Josie/Jocelyn Deane is a writer/student at the University of Melbourne. Their work has appeared in Cordite
, Australian Poetry Journal
, among others. In 2021 they were one of the recipients of the Queensland Poetry Festival Ekphrasis award. They live on unceded Wurundjeri land.
News of Animals/Nature is healing
The waters of Venice are clear,
almost. There aren’t any sudden swans
or dolphins out of the blue,
the elephants do not get drunk
in tea-fields cleared of the social
distancing efforts of the redoubtable
Yunan workers. It not even
the same photo of the same
elephants, curled up like content
deer in Nara prefecture, Tokyo, without
their vinegar/grain crackers
from tourists, inquire after safe
food in the metro, empty
malls, galleries of “Western” art, disinterested as
that one doe in a cathedral, or that one
dog meme, sitting in a flaming cockpit bottom text I Have
No Idea What I’m Doing, going
viral, haphazardly. Nature
is recolonising Venice, says the owner
of the Venice Hilton. “The water
is so blue and pure”, she says. “Nature
has no name, only what is given”. You’re still
in quarantine, buses are still trickling
over your window, you look at your arm, primate
hairs poking through sunburn.
Gay Jesus as You
I like gay Jesus almost as much
as I like you. I like the water
congealing in his side, clear trans-
-substantiation, from a cop’s spear
as much as I like you. The touch
enflames, the matter
-of-fact saying now things will be
different: your body will not be
that of your forebears. I like
the orange pips with gay Jesus’
face inside, conch shells
on the shores of Galilee whispering Christ
is come to the thirsting ear as much as
I like you. I like the hole he made
of his rib-cage, a beautiful before-after
mastectomy photo, of his hands like
a glory-hole almost as much as I
like you. I like the time passing and time
to come, time hiding like the devil
in a stratum of chalk/sandstone,
the outline of an Ichthyosaur or
bird-dinosaur, saying Christ this is
a long time to yourself… as much
as I like you. I like the generations
of spiders you hate— the parallel
church of our gay, eight legged lord
they form— that saw gay human Jesus
saying nothing in their language
going back to cocooning their food
as much as I like you. I like the sense
of a gay beginning and ending, the word
split, tentatively as much as I
Australianama: the South Asian Odyssey in Australia
by Samia Khatun
Reviewed by MATTHEW da SILVA
Samia Khatun takes a tack pioneered by Peter Drew, an Australian who made posters labelled with the word “Aussie” and featuring a migrant cameleer. He wrote about the development of his art practice in ‘Poster Boy: A Memoir of Art and Politics,’ (2019). It’s a slightly confused account of a life spent looking for battles to fight. Khatun fights her own battle but uses different language and aims stronger barbs at a long-absent colonial power.
As though every question in life might be answered satisfactorily by apportioning blame. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a Jewish author whom Indians cherish as one of their own, uses instead of incisive academic prose the language of sentiment filtered through a screen of humour.
Perhaps their twin aims are not running in parallel, but instead intersect – such as here, now. Khatun provides a much-needed lens through which to view South Asians in Australia in the colonial period. I was enchanted by the propriety of giving voice to such subaltern figures as a Pakistani merchant or an Indian peddler. The “lascars” – South Asian seamen used in the period following the abolition of slavery to crew steamships – also figure prominently in Khatun’s narrative, offering different ways to see White Australia and the developing form of nationalism Khatun acknowledges multiculturalism to be.
Given all these qualifications, how accessible is her book? Who might buy and read it? Is it a book for the general trade market or is it, rather, a work that must lie within the ambit of academic circles? I think that, as in the case of its focus, it is an intersectional work that can fit into multiple settings, much like a designer handbag or a 4-wheel-drive automobile. It will feel just as “right” if you carry such an accessory with jeans or with a Chanel suit. Similarly, with a modern 4-wheel-drive SUV, it looks fine in a CBD carpark or out on the open road climbing up a steep incline among trees with peeling bark that are filled with the sounds of cicadas.
Khatun’s register is elevated and her concern is, as is common with academic writing, to speak truth to power. She won’t concede anything her principles refuse to allow, so, for example, she refers to the Flinder’s Ranges in South Australia as having a name that is “current”. Not conceding allows her to embark upon a radical course of change, and she writes sympathetically of the dispossession of Aboriginal people in the process of writing about South Asians in Australia.
