May 31, 2023 / mascara / 0 Comments
There is currently in Australia’s literary sector a discussion about fair employment, fair payment for authors, and promises of greater funding with the announcement of the National Cultural Policy by the Arts Minister, Hon. Tony Burke. As Jinghua Qian and Jennifer Mills wrote preliminary to a recent discussion on superannuation payments for journal contributors: “Many of us are looking forward to a stronger funding environment and the opportunity to affirm and protect the rights of writers, artists, and other literary journal contributors. Policy-level change is important, but the direct relationships between contributors and the publications that support us are also vital.”
The push for the legal rights of writers to be protected cannot be overlooked and is long overdue. Mills described this as “the fix”. What is also overdue however is the need for specific strategy to protect the CaLD sector of Australian writers and editors. We urgently need policy that recognizes the many ways that structural discrimination diminishes, depletes and compromises writers and editors of colour. Of these writers, the CaLD sector are overlooked by research, theory, activism and policy, which work concurrently.
By CaLD, we refer to the acronym for ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’ or ‘cultural and linguistic diversity’. One in every four Australians was born overseas. Linguistic diversity is also significant. One in five people in NSW, where we are based, speak a language other than English (LOTE).
Structural racism is poorly understood because it has not been adequately researched or theorised. It refers to wider political and social disadvantages within society. It normalises historical, cultural and institutional practices that benefit white people and disadvantage people of colour. It also replicates the racial hierarchy established through slavery and colonialism, which values white people as superior.
By structural discrimination we refer to the alarming discrepancy of representation of our cohort in universities, institutions, writers’ festivals, publishing houses, media, paid literary editing positions compared to the demographics of the Australian nation. We also refer to the complete absence of means testing of Government spending that has been allocated to the literary arts. Small CaLD organisations such as Mascara that do not have institutional support are permanently contingent on the ad hoc grants system, peer reviewed which require garnering of popular support bases to fund projects. It is not hard to see how this becomes exploitative. The complete absence of means testing of Government spending that has been allocated to the arts ends up augmenting the described structural barriers.
It is worthwhile to consider the 2019 National Arts Participation study which was a cornerstone evaluation of the impact of the arts and engagement with the arts. This tool and the data identifies behavioural indexes (page 7: the amount Australians engaged with arts activities,) and attitudinal indexes (page 8: how strongly an individual valued and supported the arts and their perception of the impact of the arts: which included arts funding, creativity, and wellbeing.) The results of NAPS demonstrate that CaLD individuals score significantly higher than average (indexes of 142 and 106 where the average is 100). However, following on from this research there has been substantial occlusions and oversights in researching, measuring and evaluating the discrepancies and inequalities in CaLD participation in the literary arts. The ongoing lack of specific data and ensuing body of research on Australian literary journals leaves a gap in our deeper awareness of the dynamics impacting on vulnerable demographic groups in the literary sector. The CaLD community remain neither proportionately nor commensurably represented in the paid workforce, by which we mean in universities, the state Writers’ Centres, publishing houses, mainstream media. This discrepancy is a fundamental problem and makes them vulnerable to exploitative dynamics, that ends up limiting their repertoire of literary tropes. Our community is very vulnerable to white power.
Yet what does the state of publishing look like? We know it is predominantly, indeed almost exclusively white, with the exception of a handful of CaLD literary editors and journalists, Jinghua Qian works at Overland, Cher Tan at Meanjin. Meanjin’s appointment of Esther Anatolitis, and SRB’s appointment of James Jiang signal new directions; but there are very few South Asian, Caribbean, African editors in the well-established supported paid positions reflecting the cultural tenets of the White Australia Policy, which although it was progressively legally dismantled between 1943 and 1973, unfortunately continues to inform how we see ourselves as a nation. The unspoken/unspeakable racist taboos persist and remain about the colour of skin, which in no way reflects our culture or the authenticity of our voices. Moreover, as Katherine Day writes recently in The Conversation, the corporate powerhouse of publishing spins in a climate of risk, that is notoriously unpredictable and unforgiving.
It is important to note that Mascara editors have not applied for positions with Sydney Review of Books or with Meanjin, Southerly or Westerly, as we see our brief to continue the work we have begun, to develop non-institutional readings of work by First Nations and CaLD writers as a unique and vital contribution to literary criticism.
Race and skin colour are both protected attributes under the Fair Work Act. Under the Fair Work Act what constitutes an adverse action includes offering a potential employee different and unfair terms and conditions for the job compared to other employees. Perhaps we need as an artistic community to reconsider the racialised framing of fair and equitable work.
