Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

Writing

  • Writing
  • Poetry
  • Prose
  • Prize Winning Entries

Writing

Wagga Wagga Writers Writers aims to facilitate regional creative writing. We do this by supporting our members and local writers: we help them to increase their writing skills by organising workshops and mentorships; we help them gain publishing experience by informing them of opportunities and competitions, and also by publishing an anthology of new writing (always featuring a selection of work from local writers). Over the twenty years WWWW has been active there has been a great amount of work written and published with our help. Many members have gone on to further writing success, such as the publication of their own books or professional writing careers.

On this page you will find a sample of some of the poetry and prose written by WWWW members. The selection will be regularly updated, so keep checking back for new works. The Booranga Prize winning works (for best poem and story published in fourW) will be featured on this site at the end of each year.

Poetry

Selected Poems

I Have To Work At Myself - by Derek Motion

Dead To The World My Body Was Sleeping by Alison Eastley

Touch Lines by Felicity Lehmann

Is There Any News? by Graham Wood

Termite by Graham Wood

Policy Launch by Graham Wood

I Have To Work At Myself by Derek Motion

(almost hypertense what with cultural reports
and consequently there is writing, reading and
viewing (this new 'easier & kinder' television format
keeps me awake too (you, too tired to talk

(i am also struggling with the web memory is:
a context driven map: but the instances almost random
(preconfigured strands light up / others die though
like the weather surrounding a first kiss, something
ostensibly still present as synaptic datum)

(your sleep is as passive as allegiance.
impressions are only a game now (but i am close
to solving things) I am close like a really close thing:
your pyjamas or the moon not a care / the air thins
as the years relate and separate
(intensity isn't what it used to be
poems about the work (the effort at me)
are steadily posting the results (and
there is need of this - something to prove
at each point in the career (the most potent of lives
to examine whenever we really talk (maybe next Wednesday)
I have to work at myself

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Dead To The World My Body Was Sleeping by Alison Eastley

except it wasn't my body, it was yours
which is to say I realised we
weren't together, that this has nothing
to do with a Patti Smith song.

You didn't like her lyrics.
You preferred something you could wear tight
jeans from the hedonistic 80's
which made it difficult to suffer

so you doctor-shopped until your blood
pressure dropped your pulse
into transparent
silent spaces filling the room

with knowing old habits die
hard when you turned to me and cuddled in
as if this was our beginning
and not the end.

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Touch Lines by Felicity Lehmann

I went out with a footy player once,
not that we did it during the footy season.
Well, they don't, do they ?
At least that's what he used to say.
when we got together of a Monday.

There's no training of a Monday, see,
'cos they're too sore.

They're just supposed to lay around
and do nothing.

So that's what he did.

He used to put his arms around me, mind,
and call me his little "chip and chase,"
but if I started making a move
he'd tell me I was inside the ten metres
and make me back right off.

I didn't mind really. Not then.
I just reckoned we'd have a real hot session
in the Sin Bin when the season was over.

That's until they brought in that comp -
the summer one with the funny jumpers.

That was a bit offside.

That's our time. Us women's.
I gave him a miss then.
I mean, who wants to go out
with a Man in Season?

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Is There Any News? by Graham Wood

The French King on his short last walk
with guards and gaolers at his side -
was worried less by his coming end
than the loss at sea of his grand design.

No clutch of courtiers round him then,
no word returned for several years -
the last despatch from Botany Bay
before the troublesome coup occurred :

'A last wish, Countrymen, if you choose -
Is there any news of La Perouse?'

