Contemporary Australian Poetry

Cover Art: (Detail) Vanessa Wallace, Inventory (2015)
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Issue 03


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Writ Poetry Review aims to showcase 21st century Australian poetry.
It is our intent to publish established poets alongside new and emerging poets,
in a heady mix of talent and promise. It is published out of Perth, Western Australia.


Alexis Lateef
Alexis Lateef is a poet, freelance editor and poetry enthusiast. She has a BA (English Literature) from The University of Western Australia, and has worked as a tutor and bookseller. Her poetry has appeared in Uneven Floor, Shot Glass Journal, Westerly, Southerly, Page Seventeen and Australian Poetry Journal. She is currently working on a collaborative sequence with poet Amy Hilhorst, tentatively titled 'Tales from a psychiatric hospital'.

Interviews Editor

Robbie Coburn is a Victorian poet and art critic. He is currently employed in a library and is writing a monograph on the work of Howard Arkley. His poetry and criticism have been published in various Australian journals, and he has published two chapbooks, Human Batteries (Picaro Press, 2012) and Before Bone and Viscera (Rochford Street Press, 2014) and a full collection Rain Season (Picaro Press, 2013). His new collection The Other Flesh is forthcoming. His website is


Reviews Editor

Siobhan Hodge holds a doctorate from the University of Western Australia. Her research focused on Sappho’s poetry and its translation. Born in the UK, she divides her time between Australia and Hong Kong. Her chapbook of reflections on Sappho, Picking Up the Pieces, was published in 2012 as part of the Wide Range Chapbooks series. She has also had poetry and criticism published in several places, including Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Page Seventeen, Yellow Field, Peril, Verge, and Kitaab.

Writ is published twice a year, March and September.
We are now accepting submissions for Issue Four until March 1st, 2016.

Please send three poems and a bio to
At this stage we cannot pay contributers, but hope to do so in the future.

Submission guidelines

  1. You MAY send us poems that have been previously published, as long as they have been published within the last two years.
  2. Please send us three poems in the one Word document, with any previously published details underneath the relevant poem and your full name as the file name.
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  4. If you have been accepted and published in an issue of Writ, please wait until the next issue comes out before sending in more of your work.
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  6. Please write in the subject line of your email submission your full name, 'writ submission' and the 'Issue no._' that you're applying for.

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Writ Review is currently accepting art submissions for its third issue.
We welcome anything, from landscape, portraits to abstract work. Please send four images as an example of your work to

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ISSUE 02 Myriad (Decemeber 2014)
Feature Poets Bronwyn Lovell & Tracy Ryan.
Feature Poet Interviews by Alexis Lateef & Robbie Coburn.
Book Reviews Nathan Hondros reviews Lesbia Harford,
Robbie Coburn reviews Samuel Wagan Watson & Siobhan Hodge reviews Jennifer Maiden.

Contributors Davina Allison, Stuart Barnes, Ronald Barton, Geraldine Burrowes, Meg Caddy,
Ashley Capes, Bonny Cassidy, Robbie Coburn, Indigo Eli, Rose Hartley, Stu Hatton, Matt Hetherington, Grace Heyer, Amy Hilhorst, Siobhan Hodge, Mark William Jackson, Stephanie King, Rosalind McFarlane, Gemma Mahadeo, Caitlin Maling, Karen Murphy, Nathanael O'Reilly, Vanessa Page, Felicity Plunkett,
Michael Sharkey, Michele Seminara, Connor Weightman, Les Wicks & Chloe Wilson.
Editors Alexis Lateef, Christine Della Vedova & Amber Freeman.
Interviews Editor Robbie Coburn   |   Reviews Editor Siobhan Hodge.
Cover Artwork by Anna Dunnill.

ISSUE 01 Alpha (September 2014)
Feature Poet Scott-Patrick Mitchell   |   Feature Poet Interview by Kaitlyn Plyley
Contributors Richard James Allen, Peter Bakowski, Fiona Burrows, Coral Carter, Julie Chevalier,
Liana Joy Christensen, Sarah Day, Barbara De Franceschi, B. R. Dionysius, Benjamin Dodds,
Anne Elvey, Brook Emery, Zenobia Frost, Kevin Gilliam, Vivienne Glance, Helen Hagemann,
Nathan Hondros, Jackson, Christopher Konrad, Anna Minska, Jan Napier, Tim Parkin, Zan Ross,
Alice Savona, Mark Tredinnick, Julie Watts and Sean Wright.

Editors Alexis Lateef & Christine Della Vedova   |  Cover Artwork by Kristen Martin

in this issue...


Stuart Barnes

Judith Beveridge


Robert Wood reviews “Final Theory” by Bonny Cassidy

Amy Hilhorst reviews “Conversations I’ve Never Had” by Caitlin Maling

feature poet -  Stuart Barnes

Poem 1

Poem 2

Poem 3

Interview with Robbie Coburn


Song of Ambition


Double, double toil and trouble;

skull ignite and psyche bubble.

Lithium and Valproate,

in the psyche grind and grate;

every night reproving fog,

endless fags and scentless grog,

Ecstasy and Tina’s zing!,

Sircuit’s groove, Club80’s sling,

for the glamour’s ingenious trouble,

like a hell-broth boil and bubble.


Double, double toil and trouble;

skull ignite and psyche bubble.

Chill with a gorilla’s blood,

then the glamour’s thick and good.

Note: a transformation of Shakespeare’s ‘Song of the Witches’

Icarus Dreams East

after a line from Brylcreem’s jingle


Please, Dad, manufacture two pairs of wings

from the Brylcreem you once dabbed through black hair

(in photographs you seem so debonair!

all the girls pursued you) and the fringes

of those wild Black Swans you slaughtered with Pop

so we might slip this phrenic labyrinth,

couple over Cathay’s jade, tiered paddies,

intone among Singapore’s opulence.


Promise you’ll not devour Mount Everest,

rip up, at tubers, Sri Lanka’s bluest

water lilies, obliterate Vishnu’s

chiliad names. Promise, and I’ll never

be enchanted by Amaterasu,

the Edenic pour of Turkmenistan.

Previously published in Southerly (2013).


