Category Archives: Blog

Tragedy strikes searching for the right cover

In memory of Andrew Nawroski 1956-2023

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Finding a cover used to be a bit of a slog for copyright reasons without a publisher with a house style, but since finding free images on Pixels and Pixabay the job has become something of a joy. They say Free but we can make a donation and make contact with the artist which makes it personal and pleasurable. That was until I found my latest cover for an upcoming collection on the dark side of birds.

As a lover of art, surrealism in particular, I scoured free sites for an image with non-sentimental bird content. I found a site by surrealist and collagist Andrew Nawroski and was surprised to find him practicing in Newport, South Wales, just across the Severn from my hometown, Bristol. Or I thought he was. I went to his Facebook page to say how much I admired his work and I’d like to use one of his images for my collection. I found he uses the raven motif a lot in his collages and wrote dark poetry so he was definitely the man. In his archives I found collages of Putin from ten years ago, so many images of animal and human life mashed up and executed in surprising ways. Who was this artist?

The terrible and shocking thing was when I got to his page I found tributes and RIPs to him only hours old and still coming in. When I dug deeper I found out that facing homelessness in January, possibly due to some social services bungling and lack of communication, he’d actually been without a home for three months and was found unresponsive on a park bench in a churchyard on March 1 this year in the very week I found his image. How could this be?

It’s impossible to accept that a celebrated and talented artist like Andrew who’d been featured in the local press before and had started up a collective and worked on significant community projects could slip through the net in the fifth richest country in the world. Andrew was a prolific and consummate artist who would have thrived with a patron in a previous century. He was a true, true artist in that he probably couldn’t do anything else. I don’t know. I didn’t know him but it seems that art was his whole life, his reason for being. His work is striking, funny, bold, bright and dark inspired by the old masters. His drawings are finely wrought and detailed despite his reputedly huge hands. Apparently, in his studio shop he could behave like Dylan Moran in Black Books and say to browsers something like, Are you going to buy something or are you here to waste my time? He was a master of his own art. I’d like to have known him. His legacy is in his work and in his children. For what it’s worth I’ll be dedicating the next book to him.

Vale Andrew Nawroski.


Mark Pajak

When I first read Mark’s poems I felt secure in their confidence and excited by their emotional punch and vibrant imagery. I remember printing off his poem about jellyfish which was so vivid and poignant. It’s one of those poems I enjoyed rereading. This was around the time his pamphlet Spitting Distance was published in 2016. He has the ability to carry us to vignettes of human experience, often through the eyes of a child or as the observer and he tells a shocking or surprising story. He creates an edge-of-the-seat feel through his sharp narratives and I am thrilled or moved by them. We can relate to those moments where the innocence of youth is lost. I love his directness and visceral honesty. Delighted to say his full collection, Slide, is due in November.

… and in their glance was permanence
– John Berger

At sixteen, I did a day’s work
on an egg farm.
A tin shed the size of a hanger.

Inside its oven dark
two thousand stacked cages,
engines of clatter and squawk.

My job, to pass a torch
through the bars for the dead hens
and pack them tight into a bin bag.

All the time my mind chanting:
there’s only one hen. Just one
ruined hen repeated over and over.

In this way I soothed the sight
of all that caged battery,
their feathers stripped to stems,

their patches of scrotum skin,
their bodies held
in the dead hands of their wings.

But what kept me awake
that hot night in my box room,
as I listened to the brook outside

chew on its stones and the fox’s
human scream, was how
those thousand-thousand birds

had watched me. And really
it was me repeated over and over,
set in the amber of their eyes.

Me, the frightened boy in jeans
stiff with chicken shit, carrying
a bin bag full of small movement.

A foot that opened. An eyelid
that unshelled its blind nut.
A beak mouthing a word.

Cat on the Tracks

He wore the night in his fur, sat on a rung
between the rails, tail wisping like smoke

as a distant train split the air along its seam.
Its coming headlight laid down track

and placed an opal into each black seed
of the cat’s eyes, every blink slow as an eclipse.

Soon the white light pinned him, the only drop
of night left as vibration turned the rails to mercury.

But there was no give in the cat, no flex anywhere
but his tail. And for a moment their roles reversed,

as though it were the train facing the inevitable cat,
the end of the line. The world lit up like a page

and the train a sentence before the full-stop.


Inside this disused tool-shed in Hammer Wood
slatted walls morse daylight on an earth floor.

