the threadbare cloth of gold.

Beaten hands, beaters’ hands

rock the monsoon-baby’s crib.


I am

so wakeful and full of fears,

said the fountain in the square.

Visitors, thirsty, put

chapstick lips to dirty pipes.


I am

so mended and full of cracks,

said the walkway to the house;

so careful, so old, so planned

to give support. Say no more.



Nocturne #3


Prithvi Varatharajan reviews Viva the Real by Jill Jones

by Anne Elvey

Jill Jones, Viva the Real. St Lucia, QLD: UQP, 2018. ISBN 978-0-7022-6010-0


Prithvi Varatharajan


Restlessly real


Viva the Real, Jill Jones’s eleventh full-length collection, is a poetic and visceral tribute to the real. While it contains many subjects, its abiding interests are the phenomenology of reality, the place of the human among the non-human, and the wildlife and vegetation that exist in our urban environments. The poems are crafted in such a way that they simultaneously resist neat comprehension (‘this means this’) and feel accessible; they held my attention easily. The former effect is created through sound – through rhythmic intricacies that complicate semantic ones – while the latter may owe to an ethos of inclusiveness in the poet: she rarely gets so esoteric that you hesitate to follow where she leads.

Jazz is mentioned through the collection (‘big fat jazz blowing blossom’ in the poem ‘Swoop’ (4), Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters album in ‘The Soul of Things … ’, the title ‘Round Midnight’ a reference to the jazz film), and it certainly feels present as an influence on the writing, shaping its spirit of improvisation, play, and the testing of form against sense. Poems such as ‘Rituals in Ultrasound and Gardens’ (8) and ‘Wrack’ (59) are preoccupied with the musical possibilities of the word and the line, the subject being led along behind; in mid-flow the former poses the question, ‘How does form work?’, and then stages a demonstration (8). Language here is not only musical but textural – it feels physical, tactile. A good example is the arresting opening poem ‘The Make-Do’:

The day drops voices

on my tongue, all the burnt dust,

garbage, tenderness. Duties waste time.


I am stupid among crisp brown leaves.

I lick salt fresh from the window

and wait for the big moon.


These images and sounds are delectable, fresh. The word ‘get’ in the following line, ‘I get more curious than you think,’ made me pause and appreciate. This simple substitution (‘get’ for ‘am’) has the effect of putting the poet outside herself, next to the reader in perspective. Such verbal dexterity, seemingly easy or ‘no big deal’ – but highly effective – is the mark of a poet who is accomplished in her art and knows the ins and outs of her medium. The penultimate stanza of this poem, which adorns the back cover, is almost filmic in its visual capture: ‘The main road is a dream hatched, / a tremendous streaking / in the fast fold of fret lines’ (1).

Jones has always been interested in sound, and it was pleasurable to encounter that again here. But there are many other aspects worth commenting on, such as the balancing of the serious with the comic, which, when manifested together in Viva, strikes a wry note. The political is often slipped into poems that are just doing their thing, snapping language over shifting frames of rhythm. In ‘Mouth Song’ the poet declares:

I ate the tax form

the guidelines and the injunction.

I swallowed the driveway

all the neighbourhood watch

pamphlets, I ate the periodic table

statutes, another postal survey.


Due to the timing of the collection, and the more transparent (in relation to its subject) ‘Same Love Goes Harder’ (55), it’s clear that the last line’s passing reference is to the same-sex marriage postal vote of 2017 in Australia. It’s not that Jones glosses over the subject, which is no doubt personal to her, as a gay poet – but that she is strategic in facing certain abominable phenomena (another in her work is the destructiveness of our resource-guzzling modernity). In this poem the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey is not given the privilege of a direct response, and is parcelled in with other objects – all to do with bureaucracy in an urban setting.

This strategy for dealing allusively with the thorns of reality is perhaps most evident in the poems on pain. Pain cracks through the book. Some poems are more explicit about this subject, such as ‘Recovery Ward’ (22), ‘The Variances’ (27), ‘A Pain Around My Shoulders, as Ritual’ (50), or ‘Things I Learned in Bay 13A’ (86), while in others it’s in the background as a possibility. Even in poems that are about pain, it is almost always encountered allusively, and this is another kind of realism in Viva the Real (pain often comes at you from the side, striking when you’re unprepared). Because of its presence, I started to read certain ambiguous lines in other poems as also about pain. For example, ‘It’s hard to lift your hand / but see, you do / & every child does’ in ‘As if You’d Break’ (46) could be read as a statement of wonder, but I thought whether it was more so a reference to suffering. This is again the case in ‘Cracks in Stars’. The poem is a list of memories (‘I remember crackers and stars / I wanted foghorns / I wanted to be alone …’), but towards its end are the lines, ‘I was ill under the trees, as though / I’d always been there’, which cast the whole poem in a different light (89).

The book’s other themes include the natural world and its agents; the value of the non-human; the costs of technological progress; the simultaneous strangeness and ordinariness of existence; and love. The non-human is often treated with deep respect:

Glass is composed by heat and sand

soda ash and limestone.

It’s only so far flexible. It’s cold. There’s a mark

where the bird struck. It dies

and your hands tremble with stupidity.


The tragedy of human ‘progress’ encroaching on the non-human reoccurs in the excellent ‘Poem Diesel Butterfly’ (25), while ‘Rituals in Ultrasound and Gardens’ (8) expresses a desire to go beyond the anthropological: ‘To escape the human for a / moment like being a rock or / a leaf, a mist, a serpent … ’ (9). In ‘Brought Into Morning’ the poet is drawn to the thought that:

when being human is

not the point, the world

fills with water or

darker materials, doubles

impossibles forgot


In Viva the Real there is a deep-seated wonder at reality in its fleshy and vegetable fullness. As I noted earlier, phenomenology and the non-human world are abiding themes, and through these Jones presents an ethos of relating to the non-human, of striving always to sympathise with it. If my review seems hardly critical, that’s because I feel the collection ‘realises’ this very well.

The poems here seem both embodied and disembodied, both personal and impersonal, with poetic forms constantly shifting as well, never just one thing. There is a restless energy to Viva the Real, and it’s tempting to guess at a cause (such as that acute or recurring pain makes you feel both inside and outside your body, both inside and outside experience). Whatever the motivating force for this restlessness, it forms an engaging and wide-ranging collection – through it, an array of subjects and aesthetics are harmonised by the poet.


Prithvi Varatharajan is a writer, literary audio producer, and commissioning editor at Cordite Poetry Review. His writing has appeared widely in Australian and overseas journals, and he has a book of poetry and prose, Entries, forthcoming with Cordite Books in 2019. He holds a PhD from the University of Queensland on ABC RN’s Poetica (1997–2014).


Thriveni C Mysore reviews Wildlife of Berlin by Philip Neilsen

by Anne Elvey

Philip Neilsen, Wildlife of Berlin, Crawley, Western Australia:UWAP, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-74258-961-9


Thriveni C Mysore


Differentiating between the philosopher and the poet, defining poetry, George Santayana says that

the philosopher in his best moments is a poet, while ‘the poet has his worst moments when he succeeds in being a philosopher.

