Magdalena Ball’s ‘Transmission’

If you were looking for a sign or excuse
to stay where you are

that particular
ray of light, a twitch at the small
of your back, the downward slant
darkening eyes in the mirror
warm sun pretending to be gentle
half blooming crocuses
swing chair creaking
dead bees floating on the cold
pool, death against life.

My body has grown heavier
weighted by memory
competing languages
an accumulation of cells
an accretion of blows
all people and all things
swallowed down and carried
small densities, big plans
Inertia taking me further towards
the centre point.

You cannot separate the words
from the culture
the motion of the mouth
how it shapes the features
changing thought, perception
you cannot unlearn
only hide, pretend
that you have always been
will always be safe.

My ancestors would have
happily buried that history
into the sweet earth
along with their bones
picked clean of anything valuable:
jewellery, gold fillings, hair, nutrients
but we can’t help touching
tongue against missing tooth.
The gap draws us down, down.

Somewhere there; here
is an answer
transmitted into sound
a humming that might be wind
second life, second soul
the lullaby you can almost sing
by heart, though you’ve never
heard it before
In this lifetime

mother, are you in that breeze

teaching me
how to let go?

‘If On a Winter’s Night a Joey’ by Morgan Bell

a roadside body was found lifeless
there was a joey in the pouch
the ditch of cold June’s mourning
teased into, the outside world
life is full of second chances
the boy was covered in short hair
when you name a joey Mason
his crafty antics will endear
Mason nudged his hatch door open
took a scooter as his prize
precariously, he was balanced
with adventure in his eyes
he scamper round the yard
gripped to the handlebars
Mason rode-free on his scooter for a while
branching out from filming antics
from growing in a silent room
Mason aced the world’s audition but
his credits played too soon
Mason rode-free on his scooter for a while

‘Earth or sky’ by Michael Brennan

Michael Brennan’s

from the earth here

She was talking about a field,
a field empty with the sky.
We had seen it a thousand times,
never the same.

She said she would go there
and lie under the blue sky
and sink into the ground 
while looking at the sky.

She said it was like sinking 
into the sky when she did it.
She felt the sky hold her close,
ease in through each of her pores.

It was much later then, 
the happiness never left me, 
her words coming back
warm upon my face.

Magdalena Ball – Precarious Inscruitable

When the sea rises to eye level
tears become redundant
every day a baker’s dozen
or more
the red list has 20,000 names
20,000 is a random number
unbounded, like e or Pi
though more finite
0 is usually taken for granted
like the sound of nomatic flocks
passenger pigeons aggregating
flapping, filling the sky in thickened clouds
warbling, dropping, disappearing
leaving a silence so profound
it hurt the ears
until we got used to it
our ear drums morphed
attuned to the sound of the engine
the clack of a keypad
we filled the gap with
gun shot, cash registers
the slide of plastic, the squeal of
pigs heading for slaughter
lathes, hammerings
efficient death is noisy business
a noise we cling to
in order to hide the increasing
silence of
billions of missing
the cardinality             of the empty set

from Iman Budhi Santosa’s “The Faces of Java”

Silversmiths from Kotagede

life was blown gently
into the silver, gram by gram
binding the emerald, enhancing the ruby
eyes shining on each finger
hammer and file danced at the stroke of midnight 
solder hissed in between 
and light taps 
to the belly, ‘antique accessories
when weighed are worth 
more than the maker’s finger’
for years they have saved 
but not a single necklace 
to drape the scrawny chest 
the hair has turned silver
in the making 
silent and forgotten 
by the children of time


A review of Pretend I Don’t Exist by Morgan Bell

Reviewed by Magdalena BallCompulsive Reader


Anyone who has read Morgan Bell’s first poetry collection, Idiomatic for the People, will not be surprised by how innovative her new poetry book Pretend I Don’t Exist isThe book was written as a poetic response to the nonfiction book Wild Koalas of Port Stevens edited by Christina Gregory and uses a range of diverse linguistic techniques inspired by a deep and whimsical anthropomorphism. The immediate impact of Pretend I Don’t Exist is visual, almost instantly funny as words move about in Koala-like ways.  This is augmented by the varied rhythms of the words, which slur, drip, become staccato, slide, halt, slip into silence and then into a machine-gun patter that calls to mind rap and jazz. The work calls to mind a wide range of styles from Joycean stream-of-consciousness to the sonic poetry of Jayne Cortez (I’m particularly thinking of “She Got He Got”) and includes paraphrases from William Faulkner and Cardi B as well as actual citations from wild koalas as mentioned in Wild Koalas of Port Stevens or taken from volunteers and carers who work in the Koala hospital. The result is both irreverently funny and deeply empathetic. Of course it is impossible for humans to know what a koala thinks and feels but in spite of the whimsy, the book feels true, not overtly humanizing the koalas but allowing their inner monologues to remain a little bit wild and chaotic:

Emptiness like two currants floating motionless in a cup of weak coffee their eyes ordered certitudes long divorced from reality as if a breath of that air which sees injustice done a damp steady breath out out whose every breath is a fresh cast dusty death with dice already loaded against them…

The book is structured into five sections: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning, immediately setting up a sense of playfulness with the off-rhymes and linguistic puns. The poem titles are Similarly humorous and punny, playing on book or film titles, for example, “If on a Winter’s Night a Joey”, “The Long Dark Roadside of the Soul”, “We Need to Talk about Morton”, “Full Metal Scent Glands”, or “No Country for Old Bears”.  The poetry utilises sonic effects like alliteration, rhyme and rhythm, with extensive repetition, unconventional punctuation and sentences that trail off.  Then there are the visuals. For example, “A Tale of Two Joeys” spreads in jumping formation across two pages, the words moving in opposite directions.  Words here are sometimes semantical but they are also art, sliding across the page, wiggling, bouncing, marching, and vanishing in ways that evoke the movement of the koalas, guiding the reading into a non-linguistic sense of joy, fear, loss, and discovery.