While the language is taut and the plan lofty – bringing the reader into contact with discourse systems that dominate elite circles – Khatun also tells a solid tale, and engages in a bit of novel coinage, as when she uses the word “tracks” to talk about storylines used by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. As such Khatun is writing a new “track” for her own people, locating them within the grip of a trading web stretching from Perth to Medina, and from Mombasa to Dhaka. She early on signals her intention to offer readers an alternative psychogeographical realm within which to tell her stories, and delivers on her promise, dredging up a range of colourful characters, each of whom, like Mohammed Bux, is able to tell stories that help to create new ways of living.
In Bux’s case the telling of stories not only made him a rich man, but saved his life. When on a hajj in the Arabian Peninsula, and robbed of everything including his clothes, it was his ability to describe what had happened to him that led to the provision of not only new clothes, but a place to sleep, and food. Telling stories continues to be an important way for Indigenous people in Australia to achieve their cultural and political goals, and this process is of course contested in the public sphere. Khatun is scathing in regard to former prime minister Tony Abbott and his 2014 “terra nullius” claim, part of a public performance during which, in typically blunt style, the politician tried to settle old scores – the “black armband” culture wars of a decade earlier.
Unsuccessfully, as it turns out. Khatun’s work forms a stepping stone for people who enjoy Drew’s art but my initial reservation – what appears at the outset of this article – should actually be taken as an index of my esteem as I thought that to dwell on such minor matters was unequal to the gorgeousness of what else is conveyed in this marvellous, and profoundly entertaining, work of nonfiction.
I was a tad disappointed that 19th century debates about knowledge that have been abandoned by all but the rumbling amateur and the most reactionary scholar animate Khatun’s narrative, which is otherwise – and, once you get over this opening hurdle – engrossing and rich in design and in execution. I’m really not sure that it’s all that useful to start quoting James Mill and Thomas Macaulay as though they were reliable witnesses to the fact of colonialism. Perhaps they are – in India?
They certainly cannot be in the West. It seems, in any case, unnecessary to drag out these particular skeletons, as though by displaying the bones you can resolve questions about why they’re not suitable to be used in a life drawing class. Nobody nowadays reads Mill or Macaulay anyway. Khatun has to ensure that people read her work. I prefer her investigations into the literatures of the subcontinent, for it is here that the incipient beauty of her text for the first time becomes apparent.
But Australianama not only charts waters rarely ventured into, and communicates effectively with what should be – if there’s any justice in the world (and of this many despair) – a wide audience, it also explores new avenues of enquiry that others might be tempted to pursue. Some of the tracks that Khatun follows reveal surprising truths about, for example, Aboriginal culture and the history of dispossession they’ve faced over much of the past 230-odd years.
Finding herself in the South Australian desert, Khatun takes a lesson in reading tracks left by passing animals, including a lizard that is taken by a snake. She writes:
This episode of high drama that Reg [Dodd] decrypted in the sand lies outside the bounds of what are recognised as significant events in most English-language history books today. In conventional histories of this Arabunna sandhill, the lizard and the eagle would not feature as central actors. And yet, it was this asymmetrical encounter between two creatures that gave me an invaluable insight into some of the principles of Arabunna storytelling. Beginning with the predatory gaze of the eagle, the central motif of these sand dune dramas was one of pursuit and escape, actions that left a trail in the sand. Like so many other narratives imprinted on the sandhill, the tracks of the lizard ended with dismemberment, consumption and disappearance from the face of Arabunna geography. Eating! Here, being eaten, the apprehension of being eaten, and the pursuit of other creatures in order to eat were ever-present prospects shaping how creatures moved across the land. (p.138 – 139)
Dodd had heard a story of South Asian cameleers from his grandmother, Barralda. In the story, two Aboriginal women were waiting for a train but it was late, and would not come. While they were waiting two cameleers arrived, with their beasts, and spoke to them, asking to see their breasts. The women showed the men their breasts. The men then asked to see their thighs. They showed the men their thighs. But in the telling the story evolved in a surprising way as the two women consider eventually – according to each teller of the tale – that the men want to eat them and thus want to see their flesh.
This is the central fact in the retelling as the story was passed down from mother to son, from aunt to niece. A cautionary tale told for the benefit of children, this particular track – Khatun discerned – was anchored in the same dynamic as that which resulted in the leaving of animal tracks upon the landscape. An ephemeral moment in world history, but a telling one.
MATTHEW da SILVA was born in Brighton, Victoria, and grew up in Sydney. He has Bachelor of Arts and Master of Media Practice degrees from the University of Sydney and lived for just under a decade in Tokyo. He has two adult children and lives in Sydney.