Poetry is an attenuation, a rehandling, an echo of crude experience; it is itself a theoretic vision of things at arm’s-length … The first element which the intellect rejects in forming its ideas of things is the emotion which accompanies the perception; and this emotion is the first thing the poet restores. He stops at the image, because he stops to enjoy … Poetry takes every present passion and every private dream in turn for the core of the universe.’ (in Mais 1921, 71–72)

The poetry of Philip Neilsen in his sixth collection, Wildlife of Berlin, confirms the above definition. The poet restores emotion, reconnects the reader’s senses to Nature, reconnects the human world’s disillusioned senses to Nature, and reconnects humanity to humanity.

Wildlife of Berlin is not about gradient ecosystem or the flora and fauna of Berlin, it is about human sensibilities. It is all as said in the poem, Marienplatz – Munich: ‘exclamation marks without a sentence’. (12)

It is astounding to read the lines:

the old collaborator launched lawyers

at those who copied his design,

though even this Bavarian sky

is a forgery from the east.


The depth in reading about the Museum of Hunting ‘studded with antlers and heads, the floors patrolled by brown bears, wolves and a lynx, their Waldgeist stolen by some taxidermist’ is profound with many tangential meanings, political and otherwise. It ends with razor-sharp words, ‘no regrets’.

Concerning the second poem in the Wildlife of Berlin, the poet’s ‘Notes’ speak about the atrocities at the end of World War II. It is a brutal, in-human and a very wild chapter in the history of humankind. The poem begins slowly:

The documentary tracks badgers, follows foxes

in their mellow tunnels and silver dawns,

the delicate relocation of a bee swarm,

the nattering flutter

of squirrels, bats and swifts.


Unmistakable badgers, foxes, tunnels, silver dawns, bee swarm, squirrels, bats and swifts carefully keeps the poet’s mind within silken folds and that itself is poetic genius. It is not simply a tendency towards expressing the impossible, it flows unerringly as:

Like a compliant snow drift, white swans break and bunch

under a humped bridge. The voice-over confides with a chuckle that

‘the authorities turn a blind eye to Berliners feeding bread to the swans’

as they might have done to women

who hoarded bread, or rope to hang themselves


‘There is no seasonal triumph of nature to see’, says the poet ending the poem poignantly:

except children sifting rubble for scraps of pigweed

or boiling bark for tea.


A poem, so abruptly landing on all fours startles the reader. Helplessness and guilty shame become the punctuation here and the poet’s thoughts are driven home successfully.

Quoting Denever Holt: ‘If climate change results in habitat changes and it effects the lemmings, it will show up in the snowy owls because 90 percent of their diet is lemmings. The owls are the key to everything else’, the poet picks up, ‘Snowy Owl’ with deliberate observation:

You know everything

white face of the world

even in flight you see a fox’s whiskers

can hear a mouse twitch

three feet under snow

so what a cacophony we must be

even on days when we catch ourselves

and try to stay still.


The poet’s warning of near fatality through careless humans is unforced. Nothing at all can ever reverse the changes in Nature brought about by human actions. No satellites, forecasts, warnings, mappings can stop the ice from melting. It is more of ‘mass sacrifice’ than the poet’s ‘mass suicide’. The remedies suggested are tragic and truthful:

Homecoming, dark specks tracked from above,

rodent and human mingled

in the Arctic melt.

Unless, though snow blind,

we too can be stealthy,

alert as a mouse’s eye.


This dignified flow continues to pick up pace in the poem, ‘Auspices’:

Our skies are less auspicious now,

we glance up as heaven slips away

resist the earth pull

try to knit patterns of escape,

clay terrestrials

bullied by the unknown.


The poet spreads out the chess-board in front of the reader giving all the time in the world to think about the next move. The efficiency of the poem now is judged not by word play, but by its ability to sort out essential from unessential, to infer, to discriminate, to weigh, and then apply to the situation in hand. The anxious poet says:

If only a million wings could filter

the sun, cool the ocean currents,

soothe the space dome,

that mad cracked cap.

The geese have their own prediction.


Increase in UV radiation, global rise in temperature, ozone tear, confused migratory birds, nearing extinction of species of birds and animals is said without hesitation and it is this power of true conviction that urges the reader to recognise the present rough-shod eco-situation. Blurting out the list of problems is not itself a solution, it has to be sought out. The repercussions of our actions are reflected to infinity and scattered in each degree of rotational motion of Earth. Strangely enough, it is among these renditions – like poems – that truth manifests. Tenderness and Pity combine in equal proportions bringing out a rare poetic quality of hurried correction in Neilsen’s poetry. The poem, ‘Tawny Frogmouth’, portrays ghastly complexities of human action towards the once balanced ecosystem:

Introverted cousin of the owl,

one part existentialist

one part backyard Buddha

meditates until it

becomes the branch, the mottled bark.


As it calls for a mate through stationary nights of August, the poet says it was unsuccessful the previous year pointing to the dwindling populace and it is with sad response that a reader faces these lines:

Last year you called until October

but no one came, plunging our house

into pathos. You offered a lifetime of fidelity

and even that was not enough.

So intent on blending in,

camouflage too perfect, or too rough,

a heart and lung of twigs.


Shining real in poetic form, the poem ends by playing on haunting loss in high pitch giving much intensity to pathos, pointing out yet again the roughness of heart and lung figuratively compared to twigs.

The poet re-enters again with another haunting poetic melody with ‘Pied Currawong’. Never giving a chance for the reader to sit in the vacant seat by his soulful side, the poet picks-up a handful of tincture:

The poster bird for evolution

clatters on a tin roof of dawn,

narrates from the bony blue gum.

It is a story about the 1960s in Sydney,

how it learned to pierce

milk bottle tops and siphon the cream.


It is with horrid significance that the poem ends:

the birds learn new tricks

having foreseen our absence.


It is the reader who bears the weight of these words about the gone glass of protection, breeding of flotilla of plastic and the spoiling of ocean, the poet’s words chill the spine and the point is made with clinical precision. A thought crosses the reader’s mind, ‘our absence; From? How?’

The poem, ‘Noisy Miner’ helps us to understand Nature in all political correctness:

Anthropocentric miner has vulgar manners,

always insists on the right of way. Known by

the first people as cobaygin, then chattering bee-eater,

the noisy miner, black hooded,

gang loaded, is a pragmatist.


When such ‘miners’ – honey eaters – drive away Silvereyes, Sparrows, Finches, ‘Colonisation is its pulse’ strikes a note with the impeccable sharpness of UHF note, but then:

It looks into a rain puddle,

pecks at the yellow eyes and beak,

trusts in belligerence to bully death,

the hunched fur, over there under grevillea.


The poet cuts through general circumstances, yet, says something else. Again the reverberations of survival, death, hunch, belligerence, colonisation, anthropocentric miner … continue to stay in the mind of the reader.

‘Superb Fairy Wren’ stretches in action without busy-ness, ‘The Eastern Whipbird’ stares at nothingness, the first painted bird, ‘The new Holland Honeyeater’ is dizzy with fructose:

Dizzy with fructose he has a vision,

of sweet spinning, bush to bush,

feathered, territorial, monogamous,

which cleanses him of the gun powder,

blood and shit of his military days.