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Termite by Graham Wood

Like a termite
time gnaws away
starts to eat us
quickly gathers pace
chews
and spits us at the universe

It nibbles north time
against gravity
through feet legs genitals
stomach
heart larynx eyes head
all they mean falling away
sloughing off until
at end there is nothing
no thing -
not hinge
or screw

Feet go first
and walking kicking fate
swimming against tide
and streamflow

Then legs
our essence now
upon the earth like lizards
no towers
to push us heavening

Genitals then wet
hard against hope with them
succour, slew of smiles blast
of warm stars exploding no more
in joy or betrayal

Stomach then solidity and strength
ample meals laden tables
hunger now full at bay
beyond the world fold

Next the heart uncharted
on open ground falls prey
feels itself consumed but can
no longer bleed nor yearn nor break

Larynx then and the need
to sing and shout
rage against the dying - but cords
fray dumbstruck

Eyes and ears next the sound
of darkness falling the long night
we all curl up in drawing down
cloaking
souls alone

And in the end
nothing
but the spark of thought
before the moment
when light dies becomes
again darkness like
the start

Termite time turns south
then
begins again
to remake
another world another
fear of death

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Policy Launch by Graham Wood

From the front of the 'Four Seasons' room
across the faded green of winter carpet,
a policy spring begins to bloom.

Coloured overheads too small to read
shine like sunlight on the room's front wall.

Speakers drone in monotone above
the nodding heads of invited guests,
reciting frameworks and guiding principles.

How best to pollinate minds drifting
from the bright petalling of policy?

The man from the Institute begins with a joke
but soon falls into somnolent step,
sowing the policy context on winter ground.

From tiny holes, the policy itself spills seed.

In the background, glasses chink;
canap├ęs and finger sandwiches
sprout from the kitchen on silver trays.

At the last, after formal blessings
from a Minister and senior bureaucrats,
new policy, like a shaky lamb,
goes forth into the world.

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Prose

Driving Wheel by Daniel King

In The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, Jean Doresse considers the sect of the Kukeans. He observes:

St Ephraim had heard of them; so they were already in existence in the middle of the fourth century. (Doresse 1960, 58)

Given the number of esoteric belief-systems that Doresse describes, it is remarkable that he singles out as 'strange' that of the Kukeans. In this essay I shall argue that it is the extraordinary half-conceptual quality of the Kukeans' 'dead image' that prompted Duresse's attribution. Further, I shall maintain that the 'dead image' is actually (owing to its shifting, composite nature and to its initial transformation by the God of the Awakened Sea) a motif of change. This change is, however, one of form as well as content, and is thus able to manifest itself in all domains, in all places, and throughout all time.1

Doresse's book is ostensibly about the recovery, translation, and interpretation of some ancient Coptic papyri, discovered in the forties at Chenoboskion, Egypt. Many of the texts are fragmentary, although the most important text, The Gospel According to St Thomas, is largely intact. There are no Kukean texts amongst the papyri; Doresse discusses their beliefs largely for contextual reasons. Formally, then, the Kukeans' beliefs are hors d'oeuvre (in Derrida's sense).

I have mentioned that the central conception of the Kukeans concerns the 'dead image'. As already implied, because no specific sensory information is given about the image, it is not purely an image at all, but is partly cognitive (one might call it a thought-form). In this regard it is probably best to quote Doresse's summary in detail. It is a citation of Bar-Konae:

They say that God was born from the sea situated in the World of Light, which they call the Awakened Sea; and this Sea of Light and the world are more ancient than God. [They also say] that when God was born of the Awakened Sea, he seated himself above the waters, looked into them, and saw his own image. He held out his hand, took [this image] to be his companion, had relations with it and then engendered a multitude of gods and goddesses. They called this the Mother of Life,

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1The reader may suspect a poststructualist (or even postcolonialist) move, here: if the 'dead image' really can bring about such profound changes, even this essay will not be immune, and could change into something else (for example, a story or play). Cf. the provisionality that arises in Derrida's own texts by virtue of his writing sous rature. and said that she had made seventy worlds and twelve aeons. They added that, at a certain distance from the god who was born of the Awakened Sea, there was a sort of dead image like a statue without movement, without life, without thought or intelligence. The god, who found this hateful, evil and ugly. . . , thought to take it up and cast it far from his presence. But then he said, 'since it has neither the life, the intelligence, nor the thought to make war against me, and seeing that I have no fault to find with it, it would be unjust of me to cast it out: I will therefore give it some of my own strength, of my own mobility and intelligence, and then it will declare war upon me'. (Doresse 1958, 58)

