Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Sisters' SongThe Sisters' Song by Louise Allan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Book on a Grand Scale
Every now and again a book comes along that is exceptional, a story that allows you to sink beyond the page into the lives of the characters, their heartaches, failures, warmth and sincerity. Such is The Sisters' Song a debut novel by Louise Allan.

    It's a family saga, set in Tasmania in the 1930s-90s and looks at the lives of two women, sisters Ida and Nora. These two women's lives are created as binary opposites. Ida is the traditional woman married to Len and wants children, while Nora longs for fulfillment in a singing career. However, their ambitions are thwarted by circumstance and both sisters' dreams and aspirations remain unfulfilled throughout the novel. Ida has three miscarriages never bearing a child full-term, while Nora's talent (in its infancy) is waylaid by falling pregnant to a dashing Italian "Lothario" named Marco. Being subjected to the wiles of the Italian who is married, it is career over for Nora! She returns to Tinsdale, to marry Alf (pre-stepfatherhood to Marco's son Ted), and to a lonely farm life in isolated Tasmania. With all her hopes and dreams dashed Nora remains embittered throughout most of her life. We can put this down to the temporal climate of the mid-twentieth century when a woman was objectified - her only role and status - of being there for pleasure, marriage and or pro-creation.

    To my mind, The Sisters' Song is an important feminist text for the 21st Century, a template for the GenYs and GenZs to imbibe an era when women were mainly stereotyped in roles of housewife and mothers (although there were exceptions to the rule). Granted, this novel does not set out to make a cultural statement, yet at the same time the song rings loud and clear. As contemporary readers we are taken back to a time of pre-women's liberation, to Nora, a woman who wasn't fully encouraged, who wasn't given hope or familial support to be different, to be independent or career minded. And we are taken back to the familiar tune of the many, like Nora's family, who failed her talent. I shudder to think of where we would be today if we didn't have the current advantages of career, equal workplace and educational opportunities.
      As a reviewer, I don't need to tell you the whole story that is for you to read. I also prefer not to repeat the accolades of another four to five prominent reviewers, including Nicole Melanson (NSW) and Monique Mulligan (WA) as I see this exceptional novel as a gift to women. It is a reminder of the woman's struggle, the dark ages of electric shock therapy, of mental illness, of unrecognized depression, and of an unflinching bond between sisters, created by Ida.
    There are many other layers in this novel: themes of love, courage and forgiveness, evocative figurative language, well-drawn protagonists and minor characters, a strong emotional engagement for the reader, and last but not least, a music and singing motif that is so heartfelt you can almost hear it.

    Louise Allan grew up in Tasmania, a relatively underpopulated, rugged and cold island off the south-east coast of mainland Australia. She studied Medicine at the University of Tasmania and went on to become a GP, before moving across the country to Perth. She worked in the field of breast cancer until she ceased practising medicine in 2010 and took up writing. Allan’s novel came from a short story she wrote in 2010, which she knew had a much longer story attached. In 2012, she picked it up again, and it took six years and countless drafts until in 2014, her novel was awarded a Varuna Residential Fellowship. In the same year, the manuscript was shortlisted for the City of Fremantle—TAG Hungerford Award.

   Alongside her characters, this major effort by Allan has been justified; a woman finding her vocation as a writer, securing an agent and publisher Allen & Unwin (2018).

Disclaimer: My thanks to Allen & Unwin for giving me the opportunity to read a great book and likewise to review.

Helen Hagemann (c) 2018

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 1, 2018

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Poem from of Arc & Shadow 

Admirabilis - (collation of home)
                          The purpose of the poem, fills the room
                                                    Wallace Stevens  

We enter small rooms, cherished from the past,
each one telling a tale of my parents’ life.
Now they are gone, we need to unravel
what is left  ─people in a marriage ─
the things they kept. We threw Dad in the lake because
he loved to fish. Mother's in a narrow corridor
of sorts, & cannot escape ─
the world going on without her.
We still see the light in her eyes
after the stroke.
Houses are history with clutter & song,
the old place creaking as we walk. You can almost
hear the tank overflowing, gutters pinging,
high-heels on concrete, neighbours sneaking round
the corner in a flap from the rain. Betty who loved Jesus.
Rene, an adorable hypochondriac, who got sicker
when the new doctor came.