The soulful poem re-paints the challenge in the joy of being.

‘Red-capped Robin – Long Pocket, Indooroopilly’ begins with something as commonplace as ‘parking cars’, but progresses meaningfully creating magic, thrill and a sense of beauty in the reader not forgetting to leave a taste of sympathy, ugliness of human tendencies and peculiar pain somewhere down the guts. After all, sadness underlines happiness, always fading-in later than never. If that surety sinks in, then the phantom of inconsistency never crosses the reader’s mind, but to evoke such a resolute emotion, there needs tranquil dignity and responsibility on the poet’s part and that is skillfully taken care of by Neilsen in Wildlife of Berlin.

‘Queensland Haiku’ says:

Salted earth kills crops:

pig-headed, we tell this sharper sun

to make fruit from dust.


Polluted earth that has turned the all-essential soil to some sort of by-product of acid has stopped her support to human life subtly. It is her way of protesting. The unfavourable green life is linked to all climatic changes, the ruptured zones, melting ice and forest fires, too. Unfortunately the invisible chain link of Nature is unseen by insensitive human eyes. The dumbness of human life is exposed by the poetic words, ‘to make fruit from dust’. This pig-headedness is as clear as a stone-tablet written in bold letters, yet apathy sneaks into human tendency to notice it. Such poetic fluorescence is again seen in the poem, ‘The Dead are Bored’:

We the dead are bored with your concerns,

your endless talk on social media about food and pets,

Listen, there is not magic in this prophecy:

when the rhino is gone

and clumsy birds mop the plains

you will see there your own remains.


The poetry in Wildlife of Berlin thus flows deeply, disturbing the imaginary peace of mind in an engaging way, making one murmur in sympathy. Freshness of approach in poetic devices, too, makes a coherent impression on the reader, to keep one’s opinion aside and to go with the poetic flow of thoughts at once. Such effect can be made possible only when the poet is true to his feelings and Philip Neilsen compels any reviewer to congratulate the poet first and then move on with any other observations.

Wildlife of Berlin has depth, sanity and distinct perfection. The half-learned world often amused by imaginative apathy rudely awakens to Neilsen’s poetry, for each poem in the anthology reaches a serene height of detached interest and completes itself, quenching poetic thirst.



Mais, S. P. B. 1921. Why We Should Read. London: Grant Richards. Project Gutenberg Ebook #41285. Released 2012.



Thriveni C Mysore is a science teacher from Karnataka, India. She is locally acknowledged for her critical essays and articles on Philosophy and Education. Her books in Kannada on Philosophy and Science have won State awards. Being actively involved in Environmental Awareness Programs, she holds lectures and presentations for students. Amidst life’s complexities, she finds divine-solace in reading Nature poems.


Tina Giannoukos reviews Fragments by Antigone Kefala

by Anne Elvey

Antigone Kefala, Fragments. Artarmon, NSW: Giramondo, 2016. ISBN : 978-1-925336-19-1


Tina Giannoukos


Antigone Kefala is a singular poet, one who has carved her own linguistic space. Her work is its own topos or place. Whether we read a poem from Kefala’s first collection, The Alien, in the 1970s, or a poem in her latest collection, Fragments, published in 2016, we are in a poetic reality that is like no other. Thus, Fragments enfolds into itself the poet’s life-long preoccupation with memory, loss and estrangement. Her disciplined rhythm and conceptualised imagery reveal her lyric at its compositional best.

A fiction writer as much as a poet, as well as a non-fiction writer, Fragments is her fifth collection of poetry, and her first in almost two decades. Born in Romania to Greek parents, she lived first in Greece and then New Zealand and Australia. After decades of writing in English, she has made the language her own, bending it to her own use, uncovering other cognitive potentialities in language than mere verisimilitude. She reveals how a consciousness as ethically concerned as hers might react to the unknown landscape before it and how it might carry the past into this new territory without violence but with humility.

As in much of her poetry, Fragments is trained on the dislocated but from unusual angles, the mood and shape of it, contouring experience itself. The subject confronts the truth of its provisional existence in a language that is as beautiful as it is unflinching. In the process, Kefala evokes the extraordinary. In the well-known poem ‘The Alien’ from her first collection, The Alien (1973), landscape and psyche merge:  ‘at night I see it rising from the hollow tower / dripping with mist / this land we search for in each other’s eyes’. It is less a question of whether Kefala’s poetry evokes an Australian landscape, though that is important in the particularities of her work, but the way elements of a natural or physical world, chiselled out of the landscape of language with the pickaxe of poetry, evoke affective states of being. In ‘Letter II’, memory is associative rather than direct, and the landscape evoked an Australian one by association but it could be anywhere. Kefala says:

The light today

clean as if made of bones

dried by a desert wind

fell in the distance of the roofs

and I remembered you.


The disturbing power of the poem lies in the way light recalls death, as if illumination is the secret knowledge of death made manifest, and memory the means of its manifestation.

In Fragments, Kefala’s restrained aesthetic, her spare lyricism and compositional acuity, intensifies the collection’s elegiac, if ascetic, tone. Kefala is uneasy at what returns to haunt the subject, but instead of lament or overpowering loss, she distils the essence of the experience, so the past and the present fuse in one extraordinary moment. Her ascetic response to loss yields a secular knowledge of time. In essence, Fragments pivots on the border between death and life, for what is remembered is re-enlivened. Having performed the Sisyphean labour of remembering, the spare beauty of her poems, as opposed to any verbose over-intellectualisation of mourning in dense lines of poetry, is the gift. But as much as many of the poems in Fragments are about what has passed, they are also about what is possible. In ‘Dreams’, Kefala says:

Dancing in empty rooms

with a young man

with white hair

dancing in rooms

that were growing

bigger and bigger

your touch

light on my skin

and the warmth

of your body



To remember the past in ‘Dreams’ is to summon the beauty of youth, an almost Greek worship of the kouros, those marble statues embodying the ideal of male beauty and youth. But the memory of youth and the reality of old age rather than being at odds yield instead a knowledge of what was and what is.

The collection consists of sixty-one poems across five parts. In the first part of the collection, which consists of thirteen poems, the past unsettles. In the section’s opening poem, ‘The Voice’, the eruption of the past into the present disturbs the already not-so calm tranquillity of the speaker:

At the sound

I turned

my veins full of ice

that travelled

at high speed

releasing fire.


This return

the past attacking


in the familiar streets.


The past in the poem is an ever-threatening force that releases pent-up energy as much as much as it recalls the speaker to its power.

But the unsettling power of the past in Fragments comes from its power to nourish and wound; thus, in ‘Photographs’, the dichotomy of the past is that it is a force that intrudes, either positively or negatively, on the present. But this dichotomous power of the past to unsettle for good or bad is one that in our existential vulnerability we ourselves conjure:

The past

a drink, a coolness

we thirst for.


The past

a drink, a poison

we thirst for.