Paul Collis is a Barkindji person. He was born in Bourke, in far north/west NSW. His early life was informed by Barkindji and Kunya and Murawarri, and Wongamara and Nyempa story tellers and artists. Paul grew hearing traditional stories of Aboriginal culture and Law. He earned a Doctorate at University Canberra in 2015. His first novel, Dancing Home, won the 2017 David Uniopon Award for a previously unpublished work by an Indigenous author, and the 2019 ACT Book of the year Award. Nightmares Run Like Mercury his first poetry collection is published by Recent Studies Press in 2021. Paul lives in Canberra and teaches occasionally at University of Canberra.
(26th January) – Mend That !
I’m too black to be Blue…
too black I am, to be true Blue Aussie, like you.
I’m not like Johnno and Crew,
too black I am, to be that Blue.
so no happy birthday, Australia,
Oi, Oi, Oi,
Situation In Sydney…
“Na. Not doin’ that. Not goin’ to rehab”.
And then, there’s that silence. You know?
Denial in silence.
(her skinny little body, a tremble. her eyes fill with shame and pain)
I search her face for a sign, for one little memory, of her.
She knows what I’m looking for.
Eye’s overflow. “I’m sorry, Uncle”.
I think of Christmas morns in PJ’s, and her, lost beneath a mountain of wrapping papers.
Laughter with smiley faces.
Tears of joy as seven bells rang out loud.
Everywhere the Christmas bells.
Think . . .First day at school and new uniform,
slowly turn into first cigarettes and later to boyfriend kisses.
Movie dates and birthday cakes,
and she slowly slips away into a grown-up world.
For a moment, for just a moment, she’s back – that shiny face little kid
back with me, for a second.
I searched the city for a bed in a Rehab.
But all the beds were taken.
All the doors turned closed.
Despair. Now everywhere despair.
They’re all buried out there,
near Fred’s grave. All in a line. We lovingly called them ‘The Black Sisters’.
The Nuns built a small little place for the dying, named it Bethlehem…old drunks and cancers from grog boys and old girls went there and were nursed by these beautiful Nuns until they passed on.
They were dearly respected and loved by us Murrdie people in Bourke…The Black Sisters were Ours.
Most of the Nuns worked the rest of their life and died in Service at Bourke.
An Aboriginal man suicided in front of their Altar one night after being jilted by his lover (a married woman).
Duncan’s suicide announced the end of the Nun’s service in Bourke.
When I was back home there 3 years ago, I ran into some of the Blacks Sisters at the Bakery, early one morning before going to Brewarrina. “Lovely to see you Sister’s” I happily said.
“Lovely to see you, Brother” one Nun spoke, as they all held their hands in prayer position and bowed to me.
“I think you Sisters are all Barkindji now, hey! Its so good to see you again. Will you be here long?”
“Not long. Ha ha…Not Barkindji, ha ha.” The speaking Nun joked.
“Just a short visit, this time.” she finished.
“All us Aboriginal people…. we all love you, Sisters” I said and began to wipe tears from my eyes.
“As we all love You,” Sister concluded.
I waved goodbye.
I walked to the car; it was already a hot day, revved up the air con and we drove the dusty road to Bre. I began thinking of kindness and love acts.
The next day was my last one in Bourke that trip. I went to the Cemetery to say goodbye to my deceased relatives. I noticed fresh prayer papers at the graves of the Black Sisters. I realised that it must have been one of the purposes of the Nun’s visit, all the way from India again was to pay their respects to their Black Sisters.
by Sheila Heti
Reviewed by DIVYA VENKATARAMAN
When I arrive at a decision about motherhood – to be, or not to be? – I almost certainly won’t get there by employing the kind of esoteric abstraction Sheila Heti’s unnamed narrator does. That being said, Heti’s discursive, conversational monologue of a novel is clarifying, poignant and devastating at times in its ability to condense the societal pressures that women – that is, women of Heti’s whiteness and relatively high socio-economic status – face in our age.
We meet Heti’s narrator just before she turns 37. She’s been bitten by the “bug” of wondering whether she will procreate. “The question of a child is a bug in the brain—it’s a bug that crawls across everything, every memory, and every sense of my own future.”