Same, same? So why do we need more targeted, and thorough research?
In October 2022 we were approached by Catriona Menzies-Pike, then editor of Sydney Review of Books to join SRB’s project on literary journals in an advisory capacity. Specifically, the brief was to provide consultation on their survey of literary journals. The survey’s emphasis was on digital practice, audience engagement and who gets paid for what. It was put to Mascara that the research would provide a detailed account of the current state of literary journals operating as arts organisations – and point to areas of greatest need in terms of funding and other forms of support. The premise of shared interest was that our literary ecology would be less diverse and less interesting without a thriving cohort of journals. Mascara was also informed that SRB’s research will help the Australia Council identify areas for funding priority – and it will help those of us who work on literary journals advocate for our needs. We are so pleased to report that as a result of Mascara’s research and consultation, that SRB have taken up our primary recommendation.
PRIMARY RECOMMENDATION TO SRB
Looking back over past grant applications we noted that we had proposed a diversity survey for literary journals in 2016 to the Australia Council, which was not successful in achieving funding. We were intending to obtain demographic data particularly as concerns the opportunities and participation of the CaLD cohort, their paid and voluntary workloads and correlate this with population demographics.
We provided a specific recommendation to SRB that this is much needed quantitative data under the section on Creative Labour. We noted that questions 57-59 of their draft survey needed to include questions designed to provide information on who is being paid in the sector.
In our proposed questionnaire we had the following questions:
1. Of your paid editorial staff how many identify as First Nations?
2. Of your volunteer editorial staff, how many identify as First Nations?
3. Of your paid editorial staff, how many identify as CaLD?
4. Of your volunteer editorial staff, how many identify as CaLD?
We recommended that the additional sub-questions could be considered:
● If paid, what is the frequency of payment (e.g. salary, stipend per issue)?
● Does your organisation follow any award classifications (e.g Book Industry Award,
iPed rates)? If not, how does your organisation determine payment rates?
Noting that many literary arts workers are also writers we further recommended the following questions addressing creative practice, and issues of burnout and health:
1. How many of your CaLD staff (paid and volunteer) have their own creative practice?
2. How many of your CaLD staff (paid and volunteer) have another job as their main
source of income?
3. For CaLD staff who have a creative practice, have they felt that their work has
negatively impacted on their creative practice?
• What factors have made it difficult for staff to work on their creative
• Lack of time, limited creative capacity with energy going to other
work, lack of support, burnout, or other factors?
4. If you or your CaLD staff have experienced burnout, and/or other mental health
challenges has any support been in place?
We suggest unpacking the breakdown of paid vs unpaid work as follows:
● Which roles are volunteer in the organisation and which roles are paid?
● For CaLD staff who have paid roles but also volunteer their time, approximately how
many hours per fortnight (or what percentage of their total work time) is spent
undertaking unpaid work?
General recommendations on digital practice were also provided by Mascara‘s then team: Anthea Yang, Monique Nair and Michelle Cahill. We note that the subquestions and Creative Practice questions (1-4) that we recommended were not included in SRB’s final survey. This leaves an important gap where further research is needed.
We considered that cultural outcomes of literary journals could also be measured in terms of books
published, which have been associated with the journal. Mascara has over the last 16 years in partnership with publishers co-edited CaLD collections including Contemporary Asian Australian Poets(Puncher and Wattmann), deciBels3 a series of ten poetry chapbooks by CaLD poets (Vagabond Press), and most recently, Resilience (Ultimo Press).
Mascara considered that the above questions are fundamental in 2022-2023 and should be included
in SRB’s survey of literary journals, particularly given that Mascara did not receive funding in 2016 to carry out this research. Despite our rich literary outcomes, the journal relies on the generosity of its CaLD editors, a substantial proportion of which is unpaid labour. We do not believe that our experience is unique for the CaLD sector. Mascara noted that if SRB were to run the questions which we recommended, it would become alarmingly apparent that there is a major discrepancy between CaLD participation at a paid level (far below average) despite the higher than average behavioural and attitudinal indexes for our cohort as recorded in NAPS. We note that NAPS is meant to be used to “inform advocacy, audience development and strategic planning initiatives.”
In conclusion, we identified to SRB that the absence of economic planning and strategy for our cohort warranted targeted questions in SRB’s proposed Survey of Literary Journals. Mascara, has contributed substantially to advocacy for the CaLD sector and literary publishing in Australia over the last 15 years.
