from Issue #8: Poetry by J. Kates

Photo (CC) takomabibelot @ Flickr

Photo (CC) takomabibelot @ Flickr



My lady’s pet Agàpornis,
Who sang for us all summer long
Both night and day
has flown away.
But mockingbirds around the house
Still sing the love-bird’s song.



Don’t look for beauty everywhere.
Twisted concertina wire
May bring to mind a metaphor
………….Of vine and root,
But it will never bud and flower —
………….Much less fruit.



No one knows
Boswell chose




With the gift of a book

O lucky book, that witless lies
upon my lady’s open thighs!

Unlucky book — so unaware
what luck it is to linger there!



J. KATES is a poet and literary translator who lives in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.

from issue #1: ‘Cold War, Hot Dogs’ by Peter Doyle

Peter Doyle‘s long-awaited Billy Glasheen crime novel The Big Whatever has just been published by Dark Passage Books.

Billy’s last appearance was in the story ‘Cold War, Hot Dogs’, which Contrappasso published in our first issue in 2012. Here it is again.


By Billy Glasheen, esq.

It’s September 1956, I’m killing time at the Sydney Motor Club. On stage three big-breasted hula girls are doing a Hawaiian-flavoured bump and grind, backed by a guitar, piano and drum combo. The combo happens to be led by my old pal, Max. The music is a mix of Latin, Hawaiian and show tunes. Not much jazz and no rock’n’roll. They play four sets a night, but no one pays any attention until the final set, when the hoochie coochie girls come on.

But the real business at the Motor Club is the bank of brand new, shiny one-armed bandits. Poker machines. They became legal just one month ago, and the hardheads who run the club are pinning big hopes on them.

Me, I’m just hanging around, hypnotised by the racket of two bobs cascading in and out of the new machines. The Indian hemp cigarette I smoked a while ago isn’t hurting, nor are the scotches and pep pills. And Perkal’s Latin mambo voodoo hoochie-coochie bebop doesn’t sound too bad right now. The dancing girls are doing a piece called ‘the fire dance of the Islands’ which gives the leader of the troupe a chance to show herself off, and that doesn’t hurt either.

She’s a Greek lass from Sydenham, named Helen, but known theatrically as Sweet Leilani, the Polynesian Princess. The truth is, I’m a bit sweet on her, but so far I’m getting nowhere.

Meanwhile I’m earning my keep providing services to the punting fraternity, and occasionally handling goods of doubtful origin. I also supply smoking substances to those who might care for same. Fact: the city’s entire market for Indian hemp is pretty well right here at the Motor Club, in the form of the hoochie coochie girls, the musical trio and my own good self.

The worst fiend of them all is the drummer Lachie Jamieson, a kiwi ex-servicemen who played with blues bands on Chicago’s South Side after the war then washed up in Sydney with a taste for bebop and hard drugs. He buys smoking gear from me on the murray, and now he’s into me for nearly fifty quid, and I’m shitty about it, but the code says you give the benefit of the doubt. I’m hoping to collect a part payment tonight.

Lachie’s got a gang of milk bar cowboys who he’s trained to do chemist busts. There’s a blond psychopath known as Skylight Reggie, and his none-too-bright offsider, the Spruso Kid. Lachie’s taught them how to hop through a chemist’s back window, find the drugs cabinet. He lets them have the pep pills and what have you, and keeps the narcotics for himself. Years later Lachie will claim to have introduced the chemist bust to Australia. Others will disagree. That’s one for the scholars to argue about, I suppose.

10 o’clock and all is mellow. Then the secretary manager tells the band to play a Pride of Erin. They ignore him. He insists. Perkal complies but then plays “Heartbreak Hotel”. This inflames the milk bar cowboys, especially Skylight, who decides now is a good to start throwing punches. Afterwards Perkal and the manager have a screaming row. Perkal storms out, never to return. (They find a continental piano accordionist to replace him the very next night). Lachie loads his drums, disappears without settling up.

But the night isn’t a complete loss. The Polynesian Princess and I have a few drinks after the show, and later she comes home to my flat. She’s a real goer, no risk, and the night is memorable, though not without incident. Helen’s not entirely right upstairs. For one thing, she’s got Elvis on the brain. Elvis this, Elvis fucking that. Even at the height of passion, she’s calling out to Elvis. She can call out to the Patriarch of Antioch for all I care, because like I say, I’m half smitten with her. She tells me later not to get too carried away, because she’s carrying a torch for someone in the old country, but an ancient blood feud keeps them apart. Or whatever.


A WEEK LATER I get a telegram. It reads:

Signed: PERKAL

The opening of the 16th Olympiad is two days away. Australia’s gone Olympic mad. Perkal is carrying out a long held ambition: to sell hot dogs by day and stage a hoochie coochie boogie woogie jazz show by night. He expects that I’ll put my own pressing business matters aside and hie off to Melbourne. But I choose not to take offence at his presumption, because as it happens a trip south with the fair Helen by my side, and a possible earn to boot is just what the doctor ordered.

I ring Helen—she’s spoken to Perkal already and is keen to hit the road. Maureen and Cathy, the other two hula girls, share a flat up the Cross. I drop by, put the plan to them. They look at each other, and smile. “Well, yeah, maybe,” says Maureen. “It’s funny, but we were sort of thinking of something like that anyway.” She looks at Cathy and Cathy nods.

Things move fast. That night I borrow Lachie’s Customline, which really belongs to Skylight Reggie. In order to avoid unpleasantness I spirit the car away from outside the Motor Club. The boot turns out to be crammed with chemist shop gear, mostly pep pills, and this isn’t too bad a turn either. I fuel up at Barrack Motors, sample a couple of pills then collect Helen and the girls.

We have to stop off at Helen’s family’s house in Sydenham. The old man runs a chew and spew in Enmore and Perkal has clinched a good price on some slightly past their prime but arguably edible saveloys. We’re met by a couple of surly brothers, a mumbling black widow, and Helen’s leering old grandad.