Although the dead image is thus seen only 'out of the corner of the eye', so to speak (and consequently would have appeared more awe-inspiring to the narrative's original recipients), there is an overwhelming impression that it is like a machine2. In today's terms, perhaps not too much of the original narrative's spirit is lost by envisaging a kind of large, circular, single-storey structure resembling a roundabout.3 By implication this would have to be situated on the margins of a desert.4 Superficially there could be no motivation to venture near such a machine - yet if the theme of a self-destroying oppositional metaphysics is taken to the limit, eluding the machine would be extremely complex. Perhaps, ultimately, anybody approaching too near the machine would be drawn into the huge meshing cogs and shredded.

It is possible to be more specific, although for strategic reasons I shall postpone such a move, perhaps indefinitely. It is worth focusing on the machine itself. A huge, driving wheel entirely of machinery so complex that little daylight is visible through the rusting pawls and worms. Slowly turning worms, making no sound as they mesh against their wheels. The desert sun, high in the sky and searing down on fault lines and low bluffs - bluffs appearing as though knots of umber paint on a canvas. And the ocean beyond those bluffs: perhaps the machine had its origin there, a dozen centuries ago, rising (even then a dark, rusting mass) from spiralling, boiling kelp. Or perhaps the ocean subsided and withdrew from it. Such are the possibilities of an oppositional metaphysics which, by virtue of the notion of play that it incorporates, cannot last for all time.

And, of course, I have myself established a relationship with this machine. I am before it, in the dual sense of (an author's) temporal priority and one who is in the same frame of reference (and these two senses are not absolutely separable). And so

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2 Derrida, of course, often typifies an oppositional metaphysics - which the Kukean account exemplifies - in terms of mechanism. See, for example, his 'Tympan', in Margins of Philosophy. 3 I say 'circular' because such creation myths typically incorporate the idea of cyclic return. The roundabout is emblematic of play, which can subvert any mechanistic metaphysics - even that which it itself stands for. 4 Given that the dead image has its 'emptiness' taken from it, there would seem to be a sense of balance in conceiving at least some of that emptiness as being transferred to the image's environment. Hence, the desert.

there is an inching, not purely textual, past the machine. I long to be able to move farther from it, but it is as though there is a high barrier on my right, impeding my way. But I feel reasonably sure that I can make it.

Feigning a relaxed attitude (in case the machine can perceive my apprehension and, despising it, take action) I kneel and draw my finger through the dust. It is the colour of old bones. Given that the dust comprises limestone - the trash of ancient sea creatures - this is not surprising. I wonder whether to cast a handful at the machine.

Just looking at it, however, would be a trial. Occasionally, between the meshing cogs there is a tiny bright star, revealing that the desert landscape on the other side of the machine is much like the one on this side, and that the sun has not been wholly occulted. And there are shapes - usually five-pointed shapes, like human figures. As I smooth the dust and edge past the rusting metal, I think of the Kukeans themselves, wondering whether they were indigenous to this area and picturing them, statuesque against the sunset, contemplating their harvest.

Soon I am a significant distance from the machine. I feel very apprehensive, and I'm conscious of taking one step, then another. This becomes increasingly hard: it is as though there is some force that increasingly presses against me the farther I move from the machine. But there is a dark point on the skyline, and I am resolved to let that occupy my thoughts, let that drive me towards it.

Several minutes later I feel more composed. I tell myself I was childish. The machine is behind me, now, and I almost feel able to think light-heartedly about it. Vague recollections of Kafka's "In the Penal Colony", however, replace the light-hearted thoughts. But the force that I initially experienced seems to have reached a plateau, and I am relieved. The machine surely will not follow me.

