H.C. Gildfind reviews Everything, all at Once

Everything, all at Once

Ultimo Press

Sydney, 2021

ISBN 9781761150173

Reviewed by H.C. GILFIND

Everything, all at Once presents fiction and poetry from the ‘thirty writers under thirty’ who won the inaugural Ultimo prize in 2021. This prize asked entrants to explore the theme of ‘identity’—a pertinent choice, considering how central and contested particular identities (and the notion of identity itself) have become in cultural and political conversations. This theme is also apt, of course, for a collection that offers young people a stepping-stone in their journey to ‘come of age’ both as individuals and as professional writers. 

Each piece in this collection is preceded by its author’s biography as well as (with a few exceptions) a photo. This format is striking, not only because of George Saad’s vibrant design, but because authorial identity is usually presented by publishers in a more understated, post-textual manner. Whilst this format surely reflects the publisher’s desire to celebrate these writers alongside their writing, this foregrounding of authorial identity might also be intended to provoke readers to question how they read. Does writing on the theme of identity oblige an author to disclose (aspects of) their own? Should fiction and poetry be read in relation to an author’s biographical information? Does such information influence intra- and inter-textual interpretations? Or does a reader’s awareness of such information dissipate once they are immersed in a worded-world? 

With its central concern about the increasingly ‘performative’ nature of society, Seth Robinson’s ‘Watch me’ is a fitting story to open this collection. This story reveals a dystopian world where everyone is driven to perform their selves for ‘all-important Likes and LOLs’ (13)—so much so that they risk self-erasure. Is this the drum-beat to our lives, now: ‘Watch, watch, watch me’ (16)? Is our prime goal, now, to worship—or become—a ‘LED deity’ (16)? Is this ephemeral identity all that the world has left to offer young people? This story powerfully evokes the pain, paralysis and yearning that consumes ordinary people as they see human life and emotion commodified (or ignored) by increasingly pervasive—creepily invisible—techno-capitalist powers. 

Georgia Rose Phillips’ ‘New Balance’ is a witty and poignant reflection on the nature of love in this performative landscape. The narrator actively seeks a psychologist who will assist—rather than stop—her self-mutilating behaviour. She likes this psychologist who allows her to indulge in ‘vicarious entanglement’ (112) with her ex’s new life, which is painted with digital ‘spatters of self’ (110) online. Instead of trying to fix or improve her, this psychologist’s novel therapy is to accept the narrator as she is. Being oneself is a radical act in this story—as it is across the collection. 

Amelia Zhou’s ‘Bright’ tells the surreal tale of a woman who shuns public performance altogether. In a scorched world, where people are spot-lit by a never-setting sun, the protagonist slathers herself in sunscreen behind drawn curtains. She peeks out at her neighbours’ ‘durational performance’ (75) which is full of laughter, talk, play and endless, mindless barbequing (of food and themselves). Watching them, she feels ‘hungry and thirsty’ (74) and envious of their casual conspicuousness: such ‘visibility’ (72) is denied her, and she feels herself disappearing into an unwitnessed purposelessness. Is performance—in and for the sight of others—the only way to exist in this world? 

Charlotte Snedden’s story presents a woman who actively seeks overt performance. In a theatre group, where her role is explicitly scripted and choreographed, her self-splitting anxiety disappears and she can return her self to her body: momentarily, she escapes her ‘Schrödinger’s mental health crisis,’ where she is present and absent all at once (82). Amy Duong’s teenage protagonist also yearns for clearly scripted roles, seeking them in the theatre of work where she is directed by the ‘calm authority’ (65) of men: ‘Dennis had assigned her a new identity… and in that mould, she had finally been made real’ (62). Meanwhile, Matilda Howard’s protagonist explores the roles played in the traditionally feminine theatre of a wedding. Here, a young woman observes people jangling with the ‘shadow-bones’ (126) left by barely-masked pain and disappointment. By the end of the day—having endured the event’s swirls of fear, bullying, and status-anxiety—she can hardly remember her own name.