Heti’s narrator decides to embark on an intellectual quest, determined to interrogate the reasons for which she does and does not want to have a child. To illuminate her journey, in a common trope, the narrator looks to Eastern wisdom: here, the role of guiding light is given to the Chinese tradition of I-Ching, a method of tossing three coins and gleaning ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers for the combination of faces they show. The answers her coins give her lead her to her next question. There’s a dialogue between coin and question which gives away a great deal in its sparseness.
Heti’s narrator describes the feeling of being left out in the cold of childlessness in a touching, deeply felt way. “I had always thought my friends and I were moving into the same land together, a childless land where we would just do a million things together forever. I thought our minds and souls were all cast the same way, not that they were waiting for the right moment to jump ship, which is how it feels as they abandon me here. I should not think of it as an abandoning, but it would be wrong to say it’s not a loss, or that I’m not startled at being so alone. How had I taken all of us as the same?” The flowing present tense of the novel allows us to weave in and out of New York City life, in and out of her apartment, in and remain mired in, her arguments with her partner Miles. She writes honestly and deeply poignantly about the pain of not knowing how to feel in the face of societal pressure. “I fear that without children, it doesn’t look like you have made a choice, or that you’re doing anything but just continuing on – drifting.”
The circuitous conversations the protagonist has with herself evoke the circular nature of her mood swings and hormonal fluctuations. While being so concerned with motherhood, an event so rooted in the physical, Heti’s narrator often feels disconnected from her own body. Her period cycles are unpredictable, her moods more so. “On the one hand, the joy of children,” Heti writes. “On the other hand, the misery of them. On the one hand, the freedom of not having children. On the other hand, the loss of never having had them—but what is there to lose?” At the novel’s close, she finds comfort and a hazy kind of bliss in a prescription for anti-depressants.
The novel reads, in its confessionalism and oscillations of a mind not-quite-made-up, as more of a memoir or extended essay than anything fictional. The unnamed narrator at the centre of the book and the dilemma, frames her decision on motherhood as a choice to be made by the individual and the individual alone. In Heti’s narrator’s world – a white, upperclass heterosexual world – there is firstly a choice about whether or not to become a mother, and such a choice is framed as being one about sacrificing creative ambition and art for the creation of life. Motherhood, for Heti is conceptual, lofty, and understood in the context of a woman occupying several spheres of privilege making claims about motherhood. Should she create life or create art? The novel is driven more by the internal cogitation than any actual events – except for her conversations (which are very Rachel Cusk-esque in the way they are distilled only through the protagonist’s worldview), and the (somewhat repetitive) fights between her and Miles.
While Heti’s protagonist moves through a series of thrice-removed, theorised concepts about the sacrifices and privileges that motherhood will afford her, the decision that so many women around the world take is a result of myriad, competing desires – not exclusive to, but including cultural guilt, familial pressure, and financial stability. But this is not to say that, through her ambivalent, see-sawing conversations with herself about motherhood, she doesn’t delve into misconceptions about motherhood with humour, insight and painful acuity. While it’s perhaps unfair to ask Heti to write from the perspective of anyone else, the novel does not factor into its philosophising any broader sense of what motherhood is as understood in different parts of the world – or even different parts of her own city.
However, she is comprehensive about and critical of the overemphasis of women’s abilities as child-rearers and the conditioning of women as ‘natural’ in the role, and the challenge they pose to a society organised by nuclear families. “There is something threatening about a woman who is not occupied with children,” says Heti. “What sort of trouble will she make?”
While these quotes, plucked out of context, may spark a feeling of recognition – of being able to relate – it is the process of her repetitive, rhetorical question-asking through flipping coins which grounds them in place.
While the novel is not as universal as it imagines itself to be, Motherhood is a crucial, deeply personal sketch of the conversations women have with themselves. In it, Heti sums up the anxiety of the constant wavering between freedom and being joyfully tethered – to create art, or to create life? No questions are answered, no conclusions drawn – but she finds a way to give shape to the anxiety and constant, underlying thrum of the indecision she feels as she decides what she will make next.
DIVYA VENKATARAMAN is an Indian-Australian lawyer and writer based in Sydney. Her writing has been published in Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Time Out, the Sydney Morning Herald, Sweatshop Women and more. She was a finalist for the Newcastle Short Story Award and the Premier’s Multicultural Media Award.
by Shu-Ling Chua
Reviewed by Dženana Vucic
I raced through Echoes the first time I read it. Raced through it the second time, too. At under 85 pages it’s a short book—a chapbook, almost—and easily inhaled over an idle afternoon. If you can resist, the three essays can be spread over a few idle afternoons. But it’s hard to resist—Shu-Ling Chua’s writing is compelling, the kind of simple but lyrical language that propels you through the text at pace. It’s not exactly sparse prose, but unadorned, elegant like a figure-hugging structured dress from Cue. Chua is economical with her words, and direct. She avoids heavy description or lapsing into discursive commentary and instead, she takes the concrete and mundane—clothing, songs, water—as the loci from which to gently probe her broader concern, crystallised in the book’s blurb as ‘what does one unknowingly inherit?’