Here two local boys find a knife, its blade
freckled in rust. The older boy picks it up,

with its egg whiff of wet metal, and points
to his friend to back against the wall for a trick.

Then the younger boy’s t-shirt is hustled
over his head and rolled into a blindfold.

In its blackness, he imagines the moment held
like a knife above his friend’s head. His friend

who whispers. Don’t. Move. And then
there’s a kiss. Lips quickly snipping against his.

Silence. He’s aware of his chest, the negative
of his t-shirt. He pulls his blindfold. Looks

the older boy full in his up-close face. And sees
that he’s bleeding, everywhere, under his skin.


You dare me
to cross Bently road naked.

Its three a.m.
and we’re the only two awake

and its icy and streetlights
shy down their yellow.

On the tarmac my bare foot
is a cut of salmon

on a black hob,
paleness searing into it.

Cars lean on the curb
like empty men at a bar,

each roofed
with nettle-hairs of frost.

My thighs flicker.
At the opposite hedge

I touch the sugar spoons
of privet leaves, unlock

a glittering sound of keys.
My fingers laced with blue.

My penis slunk
like a hand into its sleeve.

But as I turn back to you,
my stomach swills with heat

as if a red tap
had loosed its ribbon.

And as I cross the road again
my spine uncurls,

a fern in sunlight.
I reach you standing tall.

You with your arms full
of my clothes,

your bashful head bowed
but your side-on eye

unblinking as a fish.
The streetlight’s glow

has a whisky warmth. Your brow
sweats. The wet seal

of my mouth steams open.
And I dare you. I dare you.

Mark Pajak was born in Merseyside. His work appears in The Guardian, the London Review of BooksPoetry LondonThe NorthThe Rialto and Magma. He’s received a Northern Writers’ Award, an Eric Gregory Award, a UNESCO international writing residency and has been awarded first place in the Bridport Poetry Prize. His pamphlet, Spitting Distance (Smith|Doorstop) was selected by Carol Ann Duffy as a Laureate’s Choice. He has previously been commended in the National Poetry Competition in 2014 and 2019. His first collection Slide is due November 2022.

Thanks to the Poetry Society, Poetry London and Smith/Doorstop where these poems appear.

‘Oh Lord make me pure-but not yet’ Let’s celebrate…

…the  release of this new pamphlet from the Picaro Poets series.

Songs of the Godforsaken
by Geelong poet
John Bartlett.

I found myself moved, amused and affected by the poems in this marvellous collection. You will be taken to that fiery night in Mallacoota, to the eye of a heron in a blackened landscape, to a back garden in London where a migrant’s life comes to a tragic end and to the Bourke Street Lotto. You will go to private sensual places.

John’s poems are sinewy and beautiful on the page. They have the sensuousness of the Baroque in form and style. Each poem skilfully crafted, the works artfully curated and confident.

There are confessional poems and poems that question, Will I surrender to the drug of memory, Is that how I will find my way home? and in the title ‘What would I say ‘ to the father for ‘not loving him enough’.

Some lines are arresting, God will always demand the sacrifice of small children. John’s experience with the church in a past life has made a lasting impression on him and infuses his work. It’s given him an evocative mastery of language. It may have given him a dry sense of humour. It’s certainly given him an ability to note injustice, joy, beauty in destruction, ugliness in ignorance, the power of transformation, and a yearning for what is denied— innumerable lovers. And in the last lines of the collection the question of his unfinished life makes for a dramatic finale.

Schubert’s symphony, his seventh,
Unfinished too.

Can its single, final note
surf the years, proclaiming

-‘who do you think you are
to escape unscathed?’

It is with loud clashing cymbals and a bottle of expensive champagne I smash the bow of this book and bless all who get lost in enchantment and awe between her lines!