Vivien Heng’s ‘Now Only Colour Lives’ is a tightly-crafted story of a girl who speaks to the persistent ghosts of family. Like a number of pieces in the collection, this story shows a young person struggling to bear the ‘blood-soaked memories’ (22) that are inherited across generations: ‘… all that screaming, the kind that could make the stars blink… My childhood was no place for a child, so I was born old’ (25). The calm poetic language of this piece is tensely juxtaposed against the ‘raging heart’ (24) of its narrator, effectively evoking the self-repression that enables an already-wounded person to survive a country that might one day accept them—if they bleed out their Colour (27). 

Themes of race, migration and colonialism are also—and especially—present in the collection’s poetry. Dženana Vucic’s ‘Povratak/Return’ is an elegantly crafted sequence that tracks the shifting seasons of a daughter’s reunion with her father in a war-battered Bosnia, subtly exploring the ‘matryoshka reveal’ (138) of (re)learning how to relate to family and homeland alike. Gavin Yuan Gao’s poem forces readers to imagine being a ‘yellow-peril soul’ (144) in Covid times, when being Chinese in Australia suddenly means having ‘… an origin story no one wants / to hear.’ In this context, individuals suddenly represent both ‘an entire land’ (145) and a ‘devil who’s out spreading / his sick of sin’ (144). Alice Bellette’s ‘Blak Tourmaline’ addresses racism and colonialism with forceful refrains and pointed use of the second person: ‘i am here because i survived. / people like you don’t want me to survive’ (155). The concluding lines of her poem (‘it is not about me / it is about country,’ 165) resonate powerfully with a phrase in Gurmeet Kaur’s poetic dissection of the good migrant’s plight: ‘… This is not about / me. This is about you projecting onto me’ (178). All of these writers explore similar themes, but in very different ways and across very different contexts.

Ismene Panaretos’ story, ‘A Flake,’ also looks at how cultural and generational differences collide. ‘There’s no honesty in adulthood’ (94) the narrator laments, and reflects upon the banality of their friends’ Instagrammed lives. In this world, where gender reveal parties have become a norm, a person might become a ‘small time scandal’ (97) just for being who they are: ‘I feel like I will split in two’ (98). This story shows, however, that differences can disappear when people are most vulnerable: do we need to understand each other, to care about each other? Sebastian Winter’s poem also explores how questions of sex and gender can—or cannot—bridge intergenerational divides. In this poem, the transgender narrator’s grandmother warns them that their hormones will ‘berrate’ (185) them. The narrator labours to remain unaffected by the woman’s relentless ‘inquisition’ (185), though refuses to ‘justify’ how their ‘heart loves’ (184), and quietly decides that, in a world built from pink and blue, ‘purple will do’ (185). Franklyn Hudson’s ‘They’ painfully shows how the most brutal violation of a person’s bodily autonomy can forever change that body’s meaning: ‘My breasts are the worst part of me. / When I look at them I can’t ever stop seeing him…’ (203). The reader hopes, alongside these narrators, that they can find what they yearn for: a place in this world to ‘exist in’ (207).

The stories and poems mentioned here do not fully convey the variety of concerns and literary styles this collection offers, and readers will also discover skilful, sharply-observed and sensitive writing by Amy Taylor, Andy Kovacic, Jamaya Plackowski, Cassandra-Elli Yiannacou, Natasha Hertanto, Zowie Douglas-Kinghorn, Madeleine Gray, Robert Juan Kennard, Cherie Baird, Jennifer Nguyen, Shane Scriven, Aishah Maryam David, Josie/Jocelyn Deane, Coco Stallman and Lora Subotic. Together, these authors’ voices unite to make Everything, all at once a compelling polyphonic investigation of how ‘identity is everything and nothing’ (Quanita, 191) in a world whose seductions and coercions are often as ambiguous as they are utterly overwhelming. 