So why do we need specific strategy?
The NAPS tools published by the Australia Council indicates that the CaLD sector has stronger engagement in the arts, support for the arts and appreciation of the arts than some other cohorts, yet it remains a fact that the Australia Council and other funding organisations do not have Specific Strategic Initiatives for our cohort. This has a direct impact on funding outcomes for CaLD literary journals.
Like many other CaLD organisations, we have been navigating the limitations of structural racism in trying to grow and strengthen as a community of writers and critics. Mascara has built on the legacy of CaLD theorists such as Sneja Gunew, but also the creative activist lives of CaLD poets and writers, such as Antigone Kefala, Sudesh Mishra and Dîpti Saravanamuttu. As a community we have needed visionary and symbolic guidance, and continuing lines of leadership. Mascara has been foundational to the pioneering field of creative and critical production and strategic interventions for non-white settlers in Australian literature. However, our ongoing concerns relate to the endemic nature of unpaid labour by CaLD writers and editors and the absence of strategy to improve these conditions. We have noted for many years the absence of strategic planning for our cohort makes it harder for them to break through as writers, to build career pathways or foster agency. The Australia Council and other funding organisations appear to have overlooked the impact of structural racism on the capacity of CaLD writers and editors to participate equitably in the literary arts or to sustain a career in editing, creative writing, literary publishing, literary arts work, or in academia. Under these prevailing conditions it is well described that the CaLD cohort are more vulnerable to tokenising dynamics, to bullying as well as to depletion and burnout.
The cohorts which most often have strategic planning initiatives include First Nations writers, Remote and Regional writers and individual writers and organisations living with disability. Whilst applauding these important initiatives, we cannot fail to notice the absence of strategic planning for our cohort. Without statistical data and strategy that is focused on economic viability and economic planning for the CaLD sector, the publishing industry remains blind to the privileges enabled because of ethnic difference. Further, the industry is equally neutral to the structural problems CaLD literary journals face.
Without strategy for such a significant demographic group of writers, it follows that forms of meritocracy are thrown to the “industry” heavyweights: right wing media, festivals, the generic mainstream, a handful of institutional gatekeepers; literary agents with commercial interests who forge coalitions with the sector. This is effectively silencing significant CaLD literary talent in Australia.
It is time to do better. Australian readers deserve so much more richness and true diversity of literary editing and storytelling.
Mascara’s Proposed Feedback to Writers Australia:
CaLD writers and allies: We need you to be proactive. Writers Australia is now calling for guidance by the expertise of writers and the literature sector. You have the opportunity to make a difference and provide feedback via the form below.
As a small organization, we’ve endeavoured to break ground by opening the conversation across culture and institutions while there have been enormous barriers to funding in the absence of strategy for our cohort. We are vulnerable as writers and arts workers. It is our lives and our bodies that are being exploited by unpaid work and absence of strategy to recognize structural discrimination and its impacts. We need more than bandaids. We therefore make the following recommendations to the sector and we urge our cohort to lobby now by filling in the below form to Writers Australia
At question 1: Given the role of Writers Australia, as determined by Government in the National Cultural Policy (see page 69), what are the top two priorities that Writers Australia should focus on?
1. Specific strategic initiatives for the CaLD community in policy that recognises the extent to which structural discrimination impacts writers and editors of colour. By structural discrimination we refer to the discrepancy of representation of our cohort in universities, institutions, writers’ festivals, publishing houses, media, paid literary editing positions compared to the demographics of the Australian nation. We also refer to the complete absence of means testing of Government spending that has been allocated to the literary arts, augmenting these barriers.
2. A code of behaviour to include respectful conduct on the part of literary organisations and publishers who partner with organisations representing editors and writers of colour. There is no place for erasure, bullying, gas lighting, targeting or scapegoating of POC editors, or POC arts workers as a means to an end where arts funding or outcomes are concerned.
At question 2: What are the measures of success you want to have in place when Writers Australia is evaluated in 2026?
Minimum payment rates for editors of colour must be enabled, preferably by policy as a matter of urgency to support the survival of small organisations such as Mascara Literary Review which has been at the forefront of platforming POC writers, and publishing criticism of First Nations and POC publications.
