Rosemary Nissen-Wade: Aussie poet and teacher of metaphysics – a personal view
My bestie nicknamed me SnakyPoet on her blog, and I liked it. (It began as
'the poet of the serpentine Northern Rivers' and became more and more abbreviated.)

Saturday, October 23, 2021

DUPLICITY by Rajani Radhakrishnan

Rajani Radhakrishnan, whose work I first encountered online some years ago, in poetry groups we both participated in, soon became one of my favourite poets. 

Hers is not the kind of poetry I immediately love and admire, go ‘Oh yes!’ and as quickly forget. Rather it’s the kind that – while I do both love and admire it – constantly surprises me with its complexities of language and thought. Born of deep reflection as well as intense emotion, it causes me to reflect deeply too. It can be returned to repeatedly without ever growing stale.

 The blurb of her latest book, ‘duplicity’, says that it ‘examines life and love in a big city, before and during the pandemic, tracing the transformation from chaos and dissonance, hope and enticement to silences and death, loss and helplessness.’

A sombre undertaking? Undoubtedly, but the poetry is so beautifully crafted, the language so original yet accurate, I feel lifted out of myself when reading. And then, perhaps, returned to myself enhanced.

Her craft is meticulous. She is a master of enjambment, and also excels when working in form. Her cherita sequence in this book, Word Upon Brick, is particularly engaging despite its sad subject matter, and the haibun, The stories I cannot tell, is stunning. Its closing haiku is nothing short of profound – even as its message, once stated, resonates as unmistakable truth.

Much of the book is about unhappy love, but it is also very much about the experience of the pandemic. There has been a LOT of poetry written about that subject, yet she makes the known new, e.g. ‘Hope too is curfew, hovering 1.8 metres / away, masked and gloved. … This city / reverberates with the loud silence of prayer.’ from This is the time, isn’t it?  Then there are details specific to her country, India, such as, in Summer: for those who never made it home, the horrifying account of the many who tried to walk long distances to their home villages early in the pandemic, often dying along the way: ‘This / summer of mangoes, red with blood, scattered / on a highway with the luckless dead.’

She is a very clever writer, as instanced in her section titles with their play on the word city: Duplicity (as in the overall book title) and Ferocity. It’s also seen in extended metaphors, e.g a piece called This city as punctuation, using punctuation and poetic language metaphorically to describe so much more, e.g. ‘The space between your arms. The space / between possibility and semicolon. Between / being and full stop.’ Or in The lover who never arrives in which that title begins as metaphor, e.g. ‘But want is this city’s other face. … Want is the litany buildings / hum when they pretend to sleep’ and moves subtly but inevitably to being about the literal interpretation of the title – an agonising poem in the end, in closing lines which manage to be both restrained and intense.

As you may gather from the lines quoted, she is never merely clever, in a facile or attention-seeking way. It’s always in the service of the deeper message, and presenting that in a way so arresting yet right that it first shocks me into fellow-feeling and then consolidate that with its truth.

I could go on and on. Re-reading finds always more to love, admire and praise. But I’d better stop now to let you enjoy this remarkable volume for yourselves.

Monday, May 17, 2021


 Get Caught Reading Month

Today I could have been caught reading MY MOTHER AND THE CAT, a recent chapbook of poetry by Jeltje Fanoy, an old friend and colleague from my Melbourne days. It was published last year by Melbourne Poets Union.

Jeltje's family migrated from Holland to Australian in the sixties. The poems indicate various effects of such relocation, as well as of her parents having gone through the Second World War in Holland –  matters of great interest to me, as my late second husband Bill Nissen's family migrated to Australia from Holland (in the fifties) after experiencing the war years there. Bill's father was in the Dutch Resistance; I discover that Jeltje's was too.

I don't mean to imply that the book is only of interest to those who have a personal connection to that background. Jeltje's poetry always presents specific details in a way that engages a wide variety of readers. In this book she has created vivid portraits and scenes. Born in 1939 myself, I recognise some familiar experiences, e.g.


were still separate spaces

in the houses we grew up in

the table in the dining room

rarely set, or the room heated

it felt like a tomb in there

the lounge room, too, was like some faraway

place where no-one cared, or dared to sit

more like a museum space

displaying artefacts, my Mother

making us sit and eat in the kitchen

and I relate very well to her opening question in Wars:

Wouldn’t you like

to send the bill

for the effect of World War 2

on all of us, to somebody?

Yes I would! (Those of us who were not in Europe were still affected in many ways. Food rationing, absentee fathers, dead or damaged sons, brothers, cousins, neighbours....)

Other experiences could not be more different. For instance, I myself have never migrated to another country. I've lived my whole life in the country of my birth. Yet even when she's talking of things very particular to herself and her family, Jeltje allows me to enter into them.

Jennifer Harrison in the back cover blurb mentions the 'observational clarity' of the poems and 'the poet's mastery of tonal immediacy'. They are certainly some of the qualities which endear these poems to me. There is also a rich background of the (discernible) unsaid, masterfully handled. 

She excels at direct, accessible language; yet I think Jeltje is a very sophisticated poet – without being the least bit pretentious. It's been lovely to catch up with her work in this book.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

More Intisar Khanani

 May – Get Caught Reading month + Short Story month.