Information about the Ultimo prize can be found here:  https://www.ultimopress.com.au/ultimo-prize


H.C. GILDFIND is the author of
Born Sleeping (Miami University Press, 2021) and The Worry Front (Margaret River Press, 2018). hcgildfind.com/@ltercation

 

Craig Santos Perez

Craig Santos Perez is an indigenous Pacific Islander poet from Guåhan (Guam). He is the author of five books of poetry and the co-editor of five anthologies. He teaches at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.

 

 

 

Rings of Fire Sonnet During the Pandemic
(September 2020) 

We celebrate our daughter’s third birthday
during the hottest September in history.
My parents Facetime from California,
where fire is harvesting four million acres
of ash. “I visited grandma today,”
my mom says. “The orange sky scared her.”
Flames flood brazil’s wetlands
as europe’s largest refugee camp smolders,
granting the charred asylum.
“We might have to evacuate tomorrow,”
my mom says, but tonight we open gifts, sing
& blow out the candles together.
Smoke trembles, as if we all exhaled
the same combustible wish.

 

Echolocation Sonnet During the Pandemic
(September 2020)

                        for the orca, J35, and her child, J57

Today, you birthed another calf. I imagine
you both swimming a thousand nautical miles
until every wave becomes an ode, until the sea
is a wet nursery. How do you translate
“congratulations” in your dialect of whistles?
What is joy but our shared echolocation?
My second daughter was born three years ago,
premature, but now chubby & strong.
I cook salmon for our dinner and pray
that your pod has enough to eat.
We haven’t been to the beach in months
due to quarantine, but you remind us:
hope is our most buoyant
oceanic muscle.

Chris Armstrong

Chris Armstrong’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, most recently The Suburban Review, K’in and Backstory as well as Griffith Review and regularly in Cordite. Armstrong was runner up in the Judith Wright Overland Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Writers in 2015 and received an ASA Emerging Writers Mentorship for her poetry manuscript The Watershed, which was published as a chapbook in 2017. Armstrong is currently involved as poet for The White Bluff Project (https://www.thewhitebluffproject.co/) a collaborative art, science and community project exploring ‘place’ with particular reference to the effects of climate and urbanisation on a coastal ecosystem. Armstrong was raised on the invaded lands of the Gumbaynggir people on the east coast of Australia but currently resides in lutriwita (Tasmania).

Manggaarla 

maana ngawaa muniimbugany muniim nyamigundi maarlala
ngawaa muniimbugany words live beyond our needy tongues to
affirm what is you call me to come see the classic smooth and
creamy shapes of stone wash’d in dreamy waves beneath the
white bluff where language too is a sedimentary thing lithified
into the first song within and where after and before daalgiya
ngaanyaw nguuralami giduurr wiigurr nyan muniim nyamigundi
maarlala ngawaabugany muniim maana muniimbugany ngawa
weigh it feel it roll it on that needy tongue feed it to your
children waagay fire yamaarr fish gaagal ocean language that
made me unmade you first manggaarla remaking what was you
juna junaa gayi wear lexis like necklaces of sophora tomentosa
ngayinggi yarrang listen niirum maanyung carrying the sound of
two whales breathing as they rise arc dive into the dark sea
ngayinggi yarrang beneath hooped pines beside cuttlefish
flotsam streaked with copper based blood jarlarrla gagalngay
how is the wind not called a living thing and a breath not thought
a word

Endnotes
Manggaarla is ‘first’ in Gumbaynggir language. Thank you to Gumbaynggir artist Tori Ann Donnelly, with assistance from Kal Morris, for the translations to Gumbaynggir in the poem Manggarla. The poem is part of a collaborative artwork with artists Tori Donnelly and Sarah Mufford for The White Bluff Project at Coffs Harbour Regional Art Gallery from 31 October 2021 to 15 January 2022. See https://www.thewhitebluffproject.co/. It is also available as an image of the final artwork. The poem also acknowledges influences from Gwen Harwood’s poem ‘The Littoral’.

