Monthly Archives: February 2017

Letter to Pessoa by Michelle Cahill: Book Review


I am keen to read a couple of books due for release over the next couple of months but, feeling somewhat guilty over my tardiness in producing a review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I’m reviewing here a short story collection (my favourite fodder) published last year.

Michelle Cahill’s poetic roots shine through in this startling collection of stories: each an homage to a literary figure, from the poet Fernando Pessoa to JM Coetzee. Many of the characters are familiar but they may not all be known to every reader and yet it doesn’t totally govern the readability of the collection. Even if some of the allusions pass you by (I’m sure I missed plenty of subtle references and intertextualities), it doesn’t affect the next story.


For review purposes, I sought some clarification by reading the author’s note on the publisher’s website but phrases such as “I wanted to cultivate an aesthetic which expressed contingency without shame or compromise” and “I haven’t rejected structure, but I have trusted the spaces where narrative collapses” didn’t help me in my quest for further enlightenment. I mean this as no criticism, just an observation that my brow may not be as high as Cahill’s intended readership.

The stories don’t read in that usual epistolary way of a letter from one person to another; to me they are more like a series of tributes.

‘Chasing Nabokov’, in which Cahill transplants Nabokov to contemporary Sydney, is one of my favourites, even with its uncomfortable Lolita-mirrored premise. There is still something unsettling about a young narrator (surfie-chick) who is cautiously aware of a forty-year age difference, taking us from “the loose folds of skin around his neck [that] resembled a toad’s” (210) to “I felt I would let him do anything, my body a throbbing receptacle for his love.” (216).

‘Duende’ is a tragic love story: poetry and loneliness in Spain, an uncoupling of men and an unravelling against a backdrop of bullfighting, complete with Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. There is a deep sadness and release in “The river is a ballad, twisting, weeping, bleeding.” (52), followed by hope and lightness in the final sentence:

 It is a perfect day, the sun hot, the sky intensely blue with the soft motion of pigeon wings breaking the light. (53)

‘Letter to Neil Young’ resonates with me:

The road taught me what I know about love and losing. I can tell you how it tempered me like a drug, sedating and comforting me. (138)

And, just imagine:

 I knock once. The white plyboard door is ajar. I can hear an echo of Kurt Cobain, and your voice, the metallic whine of a harmonica. (139)

I can’t resist this final appeal to the senses:

 Agarbathi incense floats through the house and maybe I’m guessing but something like the chocolatey aroma of Alaskan thunderfuck … (140).

I love the front: Madeleine Kelly Treatment for Hysteria II (2008) and there’s some exceptional writing between the covers.

Check out Jonathan Shaw’s review.

Cahill, Michelle. Letter to Pessoa, Giramondo Publishing, NSW. 2016. ISBN: 9781925336146



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Flame Tip Review


Another great review




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I seem to have been chained to my keyboard for days so I took some time out today to visit a local art exhibition, the What we do in Queensland exhibition at Artrageous Arts and Crafts/Gallery 4017 in Deagon.

I am familiar with Tamika Petersen (both the artist [my friend] and her art) and the main reason for my visit was to see her work exhibited. Although I had seen a picture of the largest of her pieces on her Facebook page, I was not prepared for the impact of ‘Hooked on Bliss and Chaos’ in all its bruising glory. Check it out . . .


I am not an art critic and don’t pretend to any expertise but, as the saying goes, I know what I like. So I’d love to give a shout out to a couple of artists in particular, based on nothing more than my own responses to their work.

Amy Crow’s ‘Alone – Diamond’ kept me so spellbound I forgot to take a pic, despite going back three times.

And I connected deeply with Rhiannon Hetherington’s large and bold works. ‘Radiating Love’ was a stand-out for it’s – well – radiation of love. Again, no photo, but here’s another one of Hetherington’s that caught my eye again as I was walking out the door.



If you get the chance, I urge you to get along to Gallery 4017 in Loftus Street, Deagon. The Artrageous Experience space is fabulous, especially the garden area out the back.


More information about the venue

More information about the exhibition



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Flame Tip: first review

Wonderful review by Lisa Hill at ANZ LitLovers.

flame-tip-front-325x475-front    Can barely wait for the release!


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