Week #77 This Thing of Darkness: a podcast

Understanding homicide, as it turns out, helps in understanding the human condition. Who could have known? But the podcast, This Thing of Darkness, produced by the BBC and superbly written by Lucia Haynes and Anita Vettesse, tells us a lot about us: about how we think and why, about what it takes to commit murder and why, and, about love and how distortion and anxiety can pervert it. It isn’t hate we’re shown but the other face of love, which can deadly.

Despite the presence of brutality – you can hardly have murdered without it – what we hear is why life can produce brutality in an individual. The reasons, of course, are vast and deep, cruel and illuminating, sobering and disturbing. But, underlying it all, they are very human and because of that, ultimately decipherable.

Perhaps the reason This Thing of Darkness can boast to have achieved such a high standard of insight, is because the story is so beautifully choreographed. As it swings from the personal to the theoretical, the narrative reveals how the unresolved in us, can build. Without realising it, we are pushed ever closer – often by distortion – to bring about a resolution. For some of us this eventuates in things being resolved in a deadly way.

While the gulf between murderers and the rest of us may seem vast, this podcast not only manages to clarify and inform us about why murder occurs, but to bring those who commit it, closer. It demystifies our tendency to think of them as outside of us. Like the warp and weft of material, the text never excuses their behaviour but seeks and succeeds in showing us the fabric of the human condition even if it leads to the act of killing.    

Deftly pieced together, This Thing of Darkness shows us how we love and how that love can be misshapen.

Week #76 A Thousand Words: a photographic series

Valentin and Clara

Sven Creutzmann is a photographer who, by his own admission, is keen to tell a story. Marrying documentary photography with artistry are his ingredients and he’s good at getting the balance right. There’s a warmth in these shots, even the brutal ones, that draws the viewer in. They fill in the details by inviting their audience past the front door; they expand on what it is that we need to understand.

The breadth of Creutzmann work is considerable. From the political to the social to the personal, the work is crisp and decisive. Whether up close or shot from a distance, engagement is key. For more of his tales, try here and here and here.

The Bat
Ruben Gonzalez
Idelbis, Tropicana

Week #75 Dead Europe: a novel

Christos Tsiolkas is probably best known for his novel The Slap. Here, however, I want to recommend his third novel Dead Europe, my favourite of all his books. Not only is the narrative layered with all the mysterious and atmospheric veils of a myth, but it pulls the reader into a rippling search for place and timely-location. As a young man, a photographer, goes on a trip through Europe, he must come face to face with the claws of his past and the way in which they have been worn down.

It is the undercurrent of life that Tsiolkas is interested in: the roof-top chats, the ugly outskirts of Paris, the lonely barren insides of a Greek café. Energetically brutal while engagingly normal, Tsiolkas is a writer who excoriates the personal, sometimes to unbearable depths.

Eerily, Dead Europe has the feel of a prophetic missive, a kind of current dystopia. But what’s most arresting about this novel is what lingers, that of a bitter sweet reminder that the human experience is at the behest of historic whimsy. And the pain to understand our location in the world is often packaged in brutal truths.

Week #74 Casablanca Not The Movie: A photographic series … Yoriyas

How do you get just enough movement and stillness in a photograph? Actually, how do you get just enough modernity and tradition in a photograph? The complimentary juxtaposition of subject matter and form are a quintessential aspect of Yoriyas’s photographs. They abound with it: humour and seriousness, colour and blanch, fantasy and reality. Devoid of judgement, they allow a taste of everything of variance to be packed into one image.  

Yoriyas Yassine Alaoui is a Moroccan photographer who seems to have come to the art in an organic manner. From chess to mathematics to hiphop to dance this is a person who follows their passions, and his photography is definitely one to be celebrated.

Documenting daily life in almost poetic distillation, you can see more of his work here and here. And for a recent look in the time of COVID, here.  

Week #73 A Day Out: a photographic series

Martin Parr 1Martin Parr 2Martin Parr 3Martin Parr 5Martin Parr 6Martin Parr 8Martin Parr 9Martin Parr 10

Martin Parr is interested in people. He photographs them without apology, capturing their lives and representing them with humour if not a stark honesty. Often touting a relaxed veneer, the photographs have a deep resonance. They are bald reflections of life sometimes opening up on the absurd and banal.