It’s delicate to pack fifty years of chattels: flowerpots,
fernery orchids, a shed full of tackle & tools.
If you touch something, you’re spirited back
to bikes on the lawn, cartwheels, winging the clothes line,
the family snake killer whacking the long grass
for the dog’s last chewed ball.
You’re a teenager, slipping into your mother’s room,
the dressing table's batwings coupling tiny bottles of scent,
glass top in a dust of fingerprints, old powder cracked
in her cut-glass like dried veins in a river bed.
Her silver brush & comb, an ensemble
she kept for forty years, clips & pins in a silver dish,
three drawers as wayward as your first perm.

The kitchen, still in weathered wood, throws out
more wonder. The retro cup & saucers in ear-shaped
handles. There’s a Willow set, tea-pots in orange, yellow, green,
matching bowls & jugs. Gifts on their wedding anniversary,
trophies from a pennant’s match, the sideboard hiding more
than its sixties storage. Ramekins, a cutlery set, tea-towels never used,
tablecloths & boxed cotton sheets. Your mother could combust
the golf club with the winning ticket in her hand.
You walk the halls, the verandah, open each wardrobe.
Coats still hang behind the door. You press your nose into your mother’s
cream cashmere, scent of rose. This is a longing for touch,
to hold the smell of your father’s pressed shirts, singlets,
ties, mother’s scarves & gloves, those young lives you never knew.
If you could tell them now about this poem, read their song,
they still wouldn’t understand. They’d avert their eyes
from your arrangement of words, give a little wave
as if you were touched by the sun.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

I wrote this poem when I was in love! As Emmy-lou Harris sings "Love is a miracle." I found it once and only once in my life, so I feel blessed for having known him, for having twelve marvelous, funny, exciting, surprising, intellectually satisfying, and happy years together!

Monday, January 29, 2018

I usually support a same state writer and I also like to read prize winners. In relation to this book Extinctions, a Dorothy Hewett ms award winner and the 2017 Miles Franklin award, I am going to stick my neck out, and say sorry folks! but I thought this book was disappointing :(
It was mainly driven by backstory, ie all the relies of Frederick Lothian and Jan's - Fred's neighbour thrown into the mix. The surface level (ie. the literal level) was more interesting, two people meeting in a retirement village, both having adoptees in the family. Or as they say in academia the inclusion of "the other" or those on the margins. I wanted more of this interesting story than finding out about the characters' past lives. I also wanted a better ending of Callum, Morrison, Jan and Fred finally moving into Fred's family home and how they coped nicely (or not) with each other. I felt bogged down reading all the backstory and, at times, skim read to get to the surface action/problem/quest/whatever! And the title? Extinctions? It would have been better if rather than an engineer/lecturer Fred, per se, might have been an archaeologist/scientist/paleontologist, and even though retired still interested in anything worth saving, or on the danger list. Okay, so Caroline was into studying the end of certain species, but did that have any effect on the two main characters who were driven towards each other? I don't think so. All I can say is the "pictures" helped me whiz through the pages much quicker. On a positive note, the writing was a many, like, like, like. Are they supposed to make a good book? Obviously the judges of the Dorothy Hewett and the Miles Franklin thought so.