Australia’s Grim Reaper commercial was first screened on April 5, 1987

The waiting
lane: a ten-pin’s
set, then rocks and
strikes the waxen pine,
at a metal frame:
a Tiger-lily orange
raised lesions:
three candlepins,
cheeks milked of fat,
roll psychic eyes
to lifeless walls
forget   forget   forget
black bowling balls
and silver scythes

the doctor’s
stiff like Wet on
marble gods:
and I, this scene
too close to the bone,
a classical bystander also.

Previously published in Blackmail Press (NZ, 2013), Going Down Swinging (2013).

Stuart Barnes is a poet and poetry editor of Tincture Journal. His manuscript The Staysails won the 2015 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and will be published by University of Queensland Press in 2016.
Bend River Mountain, with fellow poets Robbie Coburn, Nathan Hondros,
Rose Hunter, Carly-Jay Metcalfe & Michele Seminara, is forthcoming from
Regime Books. He tweets as @StuartABarnes. He took a moment to talk to us about the line between confession and poetry, meeting Gwen Harwood, and collaboration.


RC: In 2014 you were awarded runner-up in the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize,
for your manuscript
Blacking Out and other poems, congratulations. Has this impacted on your approach to writing, if only in your confidence in the work?

SB: Thanks very much, Robbie. After the shock wore off I was able to usher out the doubt that some of the things I write about don’t have a place in Australian poetry. There’s a ripple effect: I’m better informed about what’s a manuscript poem, a journal poem, a for-my-eyes-only poem; I’m a more patient, a more decisive, a more organised writer (to be able to finish Blacking Out I had to set in place a scrupulous routine); and attending Queensland Poetry Festival, where the Prize was publicly announced, was a leap outside my comfort zone. At the Judy I met writers and editors with whom I’d talked for a number of years, which was energising and inspiring. On returning to the manuscript some poems really irked me. I’d tired, I realised, of writing on a couple of subjects.


RC: Some of your work can confront personal topics, particularly Blacking Out and other poems, which discusses drug use. Do you think the line between confession and poetry mustn't become blurred in order to produce good work? Is the role of the poem more important than the subject?

SB: The role and the subject of the poem are equally important. Blacking Out’s drugs include Valproate and Fluoxetine, crystal meth and Ecstasy, and Nevirapine and Truvada, drugs of psychiatry, “recreation”, and HIV; the poems in which they appear are responses to what was happening in my life and the lives of some of my friends. They’re personal but they’re not confessional. I agree with Berryman: “The word doesn’t mean anything.” But for a moment let’s say it has meaning and let’s also say the line between confession and poetry mustn’t become blurred in order to produce good work: are we not then enforcing a limitation? We walk on thin ice if we dictate what poetry can’t explore. Rosenthal wrote: “it is hard not to think of Life Studies as a series of personal confidences, rather shameful” (a shameful and limiting statement). Lowell, in his writing, is mettlesome. Perhaps some achieve peace by disclosing sin and receiving absolution in the confessional; I’ve no sin to disclose and to quote Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore: “I’m not looking for absolution”. My writing about drugs, about rape, psychology, gay sex,
gay love, is hardly confessional, hardly a disclosure of sin; rather, my attempt to make sense of my experience, to incorporate it into the broader. If people interpret my work as confessional I hope they’ll read it as “[an] earnest, serious recital of the events of [my] life crucial in the making of the soul” (Bidart on Augustine’s
Confessions). I also hope they’ll understand that I hope it’s relevant to the bigger picture and resonates with readers (navel gazing isn’t engaging; shoegaze, on the other hand, is).


RC: Your influences are many and it shows impressively in your work.
Your interest in Plath and Gwen Harwood and your 'found poems' using their work are a particularly interesting take on the very idea of influence in poetry, and fantastic pieces of writing. From others’ poetry how do you find your own voice and create a poem of your own?

SB: Gwen and I met at church in the 1990s; a friendship developed. She knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up; she was the first grown-up to tell me “You’re a poet”. When my father wasn’t watching she’d slip into my jacket pockets collections from the church’s op-shop. Gwen’s insistence and persistence were crucial in my becoming a writer, a poet. I remember first reading Plath’s poetry
at thirty, though Liz McQuilkin, my English teacher and also a poet (her solo collection,
The Nonchalant Garden, is excellent), tells me I studied Plath in high school Literature. The poetry of Harwood and Plath is a treasure-trove, and if the cento is poetry’s Tetris, the remix is poetry’s pinball. Writing both requires dexterity, concentration, intuition, sandalwood, and patience. Sometimes the Tetriminos, the steel balls have a mind of their own; sometimes “I’m the hunter. I’ll bring back
the goods” (Björk).


RC: You've collaborated with other poets. Your recent work with Michele Seminara is exceptional. Do you think collaboration is important in poetry as a form of writing? It is certainly part of a proud tradition, even when you look at the Beats or the Liverpool Poets, who did a collaboration of sorts. And many jointly-written works are still appearing often.

SB: Thanks, that’s very kind. I know nothing about the Liverpool Poets, little about the Beats;
the latter’s romanticisation of drugs, which are diametrically opposed to creative energies,
is spectacularly unimpressive. I like what Fiona Wright’s doing with Epistles at Dawn at
Seizureonline. There you can read my ‘Love Letter’ (, a remix of the Plath poem of the same name and a response to Michele Seminara’s ‘Last Letter’ (, a remix of Ted Hughes’ ‘Last Letter’. Another collaboration, ‘The Rabbit Catcher’ ( (I remixed Plath’s, Michele responded with a remix of Hughes’), was published at Anne Elvey’s Plumwood Mountain. The Epistles at Dawn collaborations between Sydney poets Elizabeth Allen and Mark Riboldi are fascinating. I also like Ryan Van Winkle’s three-way collaboration ( with fellow Australian poets Matt Hetherington and David Stavanger. I loved collaborating with Michele, but our process was nothing like the one Ryan and Matt talk about: it was entirely electronic and after we decided which poems to remix and until we submitted our poem we worked individually. I do think collaboration’s important—the commitment, the brainstorming, the doubling of creative energies—but as a form of writing no more than any other, and I don’t think it should be mandatory: most of my favourite dead poets didn’t collaborate and most of my favourite living poets aren’t moved to. While my preference is not to collaborate, I do love dis/cussing, dis/agreeing, dis/covering with other poets.



RC: You’re poetry editor of Tincture Journal and were poetry editor of Verity La, two journals that seem to have found a home very comfortably in the digital age,
both becoming very important platforms for both emerging and established poets. Do you see the future of Australian poetry as being safe with journals such as these appearing, despite the rise of the Internet?