Helen goes inside to pack her things. The grandad shows me out to the shed, where the savs are stored in a freezer. A greenhouse takes up the entire backyard. Tomatoes, okra, leafy stuff. Something else there too. I stop and stare. A big, sticky, smelly Indian hemp plant. Grandad looks at me slyly. “In October?” I say.

“You like this one?”

I nod non-committally.

“Special for you boss. I give big bag. All fleoss. Ten quid.”

Five minutes later the frozen savs are in the boot, and there’s a paper bag full of hemp on my lap, a lit reefer in my paw. Maureen, Cathy and I pass it around while Helen’s still inside screaming at her family. Then she storms out, plonks herself next to me in the front seat. “One day,” she says, “Elvis is going to come and sort those fucking pricks right out.”

But no one answers her. We’re too fucking stoned.

We hit the Hume Highway at one in the morning, and brother we’re flying.


AN HOUR LATER zigzagging up the Razorback. The road is empty except for the occasional Bedford truck lumbering toward Sydney, and the Customline is humming along sweetly. Helen’s twiddling the dial on the radio, and she can’t leave it alone. Bits of hillbilly music are coming to us from Central Queensland, the BBC news from Malaya, someone going 90 to the dozen in Chinese. Arch McKirdy beams in from Christ knows where, followed by some hot gospel raver, then bingo, solid sending rhythm and blues. We smoke another reefer. It’s a warm night. Mayflies and moths are hatching. The stars are out. All is mellow, all is bright.

Electric guitars and drums and jungle moaning. Kind of electric droning. Dig the droning. Going down the other side of Razorback now. The droning gets louder. The singers are really wailing. Dig the crazy beat. The droning is LOUD. It drowns out the radio. “Stop the car!” Did I say that? Was it in my head?

Saxes honk. Lights flash. Someone hits me on the back of my head. “Jesus, Billy! Stop the fucking car!” The girls are screaming. I pull on to the gravel and we fishtail for two hundred yards, then come to a sideways stop. The cop pulls up in front of us.

“What the fuck’s a motorbike cop doing out here at this hour?”

He’s walking back towards us. Big bloke, about my age, mid-twenties. His teeth are grinding. His eyes are wide. He’s revved up on yippee beans. Same as us.

I sit pat trying to think of what to say, but Helen bounds out of the car. So too Cathy and Maureen. They’re smiling. They sidle up either side of the cop. They turn it on. Two minutes later we’re on the road again, with a warning. Total cost a few kind words from the girls and couple of bottles of pills. He’ll be on nightwatch for at least a month.


WE BLOW A RADIATOR hose at dawn. On the road to Gundagai. Five miles, six miles, I don’t know. It’s OK. Still a day up our sleeve. We hitch into town, and book into the TV Motel. Tres moderne, with all mod cons except TV. The girls take a separate room each. I take another. A mechanic goes out to get the car. I’m at the local at 10 am opening time. The girls slip into the ladies’ lounge. They cause quite a stir, in their capri pants and mohair sweaters. A barman fronts them and they go into a pow-wow.

Back at the motel at three in the afternoon. Message from the garage: the hose section has to be to be sent up from Albury. We’re here for the night.

At six I go out at to find a feed. Three or four blokes are milling around the motel courtyard. I find an all right steak sandwich at the Niagara Cafe. Back at the motel there’s a different couple of blokes hanging around. When I come back from the pub at 10 there are 7 or 8 different blokes again. I’m about to tap on Helen’s door, when I hear a man laughing inside.

The car’s ready in the morning. Nothing is said about the nocturnal commerce. The savs have been sitting in the boot for over 24 hours now.


MELBOURNE is all a twitter, like Moomba, the grand final, Christmas and New Years Eve all at once. Which means it’s about as busy as Gundagai was the day before. But there are foreigners and journalists from arsehole to breakfast. And a shifty-eyed breed I know only too well: pickpockets, urgers, spielers. Scoundrels. And an even more shadowy bunch too: anonymous looking nobodies, faces you’d clock and forget in a second flat. But watch them out of the corner of your eye, and you’ll see that they’re watching everything, all the time.

I drop the girls at our digs—a couple of broken down caravans marooned along with a fairy floss stand in a paddock behind a fibro house in Heidelberg. I go back into the city on my own, hit a few pubs. They’ve still got six o’clock pub closing, so I’m forced into the slightly more salubrious sort of nightery: the Savoy Plaza, the Menzies, the Rainbow Room, Scotts Hotel. But they’re not my speed.

Late that night I meet up with Perkal.

“This is Squaresville,” I tell him.

He shakes his head. “You’ve got to know where to look,” he says. “You bring the savs?”

“They’ve been out of the freezer for two days now.”

“They’ll be all right. Nice Customline, by the way. Got any pot?”


NEXT DAY we prop Perkal’s hot dog stand—an ancient affair which hitches up to the Customline—outside the gates of the MCG. We get moved on in 10 minutes. We set up outside the Olympic velodrome, same result. Likewise Spencer Street Station. Permits required. Perkal manages to fob off the jobsworth at the basketball court by flashing his musos’ union membership. But a rival hot dog bloke calls a higher-up official, and we’re sent packing again. By the end of the day we’ve sold less than 50 doggies, at a bob each. On the brighter side, the savs themselves seem to be holding up remarkably well.

We’re munching pep pills the whole while, and having a jolly old time of it, despite our indifferent commercial performance. Perkal is spruiking in foreign accents, generally acting the goat. We’ve long since eaten all the little yellow pills, now we’re into these big ugly things, which Perkal tells me are known in the transport industry as “Queensland black bombers”. I’m trying to think when I last had a full night’s sleep.

We finally set up the stand outside the athletes’ village in West Heidelberg, a godforsaken bog of a place. But no one moves us on, and the athletes aren’t too bad a bunch. We get talking to a Hungarian cyclist. He’s eyeing me pretty closely, and I’m about to ask him if what his fucking problem is, when he blurts out, “Please. Can I have the giddy ups, please.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about pal.”

“The pills.”

“They’re vitamins, friend.”

“You help me, I beat bloody Russian sonofabitches.”

