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.



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Journey to the Red Heart and Beyond

a conversation with John Bartlett on my latest chapbooks

Q These two chapbooks have come out together but I understand came about differently. Can you tell us how they came to be and how both have been published at the same time?

A Mirage (A Journey into the Red Heart) takes you on a road trip from my home on the Surf Coast to Uluru and across Munga-Thirri National Park (formerly known as the Simpson Desert).

Returning recently from such a trip, I was asked to supply poetry for a video our son was making of our time away. I realised I had poems from previous travels both across the desert and also to Cape York. Several had been published in journals but I hadn’t thought of putting them in collections until then.

Unsettled (A Journey into the Far North) take you to Queensland and around the Whitsundays (‘drowned mountains’ once inhabited by the Ngaro people). It felt right somehow to present the chapbooks as separate entities. Stephen and Brenda (Ginninderra) seemed keen to take them on as a pair and so here they are.

Q Your earlier poetry, according to academic Maria Takolander has been described as “unsentimental and powerful elegies…giving urgent attention to the surprising and plangent condition of our lives.”  Do you see the style of these current collections as similar or different? How has your style changed (or not)?

What poet can resist an elegy? I still try to avoid sentiment but it creeps in now and again. Maria was responding to my first collection, When I Saw Jimi, which reflects my teen years growing up in the Sixties in Britain. The poems seem confessional and emotional looking at them now, based around relationships and the influence of music.

Poems in Mirage and Unsettled focus on the spirit of place looking through the lens of a camera, trying to make sense of what I see and how our footprint manifests itself on the landscape.

Some are elegiac, some observational and reflective. Several refer to simple place names as my way of mapping the journey in my memory. I’m hoping to take the reader on a lively, provocative ride with short stops along the way.

Q  How have poets fared in recent COVID-19 lockdowns? Do you see them as lost opportunities or have they been an opportunity for some to extend their writing?

You’d have to say there’s been a mixed response, depending on which lockdown, what time of year and where in the world you happened to be. The first lockdown was an opportunity for some of us to get manuscripts assembled and to join myriad poetry events via Zoom. It was clear that the cybersphere allowed poetry to go global and this was exciting. I’m sure this period spawned a host of lockdown poems and stories. Sadly, some independent journals crashed. They certainly struggled under the uncertainty. I know of one editor who had to call on writers to submit poems for the first time. And, as it drags on you can see vitality being sucked out of us as we realise how much connection with others, travel and new ideas feed our souls. We will see, won’t we

Q What inspires you in your writing?

Collaborations, mortality and looking out the window. I’m working with both a poet and a fiction writer on a sequence of ‘reply poems’ and a collection of short fictions. A small group of poets in Geelong gets me out of my comfort zone by setting regular challenges in forms of poetry I wouldn’t necessarily choose like sonnet, pantoum and haibun. The fellowship of other writers and kindred spirits is so enlivening, and of course reading – so much fresh, new talent out there. Not sure I’ve answered this question. Thematically, I seem obsessed by the way we manage relationships, the land, sea and sky.

Q How do you see the state of poetry in Australia at the moment? 

For spoken word/ performance poets and Instagrammers it’s an international powerhouse of linguistic revelry and shared humanity. For poets seeking publication in print in journals or books, the market is tightening and it can be a bit of a slog.

Our online journals are alive and thriving. Editors know their stuff and are showcasing vibrant, diverse writers of quality. Some of our established journals, however, seem overwhelmed by dwindling subscribers, vast numbers of submissions and insufficient staff. Submissions can go unacknowledged and can take up to a year for a rejection or acceptance.

We still have a couple of publishers that support emerging poets but so many no longer accept full collections unless solicited, often not even then. Self-published poetry has always been scorned but you can see with the success of Instagram, Amazon and online platforms, it’s only a matter of time.

The Australian, of all places, shone a flicker of light on poetry when Sarah Holland-Batt produced a clever and thoughtful appraisal of a poem each Saturday. Now that’s gone. At least a small poem (hurrah) appears each week selected by Jaya Savige, but the average punter doesn’t warm to non-rhyming free verse readily. It remains baffled and fearful of it and longs for the rollicking days of Banjo and co. Many who do appreciate poetry do not buy it.

I see a trend towards prose poetry and competition-length poems that could do with a haircut. The short, quiet poem is not so revered anymore. We seem to need to shout to be heard like an angry teenager or dissident locked up for a long time. I’m as guilty as the next shouty poet. I see more accessible poetry and the confessional creeping in again. It’s a lively, eclectic scene.

Forensic reviews are thin on the ground. Our literary scene is a very small pond so reviewers are loath to cause ripples. Reviewers also receive paltry remuneration, if anything, for a piece of work that can take days of reading, research and reflection.

Reviewing could play a bigger part in Creative Writing courses, perhaps. I’d like to see Creative Reading courses to promote enquiry and thorough linguistic analysis of the old and new. I’d love to see editing come back as an art form.

Overall, I see a dynamic and fast-flowing river of poetry that will find its own levels and that we’re not likely to drown, just yet.

And thank you for asking, John.

Dingo Girl

Safe inside your canvas dreaming
of the red track westward across the dunes

the lean shape-shifter   with toes of a dancer
foxtrots the fringe        Camp follower       

nose to the north   she takes the shape of
a desert grass    spinifex dry  

same pale yellow    same drift as the wind
It’s then you daub the ochre         the black   

white for a star in the eye     Insinuate
a dark shadow, minimal    abstract perhaps

Next morning the palette licked clean

From Mirage

To Torrens Creek

He said the road was bony
I knew what he meant  

Ruts are rib cages
of giant marsupials

Megasaurs that gulped
from torrents plunging

into inland seas the size
of Tasmania     

These days
shrunken lakes & salt crusts

are busy preserving life forms
so small

like your old grandmother

bottling fruit, boiling jams
pickling things

that would amaze
anyone who knew      or cared                                        From Unsettled

                    Available here:

‘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