Feedback Form to Writers Australia
1. Katherine Day, The Conversation September 5, 2022 https://theconversation.com/the-entire-industry-is-based-on-hunches-is-australian-publishing-an-art-a-science-or-a-gamble-189621
2. National Arts Participation Survey 2019 Australia Council for the Arts
May 11, 2023 / mascara / 0 Comments
Purbasha Roy is a writer from Jharkhand India. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Channel, SUSPECT, Space and Time magazine, Strange Horizons, Acta Victoriana, Pulp Literary Review and elsewhere. She attained second position in 8th Singapore Poetry Contest, and has been a Best of the Net Nominee.
This Heart, This Heart
Who would I show it to — W S Merwin
This heart is a salt lake that cries
its fate of longings. Ways to keep
a season forever inside needs attention.
I found autumn easy for this task. The
gulmohar that saffroned early this year
outside the room window now is an
autumn epic I byhearted twig-by-twig.
Branch-by-branch. A little beauty always
stays in every atom of the cosmos. What
it waits for but a new-angled discovery.
I am mirroring curiosity of a bywind upon
a street. Giving meaning to what but distance.
Many times I desired my heart becomes
a train. At least its march would receive
a settle down. When I want to write this
world, all I can think of is a field. I in the
company of a stubble. How there spentness
has answers but in a language of my sleeping
self. I have a terrible dream memory. After
I wake I can’t recall what goes through my
body, stand between dream life. Morning I received
a hamper from a friend. Flowers two hours
far from wilt. This triggered the memory
of a sandcastle two feet far from strong
tides. How I stood to see it collapse. Sincerely
heartbroken I dug my knees in its no longer
owned plot. The moment became an elegy
while it cradled a sad finish. It had something
magnetic like the night guard whistles. The
thin reach of it to my quilt covered body like
forgiveness fashioned out of ruins. There are
always things that don’t need metaphors. Today
I completed drawing the map of my longings.
Then among the light of my consciousness I
didn’t know the way to explain its crowdedness
and to whom in the language I speak in dreams.
Somedays I act forgetful. That it’s you holding
me like the running blood held by a confident body
March 1, 2023 / mascara / 0 Comments
by Claire Potter
Reviewed by LESH KARAN
Acanthus is Claire Potter’s fourth collection of poetry. Potter writes in a language that weaves mythology with nature, fantasy with reality and then wraps it all up in tulle. If I had to write a one-word review, surreal feels apt, but I don’t, so I’ll start with another one: “acanthus”. This is to say that my first instinct is to look for a titular poem, because in my mind titular poems somehow tie up the work in a loose bow. There isn’t one. Instead, I find a note that follows the contents page, where I learn that acanthus is a plant. Here, I am also offered a sliver of ancient Greek history, of how the leaves became a motif: ‘Passing this votive basket entwined in foliage [on the grave], Callimachus decided to carve it in stone’. A Google search reveals that acanthus leaves are the leaves typically carved into Corinthian columns to symbolise rebirth, immortality and resurrection. This hints at both transmigration and transmutation – of transforming into another being in another time-place.
In her introductory note Potter also quotes Derrida: ‘everything will flower at the edge of a desolate tomb’, and writes that ‘it is on the overlapping edges of these two accounts that this writing might be said to begin.’ I take the words ‘overlapping edges’ to be the heart of the collection. What happens in overlapping edges? The blurb on the back cover tells me of other-worldly ‘literary spaces’ that the reader can fall through. However, it is the self-referential nature of the poem ‘Counterintuitive’ (p17) that further illuminates:
I could never avoid the truth I’d discovered when I first engaged with texts: the self-evident fact of there being no reader nor subject-matter – only images and feelings in a sort of eternity…
— Gerald Murnane
There is writing that escapes the head, rustles
like stars of purple thistle,
moves like the tiniest bones of clavicle, tilts like
a compass from the centre to radius to peregrine. This writing
cannot be analysed or
understood by conventional means. Its solitude is written
in a vine that veins a crumbling ledge, the foliage
of a dream in amber, a map folded then refolded
into the shingles of a summer fan
The Gerald Murnane quote could stand in as the epigraph to the entire collection, and the poem itself, an addendum to the note. A handful of poems feel meta and/or performative in this way. For example, I see the first stanza of the poem ‘Errand’ (p38) as what Potter is doing with her poetry:
In and out of leaves the blue tits sew the garden
because to the mother bird in my mind I’ve tied
an infinite string as she zig- zags fervently shirring
distance in a loose smocking of air
By which I mean Potter is the blue mother bird fervently shirring distance with an infinite (eternal) string to create a loose smocking air: the writing that escape the head.
