Friday, September 20, 2019

New Poetry by Les Wicks

Cooking Up Down Farm

Under my guidance
apples slice the sun into child sized segments
which cool on the loosebark kitchen shelf.
The lawn offered to help 
though passionfruit vines were dismissive — thought 
who works when you’re busy with Beauty?

Down here in my dustbowl
where I grow the crop.

On the basalt balcony I make resolutions
to be “successful” while calling home
to my dead parents every Thursday.
The lilli pilli drops berries
which I mistake for accolades.
The sugar gliders will eat well tonight
while I don’t mind.

Tried aw shucks
it didn’t take.
I love youse all was flowery
but the fruits turned bitter.

Don’t tell me all those locusts are psychological,
I ate one once
as you do
just to be sure.

One has to plough
but too deep & biome is destroyed.
Too shallow the seeds gasp.
I was eaten once,
someone had to be sure.

- Les Wicks 2019

Les Wicks has toured widely and seen publication in over 350 different magazines, anthologies & newspapers across 29 countries in 15 languages. His 14th book of poetry is Belief (Flying Islands, 2019).

Sunday, September 08, 2019

New Poetry by Bharti Bansal

Lost Identity

There is a bird nest near my window
Everyday the mother goes around flying 
To find a little worm to feed its babies 
And I watch from inside
The world which builds itself around my home
Every dawn at 5 
And goes to sleep when the dusk meet the dying sun
I try to be the bird too
Imitating voices of the little sparrow
Because it's easy losing identity
Like throwing the sea shells back into the sea
And watch the waves jostle and take them to the new shore 
Where a kid awaits to hold them and listen to the little voices trapped inside.
I have become more layered over the years
As moon waxes and wanes with the shade of my skin
And the sea rises with each breath I take
I am the mother who has listened enough to the cries of her infant 
To differentiate between the pain and hunger
But I have never been the one to fly
So I build my wings from the rags of the thatched roof of my home
And take a leap of faith from the terrace 
Only to find that sometimes winds dictate the choreography of falling bodies
I let the wind decide
Where I crash
Like the mother sparrow 
Who didn't return home one day in the winds
So I kept making voices just to let the little sparrows know
That their nest will always be the womb 
A safety drenching their hearts
Because you see lost identities are stuck to the rear of the trees
Ululating out loud how their skin melted to the ground 
And horizons stood knocking at their doors
To gift them the lost light of the fading sun
But when none returned
The trees became the ghost graveyards 
Standing large with their branches hanging over the fences of the decaying bones
And when the night comes
The sparrows learn to fly by themselves
Sometimes after all the generations that never bade a goodbye to handwritten customs
It's better not to become 
Same as father or mother
Sometimes it's better to leave home
And fly across the naked skies
Just to find that the most one can get through vulnerability is not death
But the fear of sailing too far to the place of no return
And when that happens
Know not to look back 
To the ancestors who demand pain to be felt
I know this because
The little birdies made a choice after their mother died
They don't return anymore after they flew far away one day
To the place where identities aren't lost
To the place where they knew there mother would have wanted them to be
And I am happy
Because I too have learnt to fly.

- Bharti Bansal 2019

Bharti Bansal is a 21 year old poet from India. She has been published in four different Indian anthologies and wishes to write her own book someday.

Friday, September 06, 2019

New Poetry by Judith Nangala Crispin

Elegy for a Thylacine in the National Museum

The last known thylacine, a female named ‘Benjamin’,died alone in her cage at Beaumaris Zoo, on September 7, 1936. She had frozen to death– the zoo keeper having forgotten to put her inside for the night. Her body was thrown into a rubbish bin.

All the others are gone, erased¬–
their slanted gaits, their pelts banded fire
and venus blood.
They are erased–and nothing left of them
now but names: Ghost Tiger
Wurrawana, Corinna.
They will not come again,
come eddying over grasslands,
star-stippled, will not
leap, rock to rock, or stop
in a clearing behind the houses,
rotate an ear in some gigantic night,

in all the sounds of those black hours–
waking pardalotes,
quolls return to wild shadow,
galaxies carried on their backs.
At dawn, the alpenglow
will flood a country without thylacines–
over Cradle Mountain, a new sun
lifts over conifers like hackles.
How many days has she paced
this perimeter fence?
At dusk the zoo keeper moves her inside,
into a box, a place of straw
and concrete, light spills under a door.
Dead light.

She is a hooded falcon, sees only
this leaden interior. In the late watches
she presses her head against the wall,
listening for storms, for the ice winds
to founder in across the snowfields,
bringing the scent of pines.

She remembers needles
blackening into snowbearing clouds.
And her memory is a vein extending
over this whole landscape, a story repeated
so often it distorts to ripples, murmurs,
something running on its toes like a fox,
and what remains are only
cadavers hanging in a tree,
pelts nailed to a woolshed door.
In tussock weighted with weed,
she is hidden– her shape barred in barred light.
The zoo keeper’s eye passes over so easily.
Floodlights in the enclosures go out.
The buildings darken. Wire fences
are harps in the jaw of wind.

She emerges into the yard,
winterbright, and the night raining stars¬–
Lupus, Sirius, the constellations of her life.
In that cold living air,
her breath hangs

They found her frozen in grass,
in hoarfrost,
white on white–
just something dead in a cage.
And later, locked in their houses at night,
with their skinning blades, with their fear,
their hunger to own everything,
they will say she was not the last.

