The Subway System

‘The Subway System’ is a poem from Bel Schenk’s groundbreaking verse novel Every Time You Close Your Eyeswhich is set across two blackouts in New York. The first is the famous blackout of 1977, when this excerpt is set, and which was remembered for widespread looting and arson. The second blackout, in 2003, forms a counterpoint – but you’ll have to read the book to find out more!


The Subway System

People on the platform recall the location
of the exit light’s glow and follow the sound
and energy made by the movements of others.
If you’re a reliable sort you give directions
to anyone who will follow and anyone who will trust.
The rats are hushed.
There seems no need to scurry under the railings.
The A train is somewhere under the city.

There, deep beneath earth and concrete,
under grass and overhead footsteps,
people are stuck inside the carriage.
They hold things, feel their dirty way.
Shit, yes, it’s dark. No sir, you can’t see. You can’t see.
Inside the people, blood rises and falls,
breathing grows faster. Shallow.
Deep inside is exactly what you are thinking right now.

Read more of Bel’s beautiful verse in Every Time You Close Your Eyes here, or Ambulances and Dreamers here.

'The Subway System' from Every Time You Close Your Eyes by Bel Schenk

Prize-winning poetry from Jude Aquilina

Talented SA poet, Jude Aquilina, has just won the 2016 Adrien Abbott Prize with her poem Adrift on Lethe which we’re sharing with you here today.

The Adrien Abbott Proze was launched in 2012, in memory of Adrien – a gifted writer and inspirational teacher of English, who died before her time in May 2012. The theme for 2016 was ‘Memory’, with a prize of $500.

Adrift on Lethe

I have forgotten what it is like to hold my nakedness like a wildflower. I have forgotten the silent potency of colours, their barbs ambushing me with a childlike urge to stop and touch a pretty bit of litter. I have forgotten how to ride a bicycle; god knows, I pushed a hole in the privet hedge during those cruel months of disbelief in balance. I have forgotten the face of my father and the gossip between his clocks as they tick-tocked and chimed in disharmony. I have forgotten the sting of cold concrete on my bare bottom and the bite of a ruler on my knuckles for forgetting my underwear. I have forgotten the dream of flying – willing myself to glide down from the loquat tree and swoop over the heads of aunts and uncles; I have forgotten their eyes, their pets, their grappa and backyard goats. I have forgotten who and what I used to be. I have forgotten to comb my free time for cowry shells and spider orchids. I have forgotten how to read the shores of my old self.

The judge, Mark Tredennick, commented that ‘in the end, for its grace of language, idea and form, “Adrift” stood out … Lovely poem, which I know Adrien would have loved, and which brings her to mind to all of us who knew her.’

Congratulations Jude!


Tadpoles in the Torrens cover Tchr edn V4.indd

If you enjoyed this, why not grab a copy of Jude’s edited collection of children’s poems, Tapdoles in the Torrens: Teachers’ Edition. It also features poetry from Max Fatchen, Peter Coombe, Mike Lucas and Sean Williams, just to name a few.

New poem from Geoff Goodfellow

One of the coolest things about the Wakefield community is that we get to see the latest that our bright and busy authors are producing – and then we can share it with you! This time we have new work from Geoff Goodfellow, who is in fine form this early (drizzly) spring, with a new poem musing on fashion trends in his beloved Semaphore.

Just a little something to get you through your Monday. Enjoy!


This Is Not a One-Way Street by Geoff Goodfellow


Semaphore spring fashions, 2016, by Geoff Goodfellow and Anthony


For more of Geoff Goodfellow’s musings on the wonder of Semaphore, you can purchase his selected poems here.

Invisible Mending launch

On April 17 we were excited to host the launch of Mike Ladd’s new collection Invisible Mending right here at Wakefield Press.

Rachael Mead had the honour of launching Mike’s book. We recently hosted an exhibition of Rachael’s photography alongside the launch of Cassie Flanagan Willanski’s Here Where We Live, and it was a pleasure to have her back.

If you weren’t able to make it to the launch, don’t worry we’ve got you covered. You can read Rachael’s speech below!