Poetry and Fiction Reviewer
* wait for e-book or library to save money!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sunday, January 21, 2018

This is an Instagram poem @
I started using Paintshop Pro, but that proved difficult and so lucky for me a fellow online posted an article how to upload Microsoft Image Composer. I did have the discs ie. for Front Page and also Image Composer, but these days working on a laptop I do not have one that has a CD/DVD drive. Often there are extremely good programs on older versions of Windows and for some unknown reason Microsoft chooses not to include them. They get lost in the ether. You can imagine how thrilled I was to find Image Composer again.  It is so easy to use!
Image overlaid with text is very challenging. You can't have the background image too dark, and of course, the poem needs to convey the picture, but doesn't have to make sense. The poem also needs to be a stand-alone piece of art, and I'm less inclined nowadays to spell things out. It's up to the reader to interpret the text!
I am now following 160 poets on Instagram, some of the poetry is very basic, some of the artwork + poetry combined is excellent. Many of the writers post every day, and I don't think they give their work enough time to mature. That said, it is very pleasing to the eye to see how young people are using Instagram as a vehicle for their art and also it is a medium that is bringing about change.
Being an artist is not only a challenge to be published but also working with new platforms, such as social media is good for your creative bent and also great for your health and well-being. When I comment on an Instagram poem/artwork the writer is usually very grateful for the feedback. I am tempted to edit some poems, and say, I think the poem ended at the fourth last line, but I hold back as this is not what it is all about. It's about Spilled Ink aka Spilled Poetry, Spilled Words and Images that entertain.

1st Beach image to work with

2nd image poem - not positioned right!
Helen Hagemann (c) Copyright
Image: My own photography - Bunbury ocean beach, Western Australia

Sunday, December 31, 2017

 Awarded an ARTErra residency in Lobão da Beira, Portugal - April 2018

ARTErra is a structured artistic place in Lobão da Beira, a village in PORTUGAL, near Tondela, district of Viseu.

ARTErra is a private structure of incentive for artistic creation in a quiet and green small village, which aims to facilitate en­counters between different artists and aesthetic disciplines. ARTERRA is strongly committed to offering the residents a cheerful and productive stay. Because of that, part­nerships have been established with the Municipality of Tondela and Lobão da Beira for reception and possible presentations of performative works,  exhibitions, workshops, lectures, etc.

They offer two distinct spaces: the house where the residents can do the meals, rest, meet other artists. In the other space, the “creation yard”, with different work places, ateliers, sound and image studio (also with recording cabin), blackbox, documentation centre and peaceful gardens.

My Project - the same as for the South of France - AIR LE PARC

The project is titled “Random” a collection of prose poetry that allows me freedom to choose subjects, objects or unknowns, wherever the muse strikes, thus giving the work a sense of freedom and liberation from theme.  Many poems are inspired by nature, the landscape or simple objects that are often overlooked. As part of this project, I place my work as a cross-cultural platform on Instagram with links to Facebook, Twitter and my Blog. This is a way of connecting with other poets on a world scale, increasing an online readership and connection. Ekphrastic poems also feature in the collection. A poem titled “Vase” highlights Portuguese pottery. And poems like “Rugs” and “Canvas” are inspired by paintings by disabled artists. Resident artists would also be inspirational for the work. Therefore, the time and space occupied at ARTErra looking at Portugal’s landscape, the environment (nature), its architecture, and other artforms would not only be inspirational; but also invaluable.

I applied with the following elements:
= Project(as above)
– Curriculum Vitae; and Bio
– Portfolio, videos, photos, = 10 prose poems + Instagram screen shots.
– The date of the residency has been accepted as from 9th April to 30th April (with an extra day for travelling).

 I upload my photography (or image) plus the prose poem to Instagram where I have 134 followers.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

I have been awarded a writing residency at AIR LE PARC! Very excited that I can spend time in the countryside of Southern France with the idea of looking at a historic landscape, the wine region, the environment especially its unique architecture.

My Project 
The project is titled “Random” (prose poetry) a work that allows me freedom to choose subjects, objects or unknowns, wherever the muse strikes, thus giving the work a sense of freedom and liberation from theme.  Many poems are inspired by nature, the landscape or simple objects that are often overlooked. Ekphrastic poems also feature in the collection. The poems “Rugs" and "Canvas” are inspired by paintings by disabled artists. “Sklent” looks at old, ramshackle houses and is inspired by a painting titled Leaning Carriage House by Laurel Daniel.