She’s back again this year
in heels and nuptial plumes,
in pale eye liner
-the white-faced heron
selecting twigs,
thinking of survival
What rush of rapture
-these birds
designed from
templates of dinosaurs
with songs that shiver
in the deep wells of the soul
So, despite
the cracking ice
in Greenland, the rift,
the cleft, the split,
the speld

Despite the smell,
the stench, the stink
of burning forest,
I see you still,
by cross-thatched  leaves,
your changing of the guard
with stilt-stepped stealth,
this private pact
between you,
this brooding hope

Shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize, 2020

A Year of Masks

Spring/Hong Kong
            Anonymous, yet uniform
            in our disguises, we
wear our false faces
crafted in the basements
of our outrage               against
tear gas & elimination

On days the sun refused
rise, we
huddled on the edges
of our nightmares,
lives burning, gasping    in
smoke & suffocation

White-robed, masked Archangels
engrossed in ceremonies of ablution, we
ration out each breath
from hostile air, as if
breathing less might save us
from extinction

Winter / the world
In that other room without pretences,
we mock our other selves
happy to dwell under the dark clouds
that herald every rain
surviving in some eternal

                                The disobedience of the Genitals
                                (“Oh Lord make me pure – but not yet.”)

In 400 AD, or thereabouts, Saint Augustine prayed
for a thirty year delay on his ejaculations, waxed
eloquent (&endlessly) on the “disobedience
of the genitals”, their unexpected ability,
their agility to leap into alacrity at
short notice, fig leaves, he knew
were not a short-term solution,
absolution a necessity,
suppression a
better option, so
henceforth flesh &
spirit, like a firewood
log split in two,
a smashed
egg’s yolk a
broken heart


John Bartlett is the author of three novels, collections of his short stories and published non-fiction. His poetry has been published in a number of Australian and overseas journals.  In June 2019 Melbourne Poets Union published his Chapbook The Arms of Men. Ginninderra Press has just published Songs of the Godforsaken as part of its Picaro Poets’ Chapbook series and will publish his full collection Awake at 3am later in the year. He was recently shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize.


Songs Of The Godforsaken


Ada Limón’s visionary poems and a New World Order just around the corner.


A New National Anthem    Ada Limón 

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets’
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps
the truth is that every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the shortgrass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?

The Leash

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry, to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say: Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don’t know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe,
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.
Ada Limón, “The Leash” from The Carrying.  Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón.  Reprinted by permission of Milkweed Editions.

Old neighbour memoir from Preston, Vic. Locked

 Bosnian boy sends postcard home

In this place I’m gagged
by the desert grit that gets
shaved off the salt lake.
I’m monster and shadow
sculpted by a mean north wind

Where is my castle?

Walking out on the flat
(what else?) I trip
over the bleached ribcage
of a dragon, it traps tumbleweed
and the skin of a brown snake.

Where is my horse?

After dark we sit in the yard,
our legs stick to the chairs.
We drink lemonade from
glass bottles and duck fruit bats
hanging from the trees like traitors.

You talk, mama,
about the last time you went to
the snow on the hills outside Sarajevo.

Six of you piled onto an old ladder,
swooshing down the icy road,
dervishes fighting the crusade.

I was sub-zero years old,
scrunched inside your belly with
my eyes shut.

If I’d known you were
there that day I’d have cut you
you open with my sword,
climbed over your parapet
and disappeared into the
mountains, at home in the cold,
with tata and the warlords.


First published in When I Saw Jimi, Indigo Dreams

Bristol memoir from locked down Oz

Sequestering the Feeling of Grass

Once a year I cross oceans of manatee
waterweed, frogbit—the sort of grass that
cowers under the weight of us.
I go to pull weeds from the base
of my father’s tree. He hates weeds.
Weeds squat in cracked paths
like travellers and their big-eyed children,
spread unruly between geraniums,
choke drains carried by the delinquent
pigeon that tips the bird bath for the hell of it.

It never occurred to him or any of us
that the grass he so assiduously mowed
would scream at the sight of roiling blades,
that the divine smell of his tight- clipped lawn,
in lines of a bowling green,
was sending out hormones of fear—
warnings, not memories of afternoons
in September when I’d come home spiked
with hay, damp patches on my jeans.

I wanted to ask if you could see
the wing shadowing our growing up,
if you could bear that we weren’t tidy
or musical, as dark cells seeded
a requiem in the marrow of your glassy bones.

If you could find a kind chaos
playing your flute, arrangements
that sometimes broke rules.

I never got to tell you that somewhere deep,
not green at all, but dry as your throat
on the last night, I feel the pain of grass
cut too short, the dying a slow brown death—
the smell of it.


First published in Shearsman, UK.