SB: Yes. The dilution of poetry could only ever be a consequence of the quality of the journal in question; journal quantity and format are irrelevant. I’m enormously proud of Tincture Journal and Verity La, which invite and celebrate a range of writing from Australia and everywhere and continue to prosper because of the rise and rise of the Internet, and I admire the passion, drive and enthusiasm of Daniel Young and Michele Seminara (and before her, Nigel Featherstone, who continues to be so generous), their respective editors.


RC: The influence of music is also a prominent feature in your work, even in
your style and syntax, and music has obviously always been closely linked to the creation of poetic works. How do you think listening to music fits into
your process?

SB: While reading your questions a number of songs congaed in my head; I’ll mention just a few:
‘Bird Gehrl’ by Antony and the Johnsons, which rhymes with “Thomas” and “Shapcott”; ‘Sylvia Plath’ by Ryan Adams; ‘Within You Without You’ by The Beatles, Liverpool’s most famous band. Usually, while listening to music, a lyric or a lick or a hi-hat will generate an idea or a word or a phrase, which I’ll hurry onto paper. I’m fond of this quote by Dorothy Porter and frequently use it when interviewing poets for
Tincture Journal: “Music has been the key for me since I was a teenager … I wanted to tap into that dark potency of rock‘n’roll, and I still write to music every day.” Music has been the key for me since I was a toddler, which was when I first wobbled to some of the greatest singer-songwriters: Elton John,
Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon. I spent hours examining their records’ jackets. I connected more with the words than the music and I didn’t realise then that I was learning about style and syntax (and sin).
My paternal grandparents, with whom I stayed every school holiday for many years, lived in Tasmania’s northeast: wild terrain, wild music. I’ll never forgive an older cousin for shoving me into his hotted-up Torana, then doing burnouts to Warrant’s ‘Cherry Pie’ (I wish I could but I just can’t get it out of my head), yet I’m grateful he introduced me to Metallica and Motörhead. Since about thirteen I’ve ‘heard’ versions of songs: remixes, I suppose. Perhaps I’m interested in remixing poetry because I’ve always ‘remixed’ music. I loved messing around with cassettes and cassingles (brilliant word), depressing PAUSE to varying degrees, which created wonderfully warped squeaks. The interest in altering form has been there for twenty odd years. While I ‘hear’ music while I write, I rarely write to music: too distracting. Occasionally I’ll put on something with cello (recently, I discovered Julia Kent’s gorgeous solo recordings) while I edit (my work, not others’). Perhaps my only confession will be this: I prefer music to poetry. Music is ‘Tulips’, ‘A Secret’, ‘The Jailor’; music is ‘Bone Scan’, ‘The Night Watch’, ‘Morning Again’.


RC: What can we expect from you in 2015 and beyond?

SB: Mid-2015 (and I’m awfully excited about this), a collection of poetry, with you, Nathan Hondros, Rose Hunter, Carly-Jay Metcalfe and Michele Seminara, will be published by Regime Books.
After Queensland Poetry Festival 2015 a bit of an extended holiday to Melbourne to visit old friends,
to meet writers and editors I’ve talked with for a long time.

Robbie Coburn is a Victorian poet and art critic. He is currently employed in a library and is writing a monograph on the work of Howard Arkley. His poetry and criticism have been published in various Australian journals, and he has published two chapbooks, Human Batteries (Picaro Press, 2012) and Before Bone and Viscera (Rochford Street Press, 2014) and a full collection Rain Season (Picaro Press, 2013). His new collection The Other Flesh is forthcoming. His website is

Judith Beveridge

feature poet -  Judith Beveridge

feature poet


Poem 1


Poem 2

Poem 3

Interview with Robbie Coburn


In Rajagaha


Sariputta and Moggallana are talking on the Four

Noble Truths. Men and women come out from the market

and bazaars. In the square, someone plays a veena,

someone else a sitar. The monks will talk well

into the night. I watch the sky grow cinnabar,


in the distance I listen for the call of the nightjar,

but I only hear the turkey buzzards and the koels.

From the crowd, a woman sings, her voice

is sweet as nougat. Sariputta and Moggallana

speak about the Eightfold Path, the woman is singing


of love, deceit, misery and desire; in the square

someone plays a veena, someone else a sitar.

Finally the buzzards fly off to the sycamores;

the koels are still fluting. In the street, a woman

closes the windows and cedar shutters of her house.


Buddha’s word is spreading now through Rajagaha.

But I grow sorrowful and I grow glum, wondering

if I’ll ever inspire anything but windy dissonance,

if I’ll ever bring to pass my coup d’etat? In the square

someone plays a veena and someone else a sitar.

Vultures Peak


Whenever I come here I don’t pay much attention

to the lammergeier circling from the peaks overhead,

but I keep an eye out for falling tortoises, elephants’ ribs,

jackals’ jawbones. I stay on the level where the farm

women scythe and rick, scythe and rick, or pick


tithes of yellow samphire near the ponds. I don’t

climb to the summit to take in the view of the valley

and the fertile plains; or, as the Buddha suggests,

spend time alone in one of the small damp caves

meditating on suffering and its causes in desire.


I stay at the base near the talus inhaling the heady

perfume of the lavender and vetch. I watch the farm

women drink and rest near the ponds, then bend

and sweat again in the sinking madder sun. I let desire

have its ground. I take my chances under falling bones.

The Toad


Suddenly I saw it in the thistle grass ballooning up

large as a puffball ready to explode. Then it belched,

put out a stink like one of Kapilavatthu’s old cracked cisterns.

Now it sits in my hut like a clump of mud studded


with fine stones. Sometimes when I tire of it croaking,

I threaten to give it to the swineherd’s boys to boil,

or to lob over the trees the way they do geckos and frogs.

But mostly I talk to it, splash it with pond water,


feed it slugs as thick as my thumb. Sometimes I palp

the venom glands behind its eyes and along the top

of its head with a wide ferny leaf. I don’t know why

I keep it with me. Perhaps I like its long sticky tongue,


the warts on its sorrowing skin, how its stink reminds

me of home. Perhaps it gives me a model of how to sit

squat, absorbed and croak out one mantra after another.

Perhaps I just want a little fat Buddha for my own.