Another poem I want to speak to is ‘The Art of Sideways’ (p 55), because I feel it could stand in as the loose bow that ties the work together. Here, things are ‘layered / and overlapping like shelves of ancient papyruses’. They are also askew: ‘rain can fall sideways’, ‘eyes look aslant’ and ‘there is an angle of forty-five degrees’. Direction (winter light is ‘a trajectory that points in all directions’) and time (a snake’s skin is ‘a simple clock / turning every so often leaving a scaled topography behind’) are messed with, too. Because in such worlds, time, beings and direction don’t play by reality’s rules. To various degrees, these are the themes that imbue the collection’s 45 poems.
Themes and self-referentiality aside, it is the imagery – alluded to at the tail end of the Gerald Murnane quote – that simply astounds me.
A swan sails her cygnets along a stretch of river
—momentarily they rouse in a ghostly armada
a flotilla of milk wings billowing across the grey water
the mother dips her head beneath a lid of duckweed
leaving a swivel of white teardrop behind
Newspapers describe the father as having flown straight into
a building and died without mentioning how or why
The thought takes me back to Greece, to a girl called Scylla who ended
a war by cutting a lock of hair from her father’s sleeping head
and passing it to Minos, his enemy. Scylla was shunned
then chased by her father until a deity changed her into a seabird
The swans preen layer by layer, a soft smoothing by the underside
of the beak, the ruffle and discard of superfluous feathers
The river plays like a silver hook in their glass eyes
(‘The Glass Eye’, p9)
Potter’s imagery is startling in its originality, and at times haunting, such as in ‘The Glass Eye’. But when it is sewn together with narratives and spheres of another time-place, such as Greek mythology, the poem erupts little sparks in my mind: How does the swan’s preening and discarding of feathers relate to cutting a lock of hair? Is the mother swan Scylla? And why is the river a silver hook? The answers don’t necessarily matter, but the questions, the doors that open into thinking and seeing and feeling, do.
Another favourite is ‘The Hidden Side to Love’ (p25). It feels personal – autobiographical – given the first-person voice, and is simultaneously magical, melding the domestic with the natural:
All summer, the bees worked
between the bells of laburnum
sockets of foxglove, blades of lavender
—they saw a task and rose to it
I busy myself with the washing
untwisting funnels of sock, boughs of jumper
rosettes of flannel
The images in this first part of the poem sets up the overlapping of the bees with the speaker: ‘the bells of laburnum / sockets of foxglove, blades of lavender’ mirror ‘funnels of sock, boughs of jumper / rosettes of flannel’. This is how the speaker and the bees are subsumed into one being; likewise, their seeing a task and rising to it without being asked. And in the second half of the poem –
I look down my dress and see spikes of burdock
thistles in plaits hanging to the ground
Crayons, soldiers, ropes of daisy
the couch, the doorknob, the stairs—
They all gather to me
Until I stand and rub my hind legs emphatically
until I disengage everything
to its proper place
and emerge like a queen
made anew from decades of trying
– I see the burdock thistles stuck to the speaker’s dress as the chores that gather to her. And her decades of trying as acts of love, where a worker bee can become a Queen bee. Such is the magic of such love, and its music (there is much beautiful slant rhyme in Potter’s poetry, too).
‘The Hidden Side to Love’, I discover, was published in Meanjin (Summer 2016 and online). The only difference I note is the lack of full stops in the collection’s version. This aspect of form is representative of the whole collection: there is, pointedly, no full stops at the end of lines (if a sentence ends there) or paragraphs (in the case of prose poems) – in fact, there’s minimal punctuation altogether; and when full stops appear, they do so rarely, only in the middle of a line, where a sentence has ended, but not always. Instead, Potter uses line breaks, cesura, dashes (sometime multiple in a row to create a solid line) and indented text. Also, many of the works are prose poems; if not, then the lines in several lineated poems echo prose in their line lengths. It’s all very contemporary and lends to the orphic atmosphere of blurring the edges: Where does one thought/idea/image begin and end?