Someone found a tooth on the escarpment,
a scrap of fur against the sound barrier
of some new freeway.
And while they speak
the ash of thylacines will drift over cities and roads,
the wasteland of industrial farms,
and find no place to settle.

- Judith Nangala Crispin 2019

Judith Nangala Crispin is a Bpangerang poet and artist living near Lake George. She has two published collections of poetry "The Myrrh-Bearers" and "The Lumen Seed", and is currently Poetry Editor of The Canberra Times. 

Thursday, September 05, 2019

New Poetry by James Walton

I play the perfect cover drive

Easing on to my back foot
Saturday early early Summer, elevenish
a sound of cork like popping
the axe fall of linseeded willow
throughout the mowing suburbs

My spine straight as a lithe picket
Plane trees shady stalled on shutter
a mottled reminisce of Cazneaux
our border/kelpie Sophie
trotting back the drooly ball

Her jet coat a reel
in stoppled light from Van Gogh’s head
a thwack in the fence holding on
the still of tactile breeze
my children, Shot, wanker, 

can we have lunch

- James Walton 2019

James Walton is an Australian poet published in many anthologies, newspapers, and journals. He is the author of three collections, the latest being 'Unstill Mosaics'. He lives in Wonthaggi, Gippsland, in a Federation house, which was once a maternity hospital. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2019


Sydney, September 4 2019: For immediate release

A new exhibition at Maunsell Wickes Gallery will feature the work of three Australian women artists with deep connections to Country. Gallery Director Dominic Maunsell has brought these artists together in order to underscore the fragility and beauty of our natural landscape, and the importance of women’s voices in Australian culture. The exhibition will present Judith Nangala Crispin’s Lumachrome Glass Prints honouring fallen animals and birds, Juno Gemes’s photographs of life on the Hawkesbury River and Ana Pollak’s sculptures reflecting the myriad natural forms on Dangar Island. The work will be on display from September 17-October 5, 2019.

Judith Nangala Crispin is an artist and poet of Bpangerang descent. Her lumachrome glass prints are deeply rooted in the practice of honouring fallen animals and birds. Judith’s materials are drawn from the landscape­–cadavers, ochres, sticks, grass and leaves­. Exposed 24 to 40 hours in natural sunlight, this body of work is a genuine collaboration with Country. Her work is “layered with intellectual and spiritual meaning . . . the images are in an active relationship with the environment to which she is responding. Her images tell, and are made from, stories: of her family roots, the lives and culture of her people, and of the living things that are part of her physical process.” (James Burnett – MONK art and the soul | an imaginarium, Spring 2019).

Photographer Juno Gemes has spent four decades documenting the Aboriginal resistance in Australia. Her current exhibition features work from her book “The Language of Oysters” written with her poet husband Robert Adamson. These images are a quiet account of their life together on the Hawkesbury River. Gemes’s work, much of which is held in national institutions, has been a major contribution to Australian photography and a lasting historical record. “Artist-photographer Juno Gemes’s lifelong consideration and love for the land and its peoples is present in all her work. It is also an affirmation of an active female presence in the landscape and the character of the photographer behind all her work. This exhibition of a photographer with a ‘loving eye’ offers a rich and engaging experience” (Rod Pattenden – The Australian, 9th May 2019).

Dobell Prize winner Ana Pollak works in sculpture, drawing and film. Her work has  grown out of her love for the environment and Chinese calligraphy, focusing on the huge range of textures and lines in the Hawkesbury sandstone country where she lives. Ana Pollak’s sculptures are made with the twigs from the Blackbutt forest on Dangar Island. As in the marks and structures made by birds, animals and insects her work. The comparable work of birds, animals and insects “points to the universality of Ana’s expression. It reaches from the devastation of war-torn Europe across the Australian isle to our Asian future”. (Tony Twigg, SLOT, January 2018). 

Contact information:
Maunsell Wickes at Barry Stern Galleries
19 Glenmore Rd, Paddington NSW 2021 Sydney
Director Dominic Maunsell
T: 61 2 9331 4676
F: 61 2 9380 8485

Judith Nangala Crispin
Artist, Juno Gemes,
Artist, Ana Pollak,

Friday, August 23, 2019

New Poetry by John Rock

River of Dawns

With wind in my arms
All I’m writing is dreams I can’t remember
You’d know I been knifed by a friend and resurrected
By the way I listen to ravens
And climb them into each dawn 
How I saw a fox stand on a deer’s antlers
Digging a den of stars
And helped the deer in too
In this myth of books
I curled up with the sleeping children
And we grew silver-tipped fur of the saviors frosted fire
Of our dreams
Reading palms
But our real cloaks were earth
Were air
Were things you can’t take
You can’t give back
You can’t remember

- John Rock 2019

John Rock grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan in North America and now lives New Mexico's high desert.  More poetry and novels at 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

New Poetry by Terry Wheeler


those years
between a

charles manson
and ted bundy 


stations of
the cross

played out
on tv

black and white

the colours

dolour of

- Terry Wheeler 2019

Terry worked in the public service for decades and was inspired to write after seeing Michael Dransfield poems in The Australian newspaper when a teenager. Terry has been published in Australia and abroad since retiring. He lives in Brisbane when not travelling.

