Author Archives: gem

About gem

Born in London, lived in the Philippines, current Melbourne-based writer.

not quite pigeon fruit or cantaloupe

drink:  Sobah Beverages [West Burleigh, QLD (postal address) & Tweed Heads, NSW (brewed & canned at Pickled Pig Brewery) lemon aspen pilsner; 330mL can, less than 0.5% ABV

zine: Cuntalope zine, issue 1 ‘Duality’ (Dec 2015; various contributors)

I’ve been saving three Sobah Beverage cans in my fridge for quite some time in the hopes of pairing them up with zines by Australian Indigenous folks, but one can had to be opened and its contents salvaged – it had started to bulge at the bottom (usually in tinned foods, this is a no-go, as it means something’s off and botulism. Thanks, high school science!), so I thought I may as well open it and try to drink it.

My track record with Sobah Beverages hasn’t been great only in that it’s been a very fizzy experience. I’m not exaggerating when I say, predominantly fizz and very little liquid. Shame, as they do actually taste of the beer styles they emulate, and are created with an excellent cause in mind.

The spiel: the creator, Clinton Schultz, a Gamilaroi man and psychologist, who works in culturally appropriate drug and alcohol rehabilitation decided to make tastier alternatives other than ‘soft drink’ for social situations.  A lot of socialising in Australia is focussed on mates going out for (alcoholic) drinks (it only really seems that in professional situations, people meet for ‘coffee’), and it sounds like Schultz wanted something outside of that, given professional field. It’s also worth remembering that while slamming down a pint when you’re super-nervous may seem like an ace idea and seem to calm you down, it’s a central nervous system depressant. I admit that this is something I’ve most definitely struggled with in the past.

Technically, Sobah beverages aren’t 100% non-alcoholic due to the live cultures, similar to kombucha (though to be honest, I don’t find kombucha all that tasty…slightly sour and really fizzy?), hence the listing of > 0.5% ABV.

What’s lemon aspen? It’s apparently the ‘fresh, fruity, citrusy’ taste in this pilsner-style drink. The can says that the natural growing region of lemon aspen, or the pigeon berry fruit is around the Kuku Yalanji language nations. The brew’s ingredients listed are filtered water, hops, barley, lemon aspen, and yeast. I literally had drank a centimetre or two of actual liquid this time around. I really wanted more, can you tell?

Australian Aboriginal women have had a really shit time on social media lately (not to detract from the trauma the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to endure by merely surviving each day when their land has been forcibly taken from them). Some arsehole South African comedian whose name I won’t bother typing here had a stand-up video from a few years ago in which he thought it amusing to make Australian Aboriginal women the butt of his jokes. He’s been asked to apologise. He so far hasn’t.

I mention this only because of the back cover of Cuntalope, echoes the theme of NAIDOC ‘Because Of Her, We Can!’ (making aforementioned arsehole South African comedian’s lack of apology even more upsetting):

Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.

It’s also pretty crap to learn that Cuntalope can’t register their zine’s name as a Facebook page because shock-horror reclaiming an insult and turning on its head doesn’t float with them. But onto the zine’s contents! There’s an intro to the ‘duality’ topic by the founders Sofia Skoboleva and Olivia du Vergier. I loved the photos Sofia has contributed to illustrate the blurring of boy-girl gender definitions and boundaries. There’s visual artwork by Isabel Wassmann, and Gemma Reid, and illustrations by Eva Christoff and Anna Richardson.

The pieces that resonated with me were the photo-essay by Esther Carlin, the poetry about women by Greer Clemens, and some cool creative non-fiction musings by Eva Lazzaro. So far, there hasn’t been newer issues of Cuntalope, which is definitely a shame. It reminds me a little of F*EMS zine, but on a much smaller scale.

black and white and burnt around the edges

zine: Lin-Manuel Miranda Eldritch Erotica by Black Book Shoppe

drink: T2 crème brûlée black tea (with milk, and sweetened with maple syrup)

At the beginning of the year, there was a zine fair in one of the rooms at the State Library, and I bought a bunch of zines which I then packed goodness-knows-where but have recently unearthed as my unpacking and organising has gradually occurred over the months between bouts of transferring what has been read to shelves, and so on.

The ‘Eldritch Erotica’ zine series is one of a few available from Black Book Shoppe (though their online shop is closed at present). If you’re a Melburnian, I’m pretty sure you can find it at Sticky Institute, if you ask the folks there nicely!

