A poetry review poem

Review poem of Billy Collins Aimless Love

I’ll confess I don’t read much poetry.
I’m far more likely to recommend Australian non-fiction
or the latest John Sandford thriller, like Buried Prey.

But then I saw Billy Collins on a talk show,
reading from Aimless Love,
and fell for his great playfulness and depth.

Still, it took me two years to buy the book—
so much lost time! What a waste.

Collins reflects the world I know back to me,
its solemnity and humour, the inescapable crush of history,
framing it with remarkable precision:

‘But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.’

I can’t help taking the book to bed,
to sleep with under my pillow
or snuggled against my chest, like a stuffed bear.

And now I’m doomed to spend the rest of my life
asking strangers, ‘But have you read Billy Collins?’
and stuffing handwritten copies of his poems in their pockets.


First published by NSW Writers’ Centre

A tranquilizer dart salesman solves the gun crisis

Let’s not kid ourselves. People love guns, they love ’em. They’re not going to give up their guns for anything. They’d rather shoot you.

The real problem isn’t guns — it’s bullets. Guns don’t kill people. Bullets kill people. If we want to really address the gun crisis, the solution is simple. We ban bullets.

Now you might be saying, ‘Gus, if we ban bullets, people won’t have anything to shoot’. Well, that’s the kind of limited thinking that led to our current bullet-centric society. Guns could shoot all kinds of things, but in my experience there’s nothing finer to screw into the barrel than a high quality tranquilizer dart filled with a mild sedative.

That’s right, tranquilizer darts! Can’t you just picture it? It’s late, and you’re alone in a dark alley because it is your God-given right to take a shortcut home. Suddenly a criminal leaps from the shadows. He’s brandishing a gun – but so are you! You fire simultaneously, each getting struck by a Tranq Em Good™ tranquilizer dart. Within seconds, smooth relaxing sedative is flooding through your bloodstream. You and your would-be mugger both collapse in the alley. Several hours later, you wake up feeling refreshed. You have a laugh, compliment each other on your fine choice of darts, then realise someone has made off with both your wallets while you lay unconscious.

That’s the kind of society I want to live in, and I bet you do too.

Will tranquilizer darts solve all our problems? No. You take a tranq dart to the eye, that eyeball won’t grow back. And depending on how many darts a person is hit with and what the average dilution of sedative is in each — you get the picture. But there will be far fewer gun-related deaths and a lot more naps.

You’re thinking, ‘Won’t the low-risks stakes of tranquilizer darts encourage people to shoot each other more, not less? Won’t we have teachers shooting school kids just to get some peace and quiet, and moms shooting children, also to get some peace and quiet, and employees shooting their bosses on a daily basis?’ Probably, yes. What’s your point?

A side benefit is that tranquilizer dart sales are set to go through the roof – and not just darts and sedative! It will be difficult to retrofit most of today’s guns to shoot tranq darts, so we expect to sell dart guns by the crateful. The time to invest is now. And in contrast to bland old metal bullets, darts offer huge potential for personalization. If you wake up on your lawn to find a dart with a neon pink tail feather covered in glitter sticking out of your thigh, you’ll know your six-year-old neighbour Gloria has really improved her aim.

As part owner of Tranq Em Good™, I personally stand to gain huge financial benefits in the post-bullet world. But I’m not only doing this to become wildly rich. I’m doing this because I believe that in this great nation, we can have our guns and shoot them too.

Blind dating with books: the game

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I recently hosted Blind Dating with Books as part of Noted Festival’s LitHop, where a Lonely Reader from the audience played to find the book of his or her dreams.

Some of the books the Lonely Reader met included the fine, well-known titles listed here. Can you guess the identity of these books? They may be fiction or non-fiction, for adults or kids. Answers below. No cheating!