New York memoir locked down in Oz


The first time I saw it
was from the hop-on hop-off bus
glimpsing Strawberry Fields
as we headed for 9/11 & the Soup Nazi

I looked for Yoko carrying a shopping bag
and was disappointed

This time I walked through Central Park
dodging nannies, yummies
doing exercises holding prams

taking photos
on a mosaic mandala        shrine
with the title of his song inlaid

In twenty thirteen, early autumn,
winter nowhere on the horizon

it was impossible to imagine a psycho
with a gun taking his wonked brain

for a blood-splattered run,
letting it right off the leash,
making yesterday history.

A John lookalike was playing
his twangy thang

A blackbird flew out of it


First appeared in Cordite Review

The Dreaming Mind-Les Murray 1938-2019

John Murphy, editor of The Lake, asked me to write a tribute to Les Murray which appeared in the July issue.

A poem is the product of the dreaming mind, the rational mind and the dancing mind according to Les Murray whose poetry, controversial philosophies and life values spring from his massive intellect and curiosity, his love of the Australian bush and his early experience of penury and emotional violence. By ‘bush’ I mean countryside, landscape, the place of his formative years in Bunyah, New South Wales.

From a line of Scottish farmer settlers Murray’s attachment to the land and feelings of being an outsider infuse his work. His own story he likens to Greek tragedy. The loss of his mother when he was twelve after complications following an ectopic pregnancy forced him to live with the paralysing grief of his father and to assume the role of carer. There was a lifetime of brawling between his father and grandfather after the death of his uncle when felling a tree. As a bright boy of large stature and reportedly gauche he was ridiculed in school. Murray speaks openly of his torment but it didn’t stop him engaging forcefully with the world. He celebrated life, railed against the avant-garde, social injustice and the exclusion of the vulnerable and non-conformist.

I first heard Murray reading his poetry at an event in Melbourne in 2010. He was supporting Poetry Idol, the stirrings of performance and slam poetry in Australia. By then his poetry was on book lists in schools and he was deemed a ‘National Treasure’ though I’m sure he must have laughed or winced about that. He was certainly a superhero in contemporary Australian literature and recognised internationally as one of the best contemporary poets writing in English.

Ted Hughes put him forward for the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry which he won in 1998. At the presentation ceremony he cut a fine figure in a sharp suit looking a bit like Alfred Hitchcock, smiling at the queen, she smiling back.

His work has been translated into several languages and has also won The Petrarch Prize (2005), the TS Eliot Award (1997) and a swag of Australian awards. He published thirty collections of poetry, two verse novels, essays and collections of prose and has edited several poetry anthologies and performed the role of poetry editor for Quadrant from 1989-2018.

That night in Melbourne I remembered thinking he had the soft moon face of my grandfather and the cosy home-knit that made him look like the old man up the road. He didn’t seem to bother much about performing or slamming that night. He read quietly and quickly. I remember feeling disappointed, wishing he would slow down and speak out. I wanted to relish his hawk eye for detail, the profane and pedestrian mashed together in a fresh patterning often harking back to Hopkins as in the poem ‘Performance’.

I starred that night, I shone:
I was footwork and firework in one,

a rocket that wriggled up and shot
darkness with a parasol of brilliants
and a peewee descant on a flung bit;
I was busters of glitter-bombs expanding
to mantle and aurora from a crown,
I was fouettés, falls of blazing paint,
para-flares spot-welding cloudy heaven,
loose gold off fierce toeholds of white,
a finale red-tongued as a haka leap:
that too was a butt of all right!

As usual after any triumph, I was
of course, inconsolable.

from Subhuman Redneck Poems, 1996

In an interview with Robert Haas, at the 2011 Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam he begins the session with a reading. It’s hard to know where the poems begin and end. His reading is rushed and mumbled but after a lively Q and A he reads again and the difference in execution is palpable. It seems that in telling only a small part of his life story he gains the confidence to speak with marked animation and commitment.

He was reading his animal poems from Translations from the Natural World which came out of his depression and debilitating panic attacks. He ‘ventriloquises’ some of the creatures admitting to a form of catharsis in the writing of these poems. His sense of humour and the unexpected is shot through his work.

Us all on sore cement was we.
Not warmed then with glares. Not glutting mush
Under that pole the lightning’s tied to.
No farrow-shit in milk to make us randy.
Us back in cool god-shit.

