Friday, December 2, 2022


In addition to aggregating reviews from the internet, THE HALO-HALO REVIEW presents The Mangozine which features new reviews and serves as the online publisher for reviews and other engagements (e.g. book introductions) published in print but not yet available within the internet.  Other features, including author interviews and reader testimonials, also will be presented. The following presents a Table of Contents for Issue 14 -- CLICK on links to go to the reviews.

Submission deadline for the 15th issue has been set at May 31, 2023 (though we will take reviews sooner than the deadline if that is more convenient for the reviewers).

(December  2022)

Editor's Note:  Welcome to the 14th issue of THE HALO-HALO REVIEW where we provide engagements with Filipino-Pilipinz literature and art and authors/artists through reviews and engagements, interviews and other prose. We hope readers, writers, artists, and publishers will continue to participate and share information about numerous Filipino authors and the wide variety of their writings. 


Thorn Grass by Luis H. Francia (UP Press, 2021)

Reviewed by Tess Crescini

The Future Is A Country I Do Not Live In by Cynthia Buiza (Paloma Press, 2022)

Engaged by Eileen Tabios

Dancing Between Bamboo Poles by Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor (Village Books, 2019)

Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

Hotel Pacoima by Michael Caylo-Baradi (Kelsay Books, 2021)

Reviewed by Harold Legaspi

KAPWA'S NOVELS by Eileen R. Tabios (Booksby Press, Ohio, 2022)

Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

The Kindness of Birds by Merlinda Bobis (Spinifex Press, Australia, 2021)

Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

FLASH REVIEWS of The Love at a Certain Age by Charlie Samuya Veric (UP Press, 2021); Tangere by Rodrigo Dela Peña Jr. (2021, UP Press); Memory's Mercy by Myrna Peña-Reyes (UP Press, 2014); All Our Nameable Days by Gémino Abad (UP Press, 2013); When Bridges Are Down, Mountains Too Far by Gémino Abad (UP Press, 2020); No Country by Charlie Samuya Veric (UP Press, 2021); Tilt Me and I Bend by Ned Parfan (UP Press, 2017); A Wanderer in the Night of the World: The Poems of NVM Gonzalez (UP Press, 2015); Our Scene So Fair by Gemino Abad (UP Press, 2008)

Reviewed by Aloysiusi Polintan


Cynthia Buiza: The Future Is a Country I Do Not Live in


Go HERE to read:

Vina Orden on Gina Apostol

Elizabeth Ann Quirino on Malaka Gharib


Introduction to Moon Hanging Low Over My Window by Babeth Lolarga (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2022) by Luisa A. Gloria

Thursday, December 1, 2022




Thorn Grass by Luis H. Francia

(University of the Philippines Press, 2021)



When I was a child growing up in the streets of Pasay City, I played at a vacant lot in our neighborhood where thorn grass grew. My playmates and I harvested the grass seeds and pretended they were “rice” and set up a store where we pretended to sell them to each other. The skin cuts we endured during the harvest of the thorn grass were cured by mercurochrome afterwards. This childhood memory was sparked by the poems in Luis H. Francia’s Thorn Grass. The poem, "Plus ca Change," started out with “Do not grieve over those / you might have loved but didn’t, / or those you loved but soon left / or those who loved but left you bereft: / After the grieving what is left?” The first skin cut. As an immigrant, I felt the grief of leaving everyone you know behind. The poet took me on a journey to his neighborhood through his poem "Underground in New York on Easter Weekend" via the train through “Brooklyn and Queens, Bronx and Manhattan / I ride through gloriously delirious, until the tunnel / appears at the end of the light.” The bustle of the New York subway system is no match to the jeepneys and tricycles on the street of Pasay and Manila.


In the second chapter Peregrinations, Francia invoked the gods and goddesses such as in "Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess’s Complaint "where she laments the fact that she can’t show her love to everyone for “they Will be burnt to a crisp” and therefore must heed to “The one deity more powerful / Even than she: Fate.” As a reader of a certain age, I could relate to "Venus Arising from the Sea, at Fifty" wherein the poet pointed out: “The scallop shell she’s on / Has seen better days / And so has she.” The metaphors used are not all about Venus’s aging body but pointed to the earth’s global conditionseductive images used to hook the reader to something more serious. Another cut on the skin.