But if the past was merely an intrusive force for good or bad, the poem, and Kefala’s reflection on memory in Fragments, would remain a predictable dichotomy between now and then. Instead, Kefala refigures this dichotomy as something much more disturbing in its affective power to evoke loss:

Watching our selves

these unknowns

more adventurous

more luminous

new, glossy beings

unaware of the dangers


in their innocence.


It is as if the speaker sees into the past and seeing is able to reimagine time as a regenerative force that yields a melancholy, if ironic, regard for the innocence of youth.

The poems in the second part of the collection are remarkable for their painterly exploration of the natural world. In all, there are eleven poems, distinguished by their empathy. Their mood can be ecstatic, even as darker elements surface. In ‘Travelling’, the stuffiness of the city heat in the first stanza, where the desert wind is ‘blowing parched / through the windows’, gives way to the ecstatic experience of the bush after driving through ‘The suburbs dark with soot’ (24). In the final stanza, Kefala says:

But the bush

full of silence

the wind at night

the sound of waves

high in the gum trees.


The poem’s attention to ‘The suburbs dark with soot’ or the two men on their verandah ‘watching the traffic / in the apricot light / of the late afternoon’ opposes the contemporary architecture of urban life with that of the natural splendour of the bush.

Whilst the poems in the second part of the collection are beautifully resonant, like the last stanza in ‘Travelling’, their affective power comes from Kefala’s articulation, in a mode suspended between celebration and sorrow, of an ecstatic response to the natural world. In ‘The Bay’, Kefala says:

Three divers

near the boat house

strange amphibious creatures

with black rubber skins

wrestling the waves

climbing the rocks

in the apocalyptic sunset

that left

gold orange strands

on the dark waters.


In poems like ‘The Bay’ Kefala oscillates between the beautiful, or within human understanding, and the sublime, or beyond human understanding. In ‘Still Life’, she says:

The light

caressing the water

with the hands

of a lover.


The trees



at the exact point

known to them all

but not to us.


The poem, like others in this section, is awake to the enigmatic, as the experience of the sublime in a world where not all is readily available to the senses or the understanding.

It is in the four poems of the collection’s third part that Kefala most intimately articulates the passage of time. The poem, ‘On Loss’, represents her most direct treatment of anger at what death takes from the living, when Kefala declares in short, strong lines that ‘Death needs no one / comes wrapped / in self-sufficiency’ (41). The confronting ‘Do you hear? / You all who strive for self / sufficiency / this is the way’ (41) is oracular in its evocation of the power of death. In relatively short lines in ‘The Neighbour’, Kefala asserts the existential reality of death:

And poor Bob

still at the Resting Home

that nice place

the walls white, the bed covers red

and he sitting there in his pyjamas

drinking tea

unaware of the maple coffin

and she lying dead

and all the lovely flowers.


The fourth part of the collection consisting of thirteen poems revisits themes of loss. One of the poems most evocative of the passage of time is ‘Transformations’, where the image in the mirror or in a photograph becomes the dissociative experience of an unsettling encounter with time:

Our faces

these unknowns that shape

themselves silently

watch us out of mirrors


an accumulation so subtle

so untraceable


The fifth part of the collection, which consists of twenty poems, is the most public. In ‘Public Figure’, the subject of the poem has become his past, ‘a famous story / he no longer challenged’ (65). In ‘Old Friend’, a friend’s trauma requires the relinquishing of one’s own right to an experience of the moment:

She was uneasy

an inner vertigo

that held her

we gave her our attention

we renounced whatever claim

we had on the moment

to offer it to her.


In conclusion, Fragments articulates Kefala’s singular voice. Her heightened attentiveness to memory and loss reanimates the past and reveals what lies concealed in the moment. Above all, her concentrated poetics refine experience into its quintessence, offering insight without attachment.


Tina Giannoukos’s latest collection of poetry, Bull Days (Arcadia, 2016), was shortlisted in the 2017 Victorian Premiers Literary Awards and longlisted for the 2017 Australian Literary Society Gold Medal.


Spotlight: Barrabup Forest

by Anne Elvey

This could be the story in so many places, another old growth forest facing logging and its human supporters resisting. Right now, poet activist John Kinsella tells me that we need to pay attention to The Barrabup Forest, 5 km from Nannup in the South West of Western Australia. John has written a poem in response to the situation. You can read it here. There is a petition to sign here, and some media here.


Mary Cresswell reviews The Herring Lass by Michelle Cahill

by Anne Elvey

Michelle Cahill.  The Herring Lass.  UK: Arc Publications, Arc International Poets Series, 2016. ISBN 9781910345764.


Mary Cresswell


This collection is a concatenation of loss: not just an assemblage but a linked chain in which each loss adds to the weight of the length of chain yet to come. The title poem shows the Herring Lass:

Not far from the stone harbour, herring kilns

pump wood smoke, smudged into an enterprise of masts

and the hemp rigging of a whole fleet, outward bound.


Her knife flashes in four-second strokes,

her wet hands never stray from a salted barrel


as she stands in mute drudgery while a whole living world moves and bustles around her. The cover (Winslow Homer’s ‘The Fisher Girl’) shows a woman standing in a fog on an indeterminate shore, looking out to sea for fish which may (or may not) appear this year (or next).

Losses in the natural world pile up, all at the hands of humans claiming to settle some sort of brave new world at the other end of the sad old world. ‘Day of a Seal, 1820’ begins as ‘[a] tall ship patrols the coast’ and the living seal hides in the ‘slaughter sands’ of Bass Strait. It ends as

Black women from the camps pile our skins on spits for tobacco, for oil.

I cannot strike back.


A hundred years later, in ‘Twofold Bay, 1930’ killer whale Old Tom is caught in ‘sixty fathoms of double coir’ as ‘Norwegian guns cull the pods of hunted Orca spirits/ bathypelagic ancestors. I can taste the words whiten/ into thin milk of settler culture, …’ (23). In Tasmania, the thylacine stands ‘The Vanishing’ on its head, disappearing the settlers themselves:

I’ll escape into ferneries, veils of Time

from the experts, bureaucrats, Lake

St Clair’s crags, from grotto to Sphinx,

jerking all the levers – till they

vanish from my world.


There are so many themes, so many layers in these poems that it’s impossible for me to find one obvious point of entry. So, I will jump arbitrarily to Cahill’s six-poem sequence of ‘The Grieving Sonnets’ and quote the fourth one in its entirety. It includes not only the losses to the natural world for the sake of money, but also the loss of words:

The river meanders from killing fields to half-light.

Never ceasing, nomadic running the scree. A lyric

festering, we ply her spirit with a destitute tongue.

Been fond of escape, been trading words for flight,

a bright skin of language, a second nature. Bring on

the sobriquets, take a few pills in the amber dawn.

I’m guessing the forecast is erratic, that dreaming

is my abode, but we have mansions for lovely forms.

We have harbour side galleries and Bindi Irwin.

Money jangles, and while it’s hard to get this straight,

I’d swear by the riotous retort of raven or wattlebird.

Hear the mulloway leap with a hoary splash to shoot

the silence and you understand the fanatic – oh fish,

our common antecedent, remind us of difference.


