Tuesday, 28 February 2017 16:34

News from the Editor's Desk - March 2017

Porter Prize

We received almost 1,000 entries in this year’s Peter Porter Poetry Prize – by far our biggest field to date. Entries came from twenty-two countries. The judges – Ali Alizadeh, Jill Jones, Felicity Plunkett – have now shortlisted seven poems. The shortlisted poets are Ronald Dzerigian (USA), Louis Klee (Victoria), Anthony Lawrence (NSW), Damen O’Brien (Queensland), Michael Lee Phillips (USA), Jen Saunders (NSW), and Jessie Tu (NSW).

The winner (who will receive $5,000 plus an Arthur Boyd print) will be named at the Porter Prize ceremony on Thursday, 23 March (6 pm) at the Collected Works Bookshop in Melbourne (see below). First, though, a number of friends and admirers of Peter Porter will read some of his poems, and the shortlisted poets will read their poems. These are always great occasions for poetry (and Porter) aficionados, and everyone is welcome. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

More poetry gigs

To celebrate the second edition of States of Poetry (South Australia), state editor Peter Goldsworthy will introduce his new cohort of poets during Adelaide Writers’ Week. The six featured poets this year are Steve Brock, Cath Kenneally, Jules Leigh Koch, Louise Nicholas, Jan Owen, and Dominic Symes. The session will take place on 6 March at 5 pm, at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, Adelaide. For more information, visit the Adelaide Writers’ Week website.

Single poems from each writer appear in our mini-anthology.

The April issue will feature a mini-anthology of poems from the Tasmanian edition of States of Poetry. Peter Rose and state editor Sarah Day will host a reading from the six poets included in this year’s anthology: Adrienne Eberhard, Graeme Hetherington, Karen Knight, Louise Oxley, Tim Thorne, and Jane Williams. The event will take place at the Hobart Book Shop, 22 Salamanca Square at 5.30 pm on Thursday, 6 April. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Trumping the media

‘Journalism is on the back foot,’ writes Diana Bagnall at the start of her review of an anthology of writings about the 1960s from The New Yorker. Sad to report, it’s an understatement, given recent developments. We all know the fate of countless journalists around the world in recent years: the arrests, the intimidation, the derision, the assassinations, especially in Russia (so close to Donald Trump’s commercial heart). In his first days as US president, Trump demeaned the office by pursuing his maniacal attacks on the media, beginning with a pathetic and fraudulent attempt to ‘correct’ attendance figures at his inauguration.

Donald Trump swearing in ceremony 550President Donald Trump being sworn in on 20 January 2017 (Wikimedia Commons)


So much was left to the thinking press during the recent ignoble election campaign: one thinks in particular of the New York Times’s exposé about Trump’s startling business incompetence and his record-breaking financial reliance on US taxpayers. Now it seems that the Times and every questioning journalist will pay a high price for their audacity. Trump, puffed up with amour-propre, resembles a drunk at a party who won’t brook any opposition or criticism. Now he – bizarre though it still seems – runs the United States. What price logic, perseverance, intelligent doubt? What future for investigative journalism? Will it be safe or even legal to practise or publish dissent?

And how, to paraphrase Diana Bagnall, did it come to this? The Obama administration, in some respects, paved the way. Barack Obama was no great friend of the fourth estate, despite his cosy relations with admiring editors such as David Remnick of The New Yorker. For some, Obama was the most controlling and secretive president since the paranoiac Richard Nixon. Menacing too. Time and time again reporters were stymied or threatened with prosecution. No other administration has denied so many Freedom of Information requests. Notoriously, the Obama regime threatened New York Times reporter James Risen with jail for his refusal to name a source. Risen has dubbed Obama ‘the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation’.

Jerkish plot

Philip Roth 1973Philip Roth (Wikimedia Commons)In our previous issue, Advances wondered, with eerie retrospective prescience (to coin a phrase to rival ‘alternative facts’), if Philip Roth – that rara avis, a retired novelist – would emerge from literary exile to update his ahistorical novel The Plot Against America (2004), in which Charles Lindbergh, the isolationist and Nazi-inspired aviator, defeats Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election and introduces anti-Semitic measures against young ‘Philip Roth’ and other Jewish characters in the novel. Other publications have followed suit, including The New Yorker, which interviewed the author for its January 30 edition.

Philip Roth, retired though he is and responding via email, still gave them good copy. ‘Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities ... had character and he had substance ... Trump is just a con artist,’ he wrote. ‘I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But ... neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English’.