In the III. Transcripts a warning shot (or so it seems) is fired out with the first poem, "A Dictionary Is a Democracy, a Poem is Not," reminding the reader that while a “dictionary has all, has nothing...though smaller a poem stands mightier, lines sharp, letters at the ready, driven by the promise of infinity.” Be warned that in a poem, the poet will have sides taken and not all will be just words with literal meaning. But the poet is also a teacher as "A Poem Speaks" invites the reader to “sit down, and break bread with me” so that we may partake in "The Gift"“What is it I want to give you most? / If I were a god, it would be divinity.” Mercurochrome applied to the cut?


The last chapter IV. Citizen Acts (these poems deal with the brutal war on drugs waged by the Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte) made the deepest cuts starting with the "Requiem for the Common Tao"*. As a Filipino-American living in California with relatives living in the Philippines, I felt confused when my cousins in Makati and nearby cities told me that they felt safe at last to walk in the neighborhood once littered with drug addicts and also admitting that they did not vote for Duterte. I tried to point out that the big-time drug dealers are not being arrested, only the poor people who used them to keep working beyond their physical capabilities with the help of shabu. But I had to keep my mouth shut when they pointed out Trump as the President of USA and his siding with the enemies of the people in China and South Korea is akin to cozying up with the drug dealers.  My childhood pretend-store of thorn grass and its seeds as rice have to be shut down.  But I can’t help but hope as I read "To the Idol with Clay Feet"'s last verse: “We will rise up,  /angels ungrieving / unforgiving / and you: / Maggot.” 


I have had the chance to sit in a poetry class with Luis H. Francia in San Francisco a few years ago and his light as a teacher and a poet shines bright and is as healing as mercurochrome during these troubled times that are akin to running naked on a field of thorn grass. 


* "Tao" is a Filipino/Tagalog word for person


Tess Crescini was born and raised in Pasay City, Philippines. She graduated from San Jose State University with a Bachelors degree in English Literature and a Masters in Engaged Humanities and the Creative Life with emphasis in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Her poetry can be found in San Jose State UniversityReed Magazine, UC-BerkeleyMaganda Magazine, Stay Awhile: Poetic Narratives on Multiculturalism and Diversity, Hay(na)Ku15 anthology, among others. Her fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in many anthologies: Three: An Anthology of Flash Nonfiction, Philippine American Short Story anthology, Field of Mirrors anthology, and Beyond Lumpia, Pansit and Seven Manangs Wild anthology. The main subject of her poetry, short stories, and nonfiction are mostly about the role of a woman of color straddling the identities of her Filipino and American culture.  She writes to heighten the awareness of writing as a political, social, and literary tool in her community. 




The Future Is a Country I Do Not Live in by Cynthia Buiza

(Paloma Press, San Mateo, 2022)




There is a certain type of poetry book that’s exemplified by Cynthia Buiza’s The Future Is a Country I Do Not Live In. It’s a book that’s the poet’s first book while hinting at the possibility that it may be her last. Of course we hope that Buiza creates more books, but this evoked possibility relates to how there was no shortcut in time for releasing this first collection. The poet first had to live life over a prolonged period, to be sure writing individual poems along the way but not releasing a book until sufficient time and experiences have occurred. This book required intellectual and emotional marination. 


As a result of the process’ duration, each poem becomes imbued with a hard-earned wisdom, making each (seemingly) effortless with its revelations. Each poem hearkens some not-always articulated but deep knowledge. The approach results in an achievement that’s increasingly rare in this age of social-media instant gratification.


“When Will There Be Good News?”—is one of its powerful poems—a power magnified by not only intelligence, but mature understanding of the world Buiza has observed and experienced:


(click on image to enlarge)


The third stanza in “When Will There Be Good News?”—a conversation between a child and mother—might not have been possible without the poet’s lived experience. The line “An inch is the world when it lets you. Be” becomes more powerful and poignant when it transcends a particular life to be contextualized against the ways of suffering that exists in our world, sufferings that Buiza knows through her life as an immigrant and refugee rights advocate. Here we see how a poet looks at an inherited world, transforms it for the better, then transforms it again through poems. As a reader, I’m grateful.


Last but not least, I should note the book’s title poem—that I don’t show it here so that readers hopefully will get this book to see it. The title poem is worthy enough to be reproduced in a multitude of anthologies. I share one line that’s clearly hard-earned through the poet’s experience:


“A poet said the quiet is grief’s appetite.”