Book 1
Setting: New Zealand
Themes: good vs evil, heroism, climbing volcanoes, love of jewellery, friendship, long journeys, getting out of your comfort zone, The Great Outdoors
Plot notes: Supernatural big brother, communing with trees, etc

Book 2
: The Middle East, or a vaguely desert-like place
Themes: Salvation, good vs. evil, begetting, killing your child, the patriarchy
Plot notes: Probably the most famous beginning, major flooding, getting swallowed by a whale, giant vs. slingshot, murder via DIY woodworking

Book 3
: modern Europe
Themes: ancient conspiracies, bad grammar, murder, “symbology”
Plot notes: murder in a museum, cryptic clues, famous artworks, historical and scientific inaccuracies

Book 4
: Nazi Germany
Themes: Survival, friendship, how great books are, hatred/racism, death
Plot notes: hiding from Nazis, book burnings, orphanhood, getting whipped (but not in a sexy way)

Book 5
Setting: A fruit bowl?
Themes: counting, transformation
Plot notes: chocolate cake, ice-cream cone, pickle, Swiss cheese, salami, lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, cupcake, a lot of various fruits

Book 6
: Old timey England
Themes: love, romance, marriage, social inequality
Plot notes: boarding school, secret spouse, dead parents, typhus and other old-timey diseases, horse-riding accidents, a proposal from your cousin, arson

Book 7
: Northern Europe, present day
Themes: murder, justice, challenging stereotypes
Plot notes: computer hacking, open marriage, lucrative ghost-writing, Nazi relatives, amateur tattoo artistry, patricide

Book 8
: A private island
Themes: murder, mystery, survival, justice
Plot notes: cyanide poisoning, message in a bottle, confession, life imitates poetry, a marble clock shaped like a bear

Book 9
: Old timey England
Themes: love, romance, marriage, family
Plot notes: snobbery, balls, fever, never-ending marriage proposals, horse riding, the worst brother-in-law

Book 10
: Melbourne
Themes: love, romance, acceptance, reducing inefficiency
Plot notes: very specific menus, ‘affirmative’, cocktails, trip to New York, project work, bicycles, science!

Book 11
: small-town America
Themes: childhood trauma and its echoes in adulthood, ugliness lurking behind small-town quaintness, overcoming evil
Plot notes: stuttering, oversized spiders, Dracula, Hansel & Gretel, a werewolf, Frankenstein’s monster, blood oath, a random turtle

Book 12
: Modern day US
Themes: power/control, life choices
Plot notes: “I don’t do the girlfriend thing”, drunk calls, private helicopter, “written consent”/nondisclosure agreement, “hard limits”, a lot of crying

Book 13
: The universe
Themes: Science! Learning! Amusing anecdotes! Terror!
Plot notes: How did the universe start? What are supernovae? Big Bang Theory, the size, shape, weight and orbit of the Earth, theory of relativity and quantum physics, the fabric of spacetime, potential deadly meteor strike, Yellowstone supervolcano, global warming; possibly recurring ice ages

Book 14
: London
Themes: love and romance, self-improvement (?), weight loss
Plot notes: Having a crush on your boss, how confusing men are, a time-share scam, awkward dates, culinary disasters

1. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
2. The Bible – God et al.
3. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
4. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
5. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle
6. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsen
8. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
9. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin
10. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
11. It – Stephen King
12. 50 Shades of Grey – EL James
13. A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
14. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

5 life hacks you absolutely must follow or you’ll be dead by Friday

1. Taupe is your colour. That’s right, taupe.

2. Attach paperclips to a hanger, then put in your freezer to avoid thinking about your credit card debt.

3. If you’re driving in snow and spin out, pour a bucket of hot water under each tire. Seriously. Your neighbours won’t laugh at you.

4. Put a piece of white bread inside your shirtsleeve to soak up sweat.

5. Get 37 people to retweet you within exactly 29 seconds, and a unicorn will appear to grant you one wish.

Your muscles: a user’s guide

A user guide to your muscles.png
Hello and welcome to your new muscles! They’re not really new, of course; you’ve had them for 30-some years. But because the only greens in your diet are lime-flavoured jellybeans, and you’ve spent approximately 97% of your waking hours hunched in front of glowing rectangles, your muscles have entered a new phase of deterioration.

The following FAQ will help you understand exactly how terrible the rest of your life will be.