MoMA takes a stand

The Museum of Modern Art in New York has responded impressively to Trump’s obnoxious executive order banning travel to the United States for citizens of seven Muslim nations. MoMA promptly removed some of the jewels in its crown (including Picasso’s Card player) to make way for contemporary art from Iran, Iraq, and Sudan. Each work is accompanied by a statement: ‘This is one of several such artworks ... installed ... to affirm the ideas of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States.’ Jason Farago in the New York Times writes: ‘This welcome new voice ... is not how MoMA has spoken in the past – but, then again, this is not how presidents have spoken in the past, either.’

It will be interesting to see if any Australian galleries follow MoMA’s example and send a similarly ringing message to our super-ally.

Story time!

Since it began in 2010, the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize has attracted thousands of new entries and grown in stature both here and overseas. Now international, the Jolley Prize is worth a total of $12,500 (thanks to the remarkable generosity of Ian Dickson, our Acmeist Patron). Earlier this year, The Writers’ Academy from Penguin Random House in the United Kingdom listed it as one of the world’s ‘Best Writing Competitions’.

ABR’s commitment to short fiction doesn’t end with the Jolley Prize. We publish new short stories on our website as part of ABR Fiction, and we welcome submissions from new and established writers. Unlike Jolley Prize entries (2,000 to 5,000 words), the stories can be any length – though not Tolstoyan please. They must not have been previously published. We pay a minimum of $400 for stories published in ABR Fiction on our website. Please visit the ‘Submissions’ page there for more information.

Meanwhile, the 2017 Jolley Prize is open until April 10.

Kris Hemensley’s entourage

Your scratch entourage 250More Cordite Books have appeared, and one of them is especially welcome: Your Scratch Entourage, Kris Hemensley’s first collection in many years. Hemensley, who turned seventy in 2016, published countless books in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, but was then overtaken by – well, books. For many years he and Loretta Hemensley have run Collected Works, that gem of a bookshop in the smudgy old labyrinthine Nicholas Building on Swanston Street opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. Hemensley has done more for the circulation and appreciation of poetry in Melbourne – this country – than most. Collected Works is the first place to go to for poetry in Melbourne. How needed it is too, given the dearth of poetry sections in most general bookshops (Kahlil Gibran and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Rod McKuen do not, alone, constitute a decent poetry library). Sydneysiders will be familiar with Kinokuniya’s fantastic poetry section. But is there anything this vast bookshop doesn’t stock. (Kinokuniya is situated in The Galeries at 500 George Street.)

So it is good to have this new collection from Kris Hemensley. The poet himself, who introduces it in a witty Preface, recalls ‘a year-long conversation with prospective publisher K MacCarter about singularity, locality, expatriation, eased by occasional tots of the Japanese good stuff during which I sometimes recast him as a Jonathan Williams, dual squire of Dentdale, Cumbria, and Scaly Mountain, North Carolina, notwithstanding the Minnesota Lutheran he owned up to be’.

Poetry galore

Yet more poetry. After all, it is our annual poetry issue. Despite jeremiads of yore, Advances can’t remember a time when so much new poetry was published in Australia. UWA Publishing has weighed in with six more titles in its UWAP Poetry Series. They are Rallying (Quinn Eades), Flute of Milk (Susan Fealy), A Personal History of Vision (Luke Fischer), Charlie Twirl (Alan Gould), Dark Convicts (Judy Johnson), and Snake Like Charms (Amanda Joy). The latter includes ‘Tailings’, which won the 2016 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. Published in February, these paperback collections cost $22.95 each.

Dorothy Hewett Award

The winner of this year’s Dorothy Hewett Award is Melbourne-based writer Odette Kelada for Drawing Sybylla, a short novel ‘depicting Australian women writers’. The judges, Lucy Dougan, James Ley, and Terri-ann White, described it as ‘an intense reading experience’. In addition to a publishing contract with UWA Publishing, Odette Kelada receives $10,000 from Copyright Agency Limited Cultural Fund.

Two shortlisted writers, Carolyn Abbs (WA) and Ann-Marie Priest (QLD), were both highly commended and each receive a publishing contract and cash prize.

Monash Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing

Entries are now open for the Monash Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing (presented by Monash University in partnership with the Emerging Writers’ Festival). The prize, now in its sixth year, is open to students from Australia and New Zealand who are enrolled in an undergraduate or honours degree. The judges are Julie Koh, Khalid Warsame,and Rebecca Do Rozario. Entries are open until midnight on April 12 and the winner receives $4,000.