New Poetry by Jean Bohuslav

People I met through work

The solicitor who hired me without giving me a typing test

The officer in charge who employed me after the typing test
saying, I could only get better

His secretary who swung her legs and high heels from his desk

The girl who left work eight months pregnant and thought we couldn’t tell

The stockmen who hid seven leverets in my office
and then thought a dead snake in a paper bag might be fun

The accountant who saved me from a pack of farm dogs 
when we went to tell a labourer’s wife her husband was in hospital

The elderly woman who kept driving shoes in her car

The young lad who pulled his false eye out in a frenzy 
after running over his foot with the lawn mower

The men full of alcohol and sexual innuendos who laughed,
elbowing each other as they chose day old chicks

The Headmaster who was wary of meditation
even though he taught philosophy

The shifty Vice Principal who liked the ladies and bolted his office door

His colleague who pulled her top up to show us her new bra

The old lady with no formal education 
who made the hierarchy dance to her tune

The Principal who gave a bad reference to keep a prominent staff member

The supplies officer whose children had left home 
and was nervous about going on a holiday with just her husband

The intelligent Headmistress with great morals and integrity 
who died in the face of unwanted change

The young school boy who visited reception every lunch time
because he had no friends

The gardener who took things slowly because he wasn’t paid enough 

- Jean Bohuslav 2019

Jean enjoys meeting up with the Torquay (Victoria Australia) creative writing group each week and is interested in the philosophy of mindfulness.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Call for Submissions

Bluepepper has altered its submissions policy ever-so-slightly, and thus we are currently seeking submissions to test the murky waters as per the (slightly modified) submissions guidelines in the right sidebar. The new policy does not guarantee any kind of editorial feedback or idle gossip with all you indigent time-wasters, but it will make us feel important for a few hours each week and, well, what's more important in life than feeling important. So go ahead, launch your paper boat on our wine-dark sea and let us see what you've got.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

New Writing by Robert Steward

The Hand of Padre Pio

Naples, Italy 2003

I walked along the old, cobbled street of Via della Sanità to the clamour of church bells. The shops had their shutters down, and there was hardly anyone about. The streetlamps and electric cables dangled above me, and the cool morning sun cast long shadows under the wrought iron balconies. On the left was my local café: Bar Moreno, with its outside display cabinet full of croissants and pastries. Next to it were two shrines: one of the Virgin Mary, and the other of the Napoli football player Diego Maradona. Both equally revered. 
 I went in for breakfast. 
 Inside the café the barista was cleaning the coffee machine. He wasn’t the usual guy who worked there. He was smaller and chubbier with a stubble beard. Behind him was a shelf full of spirits and liqueurs, and on the wall hung a black and white photograph of the comedy actors Totò and Peppino drinking coffee. The photograph always made me smile. The only other customer in the café leaned against the bar, reading La Gazzetta dello Sport, his lips moving as he read.
 ‘Buongiorno,’ I said to the barista.
 ‘Prego,’ he replied.
 ‘Un cappuccino e un cornetto al cioccolato, per favore.’
 He handed me a chocolate croissant, wrapped in a serviette from behind the glass counter and started the coffee-making ritual with a familiar clanking sound. The noise made me wince. Each bang went straight through my aching head. The effects of another hangover. I could still taste the Cuba Libre from the night before--Gabriel’s favourite drink. He was one of the teachers from my language school. He knew one of the barmen in Bar Giusy, who supplied us with rum and coke all night. With his glistening brown eyes and trilby hat sat forward, I remembered Gabriel telling me in his Gibraltarian accent: ‘Hey Rob, we came here thinking we could conquer Naples, but just look at us! It chewed us up and spat us out! We’re nothing, man--nothing!’
 His Neapolitan girlfriend had just left him. 
 Today I wanted to do something more cultural, more spiritual--the godly kind, not from the bottle. I was going to visit the Cappella Sansevero, to see the Veiled Christ.
 Sculptured from a single piece of marble, the body of Christ lies covered with the most delicate transparent veils, I read from my travel guide, while waiting for my coffee. The photograph looked impressive.
 What could be more enlightening on a typical Neapolitan Sunday? I thought. 
 ‘Prego,’ the barista said, handing me the cappuccino.
 ‘Grazie,’ I replied, and slid the customary five-cent tip over the counter.

 Outside, the street was coming to life, with people chatting on street corners, riding scooters, going for a stroll, taking a coffee.
 I walked down Via Arena della Sanità, past Palazzo Spagnolo, past the clothes market and past the church of Santa Maria dei Vergini. In the alley leading out of Sanità stood a small statue of the saint Padre Pio. It was customary to touch his hand when you walked past. Maybe it was for good luck or safe passage. Sometimes I touched his hand and sometimes I didn’t. I remember telling my girlfriend Manuela about the custom when she came to Sanità one night.
 ‘Che scemità!’ she said, which means, ‘What rubbish!’
 But when she saw how dark the alley was, she ran back and touched his hand.  