Murray’s candid disclosures in interviews are compelling and disarming. In the middle of what seems to be a regular anecdote he becomes lyrical and fanciful, alluding to a Greek god or German philosopher. His responses frequently punctuated by that laugh, bordering on a giggle and a sharp intake of breath. Some of his comments leave the interviewer speechless. He is never predictable and while he felt that Australian poetry should eschew the post-modern his own poetry is often experimental and veers into the mythical and wickedly outlandish.

In the sixties and seventies Murray upset many people in the literary world with his conservative politics and scorn for the intellectual cliques that cluster around universities. His critiques of academia and what he perceived as political bias in the distribution of literary funds he expressed with clarity and élan, a chip perhaps resting lightly and sometimes not so lightly on his broad shoulder.

It seems as though he was treated with suspicion by peers when he was invited by Liberal Prime Minister John Howard to help rewrite part of the constitution. At the same time his early political movement is said to have been a forerunner of the Greens and Democrats.

Murray was a nuanced, complex character as well as a wonderful raconteur and critic, frequently possessed by anxiety when, after receiving harsh criticism of his own work, which has been referred to by some as patchy and even doggerel, was then reluctant to critique others.

Since his death several young poets have spoken of the encouragement and mentoring that Murray gave them if he felt their work showed promise. He was generous in his time in fostering new talent.

I have heard him speak highly of certain fellow poets and more recently of his friend and fellow recipient of The TS Eliot Award, Pascale Petit. He became her mentor saying, ‘ ‘No other British poet I am aware of can match the powerful mythic imagination of Pascale Petit.’ And Pascale, writing on hearing of his death said of Murray, ‘…a great, great poet. A world treasure. A gift to the earth and to his readers…His quality of sprawl and trance unmatched.’

In 1989 he returned to his beloved Bunyah with his wife, writer and musician Valerie Morelli, and remained there until his last months in a nursing home in Tarree, NSW in 2019. He is survived by Valerie and their five children.

At one stage in his discussion with Haas he says that Australia is now bereft of eccentrics. He posits that this country is ignored because its heartbreaks are trivial compared to those of the rest of the world. We lack rivers of blood, he says, in so many words. Les Murray – ‘contrarian bastard’ laments Thomas Keneally, ‘You’ve reduced us to your poetry.’



Image from the Western Suburbs Weekly

Tishani Doshi-poet, journalist, writer


I introduced this poet to a group in Geelong recently and they were entranced by her vivid anthems of love and loss and her timeliness. I suspect she may not be well known in Australia so I hope I am spreading the word. She performs Girls are Coming out of the Woods in creative movement accompanied by traditional Indian instrumentals on a TED session. It’s marvellous. She wrote this collection before the Me Too movement in response to a friend’s murder and the rape of the young girl on a bus near Delhi in 2012. We read her poetry aloud revelling in the musicality, emotional punch and colour of it.

 What was her earliest memory of poetry?

I don’t remember poetry being a part of my life until I was an undergraduate at Queen’s University in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was reading Mark Doty, Mary Oliver, James Tate – and I think it had to do with encountering voices that were assured and bold and of the moment, and saying, really, there is nothing you cannot do in a poem. They entered my skin and set up tents. And then more poets joined the caravanserai. I still have those books. My nineteen-year-old self underlining the words, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?” and the word YES in the margin. I’m still saying YES.    



The day we went to the sea
mothers in Madras were mining
the Marina for missing children.
Thatch flew in the sky, prisoners
ran free, houses danced like danger
in the wind. I saw a woman hold
the tattered edge of the world
in her hand, look past the temple
which was still standing, as she was –
miraculously whole in the debris of gaudy
South Indian sun. When she moved
her other hand across her brow,
in a single arcing sweep of grace,
it was as if she alone could alter things,
bring us to the wordless safety of our beds.


The River of Girls
i.m. India’s missing girls

This is not really myth or secret.
This murmur in the mouth
of the mountain where the sound
of rain is born. This surging
past pilgrim town and village well.
This coin-thin vagina
and acid stain of bone.
This doctor with his rusty tools,
this street cleaner, this mother
laying down the bloody offerings
of birth. This is not the cry
of a beginning, or a river
buried in the bowels of the earth.
This is the sound of ten million girls
singing of a time in the universe
when they were born with tigers
breathing between their thighs;
when they set out for battle
with all three eyes on fire,
their golden breasts held high
like weapons to the sky.