The line evokes a moment of contemplation that is part of writing a poem. It’s unfortunate that it’s a reminder, too, of a suffering world. But I am grateful to the poet for doing what was required to articulate these fine poems. The rigor did not come easily, but we can only be grateful it resulted in poems luminous despite their dark roots—a result that can be considered Grace.


Thank you, Cynthia Buiza!





Eileen R. Tabios has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 10 countries and cyberspace. Forthcoming in 2023 is the poetry collection Because I Love You, I Become War. Recent books include a first novel DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times; two French books, PRISES (Double Take) (trans. Fanny Garin) and La Vie erotique de l’art (trans. Samuel Rochery); and a book-length essay Kapwa’s Novels. Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form; the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity; and the “Flooid” poetry form that’s rooted in a good deed. Translated into 12 languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is at




Dancing Between Bamboo Poles by Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor 

(Village Books, 2019)


Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor is a Filipino-American writer, storyteller and creativity coach. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University in 2012. Her non-fiction, poetry and short fiction have appeared in print and online in several journals and anthologies. Her poetry chapbook ‘Pause Mid-Flight’ was released in 2010. She is also a performance storyteller specializing in stories based on Filipino folktales and Filipino-American history.

The title of her latest collection of poetry and prose is derived from a traditional folk dance from the Philippines that originated during the Spanish colonial era. Two or more people beat, tap and slide bamboo poles on the ground and against each other in coordination while one or more dancers steps over and in between the poles in a dance making hopping, jumping and turning movements while they do so. The dance, which is called tinikling imitates the movement of tikling birds as they run along tree branches or skirt round bamboo traps set by rice farmers.

The first part of the book consists of a series of redaction poems. Mabanglo-Mayor explains the methodology that she used for this in her introduction titled ‘The Art of Silencing’. According to the author, ‘redaction poems are similar to found poems in that they reflect the idea that art can be found in the most mundane, unexpected places.  Redactions, however, seek to show that a silencing has occurred; if you look closely enough, the missing can be found again’. There is something deeper going on here. This is not just about saving a few words on a page while blanking out everything else. There is the fear that the history of a people, of a nation, will be excised with black marks of denial and revision. Mabanglo-Mayor expresses the hope that things overlooked or unseen may one day be voiced again in a new light. 

Mabanglo-Mayor’s poems are largely concerned with cultural survival and the preservation of identity, socio-cultural pressures to conform and interconnectedness with the natural world. She draws her inspiration from a number of texts whose subjects range widely from math and physics to Filipino popular folk tales, and from cookery to environmental ethics and philosophy.

Several of the early poems focus on the word ‘landscape’ which moves in Mabanglo-Mayor’s hands from a picture that represents a view of natural scenery to how we interpret it on our own terms as part of our interior landscape, as we move from ‘sight’ to ‘insight’. Other themes that emerge include the trespass and conquest of territories, the nature of gravity, the dangers of exuberance, strategies for learning and the need to keep a check on our own personal bias.

The book opens with ‘muskeg’ a term for a peat-forming ecosystem found in several northern climes that is known more commonly in other places as a bog or any type of low-lying marshland. This area of shifting, waterlogged ground matches the fluidity of Mabanglo-Mayor’s poems as they move through a veritable quicksand of ideas from one line to the next. 

Two key poems in this collection are ‘Cultural Survival’ and ‘Memory Bank’. Both poems address the need for preservation, in particular, preservation of identity. Here is the final stanza of ‘Cultural Survival’:

The answer to “who are we?” is increasingly

the assertion of cultural identity,

an indigenism, an interconnectedness

predating common time

and reaching toward

an undetermined future.


In the first stanza of ‘Memory Bank’ the same theme is broadened out to take in the whole of the natural world:

We have to

preserve this knowledge

about our biosphere, our biodiversity to keep

going, to make sure it’s alive.



Some of the six essays contained in the second half of this collection return to the theme of cultural identity, most notably in ‘Falling from the Sky’ and ‘Kapwa Tao’. The former is a multi-layered essay where traditional Filipino myth meets present day reality through the lens of several generations. The symbolism invoked in putting down roots, sickness and health, holding on to ropes and slipping through them, experiencing loss and learning to let go is used to good effect. In the latter, some kind of resolution to ‘living the borrowed life of a person of color passing as a white’ is reached when attendance at a Babaylan conference fosters a sense of community as participants share their experiences and come together ‘with a mission to heal each other and to be healed’.