 On the other side of the main road stood Porta San Gennaro, the entrance to Centro Storico. I walked under the huge arch and entered the old city. In the mazy narrow alleys, the buildings looked as if they belonged to a different time; they all looked similar, different, old. Even with my travel guide map I became disorientated and decided to ask the way. 
 ‘La Cappella Sansevero?’ I asked a man, taking a walk with his family.
 The man shook his head, looking at me as if I was an alien. I asked a couple of other passers-by, but they didn’t know where the church was either. Going round and round in circles, I stumbled upon another church and went to ask inside.
 The first thing I noticed was the size of the church. Tall grey and white columns ran either side of the wooden pews, supporting gold and white arches, and on the ceiling, row after row of elaborate gold square carvings, so high it made me feel dizzy, and at the far end of the church, above the marble alter piece, hung a large wooden crucifix, which must have been over two metres tall.
 A young priest in white robes was trying to usher the tourists out of the church.
 ‘Signori, la chiesa sta per chiudere,’ he said gently.
 I didn’t know churches closed at lunchtime on a Sunday, I thought. Then again, everything closes for lunch in Italy. 
 I approached the priest in the main aisle. He was about my height and probably the same age. He had short dark hair, dark eyes with high cheekbones and a dimple on his chin.
 ‘La Cappella Sansevero?’ I asked.  
 ‘La Cappella Sansevero?’ the priest replied. ‘Are you English?’
 ‘Yes, I’d like to visit La Cappella Sansevero--to see the Veiled Christ.’
 ‘Ah, yes. The church you’re looking for is just around the corner,’ he said, holding his hands together. ‘Are you alone?’
 ‘This church also has some wonderful treasures. Would you like to see our cloister?’ 
 Why not? I thought. A lot of churches in Naples had hidden treasures, never seen by the public.   
 ‘Okay,’ I replied.
 ‘Come.’ He opened out his hand, showing me the way, his white robe hanging from his arm.     

 He led me through an old wooden side door to the entrance of a cloister. It was dark and secluded with a familiar smell of damp. It reminded me of my basso studio flat in Sanità. The old iron gate was locked, but you could still see through to the courtyard inside. It looked more like a gothic crypt than a cloister with its ribbed vaults and pointed arches.
 ‘Can you see the statues in the alcoves?’ the priest asked, putting his arm round my shoulder. ‘Look how beautiful they are!’
 He held me so close that I could feel his stubble on my cheek. Sweat glistened on his forehead and nose, and there was a sharp heady smell of body odour in the air. I subtly tried to pull away, but before I could do anything, he pointed to the other side of the cloister, holding me even tighter, his large hands like a clamp.
 ‘And look at those over there!’ he said, breathing into my ear. ‘Wonderful, aren’t they?’
Santo cielo! I thought. What the hell is going on here? 
 This was way beyond being tactile. I had the impression he wanted to do more than just show me his blessed masterpiece! 
 The dusty white statues stood in the corners of the cloister, draped in haunting shadows; their faces looked on in horror as if witnessing a sickening crime, their eyes aghast, their mouths open. The whole scene started to spin round in my head. As he explained the history of the cloister, I tried to prise myself from his grip. 
 But how do you disentangle yourself from a member of the clergy? I didn’t really want to start wrestling with a priest! 
 ‘Look how thin you are!’ he laughed, rubbing my belly. ‘A guy like you should eat more!’
 When he finally let me go, I became aware of the space between us. I wanted to run, escape, cry for help, but I was speechless. He looked at me as if nothing had happened. The word untouchable came to mind, sinister, dark, depraved. I felt sickened. 
 ‘I have to go to lunch now.’ The priest smiled, opening the side door to the church.
 ‘But if you come back at four-thirty, I can show you more.’
 Outside the church, the sunshine was sudden and bright. I was even more disorientated than before. I didn’t know whether to continue on my journey or to... or to... I just don’t know. What do you do in a situation like that? I tried to piece together the images in my head; it all happened so quickly. 
 I should’ve said something, I thought. I should’ve done something about it. I should’ve... I should’ve... I should’ve touched Padre Pio’s hand!

- Robert Steward 2019

Robert Steward teaches English as a foreign language and lives in London. He is currently writing a collection of short stories, several of which have appeared in online literary magazines, including: Scrittura, The Creative Truth, The Ink Pantry, Adelaide and The Foliate Oak. You can find them at:

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

New Poetry by Abigail George

Stepping into a winter sun while the spaghetti sauce cooks

People will always talk. Learn to forgive. Life
is hard. It rains, even in summer it rains. Questioning
life is complex. Her identity was like a calm
breakthrough. Apollo of Africa take note of
the human life of our fallen struggle heroes, of the
wasted potential of liberation, the political
way. The shine of the afternoon has its own
tapestry. I think of Mishka and her husband
in Paris. I think of making love in Paris. I think
of Sylvia Plath in Paris with her beau on her
arm. I'm alone again. I'm on my own again. I'm
the Outsider in this vast unknown, undoing Max,
haunting ghost in a summer wonderland, and
I want to move away from this place where I don't
quite belong. This place of hurt, of pain, of
an eternity of suffering. This place where people
like Julian, and Michael do not love me. Go back,
my soul whispers to me. Years of silence
have followed me from swampland to city filled
with blood, and water, and marrow, and land
and sea. All I wanted you to say was that you
loved me. All I wanted was to survive, find the
exit out, make plans to marry you. All I wanted
was for you to save me, call me sweetheart, call
me darling, have a honey child, a breathing lesson,
but in this age of painting fruit in a bowl, and
baking sweet potato you found another girl,
while I was drinking tea, and thinking of Sylvia
Plath and Ted Hughes. While I was thinking of
Bessie Head, and a man called Max, another man
who did not love me. Another man who did not
care if I lived or lived on in death. Call me by my name.
Call me a parenthesis, call me girl, or virgin, call
me ex-lover. I desire to be bone-thin again. I can't
get this stain out, Can't get the stink out. It has been
there for days. Suffering begins with her. The
woman I call Mother. I eat peaches from the
can hungrily, she's the ghost from a childhood
view, star-my-eye to the telescope. In Mother's
world I was a stranger. Nobody loves me. The
sea meets the world in her brown eyes, the drawing
of a map, matter is only conjured-up myth. Don't
look at me. Look at my heart picking up the pieces.
I went up a hill, and came down a mountain. Mikale
understands, but he loves another. I am always
letting them go, talking about my generation, about
King and country, about surrendering lovers to the
stars, to Updike, Rilke, Hemingway. There is ice