In the first essay, ‘(Im)material Inheritance’, Chua searches for an understanding of self in photographs of her grandmother, in her seeming divergence from her mother. The essay circles questions of glamour and the feminine, and what it means to dress for the world or for the self. Her economy of language leads to moments of ambiguity and momentary discomfort, as when, for example, Chua writes that she ‘was not like other girls’, a sentiment that lives in the space between the then (she is writing of herself in school), and the now (she is affirming, in 2020, that she was different). It is a niggling tension felt on a personal and political level: we at once know that this is an unfair and sexist disavowal of womanhood and know, too, that we have felt this way, have felt our failures to live up to idealized femininity, and have felt our refusal of idealized femininity as a special badge of honour (indeed, some of us still do).
In another instance, Chua tells her mother ‘You’re lucky I’m not anorexic,’ and soon after notes: ‘My stomach is not as flat as it used to be. (Neither is my mother’s),’ and the lack of contextualisation, explanation, makes the reader wince. This is intentional, Chua is not attempting to save face; she offers the self in all its embarrassing exceptionalism and cruelty, setting in relief our imposed relationship to beauty, a relationship which sets us to defining ourselves in relation to others in ways that make us feel better and worse, but which also denies us joy in our physicality. The essay traces Chua’s (self-)consciousness of this tension, played out through three generations of women in her family. And though Chua ultimately finds connection to femininity through her grandmother, and with her grandmother to femininity, she lets the tension linger on the page, unresolved.
In ‘Echoes’, Chua sifts through Chinese pop songs and their modern iterations, exploring her interweaving past and present to push at the limits of language and translation, and the gaps in between. Chua was born in Australia to Malaysian-Chinese parents and, like many immigrants and children of immigrants, she inhabits a space of linguistic inbetween-ness, a space whose contours she maps out through her relationship to Chinese music. Chua describes listening to songs whose lyrics she doesn’t fully understand, lyrics that she must google and google-translate and ask friends about. It is an exploration of second language that is full of the wonder of discovery, with that special attention to meaning that non-fluent speakers often have, a tentative peeling back of definitional layers to grasp a word that native speakers take for granted. In this, there is a nostalgia—and hunger—for something only partly-known that I, an immigrant to Australia who lost much of my mother tongue in the move, recognise.
Though Chinese characters or anglicised Chinese words (Cantonese and Mandarin) appear throughout the book, they are most common in ‘Echoes’. It is a choice that reminds me of Gloria Anzaldúa’s germinal Borderlands/La Frontera (1987), in which Anzaldúa used Spanish and Chicano dialects alongside English in parsing through and representing her multiply inflected Chicana identity. Languages co-existing on the page, without italicization or footnoted definition, is becoming increasingly common as publishers become aware of the othering and English-language hegemony that these choices represent. However the decision to slide between languages is not just political, it is deeply personal too. As Chua, and Anzaldúa before her, show, multi-lingual works are a textual performance of the in-betweeness and multiplicity of their authors’ linguistic and cultural identities, a way of letting aspects of the self sit together on the page without subordinating one to the other.
For Chua, the decision seems also to perform her coming-to-language, and, in this, a coming-to-be. She is always googling, translating, looking up, asking for help, for information. She takes lessons, practices. Chua is always active in her linguistic and cultural inheritance and she has to be—unlike English language songs, which are so ubiquitous in Australia that you neither have to try (nor even want) to learn their lyrics to absorb them; Chinese songs require effort from Chua. She is forced to use the internet, and youtube in particular, as access points to a culture that she is very much a part of but which a predominantly white, Anglo-centric Australian (and western) media attempt to obfuscate, if not override. Hence the importance of movies like Crazy Rich Asians, the sound track of which is fundamental to Chua’s essayistic musings.