So I sling him a few pills, and magnanimously refuse payment. I mean, it’s 1956 and the poor old Hungarians and world affairs and whatnot. But Perkal is unimpressed, says they’re a bunch counterrevolutionary arseholes.

He gets a chance to square up a while later when a couple of Russkis sidle up to us. Big blokes, with buzz cuts. They’re no athletes, that’s for sure. They indicate by means of a none too elaborate charade that they too wish to get hold of some vitamin pills, and they’re willing to press the point. We oblige. Still later a trio of Americans hit us. They have little idea of the local currency and by close of business I’ve managed to trouser a nice wad of pound notes.

Perkal does the rounds of the nightclubs, trying to drum up bookings, but strikes out. That sort of thing might be all well and good in Sydney, they tell him, but down here, boyo, a certain level of taste and decorum is expected and blah fucking blah.

I hit the nightly parties in the athletes’ village, which are pretty well the only action anywhere in Melbourne, as far as I can see. But they’re OK, and the vitamin pills are a great favourite. The Aussie athletes, some of them, are pretty good sports: Dawn Fraser is a brick, of course.

After three nights on the tear I go back to our base in Heidelberg. Another couple of caravans, newer in style, have appeared. The girls have a van each now, spread out around the paddock. There are comings and goings all night long.

After midnight and the Polynesian Princess is sitting outside her van, smoking a cigarette. She calls out to me, would I like to come over for a drink. But, really, by this time, as far as she’s concerned, I’m no longer inclined.

I smoke a reefer on a my own and head off for a stroll.

Frosty grass crackles under my feet. The sky is clear. The stars are bright. Telegraph wires are humming. A dog barks in the distance, and way further off a truck revs low. I see a shooting star. There’s a flickering red glow to the north. I keep walking. Mice scurry in the vacant lots. My steps echo like there are caves deep underfoot. I hear people snoring in their beds. I pass a gasometer and can hear the gas swirling around inside. I see another shooting star, and imagine I can hear it screaming to earth. I head down empty streets, across paddocks, behind the back of factories and wrecking yards, towards the red glow. I don’t see a single person the whole time.

I come to a Golden Fleece service station, on a highway. There’s a café next to it. A couple of trucks and a taxi are parked outside. I go in. Bleary eyed truckies give me an indifferent glance. A juke box in the corner is playing Dean Martin, “Memories Are Made Of This”.

I prop at the counter. A waitress comes out. She has light brown hair, small, even features. It’s whatever hour it is, but she looks like she just stepped out of the sea. She smiles—business like, but friendly. What would you like?

A cup of tea. She brings me a pot, and a slice of toast. I drink the tea, leave the toast. She stays there.

“I like this song,” she says.

“How do they get you to work the late shift?”

“I don’t mind it,” she says.

“You must see some types,” I say.

She shrugs, and pulls out a cigarette.

I offer her a light. She draws on the cig then puts it down, turns sideways and fiddles with an earring. Her eyes are lowered. Her profile is perfect. She turns back, picks up the cig and smiles, like she knows what I’m thinking. In a nice way.

“No car?” she says.

“Just out for a walk. But I have a Customline. Well. Sort of.”

“Does it have a radio?”

I nod.

“Well, if you bring it over,” she says, “I might let you take me for a ride.”

“Maybe I will. My name’s Bill Glasheen.”

“Linda.” She offers her small hand, smiling, and we shake.

I take a cab back to Heidelberg, and it’s a long way. Next morning I step out into blazing daylight, not sure if last night even happened. Helen sees me and turns away, and that suits me just fine.


THE WEEK plays out. We never crack more than a few quid a day from the hot dogs, but I’m doing a good trade in vitamin pills and the odd reefer. Olympic records are being broken left right and centre. Then Perkal gets a surprise booking for the Saturday night dance at Heidelberg Town Hall. He assembles a four piece combo.

I see the Polynesian Princess outside her caravan that morning. Her eyes are staring wide, her pupils like pennies. Her hair is streaming out wildly. She looks at me, points accusingly: “Elvis is coming!” she says.

Heidelberg Town Hall at 7.30. There’s already a big crowd inside. Mums, dads, oldies, littlies, and a big mob of louts and loutettes. There are sporting folk too, and hangers on. Secret police. Thugs. Christ knows who else. And they’re still coming.

We set up the hot dog stand outside the front door. “Jesus,” I say to Perkal, “there must be a thousand people in there?”

“Last week they had 2000 here. 3000 people at Moonee Ponds Town Hall.”

“So how come you got the job?”

He looks away. “I was wondering that myself.”

An hour later the mob inside is getting rowdy, which I can hear from outside where I’m flat out selling hotdogs. The band is plugging away playing a 50-50 mix old time and new vogue, which pleases no one much. There’s booing from the bodgies, and angry shouts at the bodgies from everybody else.

A green Holden with NSW plates pulls up a little way down the street. Skylight Reggie is at the wheel and The Spruso Kid next to him. They get out of the car. Reggie walks up slowly, stops at his Customline parked right outside the hall.

I abandon the hot dogs and nip around the back, but they see me and follow. I slip inside the hall. It’s packed. The PA system isn’t really carrying, and people have stopped dancing. The hoochie coochie girls are performing the Fire Dance of the Islands, which Blind Freddy can see is far too blue, or not blue enough for this crowd. Things are sliding out of control and no one in authority seems to give a fat rat’s arse. I understand now how come they gave Perkal the job: they wanted to get the numbers down.

The bodgies and widgies are down the front chanting “Take it off! Take it off!” and Cathy and Maureen are on the verge of doing just that, and a huge mitt crushes my upper arm, and a Russki gorilla is staring at me saying, “GIVE ME WITAMINS”, so I clock him in the face as hard as I can with my free arm, and he reels back into Skylight and Spruso, who are right there. I’m away, leaving the bunch of them in a tussle, but another couple of Ivans are on my hammer. The yanks are not far off, but there’s no hope that they’ll step in and save me from the commos, notwithstanding the arrangements our respective countries are supposed to have made. The Russki thugs are either side of me but then the crowd magically parts, and through the path appears a bloke I swear is seven foot tall, with a greasy black pompadour, wearing a yellow satin jacket with fancy embroidery on it. He’s knocking over men, women and children like they were nine pins. He picks up a fat Russki and holds him in the air above his head. The band stops playing, the girls stop stripping. The louts stop louting. The giant slowly rotates, still holding the Russian like he was a dumbbell. He turns 180. Embroidered in fancy lettering on the back is “Micky Mavros—the Greek Elvis”.