in my veins now. There is the dream of fields, the
perspective of snow, of adrenaline, the hardiness
of years spent in therapy, and everything is fragile
here. Mother is ominous. And I am the future glory of
woman, an illustration of marriage, silence dances
on my fingertips. Everyone ignores my cries for help.
I don't know how to love, how to translate lovemaking.
Spoonfuls of sugar, a show of dust in the desert,
flesh, dawn, stain. I look for you, but you're no longer
there. You're dead to me, but not to another. Here's
a waterfall, a shroud to cover up their laughter. Flux
is flexing his muscles through the night as he loves
another. They laugh at me, they laugh at me. Mother
takes me by the hand, pushes me into the sea. Watches
all of my sin drown into the channel, watches me
not ever coming up again. This makes her happy. I'm
epic. I'm legend. I'm finally loved. The sea loves me.

- Abigail George 2019

Abigail George is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominated writer. She is the author of eight books, recipient of two National Arts Council grants, one from the Centre of the Book, and another from ECPACC. She briefly studied film at the Newtown Film and Television School in Johannesburg. She is the poetry editor for African Writer, editor at Mwanaka Media and Publishing, and she has two chapbooks ("Of Bloom and Smoke" and "The Anatomy of Melancholy") forthcoming from MMAP and Praxis Magazine. Her latest book is "The Scholarship Girl" which is available from African Books Collective in the UK and Amazon in the States.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

New Poetry by Jim Conwell

The Sun is not Living

It does not keen.
It is a vast, unencompassable cauldron, 
And gives us light 
which we have grown eyes to see by, 
warmth against the void’s chill tongue. 

It is shining today 
in a sharply-angled, wintry sort of way,
stabbing through the angle of the Earth’s tilt 
as the plants discard bits of themselves 
sinking back into the dark interior of the soil 
to dream until the warmth returns 
and calls them back to life. 

The wind is moving over us, 
I hear its uneven breath in the trees. 

- Jim Conwell 2019

Jim Conwell was born, and has lived most of this life, in various parts of London. He has had poems published in various magazines including The Lampeter Review, The Seventh Quarry, The SHOp, Turbulence, Elbow Room and Ofi Press, He has had two poems shortlisted in the Bridport Poetry Prize. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

New Poetry by Michael Keshigian

Unforeseen Endings

An old man lived here
before our purchase,
raised in this home,
he became a widower years later,
forced into reclusiveness
as a result of a menial pension,
lack of societal skills and death of his spouse.
It didn’t end well for him,
the neighbors say, always alone,
downsizing to three rooms
from eight that existed, enough to cook,
sleep, and exercise his passion for writing
in a six by ten area with a desk, chair,
and computer as necessary tools
to engage his fantasies
between appointed meals
at indiscriminate times,
piling dishes till the end of the week.
Stuffed in desk drawers
we found printed pages of returned manuscripts,
identified with his name and address
atop five to fifty lines of various poems,
tri-folded, but extended flat,
no longer restricted to an envelope,
the second drawer, a file,
compiling a record of those efforts
no longer imprisoned in the first level.
A lonely story related by isolated artifacts,
a story neither one of us considered
would become our own.
A home withered, released by time,
as if severed by an axe
from the expectation assumed
at all beginnings.

- Michael Keshigian 2019

Michael Keshigian’s thirteenth poetry collection, The Garden Of Summer was released April, 2019 by Flutter Press. He has been widely published in numerous national and international journals, recently including Red River Review, Sierra Nevada Review, Oyez Review, Bluepepper, Muddy River Review, Smoky Quartz and has appeared as feature writer in over twenty publications with 6 Pushcart Prize and 2 Best Of The Net nominations. (