Hello and thank you all so much for coming. It is my great pleasure and honour today to be launching the latest book by one Australia’s most loved and lauded writers – Mike Ladd.
I’ve just used the label “writer” and while we are here to celebrate the launch of Mike’s ninth book, to call Mike a writer is to try to squeeze him into a box that doesn’t properly contain him. Don’t get me wrong, Mike is one of Australia’s most esteemed poets and you can find his work in just about every anthology of Australian poetry in existence. Mike started his career as a poet at seventeen and by 25 he published his first collection The Crack in the Crib.
Just as he was launching his literary career, he started work for the ABC in Adelaide as a sound engineer and by 1997 he’d worked his way up to creating and producing his own Radio National program, Poetica which ran for 18 years until 2015, when it was taken off the air much to the outrage of Australia’s literary community. Mike’s current role with Radio National is in the features and documentary unit but once again the box of documentarian doesn’t contain him either.

In the 80s Mike was a musician in the new wave band The Lounge and he frequently collaborates with musicians and artists, writing poetry for the screen and live performance with groups such as The Drum Poets, newaural net, and Max Mo. He writes, films and edits video poetry and I would recommend finding Zoo After Dark, and The Eye of the Day on YouTube.

Rachael Mead and Mike Ladd
Most recently he and his partner the wonderful visual and installation artist Cathy Brooks have been running projects that put poems on street signs as public art and you can see their work in the Adelaide Bus Station and Tram Stop 6 on the line to Glenelg.

Now the reason I’ve gone on about Mike’s rich and varied creative career is that the book we are here for today, Invisible Mending, draws the many threads of his past work together. Invisible Mending is more than a poetry collection; it contains essays, creative non-fiction, personal vignettes and photographs. While on the surface this seems incredibly diverse it is a remarkably coherent mediation on themes of human impact on the natural world and how to mend the rents that grief, loss and change tear in our lives.

The book weaves together poetry and prose pieces, picking up and elaborating on themes that Mike has explored in past work; displacement and marginalization from Picture’s Edge, family and suburbia from Close to Home, and politics and social injustice in Rooms and Sequences. However, the themes of his most recent works clearly still preoccupy him. Transit explored the compounding effect of momentous life events in the construction of identity and healing after loss is a thread that weaves its way through Invisible Mending. Mike also continues to draw on his deep cultural and ecological understanding of Adelaide that was so beautifully expressed in Karrawirra Parri. Environmental devastation, particularly human impact on our natural world is another of Mike’s ongoing preoccupations. With these themes in mind we can see his choice of title is perfect. It is taken from a line in the final piece, “A Country Wedding”, where Mike notices the landscape healing itself after the devastation wrought by flood. This book is an intensely personal account healing after wreckage – both ecological and emotional.

To me, one of the most significant aspects of this book is that all these pieces are non-fiction. Mike is a documentarian and this book showcases his skill at observing subjects from different angles and digging at the surface until what lies beneath is revealed. The piece that best illustrates this is “Traffik” – a story set in Malaysia and Japan that resembles short fiction but is in fact drawn from real events. Mike produced this work of creative non-fiction from television and newspaper reports while he and Cath were in Malaysia and faced with the unavoidable evidence of deforestation and species loss as a result of the palm oil industry. But even so, the documentarian sees that not everything is black and white. At the heart of this piece is the understanding that emotional bonds can exist between species, and that as humans we do things, often inexcusable things for love and connection. While the ends don’t justify the means, those ends can be understandable, even beautiful. It is not easy, being human. Mike as documentarian observes and reports but does so with empathy and it is his ability to interweave reportage with compassion that makes this book both compelling and insightful.

Guests at the launch

I’d like to read you one of my favourite poems from the book now – “Travelling the Golden Highway, thinking of global warming”.

I read this to you not only an example of Mike’s brilliance as a poet, showing his mastery of minimalist style and his potent combination of natural and industrial imagery to powerful political effect. But to me this poem demonstrates how Mike, with so few words can embed us in an experience with him. We are there, both crammed into the backseat and crammed inside his head in that moment, thinking about the landscape and climate change. Again, Mike the documentarian is working with Mike the poet to translate his sensory experience of the world into such effective imagery that the reader is given an almost visceral understanding of being Mike Ladd at that point in time. It is this ability to transport us that also makes him a brilliant radio documentarian – in a world where sight is the prime sense he delivers stories that engage the mind by stimulating the minor senses, giving us access to experiences and situations that inspire and fascinate us, allow us to perceive the world differently, peel back layers and feel our way to understanding what lies behind the things we see.