The poet’s abbreviated, telegraphic style reinforces our awareness of what has been ignored or cast aside in the trip from the killing fields to the safe dimness of half-light. The sonnet immediately preceding this one advertises ‘Borderline poet with GSOH seeks discreet patois(43). In the final sonnet, ‘We feel the ignominy of territory, we chase idioms / borrowed from culture, memory, the past’s psychosis / and prison’ (46).

The uselessness of language (which we fondly believed showed our superiority to the other animals) and the terrible track of destruction leave us with intolerable grief and shame, and no hope. We know only that we are far down the track of a process we ourselves began:

No tripping in the aleatory light, no thesaurus

for radioactive dusk with incurable ciphers. …

All that remains is the running brush, a train

and a whisper in the machine, half-wilting.

No figures of speech – nothing to speak of.

(‘After Fukushima’, 66)

Looked at from a different angle, loss can bring awareness of what might have been, what could have been. Joseph Conrad’s short story ‘Youth’ comes from the heart of Boys’ Own Tales of Empire: it follows a lad on a cosmically unseaworthy coaler taking coal from Newcastle to Bangkok, a nearly endless voyage in which everything possible goes wrong; the ship is saved only so that Marlowe can, years later, regale his worthy friends (retired mariners all) with the story of how his youthful spirit flourished amid it all – as his guests harumph in admiration, pass the bottle back and forth, and reflect that this is how Men are Made. It’s an story of mindless acceptance and takes place entirely on one level, in the grey, indeterminate world that surrounds one small ratty vessel. (Actually, not ratty: the rats leave early on in the piece, necessitating a whole new crew.)

Now look at ‘Youth, by Josephine Jayshree Conrady’ a glorious five-page narrative that brings life to a voyage geographically somewhat similar to Conrad’s, but one that revives and resuscitates the story by adding anecdotes and layers and a personality – as though the Technicolor has suddenly been switched on. J. J. Conrady asks and wonders:

Even as it recedes, why do I miss London?

Houses that reek of lime and coal smoke,

a crowded chaos spilling into Gravesend’s

noisy piers, stevedores, a jungle of wharves,

dock gates, Tilbury’s mastheads. …


I dressed in kurta with kersey breeches,

brass buttons, my hair clipped to the ears.

The sea beckoned, lingering

as in a dream, one does not wish to wake

from since it returns us to the cargo

of the drowned, unalterable past. …


There is travel, there is drama; above all, there are three dimensions and five senses making a wonderfully rich story – ultimately reflecting an immigrant’s sense first, of the confusion of new places and customs, and then of the fated, inevitable destination (which may not have been planned to begin with):

There’s only ever been one passage:

this deck I’ve paced, facing south.

Larrikins brawled with Arabs en route

to Melbourne. … English was a blank verse

that colonised our minds;

the full moon left us unbalanced.

Youth is intrepid of all mystery.

She plys a corridor to the Torres Straits …


All day the endless toil

of shovelling sand, pumping water,

a feat, like life itself. Or futile words –

Black. Arabian. Baltic, Ivory. Atlantic.

But through all the colour and headiness of human life, the loss awaits:

The sea is restless for her prize, the reefs patient.

Mercy we cry, each one of us

dreams of our poor carcass, swept asunder,

while in the harbour the hungry shipwrights wait.


This is a passionate book, full of grief and time travel, of keen observation of the world along with anger and shame for humanity. The poet’s voice is the voice of the Pythia at Delphi – not cryptic as some traditions have it but rather speaking from the very heart of the earth, original and powerful. The book is worth reading – and re-reading.


Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast. She is a retired science editor and volunteers at a nature reserve and at a women’s centre. Her new book, Field Notes (a satirical miscellany) is due from Makaro Press, Wellington, in mid-2017.


Ecopoetry Reading and Discussion

by Anne Elvey

Ecopoetry reading and discussion 

with Helen Moore

Helen Moore is an award-winning British ecopoet and socially engaged artist based in NE Scotland. Her two poetry collections are Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins (Shearsman Books, 2012) and, acclaimed by John Kinsella as “a milestone in the journey of ecopoetics”, ECOZOA (Permanent Publications, 2015).  FFI:

and local poetspicture1

Stuart Cooke

Bonny Cassidy

Michael Farrell

Anne Elvey


Wednesday 8 March 2017

5.30 for 6.00pm

till 7.30pm

Collected Works Bookshop

Level 1, Nicholas Building

37 Swanston Street, Melbourne


Enquiries: Anne Elvey

For flyer: ecopoetry-reading-and-discussion


Mary Cresswell reviews Engraft by Michele Seminara

by Anne Elvey

Michele Seminara. Engraft. Woodford NSW: Island Press Co-operative, 2016. 9780909771935  p/b 72


Mary Cresswell


The poems in this collection are energetic – engaging – and most definitely engrafted, sometimes literally.[1]The poet gives us found poems from Kafka, Dickinson, Joyce; there are remix poems using Shakespeare and Robert Lowell; Solzhenitsyn, Djuna Barnes are the source of erasure  poems. Take the title poem, a remix based on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 15:

Man is conceived upon this sullied stage

and like a seedling grows, but then decreases.

He vaunts his youthful sap in brave conceit,

till wasteful time decays his day to night.


Everything holds but a little moment –

even your perfection cannot stay.

So I’ll make war with time and as he takes you

make love, and with my pen engraft you new.  (19)

Only about half the words appear in the original, but we are definitely in the world of Renaissance English, its language and its carefully engrafted imagery. You can hear both poets talking, and the poem acts as a bridge from 1600 to 2016.

The poem ‘Masque’ gives us quite a different experience. It is an erasure poem using Djuna Barnes’ novel ‘Nightwood’:


as if                        abuse  was

happiness                        and    I


striking her


were a game

she raised and dropped                 against my lap


gutted on a dagger                              (23)

We are balancing an entire novel against 24 words here, and I am not sure where to go with it. Quite on its own, the poem is an exercise in projective verse style and can be looked at entirely on these grounds. But where do I put the original now? Or should I stop thinking about it? Is its shape the result of the erasure, or is this quite separate? Should I expect to hear the voice of Djuna Barnes – or has she simply contributed her genes and disappeared? For the purposes of the book here and now, it may not matter – but these are interesting questions.

These questions reflect the disconnected nature of Seminara’s images throughout the book, images which show us the turbulence and disconnectedness around us. Many refer to motherhood: “When fixing the bedclothes / I always remember to pause / by the fighting fish’s tank” (‘Mother’, 33), “When I called for help / your father was unreachable / (and is even more distant now)” (‘Happy Birthday’, 45). Many connect with the ongoing and universal pain of living and our attempts to control it:

I retreat to this land whenever I need healing –

to ingest its molecules in my lungs

its light-waves into my pupils,

black-holed mainlines into the suffering brain.     (52)

The collection is divided into four: Mammoth, Lover, Mother, and Snail. They roughly – very roughly! – indicate buried thoughts and dark possibilities, passion for another, motherhood, and the gradual slowing down of action (though not of feelings) as death comes closer. It’s interesting that the ‘Lover’ section contains more engrafted poems than the others. Is the poet looking to the outside world for support? Or is she telling us that love is always different for each of us, no matter how many poems we write or what past experience our present love draws upon?