Judith Beveridge has published six books of poetry, most recently
Devadatta’s Poems (Giramondo Publishing, 2014). She teaches poetry writing at Sydney University and has won many prizes for her poetry, including the
New South Wales Premier's Award and the Victorian Premier's Award, and the Christopher Brennan Award for sustained and distinguished excellence in poetry. She co-edited the poetry anthology A Parachute of Blue (1995) and has also worked on the poetry magazines Hobo and Kalimat. She has been a member of Literature Board of the Australia Council, and in 2005 became poetry editor of the literary journal Meanjin. She took a moment to chat to Robbie Coburn about imaginative spaces, first discovering poetry, and the place of the modern poet.


RC: Much of your work has drawn inspiration from the stories and experience of others who interest you, for example, your excellent Devadatta's Poems and the sequence ‘Between the Palace and the Bodhi Tree', which followed Siddhattha Gotama on his travels before becoming Buddha. How does the process differ when writing on a subject rather than drawing from your own experience?

JB: I’ve never really liked writing poems about myself, but I am interested in character, place and exploring imaginative spaces. I find that having a character, or a ready-made narrative, such as Siddhattha Gotama’s story or Devadatta’s story, makes the writing easier in as much as I can slot into the story or character and I don’t have to face a completely blank page every time I write a new poem. It also gives me a great deal of imaginative range as well as providing a structure. I find I can write much more emotionally about others than I can about myself, although all the characters I write about are in some part based on myself.


RC: You made the decision to dedicate yourself to writing poetry at a young age, taking part time jobs after leaving school to give you time to write. What were your early experiences with poetry and what ultimately informed your decision to follow your passion for it?

JB: I used to read and write a lot of poetry when I was about seven or eight years old. I devoured Robert Louis Stevenson’s book A Child’s Garden of Verses. I found the world of poetry quite magical. I really disliked poetry at school until my final year when we studied Robert Lowell. Before that, DH Lawrence’s novels had awakened me to the sensuality of language and I always took great pleasure in writing my English essays. I’d spend hours just trying to find the right word or phrase, so I think I always had a love for language. I was also the type of person who was quite happy with my own company and I disliked socializing or any of the usual teenage pursuits, so it suited my temperament to spend a lot of time alone reading or writing. I think I was born to write, there’s no other explanation I can give. It’s been such a driving force in my life.


RC: Modern poetry is rapidly moving online. How has your approach to publishing your poetry, or your the experience of publishing, changed for you personally since you began releasing your work?

JB: I still tend to publish in printed journals rather than on-line, so I haven’t fully embraced the on-line experience. I know there are a very large number of poets who only publish on-line. It’s almost as if there are two separate worlds, and the two only rarely meet. I still like the physicality of the printed page and the book, so it may still take me a while to migrate to on-line publishing, but the internet is certainly a fantastic resource and way of getting to know the work of a large number of poets. I do admire very much on-line journals such as Cordite and Mascara, among others.


RC: Your poetry has won many awards, recently the Peter Porter poetry prize. Congratulations. How important do you think prizes are to one's progression
as a poet? Do you think new and emerging poets should strive to enter prizes?

JB: They are always nice when you win them. Firstly, they give you some extra money which is a great help when you’ve never worked full-time. Secondly, they do help raise your profile and give your confidence a lift, especially if the judges are poets you admire. However, I think it’s important not to put too much store in them as there are many fine poets who have never received a single prize, and the judging process is not an exact science. It doesn’t hurt new and emerging poets to enter prizes as long as they don’t become discouraged if they don’t win. The important thing always is the writing process, not the rewards which may or may not happen.


RC: From your early work you have shown a dedicated compassion for animals and the natural world, such as in the brilliant title poem in 'The Domesticity of Giraffes'. Could you give us some insight into how you came to form these views?

JB: I can’t really say how I came to form these views, they just seem to be part of who I am. It was never a conscious decision to write compassionately, what you write about just springs naturally from your own sensibilities and interests.


RC: Michael Brennan once wrote that your work is 'vested in a Buddhist sense of detachment and compassion' and your poetry is deeply rooted in a sense of what it is to be human. It seems that your position as a poet is always to be observational but never judgmental when analyzing and exploring the human experience. What do you feel is the position of the poet in our modern world?

JB: Well, I’m always asking myself this. I’ve just read Jane Hirshfield’s marvelous book Ten Windows, which puts the case for poetry’s value very beautifully and very clearly. I agree with her when she says that poetry opens up your perceptions and your intelligence and that it gives you a richer life. Of that I have no doubt, but the position of the poet in the modern world is of general marginalisation and neglect, at least here in Australia. We don’t seem to value poetry very much as a society, we don’t value the inner life and it’s very sad because I’m sure there are many many people who would be touched and changed by poetry if only it was more on the front page. As regards my own writing and role I’ve always been drawn to a comment of Michael Longley’s, the lovely Irish poet who said ‘The poet makes the most complex and concentrated response that can be made with words to the total experience of living. For these reasons I would go in trying to write poems even if no one wanted to read them.’ I also like what Jorie Graham says, ‘each poem is in the end an act of mind that tries, via precision of seeing, feeling and thinking, to clean the language of its current lies, to make it capable of connecting us to the world.’


RC: What's next for you? Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?

JB: I have two new projects in the pipeline, but I’d rather not jinx them by talking about them, and it’s very early days so everything is still a movable feast. Thanks for your questions Robbie.

Robbie Coburn is a Victorian poet and art critic. He is currently employed in a library and is writing a monograph on the work of Howard Arkley. His poetry and criticism have been published in various Australian journals, and he has published two chapbooks, Human Batteries (Picaro Press, 2012) and Before Bone and Viscera (Rochford Street Press, 2014) and a full collection Rain Season (Picaro Press, 2013). His new collection The Other Flesh is forthcoming. His website is