For the first time I wonder exactly where I am. Inexplicably, it is now sunset, and the dusk stars form bright, unfamiliar constellations. Not sure if I can remain awake, I notice that I am seated on a sand-dune, perhaps four metres high, with the sea before me. It is an ancient, ink-coloured sea - perhaps the primeval sea of Tethys (although, of course, the machine is older). The sand-grains are coarse and large - clearly because there has been insufficient time for them to have become ground to the powder of shifting sands. I muse idly whether there are any lamp-shells or other extinct species on the shore. Or maybe I was wrong about the limestone, and the world is dead only in the sense that it does not yet have life.

How unfathomable that this whole landscape, and everything it stands for, must vanish!5 The dunes and the desert, washed away. Whole epochs will have to pass, of course, but the machine testifies that it will happen. Not even Plato's Forms are eternal. And artworks are governed by the Forms: the play, the Stabat Mater, the story. Eventually they all become something else, even if only by virtue of the trajectory of allusion and metaphoricity, which is always away from the heart, the centre. I think it fair to say that this is the 'central' theme of Derrida's entire work. "White Mythology" emphasizes the case of metaphoricity and the machine. He says:

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5 The reader will perhaps have guessed that the 'dark point' on the skyline, mentioned three paragraphs back, is also the machine, and that it is therefore before me as well as behind me. Formally, my not drawing attention to this fact underlines the idea that even the circle of return must eventually decay. As has been remarked by a number of writers, the hermeneutic circle is actually a spiral.

. . . there would be metaphors that are biological, organic, mechanical, technical, economic, historical, mathematical. . . . This classification, which supposes an indigenous population and a migration, is usually adopted by those, not numerous, who have studied the metaphorics of a single philosopher or particular body of work. (Derrida 1986, 220; my emphasis)

Slowly, I descend the dune and walk in the direction of the infinite, primeval sea.

References

Derrida, Jacques (1986). Margins of Philosophy (Sussex: The Harvester Press).
Doresse, Jean (1960). The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics: An Introduction to the Gnostic Coptic Manuscripts Discovered at Chenoboskion (London: Hollis and Carter).

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Prize Winning Entries

Nothing Contemplates Nothing by Daniel King

1

The house seemed both new and old, Matt thought, as he dragged the last crate into the lounge. It was new in the sense that he had just moved in; but it was old in the sense that someone had recently died in the house, and death always seemed to him to give things an archaic feel.

He glanced around, catching his breath. He would be happier, he realised, if he had been told exactly where the person had died. But the estate agent hadn't known - or hadn't been prepared to say. All that he had claimed to know was that somewhere in the house the previous tenant - an amateur writer, like himself - had committed suicide, that the body had not been found for nine days, and that two fumigations had been required to clear the house of the stench. Remembering that he had just inhaled deeply, he concentrated, morbidly fascinated by the idea that a trace of the smell might remain. But it was daylight, and the abundance of visual and aural distractions made concentrating on smells difficult. It would probably be different at night, he told himself - and then wished he hadn't.

He glanced around the room again, hating the idea of all the unpacking. Fortunately, rudimentary furnishings - not those belonging to the previous tenant, he had been assured - had been provided; so any exertion would be minimal. In the lounge, which had a low ceiling, the furnishings included blinds of an insipid buff colour; faded armchairs the seams of which were leaking a substance like wood shavings; a futuristic plastic sideboard trimmed with gilt; and a dangling light bulb the shade of which had pale circles suggesting the recent presence of fly-spots. Suddenly overwhelmingly tired, he sat on the floor. He was not superstitious, but the idea of living in a house where someone had died really did worry him. Every time he looked in the bathroom mirror, he knew, he would be half-expecting to see in front of him a face. Further, every time he took a step within the house he would know that his passage bore an exact, mathematical relationship to the last resting-place, wherever it was, of the previous tenant. Not for the first time, he half-wondered whether he was mentally disturbed. He quickly told himself that the problem was not with him but with the house. If only he had a job, he wouldn't have to rely on rented accommodation! But he'd never been able to cope with nine-to-five employment. Whenever he had tried it, his mind had always wandered: sometimes he had felt as though he could actually move back and forth through time. Forgetting things. And as a result of having no job he was poor. The only consolation was that it was summer, and he would not have to worry about heating bills.

