It was not an easy task to cast judgment on the submissions for this year’s ZineWest. The standard was higher than ever, and each entry offered a unique voice and vision.
The first submission I read was the hot stabbing words of a wounded lover in the sharply written poem, ‘Years Ago’.
The next, ‘Parental Rights’, a story about a new father of sorts, is one that leaves a stomach-knotting twist in the reader.
‘Hash Tag’ by contrast, is a poem displaying considerable formal ingenuity – presenting as a series of tweets on love, beauty, crime and the knife edge of history.
‘Lacrimosa’ is a portrait that thrums forward with a melancholy rage at unkind fate, in which the hauntings of the past revise and reoccur like the whirling of the fan in the hallway.
‘A Homecoming’ takes us atop its mountains for a vivid view of terra cotta tiles and metallic blue rooftops surrounding a slender spire of an old church. From there we drink in the undulating hills that bound the valley of our narrator’s memories.
‘Getting On’ brings us, by turns both grim and despairing, down laneways in the backstreets of Westmead, where we come face to face with the grotesque lust of a pig-eyed dealer, and the distant voice of a father.
In ‘A Journey’, a bus carries us lazily through a graveyard, and we peek for a moment into the memories of an old woman and her daydreams of youth, the cool fresh breezes and smiling faces beneath coconut trees, before breaking back into the present by way of a tattooed skin-head with a heartless claim on the country.
Death shows its face in ‘The Place Where Things Aren’t Just Ready Yet’: Not the grinning death-mask of the Jolly Roger, or the Grim Reaper draped in black, but a cyphered saint of sorts, who holds the frail petals of a newborn’s hand, and takes a last lingering look at a mother and father in mourning.
‘Signs’ is another work that celebrates the literal, in this case, a poem of found words, an ingenious rereading of the symbolic landscape that we encounter every day of our lives, bringing the posted signs of life to poetic effect.
The art that is celebrated in ‘The roots of my future daughter’ is the exquisite comfort of home a mother sees in the petite figure of her daughter as she tugs meticulously at the kinks in her Afro – grinding with teary eyes at the blackness that seems, for a moment at least, to be weighing her glowing girl down.
‘The Great Tinder Escape’ meanwhile, tells a very different story about parenting, one in which a single-dad shares a salacious story on the sidelines of a kids’ soccer game while a mother battles with a screaming brat on the opposite side of the oval.
‘Running’ is a story about a date too, but this one is between a girl who can make fire with the snap of her fingers and a man whose ice kisses and fleeting touches leave her breathless.
In ‘The Black, Red and White Door’ our narrator has a date with the majestic cedars of Lebanon. The trees stretch out their branches and welcome her home and her mind floods with memories of a grandmother peeling potatoes: two beautiful white curls hanging out from under the scarf on either side of her face.
Jack, the narrator of ‘Where do you live?’ has a date to keep too, and a journey to take. He travels to the inner-west for a girl named Natalie, whose subcontinental blouse, Norwegian leggings, African beads, Argentine beret, and long blonde hair leave Jack afraid to admit that he lives in the Western Suburbs.
‘Unit 101’ is a spare story of opening locked doors and standing with your neighbours in a solidarity of broken English. There’s a scream, swearing, glass breaking and a man yells ‘I didn’t kill her!’ as the police drag him from a house and a child wails in the middle of the street.
‘The morning after’ is a poem that puts us in the mind of a man whose lawyer calls to tell him that he’s stuffed up big time, as if he didn’t know it himself, standing by the letter box, checking for mail, for no good reason at all.
The poetry of ‘The door and the glasses’ is an enigmatic affair, by contrast, and at its centre is the favoured moment when ‘she’ read under the bed light, her eyes on a story written in small letters with flashy illustrations on metal, before the poem turns, like a lock, in one drop of wine.
‘Propane Lullabies’ is likewise a poetic effort that is hard to pin down to a single interpretation: it sweeps across the highways and cottages of Black Town with an ecstatic abandon close to apocalyptic in its revelatory witnessing of life in our unique suburban lot.
‘Grandma Violet’ however, is unmistakable in its intentions: giving us a portrait of a strong, proud woman with her secret mementos and silver dollars.
The hero of ‘Tabbouleh for thought’ gives us a different lesson in pride, and strength. The great task here being to put aside the self, to see the chaos of family in a different, more forgiving light.
In ‘Lincoln’s Rock’, the family we meet is in the chill wind sweeping around the bowl of Jamison Valley collecting the Eucalyptus scent of summer’s last breath. A wooden sign beside them warns them to beware, to brace for the loss that they, and the reader, feel coming.
‘Pemulwuy’s Plains’ is a poetic address to local histories – with ripe lillipilli and rallying mist mingling with the whispering of Bennelong’s smoke in the humid air.
‘Light it all up’ is a poetic address of another kind – a heart beating ride through the heat and the nowhere lights that lead to blue-glassed office blocks. There we catch the reflection of our train as we pass by, and the poet dreams of a fire being lit that might bring it all down.
At another station, in another world of sorts, ‘The grey man’ grants us a synasthesiastic portrait of a homeless man cocooned in colourlessness outside Central station.
The subject of ‘Diana’, meanwhile, is a woman with coarse black skin and frizzy hair who digs in the white clay soil with an AK 47 by her side and a suicide pill round her neck.
In ‘Odes to New Zealand’ the lost birds say good bye to poplars tall and golden, and the poet wonders what the land will be like once the kiwi follow them, sheep like, into the jaws of wolves disguised as friends.
The times are changing in ‘The Healing’ too: the poem begins with a loss of light, words losing their lyricism, love its poetry. The poet dwells anxiously in the arid desert of former dreams, sees beauty through the lens of sorrow.
In ‘The Waiting’, steam rises from the drains and dances like fragmented sentences – as if to remind you of the arrival you have missed, and the way your soul itself has become a fragment of discrete symbols.
‘Wildfire’ is a poem set between the music of angels who watch with black-hole eyes, and the rapturous fire dance they sing into existence flows through scarred veins, and leaves a man lost in a maze of craving.
There are no angels in the poem ‘Shooting’, but there are some minor miracles: a shooting star, nervous love budding between a guy who buffs floors and an Aldi checkout girl, the blossoming of a poet’s hope in the grand majesty of life.
‘Dripping with Honey’ is itself a minor miracle: an early breakfast in the Empire room on the Loyalty islands, the brilliant sun adding its own sparkle to the flower gardens and the empty beaches by electric blue waters that fill this lovely story.
The waters in the poem ‘When’ are bodies of disparity, the colours are of running paint, the weather is a maelstrom of poison that seizes the heart of the poet. It ends on a question, the same question every one of us must face, the one frozen on the poet’s lips, in the icy waters of eternity.