Why are my muscles in constant pain?
You have to understand that your body has upwards of 850 individual muscles and each one of them hates you.

This is how I would have expected to feel at, like, 60.
Yes, your body has effectively given up, which has accelerated your aging process. By 35 you’ll feel like you’re 80, and by 40 you’ll feel like you’re 127.

I see other people doing things like sitting on picnic blankets and carrying everyday items including books, groceries and purses without this seeming to cause them serious pain. Is it appropriate to stare at them as though they’re three-headed aliens who teleported here via a ring of purple fire?
Sure, I guess.

What can I do to make this better?
You can pay a hipster osteopath $97 to stab you in the leg with a needle and call that ‘acupuncture’.

Uh-huh, so you’re saying there’s nothing I can do?
You can spend thousands of dollars and several futile years with physios, massage therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, yoga instructors, pilates instructors, doctors, reiki masters and a man who believes that muscle trauma can be healed through immersion in pickle brine.

Will any of that help?
The pickle brine guy has a lot of positive Google reviews.

What if I just have a nice hot bath?
Most bathtubs were purposefully designed to fuck up your neck.

Maybe I should just spend the next fifty years lying down.
Lying down causes your lower back to seize. Also, you still haven’t found a pillow that prevents your neck pain. Here’s the secret: no such pillow exists!

What if I ate some broccoli?
As if you’re going to eat broccoli.

No really, I found this soup recipe and also green smoothies are a thing.
And? How is it?

OMG it’s like chewing a pine tree why does my body even want this?
Your taste buds also hate you.

A letter to the cactus in my apartment’s recycling bin

An Letter To The Cactus In My Apartment Recycling Bin
Dear Cactus,

I don’t want to alarm you. I suppose earlier this week you were chilling out, doing your photosynthesis thing in one of my neighbour’s windows. And now you’ve found yourself shoved in this recycling bin, mostly buried under unrinsed beer bottles and partially crushed egg cartons. A sudden move like that would be a big adjustment, I’m sure.

But I’ve got some bad news. Are you ready? Here goes.

I am pretty certain cactus recycling doesn’t exist. Yet, I mean! Doesn’t exist yet. It, definitely will, uh, sometime. It’s up there among other top societal priorities, probably. But at this moment in time – which happens to be the moment in which you’re in a recycling bin – cactus recycling is not a thing.

Unless I’m wrong. Maybe I’m wrong! I get most of my news from Snapchat so I’ve been known to be out of the loop on occasion. And I still haven’t even listened to Lemonade, so who knows? Maybe the city has only just introduced its brand new Cactus Recycling Initiative as part of a future-facing seven-point plan to combat climate change, and here I am, completely oblivious and spouting off like an idiot.

Nope. Just Googled it. No cactus recycling.

I want you to know I would have pulled you out. Really. You looked healthy and I bet you would have got along swell with that philodendron on my windowsill. If whoever shoved you in the bin had just placed you on the floor alongside the white leather sofa with only two cushions and that stain shaped like Nicaragua, someone probably would have taken you home before I ever had the chance.

But the thing is – look, you were in the bin pretty deep, and you’re covered in spikes. I mean, obviously, you’re a cactus. So it wasn’t like I could just reach in there and – well, you understand.

What I’m trying to say is – I’m sorry. And I hope that, before you get crushed into pulp in the back of the recycling truck, you get to spike someone really good. I hope you draw blood, buddy. I’ll be laughing with you, you just remember that. Godspeed, recycling bin cactus. Give ’em hell.

In solidarity,


7 signs your thesis may be imminently due

You have run out of hand soap and are now using shampoo instead.

You envy people in prison because at least they get to sleep.

Your grocery list is MLA formatted:
Tiger, Tony the. (2017[1952]) “Frosted Flakes,” Kellog’s, n. pag.

You’re also using shampoo as dish detergent. Your dishes smell like ylang-ylang.

You’ve forgotten your husband’s name. Maybe … Bill?

You fantasize about giving Theodor Adorno a wedgie.

Discovering you’ve run out of shampoo results in three hours huddled under your desk, crying.