So…you’re on a choose-your-own-adventure date with Lin-Manuel Miranda. You choose to explore an abandoned theatre. Being the orchestra nerd that I am, I can’t pass up the temptation to explore the orchestra pit in said theatre. There’s broken music stands around, and a very out-of-tune piano which we start to play together. It’s a pretty eerie, spooky setting, but definitely a memorable date! You slip into the wings ahead of Lin, and play hide-and-seek for a bit before kissing. We find a trapdoor, which he opens and we go down a ladder into a basement. He is humming loudly, and you join in, and he then seduces you. You try to ask about scars on his face, but you’re breathless.

You can’t seem to recover your breath post-passionate dalliance, and he comes close to you again, and you die swiftly.

***

I let my T2 tea brew for far longer than the 3-5 minutes suggested because I love ridiculously strong tea, but somehow have still managed to add too much milk! I used maple syrup instead of sugar because I didn’t want to wrestle with the honey dispenser, and the whole combo ended up smelling and tasting pretty damn delish. I would get tea flavour again! It’s good that they also seem compostible – sometimes, teabags have a staple or aren’t fully biodegradable. One mug feels like a damn tease, which incidentally fits the zine’s theme above pretty well!

all the world’s colours and breakfasts

Supporters: you know who you are. Thank you soooo much! <3

The title of this post is a riff on the French translation of Tous les matins du monde (which translates clunkily into all the world’s mornings. It’s a novel by Pascal Quignard and the film (directed by Alain Corneau) famously has:

    • THE FREAKING VIOLA DA GAMBA (no joke, this film is responsible for bringing the viol to a wider audience. Don’t even get me started on how ace Jordi Savall is)
    • Gérard Depardieu’s suuuuuper-hot son Guillaume, playing the younger Marin Marais (I’m really sorry I’m early-modern-western-music geeking out but the music is sublime – may even have read that the actors who are shown playing the gambas learnt the basics but I’m not going to cite that for you ’cause I’m losing you…! <3)
    • grown men learning music and crying in sheds
    • soundtrack available here! (I don’t feel dirty about sharing a Spotify URL to it because I’ve got it on CD twice. There was a 20th anniversary for the film version, so I’ve got that one, natch. The ‘regular’ one is really my dad’s, hehe

Review proper starts now.

zine: The Suburban Review vol. 7 (writers of colour)* edited by Anupama Pilbrow

full disclosure: I have a piece that appears in this volume, but for the purposes of this post, I am not reviewing it. This is about celebrating and reviewing others’ works who appear. I’ve never read this zine cover-to-cover till now.

drinks: non-alcoholic – Woolworths brand English breakfast tea (day 1 & 2) / alcoholic – Sailors Grave Brewing (Orbost, Vic AUS) coffee breakfast stout; 500mL can, 5% ABV (day 2)

I didn’t really learn the word ‘suburb’ before I came to Australia. In England, places were cities or towns, and in the Philippines they were villages, now that I reflect on where I’ve lived within these countries.

The people that feature in this volume of TSR are amazing. They are intimidatingly talented and their profiles have only grown since it came out. At this year Emerging Writers’ Festival and National Writers’ Conference, I was astounded to learn (pleasepleaseplease read that in the best way possible!) that TSR co-editor Anupama Pilbrow is a mathematician as well as a poet. Recently, I’ve come to see many poetry-pure sciences links as making sense – before I understood them as facts on a page. Perhaps I wanted to see them as distinct rather than celebrate their joyful overlappings.

Anupama’s intro is about representation and how it really matters. Coincidentally, I posted a thread on Twitter the day I started writing this post about how knowing the British-Guyanese writer Fred d’Aguiar even existing means writers like me can claim space?

That last question mark is there – deliberately.

The first piece by Pakistani-based Mahreen Sohail ‘en-route‘ hits me in the feels so hard, I’m not initially prepared. It starts with imaginings of if one were to set fire to a house, then seamlessly moves through the complicated relationship between a mother and a daughter when migration is part of your experience. There were times where I winced reading it because even though I’ve never come across this author’s work before, there is so much that feels familiar – the silences, the I-don’t-want-to-argue-but-I’ll-push-you-to-your-limits-anyway exchanges. Just…wow.

Gomeroi poet and lawyer Alison Whittaker’s ‘Workwork: odes to invisible indigenous burdens‘ has three poems. The first ‘Blackwork’ short, sharp, economical and I love the way she uses dashes and white space. Nothing about the way she uses the page, its language and its space is accidental. It is measured to critique and devastate persons that could be the reader. Here’s a spot that made me go ‘ooh. phwoar. fuck.’:


That dawdling off-trend meme,
White guilt. To survive among it; well,

it’s naff to say, but compul—

—sory to do. …

(excerpt from ‘Blackwork’)

The second poem ‘Heartwork’ is at first literal then metaphorical, in describing the heart and its bodily mechanics. I’m not giving anything away or spoiling the poem for you by quoting its final line:

…—colonially tired, colonially blue.