He hurls the Russian into the crowd, marches onto the stage. He and Helen embrace. They kiss. They exit, arm in arm. The louts cheer.


I’M ALREADY out of there. I sprint to the Customline. It smells of putrefying saveloys. I keep going, further down the street to the green Holden. Ignition wires are hanging loose under the dash, next to the Air Chief radio. I get in, make contact and then I’m off. I hit Sydney Road, get to the outskirts of Melbourne, drop a u-ey, backtrack until I see the Golden Fleece sign.

Linda is behind the counter.

“I thought you said a Customline,” she says.

I shrug. “It’s got a radio. Feel like coming for that drive now?” I say.

“Where to?”

“Sydney. Further maybe.”

She looks left and right. “I can’t just walk out…” She drops her cigs and lighter in a bag, “I mean, it’ll take me at least two minutes to finish up here.” She takes a wad of notes from the till. She smiles at me. “My holiday pay,” she says.

We drive all night, don’t stop except for petrol. We talk for a while, then go quiet, then talk again. Either way it feels easy. At five in the morning on the crest of the Razorback mountain the motorcycle cop pulls us up. I sling him the last of the black bombers. He glances at the wires twisted together under the dash, then gives me a look. “Wasn’t me,” I say. “I’m taking it back to where it came from.” He shakes his head, then rides off.

Linda and I stay. We smoke in silence, leaning up against the Holden, our sides touching lightly. In the distance the sky behind Sydney is turning red.

I can see Linda’s looking at me. I turn to her.

“Is this going to turn out badly?” she says.

© Peter Doyle

from Contrappasso Magazine #1, August 2012
An earlier version of ‘Cold War, Hot Dogs’ was broadcast on
The Night Air, ABC Radio National, in 2006.

And see Rhett Brewer’s 2011 painting series The Golden Age, inspired by this story.

* * * * *


PETER DOYLE lectures in Media Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. He is the author of City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948 (2006, with Caleb Williams) and Crooks Like Us (2009), two books which draw on the forensic photography archives at the Justice and Police Museum, Sydney. He is also the author of four crime novels featuring lurk mechant Billy Glasheen: Get Rich Quick (1996), Amaze Your Friends (1998), The Devil’s Jump (2001), and The Big Whatever (2015).

‘The Big Whatever’ by Peter Doyle

image001Take our advice and grab a copy of The Big Whatever, the long-awaited new crime novel by our contributor Peter Doyle.

Here’s the synopsis:

When it comes to sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, Billy Glasheen’s always been in the vanguard, but as the swinging 60s turn into the 70s, he’s living a quiet life. He has kids now, and he’s in debt to the mob, so he’s keeping his head down, driving a cab, running some low-level rackets. He may as well have gone straight, it’s so boring. Then one day everything changes.

Billy picks up a trashy paperback he finds in his cab, and its plot seems weirdly familiar. One of the main characters is based on him . . . Only one person knows enough about his past to have written it—Max, his double-crossing ex-partner in crime. But Max is dead. He famously went up in flames, along with a fortune in cash, after a bank heist. If Max is somehow still alive, Billy has a score to settle. And if he didn’t get fried to a crisp, maybe the money didn’t either. To find out, Billy has to follow the clues in the strange little book—and rapidly discovers he’s not the only one on Max’s trail.

The Big Whatever is the fourth book in Peter Doyle’s acclaimed series, which has grown into an epic underground history of postwar Australia, where crooks, entertainers, scammers, corrupt cops and politicians all rub shoulders, chasing their big paydays. With its ingenious novel-within-a-novel structure, it’s both a grab-you-by-the throat crime story and a shrewd reflection on the early 70s, a defining period in modern Australian life. And in the modern tradition of crime storytelling that encompasses Elmore Leonard’s and Charles Willeford’s novels, Quentin Tarantino’s movies, and TV series like Breaking Bad, The Big Whatever is at once darkly funny and deadly serious.

The Big Whatever, which contains an introduction by Luc Sante, is published by Dark Passage Books, an imprint of Verse Chorus Press. It’s now available as a Kindle ebook at or in epub format at Booktopia. The paperback is already available in Australia (try Gleebooks or Booktopia). US paperback is due for publication on August 25.

from Issue #8: Poetry by Blanca Castellón, translated by Roger Hickin

Photo (CC) Daniela @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Daniela @ Flickr


Read the original Spanish, then the English translations in blue.



A cuenta de qué
esta preocupación
por un completo extraño
que abre y cierra puertas en el súper mercado

gastar energías deseando al sujeto su gran día
que algún cliente de los que entran y salen a montón
descubra en él un talento particular que lo catapulte al estrellato
que al regresar a casa encuentre
un billete premiado en la cuneta
que por esa puerta que ha abierto treinta veces
en lo que llevo yo observando
aparezca sonriendo su artista predilecta
y le dedique el milagro de un abrazo

porque no centro mi atención en asuntos productivos
mientras espero a Luis en mi automóvil
frente a la plaza de compras mas agitada de Managua
donde un trabajador intenta ganar el sustento
a costa de arrastrar la pesada cadena de naderías

para que puede servir mi observación extrema
en que puede ayudar mi propuesta imaginaria a la vida ajena
en que podría serle útil este poema
a un Perico de Los Palotes
que ha capturado mi afecto pasajero.