Dave Drayton

Dave Drayton was an amateur banjo player, founding member of the Atterton Academy, and the author of E, UIO, A: a feghoot (Container), A pet per ably-faced kid (Stale Objects dePress), P(oe)Ms (Rabbit), Haiturograms (Stale Objects dePress) and Poetic Pentagons (Spacecraft Press).

 

 

centocartography, Campsie: that wild society

Adam Lindsay Gordon, ‘Hippodromania; or, whiffs from the pipe’; Adam Lindsay Gordon, ‘Ye Wearie Wayfarer, hys Ballad In Eight Fyttes’; Adam Lindsay Gordon, ‘Delilah’; Lord Byron ‘Don Juan, canto the fourteenth’; Lord Alfred Tennyson ‘Come Down, O Maid’; Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Mighty Eagle’; William Cowper, ‘The Task: Book V – The Winter Morning Walk’; Thomas Moore, ‘Memorabilia of last week’; Robert Burns, ‘Song – Composed in Spring’; John Dryden, ‘Calm was the even and clear was the sky’; Robert Browning, ‘The House Of Clouds’; William Shakespeare, ‘Bridal Song’

Ranjit Hoskote

Ranjit Hoskote is a poet, essayist and curator based in Bombay. His seven collections of poetry include Vanishing Acts: New & Selected Poems (Penguin, 2006), Central Time (Penguin/ Viking, 2014), Jonahwhale (Penguin/ Hamish Hamilton, 2018; published by Arc in the UK as The Atlas of Lost Beliefs, 2020, which received a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Summer 2020) and, most recently, Hunchprose (Penguin/ Hamish Hamilton, 2021). His translation of a celebrated 14th-century Kashmiri woman saint’s poetry has appeared as I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded (Penguin Classics, 2011). He is the editor of Dom Moraes: Selected Poems (Penguin Modern Classics, 2012). Hoskote has been a Fellow of the International Writing Program (IWP), University of Iowa; writer-in-residence at Villa Waldberta, Munich, Theater der Welt, Essen-Mülheim, and the Polish Institute, Berlin; and researcher-in-residence at BAK/ basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht. His poems have been translated into German, Hindi, Bangla, Irish, Marathi, Swedish, Spanish, and Arabic. Hoskote curated India’s first-ever national pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2011) and was co-curator, with Okwui Enwezor and Hyunjin Kim, of the 7th Gwangju Biennale (2008).

 

Departures
for Ravi Agarwal

What if the white mare dragged down by a flabby bridegroom
and underfed by her hungry syce

had the same name as the child ferrying bricks in her head pan
at the kiln?

What if the bat practising a dive behind the shuttered windows
of the Natural History section

could ask the elephant grazing in the parched scrubland
her name

which would not be one of the brightly painted names of the god
tucking his trunk in as his fans see him off at high tide

a departure viewed from the Towers of Silence by a tribe
of scrawny vultures contemplating their journey’s end?

What if you tried to prise a password out of the stuffed orangutan
the taxidermists have enthroned as a totem at the zoo?

In all these names you’d recognise the lost and forgotten seeds
that a sleepy child dropped on the mossy ghats

as the pilgrims from the stars newly arrived swept past
one full-moon night in vermilion and brocade

Who could have told them they would meet us again
stripped of our gaudy masks our carrying voices muted

as skeletons on display
in a distant planet’s Museum of Cautionary Tales?