R&R in Brisbane

In the wake of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature, and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘thoughtful’ and ‘absorbing’ autobiography Born to Run (reviewed by Varun Ghosh in this issue), we can assume that the boundaries between music and writing have well and truly dissolved. The Rock & Roll Writers’ Festival in Brisbane this year (1–2 April) will explore this fusion in a series of talks. Speakers include Tim Rogers, Brentley Frazer, Kirsty Eagar, and Peggy Frew.

In true rock and roll fashion, the festival will hit the road ‘for one show only’ in Melbourne on 9 April. Visit their website for more details.

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Thursday, 23 February 2017 16:33

2017 Porter Prize Shortlist


Someone says drone and I see the cell phone it tracks, see the hand holding the cell phone
Being tracked by the drone, see the arm connected to the hand holding the cell phone
Being tracked by the drone, see the shoulder manoeuvring the arm connected to the hand
Holding the cell phone being tracked by the drone, see the person attached to the shoulder
Manoeuvring the arm connected to the hand holding the cell phone being tracked by the drone,
See the people attached to the person holding the cell phone, attached by proximity,
By love, perhaps, respect, maybe duty, and the person I see is unseen to the drone and unseen
By the drone, is not seen even by the cell phone held by the unseen, who does not see himself
As the unseen while being tracked by the drone, seeing only the length of his arm and the hand
attached to the arm holding the cell phone being tracked by the unseen drone.

Someone says drone and I see the hand that pushes the button – or flips the switch, maybe –
See the arm connected to the hand that pushes the button – or flips the switch, maybe –
See the shoulder manoeuvring the arm connected to the hand that pushes the button –
Or flips the switch, maybe – see the person attached to the shoulder manoeuvring the arm
Connected to the hand that pushes the button – or flips the switch, maybe – of the drone.
And the person I see is unseen to the drone and unseen by the drone, is not seen
Even by the button or the switch held by the unseen, who does not see himself as unseen.
Someone says drone and I see two hands gripping their devices in the grip of each other
Each hand convinced that it’s the hand that holds the truth.

Michael Lee Phillips

Four Egrets

Four white egrets perch on four baby citrus trees
at the four corners of the world and you wouldn’t

see this if you were not told to look. Their black
eyes stare at the drying canal and stave hunger

for snail and frog and minnow because those remains
are not more than sinew or bone in cracking mud.

The two llamas and two horses in the chain-linked
front yard, the one tree in that yard that has been

stripped of bark and leaves, the four of them eating
hay that has been spread across cement – you would

not share their thirst at the moment you hope
for rain to fall on your dusty truck because you see

them everyday and their backs are not your dusty
truck. You wouldn’t see the barn buried under piles

of hardwood vine stakes or wonder what is inside
the barn in the no-light – you would not, before

it’s gone. And what about the distribution of bee
corpses from your windshield into fine dust under

the few wilted melons near goathead thorns? The hard
and tiny horns may stick to your boot and you must

shake them loose after stepping back into the truck
after taking a picture of the patch of weeds near sun-

bleached powder that streams across the upward face
of the asphaltic chipseal – and further out, you may

see the glint of shimmering mylar balloons that
have released their helium and have set themselves

softly down, like dropped testicles, displaying bright
round words that announce happy birthday or over

the hill and you would not remember what day
it was when you decided to try to be someone else

between shifts, between each appearance of your-
self embedded in the structures of everything but you.

Ronald Dzerigian

The Snow Lies Deep

the low fish
the late violin
the dreaming wolf
the mistletoe
the firefly
the favoured child

the favourite child
the deepwater fish
the comet fly-by
the tuned violin
the missed toes
the dreaming wolf

a dream of wolves
afraid child
missing fingers & toes
poison blowfish
clown’s violin
swarming fireflies

warning fire lights
screaming wolves
lowly violinist
flailing child
dreaming deep fish
kissing mistletoe

kissing missed you
firefly alights
deep sea fish flight
howling wolf rites
dreaming low child
flighty violin bow

low note violin
falling mistletoe
sleeping snowchild
darkened firefly
woken old wolf
cloud of flying fish

fireflies light the child’s way through the town
benthic fish gulp mistletoe berries down
last known wolf tracks violin-playing clown
and the snow lies deep all around, all around.

