Strungballs by Mike Russell

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Ordered and mesmeric. This family’s interactions can pause to an extent that almost becomes non existent. Do they exist only if all is involved in the conversation? An eerie language that connects time, memories and moments described to the second. So aware of time, of measurements, the foundation of their lives. This seems to be all they have except for Strungballs. One can hear the buzz of boredom in their ears. What do they have besides every boys dream. The most sort after accoutrement with all its status, dangly strings and models. So coveted one must remove a piece of flesh for, again and again until nothing really holds you together.
Reading this short story has one’s imagination suffering as we plod through the minimal and awkward silences that is their lives. We peer into it and can’t help being pulled into its trance and rhythm. It sounds unpleasant but that is good storytelling.
Ten year old Sydney is undergoing a rites of passage, done with a beautiful vision on the perils of materialism and human conditioning. His leap into a different spirituality that he discovers via room 333 and new friend Albert is a beautiful awakening. Where the body and his fears are non existent, triggers the spark for knowledge and realisation of his individuality. Unknown king of the inquisitive, he very quickly questions doctrine and all the whitewash and begins the great unlearning. Sydney is on the search to find himself.
All cultures are full of strange stories, telling them is in our dna. This sci-fi dystopian fable is a gem. I wanted it fatter though, a little more filler could of helped us hold onto its message more. So although, it is a quickie, I enjoyed the imagery. The proud father whose dreams of his son selling or promoting Strungballs is paramount, the melancholic suppressed mother in a backdrop of tears and fears, white, black and red, flesh & robot nurses is vivid. The slow minimalism perfectly empty. The reproduction anatomy lesson in the middle jarred a little, though amused enough. If that particular imparting of fact was extended into a psychedelic touchy feely fun parlour I would of enjoyed the trip a little more and a little longer. Overall, I got to know Sydney and wanted to see how his quest would end, so this taste of author of Mike Russell has me prying into his world. Strange days indeed. You can purchase Strungballs and check out many more stories and Mike’s empire via his website StrangeBooks

Mike Russell Reviews

The Secret Life Of The Novel by Dean Cavanagh

Spent days trapped in a world where words are alive. Four to the beat, smashing symbols. Thousands of characters born into an idea. An alchemy of the beautiful, the lost, confused and nasty finding some way to gel, to become real. In starting this book, one might think it is full of typos. My mind was glitching, electronic aspic playing tricks in the formatting. A few quizzical frowns later it hit me. Once attuned to the author’s rhythm something wonderful happens. Extraordinary notes fall beats between words missing, then discovered with stealth ear, the ampersand as proper noun. Well it was once held in high esteem, brutally taken away from the alphabet and now the ultimate character in this extraordinary piece of art.

When one smiles two pages in, you kinda know you gonna dig the beast ahead. The power of language, ideas and worlds that smash into your own and form our illusions of reality, our lives just one big novel filled with a ‘remix of superstition, fear, confusion and hearsay’ Sharing his life of information -duration spent in fresh air with a good dose of cathode input – Dean shapes and spits antecedent memory, breathing inside our disjointed fragments. This book is its own attempt to understand itself.

The narrator comes alive. A big buttinski that appears like the hand of god, her finger pointing in his ribs. The prose moves in and out of its own subconscious, or just loses its train of thought, bored, goes for a smoke, who knows. But it does regroup and old friends come back to haunt me. It triggers again and again inside an ether filled handkerchief. Biblical re treatments, fantastical celebs make guest appearances, a mishmash of identities as philosophical theorems get a workover in a post post-modern cut up that makes perfectly feasible nonsense, controlling theories of our chaotic magick awakening. ‘She’s placing wagers on Ouija boards again, speculating on the outcome of man made disasters body count and collective trauma’ these moments hold you in your tracks, his opals of unmined walls.

A psychick doll of stories taking great swipes at the self-promoting super sceptics. Could this be a book without a point? Each page gets more farfetched, crazy ideas spiral out of control. Words that you will only see in deep search for synonyms appear like cities from a power beyond. Pages and pages of extreme depravity, word wizard pushing his own limits, knocking off lists of despicable acts, degenerate visions that would make the horror gods tear up their manuscripts or push wads of money down his breeks because their minds couldn’t match the scenes pulled out. You keep reading, trusting in the author, that it will all make sense and if it doesn’t you will be seduced by the information dumps. You will definitely get a good chuckle out of it, maybe even help one dig out of their stagnant mind-well. The detective work is done by the reader, a chart where everyone takes their own route.