Closing his eyes, he began to pull items from the crate closest to him.

2

Later that night, he sat at his typewriter. He stared at the ceiling, and then at the door. Just as in his flat, his last home (the constant interruption of neighbours had driven him out), he couldn't seem to come up with an idea for a story. Noticing to the left of the typewriter his shaving mirror, he moved it out of his line of sight, and then moved it back. The only way he would conquer his apprehension of living in the house, he realised, would be to confront directly his greatest worry: that of suddenly seeing a face in the mirror. He glanced at the mirror. No face was visible, of course.

He still felt uncertain. Soon, it would be time to go to bed; and for all he knew the suicide had taken place in the bedroom itself. And even if it hadn't, tiny traces of the putrefying remains must still be present throughout the house, despite the fumigation. The removal of every atom that had belonged to the body was, after all, scientifically impossible. He remembered reading the statistical reasons for this when he had been researching the article he had hoped to sell to Science Digest. All at once, he wondered why he persisted with his writing. Unless he were to write a best-seller, any financial gain would be slight; and his approach was too whimsical for the really influential journals. Freud, he reflected, had believed that writing was a form of wish fulfilment, but his only conscious wish at present was learning how to cope with living in the house.

Could he write a story that was actually about coming to terms with living in the house? He stared into the distance, suddenly optimistic. He could set down on paper all possibilities, from the far-fetched to the likely: and then he would already have dealt with the worst that could happen to him.

Trying not to be concerned by the fact that Borges's story "The Secret Miracle" had explored a similar idea, he began to write.

3

It was night. He sat up. A smell like that of decayed fish kept wafting into his nose. He glanced at the window, but it was shut. So not only was there no breeze but also the smell was coming from within the house. He tried to tell himself that the kitchen tidy could not have been closed properly, but he knew that that was not the explanation.

He turned on the bedlight, and the fluorescent tube gave out a feeble light: a pale, moon-like aura that often illuminated his dreams. Clearly, the tube was almost spent. He climbed out of bed, reached for the door-handle.

The smell of fish was stronger in the passage. He turned right: and the smell diminished. Reversing his direction, he found that he was approaching the lounge. As he turned into the lounge, he stopped, surprised. The floor had become a kind of grating. . . . Gingerly, he moved closer.

The floor had not become a grating: it was just that a number of floorboards parallel to one another had been prised up. He felt an apprehensive puzzlement. Had someone hidden illegal items - such as drugs - under the floorboards, and had only just had the opportunity to retrieve them?

He narrowed his eyes. There was someone standing beside the hole! Fortunately, he seemed to have his back to him. Apprehensively, he edged behind the figure. No, he was wrong: the figure was in the hole. But why was it swaying? Was it searching for something?

And then he saw the rope, and the tongue swollen and sticking out as if in mindless impertinence.

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4

He contemplated the page in front of him, and realised he was dissatisfied. Could anything written about the macabre be anything but stereotyped? But what did 'stereotyped' really mean? That which was stereotyped in literary writing might merely be a convention in horror fiction. He checked the time. He needed some rest: how long had he been working? And was it the first night or the second? As soon as he had thought this, he felt angry with himself. Again, he thought, he lacked concentration, wandering backwards and forwards in his thoughts (if not in time!).

He needed to be realistic. He would write a sensible, realist piece, in which corpses were merely metaphors for his not having succeeded in life. Perhaps he could allude to his nine year relationship with Anne (Anne the indefinite article, he had called her, with half-mocking archness, just before he walked out on her). The moment in their relationship he most often dwelt on was in the middle of their first January, when he had introduced her to astronomy. He had said to himself, I know that you will never leave me, and that I shall never lose you. True, she had never left him; but some years later - no, almost half a decade later! - he had been shocked one morning to notice how much her appearance and personality had changed; and he had realised in despair that he had lost her after all.

So he would be the central character. There would be no ghost. No death. No body.

But there would be dreams.