Jen Saunders


I’d spent the morning on the coast
where I’d gone to be away from you
and by extension, myself, the tabula rasa
of the sky interrupted by ravens
that had made of themselves a raised
felt collage in the shade. A kite surfer
was belting through the swell, too far
from shore for me to read the maker’s
name on the sail, but close enough
to see the line she was leaving in dark
green shelving like a fast download bar.
I climbed a headland to see where
I’d been, yet all but one compass point
seemed defined by the decisions
we’d made together, and even that
was swinging between hard south,
where we’d met, and our last night
a nor’wester blowing itself out
like a trial separation. I walked to lose
the sound of us having another shot,
giving it our best. Cutting through
littoral scrub, bearded dragons,
like offcuts of distressed leather,
stared from lantana and twisted trees
the wind had cut back and down.
I crossed a road where luminous cable
was being unspooled, rolled out,
the national broadband like a cannula,
force-fed to the collective interface.
I went off the track, unpicking myself
from honey locust thorns. In a clearing
I lay down to watch husks of old blood
vessels bubble-chain across the sky.
You were out of range and reach,
like the retreating tag-end on a length
of rope at the stern of a listing lifeboat
taking on water. When I said your name,
a treecreeper quipped that distance
and wistfulness are all we need,
when healing. Starting back, with dusk
on the make and bits of moon
like stopgap animation through leaves,
I found a tin crate, broken at the welds
by impact. Inside, surrounded by glass,
the skeleton of a dog. I thought
of our kelpie from Working Dog Rescue,
her love of balls, her going back
and around a gull flock she’d follow
down the beach. She was killed
when a jet ski doubled back on its wake
as she was closing in on a stick.
I knelt beside the crate. I considered
the flight of Laika, the astronaut dog,
shuttled into obituary. A scattering
of bones and glass in a beaten tin box
as if she’d been satellite-tagged
and released, already deceased, to burn out
on re-entry and go to ground in the bush.
It was raining as I reached the road,
the lights of houses being turned off
and on by windy trees. I found the beach
gone under foam to the tideline.
It was there we had talked about how
to read the ocean, to find the direction
of a rip in a gutter. You said panic kills
more people than limited swimming skills.
I stripped and stood in the shore break
between the over and the underworld,
the afterwards and the as it was, listening
to the slurred pillow talk of the tide.
Your face appeared, your features
like a steady fall in barometric pressure,
like memory loss where the hard drive
of the sea crashes in to be erased.

Anthony Lawrence

and it is what it is

Chapter 1

You are given fingers before a mouth. Your ears are the last to form.
What comes next becomes what I am most afraid of –
I wonder where that wilderness in you was born.

Yesterday, they called me on the landline,
asked for my date of birth and nationality;
fourteen, zero six, thirty nine, China.

Nobody tells you to keep your hands
tied behind your back and they need to stay behind your back
they need to stay, they really need to stay.

Chapter 2

I want to cut something, I need,
I need the certainty of a clear division.
A binary, a slip, a something to keep my hands behind my back.

You write long letters about the man in there
who springs overnight.
There is nothing I can do, I swear it, there is nothing I can do.

They told me to tell you not to fight it
when it comes because when it comes it will rupture your
vocal cords, you will bend your knees.

I keep photos of us to compensate for your memory loss
though now when I hold them, they feel like slices of seconds from
someone else’s life, a life I push outside of myself, a life I have no care for.

Chapter 3

I told you so, I said that none of this would matter,
the clocks on your face would lend itself to surrender
and in the end it will all feel like a dream, a deep sleep dream.

I wake to find markings on my forearms, markings
raised like welts and I wonder whether it came from the
thrashing in your sleep or if I had lived some other life, become some other person
when consciousness slipped away, ashamed by its own watchman.

They told me to tell you to close your eyes
turn the self-immured blindness into a sea
imagine the arms of her insidious pull weave its web of comforting tunes.

You will feel less if you let it run through you
let the synapses burn through your wild river, and I will
start to tell you, to
neglect the parsimonious man in you.

Chapter 4

You take years to settle onto the ocean floor,
spread your skin like particles of dust,
entering the chain of subsistence they call
evolution, though I knew for one moment.

They cannot hide you behind their panoply
crust, gammon, imperviousness,
all at once it seemed impossible

But again the seismic undergrowth of something
I cannot see, something like a light I cannot extinguish.
You put words into my mouth now.


You need to stop putting words into my mouth.

Jessie Tu

Sentence to Lilacs

‘And that great black hole where a moon ago I wanted to drown
It is there I will now fish.’
- Aimé Césaire

Europe, stolen schoolgirl, she
           radishes on the fresh
                      water creek
           snow on wheat ... I mean
no, don’t help me ... no, don’t help ...
                                   I have that lisp.