You can learn more about Alison here, and also note that she is this year’s Indigenous poet-in-residence for the Queensland Poetry Festival after finishing a stint studying in the US.

The Sharmas‘ by Jov Almero is clever, incisive and devastatingly funny. It will make you cringe, wince, giggle, raise your eyebrows in saucy expectation, and it’s refreshing to hear someone write about food and not wax lyrical about it as a transformative cultural experience. Cheeky snorts will happen whilst reading! Also: yea fellow Pinoy!

‘Chorui’ by New Delhi-based Sohini Basak is the kind of poetry I want to write – slightly stream-of-consciousness, uses repetition in a letter-permutation kind of way, and includes personalised taxonomies. It’s about a crow who has a bet going on with a sparrow who claims the crow’s too filthy, so it tries to get washed but can’t – because everything it wants to touch to get clean doesn’t want to get dirty!

                 …then our crow goes to the 

holy cow … milk please … a study in food chain

As I start listening to Radiohead’s Kid A album (one of my favourite musical aids for sleep, and late night working – it’s like musical comfort food?), I read Sean Wai Keung’s ‘Immigration’ poetry sequence. There are two sections called ‘Departure’, and Arrival is in the middle. This review is getting super-long so I’m mindful of that, but it’s such a haunting look at what generations eat and how they travel and what they have to do to survive in the places they’re alien to, in search of a better life. Reading it instills a sad yet necessary pensiveness – it’s nice to be up late now, reading the form I guess I call my writing genre ‘home’ (which stems from my first real love – music) but also a little lonely.

Lee Lai’s comic features a queer couple of colour, one preparing a roast chicken, the other excitedly interrupting. Afterwards, they share the meal and feed each other, and say the most vulnerable, frightening, loving things to each other. ‘Queer people of colour and romantic* contentment’ needs to be a genre! This comic sequence made me smile the way I do when my cat is happy and she just wants to be around me because my existence apparently makes her really settled, and then we catch each others’ content feels.

Eerily, when reading ‘Looking For Cuba’ by Celine Aenlle-Rocha, ‘In Limbo‘ and ‘Idioteque‘ came on. It’s short but impactful, and questions when a person stops and/or starts to belong to a place they are fleeing, and the place they’ve fled to.

Stephanie Chan’s ‘Waterfall’ is a poem/microfiction piece about a first, shared overseas trip to Malaysia. It’s also another lovely example of queer intimacy and is prefaced with a note on its inspiration (Cyril Wong’s poem ‘crossing j. b.’ from their poetry collection Below: Absence – more wonderful poets’ work to look up!).

Ellen van Neerven, a Yugambeh writer, has a short story called ‘Carrier’. It’s kind of wonderful and dark, in that way where you read and don’t quite know what’s going to happen or follow, and know that some bad stuff’s gone down, and your mind just keeps birthing more questions as you read on. The sense of wholeness is in the quotidian scenes of people caring for each other and connecting in the best way possible even if we are stripped down to our best or worst selves. There’s an unease about going on the journey of Jet, the character who’s injured, and this doesn’t resolve with the story’s end. You realise, as a reader, that to want neat resolutions and endings, is actually quite misanthropic towards the writer, and towards humankind.

‘War Flowers’ by Mexican-American poet Fernando Pérez is about photographs, and their lives. Such astounding economy of words evident in tight metaphor and hints at major national historical events. I’ll quote some of my favourite lines:

Those camera flashes that made blue eyes in black and white

appear hollow.

[…]

Revolution let sticks of dynamite fly.

Time in a camera’s flash, rifle mouths in bloom.

I saved drinking the alcoholic selection for this post for the second day of reading. The gorgeous Bengal I’m currently looking after seems to have given me time off to write this, so now I have the evening to finish a can of this gorgeous stout.

It looks like flat cola, and tastes slightly acidic in that way too! Must be citrus, or some sort of bitter citrus oil from rind. Why is this so heavenly? I’m just going to retype the can tasting notes here:

Coffee Breakfast stout brewed with micro-roasted beans by our old friends at Genovese, vanilla beans, cinnamon & a little Lark Whisky barrel oak ageing to boot!