Her distance from her sources varies: I suspect catching just the right bit for her own use is as delicate and as crucial as a trapeze artist’s catching the right part of the bar.  After reading this collection, I am looking at engrafted poems in a totally different way, and I can’t begin to guess at the answers I’ll get down the track.

The poet looks outward, then inward. ‘On Reading Bishop’ (Bishop’s ‘Giant Snail’), she says:

Reading Bishop, a distinctive stillness comes.

Like her giant snail I too inch forward

my own amorphous, unguarded

foot absorbing sharp barbs of gravel

avoiding rough spears of grass

as I push, bull-headed, to gain a crack

in God’s sanctuary before sunrise.

Seminara’s foot may be amorphous and unguarded, but her poetry is certainly neither. It’s worth reading on all sorts of levels, both in what she’s saying deliberately and also in what she is demonstrating about different styles of poetry.



[1] I don’t know the generic term for poems which bodily incorporate the words of other poets, so ‘engrafted’ will have to do here for remix, found, erasure/redacted/blackout poems, centos, glosas, sonnenizios, and all their kith and kin.


Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast. Her collection of ghazals and glosas, Fish Stories, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2015. When she is not reading or writing, she volunteers at a bird sanctuary. See also:


Spotlight: The Great Barrier Reef

by Anne Elvey

On 20 March 2016, The Climate Council issued an ALERT: Climate Change and Coral Bleaching.

On 21 March 2016, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority upgraded their official rating of coral reef bleaching to the highest threat level: three. The Climate Council link this devastating bleaching to the impacts of climate change.

You can read the full ALERT document here.


In the August 2014 issue of Plumwood Mountain in which we intended a spotlight on the Great Barrier Reef, we published “Great Barrier Reef” by B. R. Dionysius. It is included again here along with a link to a review of the new edition of Judith Wright’s The Coral Battleground by way of response to The Climate Council ALERT.


Great Barrier Reef

B. R. Dionysius




They say it’s the length of Japan, if that group

Of home islands was stretched out beside the

Queensland coastline; a great lung of Poseidon’s

Branching from the continent’s spine of white

Beach, exhaling microscopic spores into the sea’s

Vast cavity. Atlantean sunk beneath the Pacific

Ocean’s mythic blue abyss, the living tissue is

Larger than Cook’s England, as legendary as

Arthur’s Albion & as treacherous as Lyonesse.

After all, it conspired to hole the Endeavour.





Along the brain-corrugated reef, light harpoons

Into water translucent & smooth as Murano glass.

Photons lobotomise; calm waters protect volcanic

Nibs of mountains we call islands. The reef is a

Front gate; white picket fence that keeps out sharks.

You can make out clam bunkers shut fast against

Riptides that blow subterranean wind in their faces.

Here, the wet metamorphosis of garden caterpillars;

Black & yellow striped nudibranchs, inch over polyps

That house migrants in their hundreds of thousands.





It is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon ultramarine.

A billion generations have crowned its hard teeth

Before we came down from the trees. Here, time

Is measured in the millennia that green turtles have

Spent heaving their way up beaches to deposit their

Golf ball-sized capsules. Or how barnacles cling for

The length of the British Empire’s reign upon a rock.

Such perspectives diminish our enterprise; as bulk oil

Carriers slide carefully around the razor-edged reefs;

Like a sapper probing for mines in the Afghan sand.





The rich organ now wears Asian funeral white. Its

Cancer the antithesis of black Western mourning.

The technicolour algae depart from their luxury posts

Like passengers on a stricken liner, leaving ghosts in

The shell. The sea is on a slow boil. The coral is dying

Its emphysemic death as parts of the great lung collapse.

It is falling into the shade of bleached whale bones as

Pieces of brain wash up on the beach; a tidal keepsake.

No need for a glass-bottomed boat to sail the future.

It is a scab on the ocean’s leg that is best left to heal.


B. R. Dionysius was founding Director of the Queensland Poetry Festival. His poetry has been widely published in literary journals, anthologies, newspapers and online. His eighth poetry collection, Weranga was released in August 2013. He lives in Ipswich, Queensland where he runs, watches birds, teaches English and writes sonnets.

The Coral Battleground - cover


See, too, Mary Cresswell’s review (from our September 2015 issue) of the new edition of The Coral Battleground by Judith Wright, published by Spinifex Press in 2014.


Siobhan Hodge reviews Crow’s Breath by John Kinsella

by Anne Elvey

John Kinsella, Crow’s Breath. Yarraville, VIC: Transit Lounge, 2015. ISBN 9781921924811


Siobhan Hodge


The twenty-seven short stories contained in John Kinsella’s latest collection of fiction, Crow’s Breath, form an unsettling reading experience. Set across a range of locations, but frequently in the Western Australian wheatbelt region, environmental concerns are a consistent presence but do not dominate the narratives within, which are trained on the intricacies and insecurities of human relationships and identities. A diverse cast of characters and range of personal situations are presented to the reader, but are linked by a common ground of uncertainty.

Central to the human conflicts explored are issues of insularity, alienation, and lack of comprehension, which extend to the world around each character. Multiple voices can arise in the same stories. In “The Little Flower of Forest Pool”, referring to a humiliating nickname for the focal schoolboy narrator, there is a moment of equally delicate and coarse contact between humanity and the natural world by a new, unnamed narrator:

Flowers of the forest can be subtle yet brilliant. The forest is no “bed of roses”, but diverse and fascinating. Some of us spend a lifetime studying orchids that flower underground, and blossoms that flourish without exaggeration in the otherworldly canopy. But the Little Flower of Forest Pool is a species constantly fighting extinction … I remember Harry, the Little Flower of Forest Pool, a pressed specimen in the pages of learning. The unlearning of school and its extracurricular manifestations. And I don’t have a thick skin. I will never have one. (61)

The “red flower” of blistered bruises upon the child’s back, caused by crashing into the ice of a dammed creek, becomes emblematic of callous indifference to a child’s developing sense of self and parental/adult assignation of identities at the cost of self determination. The visitation of the forest pool by the unwilling students and detached adult guardians create a sense of ritual, but the “coming of age” is an unwelcome and unfitting one. Any feeling of peace or success that could have been generated in this setting is off-set by descriptions of the environmental space itself, the karri trees’ canopies “different planets” (56).  This particular story is saturated with unattributed dialogue of teachers, students, perhaps the environment itself, organically built into the internal thoughts of the young male narrator. Recurring motifs of height and inaccessibility are shared by the exploitation of the young and the natural world alike.

Amongst the collection are frequent, sharp moments of horror. The brutality and ugliness of racism is showcased in “Golden Gloves”. Death is intermittently incidental, accidental, and intentional across Crow’s Breath. “The Tip” takes a particularly grim twist in this direction, in which a “friendly” rivalry over recycled materials becomes the means for entrapment and murder. Halloween celebrations get in touch with their cautionary, demonic roots in “The Thin Veil”, and more quotidian shows of compassion are shown to seldom go unpunished, especially in “Feeding the Dogs”, though are more optimistically, if confrontationally countered in “Need of Assistance”.