A waste of time

Why this concern
with a total stranger
who opens and shuts doors at the supermarket

why bother hoping he has a great day
that some customer amongst those who throng in and out
will see in him a special talent that catapults him to stardom
that on his way home he’ll find
a winning lottery ticket in the gutter
that through the door
I’ve watched him open thirty times
his favourite actress will enter smiling
and (o miracle!) grant him a great big hug

why don’t I concentrate on something worthwhile
as I wait in the car for Luis
in front of the busiest shopping mall in Managua
where a worker attempts to earn a living
hauling the heavy chain of trivia

only to be exposed to my intense observation
an accessory to my imagining of another’s life
in which this poem might be of use
to an Everyman
who has won my fleeting affection.




Trepanación virtual

Dan ganas de sacarse
el cerebro de la cabeza

meterlo en la tina del baño
con agua tibia
sales minerales
y burbujas aromáticas

contemplar desde afuera la corteza
con el manto de tejido nervioso
que cubre los hemisferios

fascinados ante semejante espectáculo gris

esperando que brote
entre sus 100.000 millones de neuronas
–– tantas como estrellas de nuestra galaxia ––
un poema rojo
muy rojo
como gota de sangre infantil

un poema verde
tipo reserva de Bosawas

mientras descansamos
de los pensamientos
mientras pasan las guerras
y las hambrunas

mientras llega una epidemia
que extermine a los corruptos

mientras el combate mental
nos da una tregua.

Virtual trepanation

You want to remove
the brain from the head

put it in a bathtub
of warm water
mineral salts
and fragrant bubbles

study the cortex from the outside
with its layer of nerve tissue
covering the hemispheres

–– such a gray spectacle is irresistible ––

awaiting the emergence from among its
100,000 million neurons
–– as many as the stars in our galaxy ––
of a red poem
a really red one
like a drop of child’s blood

a poem as green as
Bosawas rain forest

while we rest
from thinking
while wars
and famines happen

while an epidemic strikes
that wipes out the corrupt

while there’s a lull
in mental strife.




Una de cuatro (una pared propia)

Es importante tener una pared
construirla con
lo que tengamos a mano
alzarla hasta que roce la utopía

es importante tener una pared
abrir ahí el aire cuando falten ventanas
colgar el sol cuando sobren tormentas
es importante tener una pared para detener
poemas en fuga

es importante que una pared
sirva de pecho cuando sea necesario
o de pizarra para calcular lo que va quedando
a favor nuestro en la ecuación de libertad

es importante tener una pared

para frenar una traición
estrellar palabras huecas
sostener a la patria
fundar una republica

es importante tener una pared

una aunque sea
de aquellas cuatro
de Joaquín Pasos
que cierre cuerpos y sea eterna

a la vez reversible y portátil
dispuesta a la mudanza
cómplice del silencio
cascarón del honor.

One of four (a wall of one’s own)

It’s important to have a wall
to use what’s at hand
to construct it
to raise it up to reach utopia

it’s important to have a wall

to access air when windows are lacking
to hang the sun on after too many storms
it’s important to have a wall
to keep in truant poems

it’s important a wall
when required to can act as a breast
or a blackboard to show what remains to us
when freedom’s equation’s worked out

it’s important to have a wall

to stop treachery in its tracks
to shatter empty words on
to defend the motherland
to set up a republic

it’s important to have a wall

even one of the four
that Joaquín Pasos spoke of
that will close up bodies
and last forever

reversible and portable too
ready for change
silence’s accomplice
of honour – the shell.




Traducciones verdes

No entendés
el lenguaje de la huerta

como vas a traducir
la hierba buena
el cilantro
el chile Congo
con los ojos
virados al desierto

jamás entrarás al
cante verde
ni hondo

ni serás capaz
de interpretar
la sal del cuerpo

podrás, si acaso
acariciar un día muerto

un valle seco

el brote de agua
lo tengo yo

no se diga mas

y que estallen en luz
las veraneras.

Interpreting green

You don’t know
the language of the garden

how will you interpret
chile Congo
with eyes turned
to the desert

green song
deep song
will be barred to you forever

you’ll be powerless
to explain
the body’s salt

just possibly you’ll get
to touch a lifeless day

a dried-up valley

I’ve got
the water’s gush

let’s leave it at that

and let the bougainvillea
dazzle us.





Los cadáveres que planté
hace años en mi memoria
han empezado a florecer
con tinta sobre hoja blanca

la escarcha del tiempo no fue
capaz de malograr su estela

los perros aún merodean
sus cosas personales
un zapato que guardé para
conservar el arco del pie amado

ese pie quizá se ha convertido
en flor pendiente de un arbusto
o Jacinto en el pelo de la muchacha que
hoy día busca ser nombrada
como la muchacha de los Jacintos.

Febrero no es el mes mas cruel
le dicen el mes del amor

yo prefiero llamarlo
como dijo un poeta de mi país
el mes joven:
que muere corto de días

y ya ven hoy mis cadáveres
tienen ganas de florecer
antes de que muera el mes
arrastrado en sus vientos.

Viene llegando el sol
me retiro a saludarlo

aquí dejo
cadáveres en flor
y una disculpa a Eliot
por evocar sus versos
sin consulta previa.


Corpses planted
in memory long ago
have begun to bloom
ink on a blank page

the frost of time could not
obliterate their traces

dogs go on turning over
their belongings
a shoe I’ve kept preserves the arch
of a beloved foot

the foot perhaps
is now a flower on a bush
a hyacinth in the hair of a girl
whose wish is to be named
the Hyacinth Girl.

February is not the cruellest month
it’s the month of love they say

together with a poet of my country
the young month
is what I’d call it: the one
that dies short of days

and you can see my corpses
are keen to bloom today
before winds haul the month off
to its death.

When the sun arrives
I’ll go to greet it

and leave behind
corpses in flower
and apologies to Eliot
for invoking his verses
without asking first.




BLANCA CASTELLÓN (b.1958) is a celebrated Nicaraguan poet whose books include Ama del espíritu (1995), Flotaciones (1998), Orilla opuesta (2000), Los juegos de Elisa (2005) and Cactus body (Cold Hub Press, New Zealand, 2014) a bilingual chapbook of recent poems which was launched at the 10th Festival Internacional de Poesía, Granada, Nicaragua in 2014. A bilingual English/Spanish selected poems is in preparation. Her poetry has been described as “both as light as foam and as sharp as a cut-throat razor” (Rogelio Guedea).

