if not in paint


unstitching at the seams
its heart valves blue and sputtering
Spacer40the house returns in dream

cuts loose from its stumps
Spacer40drifts to the dunes
as dunes move in and pour
on page one

Spacer40down the bisecting



topped with triangle
of solid red its chimney cockeyed
to the roofline tilt the yellow
texta house he drew
page two
still puts out
Spacer40of optimistic smoke

Spacer40as it fades to filigree

Spacer40(red wattle bird flexing
Spacer40the yellow callistemon
Spacer40chokchoks at the glass)



mute & veiled
through repetition
the towers
rain the people


to come
take shape
in the

is it us
in the market place
of page three images
whose dream-
this is



ashes in her voice
my mother speaks back
on the fourth page
from the long coast of illness
only alive
& red
in my dreams

down freeway ramps
still giving advice
from the rear vision



a one-time lover’s
got her nerves plugged in
air electric Spacer10river Spacer5clay
feel the pulse where
she’s working still
in colour

she tugs to the fifth
page the sky’s
blue fire
willing the whole body
in like a calf at the teat

now she strokes
the keyboard of the palette
with a tenderness she can’t relay
if not in paint



on the sixth we are too
white noise
to tell daughter/son
how we got stuck
in this hard & cynical time
why we sag deep in the couch
as the dun flooding rage carries whole villages
away & politicians
periscope above the foam
on boat patrol of the home



I hear an old friend whisper
through the fibre of the seventh
leave that life it’s thwarting
your spirit & I haven’t long to go
would you like to feed me now

yes that spoon

might be the last chance
we have together
hers the only mind still
vibrant at the table
all other heads

Spacer40Spacer20(red wattle bird flexing
Spacer40Spacer20the yellow callistemon
Spacer40Spacer20chokchoks at the glass).



here the dancers are intent
anonymous insolent

outside the sense
of drifting litter
& stagger in the ticking
light the fitful wind

back home there’s
the foam
mattress on the floor
the dripping shower rose
the poem gagged
the lover gone

beyond those old ambitions
this and only this —

willing on page eight
the bloodrush to break
all blanketing over



deux pigeons s’aimaient d’amour tendre
two pigeons bound in fondest love
a fable from la fontaine a life insurance ad
can spell the old heart’s atrophy

who on the ninth
can it call



on the tenth
the seer from that river
place in perth called may-
Spacer40(as if there still
Spacer40could be
Spacer40the modality of may
Spacer40growing into place after such

listens to all of us
distressed daughters
sons for instance she
says to one that flame haired woman
yes the painter
loved you just as you needed
& of course
you called her gaoler
walked Spacer5away



eleven is
ever open
to each
renewed chance
for those of the leaking boat
who might slip up
the maylands river reach
parallel lines of possibility
in looks
in words in touch
if not in paint
a house in filigree
can host



(red wattle bird flexing
the yellow callistemon
chokchoks at the glass)


as he has said
the gods have gone
attend to what is given you


a heart



Spacer20what’s left to us now on the brink
Spacer20of the twelfth
Spacer20my wasted breath Spacer5your sparking
Spacer20circuitry Spacer10a brief abeyance or long
Spacer20interlude as animals we drink
Spacer20insatiable from photon stream

Spacer20wild joy keeps all


Spacer20hold Spacer5hold Spacer40sweet life

Spacer20in this our hearts’ own Spacer10interval

Reflection: The Hospitality of Constraints

if not in paint is an attempt to deploy the concept of the text as a space in which to bring to light the sense of hospitality. It is inspired by Jacques Derrida’s exploration of the theme (in Derrida & Dufourmantelle 1997), which has taken increasing urgency in the first decades of the millennium with the global refugee crisis. The sequence aspires to a poetics of attentiveness and radical passivity associated with Maurice Blanchot (1986) and informing Alan Loney’s poetry (Loney 2005, 2007 & 2008). The poem operates a transformation of the concept of home from the narrow one, sentimentally associated with familial and personal identity, via betrayal and calamity, to the possibility of home as openness to the other.