Vinita Agrawal

Author of four books of poetry, Two Full Moons (Bombaykala Books), Words Not Spoken (Brown Critique), The Longest Pleasure (Finishing Line Press) and The Silk Of Hunger (AuthorsPress), Vinita is an award winning poet, editor, translator and curator. Joint recipient of the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2018 and winner of the Gayatri GaMarsh Memorial Award for Literary Excellence USA 2015. She is Poetry Editor with Usawa Literary Review. Her work has been widely published and anthologised. Her poem won a prize for the Moon Anthology on the Moon by TallGrass Writers Guild, Chicago 2017. More recently her poem won a special mention in the Hawker Prize for best South Asian poetry. She has contributed a monthly column on Asian Poets on the literary blog of the Hamline University, Saint Paul USA in 2016-17. In September 2020, she edited an anthology on climate change titled Open Your Eyes (pub. Hawakal). Most recently she co-edited the Yearbook of Indian Poetry in English 2020-21 (Hawakal). She judged the RLFPA poetry contest (International Prize) in 2016 and co judged the Asian Cha’s poetry contest on The Other Side in 2015. She was featured in a documentary on twenty women poets from Asia, produced in Taiwan. She has read at the FILEY Book Fair, Merida, Mexico, Kala Ghoda Arts Festival among others. She is on the Advisory Board of the Tagore Literary Prize. She has curated literary events for PEN Mumbai. Read more about her at www.vinitawords.com

 

Splendid Poison Frog

Was it a cold December Wednesday
when you left?
A frosty, flinty, pin-point moment
that seals most pull-outs.
Silent like a hushed Mayday signal
reverberating in the ripples of a pond.
What time exactly
did you hop over
to where nowhere exists?
Did the sun flicker
at your vanishing act?
The way yellow convulses on a color palette
when mixed with green
before turning blue.
Was it the hour of dusk,
your favorite hour,
when you looked your dashing, heart-throb best
skin, brilliant coral, eyes, kohl black.
A fungus with a long name
colonized your body.
A local phenomena, some said.
Like a cloud breaking-up
a balmy summer’s evening.
Did the next morning feel
like a fine after-showers morning?
*********
Estimated Extinction date: 2020
Cause: Chytrid Fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis)

Tim Loveday

Tim Loveday is a poet, a writer, and an editor. As the recipient of a 2020 Next Chapter Wheeler Centre Fellowship and a 2021 Varuna Residential Fellowship, his work aims to challenge toxic masculinity in Australia. His poetry/prose has appeared in Meanjin, Cordite, The Big Issue, Babyteeth, Meniscus, Text Journal, and The Big Smoke, among others. A Neurodivergent dog parent, he is the verse editor for XR’s Creative Hub. Tim currently resides in North Melbourne, the traditional land of the Wurundjeri people.

 

at the end of the rail

in the morning when the sun peels
back like a paper cut and the blue
metal is thunder under our feet
i see shadow-diamonds spread
across the train yard and i feel
as small as a bird and as wide
as a sail

//

last night i listened to your two way radio
i pulled the blanket up to my ears and shaped
myself into a satellite    its static jargon a dialogue
with god or grease or grit i heard the miracle of
boom boom boom
                                                      we were the
new age of romans with a thousand outposts
we were cowboys riding iron centipedes

//

before dawn i threw off my blankets
like old ghosts             sprang from my bed
like new smoke           heard your voice
in the walls                  as you swept
me up                          in your wings
took me           to your shoulders

atlas or he-man or rambo
on the rails       duke on the frontier
you smelt of oil aftershave radio waves
you whispered to me in the language
of future and the earth

fell away

//

i had barely seen the blue streets
how the stars grew hazy in the steam
how horizon bled the false border of morning

­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ we lived before the aftermath
i am a fault-line across your chest
liquid gold sprung from your veins
i fill the cavity where your heart should be
i am young country
boom boom boom

//

at the station the rails rattle
in the flyscreen and the man with
the corkboard halo is chequered
like a topographic map
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ when he grins he shucks open
a territory calls you by
our last name
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­  i hear
a town or a street or a mountain
or the origin of a valley