Another essay that caught my attention was ‘Gift of Plums’. Here, Mabanglo-Mayor gives an evocative account of being a child going on a journey with her parents in their ‘big blue Coronet 500 sedan’ before moving on to the subject of plums and how they become the common denominator in helping to bring back intergenerational memories.


Other essays focus on subjects as diverse as the Japanese attack on the Philippines on 8 December 1941 and the so-called ‘Death March’ (‘Chasing after Papang’) and, in ‘Hot Oil, Monsoon Rains’ attempts to make gluten-free spring rolls known in the Philippines and Indonesia as ‘lumpia’. 



Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His books include Hoarding Conkers at Hailes Abbey (Littoral Press, 2010), Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014); Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017); Penn Fields (Littoral Press, 2019) and Reading Between The Lines (Littoral Press, 2020). His work has been translated into French, Dutch, Nepali, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.




Hotel Pacoima by Michael Caylo-Baradi

(Kelsay Books, 2021)


Michael Caylo-Baradi defines his racial consciousness in the English language, rather than writing in Filipino, or Filipino mixed in with English, to position his poems as deeply embedded in America’s ‘assimilationist’ paradigm. Yet, the ‘culture’ of the Philippines in Hotel Pacoima continues through its interweaving themes of nature, place, fleeting love, beauty and urbanity. The poems, while written in English, the colonising language, have a paradoxical effect of shifting the diasporic Filipino community in the U.S. and beyond. While the lack of Filipino language may show contempt for our culture, perhaps the high level of assimilation into the White Mother Country, as evidenced in the book’s English languaging, constructs a culture centred around the acts of writing and reading. Borrowing and working within the established traditions of the lyric, Caylo-Baradi poeticises the Filipino-American experience. A sense of pathos is nevertheless evoked, for a culture or cultures not fully embraced. 


The distinctiveness of Caylo-Baradi’s voice culminates into the clarity of ways of thinking and rehearsing legacies of prior generations as well as nuances surrounding his own. Hotel Pacoima is a gift, as a means to reframing ideas which we should withdraw from, or embrace. The book’s epigraph by Anita Brookner echoes what the poet knows—‘The sun is God. Of the rest it is wiser not to know, or not yet to know’…Wisdom written in the poem ‘Lacustrine Dwellers’, where nature takes precedence, and shape our lives, is a reminder for us to remember, or rather, be nostalgic of the places which ‘brought us here’.  Brookner notes, ‘I am aware once more of the force of nature. And at such moments, I experience the fullness of nature and its promises’. Hotel Pacoima is a mature incantation of belief and observations of a struggling world in the midst of the quest to attain peace through our humanity.


Caylo-Baradi juxtaposes ancient wisdoms of nature with the urbanity of places like L.A. As in ‘Alley into Los Angeles’, city layers ‘of, capital’ give way to ‘The usual glitter of broken glasses’, ‘progressive rustiness of metals’…’that ancient diet of roaches’. In the Hollywood freeway, we are ‘smothering speed, accelerating’, ‘Without / disappearing’. In ‘Mapping Los Angeles’, Caylo-Baradi poeticises Angelenos to be ‘each other’s maps’, in a city as ‘Immense as love in obsession / furious, expansive’. As such, Caylo-Baradi paints quietly, if not smoothly glides us to experience his dreamscape into imagining L.A.’s nature, L.A.’s beauty, L.A.’s moral centre, where ‘A hail of angels hovers on the margins’.


In the book’s first poem, ‘Prelude to Act I’, Caylo-Baradi makes clear the central concern. The voice of a male speaker, ‘a prince’, evoking the idea of his hero-quest to save a princess ‘from a curse / that paints affliction’. In the next poem, ‘Age of Permutations’, ‘nights take shape / of hollow moons…that refuse remembrance’…but ‘become memorable’ only as ‘shattered certainties’. This is in stark contrast to the poem ‘Persuasions’, where ‘the red light…nourish nights / like this, [where]…something familiar…couldn’t squeeze out / that night’, which ‘drip[s] on edges’.


We learn in ‘Before Feminism’ of the heroine’s (our princess’s) bid to survive, as she ‘parenthesize[s] what / she must keep’—‘a museum of / loose endings’, as she ‘wait[s] to be rescued’.  Indeed, in ‘Morning After’, last night is of temporal significance as the poet writes of ‘drinks [which] drowned’ words ‘so [they] could communicate better / without the burden of phrases, sentences, / punctuating grammar’.