So I pitched my tent in the hotel lobby
chiselling pegs into tiles until they burst
like chalk under a hammer, wanting to sleep
though no one taught me how
                      Her stutter
                      Her personal pronoun we
                      Her stutter
                      And she leaves me
                      To the imagination
                      Stuttering a way of stressing
                      Her point

We’re not history’s country.
           I was driving among the mangroves
           in the photo. I was zipped-up, galoshes
           on pushing through swamp to watch
           the bird-watchers in the photo. I was
           watching them watch the distant marsh
           terns and dusky-moor hens. In the photo
           cockatoos scream as if the sky itself has split
           from joy, though it’s hard to tell from the

When I wake on tiles the sky
          I remember taking interest in
          like a tourist
                                  the sky
          being gone soon anyway

When I wake on tiles and clouds
           in long procession
                      like battles
           no one cares
When I wake on tiles reading War and
War is, you might say, unknown to us
                     our humanity never

To us the sky’s the question
that can beg all it wants
                     and Peace, that bit when
I’m not racist but the sky
                       and Prince Andrey
Waking on tiles
                      on a killingfield
           seeing only the sky.
                                   Its infinite
I can’t believe you’ve never heard of

  I was driving through country-towns photos
  of closed-down milk-bar convenience stores
  hung on the bare walls of a private gallery
  driving, slowing, at the boomgates a dog
  tethered to a stump, unbegrudging
  another day I’d sleep at the wheel
  though no one taught me how another day
  I’d drive through country towns just
  to watch the cowpats basking in the sun

knowing I still own the word
                       Others might use it but they
            don’t know how to pronounce
                                                the silence.

Louis Klee


14 Sodium Hydroxide     Washed out:
                                         the unbalanced washing machine
                                         jitters and grinds across the laundry
                                         choking on business shirts.

13 Bleach                         Someone has poured bleach
                                         over the evening.
                                         We can’t stand ourselves.
                                         We raw and rub
                                         and exsanguinate into silence.

12 Ammonia                    A rainbowed slip of chemicals
                                         wrinkles and cakes in an onshore breeze
                                         against the east side of the island.
                                         They will trace it to a container ship
                                         bound for Singapore.

11 Charcoal                      She left the church early this morning,
                                         blinking and red-eyed.
                                         It’s too soon for Amazing Grace.
                                         That song rolled into the furnace with a coffin.

10 Soap                            Only losers are prosecuted for war crimes.
                                         The foreign correspondent footnotes
                                         chemicals blistering in a child’s eyes, and
                                         barrel bombs germinating in Syria.
                                         Skin doesn’t remain neutral.

9 Baking Soda                 Breathing through the balloon of their skin,
                                         the Corroboree Frog
                                         stops calling in Kosciuszko.
                                         Stained by a fungus dust,
                                         their skin skews and barks and peels.

8 Sea Water                      Human interest story: scientists weep
                                         a solution of sodium and potassium
                                         but can’t save them.
                                         There is something out of balance.

7 Blood Water                  should be neutral,
                                         but all day we ferried test tubes
                                         and paper tapers bearing tell-tale colour.
                                         The tank smears with algae.
                                         Even the hardy, brutal goldfish
                                         would gulp and bloat in it.

6 Milk                              The suncream doesn’t last.
                                         15 Overs under the pinched membrane
                                         of ozone that pales the sky
                                         and we are painting ourselves again.
                                         Itching all weekend,
                                         the boys blister in missed lozenges of skin.

5 Black Coffee                 She has lost all her friends,
                                         strained off by marriage,
                                         tired out by children
                                         and the local café is precious to her.
                                         We perch studiously on the stools
                                         sip our coffees and talk to the owner.

4 Orange Juice                 This is a good year for mosquitos,
                                         burned out by the government’s careful
                                         carpet bombing of estuaries.
                                         We can sit on the deck into the evening
                                         and drink a haze of bitter wine.
                                         Something in the strafing chemicals attacks bees.
                                         Next year will be bad for crops.

3 Coke                              In the machinery of God
                                         100 billion people have lived and died.
                                         The experiment must be nearly done.

2 Vinegar                         Most days the river runs white
                                         downstream from the mine.
                                         The bunds have leaked for years,
                                         the seepage pits are full.
                                         It’s a fragile balance when
                                         the island’s economy depends upon that silver.
                                         The earth eats itself.

1 Battery Acid                 We rarely kiss
                                         and even less on the lips.
                                         My lips are an acid etch.
                                         She leaves at different hours
                                         and numbs her way to work.
                                         There is something out of balance.

Damen O'Brien

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