Coffee notes: Jhone Milanez Lacerda – lot #03. Red Catual varietal. Controlled fermentation process. Sitio Santa Rita estate. Serra do Caparao (Brazil) region (altitude: 1250 masl); coffee tasting notes: strawberry jam, candied orange, milk chocolate, ripe jackfruit, juicy mouthfeel. Roasted by Ben Toovey.

HA! Fark am I glad I saved this can as an end-of-the-week drink! No wonder it’s so freaking divine! In case you were wondering, I never read tasting notes of a beer till I’ve drunk at least half a glass of it and tried to name the flavours I think I can get?

So what did I think I could taste? Jam, orange, cocoa, mango tartness, vanilla, chai spice, something to make it taste smooth but thick the way coconut cream is, something boozy.

When it warms up a bit, the acidity is more pronounced and I start to get a bit of that savoury roast coffee feel, but not much. Gosh, this coffee by itself must be dreamy to drink. I’m going to pour my second glass (very coincidentally a Bonne Maman jam jar!), and start reading where I got up to.

‘Final Call’ by Bikram Sharma is about two best friends, one of which has a successful application to study at an overseas university. There’s familial expectation, there’s hints of magic realism very, very subtly woven in, and the story itself is achingly devastating though not in ways you’d expect. It went down paths I definitely did not expect and so deftly; quickly but not rushed.

There’s a lot to process in Atong Atem’s ‘Conversations With Myself, My Mama, My Friend, and My Past Self About The Burden of Re-Learning Intimacy’ – it’s creative non-fiction, and framed through experiences of childhood assimilation, and talking to relatives, and the emotional labour and burnout that goes with uneven (largely platonic, it’s insinuated) relationships. She gives voice to the complicated dance that is displacement, belonging, surviving but not really enjoying existing as an alien.

Khalid Warsame does the same with this list poem? microfiction? piece ‘Secret Shame’, though any piece that intimately admits zolpidem as being part of the creator’s existence is going to have me on board (seriously: I have never embarrassed myself drunk ever the way I have whilst waiting for Stilnox to kick in, if it’s even working. Chronic insomnia is part of my mental illness experience).

Though I’ve largely discussed the works above in order of appearance, Taiwanese artist Mengo Lee’s comic about surviving and looking after an unwell parent was sandwiched between Warsame and Atem’s pieces. It captures and conveys the eerie, dreamy-like state of being in hospital, and waking up and not wanting to really get up out of bed, that could be due to medications or sleep-wake cycles, conscious-unconscious states of being.

The last piece by Wiradjuri writer Hannah Donnelly, ‘Bloodwood’ examines the surreality of colonisers/invaders’ belief systems (I particularly enjoyed the mockery of the union jack symbolism and the weird anti-biological birth that made Jesus’ apparent existence possible), and the title ties and threads all contributions in this volume together. It also reminds us that many of us are still living an ongoing process of decolonisation, if we are persons of colour. How many generations does it take to shed that exhausting burden? I couldn’t resist quoting a line, about water, because it exposes my ‘head’ knowing and understanding that Australian First Nations peoples are the land, and the land is them, I’ll never really know that truth. It’s uncomfortable to admit that, but it also means continuing to learn in earnest and deep, solid hope and optimism. It’s about water reservoirs:

Forced to sit in stillness, the water turned into tainted sorrow that killed them for hoarding its flow

Melbourne-based comic artist Rachel Ang has illustrations peppered throughout relating to the written works featured, and is also responsible for the cover art – having her illustrate the landing page for my ‘Umami’ piece was just…it felt wonderful and special to think that someone could read my piece and create based on it?! (I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about my work, but her illustration is gorgeous and cheerful. There’s a quieter reflective one for Keung’s ‘Immigration’ poems, and a darkly magical one for Sohail’s ‘En-Route’.

I’ll end with a confession below. If you got this far, thank you for reading my gustatory, aural and literary indulgences come together in this post!

no, I don’t have a (self-)signed copy because I think I’m famous or important. It was meant to go to a friend who had read and helped edit my work a few years ago, but he never gave me a postal address whenever I asked him for one, so now I have this embarrassing failed display of emotional warmth that makes me wince a lot more than I previously admitted.

Buy unembarrassingly unsigned copies here for a steal! There’s a loooooot of big-deal creatives in it!!!

(*I find odd things romantic: like being able to sit next to someone you love, and have a comfortable silence in a shared space, and limbs might be touching/brushing against each other, and the world feels whole. Though it’s used in a polyamorous context, I also get compersion a lot in a fair few non-romantic situations)