There are many stories in the book, with its own cast of real named Koala characters who open the book.  They often work in groups of two or more, like like Dust and Breeze whose story of loss and discovery darts in alternate directions, or Mason, the orphaned joey who “aced the world’s audition but his credits played too soon”.  Horse and Cherry are all in upper case, their names forming a story in grunted single words, punctuated by the use of bold typeface. 

The rhythms throughout the book are decidedly funky, with bass beats, staccato, prose and rap sounds working together to create an innate music as in “Bear, Interrupted”’s: “Timmy got ripped from a Pouch dream” or the rap vernacular of “So Long, and Thanks for All the Leaves”:

Sammi took your gift, she wrap best, Diesel, Sammi got big, they impressed, Diesel, Sammi put the scamper on young Jeff, Diesel, Sammi be scratchin’ on young Jeff

Who you know leap like this?
Who you know feast like this?”

There’s so much richness in these twenty-five poems, words criss-crossing, melting down a page, shifting direction, causing the eyes to zig-zag up, down, sideways and across, disappear like an eye chart, stimulating the senses like a bush menu, changing font, bursting forth or fading gently. It feels throughout like animals in motion.  Pretend I Don’t Exist is a delight to read – the kind of book a parent can have a lot of fun reading to a child (or vice versa) but also one that tells a serious and important story about the beauty of animal sentience, the rich interplay of the human and the natural, animate world, and perhaps most importantly, the precariousness of the latter, particularly when it comes to koalas who are increasingly vulnerability, facing a significant and rapidly increasing loss of habitat. Because Morgan Bell takes a Koala-eye view, this is done with an anthro-centric perspective that is very powerful.  We play along with these creatures scurrying down casuarinas and upside down along branches and the edges of roads, or relaxing in high-canopies, and we also experience their failing vision, the loss of parents, hunger and intense thirst, and the difficult path to re-acclimatisation.  It’s a terrific book, and one that will appeal to readers of all ages

Nunggak Semi: A tribute book to Iman Budhi Santosa

To commemorate 100 days of Iman Budhi Santosa’s death (one of the Flying Island poets), a group of poets and writers in Yogyakarta lauchds a tribute book entitled Nunggak Semi: Dunia Iman Budhi Santosa (Nunggak Semi: The world of Iman Budhi Santosa)With the contributions from eighty five poets, playwrights, painters, journalist, editors, and academicians, this book compiles various anecdotes, memories, response poems, and academic analysis of Iman Budhi’s life and works. 

The book also includes chapters written by Kit Kelen – the series editor of Flying Island Pocket Poets and Chrysogonus Siddha Malilang, the translator for IBS’ poems to English. 

Pam Brown

Pam Brown was born in Seymour, Victoria. Most of her childhood was spent on military bases in Toowoomba and Brisbane. Since her early twenties, she has lived in Melbourne and Adelaide, and has travelled widely in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions as well as Europe and the U.S., but mostly she has lived in Sydney. She has made her living variously as a silkscreen printer, bookseller, postal worker and has taught writing, multi-media studies and film-making and worked from 1989 to 2006 as a librarian at University of Sydney.

From 1997 to 2002 Pam Brown was the poetry editor of Overland and from 2004 to 2011 she was the associate editor of Jacket magazine. She has been a guest at poetry festivals worldwide, taught at the University for Foreign Languages, Hanoi, and during 2003 had Australia Council writers residency in Rome. In 2013 she held the Distinguished Visitor Award at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Links: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pam_Brown

Flying Islands Pocket Poet Publications


John Bennett

John Bennett grew up in the south of England when Red Squirrels were already becoming rare. He studied Philosophy & Sociology at university and travelled extensively before discovering Australia and settling here just over thirty years ago. He has worked at various sites including the Powerhouse Museum, NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service and Sydney University. He gained a PhD for ‘A New Defence of Poetry’ which attacked the myth of poetry as being above and beyond normal language use and its claims to transcend the ordinary and everyday.
He has performed around the world, transcribed his poetry for actors on ABC radio and won two of the most prestigious poetry prizes in Australia, the Newcastle and David Tribe. He was a Sydney Harbour Artist of the Year and poet in residence at the Macleay Museum.
In 2010 he moved out of Sydney to the coast and lives opposite Jagun Nature Reserve, and in the first year saw 100 species of birds in his garden and the adjacent forest. He is now an occasional teacher of ecopoetry and the Artistic Director of the Bellingen Readers & Writers Festival. As well as a poet, he is a photographer and video artist — his DVD ‘Bird Lane Nettle’ (a collaborative enterprise with the musician John Laidler) was released this year.

Flying Islands Pocket Poet Publications

Pocket Diary

In National Library of Australia