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

New Words by Tommy Vollman

 It wasn’t the sleepwalking that bothered me. I woke up outside more often than I care to remember, but still, the sleepwalking never really bothered me. I was terrified, though, of the tracers. The tracers scared the shit out of me.
 My parents were concerned, but only about the sleepwalking; they never knew about the tracers. I never told them. I mean, how the hell would I even have begun? I don’t think they ever knew I made it outside, either. If they would’ve known I went outside, holy shit—I’d have never heard the end of it.
 I’m not exactly sure when I started sleepwalking, but I don't remember doing it before the fourth grade. Fourth grade was rough. I had a hell of a time paying attention, and I missed a lot of the things my teacher said. When she—Ms. Burtich—noticed, she’d call me out in front of everyone. And those call-outs happened four or five times a day. She had to have known that something was up. I suppose there’s a chance she didn’t. Or maybe, she just didn’t give a shit. But I think she knew. And maybe she could’ve done something, something to help. At the very least she could’ve tried being less of an asshole. But she didn’t. Instead, she used me to sharpen her talons. I’d be sitting there, chasing tracers, and she’d come down on me about how I was daydreaming or whatever. If only she knew what wa to listen.
 No one wanted to hear about the tracers. Of course, I really never tried to explain them. I didn’t know how. I felt crazy because of them, and so I was scared as hell to say anything. I mean, how cs really going on. If only I could have explained. But even if I could’ve, she wouldn’t have wantedould I expect anyone to understand the tracers when I wasn’t even sure what they were?
 I thought about the tracers all the time. Somebody would ask if I was okay, and I’d get so close to saying something, but then I wouldn’t. I couldn’t ever manage to say anything about them, so after a while, I just quit trying.
 Now, when I think back, I wonder why I didn’t say anything, I wonder why I didn’t ask for help. But I don’t have an answer. I suppose I just hoped that one day they’d stop. Eventually, they did. I mean, try to imagine, as a nine year-old, telling somebody about the white-hot lights that zoomed in front of your face—tiny little comets—that just suddenly appeared out of nowhere and shot across the frame of your vision for five, ten, twenty minutes. Try to imagine telling people about the blue streaks that the tracers left, the ones that blocked out some things but not everything. I could never be sure what was real and what wasn’t.
 There’s no explaining something like that.
 I’d have been at a specialist in a half-minute. And maybe I should’ve been at a specialist, but I never told anyone about the tracers, so I wasn’t. I just hoped and prayed as hard as I could that they wouldn’t happen during baseball games when I most wanted, when I most needed to see everything clearly.
 Hell, I spent so much time with the tracers, it was hard to pay attention to anything else. And that’s why fourth grade was such a fucking disaster. Fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth weren’t as bad; I suppose I learned how to cope.

 Baseball, though, was my one constant, my fixed point, my escape. The tracers never came during baseball games. Sometimes they came before, other times after, but they never, ever came during a game.
 And I needed to keep it that way.
 Sometimes, though, I’d get anxious. I’d wonder if a bit of glare that caught the bill of my cap was a tracer. Or if the glint from a swinging metal bat was one. Or if the reflection off a car door or windshield or rear view mirror out in the parking lot was one. It got so bad—my dread of the tracers—that I’d think up all these complicated scenarios and repeat them over and over just to keep my mind off the tracers: runner on first, no outs, I’m playing left field and the lefty at the plate swings inside-out and hits one down the line. How do I break? How do I field the ball? Backhanded, of course, but do I spin and throw or take the extra step, plant, and throw? Is the play at second or third? How fast is the runner on first? What kind of jump will he have? I’d spend my time unraveling a seemingly infinite tangle of possibilities just to keep my mind off the tracers. It was my hope that this sort of unraveling—an attempt to keep my mind busy and engaged—would keep the tracers away, far away from the baseball diamond. And it must have worked because they never came during a game. Baseball was—and stayed—my safe spot. Baseball remained free, clear, and unencumbered.
 Everywhere else, though, did not.
 My fourth-grade classroom, for instance—Jeri Burtich’sroom 4B—was a haven for the tracers. 4B was everything the baseball diamond wasn’t. 4B was a nightmare, a Petri dish for tracers. I hated 4B almost as much as the tracers themselves. Sunday trough Thursday, my sleep was bullshit. I’d lay in bed and think about 4B and those fucking tracers. I’d think about how they’d burn over my eyes, and how Ms. Burtich would be up my ass about not paying attention, and how I wouldn’t say anything when she brought me up to the front of the class and held my hand while she told the class the assignment. She’d make me stand there while she wrote it out for me.
 “So you can look at it and concentrate,” she’d say, all slow and drawn-out like I didn’t or couldn’t understand English or something. I understood English just fine. It was the tracers that were the problem. And her. She was a problem, too, with her fat, soft hand lightly squeezing mine, her breath way too hot and close.
 She always sat in one of the tiny chairs that were made for elementary kids so that part of her enormous ass would struggle to escape between the two metal bars that held the lumbar support in place. When she was in one those chairs, the lumbar support seemed to struggle to escape the chair, to escape Ms. Burtich and 4B entirely. I always expected one of the chairs she sat in to just explode under her weight, but none ever did. She was so fat and puffy, she probably weighed nothing. She was a marshmallow, I figured, which is why none of those chairs ever exploded even though every single one should have. She was mostly made, I guessed, of puffed air. And she wrote as slowly as she spoke, but her writing, unlike her speech emerged as a series of slanted, hooked loops, always crafted by a felt-tip marker that was light blue or bright pink or neon green. She never wrote on the lines; those hooked loops always ran diagonal across the sky-blue rules. And that bothered me most about her. What made her think she didn’t need to stay in the lines when everyone else did?
 But a 10 year-old doesn’t think things like that. And if they do, they definitely don’t say them, not to their 4th grade teacher, not to anyone. And so when Ms. Burtich called me out, I stood there and struggled to try and repeat something I hadn’t heard in the first place.
 It wasn’t like I didn’t want to pay attention to her; it was simply that I couldn’t. And that, I suppose, was why I never talked to anybody about much of anything. Everything was so goddamned exhausting. My feelings, the tracers—everything—made very little sense. And I really wanted—needed—things to make sense. The fact that nothing seemed to add up, short of baseball, made me feel a little hopeless and quite a bit alone, which only made the tracers worse. The more I worried, the more hopeless I felt, and then the more frequently the tracers occurred. And when they came, they stayed around longer. Five minutes became ten, then twenty. I began to talk to myself to try to calm down, to convince myself that everything, eventually, would be okay. Of course, it was nearly impossible for me to believe anything I told myself. Still, I continued until one day something happened, something strange, something I still can’t explain. One day, my voice—the voice that came mostly in whispers as I tried to calm myself, to tell myself everything was going to be okay—changed. My voice didn’t sound that much different, it didn’t get deeper or louder or anything like that. What happened, the way it changed, was that it got stronger, more persistent. And that strength made it easier for me to listen, which made me feel less hopeless. And even though I still didn’t tell anyone about the tracers, I felt less alone. The strength of my own voice gave me power. But that power didn’t chase away the tracers or make me really believe that things would be okay.
 But maybe that wasn’t the point.
 Maybe the point was that at a young age I got the opportunity to learn that true freedom meant being able to embrace whatever happened, whether I understood it or not. Freedom, I learned, was really just possibility, which made it seem much less appealing than it probably actually was.
 Of course, I’m no expert.
 But here’s the thing: The tracers stopped one day, suddenly, and they haven’t come back even though I worry almost all the time that they will. And when the tracers stopped, so did the sleepwalking, which never really bothered me that much in the first place.