There is so much to say and this book is so diverse yet so coherent I’m really struggling to make this concise so I’m just going to pick out one more thread from this book – a thread that runs through the whole collection – that of grief over the rents and losses that accrue throughout life and the ongoing work of mending to make oneself whole again. While the book moves geographically from Adelaide across Australian highways to the east coast then on to Malaysia, Sydney, South America, Spain and back to Australia the themes of family and loss travel with us – reinforcing that the things make us and break us in life are inescapable – love and grief.

Mike introduces us to his father and the heartbreaking progress of his dementia in the book’s first section, which is grounded in Adelaide and family. We are in Malaysia with Mike as he is researching the Malaysian roots of the pantun form when he hears of the death of his father. Like the Malaysian journey, the essay on the pantun veers into the personal as grief overwhelms all else. “The Book of Hours at Rimbun Dahan” is one of the most moving pieces on grief I have read. Please read it. Then look up the award-winning video poem Eye of the Day on YouTube. It is a gorgeous combination of a selection of tunggal pantun, sound and film and an immersive illustration of the experience grief, regret and distance.

I’m going to read for you now Winter Light.

Book Launch Guests
This book illuminates a writer’s commitment to the mending of grief, the work to close distances that gradually widen in families, the reclamation of lost histories, and the healing of land after centuries of abuse. We look at Mike and see the laid-back, generous, thoughtful man we think we know. But like all of us, this is just the coherent skin we show the world. Turn us inside out and you see all the darning, all the messy stitching holding us all together. And, to me, that’s what this book represents – these poems and stories, insights and observations – these words are all the stitches that hold Mike together. Turn him right side out and it’s Invisible Mending.

Congratulations Mike. It is truly brilliant work and I am honoured to declare Invisible Mending officially launched!

Rachael Mead

Author Profiles – Valerie Volk

Another day, another profile of one of Wakefield Press’s amazing authors!

Valerie Volk is a former secondary teacher, tertiary lecturer, and director of an international education program. She has won awards for poetry and short fiction and has published widely in journals, anthologies and magazines. Her first book, In Due Season, won the Omega Writers CALEB Poetry Prize in 2010, and there have been enthusiastic reviews of both her verse novel A Promise of Peaches and her sardonic modern versions of Grimms’ Tales, Even Grimmer Tales. Her fourth book, Passion Play: The Oberammergau Tales, reflects both a love of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that was born during a Year 12 English course many decades ago and also her fascination with the infinite variety of human beings.

We caught up with Valerie to ask a few questions about Passion Play, which is a verse novel based around the Oberammergau Passion Play, performed every ten years in a tradition dating back to the 17th century.

Passion Play coverHave you ever attended the Passion Play at Oberammergau?

Yes, three times, in 1990, 2000, 2010 – but I first discovered Oberammergau when driving through southern Germany in 1973 (a non-Passion Play year) and became fascinated by the place and the ten-yearly event.

How did you develop the structure and characters for your verse novel Passion Play?

I’ve always wanted to do a modern parallel to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, so this four day bus trip and its group of varied characters travelling  to the Passion Play provided me with the perfect structure for such a creation. Except that these people do not copy Chaucer’s and tell stories to entertain each other; instead they reveal their own lives in monologues or discussions that are often painfully honest. As for the characters? Most of them are today’s equivalents of the Chaucerian group – even to Chaucer’s Cook becoming a modern TV cooking contest winner …

What is you favourite line or two of verse in the book?

This is so hard – it’s difficult to extract lines from a novel, which is basically a narrative. Perhaps the journalist, as she returns and sits in Changi airport, waiting her last stage flight home :

How that word sums it up.
I am in transit.

Around me all the buzz of airport lounge.
The crowds of travellers,
arrivals weary as they trudge
to baggage claims,
then out into the humid dark
of Singapore, its tropic night,
its frangipani air.

If you weren’t a poet, what do you think your occupation would be?

I’d be properly retired, sitting in the sun, reading a crime novel  …  instead of feeling compelled to write!

What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?

A long way back favourite, Peter Goldsworthy’s Bleak Rooms, for its brilliant vignettes of life in a short story collection, and his amazing understanding of people.
Lolo Houbein’s One Magic Square, for its vision of sustainable life, which almost sent me out to plant my own small plot of ground.
John Neylon’s Robert Hannaford, for the insight it gave into this great South Australian artist, and the wonderful reproductions of his work – I’ll never be able to afford an original, but I can enjoy them in the book.
Jude Aquilina’s poetry, especially in the witty and sardonic WomanSpeak.