The suffering of animal figures in Crow’s Breath is another point for sternly critical reflection on human interactions with the natural world. The arbitrarily delineated roles of working dog/pet dog, enforced by the blunt patriarch of a farmer in “A Particular Friendship” result in the callous poisoning of all five working and pet animals when these roles are crossed. The farmer’s twin children, responsible for letting the dogs play together, are stricken and rendered in terms similar to the dying dogs when they make this discovery:

So he poisoned them. Strychnine. He killed the kelpies. He killed Bluebell and Captain. He fed them baited meat and watched them die. Their death throes looked like a bizarre game, something the twins would play. It has to be said, his children were odd.

… When the twins, home from school, rushed in calling, Where are the dogs? he just said, They’re gone. And keep away from the old well. The twins stared. They blinked very slowly. They trembled and clutched hands. They whimpered. (73)

Kinsella is utterly critical in his showcase of such arbitrary control over life and death, as well as the inappropriately human means of defining animal communication, behaviour, and value. Notions of value are linked to a narrow-minded patriarchal figure, while the comparatively free-thinking children are there to be inadvertently crushed. Human interference with the natural world has catastrophic results, but is shown to have been heartbreakingly easy to avoid.

In Crow’s Breath, the struggles of the individual human characters are symptoms of a broader scale of struggle for survival in remote communities, or socially disunited spaces, as well as being sharp indictments of more specific human vanities and values. Environmentalist concerns are forefront in the descriptions of much of the settings, but are subtly encoded alongside the more personal struggles of each short story’s feature narrator. The range of personalities and figures presented are visceral in their detail. On a second reading and as a linked body of work, Crow’s Breath is almost like an autopsy: points where life are extinguished or put under pressure are brought under the microscope, assessed, and returned without consolation, but with the underlying demand that more needs to be done. Rather than being an overtly moralising treatise, Crow’s Breath displays a resolute, cautionary undercurrent, rooted in its unoffered resolutions.


Siobhan Hodge has a doctorate from the University of Western Australia in English. Her thesis focused on Sappho’s legacy in English translations. Born in the UK, she divides her time between Australia and Hong Kong. She has had poetry and criticism published in several places, including Cordite, Page Seventeen, Yellow Field, Peril, Verge, and Kitaab.


Mary Cresswell reviews The Coral Battleground by Judith Wright

by Anne Elvey

Judith Wright, The Coral Battleground. 3rd Edition.  Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 2014. ISBN: 9781742199061 (p/b).


Mary Cresswell


When I think of witness, I think of speech: on a street corner, in a court room, in a church. Reading’s Wright’s book reminds me that witness is a written thing – keeping true records and telling a story as it was are a duty we owe to the people who follow us.

This book is both a history and a handbook. It was first published in 1977 to document the successful (it was thought) struggle to preserve the Great Barrier Reef from wanton drilling and destructive mining. And now it is all happening again. This isn’t the place to summarise the past – rather, I am asking why we need a history and why we need a handbook.

An accurate history (of anything, here of a major environmental protest) gives us the events which happened, tells who was involved, shows how the many small sub-battles worked out in actual practice, at best documenting both sides of the battle. Wright gives extraordinary detail of the development of the protest, naming names, outlining procedures that worked and that did not work, the vast range of conflict amongst laws, disciplines, financial interests, individual personalities. She speaks throughout with the passion of someone totally involved.

Wright tells of her departure for India (on unrelated matters) and comments she received about India’s environmental problems, and says:

 Australia, unlike India, had produced no religion, no philosophy, little art of its own. Its brief history was a rage of purely material exploitation; … we had the benefit of almost every advantage of the twentieth century. Yet we looked likely to destroy our own country in far less time than Indian cultures had taken to reach their own point of poverty, land exhaustion and over-population. And in doing so, we would have contributed far less to the world than India had done. (109)

Read as history, the book is a guide to what territory was covered, a clue to what needs to be watched in the future – and a testimonial to the many many people who worked toward what they had hoped would be a lasting solution.

But the solution was not lasting, and the book can also be read as a handbook for the next generation of protesters, to inspire them to stick with the hard slog they have taken on, and to show them they aren’t alone: some pilgrims are faced with the Slough of Despond, others face up to an oil company board of trustees. It is encouraging to know that survival is possible.

There is an interesting sub-plot running through the book – the care and feeding of experts. Wright is aware of the pressures put on the token scientist, the international expert called in to represent (alone) all of science on basically politically- or finance-driven committees. She points out, for example, the diffidence younger scientists can have when asked to work for a small or newly-formed organisation when such a choice may well scupper their careers. She reminds us again and again that geologists (or biologists or marine scientists or … ) are not at all the same.

In the case of a human ecologist appointed to a commission dealing with estuarine biology, she reminds us of the crucial point that scientific expertise in one field is not transferable to another along with the word “scientist”.[1] This is a mistake anyone can make but which nobody should.

At the end of the book, Wright – poet and witness – talks about the future:

The Reef’s fate is a microcosm of the fate of the planet. The battle to save it is itself a microcosm of the new battle within ourselves. So this is not just a story of one campaign. The human atitudes, the social and industrial forces, and the people who in one way or another took their part in the campaign, represented a much wider field, and one in which the future of the human race may finally be decided.  (186)


[1] Readers are referred to the matter of “Roy Meadow” (, where a level of medical expertise was assumed to be comparable to the same level of statistical expertise, with appalling effect.


Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast. She is a retired science editor. Her collection of ghazals and glosas, Fish Stories, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2015.

See also:


Walking man

by Anne Elvey

Brenda Saunders


He walked this country with the eye

of a newcomer, showed us how to see

close up, take in the sweep of distance,

the shimmer on a paddock in drought.

Leaves us his long shadow striding

the slope, the sun always at his back.

I read, follow his footsteps, listen

to the accented lilt, the rise and fall

of  his words, notes in a vast sound-scape.

He contemplates the notion of fire

loss and renewal, how a land left bare

flickers still under the seeming emptiness.

He stretches an image on a line

in a walking meditation across the page.


Brenda Saunders wrote “Walking man” as a tribute to Martin as a teacher/poet. She was in his poetry class at University of Technology Sydney in 2005.


The Shimmering Snake Slide

by Anne Elvey

Harriett Johnston


That best thing of all

It running chasing black

All blur of a thing

It shimmer on its belly

You never kill him

It’s dangerous and like Rainbow to us

You respect that snake cause

It come to earth from the sky

It bring rain and life

Can’t believe I got photo of him

You all gather round

All you mob come here and cheer

This photo I got like Rainbow

All over the ground


Harriett Johnston is a proud young Yanyuwa woman and leading member of the Borroloola Poetry Group, ‘Diwurruwurru’. She loves Vanderlin Island (of which she is a Traditional Owner), fishing, swimming, poetry camp and bossing Mista Phillip (because he worries too much).