ROGER HICKIN is a New Zealand translator, poet, visual artist and publisher. His much-praised Cold Hub Press – – publishes contemporary New Zealand and international poetry. He has published two collections of his own poetry, and translations of a number of Latin American poets, the most recent being Mexican poet Rogelio Guedea’s Si no te hubieras ido / If only you hadn’t gone. 

from Issue #8: Poetry by Lu Ye, translated by Ouyang Yu

Photo (CC) reurinkjan @ Flickr

Photo (CC) reurinkjan @ Flickr


The Girl Students’ Dormitory

In fact, a girl students’ dormitory is equivalent
To a boudoir in ancient times
If they study in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature
It’s more like a Xiaoxiang Guan or Hengwu Garden

The clothes and skirts, out to dry, are full of youth
Coaxed as much as nourished by the sun
In the shade of the locust tree downstairs there always stands a boy
Looking lost, like Jia Baoyu or Zhang Junrui
The window, with a wind bell hanging, is upheld by the pious eye
Like the pagoda in the sacred revolutionary place
The last stop to love, like
An outpost position

Like debts, there is a heap of pen-notes to make on the desk
That darkens the good days with shadows
Desk holes stuffed with lipstick bought with meal savings
Pittance of tax paid to beauty
Print bed sheets spread with large acres of fresh flowers
In which serendipity hides, like bees
The stockings, over the bed rails, are lazy, ostentatiously coquettish
A dress with sad colours is in abnormal menstruation
A cloth doll is more stunning than her owner
The little speckles on its face have an antique feel
A diary, secretively, is harbouring amorous thoughts underneath the pillow
A red plum branch sticking out of its hardcover
And there is an envelope, just sealed, that looks as solemn
As a carefully furnished room

Like those who love beauty more than landscape
They love chocolate more than shape
Whenever they read they crack spicy melon seeds
Faster and more accurate than their reading
And they are ready to crack open their bodies
The way they crack the seeds
When they have too many instant noodles they smell of soap
Their shelf-life, like love, is no longer than six months
And the wildest love is no more than
Suffering migraines whose side-products are
Poetry and prose, of the whimpering and whinging kind

When time, as chewy as chewing gum, is not consumed
Something else must happen, something else must be extracted
From the rose that is youth
In the most critical moment
It would be best to fall ill, as ill as Xi Shi
For love, like revolution in nature
Wins where the linkage is at its weakest
Bodywise and heartwise

Here, everyone plays the leading role herself
In the film that is life
And treats the attentions of a boy as the Oscar
God has awarded her




The Nunnery

Life, like this nunnery
Has days that are no different from one another
It ends even before it is lived
The flowers outside open and fall, and fall and open
The trees behind the house green and yellow, and yellow and green
Even a small grass flashes her fashion
But I, the colour of blue brick and grey tile
Deteriorate and go moldy because of the long imprisonment of the aroma in
………… bone marrow

Locked inside a tiny niche
I, illegally, sleep with desire and morality, swallowing each others’ innards
The drum and evening bell execute days and nights
The beautiful holidays, that have breathed their last, resemble the roses,
…………..uprooted in the spring
Never believing in resurrection
The classics look like a coffin shop, as calculating as a mouth organ,
…………..punched everywhere with holes
Its thickness just enough to trip the lightest steps

I live but I have parted company with life
My character more desolate than the embroidered cliff
My body more serious than the dead branches
My expression no better than a slate of bluestone, where no moss gathers
And, in the hollow of my arms that reflects the fields
One feels the non-existence of air

However, a jug, sometimes empty and sometimes full, somehow shows
A face many years ago
Its smile, framed with fire, like a secret code that erases its traces from the
…………..dusty world
Flickers in the water
The mute wooden fish is sorrowing
And, looking for the recovery of knocked time, intends to swim away

Look, the yeast of dream needs little
To swell the heart
An idea, like an incandescent bulb, rushes from quietude
To quietude, like screaming rats, an ominous sound bouncing back from the
…………..southern wall

How I admire the bunch of plum flowers by the window, born in the
…………..morning and dying at dusk
Its soul as tender as a white handkerchief
I do not know what love is; I have not written honeyed words
But I shall keep a post-life letter
And my will one day break the sky, as hidden as an illegitimate child




Making a Coffin

People were busy making a coffin
Death was fresh
With a clear fragrance of wood chips and shavings
My grandfather, just dead, lay inside the house
He, I believe, must have heard
The sawing of the wood and the hammering of the nails outside

At the same time when I felt
That there was a large white flower opening, quietly, in the air

The sunlight everywhere, seemingly generous enough
I was walking in the courtyard
I, was, still, alive,
My viscera intact
Desiring to seek pleasure, for love alone

The makers of the coffin, I was hoping, should reduce the noise to a
As I did not want the person inside the house to hear this
Unlucky noise
He might have got upset
Perhaps he was only assuming that he was taking a nap
And would wake up in a little while
When he would push the window open and raise his head
Towards the sky in order to observe the direction of the wind

There was a large white flower
Opening, quietly, in the air

I was wondering what
To be placed inside the coffin
A tape-recorder with a tape of Lü Opera
An asthma gas spray, a cloth tiger
A woolen hat and a set of dentures
There were just so many to put in
I didn’t want to include the person

The large white flower in the air
Was becoming larger, and lighter




LU YE is a Chinese poet born in December 1969. She has published a number of poetry collections, such as feng shenglai jiu meiyou jia (Wind is Born Homeless), xin shi yijia fengche (Heart is a Windmill) and wode zixu zhi zhen wuyou zhi xiang (My Non-existent Home Town). She has also published 5 novels, including xingfu shi you de (There was Happiness) and xiawu dudianzhong (Five in the Afternoon). She has won a number of poetry awards, including People’s Literature Award in 2011. She now teaches at Jinan University, China.