- Tommy Vollman 2019

Tommy Vollman is a writer, musician, and painter. He has written a number of things, published a bit, recorded a few records, and toured a lot. Tommy’s work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the “Best of the Net” anthology. His stories and nonfiction have appeared (or will appear) in issues of The Southwest Review, Two Cities Review, The Southeast Review, Palaver, and Per Contra. He has some black-ink tattoos on both of his arms. Tommy really likes A. Moonlight Graham, Kurt Vonnegut, Two Cow Garage, Tillie Olsen, Willy Vlautin, and Albert Camus. He's working on a novel entitled Tyne Darling and has a new record, Youth or Something Beautiful, slated for release in early-2019. He currently teaches English at Milwaukee Area Technical College and prefers to write with pens poached from hotel room cleaning carts.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

New Poetry by Nathanael O'Reilly

Running II *

At the end of the lane, turn right
onto Coolamon Road and right again
at Farrer Road. Return past the new
housing estates, cramped embodiments
of the Australian Dream. Run through
thick autumn fog as water drips from limbs,
boughs and leaves. Run down Pine Gully
Road through Estella and Boorooma.
Dig deep in the uphill homestretch
climbing Mambarra Drive to Booranga
past the RAF memorial, sheep-strewn
paddocks and the winery. Set lambs
bleating, mistake rocks for rabbits,
disturb many murders of crows.


Heat up a can of beef and vegie
soup for lunch. Make four pieces
of toast and spread Western Star
butter generously. Add Saxa
salt and pepper to the soup,
open a longneck of Sheaf Stout
and pour a tall glass. Eat and drink
while gazing out the window
at a bloke on a motorbike herding
a mob of sheep along the road,
pushing stragglers out of the olive
grove while the black cat meows
and scratches the fly-screen,
seeking entry from the verandah.


Brew your afternoon coffee
then step through the kitchen
doorway onto the verandah.
Watch the black cat dash down
the steps heading for home
beneath the house. Sit still
on a chair sipping in the autumn
sunshine. Stare at the rabbit
on the hillside until it turns
into a small grey rock then back
into a rabbit. Finish your coffee
and go inside. Iron trousers
and a long-sleeved shirt. Shave
in preparation for the evening.

- Nathanael O'Reilly 2019

* Three poems from the Booranga sequence

Nathanael O’Reilly is an Irish-Australian residing in Texas. His books include Preparations for Departure, Distance, Cult, Suburban Exile and Symptoms of Homesickness. His poetry has appeared in publications from twelve countries, including Antipodes, Bluepepper, Cordite, Headstuff, Mascara, Skylight 47, Snorkel, Verity La and The Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology 2017.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Who let the dogs out?

As a platform for open and constructive expression and engagement, Bluepepper shares the international community's grave concerns for the future of Australian democracy in light of the recent AFP raids on the home of a Murdoch journalist and the headquarters of the ABC. That there seems to be an element of vindictiveness in the actions of the AFP is highlighted by the fact that the raids weren't conducted for more than a year after the "offending" stories were published and broadcast. If either story posed such a threat to national security and our standing in the Five Eyes, then why not greater urgency in executing the warrants? Peter Dutton, the Federal Home Affairs Minister, ducked and weaved when this question was put to him, leaving Bluepepper with the distinct impression that the law sits very low on his list of priorities. You would think this a strange attitude from an ex-member of the Queensland Police Force, but perhaps some of our colleagues north of the Tweed could cure us of our misconceptions.