Author Profiles – Jude Aquilina

Jude Aquilina’s poetry and short stories have been published in newspapers, anthologies and literary journals in Australia and abroad. Jude has been a guest speaker at numerous writers’ festivals, including Adelaide Writers’ Week, Canberra Spring Poetry Festival and Penola Arts Festival. She has published two collections of her own poetry: Knifing the Ice (Friendly Street Poets/Wakefield Press 2000) and On a Moon Spiced Night (Wakefield Press 2004). She has also published one coauthored collection, WomanSpeak (Wakefield Press, 2009), co-written with Louise Nicholas, and one edited collection, Tadpoles in the Torrens (Wakefield Press, 2013). Many of her poems have won awards.

We asked Jude a few questions about being a poet, and Tadpoles in the Torrens.

Jude AquilinaCan you tell us a bit about the process for putting together Tadpoles in the Torrens? Did you have a favourite moment as editor?

A few years ago, I was looking for collections of poetry for children, by South Australian writers. I soon realized it was over 20 years since one had been published. When I told Michael Bollen, he said he’d be interested in such a book. I was excited and set about gathering the poems. It was a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but it didn’t matter if pieces of the sky ended up in the river – I just chose the pieces I liked the shape, feel or colour of!  I had over 300 poems from children’s poets and authors to choose from. I called for submissions from the writing group ‘The Echidnas’ who are all published SA children’s writers, and I looked through past issues of The School Magazine (NSW Education Dept), to find SA poets who were being published at present.  I was amazed to find so many wonderful poets and poems, hiding like frogs in the state’s backyard!
Some of the best moments, as editor, were talking on the phone to the late and great Max Fatchen. He was thrilled with the idea of Tadpoles in the Torrens and would call me from time to time; he was always full of encouragement and loved to talk about poetry and words.  He told me he thought ‘Seagulls on the Oval’ was the best poem he’d ever written. I was thrilled to include it in Tadpoles in the Torrens, along with other Max Fatchen gems.  I loved Max’s sense of humour and the way he wrote about everyday things, yet made them special – and he never said a bad word about anyone. He will always be my writing role-model.

Do you have a writing routine? Why/why not?

No, I do not have a routine and never have.  As a freelance writer/mentor and TAFE teacher, my working hours are haphazard, so there is not much point in a strict routine. I prioritise. This means some projects on the back-burner take longer, but I believe writing and publishing books happens from a cumulative effect. Eventually everything you do comes in handy!

Is there one poem that has inspired you more than any other? If so, what is it and why?

Throughout my childhood, my father read poetry to me from little suede-covered books.  I loved all the English poets, but the poem I thought about the most was a poem called ‘The Sands of Dee’ by Charles Kingsley. It was about Mary, who went to bring the cattle home, but a high tide came and drowned her. I’d lay awake in bed, thinking of Mary and all those bloated cows … And never home came she … for the cruel, foaming sea, the cruel, hungry sea, had taken her away! Later, I discovered contemporary women poets like Gwen Harwood and Judith Wright whose poetry  inspired me to write my own poetry.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

If I die, I’d like to come back as a pelican … a large bird that other birds can’t pick on; liked by humans and not considered edible, that lives near water, fishes and flies around all day and fills its bill with nibblies for later on.

What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?

An all-time favourite WP book is The River Kings by Max Fatchen.  I think every South Australian should read this book. Max was a master story-teller and captures the SA landscape and its people so accurately. A recent favourite novel is Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week.  I couldn’t put this beautifully-written book down. No wonder it won the WP Unpublished Manuscript Award. The story is told through the eyes of a country mum (like me) in such a way that the reader becomes that character as she finds out about a tragedy that will change her life.  Another favourite is The Colour of Kerosene by Cameron Raynes. I’ve always loved reading short stories and this collection of stunning contemporary stories continues to resonate. And of course there are many poetry books I love, including Miriel Lenore’s In the Garden, and Mike Ladd’s Karrawirra Parri. It’s great to see WP supporting genres like poetry and short stories, when they are not considered fashionable (goodness knows why!).