Author Archives: gem

About gem

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

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)

Plumwood Mountain: review of ‘Mirror Sydney’ by Vanessa Berry

Just click on the URL below, and it’ll open in another tab/window in your browser.

When the review opens, you can click and choose what sections to read. If you wish to go back to a previous section you’ve just read, at the top left-hand-side there is a ‘U-turn’ arrow. You can click on that and it will send you back.

Compass Points- a blueprint for an ecopoetic review of Vanessa Berry’s ‘Mirror Sydney’ as a disabled narrative – reading process by Gemma Mahadeo

Plumwood Mountain: an Australian journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics is founded and run by poet Anne Elvey.

This book review was written using Twine. I used the Harlow 2.1.0 format by Leon Arnott (the default format in Twine 2)

just desserts on a lonely Saturday evening

zine: Tick Tock by Zoe Meagher & Eddie Edmends

drink: Henry Langdon vanilla chai latte (powder mix)

At the beginning of the year, I was housesitting near Castlemaine to try and get lots of reading and writing done (which totally happened!), and found this lush vanilla chai latte mix in a lovely tin at the town centre supermarket. Their newsagent also seemed ridiculously well-stocked in terms of lit mags!

Now that the weather is much chillier, I’ve been making myself these vanilla chai lattes (boiling water, top up with milk, sometimes flavour with maple syrup) especially when I’m feeling too sad to really eat anything substantial. It isn’t good form to miss meals when depressed, but I try to find something I know I will eat, rather than skip eating altogether. Tonight, that was Filipino cassava cake – reminds me a bit of a tougher, larger version of Portuguese custard tarts without the paper-thin pastry. The best bit is the burnt edges! Coconut milk, glutinous rice, slivers of cassava…blissful.

Interestingly, one thing me and my maternal grandfather have in common (aside from the obsession with music – he was a professional clarinettist, I did not quite make it there as much as I wanted to be profesh) is our love of burnt rice, which is called tutong in Tagalog. I had to look that up online because I never learnt to write Tagalog – only by ear when I lived there as a kid. It seems such a specific thing to love, but perhaps not to those who get it! Nutty, toasted…it smells so good if it’s not charcoal-burnt!

So yeah, dessert as dinner on a cold Saturday evening, chilling with my kitty, and reading an indie comic I picked up at All Star Comics a while back. The cover has a medieval gauntlet-clad arm, wearing a digital wrist watch. The back says:

A knight, a popstar and a qantasaurus walk into a bar.

Tick Tock is the only inter-temporal lounge destination officially sanctioned by the time-travel regulatory body.

Most time-travellers just stop by a for a drink or two. The unlucky ones (like Misty, Max and Elric) get trapped and have to pour the beer.

Eddie and Zoe collaborated on the story, then Zoe drew the pictures.

Okay, so they can do my beer drinking for me, for tonight, hehehe. The first panel is in the style of an Anglo-Celtic medieval tapestry – there’s fighting, looting, pillaging, and then a jump into a time portal. Elric happens on Misty, reading what appears to be a review of the Tick Tock bar loo, and they both realise he’s stuck. He doesn’t initially cope well with this.

Another trapped time traveller unable to return to their time of origin is not good for business. The landlords get called away to a spot that looks like Flinders Street Station (its clock, famous steps), and more adorable anachronistic hijinks ensue, like some sort of dino attack, and a cute bird that might be a dodo? The tale ends with Elric briefly evading Misty (we learn she used to be a singer/performer) to try and surf down escalators that you’d expect in Melbourne’s city loop train stations, and a flashback to the medieval scene where someone else is stuck in Elric’s time, in his place.

I really wish this story were longer, I’d love to read more issues! It’s hilarious, it’s smart and diverse without it feeling token or forced. Verily, it might be part of a series, whee-hee! Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot of about ekphrastic poetry, and how despite having written video game ekphrastic poems, I’m still not confident about how I’d do this for paintings in a gallery. Reading Tick Tock makes me want to try, but I think what I’d like to do is invent backstories for the people mentioned in this comic, or write an imaginary bar review for a poem of mine (it’s called ‘Red’) that I initially envisioned to be imagining what it’d be like to drink at a synaesthetic-laden bar.

One of the other reasons I’ve been thinking a lot about odd twists on concepts that already exist – which I think Tick Tock is a tantalising example of is that I’m a submission reader for an online speculative fiction journal called Syntax and Salt. I absolutely love reading speculative fiction, and short stories…but write very little of it myself (though I do try to incorporate it in my poetry. ‘Red’ is part of a much larger, probably lifelong work-in-progress). The very first longform piece I ever wrote (which took an age to find a home; wrote it as an undergrad) could possibly count as speculative in that it tries to be a very real biography/story about very imaginary-but-believable-in-our-world/time people. I mention this because it reminds me that speculative literature doesn’t have to be ‘longform’ or conventionally narrative — it could be creative non-fiction too, and most definitely poetry. There’s going to be a ‘staff’ issue and I’ve got a couple of ideas about what I’ll end up submitting but also think it might be nice to write newer work for it that doesn’t end up appearing too.

I’ve nearly finished my vanilla chai latte abomination (you can brew one with frothed milk as a treat – I just did half boiled water, half milk), so it’s time for this post to wrap up. This might sound silly, but though I don’t know Anthony Bourdain, his passing has hit me harder than expected. He sounded like a brilliant, generous, struggling human. I know I’m struggling with mental health stuff at the moment, but I’m going to keep reaching out to those I trust, and I’m never going to stop being grateful for having their love, friendship, support. Bourdain’s gone, but he’ll keep inspiring food hacks like me to revel in the few kernels of food culture I have. That’s also why this blog exists. Misfits finding or keeping their small spot in the world is never going to be easy — it isn’t.