A beauty pageant takes place in ‘Prelude to a Beauty Pageant’—an event which is revered as a symbol for Filipino national identity. Aesthetics such as ‘Igorot tribal tattoos on a man’s neck’, ‘bald head[s] and a beard’, are juxtaposed against, ‘beauty rivalled by the organ inside the skull’. This idea of aesthetic relevance is given discourse in the next poem, ‘Our Island Country Wins Miss Universe Again’:


‘For a while, we

are not fragments in an archipelago, but a unified

vision of hope for the plight of our country, 

sequined on our candidate’s gown…

a hint of waking from the glum of our past’.


The mundane is explored in the poem of the book’s title, ‘Hotel Pacoima’—‘another / Friday night on San Fernando Boulevard’, where the ‘frame [of] a city’ appears ‘through the eyes / of fatigue and exhaustion’.  There, it is revealed we are ‘waiting for something to happen, for / anything that feels total and immutable’, where perhaps we can determine the face to which we belong.


In ‘Upward Mobility’, Caylo-Baradi despairs. ‘We ignore the moon…We do not light votive candles in our not coalesce into restful naps…We never incriminate ourselves for / murdering intransitive options’. Instead, ‘We just chew & masticate them at / the dinner table…fill[ing] the marrows of our fears’. 


In ‘Lombardy’, Caylo-Baradi questions our ties to ‘religions that continue to crucify us into an old brand of aristocracy / with a commanding view into the surface of things: its duckies, / bubbles, and other fragilities, floating in a tub replenishing our / nakedness’. Rather, the poet writes of ‘visits [to his] parents as often as [he] / can. [He] now [has] a bond with their geraniums on the patio…fertiliz[ing] / them with thoughts of the future’. He ‘dissolve[s] into sleep’.


In ‘Portrait of a Soldier’, the poet ruminates over the power of voice as he hears ‘the sound of the sun’, ‘before some bullets / flew to rest in him’. This is in stark contrast to the ‘long shut-up to silence’—a kind of stoicism upheld by his father, as written in ‘Geraniums’. Yet, in ‘Breathing Exercises at a Dumpsite in Manila’, the poet reveres ‘The sound of birds / [which] continues to lullaby volumes of stench’. And in the final poem, ‘Bloom’, the poet ‘like[s] how roads accelerate / through hills and clouds, / dense as words we thread into / a dance of nights and days’.


Caylo-Baradi’s poems convey depth upon the surface of our reality, which taken from his direct, sparse style engenders a curiously untextured world, albeit neither flat nor one-dimensional. His verses are so clear that they necessarily draw straight lines, in soft, smooth contours to express his imagination, thereby transforming estrangement into connection. Histories are rendered as opaque, and no names are mentioned, with the exception of a response to Jean Vengua’s ‘Masked Figure’ (2016). 


Of fleeting love, of our post-colonial condition, of our obsession with urbanity, of empty nights, these may be regarded as uncertain and indeterminable as the potential to will and withstand our humanity. The paradoxical beauty of life, which should guide us is the certainty that we all must die—this fact should unite us. This certainty is mirrored by nature’s overwhelming presence—the sun is God—and while we see her shadow as nights, we can be certain that she’ll be there tomorrow. And while tomorrow is both near and far—it never comes—it waits patiently for our arrival, as we glare to face her towards her unending light.



Harold Legaspi is a writer born in Manila, now living in unceded Darug land (Western Sydney, Australia). He is completing the Doctorate of Arts at University of Sydney. His book, Letters in Language, was published 2021 in the Flying Islands Pocket Books of Poetry series. In 2015, he was a writer in residence at the Global Exchange Centre in Beijing. 




Kapwa’s Novels 

(Booksby Press, Parma, Ohio, 2022)


Following in the footsteps of Laurence Sterne, James Joyce. Samuel Beckett and B.S.Johnson, Eileen R. Tabios continues to challenge and redefine the traditional form of the novel. In her helpful introduction she begins by explaining the concept of Kapwa, a Filipino word that expresses a recognition of a shared identity, an inner self, with other individuals. It is one of those words whose meaning is not easily rendered into English and yet is instantly recognizable and understood in its native homeland. As a philosophy, Tabios states that Kapwa has come to underpin many of the genres in which she writes including, most recently, the novel.