The Art of Losing

It begins with the death
of the childhood pet –
the dog who refuses to eat
for days, the bird or fish
found sideways, dead.
And you think the hole
in the universe,
caused by the emission
of your grief, is so deep
it will never be rectified.
But it’s only the start
of an endless litany
of betrayals:
the cruelty of school,
your first bastard boyfriend,
the neighbour’s son
going slowly mad.
You catch hold of losing,
and suddenly, it’s everywhere –
the beggars in the street,
the ravage of a distant war
in your sleep.
And when grandfather
hobbles up to the commode
to relieve himself like a girl
without bothering to shut
the door, you begin to realize
what it means to exist
in a world without.
People around you grow old
and die, and it’s explained
as a kind of going away –
to God, or rot, or to return
as an ant. And once again,
you’re expected to be calm
about the fact that you’ll never see
the dead again,
never hear them enter a room
or leave it,
never have them touch
the soft parting of your hair.
Let it be, your parents advise:
it’s nothing.
Wait till your favourite aunt
keels over in a shopping mall,
or the only boy you loved
drives off a cliff and survives,
but will never walk again.
That’ll really do you in,
make you want to slit your wrists
(in a metaphorical way, of course,
because you’re strong and know
that life is about surviving these things).
And almost all of it might
be bearable if it would just end
at this. But one day your parents
will sneak into the garden
to stand under the stars,
and fade, like the lawn,
into a mossy kind of grey.
And you must let them.
Not just that.
You must let them pass
into that wilderness
and understand that soon,
you’ll be called aside
to put away your paper wings,
to fall into that same oblivion
with nothing.
As if it were nothing.


Girls are coming out of the Woods

Girls are coming out of the woods,
wrapped in cloaks and hoods,
carrying iron bars and candles
and a multitude of scars, collected
on acres of premature grass and city
buses, in temples and bars. Girls
are coming out of the woods
with panties tied around their lips,
making such a noise, it’s impossible
to hear. Is the world speaking too?
Is it really asking, What does it mean
to give someone a proper resting? Girls are
coming out of the woods, lifting
their broken legs high, leaking secrets
from unfastened thighs, all the lies
whispered by strangers and swimming
coaches, and uncles, especially uncles,
who said spreading would be light
and easy, who put bullets in their chests
and fed their pretty faces to fire,
who sucked the mud clean
off their ribs, and decorated
their coffins with brier. Girls are coming
out of the woods, clearing the ground
to scatter their stories. Even those girls
found naked in ditches and wells,
those forgotten in neglected attics,
and buried in river beds like sediments
from a different century. They’ve crawled
their way out from behind curtains
of childhood, the silver-pink weight
of their bodies pushing against water,
against the sad, feathered tarnish
of remembrance. Girls are coming out
of the woods the way birds arrive
at morning windows – pecking
and humming, until all you can hear
is the smash of their miniscule hearts
against glass, the bright desperation
of sound – bashing, disappearing.
Girls are coming out of the woods.
They’re coming. They’re coming.


Love Poem

Utimately, we will lose each other
to something. I would hope for grand
circumstance —  death or disaster.
But it might not be that way at all.
It might be that you walk out
one morning after making love
to buy cigarettes, and never return,
or I fall in love with another man.
It might be a slow drift into indifference.
Either way, we’ll have to learn
to bear the weight of the eventuality
that we will lose each other to something.
So why not begin now, while your head
rests like a perfect moon in my lap,
and the dogs on the beach are howling?
Why not reach for the seam in this South Indian
night and tear it, just a little, so the falling
can begin? Because later, when we cross
each other on the streets, and are forced
to look away, when we’ve thrown
the disregarded pieces of our togetherness
into bedroom drawers and the smell
of our bodies is disappearing like the sweet
decay of lilies —  what will we call it,
when it’s no longer love?


End-of-Year Epiphany at the Holiday Inn

Softly, first, over egg bhurji and juice—
this country is losing her soul,
because a man in a wheelchair is beaten
for not standing to the national anthem,
because breakfast was once a noble affair,
not this litany of selfies. I know it’s ridiculous
to think countries have souls, that this one
could be feminine. I know I should have faith
in happiness and child wonders,
who will rid plastic from the earth. Oh yes,
I know the possibility of a person coming
to their knees at an airport, crying, Who am I,
is high, and most people will walk by
because time is always calling. We must believe
everything will be all right because people
are still having babies and taking them to the sea.
So what if a man is slaughtered and set alight
for love, for a slab of dead cow, for reasons
sacred? So what if the waters are rising,
and those seas will soon be upon us?
We must live in the moments we’re given.