Final Theory

Final Theory

Somebody reviews

Robert Wood reviews

book review -  Final Theory by Bonny Cassidy

book review

book review

by Bonny Cassidy

by Bonny Cassidy



Smart Smart Great: A Review of
Final Theory by Bonny Cassidy

by Robert Wood


In January, in a lengthy and impassioned blog post, Luna Poetry editor Paul McMenemy stated that reviews today are often bland and uninspiring, that the academicism of many reviewers has led to noncommittal statements that very rarely result in knowing where the reviewer actually stands or readers buying poetry. We could say something similar about the Australian milieu and I agree that for the most part reviews are often guarded and doubtful. People very rarely take sides or make confident judgments especially when we compare them to reviews from the 1960s. In addition, poetry, like all art, is a subjective pursuit, both for the maker and the audience, and, it is riven with aesthetically important and politically persuasive relationships. But it is rare that one says how one feels about a work in any direct way or one’s relationship to the poet. One can give lengthy reasoning for why one likes something, but that simply enters into a language game, and contributes to a larger discourse, in which one’s thinking (and feeling) finds an appropriate expression and home. In the self-disciplining language game of official verse culture reviews one very rarely makes definitive statements, especially of an undeleted kind.* I will though make one such statement here: Bonny Cassidy is a smart smart poet and I felt great reading Final Theory. In describing the difference between himself and Christian Bok, Kenny Goldsmith writes that:

Smart is a star student, flawlessly dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Arriving well-prepared and executing tasks with machinic precision, smart has studied its history and is ready to wrestle with the canon. Cultivating circumscription, smart’s eyes never leave the prize. Smart is an over-achieving athlete, accomplishing things that mere mortals can only dream of. Complex and deep, exclusive and elite, smart brims with value. Having sweated for what it’s accomplished, smart pays a handsome dividend to those invested. Smart moves ever-forward….Smart smart is TED talks, think tanks, NPR news, Ivy League universities, The New Yorker, and expensive five-star restaurants.

Cassidy was a star student – winning the University Medal at the University of Wollongong in 2004 – and if not a TED talker she has given an accessible and informative public lecture – ‘Why Read Poetry?’ – for Melbourne Free University.
I cannot say whether or not she is an athlete, a think tank or a restaurant, but in Final Theory she wrestles with the canon, particularly issues of voice after Pound and ideas of nature poems and travel, the latter of course resonating with The Odyssey, albeit slant; is complex and deep with the layering of image and sense; and brims with value about what the world in a time of climate change, mining, trade, decay looks like. Final Theory is unapologetically smart smart.


Ostensibly about two threads – the first involving a man and a woman as they travel through landscapes of the former Gondwana; the second a sci-fi-esque story of a girl - Final Theory matters because of the consistency of style in a manner that is appropriate to these two braided strands; themes that include matters of love, intimacy, photography, birth, abandonment and place. We do not have grandiloquent, sweeping statements but focused, emotive, close in passages full of images in Cassidy. This is not simply to repeat a paradigmatic adage repeated ad infinitum from Charles Olson that ‘form is never more than extension of content’.
I want to make that adage ‘slant’ in the Emily Dickinson sense by turning it into a value judgment – some forms do not extend, but actually inhibit content. To create such a sympathetic and energetic alliance between form, content and style for an entire book is difficult in practice even as it sounds easy in theory. It is like fixing the body by aligning meridians simply by looking at the tongue. That Final Theory was conceptualized, composed, created as a long poem implies a vision, a smart smart vision, concerned with complexity and depth rather than easy publishability.  We could, of course, situate Final Theory in a broader context of long poems from analphabetic sacred technicians to classical societies to colonial poets to more recent examples like the titular piece of Michael Aiken’s Sydney 1934 1392k1 – 1811 1682k2. The lens here is paradoxically both intimate and epic, without being self-obsessed or grandly reaching. Its dual attentiveness to matters of the world and the fate of individuals is held together by a lyrically informed, though by no means bourgeois Romantic, voice. For example, the travelling couple of parts one and three embrace in a climate changed world. Cassidy writes ‘In a knot they well beneath the ozone tear’, but elsewhere, ‘me in your apartment, shimmying/rocksteady’. The climate peril we face is a ‘knot’, an intractable one if we are to judge by political impasses and fracturing; the ozone is both torn and a drop of liquid from our eye; and with ‘you’ we are brought directly into the writing, finally compounded by the dual meaning of ‘rocksteady’ – a pop music reference combined with steady as a rock. It is layered writing that responds both to politics of our times and culture that is not simply a ‘narrow kind of talk’.


More often books are anthologies of one, putting together individual pieces that have been published elsewhere. This is not a re-working of the voice approach either, which holds that a poet need develop an authentic, identifiable way of writing and speaking that allows them to be recognizable and reproduce, almost mimetically, the style they are known for. This reifies both the idea of the liberal author as well as self-expression and depth. As Karl Kraus said ‘the surface is the depth’. We can only deal with the language in front of us. We can be embraced or rejected by Final Theory. But its language strikes us regardless.


On several occasions I was struck by the composition, the careful arrangement of sound and shape. Although many passages stood out in particular and stayed with me after reading, which is, by no means, a common occurrence for me, I was initially struck by the following:



ongoing day


the day goes on:

trucks roam for exploration play.

They rummage


layers staked on time’s dart like a Valentine



the rifts

of scissored liquid. (p. 7)


This passage comes from early in the work and its sense of sing-song play and rhyme, gentle suggestiveness and well measured length are what appealed to me. There are many more such gems in Final Theory, all displaying these traits. There is too a sense of space and haunting, a concern with the eye and camera and photography, some listing (see the fantastic birds passage on p. 16) and some off kilter and apt rhyme. There is a story too, which will please some who prefer not to have mere ‘patterns of utterance’, and a relationship with nature that is capricious – at times leaning in, at times distancing, at times resisting, at times reminding the reader of where we live here and now and where we may yet end up. At the end of the poem one will find a list of references from Kiwi poet James Baxter to Pilbara song poetry volume Taruru, which Cassidy quotes from and that inform Final Theory as a whole. They attest to a textual engagement with the lands that once comprised Gondwana, which obviously support Cassidy’s own research trips to Antarctica and New Zealand that she made in the composition of this book.


Final Theory is rich and rewarding reading throughout. In other reviews of it people have called it ‘difficult’, ‘baffling’, ‘dense’ amongst other things; people have expressed preference for the sections on the man and woman or the girl; people have situated her in a poetic tradition and context (see especially Lisa Gorton and Martin Duwell). There have though been few reflections on how it made the reader feel – more often there has been comment on what other readers might make of it.
I felt confronted and challenged by Final Theory on an aesthetic and political level because, for example, its evocative imagery allows one a deeper and difficult engagement with pressing, real concerns to my way of life. But experiencing something like that is precisely why I read poetry. A final sentence on Final Theory: read it and watch her space.