c3edpytumaa0y3gFusing novel with essay, with dream, with review, with stories, when Ampersand enters the chapters all hell breaks loose. It switches from hard boiled in a blink. I adore when he goes noir on our asses, the cigarette smoke and sweet tea scenarios drift through the senses. This is more than one event it is a line of binary in parallel universes triggering mind hops and tangents for the dimensionally jarred. Always struggling to join the dots, chastised and tormented. Puns, rhyming slang, sayings, the dance of language rolls through the words, a manic, Tourette stylee. A rapid fire white patois rap of inner monologue gets quite scary in that it won’t stop. The ability of letters to transform into accents, missing letters become ghost limbs, all is understood, phonetics are a secret language. Will he achieve all he set out t say, *errrr grimace and spasm* I reckon he does, though many will run out of cuticle from scratching their heads. I found it intelligent, exciting, sexy, violent and inspiring. One can only adore the chaos, the tricks to reveal his truth.

Get your mirrors out cause he really loses it. This book is physically draining, a tongue workout while you chase the author round the white space expecting him to shed his straightjacket at any time. Totally fucking wild. Unedited word tanties, god I love this book’s total gaga gobbledegook cut and paste brilliance. Though at times, wading through the mess has you drooling on your desk. I feel you experience the ride more empathising with the author himself and the struggle it can be at times to get the story out of your head and onto the page. Some paragraphs feel they have been written after eating a bad curry. Dean Cavanagh has an unlimited supply of different ways of communicating wavelengths and if you can’t keep up then this book will leave you at the bakery, a snappy ride, where-to-next finger clicks. My only advice is to open your mind and hold onto the hand that is dragging you into this.

A friend leaned into my kindle

“it looks like word art”

“Yep it is”

“lots of swearing in it too”

“Yep there is”

I’ll leave you with an extract from a review written in 2026 with Dean Cavanagh who chats about his book, The Secret Life Of The Novel…

I saw my relationship with the reader as a sort of sexual one. But now it seems more like a late-night conversation with really good friends, when the bullshit stops and the masks come off

We are the words not uttered.

You can grab a hard copy of The Secret Life Of The Novel via amazon, also available on less satisfying circuitry devices. Connect with Dean on twitter  and Goodreads.

Dean Cavanagh Reviews

MORTON

Poetry & Photos by Lorne Johnson

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I’m into heightened experiences. Often going to great lengths to get the most out of my book selections. Thrills like reading Sautet in a coffee shop in Paris, Bourdain in Vietnam to simply sitting on a tree stump in the wondrous Southern Highlands of NSW reading Lorne Johnson’s poetry chapbook Morton in Morton National Park. A bridge too far perhaps? Never!

Gunnin’ down Sheepwash Road, one is taken aback by the scenery, especially wondrous for us stuck in the city. The Bowral-set in their vintage boy racers hold up traffic with time travelers. Stories of old timers that come to light later like Sassafras 1903 & A Gold Miner At Yalwal, 1933. The history of the place is a great study of internal explorers and identities of colonial NSW, the dispossession of traditional country of the Yuin People with many significent sites of Aboriginal mythology and culture. No stranger to the area, older generations of my family where evacuated to Exeter during the war. It’s a small town in the Wingecarribee Shire close to Morton. Loads of stories of the bush and encounters with its wildlife relayed to me by my mother. This is what may have triggered my curiosity.

On Saturday, I was the first to arrive. Good idea to start early. Nature is on the move as the day warms up and the walking tracks get busy on the weekends especially at my entry point of Fitzroy Falls. The area Morton covers is huge. It contains 200,000 hectares of unique species of flora and fauna found in the area. It is a birders paradise. It took a while for the buzz from these city ears to open to the quiet. You stand and wait to hear where the whistles land, look up and scan the trees for birds you’ve never seen. There are trees for special diets, fussy rare birds. As one walks, the occasional look down is welcomed, for unsuspecting lizards sunning on the edges of the tracks are often too blissed to notice walking boots. Twisted branches are used to dart from. Morton is a tangled mess and aftermath of storms and fire. Branches weighed heavy with wind splinter, wildflowers, insects and human interference. I can see exactly where the poems come from.

Lorne’s poetry is another way to discover Morton and its guide to secret destinations and his love of birds. I know I will find Honeyeaters, Satin Bowerbird’s that are partial to ‘Smurfs‘ and ‘Ansell wrappers’ to swoon the hearts of potential mates. His anthropomorphic and humourous scenarios say a lot about himself, ‘sipping grog from a gumnut’ and ‘diggin’ Miles‘. Musical tastes beat fresh in a few stanzas, meeting his reflection in anothers nest. Superb Lyrebirds actions hints at a city boy’s eyes. Macleay’s Swallowtails and the unknowing help of a common wombat during one of the areas fires, just a few of the beautiful observations you’ll discover.