Tabios gives the reader a synopsis of each of her two novels, DOVELION: A Fairy Tale for Our Times and COLLATERAL DAMAGE, and then discusses their structure with reference to the concept of Kapwa. A short section headed “Dolls as Avatars” gives us an insight into the discipline she employs as part of her writing process.* 

DOVELION’s structure reflects “Kapwa-time” when there is no past, present or future. The fairy-tale element is given credence by the fact that each section begins with the phrase “once upon a time”. Since Kapwa is concerned with interconnection, the novels sections are dated, but not chronologically, and the story begins and ends on the same day. Real-life historical events thread themselves through the story-line and there are also traces of an autobiographical side to the work, an element that Tabios has coined “autofiction”. 

COLLATERAL DAMAGE follows a “multiverse, modular structure”. The multiverse aspect is illustrated through the presentation of at least three worlds: the first world that presents the author’s thoughts, the second world that presents the story of protagonist  Krii, and the third world that presents a short story whose themes touch on shared topics between all three. Writing prompts allow for readers to create their own endings should they wish to do so. In a slightly different way, B.S. Johnson also gave his readers a certain degree of improvisatory freedom when he wrote his novel The Unfortunates. (Twenty-seven sections are presented, unbound, in a small box, to be shuffled and read in whatever random order the reader choses to do so). The modular aspect to COLLATERAL DAMAGE is manifested by the way in which characters reappear in all three worlds, underscoring Kapwa’s emphasis on interconnectedness. From the world of theoretical physics, Tabios draws an analogy with “string theory” (the allowance for possible parallel universes) as a fitting source of inspiration for her Kapwa-related writings.

An extract from each of her two novels is presented in the book. The excerpt from DOVELION: A Fairy Tale for Our Times was previously published in Pagsulat Sa Mga Bulaklak / When Writing for Flowers (2021) edited by Keana Aguila Labra in the U.S.  The excerpt from COLLATERAL DAMAGE was previously published in The Deadbeat Hotel (Autumn 2021) edited by Tom Boulton in the U.K. While DOVELION manifested her “Kapwa Poetics”, her second novel, COLLATERAL DAMAGE expands Kapwa’s possibilities for the novel form.

The sample from DOVELION was created from previous drafts of the novel that were re-fashioned into a standalone short story. The sample from COLLATERAL DAMAGE is its fourteenth chapter. 



(* As an aside, 'Dolls as Avatars' also reminded me of my first encounter with a writer. When I was a pupil at Repton School in Derbyshire, my English teacher, who could see that I was interested in English literature, arranged for me to go and visit a freelance writer who happened to be living in the village. His name was Don Shaw. He wrote a lot of screenplays for radio and television and later for the theatre. He was a regular writer for the popular crime series called 'Z cars' which was televised here in the sixties. He gave me a tremendous welcome and showed me how to set out a script for a radio play and a TV drama. In his study, on his wall by his writing desk, he had photographs of the actors who played in 'Z cars'.  By studying them in their acting roles, he was able to discipline himself in his writing and get inside their characters.)




Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His books include Hoarding Conkers at Hailes Abbey (Littoral Press, 2010), Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014); Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017); Penn Fields (Littoral Press, 2019) and The Gloucester Fragments (Littoral Press, 2022). His work has been translated into French, Dutch, Nepali, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.



The Kindness of Birds by Merlinda Bobis 

(Spinifex Press, Australia, 2021)


Merlinda Bobis is an award-winning Filipina-Australian writer now based in Canberra. Her most recent poetry collection, ‘Accidents of Composition’ was Highly Commended in the ACT Book of the Year, 2018 and her novel ‘Banana Heart Summer’ won her the 2006 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal. 

 ‘The Kindness of Birds’ is a book of fiction informed by experience: a collection of 14 stories that show how kindness can bring about resilience and healing in a time of loss. During the writing of these stories, the author lost both her parents, and two other family members. There were bushfires in Australia, the Covid-19 pandemic was raging throughout the world and, on a personal note, the author was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was an intense time of emotional and global upheaval. Writing the book became a lifeline that helped Bobis to remain focused during her treatment.

The book’s title has a certain resonance within the literary world. For me, it calls to mind Kate Adie’s autobiography ‘The Kindness of Strangers’, J. G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel ‘The Kindness of Women’ and Vivian G Paley’s moving stories of impulsive goodness titled ‘The Kindness of Children’. 