* This is a difficult sentence but I defend its presence. To rephrase it: We are complicit in unconsciously policing our statements within the mainstream conservative press’ rules so that we do not say what we think, and especially what our personal experience of reading is. I have chosen each of the phrases in the original because they have a specific history and far more attached to them than the re-phrasing in this note. I hope that readers are motivated to seek them out and learn more. To unpack where they come from: ‘self-discipline’ refers to Michel Foucault in his History of Sexuality Volume 1: The Will to Power; ‘language game’ refers to Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations; ‘official verse culture’ is a phrase borrowed from Charles Bernstein; and ‘undeleted’ refers to Simon Jarvis’ essay ‘An Undeleter for Criticism’. These can all be found, with commentary, online. I have chosen this ‘smart’ sentence to reflect back on Cassidy a poetics that her writing demands.

Amy Hilhorst reviews

Conversations I've Never Had

book review

by Caitlin Maling

book review -  Conversations I've Never Had by Caitlin Maling



Conversations I’ve Never Had:
Amy Hilhorst reviews Caitlin Maling



Described by the poet as a ‘false autobiography in verse’, Caitlin Maling’s first collection, Conversations I’ve Never Had, begins with poetic snapshots into the speaker’s childhood memories, and works its way through to the speaker’s ‘18th year’, and beyond. Poems that have been published individually, such as ‘Donnelly River, 13’ are now placed in the context of a broader personal narrative. The blurb by Fremantle Press promotes the collection as ‘at heart a poetry of place’, and settings throughout Western Australia certainly feature as a backdrop for the development of relationships, and the uncertainties of growing up. Images of self and place intertwine to the point that at times there seems to be a synchrony of physical environment and poetic self: ‘physics says if I dropped / both the water and I would shatter’. Maling’s language seems to cling to the nooks and crannies of the Western Australian landscape, as she joins a tradition of WA writers who shape our state’s emotional history with words.


The motif of being underwater recurs throughout the collection; understated titles such as ‘The path to the dam’ bely the sublimity of the water they describe. This first poem is one of many that tightly weave personal experience and memory with exploration of the natural environment:


 The year

 they laid the path, my father

 lived elsewhere and I

 put my head under

 for the first time,

 past the warm spot,

 swam deep,

 it was so dark

 and so cold,

 there was no

 way up.


Part I works its way through images of adolescence, ten-year-old birthday parties and family holidays, with a voice so attentive to detail that the speaker’s fears and anxieties are presented in an oblique and subtle way, rather than coming at the reader in full force:


I dive, just grab hold of the reef and let the current shake me. I

can’t pull the knife without letting go and I can’t let go without

surfacing, so I wait for Dad up top, facing my mask down so I don’t

see how far offshore we are.


The speaker is likeable and self-deprecating as she notes the ‘bad haircuts black lipstick years’ and that in Donnelly River, ‘here I’m the only teenage girl, so (the boy from the next door cabin is) willing to pretend for both of us that I’m hot too.’ A particularly stunning poem is ‘fourteen’, which portrays a young teenager’s friend’s experiment with marijuana; the absence of punctuation emulates a stream of consciousness as the experience unfolds before us. Ending Part I is ‘Things we learn from our Father’, which is structured throughout various ages of childhood and adolescence, and which delicately negotiates the spoken and unspoken aspects of a father-daughter relationship. The poem is moving and intelligent in its use of beach imagery to foreground the developing distance between a father and his daughters as they grow to rely on him less and less:


We learn to leave you behind,

To make our way

Slightly slower

From beach to beach,

Hours undefined

By weather forecasts.


Part II explores the speaker’s complex relationship to Perth and the coastal town of Cervantes, with titles such as ‘Things I missed about Cervantes while in Cambridge’, ‘Back in Perth’, and ‘Lament for Cervantes’. While the poetic persona yearns for ‘nothing more than the simple honesty of the ocean, / the openness of the sea’, Perth is uniquely described in ‘Holiday’ as ‘a cockroach’, and she wonders in ‘Back in Perth’ why she had ‘flown 20 hours over / 15 countries in darkness’ to meet ‘the parts of the self I left behind.’ The language flits effortlessly between nostalgic tones to images of the grotesque cockroach, to land upon a feeling of ambivalence towards a home city, and the ways we may resist the past selves it can represent. Scattered among these poems of self and home are references to Greek mythology in ‘Medea and Jason’ and ‘Eurydice speaks’, and to Shakespeare’s Macbeth in ‘For my Lady M’.  These poems play out the violent desire and sensuality of famous fictional relationships, and ‘For my Lady M’ comically reappropriates Macbeth with contemporary pop culture references:


 i will cut

 the stillness from you

 the silence

 from your throat


   (from ‘Medea to Jason’)


 You peeled dark off me like autumn leaves

 leaving me bare, blood already blistering


 the thick of you on the tip of my tongue,



   (from ‘Eurydice speaks’)


 You watched over me

 as I lynched his Teletubby above the stairs

 leaving it swaying from my school stocking

 as I descended.


   (from ‘For my Lady M’)


Amongst these arrestingly visceral poems are the equally vivid but tender ones such as ‘The fish’, which employs the symbol of a caught dhuey fish to represent the love of a stepfather, and ‘Marriage’, in which a clam shell clinging to a jetty is compared to the union of husband and wife.


Part III opens with ‘generation why’, a humorous and powerful exploration of relationships in the internet age, and in ‘Leonora 2010’ we’re exposed to the racism of the ‘lady at the store’, who ‘tells me I’ll be fine / that those abos won’t bother me because / they know what will happen if they do’. It is Maling’s illuminating imagery that tells a story in each poem; in ‘Gendericide’ she juxtaposes sinister images against apparently innocent ones such as ‘the subtlety / of a pink envelope’. All in all, Part III assumes an optimistic tone with endings such as ‘Somewhere / something is greening’, and ‘it’s a sunrise of sorts – you can hear birdsong in it’. The final section of the collection, Part IV, teems with yearning for a hometown; ‘Writing to Perth from Houston’ utilises the strangeness of words in a new place as a lens through which to explore the theme of homesickness. Ultimately, we as readers are left with a collection of carefully crafted and balanced snapshots into a narrative of growing up and moving away. While the speaker professes in the penultimate poem, ‘I only ever wanted the taste of other people’s words in my mouth’, Maling’s use of concrete detail to explain abstract, elusive emotions means that it is the taste of her words – poignant and precise – that we are left with.