Focus, Process, and Illustration
Currently, I have 40 poems (re-worked at times) and my goal would be to increase the collection to 70 poems. As part of this project, I place my work as a cross-cultural platform on Instagram (with links to Facebook and Blog). This is a way of connecting with other poets on a world scale, increasing an online readership and liaison. Currently I'm working towards these aims, and I am already following a great community of poets/ writers/ artists worldwide @ evangelynepoetry 

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Bottlebrush is not a Brush

More beautiful than a brush that goes inside a bottle. A bottlebrush is a bush, a single hot colour but not a scorpion. Its spikes are fronds, little sticky stamens of pollen, not ordinary but splendidly made. Spring bounces them into houses to spread inside walls - unordered among an order of photographs on coffee tables; windows reflect the wild spread of green leaves, red flowers, it could be Christmas.

Monday, November 13, 2017


The faith was gone, but not the spirit. One Sunday I felt suffocated, among the darkened room of my home, the summer’s heat outside. I didn’t want to be with my friend anymore, so I moved my car, parked it under heavy trees along a lonely road. I walked back with the keys, a little deceptive. Everything changed when I opened my front door. The cautious atmosphere that I felt before, among thick draped curtains, crowded with dust, became a backdrop of forest and river. A gate opened without a lock, and across a field of sunflowers, foraging parrots were pretty in pink feather. A children’s playground in twisted Escher turns bespoke large green ladders to long blue holes. I was able to walk along feeling the tingle of new sounds, the hum of a busy road, and I knew when I drove home that Sunday night, I would sleep well and dream.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Gift

Bought from a nursery, a plant of yellow everlastings, so papery they almost speak. Sometimes you buy a gift you do not want to give. Prior to its wrapping, it sits on your kitchen table, reminding you of garden shows, spring festivals, country roads and fields of flowers like an endless basket, a soothing tapestry. The gift’s previous life tingled with the touch of water, a breeze above its roots; stems reached tall above the variegated pinks, creams and lilacs. The selection sat in a cultivated paddock beside grazing horses, their noses snorting into the wire. The moment the flowers were uprooted from the field they were pruned, pounded and potted. Unperfumed perfection. But you had to give it over. Their green leaves and little yellow faces marked for celebration, the smell of birthday cake. Tiny golden fingers orchestrated inside a yellow pot, budding and growing - open by day, closed at night.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Tom Cox is a writer I have been following recently on all social media platforms. I was first alerted to him by my daughter who insisted that here was a writer to look out for. He especially has a love of cats, and being a cat lover myself, I decided to follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and also read his blog posts.
    Tom is a Nottinghamshire-born British author, now based in Devon. He has published nine books, including the Sunday Times bestseller The Good, The Bad & The Furry and Bring Me The Head Of Sergio Garcia, his account of his year as Britain’s most inept golf professional, which was longlisted for the William Hill Sports Book Of The Year award. Between 1999 and 2000 he was the chief Rock Critic for The Guardian newspaper and went on to write columns and features for many other newspapers and magazines, before quitting print journalism altogether in 2015 to write pieces exclusively for his voluntary subscription website. He also hosts a monthly show on the experimental radio station Soundart. His new book, 21st Century Yokel - “a nature book, but not quite like any you will have read before” which crowdfunded in a record-breaking seven hours - will be published by Unbound in October, 2017.
  Tom Cox posts news of his books, his philosophy on life, family and especially tales about his cats, Roscoe, Ralph and sadly The Bear (who has since died). He highlights his writing with his own personalised photographic record, and sometimes a video of Sweary Cat. His concerted efforts to self-promote have gained him as many as 23.6K followers on Instagram, 69.3K on Twitter and 805,000 followers on Facebook (approx).