I can still be caught reading YA Fantasy by Intisar Khanani, really really good stuff. Have now enjoyed The Theft of Sunlight, the sequel to Thorn, and am both feverishly disappointed and utterly delighted to find this will run into a second book, not yet available. Also found two excellent short stories as separate parts of this series: Brambles and The Bone Knife. Now am about to catch up with her previous series, the Sunbolt Chronicles: Book 1, Sunbolt and Book 2, Memories of Ash. All found on Kindle.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Intisar Khanani

Discovering a new author I love. (New to me, and newish altogether.)

I'm told May is Get Caught Reading Month and also Short Story Month. At present you can catch me reading the fantasy novel THORN by Intisar Khanani, which I stumbled across while checking out something else, had a quick look inside, grabbed, and have hardly put down since. (It's probably also Young Adult, a genre I always like.) I see there is a prequel in the form of a short story, which I'll be getting next. And this author goes straight onto my list of 'Read Anything/Everything By.'

Friday, March 26, 2021

Home by Kim Malinowski (poetry)

Book review

The ‘About the Author’ statement says,

Her work is disparate—ranging from writing about war and atrocities to the fairy world and pagan studies. She writes because the alternative is unthinkable. 

That was enough to hook me! (I’m a poet and a Pagan myself, with an eclectic range of topics, and making poems is the thing I can’t not do.)

It’s a substantial book – 84 pages – and not one that can be raced through and absorbed all at  once. That doesn’t mean the writing is inaccessible. On the contrary, I found it enthralling. But the poems tend to move in a leisurely way and to be full of detail; they demand lingering over, and it’s a pleasure to do so. They don’t always give all the answers (who? when? why?) and many have a haunting quality; yet they satisfy. 

After a while, after simply enjoying the pictures she paints and stories she tells, I noticed that it’s very accomplished poetry. It’s beautiful poetry, in very sure language which seems effortless. I look for one to quote, to show you, and it’s hard to pick one. Any one would be a good example. Well, I’ll go for a shortish one. 


My shadow deepens the carved name and dates,
grooves lovingly traced.
I’ve laid a picnic blanket 

over the neatly trimmed grass, saving a clump of buttercups near the stone.
There are mimosas to toast our anniversary. 

I am eating a rhubarb jelly sandwich, wearing a peach-colored day dress.
The cedar stands beside us,
its branches protecting, blossoms faded. A couple sits near, 

placing irises by dirt.
I see your face
gasping at the foot of your bed.
The wind ruffles the cedar,
the blanket,
your limp hair would blow in the breeze, my palm touches the grass and buttercups. I would like to uproot you,
my shadow obscuring your name,
and then you wouldn’t be dead. 

They are often like that – great emotion released slowly, so that the punch it packs isn’t a punch so much as a revelation.

There are some wonderful references to her grandmother, and various descriptions of the environment which seem as if they must be drawing in her roots. 

But the subject matters varied, and the home of her title, which in the title poem certainly seems to refer to the home of her family, her ancestors, might also be in art, in story, in Pagan ceremonies, in the memory of loved ones who have passed on (her grandmother, a friend…). In one poem (Falling) it is clearly stated as being with someone she loves. I like to think it’s all of the above.

The book finishes with a 16-poem sequence of poems to a lover or spouse who died, and about the journey of dealing with that. It might be fictional, but the authenticity in the details means it reads as autobiography. I relate to these poems most intensely, having been widowed some years ago. I find them deep, beautiful, moving, and strangely satisfying –perhaps because they culminate in a final coming to terms which I’ve also experienced.

Altogether a rewarding book, a keeper, one to go back to again later, and again, for the sheer enjoyment of poetry excellently written and with much to say.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The night is my mirror

My online friend Rajani Radhakrishnan, who blogs at THOTPURGE, asked me for my opinions on her new chapbook. She liked the reply so much, she asked if she could share it. I of course gave permission, and so she did, on Instagram, dignifying it by calling it a review.  

'Well, if it's a review,' I thought, 'why don't I put it on my SnakyPoet blog too?' So here it is:

Perhaps one of your best – but all your poetry is of such a high standard, it's hard to make such a value-judgment. As you know, your poetry always speaks to me deeply. Also, I am always admiring of the poetics. This is no exception. 

My initial, overriding reaction was, 'How sad!' But it's a valid and thoughtful sadness; when couched in such excellent poetry, not off-puting. Indeed, completely appropriate to the circumstances. I like your 'Things about the poems', explaining their genesis and nature. That's a prose-poem in itself! I also like the way the book is organised, and the Neruda-inspired 'Things...' headings. And the punctuating micro-poems! – exquisite and/or aphoristic.

As always, I enjoy your unique blend of intellect and emotion. I was going to say 'unique mix', but in fact it is a blend: aspects of a whole, rather than separate strands joined artificially.

And above all – again, as always – I love the language.

a sodden, inconsolable bass-heavy serenade.

in the thickening dusk / they fade one by one — / reflection, water, heron, I 

sorrow preys with yellow owl-eyes, 

and so on.

Rajani herself says:

A little chapbook to end a year that has been challenging in so many ways. This collection of poems came from the long months of lockdown and silence. The poems are personal and were hard to write. I hope you can connect with them in your own way.

Write to for your free PDF copy.