Ultimately, Conversations I’ve Never Had is a warm, humorous and technically striking first collection, which oscillates between the intimacy of place and family, to the uncanny sensation of being displaced from home, and distanced from personal relationships. Maling captures universal feelings of nostalgia, anxiety and empathy through her unique voice and localised narrative, making this an accessible, compelling, and re-readable collection of poems.

For Instance

Rose van Son reviews

book review

by Matt Hetherington

book review -  For Instance by Matt Hetherington



“The Pecking Order of Things”:
A Review of Matt Hetherington

by Rose van Son



Brisbane poet, Matt Hetherington, has a keen eye for minute detail and observation. His three part collection of haiku and senryu, For Instance, his fourth collection of poetry, begins with travel to India and a focus on footwear.


sweeping the dust is an observation, a journey of discovery, to the inside of self:


the man checking


has undone sneakers  (8)


This first haiku seeks to unravel, to question. It asks: who is this person who controls who enters or leaves, when he, himself, is careless with his footwear?

India, Hetherington soon discovers on his two month sojourn to Northern India taken between September and November 2004 beginning in Kolkata (Calcutta) and ending by the  Ganges River in Varanasi, is in constant movement, backwards and forwards, the steps taken seemingly futile, the work done and undone:


from one place

to another –

sweeping the dust (9)


And the images are clear, yet contradictory. Hetherington writes simply what he sees, and what he, a visitor to India, sees as complex, juxtaposed, but as natural to India as waking:


country station platform –

just a goat

and a man brushing his teeth (11)


So simple, so ordinary an action, and yet, the memory of it stays long after reading.

Hetherington identifies place, the pecking order of things, and the personal in a breathtaking, telling sequence. In these short haiku lines, we see the culture of place; we feel what seems to us, poverty or stress.  In three short lines we are taken in; given a fleeting look at what there is: simply a goat and a man brushing his teeth, so natural to India, yet the memory lingers, so unusual a sight it is for a visitor, a traveller to India, someone who has not visited before.

Haiku is written when the writer sees something untoward, out of context; it is that moment where the unexpected generates an aha moment, a sense of awe or realisation in the viewer; it is the unexpected or insight that makes the haiku memorable.

There are so many memorable insights in this collection:


the leper


back at me (9)


As readers we almost run from the page, but the eyes follow. Is there an escape?


wet pillow –


for dawn  (14)


Even at night, what we can’t see, can’t hear but what we know to be there,
is upsetting.


mountain river –

the patience

of stones  (14)


Hetherington questions. He takes a wild haiku leap from mountain river to people. Who are these people, he seems to asks, who have the patience of stones? Who live a meagre life, seemingly without question? In haiku, Hetherington questions on their behalf.

Clarity, brevity, paradox or juxtapositions are tools of trade in haiku. Some haiku in this collection are simply breaths, taken lightly, so shallow that we wonder if we still breathe: Hetherington’s confronting images are sometimes too difficult to bear. But there is light. Is it humour or acceptance of the way things are? As we journey, we try to understand, we accept.

Hetherington, with his eye for detail, for clarity, in three short lines, puts us there, purely and simply, and we have no choice but to follow, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, to confront the moment or to accept life as it is. His lines reflect the sameness and the difference in understanding a new culture.


finally –

sky and river

the same shade (20)



awaits cremation –

a goat has a nibble (21)


And that is the beauty of haiku. It gives a sense of mindfulness, a meditation, to live in the moment; to absorb and learn from difference. To notice the world, the detail and the broadness and to put these together seamlessly, as Hetherington does, to create a bang, so to speak: that aha moment so central to haiku that lingers on the tip of the tongue. So we can both see and taste the moment.

In Part 2, Puddles, Hetherington defines the beginning and end of a relationship.



my hands dance

under the tap  (28)


Here the music plays, the air alive with possibility, the water clear, flowing. Hetherington uses nature to complement feelings, time, seasons, in a love relationship that starts with so much promise: But there is change, a turn, and Hetherington turns to observing nature to document that turn. The haiku, too, are different. A one-line haiku takes the place of the three line. Haiku can be written in one, two, three or four lines: all are valid. Hetherington chooses the one-line haiku to hold the breath.

So much to know in this one-line haiku:


the busiest ants still have time to greet each other  (31)




no rain

but leaves

are falling   (32)




my marriage over –

separating artichoke leaves  (39)


The artichoke is such an apt image for a marriage breakdown: the leaves sharp,
the choke itself, the central core, shocks, leaving both writer and reader, breathless. What is left of the artichoke must be sucked out. Where there were two there is
now one.

Where once there was intimacy in the relationship, now there is only realisation.
In the letterbox too, there are signs:


in the mailbox only an empty snail shell (34)




drunk again the moon in a puddle  (35)


These one-line haiku are difficult to write but Hetherington has pulled the string taut, stretched the moment and held it there, tight. There is no room to move. As readers we are held captive in the tightness of the moment. And dare we breathe and hope for a new possibility. Hetherington controls the moment, a master of words at play.

In Part 3, the horizon, during a two month trip in Morocco, 2011, Hetherington finds sweetness and colour, both literal and metaphorical, returned. Hetherington even allows himself an exclamation mark, rarely used in haiku. Tea, the cure all:



with liptons –

five sugar cubes  (43)




on top of the crumbling wall–

a peacock! (45)




summer dawn             a short chorus  (49)


Another one-line haiku, but this one is different; there is space, there is music, birdsong perhaps?

Hetherington captures the complex with simple words, uncovers the light in
the shadows. He looks inside, as in a reflection, sees depth in the stillness there,
and returns, seamlessly, to the beginning, a new dawn. His haiku have taken him
full circle.


the child’s wide eyes –

a puddle (54)


Hetherington’s careful observations capture what is there, the knowing,
the hindsight locked in the present; what is not there, and what more there is,
with the eyes of possibility.  This is a carefully crafted book, a master of haiku at work. No extra words are needed.