The last poem I want to speak to is my absolute favourite: ‘Metamorphosis’ (p 19). It is a prose poem of two paragraphs and the speaker is a spider; no, the speaker is inside a spider, and we see the world through the speaker’s eyes looking through the spider’s eight eyes:
I wake inside a spider at the pivot of a web. It feels like a graduation from my previous state until the breeze starts up and my webbed skirt starts to give. I cling to the silk threads, tilting backwards and forwards as though pinned to a warbling rocking chair …
I peer out from my lacy steeple. My eight eyes dissect ‘IL ov eN ew Yo rk 20 07’ on a mossed-over mug—crossed-eyed, the sun rotates in a wheel of sixteen. I’m whispering a name—Rumpelstilzchen? … I will wrap my golden thread …
This poem gives me joy to no end. It is playful. I can see then webbed skirt and feel the warbling rocking chair, but what gives me the most child-like glee is the visual representation of ‘I love New York 2007’ dissected into eight pairs of letters, for the spiders eight eyes, and then sun rotating in a wheel of sixteen, for the cross-eyed-ness. And, of course, anything is possible here because we have the whisper of the name Rumpelstilzchen, he who turned silk into gold in the eponymous fairy tale.
To circle back to the beginning, the introductory note, blurb and self-referential nature of ‘Counterintuitive’ might feel as if Potter has gone to much length to explain the work, suggesting that the poetry is challenging; and it is, in that it asks you to disrupt the logical. Thus, as a reader, I see these elements as foundational: that ‘crumbling ledge’ from which to enter the work. I also see them as an invitation: to follow Alice down the rabbit hole, so your subconscious, your inner world, can meet Potters’ on the page. And with that invitation, I find I am free to fall in, to tumble through the labyrinthine worlds without the need to land on my feet – because there is much joy in letting go. And there is much joy to be had here, in Potter’s original, surreal and musical Acanthus.
लेश करण LESH KARAN is a Naarm/Melbourne-based poet and essayist. Recent publications include Admissions, a Red Room Poetry anthology, Best of Australian Poems 2022, Australian Poetry Journal, Cordite Poetry Review, Island, Mascara Literary Review and Rabbit, amongst others. She was shortlisted for the 2022 Judith Wright Poetry Prize, and is currently completing a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at the University of Melbourne. Lesh is of Fiji Indian heritage.
February 15, 2023 / mascara / 0 Comments
Kirli Saunders (OAM) is a proud Gunai Woman and award-winning multidisciplinary artist and consultant. An experienced writer, speaker and facilitator advocating for the environment and equality, Kirli creates to connect to make change. She was the NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year (2020) and was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2022 for her contribution to the arts, particularly literature.
Kirli’s celebrated books include Bindi, Our Dreaming, Kindred and The Incredible Freedom Machines. Kirli’s writing features in magazines and journals with Vogue, National Geographic, Kill Your Darlings, and in public art with partners, Red Room Poetry, Aesop, and The Royal Botanic Gardens, Victoria.
Her art has been commissioned by Google, Fender, Sydney Opera House and Government. She is currently working on a world pride exhibition at Cement Fondue and developing her solo play, Going Home, and her second Visual Poetry Collection, Returning (Magabala, 2023).
Community Possum Skin Cloak
(forthcoming in Returning, Magabala, 2023)
~ With thanks to Aunty Loretta Parsley, Nicole Smede, Jo and the O&S Foundation & Bundanon for supporting Aunt & I to teach a community possum skin cloak making project on the river. And to all of the Aunties and Sissys who participated in this magical week of making, thank you.
bakers dozen emerald bower birds
wattle marbled on Banggali
like creamed honey
and fire weed
beneath shea-oak and gum
a meditation begun
with singing-bowl bees.
the Blue Wren
and cleans beak
of insect crumbs
currawong slinks between
spotted and fig-strangled trees
skips the stones
of her belly
on river skin
within, the marra
rejoice for the warmth of this day
noting the skies
and with them, seasons
rays of sun
sling sticky silver linings
on clouds in celebration,
they knead the path
from mountains to sea
and seven generations
of the sewing
February 14, 2023 / mascara / 0 Comments
Kavita Ivy Nandan was born in New Delhi, grew up in Suva and migrated to Australia in 1987 after the Fiji military coups. She completed a PhD in Literature on the postcolonial narratives of Salman Rushdie and VS Naipaul at the Australian National University. In 2017, she moved from Canberra to Sydney with her husband, Michael and son, Jesse. Kavita teaches Creative Writing at Macquarie University. She is the author of a book of poems, Return to what Remains (Ginninderra Press, 2022) and a novel, Home after Dark (USP Press, 2014). She is also the editor of a book of memoirs, Stolen Worlds: Fiji-Indian Fragments and co-editor of a book of essays, Unfinished Journeys: India File From Canberra and a book of poetry and short fiction, Writing the Pacific. Her poetry and fiction are published in LiteLitOne, Not Very Quiet, Mindfood, Mascara Literary Review, Transnational Literature, Landfall, The Island Review and Asiatic. She has been a recipient of the artsACT grant three times.