//

in the office you say
wives and work as if they
tighten bolts avenge crimes
on your holsters there are radios the size
of guns            you are blue men with
un-dreams as big as china
under your eyes

everyone is envious    

go ahead the man says into his radio
laying the rail with his words

//

at the terminal box you teach
me to splice the rails   my body
a limp flag made of flesh
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­  i hang from the lever
asking for islands to swell
on my biceps

birds turn into reverse silhouettes

it’s excalibur you exclaim
stick your foot down like
sinking a spade

boom boom boom

//

when we walk the rails we tell history
this parallel never met by our shadow
i swim onto your shoulders as day
breaks egg-shells
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­  i am the new
collar ironed by my mother
and the space above your
head is a frontier

//

from here the world is flat
borders white lines in the dirt
you can feel a train coming
in the shake of the earth

we are going to be giants you say
gripping my shins
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­  i roll up my
sleeves and flex my arms
giving you horns

//

at the door meccano in full-scale
you swing me into the carriage

­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ the child who is flightless
climbs on the back of the
wind    held up a hurt bird

//

in the cabin men breathe planets
onto perspex    they hark like myna birds
rooted bitou bush hunched like cane toads
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­  they claim to live at
these gears      they’ve got
tickets to show it

they’ve crossed this country
ten times over              sleepless
they’ve seen land where water
is foreign         where open cuts
are oasis

­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ i sit back and watch you
walk ahead on the rails

//

trees white-paper in the train’s blared
whiteness        shape themselves into
memories         call themselves footprints

­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ they’re roped to fence posts

this is morning            not mourning

my breath leaves my mouth
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ like a greenhouse
boom boom boom      

//

up ahead on the rail you dance
with your arms of red light
and i wonder what it means
to write history with your
body
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ your blood let
disfiguring the open
cut of morning

//

whatcha think of your dad one of the men
asks     his cadence forty packs of imported
cigarettes         in his fist is a gear that i know
lights up streets turns show houses into
nuclear families
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ he’s a hero i say but
the word feels tiny      when i’ve seen maps
that lay across this country like a bandage

­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ you’re the beginning
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ and the end of
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ of the world

­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ you’re the answer
to everything

//

way off the plant blinks like
a child-killer    a christmas in morse code
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ spaghetti pipes spewing
white venom
ethanol bruising the sky purple
everything       screams

the horizon quivers     the drivers pull the horn

birds rush to their nests in the clouds
fall through invisible floor boards
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ burn up on re-entry

//

sometimes i wonder
if you ever stopped in those
towns where you once said
the waters ran like blood

­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ did you own a skeleton key

did you ever peel back
excalibur feel the weight
of the blade in your hands
alter the course of this
track

//

in my ears our heart
boom boom boom

my eyes mirror
the blood-shot sky
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ the thrum of the engine
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ rattles through my bones

­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ all my ancestors are ghosts
­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ ­ all my ancestors cling
to the atmosphere

as you walk the rails
fade into morning        settle into history

men talk talk talk

we have learnt distance
in this country

we have learnt to never
look back

 

Sonnet Mondal

Sonnet Mondal writes from Kolkata and is the author of An Afternoon in My Mind (Copper Coin, 2021)Karmic Chanting (Copper Coin, 2018), Ink and Line (Dhauli Books, 2018), and five other books of poetry. He serves as the director of Chair Poetry Evenings-Kolkata’s International Poetry Festival and managing editor of Verseville.

 

If I Could 

If I were a travelling air
without any bony cage,
moral circuits and routes

blowing to the will of paddy fields
smelling the sexual union
of grass roots with wet soil

I would swoop and lift the infant souls
of dead harvested crops

fetching them to their seeds
and allow them to breathe me again.

Rachael Mead

Rachael Mead is a novelist and award-winning poet and short story writer, with her creative work appearing widely in Australia and internationally. She’s the author of the novel The Application of Pressure (Affirm Press 2020) and four collections of poetry including The Flaw in the Pattern (UWAP 2018). In 2019, she spent a month in the Taleggio Valley in Northern Italy on an eco-poetry residency awarded by Australian Poetry.