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5

His head was so heavy. . . . Trying to keep his eyes open, he saw that he was standing in his dressing-gown in the passage leading to the lounge. Was everything he had been thinking about Anne and writing just an illusion, and had he - surely not! - really murdered a child and buried it beneath the floorboards? The idea was in his head, certainly, but the source was obscure, indefinite. He shook his head. He was not sure to whom the child belonged, or why he had done whatever he had done to it, or even, in one part of his mind - the rational part? the conscious part? - whether he had done anything at all. But he must have done something and buried the result, for the floorboards were arching slightly: and that meant the corpse's stomach had not been pierced. In the gut there had set in chemical reactions, and the ballooning digestive gases were pressing against the boards, causing them to arch.

He thought vaguely of exhumation. Dig up the rubbery, sticky, stinking mass, cut it up with garden shears, and then incinerate it. It would be a miracle if he were not caught. But now, inexplicably, in another part of his mind there was guilt. How could he atone? Attend the funerals of total strangers? He could see himself bowing his head among the roses and the words of the beautiful solemn sermon, knowing that, below, human tissue was becoming slowly indistinguishable from diarrhoea.

6

Above him the ceiling was like the page he had left in the typewriter. Compared with the white of the moonlight it was absolutely black; but compared with the darkness of the shadows it was quite pale, almost white. So he didn't know what it was. Maybe he couldn't know. Realism would claim to know, but realism had its own limitations and conventions: conventions such as the knowledge that if anything apparently fantastic were to happen in a story it would all turn out to be a dream, or an illusion, or a quirk arising from point of view: the point of view of a lunatic or an eccentric. Henry James, with his ambiguities of time and perspective, had been a master of the device, providing only the certainty that there was no room for another turn of the screw; but he wanted certainty! The certainty of knowing that his life, his writing had worth!

Or even knowing with certainty that they were worth nothing.

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7

Kissing the swaying and turning corpse was like bobbing for apples: as soon as he moved forwards to brush against his lips the cold, dry tongue, with its lingering bouquet of rotting meat, it backed away as though in black coquetry. Or perhaps he was the corpse, backing away from it. Certainly he was backing away now, for he was in the passage once more.

8

Perversely enjoying his depression, he opened the drawer and took out his letter opener. All he had to do was press the blade against his wrist and with increasing force draw it slowly back - parallel to his arm, not across it; that was a common misconception - and his life would slowly fade, like a room seen through eyes progressively more tired and filmed with sleep. All that had prevented him from slitting his wrists before was the idea that someone might walk in and revive him, leaving him with only brain damage, a staring vegetable.

Still holding the letter opener, he walked thoughtfully to the lounge. He felt a sudden, strange bond with the corpse. Why, after all, should he be spared what the previous tenant had gone through? Some pain was infinite, but still had to be borne. The human mind knew no limitations in conceiving cruelty: in films, in books, even in poems. And not just the cruelty of pain, the cruelty of rope or razor, but emotional cruelty, the cruelty of the forced excision of eye belonging to wife, mother, lover, child.

And then forced defecation in the shrieking wound. And then forced copulation with the flowing, red and ginger mass. And then forced consumption of the decayed secretions days or even weeks later.

Etc.

He knelt, and twisted the letter-opener between two loose floorboards. They were not full-length - in fact, the floor resembled a jigsaw puzzle of different sized boards - so he was able to prise them up easily. Soon, the floor was a chessboard of wood and darkness, making him think of the grille of some oubliette.

Sick with the knowledge of what he was about to do, of what he before had not allowed himself even to imagine but now knew to be unavoidable, he removed the cord from his dressing-gown, formed a crude noose, attached the other end of the cord to the steel light-fitting, placed the noose around his neck.

And paused.

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9

From the crate he saw that he had taken two books: one by O. Henry, the title page of which was illuminated, and one by Beckett: Stories and Texts for Nothing. Both smelt of mould and had been attacked by silverfish.

He wondered why silverfish were considered to be silver. They were really only grey - that is, black or white. Only mirrors were silver - until one stood in front of them, of course, and then they were nothing at all. He went into his room, sat in his chair, and closed his eyes.

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