As material practice, the poem emerged as a collaboration between Alan Loney, who is also a master printer, and me. It is an exercise in enabling constraint and was shaped by Loney’s stipulation for his Alphabeta series: each page 24.5 x 14.0 cm, eleven pages of actual poetry, no line more than ten words, no page more than twenty lines, one poem per page.

These constraints had me thinking of number as solicitation, as had the numerological play in Loney’s superb Day’s Eye (2008). So I began to think about writing to each page: number one to eleven, as it were, and I let each mark a moment in a progression towards – where I didn’t know.

There was a pulse subliminally instigated by Loney’s stipulation for the little book, a pulse of attentiveness for what might alight there. What first arrived for me on page one was the dune house of dream, of forgetfulness, which set in motion the thematic tension between home and homelessness. This, in turn, attracted variations to its horizon: hospitality and its shipwrecks, its calamitous failings. The bush block where my family’s dune shack is nestled suggested the motif of the red wattlebird, and the sense of the chokchok of mortality on the window that can open a breach in the heart: unless I accept my mortality I cannot be open to the other. The red wattlebird receives hospitality in sipping on the nectar of the yellow callistemon. Red and yellow called forth the third primary colour, blue: and so emerged the page two motif of the child’s felt pen drawing of a house – but which has faded to filigree, compromised by the failures of house-home-hospice-hospitality. So, both hope for cohabitation in and through love, the best kind of hospitality, and its failings, imposed themselves as the themes. With the play of colour associated with joyful affirmation came the motif of the painter whom the speaker has failed in love – and who is left wordless, unable as she is, if not in paint, to return love for pain.

The sequence is now extended to a twelfth poem, also elicited by Loney. It is an acceptance that hospitality means an intensified awareness of the mortality of self and other, and, in the house or the space of hospitality of the poem, there is the reprieve called “love,” in which “as animals” we drink from “photon stream.” Here, the house opens to the liminal zone where the lovers, as mortal animals, drink up the light all the more greedily for approaching the brink of death.


Campbell, Marion May (2011). if not in paint [Alphabeta Series], Caulfield East: Electio Editions.

Derrida, Jacques & Dufourmantelle, Anne (1997). Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond, tr. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).

Foucault, Michel (1966) & Blanchot, Maurice (1986). Foucault/Blanchot: Michel Foucault: ‘Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside’ & Maurice Blanchot: ‘Michel Foucault as I Imagine Him,’ tr. Jeffrey Mehlman & Brian Massumi, New York: Zone Books, 1987.

Loney, Alan (2011). Electio Editions, Melbourne, 19th September, at: http://electioeditions.blogspot.com.au/2011/09/if-not-in-paint.html

Loney, Alan (2008). Day’s eye (Edmonton: Rubicon Press).

Loney, Alan (2007). Nowhere to go & other poems (Carlton: Five Islands Press).

Loney, Alan (2005). Fragmenta nova (Melbourne: Five Islands Press).


Marion May Campbell has written novels (Lines of Flight, Not Being Miriam, and Prowler published by Fremantle Arts Centre Press, and Shadow Thief published by Pandanus Press), poetry, short fiction, theatre scripts, and criticism. Her more recent books include the cross-genre collection Fragments from a Paper Witch (Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2008) and the novella konkretion about failed feminist revolutionaries (Crawley: University of Western Australia Publishing, 2013). The critical monograph Poetic Revolutionaries: Intertextuality & Subversion appeared 2014 with Rodopi, Amsterdam. She is Associate Professor in Professional & Creative Writing at Deakin University, where she is presently working on critical and creative fronts on the subversive potential of prose poetry. She has been interviewed as part of the “Open Page” series in the Australian Book Review, No. 350, April 2013, accessible at: https://www-australianbookreview-com-au.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/abr-online/archive/2013/98-april-2013-no-350/1410-open-page-with-marion-may-campbell


if not in paint is republished with permission of the author and her original publisher, Electio Editions.