Louder now, in the lobby of the Holiday Inn—
this country is losing her soul,
because politicians declare our daughters
safe as long as they’re parked at home,
and geniuses proclaim the national bird
so holy, it impregnates with tears.
I know I should be kinder on feedback forms.
I know you don’t really want to tell me how
to live unless you’re selling me something.
No one’s really listening unless you’re on TV.
But there are people who still grow heirloom rice,
who long for roses to assault the walls
of their homes because they believe in beauty
and her graces. And perhaps part of surviving
is to keep your knees soft, to bear grief
that the missing will always remain missing.
So when the new year arrives with the golden
light of a late Sunday morning, whispering how
everyone you love will be kept safe, you take
those promises deep into the pink
of your mouth, and you swallow.


Find the Poets

I arrived in a foreign land yesterday,
a land that has seen troubles,
(who hasn’t, you might say?)
This land
with its scrubbed white houses
and blue seas, where everything was born,
and now, everything seems as if it could vanish.
I wanted to find out the truth
about how a great land like this
could allow ancient columns to crumble
and organ grinders to disappear.

Find the poets, my friend said.
If you want to know the truth, find the poets.

But friend, where do I find the poets?
In the soccer fields,
at the sea shore,
in the bars drinking?

Where do the poets live these days,
and what do they sing about?

I looked for them in the streets of Athens,
at the flea market and by the train station,
I thought one of them might have sold me a pair of sandals.

But he did not speak to me of poetry,

only of his struggles, of how his house was taken from him
along with his shiny dreams of the future,
of all the dangers his children must now be brave enough to face.

Find the poets, my friend said.
They will not speak of the things you and I speak about.
They will not speak of economic integration
or fiscal consolidation.

They could not tell you anything about the burden of adjustment.

But they could sit you down
and tell you how poems are born in silence
and sometimes, in moments of great noise,
of how they arrive like the rain,
unexpectedly cracking open the sky.

They will talk of love, of course,
as if it were the only thing that mattered,
about chestnut trees and mountain tops,
and how much they miss their dead fathers.

They will talk as they have been talking
for centuries, about holding the throat of life,
till all the sunsets and lies are choked out,
till only the bones of truth remain.

The poets, my friend, are where they have always been—
living in paper houses without countries,
along rivers and in forests that are disappearing.

And while you and I go on with life
remembering and forgetting,

the poets remain: singing, singing


At The Rodin Museum

Rilke is following me everywhere
With his tailor-made suits
And vegetarian smile.

He says because I’m young,
I’m always beginning,
And cannot know love.

He sees how I’m a giant piece
Of glass again, trying
To catch the sun

In remote corners of rooms,
Mountain tops, uncertain
Places of light.

He speaks of the cruelty
Of hospitals, the stillness
Of cathedrals,

Takes me through bodies
And arms and legs
Of such extravagant size,

The ancient sky burrows in
With all the dead words
We carry and cannot use.

He holds up mirrors
From which our reflections fall —
Half-battered existences,

Where we lose ourselves
For the sake of the other,
And the others still to come.



Dear Reader,
I agree to turn my skin inside out,
to reinvent every lost word, to burnish,
to steal, to do what I must
in order to singe your lungs.
I will forgo happiness
stab myself repeatedly,
and lower my head into countless ovens.
I will fade backwards into the future
and tell you what I see.
If it is bleak, I will lie
so that you may live
seized with wonder.
If it is miraculous I will
send messages in your dreams,
and they will flicker
as a silvered cottage in the woods,
choked with vines of moonflower.
Don’t kill me, Reader.
This neck has been working for years
to harden itself against the axe.
This body, meagre as it is,
has lost so many limbs to wars, so many
eyes and hearts to romance. But love me,
and I will follow you everywhere –
to the dusty corners of childhood,
to every downfall and resurrection.
Till your skin becomes my skin.
Let us be twins, our blood
thumping after each other
like thunder and lightning.
And when you put your soft head
down to rest, dear Reader,
I promise to always be there,
humming in the dungeons
of your auditory canals—
an immortal mosquito,
hastening you towards fury,
towards incandescence.