Quintessentially English – although not exclusively so – Parr gets below the radar of his photographic subjects and into the national psyche. He ekes out an individual’s essence and reflects it back to us with an empathy that goes all the way to truth-telling. It’s not that it’s harsh but then, these shots are not taken in a deprived land. In fact, it’s plenty that might be the more problematic protagonist, plenty that is usually the backdrop for those who are anything but rich.

No matter what informs the shots – whether they are brazen or brutal – these photos are warm. At one end of the spectrum they celebrate the human spirit and at the other they are pictures of an overwrought world?

Certainly, Martin Parr’s efforts are glorious to the eye. More of which can be elucidated here. And – my favourite of his collections taken in Manchester –  here. And if you’re still hungry, you can go here.

Week #72 Searching the Dead: a poem

Andy Kissane is one of my favourite Australian poets. His style is often full-sentenced and slow winding, giving a sense of room. Syntax perfect, he intertwines visual aspects with sensitivities that are seemingly unemotive. It’s a hard line to maintain. But when pulled off, as he does, it accomplishes a full understanding of what’s at stake. Not that it’s harrowing. Just the opposite. Despite the serious and sometimes gruesome subject matter of his work, the gentle rhythm and sneakily benign ideas, leads the reader inside the poem and, once there, takes them through veils of gravitas until everything has been revealed, until the poem is rounded out. And not in a way that simplifies things. Rather in a way that holds those ideas and, by extension, the reader, still.

Gently pleasing, his words reveal harsh truths about real life. Searching the Dead is a great example. Here and here, you can find others.

Searching the Dead

The bone-coloured branches of the rusty fig

twist and rise into a canopy of leaves that shuts

out the beating sun. It’s like standing in a limestone cave

and gazing up at limbs that resemble toned calves

and bulging biceps. As if the tree has been fashioned

out of human body parts miraculously glued together.

From a distance it appears sublime, but standing beneath it,

I can’t shift these images of haunches, thighs and elbows.

The human form, even when you’re not looking for it,

is everywhere. Five days out from Nui Dat, after the firefight

and the ambush, I went back into the rubber plantation

to search the pockets of the dead. They weren’t our dead,

our dead had been dusted off that morning, but here

were men who resembled us, soldiers who had been trained

to follow SOP, move carefully day and night, minimise risk.

Clothes now stretched tightly over bloated arms and legs,

feet cold and green, flies and gnats crowding around

their eyes, their mouths. Bodies washed clean by the rain,

a few with legs completely missing, one or two

without heads. We were searching for intelligence.

I found a gold American watch, sunglasses, a plastic comb,

a bag of uncooked rice, a lock of hair. Occasionally

what appeared to be a diary, filled with Vietnamese script,

a pressed flower fluttering down to the ground.

A cowrie shell bringing the news from the South China Sea.

In one man’s pockets a pair of lacy black knickers.

And photos wrapped in plastic to preserve them –

a girlfriend leaning against a motorbike, a couple posing

near a lake, a family in front of a shimmering pagoda.

Everything smeared with the same red dust that coated

my skin. There won’t be another photograph of this man

sitting with his children as he tucks into a steaming soup.

The rubber trees had been hit by bullets and dribbled

latex, as if they were crying. Johnno and Boffa

were digging a mass grave. I took my shirt off

so I could feel the sun on my back. I might have been

fielding at square leg, dreaming of the tea break.

When I opened a tin of tiger balm or laid down a pack

of playing cards, this shiver spread from my neck

to my shoulders. I was so aware of my body, how

it was greased and primed, how it wasn’t going to jam.

What I collected I put down by the base of the banyan tree,

the wood darker than this fig, soldiering on through

the hot afternoon, soaked with sweat. I was elated to be alive.

The work had to be done before we could move out.

I made a shrine to lives well lived, then went to find

some cool water to drink, some fresh air to breathe.

Week #71 Facts about Deer: a poem

Sometimes a piece of art just won’t let you forget about it. Facts about Deer is one of those pieces for me. I first read it in Narrative Magazine in 2016 and, as I said, it’s been coming back to me ever since – a poem so conscious of itself and yet so intriguing. A poem seemingly about death but also about choice and decision-making and secrets. This poem, while melodious, shudders with a brittle undercurrent. It’s a poem that pulls at meaning and brings a story to light. It uncovers a personality.

Lillian-Yvonne Bertram has written other poems. You can find out more about her work here and here.

Facts about Deer

Because this is still a poem with an animal in it
and I am still trying—I might say “it offers you
its meaty heart, with no lasting conditions.”