Since his arrival in Australia in 1991, OUYANG YU has published 73 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, literary translation and criticism in both English and Chinese. His latest novel in Chinese is Taojin Di (Land of Gold Diggers), published by Jiangsu Literature and Art Publishing House in 2014 and his latest novel in English is Diary of a Naked Official, published by Transit Lounge in 2014. His latest translation into Chinese is The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, published by Nanjing University Press in 2014. He is now professor of English at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics.

from Issue #8: Poetry by Kerrin P. Sharpe

Photo (CC) steve p2008 @ Flickr

Photo (CC) steve p2008 @ Flickr


to qualify as a search diver

she releases her hair
plants candles in the sea

grows fins of broom
and toi-toi imagines

her husband on a shore-line
somewhere say bay head beach

his thin face shaved
by small tongues of spume

imagines him the complete
angler with the anatomy

of a salmon imagines
how sirens of krill

tow his dinghy the mad hun
into a sound drowned valley

so the road home never darkens




to see Venice you only need a mask

even though Turner’s mask
was a thin wash of lilac rain
the artist always longed
to set fire to Venice

at first he dragged
undiluted paint across paper
then scratched out
any impression of water

his father known
for his spare ribs
remembers the smoke of stars
strokes of people
luminous hollow hair

refugees of Venetian history
doctors who didn’t quack
doges horologists glassblowers
became flames of tonal lilac

there was no need
to add body colour
Venice was an inferno
and what his painting forgave
from this fusion of embers

remained behind
the confessional grille
with the lilac Priest




photos of Raymond

though there are photos
of Raymond’s academic
surgery and lab gowns

he still shouted doctor
when he discovered
his son in the pool

though Raymond gave us a fridge
an unknown illness
still swallowed his wife

there are photos of Raymond
at the cemetery
with 100 blue moon roses

the morning my mother
couldn’t wake Raymond
I dreamt there were photos

of all his pills
on polka-dot saucers
whenever I think

of Raymond’s photos
there’s always a blackbird
I call the doctor

at my window




KERRIN P. SHARPE’s first book, three days in a wishing well, was published by Victoria University Press in 2012. A group of her poems also appeared in Oxford Poets 13 (Carcanet).  A second book, there’s a medical name for this, was published by Victoria University Press in 2014. At present, she is completing her third collection, rabbit rabbit, with the assistance of a Creative New Zealand grant. Kerrin lived for many years in Wellington, New Zealand, where she completed the Victoria University course (IML) in creative writing. She now lives in Christchurch and, as well as writing herself, teaches creative writing. Her students have had many writing successes and she is very proud of them all.

from Issue #8: Poetry by Elias Greig

Photo (CC) russellstreet @ Flickr

Photo (CC) russellstreet @ Flickr


White houses

I saw it through the windows as a child –
…..Some fine, well-founded house
…..Placed high: on an embankment,
…..Over a green hill where
…..the clouds rest easy,
…..and the sun spreads it hands.
I’d be walking past with my schoolbag
…..And look up, always up.

Some grace note would sound –
…..A wind chime, a fresh breeze
…..Through neat European trees,
…..And I’d be mourning it:
…..The sense of cleanly purpose,
…..The door opening on an impossible decency.
Where else does longing start but in mistaking
…..Something strange for something lost?




A Tall Man’s Prayer

Lord, let me not fall
…..Crookedly into place–
Rather keep me upright.
Let my tall shadow fall
…..Evenly in all weathers.
My legs keep limber,
My knees well-hinged,
And my long back straight–
…..Keep it a ladder of bones.
If I must bend with age
Let that bending be easy–
Let it be bending
…..Truly – not stooping.




ELIAS GREIG is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney. His research focusses on the link between poetic and political representation in the early work of William Wordsworth. Other research interests include William Hazlitt, Mary Wollstonecraft, British Radicalism in the 1790s, and Robert Burns. He has discussed Romantic Literature on ABC radio, reviewed theatre for The Conversation, and is the Postgraduate Representative for the Romantic Studies Association of Australasia (RSAA). All these achievements have been funded by over ten years of casual work: in retail, as a shoe salesman, and, most recently, bookseller; in academia, as a casual lecturer and tutor at the University of Sydney, and, most recently, casual marker at several universities across Australia. Of these occupations, shoes pay best, books worst, and marking is by far the most unpleasant.

from Issue #8: Poetry by Sarah Rice

Photo (CC) Kevin Dinkel @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Kevin Dinkel @ Flickr



Each wave
before it falls
…………….in a white-wash
…………….of its own decay
I think
to make it …………whole
…………… shore

not one
ever does





Certain things don’t come out ever.
The blue mould aura in the cracked
ceiling of the bathroom. Bleach,
absence writ large as presence,
in the royal blue tracksuit.

The ring stain on the mattress
of unknown origin, matter, fluid,
lover, that leaves it to be rejected
on the doorstop, even by the Salvos,
despite the knowledge that many
tonight will be sleeping on worse.

Things said to you on the school bus
to which you had no answer.
The discolouration of the bottom lip,
chewed over and over, leaving a tooth-
shaped bite of purple in the flesh.





The centre of me moves

…………………………Today for instance
it is that hollow place beneath the ears
where the gland dwells in its jaw cave
Sometimes it is the drumming gut
Sometimes breath
…………………………or a woman
and sometimes
that dark cavern under the ribcage
of Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson
…………………………horribly emptied

…………………………At least
these are all the places
at which I can be undone.




SARAH RICE won the 2014 Bruce Dawe poetry prize, co-won the 2011 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize, placed third in the 2014 FAW Shoalhaven Literary Awards, and was shortlisted in the 2014 ACU, 2014 Axel Clark, 2013 Montreal, 2013 Tom Howard, 2013 Jean Cecily Drake-Brockman, 2011 CJ Dennis and 2011 Michael Thwaites poetry awards. Her limited-edition art-book of poetry Those Who Travel (prints by Patsy Payne, Ampersand Duck 2010) is held in the NGA as well as other private and public institutions and libraries. Publications include the Global Poetry Anthology 2013, Award Winning Australian Writing and Best Australian Poetry 2012, Long Glances: A Snapshot of new Australian Poetry 2013, Island, Southerly, Australian Poetry Journal, and Australian Book Review (forthcoming).