Cartwheels in space
Remember those damn kids
Who did cartwheels on the front lawn
On your strip of earth, in front of your damn house
To show you how damn good they were?
Those sporty-straight-legged girls with golden skin
And you tried too, because you wanted to be like them
Never in front of those deep-blue-Pacific-Ocean eyes of course
But in private
But you never
Could achieve that spinning momentum
Dumped on the back lawn each time
With your legs feeling like two lamb shanks
Your dark hair and skin frizzing in the sun upside down
Experiencing disappointment, like a firecracker that fizzled out.
Today, the latest images from Webb’s telescope
Captured the collision of two galaxies:
A cartwheel galaxy.
And you swore to yourself:
failure is transitory/
miracles do exist.
The perfect weather
A colony of witches’ broom
swept over the sleeping reserve
a trident of coldness that
pried open the mouth with vapours,
set upon the mind, haunting it with unfavourable thoughts,
such as sidewalk paraphernalia – plugs and wires –
getting wet in the rain and
feet sinking in soggy ground;
all of which makes one queasy.
Yet it was the perfect weather
to buy a coffin: black, $1,050, until,
the street lamps flickered off
night transitioned into day, and
the sun came out.
February 13, 2023 / mascara / 0 Comments
Naomi Williams writes on Kaurna Country. She enjoys experimenting with poetry and prose. Her poetry has been published in Raining Poetry in Adelaide in 2022 and her ekphrastic prose in FELTspace Writer’s Program 2021. She is a lyric writer and was a creative collaborator with the UNESCO Creative Cities Equaliser Music Video Project in Adelaide 2021. She has recently completed her Honours in Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide. Naomi enjoys performing spoken word at open mics around Adelaide and performing comedy raps as part of the duo Bubble Rap.
Oranges and Soccer
Orange is the colour of passion that burns so bright it’s almost NEON.
It catches in a retina forever.
Orange on the horizon, the orange I eat with my fingers spills juice and tangs my lips, cell
walls as soft as lips, they burst, or am I thinking of a mandarin?
When was the last time I ate an orange?
They never tasted so good than at my soccer game half-times, the mingled aromas of sweet
orange and fresh mud.
When did I last play soccer?
With my dog in the backyard. She carries that deflated ball in her mouth. A man was
throwing them out one day.
“The boys have got new ones,” he said. “They didn’t want to pump them up.”
The bounce of a ball on grass, the thunk of a boot sending it into the swish of a net— poetry.
I wasn’t fast enough, forgot the value of being alive.
I watched from the sidelines as boys from school played at lunchtimes, legs itching to run for
Some lucky times it went near me and I could kick it back.
I only joined in once with a friend.
I was too embarrassed otherwise.
The pack of boys, only the good, or the popular got a kick.
I was neither.
Torturous to watch.
Now I play with my dog.
She’s a bad bitch.
She boops the ball back into my hands like a pro.
January 10, 2023 / mascara / 0 Comments
Anthea Yang is a writer and poet living on unceded Wurundjeri land. Her writing has appeared in Going Down Swinging, Kill Your Darlings, Voiceworks and the HEIDE+Rabbit House of Ideas: Modern Women anthology, among others. She has been longlisted for the 2021 Kuracca Prize for Australian Literature, shortlisted for the 2020 Dorothy Porter Award for Poetry, and has performed her poetry as part of Emerging Writers’ Festival, Melbourne Writers Festival, and Red Room Poetry’s 2022 Victorian Poetry Month Gala. Born in Perth, Western Australia, her favourite season is summer.
i do not know how this ends
except there is a line drawn between me
and my body / me and
the person sitting next to me on the train / me and
everyone i have ever loved deeply /
a line between me
and the place where i am hungry to be
my memory is desiring linearity
remembers touch as an unripened mango, firm except a thumb-shaped bruise touching the surface / soft but unclear of the cause
perhaps what i am trying to trace is a lineage
perhaps what i am always trying to find is a line
let me try one more time:
memory is reaching / is waking to
the moonlight casting a patchwork of shadows
on my throat / i wonder
how much language i am losing / every day
a character learned now missing a stroke
until i am left with just the beginning / 一
the first stroke from left to right: a horizon
one late afternoon i watch the sun blow through
a lineage of trees, casting a shadow
on the building opposite my balcony
and i think about how the word 梦 is made up of
a forest sitting above the evening / how this is a dream
of my real life / this landscape
where I am standing on a mountaintop watching time settle
comfortably into the horizon as if it has done so before / here
my body melts into the shadows and here / in the poem
in the archives / in the memory
i am in abundance.