Inside Morton, one is secluded in nature but surrounded by bustling country towns, some with dubious environmental agendas. Coal mines, polluting factories and hunters. A Reaction to a 2012 Hunting Proposal poem is met with a level head, reading the personality of culprits and possible problems that may occur. If this poem was read out at the council meeting, the NO’s would be unanimous. You won’t be bored with Yet Another Poem Featuring Gum Trees, Lorne knows these guys inside and out, he has such a beautiful take on things. He has a very colloquial heart, written in a different language but that’s because no where in the world, other than here, would you encounter a Dusky Antechinus or a Greater Glider, in places like Billy Bulloos Canyon or Dungeon Creek. You have to know what a wobbegong is to understand all the treasures here. I especially have never heard a Swamp Wallaby described more perfect.

Lorne’s poetry is a medicine, a timeless message to explore and find yourself in the beauty of the bush. My close encounter with these poems, honeyeaters, parrots, wildflowers, waterfalls and a fork in the trail certainly enriched my weekend.

You can find Morton via Pit Street Poetry. They have done a sublime job in the design and print quality of this beautiful chapbook. The pictures have that lovely real gum haze, Lorne’s photographs remain true to eyes, simple compositions and taste of Morton’s jewels. If you want to connect with Lorne you can visit his blog and also on twitter

Lorne Johnson Poetry Reviews

LOVE SPELLS

I have a powerful zine in my hands. Love Spells by Lillian Cuda or Lilly C as I was introduced to her at the Sydney Zine Fair. Voted by me as cutest stand in the multiverse, Lilly stood out in in a blaze of black and pastels, an emanation of beautiful energy, honest and humble. Her work is from a personal perspective, what has worked for her. I bought these to pass on to some younger family members but actually can’t seem to part with them. Still get a kickin’ buzz and inspiration from her work so haven’t had the heart to hand them over just yet.

czjj5okuoaapft9Hand drawn and coloured crystal identification charts starts our first lesson. Red garnet is an amazing stone as I discover ‘it is the embodiment of love and when worn it helps to revive feelings, stir sexuality and aids to control anger and self destructive behaviours’ – look out! Kunzite is fascinating as it is a mending stone for us broken ones. There are drawings of Flowers For Love, Spells for Self Love. This page includes some fascinating steps from writing  ‘I deserve love’ in beetroot juice and holding blooms of Ranunculus when you doubt your awesomeness. This zine comes with a double page of hand drawn stickers to pop on things as reminders of positive love energy. We can bend, mend and banish love in simple steps. This zine is a gem for just that. Her shop for Crafty Witches & Magical Babes can be found here with links to all her ‘awesomeness’.

Reviews Zines & Journals

MOONRISE by Ella Chappell

I’ve had time to notice the moon more lately. Weekends away from work, my depth perception filters out further now. I look up and out more for natures clock, rhythms that get lost to me inside the trappings of the daily grind. A poetry book that has sneaked into my night is Ella Chappell’s Moonrise. Between The Moon And Me There’s A Zinnia has me recalling the NASA project, the new nature. The zinnia bloomed in space, and its outcome’s having us all pondering a world we wont get to see. Down on earth, Ella is spinning plants into lines that hook into me. I’m latching onto theories that I can comprehend. Every now and then, one wonders if this poetry is sat in places that I cannot find any meaning in. At first it felt like reading the quantum physics of intimacy. It may have been too personal. I felt I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been, watching, listening, hiding in the void. But this poetry needs to be alone with you for a while, take you under the sheets. It’s my third time in the warmth and personal space of this poet. Each time, I am even more gobsmacked at the images, the beauty, the understanding of all of this.moonrise2

I’m this poem, which took all of time till now to create

We head through phases of the moon. Longitudes and time add another measurement of space between thoughts here. They have a mathematical edge, a sparkle in a cosmic dance. There are bees  and lots of family and lots of love and links with eternity. 20.13, 90% waning gibbous is just part of her moon diary of feelings, her stories, our natural flow. My Childhood Vs Donald Trump is a brilliant parallel of lives, of thoughts, of opposites. His vulgarity perplexing. There was one poem that shook me, made my eyes go wide with amazement. Blue buttercups is a mania of happiness which I adored, ‘post-euphoric sweat so thick it slips off his neck‘ one can only reflect this poems lust for life.