Toshina was born in Madras to a Welsh mother and Gujarati father. She received an Eric Gregory Award in 2001. Her first poetry collection, Countries of the Body, won the 2006 Forward Poetry Prize for best first collection. Her poetry collection, Everything Begins Elsewhere was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2013. Her most recent book of poetry, Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, was published by Harper Collins, India and Bloodaxe, UK in 2017.

(With thanks to Wiki and various blogs and online journals for this information).

Milkman by Anna Burns Review by Julie Maclean


What I admire in Burns’ Milkman is everything, including the superb reading by Brid Brennan who owns the text in its myriad eddies and shifts. In this Man Booker Prize winner of 2018 psychic cruelty, physical brutality and family ‘doings’ are observed in a wry, intelligent and nimble voice.

It’s Northern Ireland in the Seventies, although this is never stated outright, and the narrator, middle sister, is accused of having an affair with the milkman, a paramilitary heavyweight who is stalking her.

‘But I had not been having an affair with the milkman. I did not like the milkman and had been frightened and confused by his pursuing and attempting an affair with me.’

We are carried in a breathless monologue as she navigates her way through sex, innuendo, the vagaries of a bookish family and coupling, hence her maybe boyfriend, at a time when menace lurks around every corner.

The quest of middle sister for agency and security in a community under pressure at its gossipy, sex-crazed worst renders her face expressionless. But even this ‘nullity’ becomes treacherous because she needs to show something, but what? Characters have no names but are Somebody McSomebodies, wee sisters, third brother-in-law. This device works magically by taking us nowhere and everywhere.

The wee sisters are a show of their own. They are cartoon characters in their nerdishness demanding readings of the classics; the comic relief in a Shakespearean tragedy. But some scenes are desperately sad. The father on his death-bed remembering his serial rapist is one. The mound of dogs and the cat stories are others. The ciel bleu episode with the French teacher is uplifting and breathes hope into a society that has lost its imagination. Burns is a skilled raconteur in full, lyrical Irishness.

The mention of icons like Kate Bush and Freddie Mercury root the narrative in time and are the kind of pop stars who divide fans and signal social divisions in a place where religion can be assumed by your name alone. While the narrative might appear to loop and meander it cleverly builds with subtle segues as the milkman creeps further and further into the foreground and the maybe boyfriend further and further away.

Burns is laugh-out-loud funny at times. She adopts a stream of consciousness seasoned with the absurd in the traditions of Joyce in parts of Ulysees, and Beckett but with precise punctuation and qualities of her own in her special language play. Her ‘Fuck-off-ly’ and five ways to describe one idea adds to the humour. The mystique around the milkman is another clever device. Such an everyday, trusted carrier of succour to the people is instead a spy, a stalker, a predator and nobody has ever seen him with a bottle of milk in his hand.

‘He wasn’t our milkman. I don’t think he was anybody’s. He didn’t take milk orders.There was no milk about him.’

A proper milkman who turns up later in the book is the hero, but bringing grief to the family in an unexpected and hilarious episode.

Burns reminds us of the oppressor ‘over the water’, ‘over the road’ of the fight over a flag. Whispers become accepted truths, batons and prejudices are pulled from under the bed to become weapons of torture to beat ‘the other’. ‘Others’ are girls who read while walking, gays, sexually active unmarried females, unmarried females, boys who cook, anyone who dwells beyond the pales. And I thought there was only one.

Her writing, in the way of Mantel, Atwood and O’Connor, is sardonic and breathtaking but her voice is thoroughly her own. She adopts a way of extreme-explaining and use of hyperbole to expose folly and hypocrisy through faux seriousness.

‘He made lewd remarks about me….–my quainte, my tail, my contry, my box, my jar, my contrariness, my monosyllable…’

She mashes the vernacular, the Latinate, the syntax of the 19th century, (‘I did not like the 20th century’), coined words and the profane in fearless lexical ribbons, all compelling.

Burns is in love with language and she makes us fall in love with language and shows us that the beauty and idiosyncrasies of language need to be fought for when everything else can be lost.

Her achievement is made more poignant learning that she was crippled with back pain in drafting the end of this thrilling ride, eating out of a food bank and claiming benefits once the manuscript was completed and published.

Just when we think we’ve seen and heard everything there is to read and hear about the Sorrows, just when Brexit threatens to secure a hard border once again, when another journalist is murdered, a wife beaten to death, dissenter incarcerated; then the milkman comes knocking. Look, he’s on the doorstep.