Borroloola Poetry Club: Diwurruwurru (Message Stick)

Borroloola is remote town located in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory. It has a population of around 600-700 people in the Dry Season; and approximately 800-1000 people in the Wet Season. The population of Borroloola is 95% Indigenous and is made up of members of the Yanyuwa, Garrawa, Mara and Gudanji peoples.

Diwurruwurru (The Borroloola Poetry Club) is an Indigenous writers’/storytellers’ group that meets at the local school, or at the local Warralungku Arts Centre, under the care of local teacher/poet, Phillip Hall. The club is made up of both adult and school student members and meets every Friday afternoon (and sometimes on camp out bush).

Diwurruwurru has established an annual poetry prize (with children’s, young adult and adult sections) as part of the Borroloola Show. This year’s prize attracted over 70 entries; and was a glorious testament to the club’s dynamism.

Diwurruwurru has also collaborated with The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, since 2012, to establish an annual poetry festival in Tennant Creek; to publish member poems electronically on The Barkly Poetry Wall and in the print publication, Coming to Voice. In 2013 the Club also worked with the NT Writers’ Centre to secure an Australia Council grant to host Lionel Fogarty (an award-winning Indigenous poet) and Amanda King (a digital artist) in a month long residency in Borroloola. This exciting program saw Borroloola school students writing poetry, learning to perform and then recording their efforts onto film. In 2014 twenty members from Diwurruwurru were invited to WordStorm, the NT Writers’ Festival, to launch the Borroloola poetry film onto the national stage – a wonderful celebration of creativity in the Gulf.

Diwurruwurru has secured many other publication opportunities in 2014-2015 as well: we have been selected to appear in the new Donna Ward Inkermann & Blunt publication and in the Red Room Company’s new ‘Poetry Objects’ series.

Diwurruwurru writes group poems under the guidance of Phillip Hall. Our creative process is to meet around a meal where we share a lot of excited ideas/stories. Phillip Hall gathers these together on a white board where the drafting process begins with much discussion, debate and hilarious attempts to pronounce/spell Aboriginal English and Language words. Phillip continues to work on the poem over the following week before bringing it back to the group for approval. This process is sometimes repeated over several weeks.

Under the care of Phillip Gijindarriji Hall, Diwurruwurru is a lively creative place where family and friends meet to explore, experiment and assert Indigenous Culture and Story. The message stick that it generously shares is one of pride, respect and strength.

Phillip Gijindarriji Hall


The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) is proud to have hosted the Borroloola Poetry Club at the most recent Writers Workshops in October 2014. They are excellent writers and the ALNF is proud to support and encourage their ongoing activity as writers.


Arch the Apartnesses / \ Proffering Trees, 3 (Pollard)

by Anne Elvey

Peter Larkin  

Slit under aptness a turn through portal      inverse arches of the pollard bowl whose V  coppices out of cup or a trenchant stump invariant to radiant      cut multiple uni-verses at the bolling’s occupied blain


a remnant of set-before hollowing but clothing the slash through a neat scarcity at its inexhaustible      in no lassitude of renewable arbouring but according a complicity of single-notched intermoulding


every arch pre-dominantly pluralizes the shadow integration between pillars      dia-verting sacrosanct codification of chosen hump to vertical community at the rehealed over-reach


tumbling of what trees
have most in stock
across a craning of their
cut towards


Inverse arch of the pollard tusk’s branch cup      spidering across the cure towards least fallible curve of outlet      or the hollow fork which tries for cup but whose only whole tallness is re-enclosure at this maimed selection fist


though jaunty access will spring to a finesse of passing beneath the disappearances of strap into arch      from the severable to the tip-evidence of severalling these unpurged margins—however cleanly turnable in cup that scours round these departures


leaning companions foaming a contrast of rest      all it doesn’t forearm at its elbow of retention, though let presage be diverted here until forming a net of it as sheer linear threading of loft


coppice howl that cups
its alarm, surpassed bulge
still shafted on an
ample pump of holding


Two perfect vaultings wronging the way up of a lime pollard      can rotate laterally as each limb gets trans-paired from arch-frame to arch-frame or leaps diagonally across the regular indentations of its random symmetry      structurally precise cause-wires crossing as they will


perhaps the arch layer begins at the defeat slippage of an underling branch leaning out prematurely      can’t yet be proffered of lapse reaching a caplike unbisected


near-vertical arch-play is not the cure of its pollard wound but a trans-thinning with scarcely diverted twins of the exception      cresting is coupled on poor lean by the vertical subsidy itself


the cut becomes its apartness share-out minus frozen precisions of shedding, a meta-gathering among the poking beaks of cup


the bolling doesn’t pine
for its candelabra but pruned
to elaborate cull
re-quickens the wick of it

explore within-tree
lance (launches) compression
recapped at a hub
of coppice effort


Post-fracture zones to expand at the pulse of pollard carping for countenance      whose slenderness is primed out of hulk at the resorting knop of inverted apex      knack of an intransient index      let the retrieval be on call, along whichever wound it solidifies the intersect


Peter Larkin’s three collections of poetry are Terrain Seed Scarcity, (2001), Leaves of Field (2006) and Lessways Least Scarce Among (2012).  Give Forest Its Next Portent is due in 2014. He has contributed to The Ground Aslant: An Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry (2011).


‘The Queerest Shop in Sydney’

by Anne Elvey

Kristin Hannaford


In 1923, bookshop owner James Tyrrell purchased the premises of ‘Tost & Rohu: Taxidermists, Furriers, Tanners and Island Curio Dealers’ – it was known at the time as ‘The Queerest Shop in Sydney’.*


Welcome to Tost & Rohu’s carnival of the unusual!

naturalists, articulators Purvey the shelves, cabinets

and shop-front façade. sea-shells in large variety Wonder open- mouthed entomological specimens and

requisites at what you do not know, what you do not have:  bric-a-brac,


fancy work and flower making  gewgaws, marvellous birds,

beasts and reptiles oddities prepared and mounted to order that are the queer

and strange discharge of a continent. Minutiae of curiosities furs, tanned revealed –

an assortment of mixed lollies: snakes, frogs, sharks’ teeth, black cats and Pyrmont rock,


jellied substances instruments for Oologists

and jars of white spirit floating preserves. Go closer, Lyre bird tails

gawk at creatures reassembled, enjoy the pantomime ladies’ muffs, circlets,

bags of nature re-enacted, exotic ornamentations, implements, woomera the dark stained


patinas boomerangs of clubs and shields –

invent your narratives of possession, snake skin tobacco

pouches romance and loss, stop and choose Emu cameos enchantment or terror,

mounted in life-like style by Mrs. Tost.


* use of italics denote fragments from Tost & Rohu letterheads and advertisements


Kristin Hannaford is a Queensland based poet. Her writing has recently appeared in Cordite, Australian Poetry Journal, Overland, Filling Station (CAN) and Trace (Creative Capricorn, 2013) a chapbook of commissioned poems exploring histories of Rockhampton. Kristin is writing a new collection of poems thanks to an Australia Council new work grant.

An Australian and international
journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics.

Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.