If you’ve seen a struck deer thrash its life out
on the shoulder, a burner that clicks
without flaming, you know how they seize to death.

Who cares what I think, but I wished just then
to have a knife. I wished I knew a little about guns
and to own one or to know something sorcerous.

Because nothing but blood tastes like blood, I’ve cut
myself for its coppery flavor. Only God knows
I’m good. My mother says I’ve no scruples, the way

I make no claims to being a permanent person,
how my move from husband to ex-husband came on
a wave of expediency and self-promotion. If you’ve gone

to the store and left behind a life—the kind that comes
with seating, spare change jars, someone’s green thumb
—then you know how I angered at the woman

shrieking behind the wheel of her cracked Escape,
phone to face, doe spasming on the shoulder.
Someone should knuckle up and kill this deer. A roadway

in America and there’s no policeman on hand to squash
a neck? It’s early evening & the sky’s poetically
blameless gray fills your throat with the thick despair

so familiar to the heavily indebted. Mountaineers know
you can’t save anyone on good will, that high altitude
is minus morality. So, Confessionalism. Or,

Two Truths and a Lie: I married a man I met
on an airplane. I killed that deer. I have no patience
for even the most cherubic of children.

Week #70 The Horror of Delores Roach: a fiction podcast


I have, by now, listened to a fair number of podcasts. My favourites are the fictional ones. Like radio plays of old, they open a theatrical world that’s present and artistic and exceptional, all at once. Possibly due to the high cost in making these kinds of productions, there are few of them, relatively speaking, around. Gimlet Media however, have made at least three, all of which are worth a listen: Homecoming, Sandra and The Horror of Delores Roach.

The Horror of Delores Roach is one of their first productions and, not to put too fine a point on it, surprising does not quite cover how unexpected and bold, how touching and macabre, how devilish and humorous Delores’s tale is. Extremely well produced, the outrageous and, at times, political sway of the story deserves real-life consideration. This podcast stands out for its gumption alone. It is edible in oh-so-many ways.

Week #67 Golden Boys: a novel

Golden Boys sonya hartnett

Despite the fact that not much happens in Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys so much is going on that you could say this book carries its weight in its undercarriage. First you must look and then look again while the carriage moves you with its astute language, its great character depictions and its spellbindingly good metaphors. It is a novel to read for its words alone, and yet, and yet, there’s so much more.

Opening an eye on a family’s arrival into a neighbourhood, it is the children who will uncover the intricacies of such a landing. The adults, on the other hand, are cushioned by experience and the lack of need to bend towards others.

Hartnett shows us what that is like. The children’s hopes and fears, their rising awareness of the world they’ve been born into and the adults at the helm of that world. Golden Boys is not so much about what parents do – although there is enough said about that in the text – as what they don’t do: their lack of action, their poor decisions, their bad behaviour.

Set in a time (mid-80’s in suburban Australia) when men forgave everything in each other and, if not forgave, then downplayed, and women were their husband’s working attachés, the ubiquitous nuclear family (some may posit not much has changed) was a frightening and unrelenting knot for children. For all the ways that adults ingratiated themselves or lauded over children, with nothing properly discussed, the children in Golden Boys navigate the perils and joys with a spirit not yet tarnished and utterly unique to each of them.

This book taught me about a child’s inner life and made me so aware of something I’ve always said to parents who have come to me in my professional capacity as a Family Therapist: Children hear and see everything that you do.

Week #68 Fusion: a novel

Fusion Kate RichardsI couldn’t stop at reading Kate Richard’s first book, Madness: a memoir, and began immediately I’d finished, to read her second book, Fusion, a novel, that I would say, despite the closeness of the characters, is about isolation.

So close, indeed impossible to be closer, conjoint twins, Sea and Serene, and their cousin, Wren, must deal with, not only physical isolation but a mewling pestering emotional isolation that first Wren and then the twins must unlock themselves from. For Wren it takes the experience of meeting someone to open the doors so he can walk past what has cautioned him against relationships. For the twins it requires an emotional separation from each other – to become two instead of one – before, as individuals, they can contemplate having a friendship with one another and others.

Repetition and poetic prose are used to make the score, by which I mean the text, bend and slip and pull the reader along. The sense of each character’s pain and sensitivity is like a spiky blanket that cloaks and irritates, rises and rests, jabs and soothes. Fusion is an aria about human need and survival. It teaches the reader about courage.