The night shots, a reflection of lights from many sources, really suits the chosen prose even though the daylight is paramount. This poetry book was published by Rosie Sherwood from As Yet Untitled publishers who specialise in limited edition, handcrafted literary works. Moonrise is available via their website.

As Yet Untitled Ella Chappell Poetry Reviews

GWIL vs MACHINE

I wanna wanna wanna make a fanzine…

 

Damn catchy that. Trapped in my head now. That’s the kind of thing that happens when I search round for any info on my review subjects. My latest, man of mystery, punk poet and original member of the ‘muy guay’ underground band, ‘Irreparables’, Gwil James Thomas.

So delighted to see the many places his work has appeared. Loads of zines, articles online, backs of doors, loads of personal journals and finally, through the stapled and bloody deft fingers of Martin Appleby. This is another fine release from ‘Paper&InkZine‘ Towers and chance for a brief encounter with this compiled work written between 2013 & 2016. This will surely be a warm up for some meatier compilations. As an admirer of his thoughts – reviews in Zines & Journals like Push, Paper & Ink & Hand Job – one won’t be deterred by time. It will come when it comes and so, for now, get treated to this compact taster, Gwil vs Machine.

gwilFirst I dig the typewriter offset and obscure mentions of dead punks. I also want to ‘bring back free toys in cereals’. Absolutely. My growing pains have become ink, completely sold me and I’ve just turned the first page. I have read a few of these before, enjoying them again as I did then. A jack of everything, this guy lists them all out for us in The Mule’s Early Retirement, finding worth in all the pain and crap one puts up with slugging it for ‘delusional power hungry cunts‘. With Gwil, there is a delightful poeticism in his straightforwardness. Lots of poems breeze through nature, poems for ants, where he has been or where he is heading. A traveller’s bag of stories, side of the road laments. Absolute freaking solid beauty like San Sebastian Poem, you are there, and for a moment you too want to find a similar fate. The Man Who Wasn’t Feeling Himself delves back to a childhood memory and with the years of that image returning formed into a fine memorial, understanding what really happened, interpretation far from truth. Humans hide so much away from each other, they make light and life moves on.

Gwil rides his imagination through the night, you can tell these are the poems that helped him sleep, that cleared a restless mind. There are poems that also black and white it. Reflecting On Everything That I Loved About Your Art Exhibition, don’t want to give the poem away, but two words say it all. Gwil loves the sea, the words wade just like a swell at times, a shanty, beautiful rhythms to cause a sigh. It has been a wondrous glimpse and the more times I read the louder his voice becomes. We all need to fight the machine.

Now for the bad news. This one has sold out! (boo goes the crowd) but I hear there may be a round two soon. Just contact Martin if you are interested in a copy.

 

 

(intro line lyrics by The Irreparables /featured image introduction by Gwil James Thomas)

 

 

Gwil James Thomas Poetry Reviews Zines & Journals

Heroin Haikus

American writer William Wantling only hit my radar a few years ago. His poem Poetry was an absolute soul opener for me. Amazed how the violence of a dying man could be reported as a poem, a piece of art, without diminishing the sadness or respect for this loss of life. Told myself this is someone you need to get into. Wantling died of heart failure at 40 back in the 70’s and never really received the exposure and respect that the likes of his peers got back in the 60’s. He did have a real presence with more independent underground publishers and those in their cliques. It is still the case today with independent publishers Tangerine Press. They popped works by Wantling a few years back which are still available via their website.

heroinThis compact piece of poetic history, Heroin Haikus, was released in October. It sits on my desk and has been picked up many times, by many hands, starting the ‘never heard of him’ conversations. Not really traditional Haikus, they have an air of close enough, his poems are loose and direct, that is standout here. Ten succinct pauses, seventeen syllables, maybe a word game to relieve the boredom and diminish the pain of being trapped, coping with life inside. These haikus of broken rules say so much.

I love its emptiness and the original drawings by Ben Tibbs, the inked cockroach, a fish eye view of busting cops, holding a gun like a limp dick in his hand, Wantling’s mind detached. This realism is repeated in his larger pieces and there are collections that you will find on Tangerine Press’s website if you want to explore more. Heroin Haiku’s is printed on good quality cream stock in piercing black ink. It can take you a minute or an hour to read, depending on how much you want to see into it. It is a fine addition to my poetry shelf.

 

 

 

Poetry Reviews Tangerine Press