The decision to leave lyrics untranslated, or partially translated, enacts instances of exclusion for readers who aren’t familiar with the script, forcing them to sit in the discomfort of not knowing and affectively bringing them into an experience paralleling Chua’s own language-acquisition. It forces them into participation. To know how the words are said, or what they mean, the reader must act, must watch the youtube video, must flick between pages to find where a line has previously been given meaning, or look up the songs and seek translations for themselves. The uncertainty and insecurity of this process, felt keenly by Chua, is offered to readers, too.
For me, it is Chua’s attempt to render as whole a self which is often split into parts that is most moving. Chua describes calling herself ‘half Chinese and half Australian’ in grade 3, while her mother suggest she use ‘ABC… Australian Born Chinese’. Both iterations split Chua in two, both evoking the neat split suggested by the hyphen in ‘Chinese-Australian (or, indeed, Chinse-Malaysian), as though anything could be so neatly parsed or disentangled. Chua does not describe herself, in any bio that I could see, as any iteration of the above, nor does she do so in ‘Echoes’. She has no time for the lazy signifier that is this hyphen and, in each essay of her collection, she speaks to, without directly speaking about, how poorly such a forced construction captures the breadth of her cultural relationality.
The final essay, ‘To Fish for the Moon’, details domestic life, habits and rituals, through water and washing. Chua describes water being saved in her parents’ home, the washing machines she has had, her (great) grandparent’s laundry business, sipping hot water, baths. Each anecdote is dropped into this flow of water and let go. Chua is gentle in this release, but unsentimental. To me, she doesn’t seem to be yearning for an imagined intimacy with the past, but rather seems to create and inhabit a present-future dimensionality that extends in all directions and take all things with it. Water is ordinary but it is also, implicitly, a connecting force, ubiquitous and mundane but life giving. To quote Anzaldúa, ‘I struggle with naming without fragmenting, without excluding… Identity flows between, over, aspects of a person. Identity is a river—a process.’ Chua takes this river, acknowledging the ways that it is communal and ongoing, and offers readers sips along its path.
Chua is an essayist and poet and in Echoes, her debut collection, these two worlds converge in an unexpected way. Rather than writing poetic lines into the essay form (and thus bearing the risk of sounding overwrought, tedious), Chua seems to do the opposite by writing essayistic sentences which slowly combine and accrete into a poetic form. She favours a sort of nimble restraint and the immediacy of concrete imagery on a sentence by sentence level. This is something of a contrast to the essays themselves which feel uninhibited, with a tendency to drifting: tangents, digressions, fleeting connections, departures and returns. They aren’t meandering per se, but multi-directional. Chua is writing towards knowledge, forgoing conclusions in favour of continuation and discovery. In tracing her connections and inheritances, she documents herself striving towards both, a process of self-actualisation rendered through her familial relationships and connection to things (tangible and otherwise) that bring her joy and pleasure.
Dženana Vucic is a Bosnian-Australian writer, poet and editor. Her work has been published in Cordite, Overland, Meanjin, Stilts, Kill Your Darlings, Going Down Swinging, Australian Poetry Journal, the Australian Multilingual Writing Project, Rabbit, and others. She is a 2020 Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow and tweets at @dzenanabanana.
Emerging Writers Festival 2020
At the 2020 Emerging Writers’ Festival, our special projects editor, Jo Langdon edited emerging author, Dani Netherclift’s prose poem, a reflection on life in the pandemic, “Haunted Autumn E/merge, is an exploratory video performance of Dani’s work and other featured writers, produced by Pip Gryllis from the Emerging Writer’s Festival.
Varuna Mascara Fellowship
We were delighted to partner with Varuna in 2019 for a Varuna Mascara Western Sydney Writers Fellowship which offered a one week, all expenses paid residency at Varuna, a publishing consultancy worth $800 & and a manuscript appraisal with Giramondo Press. This is an innovative and prestigious opportunity for a Western Sydney Writer currently working on a poetry, fiction, or creative non-fiction manuscript.
We would like to congratulate all the shortlisted writers; the manuscripts were of an excellent standard. As judges we considered quality and originality of writing. Our thanks to Varuna, the Writer’s House and Create NSW for this opportunity for Mascara to support excellent writing.
Jessie Tu “Field Notes on Language and Voicelessness”
Adele Dumont “Elsewhere”
Dave Drayton “The Poetranslator”
Shannon Anima “The Running Game”
Jessica Seaborn “Tommy Brewer”
Karina Ko lives in Sydney where she graduated in Law and in Arts. Her parents came from Hong Kong. She is working on a collection of short stories.
Judges Comments: We were impressed with Karina Ko’s original voice, tackling awkward, often political topics like class, ethnicity and queerness with a surreal and surprising imagination.