 

It takes a mountain to raise a cheese 
A golden shovel of Terrance Hayes’ ‘Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy’

You want answers, so immediately I’m in a panicked state.
What is a regenerative economy, anyway? I’m a writer. My time
is spent exploring on foot, trying to see things differently to others
like the way the piode is a jigsaw from below but from above is a roof.
That’s a bit simplistic. Trying to give you answers is making me careless,
the way I get back to the room, pull off my boots and sling my bra
not even looking to see where it falls. Some think nature is all about sex
but I’m leaning in another direction. I’m missing the moonlight.
All this walking has me in bed with the sun, weighing the valley’s life
and trying to piece it together with words. You want me to show my thinking
but resisting the seduction of witness and metaphor is not easy to overcome.
It’s as if you’ve offered the finest single malt whiskey but refused me the ice.
I’m trying to be critical and speculative but I’m just grinding out the syllables,
constructing poems from form, allusion and a well-thumbed catalogue of words.
I’m great at questions, seeing how problems connect, replicate themselves —
but critical speculation? I’m a dog yapping at unseen dangers. I can’t say
what should happen here, the possibilities clamouring so I can’t tell prank calls
from those with something important to say. The word on the street
is it’s better to ignore what you see. Go with what you perceive.
My bedroom window is black with possibility. This arrangement
feels impossible. What can I offer? I walk. I watch. I make poetry.
If only I was more original, walking around like a pregnant woman
confident in the form of her creation, her offspring welcome among us.
I’m not used to being so beyond my depth. As a wife
I can fake it, clean the house before guests arrive. (Don’t think about that.)
But here, all the surfaces are peeled away, lack of faith in myself
laid bare in these echoing lines. I scratch pen on pages to start fires.
The answers are needed, the world staring down its own destruction
and here I sit twiddling around with rhythm and the fall of a word.
Beyond my window, the darkness resolves into birdsong and branches.
Grass will grow. Cheese will be eaten. These futures are not empty yet.
But I’m not so deaf that I can’t hear this valley whimper.
It’s just that I’ve no particular claim to wisdom –
only the ability to watch, witness and fill with the pities
of someone gifted in seeing backwards. It’s a leash,
the tug of it jerking my head as I peer into the night’s
potential – ghostly, nebulous and keeping me from sleep.

OJO Taiye

Ojo Taiye is a young Nigerian poet who uses poetry as a handy tool to hide his frustration with society. He also makes use of collage and sample technique. He is the winner of many prestigious awards including the 2021 Hay Writer’s Circle Poetry Competition, 2021 Cathalbui Poetry Competition, Ireland.

 

ALL QUIET ON THE FIRE FRONT 

What is it that makes me see myself
more loving than the capitalist world?
Every time I watch the news my heart
goes out to the lonely orphan bear.

Look: there, as when a cone explodes
during a flare, another dog lay lifeless
on the charred ground, staring at a falling
pylon—the quieting chorus of ruin. Nothing

is blooming today & a man in my mother’s
village is breathing and asking— will the
water be gentle with me as it rises? I’m long
past hopeful and yes, beyond upset, I wish I

could say they’re just animals and my mother
is not sick. Still everything that is burning has
a name. Always something fragile and my father
looks up at me and sighs. We’ve lived in many

shelters. Even after the mud slide, a river slopes
along my heart to forget, for a second, the volume
of destruction. The thing about summer is: it doesn’t
come as joyful as it did once. If we are talking a-

bout a feverish planet, a thick pall of smoke still
hangs over my country’s green lungs. There is a
premonition before a ruin. Every herder I have
ever met said something about drought. More

drought. Or maybe to ruin the moment of camping,
a thousand heat-strokes & oh, there is famine too—