One positive result of the AFP raids was to bring the Murdoch Press and the ABC together in a united voice of outrage and despair at this judicial overreach. Both organisations have justified cause for concern, especially after the acting AFP Director, Neil Gaughan, mooted possible custodial sentences for the journalists involved. This is a worrying precedent, and one against which Australian journalists and media organisations are almost powerless to act without urgent legislation or an amendment to the constitution. As things stand, freedom of the press is merely "implied" as a pillar of this country's free and functioning democracy.

It cannot be stressed enough at this juncture that Australia is the ONLY modern liberal democracy where such actions as last week's AFP raid are legally permitted. All people everywhere who believe in a free and open democracy should take a moment to reflect on this fact. Laws matter. The laws that our parliaments enact matter and can have enduring and largely unforseen consequences down the track without due diligence by said lawmakers, not to mention rigorous scrutiny by the Fourth Estate. 

It may, therefore, be appropriate at this point to highlight the fact that for more than a decade the Murdoch press has been a vocal critic of attempts to introduce a Bill of Rights in this country. Their arguments against such change strike Bluepepper as rather opaque, but in essence the Murdoch argument has been that a Bill of Rights would represent a vote of no confidence in Australia's parliaments and the traditions in which individual rights (so they argued until last week) are enshrined. The AFP raids show such faith to be on very shaky ground indeed. Custom is not law, and in the face of the kind of judicial over reach the world has just witnessed in Australia this point also cannot be stressed enough. Arguments that a Bill of Rights would politicise our judiciary also appear moot in the light of recent events.

Of course, there is a risk with any legislation that it will in fact limit rights in the very act of guaranteeing them. This strikes Bluepepper as a legitimate concern, but we believe the only way to mitigate such failures is to open a full and frank discussion now on the subject with input from all Australians in every corner of the country. We pride ourselves that as a nation we are always able to pull together in a crisis. Well, Bluepepper suggests we are facing a crisis of the first magnitude right here right now. It is an existential crisis with the same generational implications as the crisis of climate change, and we find ourselves in both these cases at a juncture in the modern history of this country. Bluepepper believes we will be judged by our actions (or lack thereof) by future generations. The status quo has proved itself manifestly inadequate. People should not be deterred by arcane matters of law. The issues, we believe, are fundamental and fairly straightforward. Certain rights that are currently only implied in our constitution need to be enshrined as a matter of urgency in order to prevent such incidents as last week's raids ever taking place again. Power must be open to scrutiny or all the laws of the land are a dead letter.

Bluepepper accepts that in penning this editorial there could be consequences down the track. We accept this in the spirit of one largely flying blind. However, we implore anyone commenting on recent events to choose their words carefully until we all have a clearer idea of where exactly we stand in the eyes of the law. Bluepepper believes that all the journalists and editors involved in this sorry episode acted in good faith and in the best interests of their readers and of their country. If the Prime Minister and his Cabinet believe they govern in the interests of their much-touted "silent majority", then they have won this fight. Bluepepper cannot in all good conscience sit back silently and let that happen.

New Poetry by Doug Holder

Harbor Walk, South Boston

It was the smell
that briny
elemental sweat
of wizened hard rock
tangled up in green seaweed
the white waterfall
abandoning its load
in the placid canal.

I had to stop
the moment I smelled it.
It was something
that my father was drawn to
it righted his round shoulders
made his face crinkle with laughter.

That smell.
Emerging from the vaginal portals
that spray of light
slapping him with the doctor.
That smell
on his pleasuring hands
the troop ship
heading to the coast of France
the salt adding speckled white
and fright to
his stubble.

The smell. The sea.
His beginning.
The expansive horizon,
and the narrowing

We spread his ashes
far up the Hudson
but we knew they would travel
to the seminal sea
and someday
that's where
I am 
to be.

- Doug Holder 2019

Doug Holder is the founder of the Ibbetson Street Press of Somerville, MA. He has recently collaborated with playwright Lawrence Kessenich on a new play based on a short story he wrote "The Patient." It is going to be published by the Presa Press, and  has had a staged reading at the Playwright's Platform in the Boston area. Holder's poem " Oh Don't She Said, It's Cold" adapted into a song by singer/songwriter Jennifer Matthews, will be preformed by the dance company "text moves" in the fall at various venues in the area. Holder is the arts editor of The Somerville Times, and teaches writing at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, and Endicott College in Beverly, MA. He holds an MLA in literature from Harvard University.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

New Poetry by James Walton

Mallacoota guesthouse, between States

We slept in Henry Lawson’s bed
in the days when the world was wide
at a place where pelicans and kangaroos
gambolled on a horizon of lawn
sloping to the inlet jetty
all those years ago
the road to Conran closed by forbidding rains
You ate shortbreads telling me the crumbs
could never forget us
the way they disappeared in the sheets
like fish diving to or away from bait
a forever slight of need
At smuggler’s cove we rescued a penguin
the one station copper laughed
telling us to just put it back
giving us bandaids for our fingers
A long stretch of days bent our way
the veranda smell of ozone and bracken
pipe and shirt sleeves held up with elastic guards
the owner trying to find a place in the world
a Checkpoint Charlie the eye of the needle
You went through without me
just as I looked down to validate our passes

- James Walton 2019

James Walton is published in many anthologies, journals, and newspapers. His collections include 'The Leviathan's Apprentice', 'Walking Through Fences', and 'Unstill Mosaics'.