December 19, 2022 / mascara / 0 Comments
Gayatri Nair is an Indian-Australian writer, poet and DJ based on the land of the Wangal people of the Eora nation in Sydney’s inner west. She is a member of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement, has qualifications in Law and Arts, and is working in human rights policy, research and advocacy. She is passionate about pride in cultural identity and using art to affect change. Gayatri has been published in Sweatshop Women Volumes 1 and 2, Red Room Poetry, Mascara Literary Review, The Guardian and Swampland Magazine.
Last night you saved my life
There was a fire in the building
and I would have slept through it
But you woke me up and we survived
Earlier that day we had seen the impossible
Whales breaching out past the rocks
An island which I later looked up, called ‘Rangoon’
‘How racist’ I said, the old term for Yangon
A place I once had a visa to but had never been
And we wouldn’t have seen the whales
But for a lone woman on the beach
who told us to look
No phones no cameras,
nothing to capture it
So I’m writing it down now
You said this is where we would consummate our love
And I said ‘yuck isn’t that like about marriage,’
and ownership of a woman through making an heir
But this morning I googled consummate love
it said it was ‘the complete form of love, representing an ideal relationship which people strive towards… it is the ideal kind of relationship’
I can’t stop laughing at the way
you carried the car keys above your head
swimming with one hand raised through the estuary to the beach
Twice people stopped to ask if you were ok
And I wonder if we can ever go back there?
Like an ending in a Satyajit Ray film
But I don’t think I have a visa to that country anymore.
December 17, 2022 / mascara / 0 Comments
Vyacheslav Konoval is a Ukrainian poet and resident of Kyiv. His poems have appeared in many magazines, including Anarchy Anthology Archive, International Poetry Anthology, Literary Waves Publishing, Sparks of Kaliopa, Reach of the Song 2022, Diogenes for Culture Journal, Scars of my heart from the war, Poetry for Ukraine, Norwich University research center, Impakter, The Lit, Allegro, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Fulcrum, Adirondack Center for Writing, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Revista Literaria Taller Igitur, Tarot Poetry Journal, Tiny Seed Literature Journal, Best American Poetry Blog, Appalachian Journal Dark Horse. Vyacheslav’s poems were translated into Spanish, French, Scottish, and Polish languages.
Cold drops of rain
Descending from the roof
the melting handfuls of snow.
Moaning and humming
echoes outside the window
the wind plays with the lonely poplar,
bends thin branches.
In the darkness of the apartment
how is the Bakhmut city
my frontline friend?
Year of Darkness
A snowflake pinches the cheek,
the frost bites jokingly,
the fog is sliding on the ice.
As thunder tears apart a rocket supply,
the heart in pain, strangulation of the throat,
oh, that black fog covered the country.
There are thousands, tens of thousands of them.
Maybe hundreds of thousands
of worldly souls that flew to heaven,
from the sooty piles of smoke from the huts of towns and villages.
God, why such a punishment?
December 15, 2022 / mascara / 0 Comments
Lesh Karan is a Naarm/Melbourne-based writer and poet. Her work has been published in Best of Australian Poems 2022, Australian Poetry Journal, Cordite Poetry Review, Island, Mascara Literary Review and Rabbit, amongst others. Lesh is currently completing a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at the University of Melbourne. She’s of Fiji Indian heritage.
She took off her earth-caked shoes
and put them on the floor. On the floor,
she stacked her old notebooks and red pens
drained of ink. She placed her sweat-drenched
leggings on the floor. On the floor, her heart
still racing, too. She piled the organic produce
from farmers’ markets on the floor, alongside
the key holes, acupuncture and Advil. A stone
statue of Lord Ganesha she placed on the floor.
On the floor, his wordlessness, too. The mango
tree from her childhood home, she gently lay
on the floor and saw an orange dove
flutter off. Friends she let go, the friend who
let her go, all on the floor. The ill-fitting careers
she stacked like witches hats in the furthest corner on the floor.
She took her mirror off the wall and set it
flat on the floor, looked at herself
from the ground up. The dream home
she dismantled and stacked on the floor,
next to all the how-to manuals she had bought.
The question she couldn’t answer, she tore
and scattered like seeds on the floor. When
the floor cracks, she putties it
with moonlight, Fleetwood Mac,
and continues stacking.