Writers at the Movies: A conversation with Emmanuel Mouret (French version)

Frédérique Bel, Emmanuel Mouret, and Fanny Valette in Changement d’adresse (2006)


[Editor’s note: My recent conversation with French filmmaker and actor Emmanuel Mouret was first published online in an English translation at Bright Lights Film Journal and subsequently in the new print edition of Contrappasso: Writers at the Movies.

Emmanuel Mouret has written and directed seven feature films. He is best known for his romantic comedies Changement d’adresse (Change of Address, 2006), Un baiser s’il vous plaît (Shall We Kiss?, 2007), Fais-moi plaisir! (Please, Please Me!, 2009), and the ensemble film L’art d’aimer (The Art of Love, 2011). Mouret’s new film Caprice has just opened in France.

These elegant comedies typically concern amorous misadventure in a timeless Paris. Mouret is also an actor, and his accomplished comic persona – a bumbling, shy, genial romantic – sets the tone of the films in which he chooses to appear. He frequently collaborates with the actors Frédérique Bel, Ariane Ascaride, Judith Godrèche, Virginie Ledoyen, and Dany Brillant. 

Below is the original French conversation, conducted in the winter of 2014-2015 with the assistance of Arthur Chaslot. Or you can read Theodore Ell’s English translation – M.A.G.]


MATTHEW ASPREY GEAR: Les critiques cinéma anglophones classent souvent votre travail dans la tradition d’Eric Rohmer et Woody Allen. C’est probablement du journalisme paresseux. En tant qu’acteur et réalisateur quelles sont vos influences, tant françaises qu’internationales?

EMMANUEL MOURET: Mon admiration pour Eric Rohmer et Woody Allen n’est pas fausse, mais d’autres maîtres m’influencent ou, plus précisément, me stimulent énormément. Je pense à Ernst Lubitsch, dont les films constituent une sorte d’absolu, face à ses oeuvres nous nous sentons en communication direct avec un esprit qui nous rend plus intelligent et tolérant que ce que l’on pensait être. J’éprouve une immense sympathie pour certains films de Blake Edwards ou de Billy Wilder. Les comédies de Jacques Becker et notamment Edouard et Caroline, les films de Sacha Guitry, ceux de Truffaut, Ophüls, et beaucoup d’autres. Cependant je dois confesser que j’ai également un goût très prononcé pour le mélodrame, en particulier ceux de Douglas Sirk, John Stahl et bien évidemment Leo Mac Carey qui réussi tout aussi bien dans les deux genres.

ASPREY GEAR: Comment êtes-vous devenu réalisateur?

MOURET: Grace à un désir, que j’avais enfant, de faire du cinéma. J’ai fait très jeunes des court-métrages, j’ai étudié le scénario, l’art dramatique, puis je suis entré à l’école national de cinéma (la FEMIS). Mon film de fin d’études a été remarqué (Promène toi donc tout nu, [1999]), ce qui m’a permis aussitôt de réaliser mon premier long-métrage [Laissons Lucie faire!, 2000].

ASPREY GEAR: Pouvez-vous expliquer comment vous développez vos script? Par exemple, pouvez-vous raconter les origines de Changement d’adresse?

MOURET: Je ne me souviens plus très bien. Je passe beaucoup de temps sur la mécanique du récit, les articulations, la structure, puis je rédige assez vite pour retrouver une certaine fraîcheur. Souvent je pars d’une situation fantasmée et j’en imagine les conséquences. Pour Changement d’adresse, cela devait être : Et si je vivais en colocation avec une jeune femme aussi fantasque, que se passerait-il ? Ou encore : Et si l’on tombait amoureux sans s’en apercevoir, se trompant même de personne ? Mes personnages en général essayent de bien faire les choses, mais leurs sentiments , leurs désirs les tirent ailleurs, alors ils doivent « négocier » avec eux mêmes. Et ça m’intéresse parce que je me reconnais, ça peut être très compliqué et drôle comme douloureux.

ASPREY GEAR: Vous apparaissez rarement en tant qu’acteur dans les films d’autres réalisateurs. Être acteur est-il une priorité pour vous?

MOURET: Pas du tout, je ne me sens pas acteur. J’avais joué dans mon film de fin d’étude (Promène toi donc tout nu) pour faire comme les cinéaste-acteurs, pour voir ce que ça faisait. Mais le premier producteur avec lequel j’ai travaillé voulait me produire un film à condition que je joue dedans. Je l’ai fait, mais pas pour mon deuxième film [Vénus et Fleur, 2004]. Lorsque j’ai donné dans des essais la réplique à Frédérique Bel pour Changement d’adresse, le producteur (celui avec qui je travaille encore aujourd’hui) a insisté pour que je joue dans le film. Je l’ai fait. Depuis je joue assez régulièrement dans mes films. Mais il s’agit d’une exclusivité, je n’ai pas envie de jouer dans d’autres films.

ASPREY GEAR: Pouvez-vous parler des avantages et des difficultés de travailler dans l’industrie du cinéma français en ce moment?

MOURET: Le système de financement français permet pour l’instant la création d’un nombre de long-métrages bien supérieurs à nos voisins européens. Ce système fonctionne plutôt bien, mais il repose évidemment sur une volonté politique qui impose à des chaines de télévisions un investissement de leur chiffre d’affaire dans le cinéma français. Espérons que cette volonté demeure à l’avenir, et que la perte de vitesse de la télévision face à internet soit compensée par ces nouveaux médias, qui par ailleurs diffusent énormément de films sans contre-partie.

ASPREY GEAR: Votre dernier film Une autre vie marque un changement de direction par rapport à vos précédentes comédies romantiques. Que pouvez-vous dire de votre prochain film Caprice? Quels sont vos plans futurs?

MOURET: Caprice est clairement un retour à la comédie, même si certains y trouvent une mélancolie héritée du film précédent. Actuellement je prépare une nouveau film qui s’appelle, pour l’instant, L’amour à deux… quand on est plusieurs. Une mélancolie comique, librement inspirée de la Ronde d’Ophüls.