For Instance
A haiku & senryu collection
by Matt Hetherington
Mulla Mulla Press  2015

Salt and Bone

Alexis Lateef reviews

book review

by Zenobia Frost

book review -  Salt and Bone by Zenobia Frost


Writ Grid

“Quickened blood”

Alexis Lateef reviews Zenobia Frost



Zenobia Frost is an active participant and enabler in the Australian poetry scene, working for stalwarts Voiceworks and Cordite, and recently releasing her first book, Salt and Bone, through Walleah Press. The thirty-three poems in this collection are brief but intense, and the pauses between each make one wonder what has been discarded and why, reflecting the nature of history – what is left for us has been carefully chosen. Every word combination in Salt and Bone is taut and incisive, as the author chisels into the past inherent in both herself and her world. The first poem, ‘Warning’, introduces the otherworldly tone of the collection through mysterious guidance dressed as superstition:


never believe the stone angels

listen closely to raven and possum

at night, ask the moon for permission

do not cross running water


Frost unfurls an ominous local atmosphere that is her own fresh take on Australian Gothic. The mention of early morning digging and gravestones in the final lines are motifs that indicate what is to come; an obsession with graveyards, archaeology and haunting permeate, reminding us that even if we ignore things, they still continue to exist. In ‘Auf Wiedersehen Speigeltent’ Frost explores the anatomy of a circus through an exact and macabre terminology:


the circus is gone

big top

stripped to bone


wide-load giraffe

skeleton canters


The lack of punctuation freezes the unravelling in time. Frost also hints at historical sadness and hardship through the italicised subtext, but the German term ‘auf wiedersehen’ translates as ‘until we meet again’, indicating that through the ritual of circus, all involved continue to endure and renew.

The past lingers in this collection like a stubborn stain that is exposed each time we read an article or discover a fact; ‘The Hobby’, which won The John Marsden Award for Young Writers, tells of the exploits of a Russian ‘cemetery archaeologist’, who horrified the public when it was discovered that he dug up girls’ bodies and mummified them, keeping them in his bedroom and throwing them dinner parties. Frost analyses his actions as a type of romantic art and she is empathetic, though there is a wryness underneath:


I took her home and made her dinner

I seduced her with 13 ancient tongues

she stayed for breakfast

she stayed forever


In the final lines Frost suggests that perhaps there is more sense in Moskvin’s actions than in the public labelling him simply ‘mad’, alluding to the danger of taxonomy, if it ignores the complexity behind names and labels. The theme of excavation continues with ‘Archaeology’, as Frost juxtaposes remnants of history with her legs, body an artefact:


I shaved my legs before I came over.

You noticed, and said

they were whitewashed pillars,

artful ruins beneath the lights.


It reminds us that the body is subject to as much scrutiny and myth as historic objects. Elsewhere, Frost dissects childhood rites, such as in the poem ‘Odontophilia’, where the loss of milk teeth is presented as obsessive pleasure, a nascent desire for one’s own body. She addresses the children who (like her):


long to press just one peg free

to tongue the root red…

weeks of this dance

dandling a half-strung incisor


It is not just the past and the making of selfhood that haunts and beguiles us however – the places we reside in and visit also leave their traces on us, and Frost conveys this in a series of poems that read like love letters to her city. ‘After Midnight: Toowong’ reveals a populace united through their shared experience of an inner city suburb, as they ‘slink between ibis-legged houses’ (recalling the cover of the book, an artful depiction of a Queenslander house), the hills transformed into ‘waves to carry us’. There is a mythical and supernatural dimension at play here, as Frost declares that she and her fellow citizens ‘belong to the hour of the curlew’. This makes one wonder if poets will continue to be mythmakers for their fellow citizens, and if it is as important now as it ever was. In ‘Belonging Quartet’ stories of assorted homes uncoil, as she lies ‘reading the ceiling’s pine calligraphy’ and wondering ‘who loved these things before me?’ Frost alternates between an awareness of the past pressing through objects that are strangers to her, but also of the ghostly persistence of her own personal history: ‘things linger/that I said goodbye to/long ago.

In ‘Brisbane in pictures’, a montage of the city plays before us like a short film of the author’s sense of home. She writes of floods and bush roaches and supermarkets, and the violence of the landscape inherent in a comical image: ‘a wheelie bin/trapezes from a power line’.

There are a number of intriguing literary allusions in this collection, notably ‘Unbecoming’, which focuses on Grete from Metamorphosis, a character overshadowed by her famous brother. Frost offers her a place as the protagonist of her own tale, and the stanzas alternate between German and English, rooting us in her life, beginning with ‘restless dreams’ taken for granted, and then the realisation that perhaps there is some reality in bad dreams after all, as ‘Grete wakes in her own bed/to find herself’. In ‘After Bukowski’s ‘Bluebird’, Frost hints at the darkness inherent in repression, whether of beauty (that so embarrassed Bukowski), or of her own internal bird who perpetuates self-doubt:


There’s a mangy galah

in the pit of my gut, and I try

to be tough – but he’s

learnt to talk back,

and he parrots

the things that I say

to myself


It is a sharp beaked metaphor, tearing at the author’s own heart to reveal her vulnerability. Frost returns to Australian Gothic in ‘The McKenzie pair’, exploring the personal history of a Brisbane cemetery’s infamous residents, who suicided after an embezzlement scandal. It is divided into two parts, one for each of the pair, unravelling in a singsong part pantoum that emphasises their heightened emotions and demise. Donald writes of his ‘London girl brave enough/to take a name untested’, and Mirriam is ‘only certain of his goodness’. It provides us with snapshots of their love, as the poem repeats and reinforces the lines they repeat to themselves.

While much of the collection rises and falls like ghosts in the psyche, causing us to wonder about liminal spaces and the hidden in our own lives, Frost breaks the conveyer belt of history with a meditation on a mostly forgotten monarch. Weaved into the tail end of Salt and Bone is a poem about the author’s namesake, Queen Zenobia, who famously led a revolt against the Romans. The poem is a bevy of potent spices, recalling the queen’s origins, symbolic of her heady strength, as she declares, in proto-feminist recognition:


I am Iris; I come with messages

from the daughters you have killed.

I am honeying my way into your empire.


The queen ends her letter to the Romans with swift words carefully etched into the white space of the page:


‘I strike/
and leave frankincense burning in your quickened blood’


She finds a way into the blood of her enemies, and, just like this long gone queen, Frost inserts her precise lines into the reader’s bloodstream, leaving one ‘quickened’ within her world of eerie, captivating, and ultimately fascinating revelations.

A selection of 28 poems

The Writ Grid