Tom's views on publishing his latest book 21st Century Yokel with Unbound.
As I began to write 21st Century Yokel, I could see other potential commercial decisions ahead of me that had nothing to do with whether or not the book ended up in the Pets section of Waterstones. I had sold all of my previous eight books to publishers on the basis of a synopsis and two or three sample chapters. Being sensible and thinking about my own financial security, I would do the same here. But to do so I would have to package the book with a very rigid theme that appealed to a sales department. It would need to be honed: made into a “journey”. Unfortunately, the word “journey” - if used in any literary sense - makes vomit spontaneously appear in my mouth and I enjoy writing a synopsis roughly the same amount that I enjoy crawling about in heavy sleet cleaning up the contents of a split bin bag. I know why synopses need to exist but writing them is, in many ways, the opposite to writing books - or at least all the factors I most enjoy about writing books. It’s unfreeing, self-branding, corporation-pleasing. My favourite non-fiction books are on quite diverse subjects but tend to have one uniting factor: none of them would have made sense as a three thousand word pitch. I do not think it is any coincidence that my worst book, Educating Peter (reminder: don’t buy it), made for the pitch that was most exciting to a publisher. A book needs coherence and rhythm and theme but coherence and rhythm and theme are often a mystery that can be hit on only by doing one thing: writing that book.”
His website :

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


In some obscure town in Portugal the potter left his mark. When did he finish it? Where were the fields of yellow daisies? When the object went into the kiln, did he think of the blue sky he once laid under by a river with his lover? The potter had enthusiasm for its shape and contour; tall and robust, small neck like a woman. It appears to have something that men think about. And men think about fields, country roads, edges and woods with the strong scent of spring. The vase will be thirsty for his plucked yellow daises, valentina, or gold acacia, for her table.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

To be published in Plumwood Mountain Journal

Flute of Milk by Susan Fealy
Perth, WA: UWA Publishing, 2017.ISBN: 9781742589398

I recently visited a small country town in Western Australia and attended Saturday morning markets. I bought a small plastic tray for $3. A memento I assumed from the seller by visiting the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. It’s amazing when serendipity occurs. Imprinted on its surface is Johannes Vermeer’s painting the Milkmaid. after The Milkmaid’ is an epigraph in Susan Fealy’s first poem titled Made in Deflt, and perhaps the first line conveys a museum visit, where ‘White walls melken the daylight’.  

Ekphrastic poems loom large in this collection. However, as a reviewer I’m not here to praise how well Fealy defines these works as an inspiration for her poetry. They are merely a backdrop for her visceral language that creates a kind of Droste effect; an image within an image, or her words over art-form: the map of the world / has been painted over.  

Only a woman, blond
Light from the window,
Her wide-mouthed jug
And bread on the table
One can almost taste the milk
Escaping her jug.    Page 15

An emotional response to this work might be through an ecological valence. The poet responds positively to coloured environmental objects, cultivating Henri Matisse’s blues. A certain blue penetrates your soul is a quote from Matisse and used as an epigraph to the poem A Confluence of Blues. Colours are conveyed in sensual language and are a visual experience for the reader. Fealy uses the sense of sight (even sound) to convey her unique expressions of blue; ones that indeed penetrate the soul.

The frequency
of light that lies
between violet and green
Arthur Dove once said
Painting is music of the eyes.
A fleet of blues flute violet
others oboe green.       Page 18

This collection published by UWA Publishing is enriched with Fealy’s use of known-mediums such as Literature, the Melbourne Museum, The Oxford Dictionary, a Sculptor, as well Australian Artists and Poetry. All are referenced as “Notes” on Pages 75-76. Michael Sharkey suggests in his review of the work. ‘Fealy’s references “go beyond description of the objects and processes of each object or art-form she considers, to suggest an interest in the causes of artistic inspiration across all the modes of art that strike her eye and mind. On the face of it, her poetry is provoked by surprise confrontations with arresting verbal accounts of events and phenomena, and with artistic work in other modes than poetry. Visual art, plastic arts, film, flower-arrangement, ceramics … they’re collisions of eye with object.”

These lines are highlighted from For Cornflowers to Sing (Still Life with Cornflowers, Brett Whitely). And The Vase Imposes.

For cornflowers to sing
each line must scar
its making

There must be light
and the idea of a window   Page 65

The Master of Flowers respects
the economy of nature ─

confines them
in slim vessels, quells
a mad thirst with still water.  Page 66

The Milkmaid (on plastic)

to be continued when published ......