The eye-catching cover design by Deb Snibson is like a beautiful tapestry of leaves and flowers with a bird placed centre stage.

In an interview conducted by Kathryn Vukovljak for CBR City News  (20 August 2022) titled ‘How the kindness of birds entranced Merlinda’   Bobis relates that when her father was dying in the Philippines, he was comforted by two birds who would visit and sing outside his window. Months later, these same orioles came to sing at his grave to comfort her mother. From then on, Bobis began to notice how birds would appear to offer solace at every moment of upheaval in her life.

A connection with birds and the natural world links all the stories together giving them a unique sense of continuity. The Filipino concept of kapwa, that shared identity of psychic and physical space we all have in common with one another, also features strongly in the book. 

Apart from the solace of birds, Bobis draws her inspiration from a wide range of sources: books and articles on birdlife, historical documents on nationhood, healthcare and frontline workers around the world who comfort and sustain the living and the dying, documentary film footage and Beethoven’s ninth symphony.

In these stories, cockatoos attend the laying of the dead, a crow flies through the roof of the Chamber of Representatives and the House returns to order, two orioles sing for a dying father, a flock of birds, weebills, perhaps the smallest Australian birds, sing together in a time of Covid ‘because kindness cannot self-isolate’ and owl stories and drawings help a young boy to while away the time when in lockdown with his grandmother during the pandemic. ‘Angels’ is the author’s gift of heartfelt thanks to the doctors, nurses and caregivers who all showed her such amazing acts of kindness during her cancer treatment and continue to do so as a profession to everyone on a global level struggling with health issues during the pandemic.

Kindness and birds are the common denominators. Many birds fly in and out of these storylines: rosellas, owls, wedge-tailed eagles, plovers, crows, orioles, pied fantails and Eurasian tree sparrows, to name but a few.

Apples, too, are in abundance in ‘The Sleep of Apples’. It is a story set in Tasmania that brings about a resolution of an awkward relationship between two people through an act of kindness. The list of different varieties of apples such as Beauty of Stoke, Opalescent, Merton Worcester, Fleiner du Roi and Atalanta, add a certain sense of exoticism to the text.

The phrase ‘she’ll be apples’,  an Australian and New Zealand colloquialism for ‘everything will be alright; things will get better, don’t worry about it’ appears in several stories and acts as another thread of interconnectedness.

One of my favourite stories was ‘My Tender Tender’ which introduces the character of Freddy Corpus, a 91 year old Aboriginal hard-hat pearl diver who is a descendant of a pearl diver in Manila, one of the early Filipino migrant workers who tried their luck diving far from home. Listening to him is Nenita whose father was also a pearl diver. An immediate connection is made between the storyteller and the listener as Nenita is taken back in her imagination to another time.

I also enjoyed ‘My Father’s Australia’, a story in which Nenita (a recurring name in several of these stories) reflects upon her father’s wish to one day visit Australia – a wish that he was not, in the end, able to fulfil. Throughout the story, the dark blue suit that she had bought for him to wear on his visit remains a constant reminder of the journey he never took.

Each story is prefaced by a quotation. These quotations are extracted from poems, speeches and songs. They act as a springboard enabling Bobis to weave them into the actual text at some point in the story. The dialogue, which propels each story, is fast-paced.

Frequent reference to other languages, most notably Filipino, Bikol and Spanish, add a sense of veracity as well as variety to these stories. In ‘My Love, My Nerūsē’, Bobis says ‘love sings in any language’.


The way Bobis handles time is interesting. Time is such a slippery concept. Bobis weaves histories that have crossed continents and oceans. In her work there is a meeting of many cultures: Filipino with Australian, Yawaru with Javanese, Japanese with French. Many of these stories start in the present, travel back in time and then come back into the present again with flawless ease. There is a political side to the book as well as Bobis highlights in her texts various injustices such as the outlawing of cross-racial marriages, slavery and torture, children who are taken away from their mothers, safe houses that are not safe and the invisibility of the Aboriginal population fighting for their rights.


If the message of this book were to be summed up in one short sentence is would be this: small acts of kindness have the power to change society for the better. Read it and be moved. It is truly inspirational: a book of our time.


Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His books include Hoarding Conkers at Hailes Abbey (Littoral Press, 2010), Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014); Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017); Penn Fields (Littoral Press, 2019) and Reading Between The Lines (Littoral Press, 2020). His work has been translated into French, Dutch, Nepali, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.