Brenda is a writer and artist of Wiradjuri and British heritage. She has written three poetry collections and her next, ‘Inland Sea’ will be published in 2021. Her poems and reviews appear in edited anthologies and journals, including Australian Poetry Journal, Overland, Quadrant, Southerly, Westerly, Plumwood Mountain and Best Australian Prose Poems 2020 (MUP).
A Walk in the Park
Outside my window the street has lost all certainty. At first light there is an
uneasy haze, patterns drifts in and out of focus. On most days I am left with
this waking dream, a shadowy sense of the world closing in. Fear the dream
is becoming a reality, a life of dissolving shadows, disappearing pathways. I
wait for sunlight to bring definition, solidity to a row of pines. Under winter trees, I disturb patterns of bare limbs thrown across grass, circle the pond where shade swallows a mass of reeds. My mirror image trembles, shaken by wind over water. With the sun overhead, a shadow closes in, a hunchback weighty at my shoulder. Larger than life my companion looms ahead. I quicken my stride, strengthen my hold on ground tilting sideways, but it catches up in seconds as I change direction. Look back at the giant striding at my heels.
Isolation is now the default position for us all. To avoid the close down, we all have to find our own escape. Forget the measure of a city waiting to keep us in place. I am used to silence. For someone who likes to venture into solitary terrain, dreaming is my way out. Some say distancing is dangerous, but I have not disappeared. Inside this room, the air is full of ideas. Best thoughts build into songs, stories of Country. I sense the sound and smell of dry forests after rain, crackling under leaf litter. I have not disappeared. I am still moving, writing sacred places into memory. Words take off, hang on air like dust motes, scatter ahead as random thoughts on red earth country. Landscape grows sparse, arms and legs turn into branches smelling of mulga wood. I feel a slow cooling as my feet take root in water stored for the changing times. Some say I have already faded too far. May never find a way back.
Petra White lives in London. Her most recent book is Reading for a Quiet Morning (Gloria SMH 2017).
Because I was permitted to
I waded through water.
Eyelashes still as the tiniest fronds.
The pond pure sleep,
a demon thrust down into the dark,
the nestling of elm roots.
Then the slow drip of colour
in the mind, a friend
for the seconds the light held.
I walked out into new darkness,
where I was permitted to go,
the moon waiting for me
like a piece of enchantment
I was taught to resist.
The moon, with its grey blotches,
white as as my father’s face.
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
Unseasonable as a warm winter, pale on an utterly rainbow afternoon.
Not begging to be heard, not begging at all.
Here, everywhere, outside the window, on the streets and in the parks
danced men with twig like women in their ravenous arms, a dance
like that of creation, half terror, half the terror of love.
I fumbled into my small
red revolting car that smelt of rain and clattered with dirty coffee cups.
In traffic waited like a stumped parrot on a rod.
Then windows wide, the brashest air gushing in.
I drove and drove and never ran out of fuel.
And the road did not run out, the world turning in the sun’s glimpse.
Unbearably fresh the yellow flower fields
blazing in the heat
like crowded slabs of hell
the yellow flowers
blazing like tomorrow,
when I land and weep
the yellow flowers blazing like my skin
behind a hot windscreen,
pounding me into the here, the trickle of sweat.
When body becomes body,
only the flowers seem to sing.
See the muscular roos they leap above the nose-tickling weeds,
their flanks curved like machinery, paws bristling about the thin line
that is neither heaven nor hell but the tickly brush of the instant, barely tolerable.
Oh humans. Grainily composed of future and past,
who are, Rilke said, forever saying goodbye.
Suppose I got my teeth down into the instant, and lived there,
who would I know? The ‘open’, he called it.
How a spaniel enters a room and is instantly part of it,
how he knows just enough to get by,
fixing on a human like an apple grafted to a pear.
How a woman puts her head in her hands after a difficult conversation, how another says,
I am a tree planted halfway up a hill, I cannot spread my canopy to the top.
How the human hope sparkles everywhere.
Where is the chorus that wails around the car,
who sings the notes that make suffering true?
Melancholy silvers the tongue with ice,
freezes the self.
More light, more light.
Soul sits on a high shelf and eats breakfast,
the moon is a broken cabbage below her.
The god that created hell
and the hell that created god.
The strange joy of desiring nothing.
Wide sweep of road
and the waving spinifex know no minutes.
Only blank sunshine, desert.
The car carries nothingness,
empty seatbelts glinting in the light.
I stopped at a roadside diner and ordered chips, the only food, with ten different sauce bottles,
prepared in the bubbling silence and grubby neon light of the lonely diner
where nine people lived in the midst of vast planetary scrub and wind-bent trees,
feeding giant road-trains that arrived and left with a million lights dancing
each driven by one poor-postured man all day and night in solitude.
Colossal swathes of road like time, stretching before and after.
I sing the whole human package with its clutch of knowings,
the heart with its grappling of love, statistically half open a quarter of the time.
The body that travels like Ophelia into the estuary with hands outstretched
and nothing in them but reeds and echoes
of when the dust of the present washes off the fingertips entirely.
A journey unfolds of itself as the road unfolds beneath the tyres.
And then I turned toward death, my durian-scented hitch-hiker.
Life, he said, that reddish glow, it yet haunts your cheeks.
He spoke and as he spoke I could not choose but hear.
I stand like an animal with life and death intermingled in me, not unlike you
who have never felt more alive.
What if I offered to take you off your own hands now?
What would you say?
He said, like one who could not politely be refused.
The smell of chips ghosted the car.
The black road had gripped my soul.
I prayed for a stay of dawn.
And I clutched his thready arm.
Can we be friends instead? Will you visit me again?
Before long, he said, before long.
And vanished, leaving me with the long haul of life.
Always asking, what next, what now?
The formal voice that sings the formal notes.
Nicole Smede is a musician, poet and educator of Worimi and European heritage, exploring a reclamation and reconnection to ancestry through language, poetry and song. Her work has been broadcast on national and international radio, published in anthologies and journals and features on ferries, in visual art and sound art works. Nicole is grateful to live, learn and create on Dharawal country. https://nicolesmede.com
I hear voices of ancestors
crossing this country
with an anxious energy
I tread carefully
amongst old Lore
old grandmother trees
to ancient summits
where songs ebb
and flow with the wind
the songlines of my body
stirring the spirit within.
platypus in Gatthang
The landscape vibrates loud
beaming brightly from boulders
an intense hum of wings
where fearless thrill seekers
deep sea divers
rocky shelves overhead
trembling under our feet
stoney shoals set
immersed in cool silence
we tread tranquil waters
toward the embankment
we tread water
and the soundtrack rings loud
in our ears.
Yellow blossoms –
like bright shards of light
disrupt this green and grey landscape
they’re early this year.
Damp moss softens
underfoot moulded steps
and I ascend this rocky slope
does it, like the trees
recall my last visit?
birds in syncopated song
cut through crisp air
like the cold to the tip
of my nose
all is alive
in an awakening spring.
Rose Lucas is a Melbourne poet. Her first collection, Even in the Dark (University of WA Publishing), won the Mary Gilmore Award in 2014; her second collection was Unexpected Clearing (UWAP, 2016). She is currently working on her next collection At the Point of Seeing.
She is also a Senior Lecturer in the Graduate Research Centre at Victoria University
Van Dyck, c. 1619
In their best Flemish clothes –
lace ruffs and jewelry, brocaded fabric –
this young couple gaze
intense and hopeful
out of the canvas;
they lean toward me as though
were as fast as the shuttering
of a lens;
their bonneted child,
dandled on her mother’s knee,
looks behind and up –
she has no need to look my way;
Her parents are vibrant with
youth and prosperity,
their connection to each other,
their pride in the child;
like every family –
holy in their ordinariness –
they hold the unfolding generations
in their richly upholstered arms:
Look! we have made this future –
it belongs to us.
Only consider –
(and here the benefit of hindsight)
their willingness to pause,
to sit while a painter
takes their likenesses
in pigment and brushstroke,
within the rushes of time –
Look carefully –
hold fast to the slipperiness of this moment –
it will not always
be like this.
Heaving out from the harbour,
its narrow lean of wooden houses,
salt-weathered in a cloudy light –
a ferry clanks and judders
picking its way past little boats,
their tangle of nets
and out into the slap and wash of darkening water:
stink of diesel and fish swim
in freshets of air,
rubbing cheeks into ruddiness;
until the hump of island
sails into view –
its possibilities of destination,
palette of smudged greys and greens
flickering through the glass;
the angular spine of the Cuillins
a loamy sky,
writhing in channels of wind;
while, deep in boggy fields,
restless in peat –
These tannin-soaked fields,
this permeable membrane,
this elongated moment when a boat might
clip and ride,
a shoreline in sight.