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Elvis Presley's Pink Caddy

50s Cars

You saw them go by. Sometimes on the spare-tyre back carrier – an immobile army of kids.  50s cars moved through the town with chrome headlight bezels and concave grilles. Some were toothy tail-finned dream machines. The Oldsmobile, with flying colours, 202 horsepower engine, went like a Rocket. The powerful Pontiac proved performance with pleasure and profit. Elvis cruised in a pink Cadillac, crooning a tune in cool leather seats. The Buick convertible thrust manual transmission, while wolf whistles followed its swerve through the streets.
    Under a clearing of clouds on a blue day, people waited at the top of a hill; a convoy of expressions as midday shutters went down. An FJ Holden drifted into town, whitewall tyres, classy black-and-white upholstered seats, green roof top, a shimmer of chrome. At the other end, a Chevy gurgled and shifted its dicky seat. The men looked up and down the street at one another, displaced dust in the rumble of engines. Kids lined the sidewalk, thrusting arms. It was a strange form of experiment, a game, a massive attack of bravado and wheels – entertainment for everyone!

Thursday, August 31, 2017


Beside the plastic, one by one, in order of country, are the cups.  There have been more cups ruined emptying the dishwasher. Right now, the quantity of cups keeps increasing, squashed in, at the back of the cupboard. They’re like friends visiting one another. The Guernica cup (Picasso) from Madrid abuts the English Wren from Shrewsbury.  Black as Guinness, an Irish mug with a Dublin shamrock, sits beside a Japanese Noritake. These cups dressed in bright colours have travelled extensively. It’s privileged porcelain!
    There are two cups that are almost identical, one in green stripes, the other purple. The green states, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler; and on the purple is scripted, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. A ‘his and hers’ literature collection – owned by one.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Lamp
       First be a magnificent artist and then you can do whatever, but the art must be first.  
            (Francisco de Goya)

A young father buys a 70s Beetle fender that houses a chrome front light. The man radiates the glow of restoration, but barely has the funds. He posts the finished photograph of his invention for his son. There it sits in its separateness, still, upright, neat in a corner window, balanced on a block, polished, grinded, painted to look so perfect in its skin, its dim lighting. In the darkness of a room, now a renovation, the lamp-fender glows with a dual switch of light. Low beam for warmth, or high and bright as a car might shine on a midnight run. It’s deft, intrinsic work.
    Perhaps in the lateness of night, when all is quiet, the lamp groans into ignition, twists itself away from a boy’s restless dream – grumbles, just a little – to purr toward a great expanse of naked road.

Monday, August 21, 2017


In a quiet suburban street, ladies visit the aisles of secondhand clothes. Hands separate racks, touch other lives that have come before.
    The young girl, sitting on a bus, straightens her blue pleats, and just around the corner, as if time hasn’t passed, wears a black leather jacket with studs. Later, she buttons a pin-tuck shirt for the insurance company, and on her first date, in that long-legged netted look, zips up her high-heeled boots. At the military ball, she awards the dance floor and all that gaze on her in desirous ice taffeta and strappy, silver stilettos.
    You don’t see the girl now, but the garments are laid out. The pleated skirt, the black leather jacket, the pin-tuck shirt, the taffeta ball dress, the stilettos, and tan knee-highs; all racked and marked in the same display, looking out the same window for a new owner, a new life.

Monday, July 31, 2017


Cylindrical cushions rest beneath the intent of breezes from circling fans. An Indian décor lifts them to ornate couches where the room is a long passage to prayer. The man in the turban carries tea to guests, while an image of the same man looks on. Both men know the same room; one will walk past three couches spread with purple, yellow and pink cushions, while his mirrored image will pour tea for guests in the next room. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017


The streets seem less hostile, save for the mud. Nothing is left of the artist’s hut, all doors and walls are missing. In a state of exhaustion, he leaves his worthless home. The road to another town, a battle of wagons. The streets converge. There are more streets than he remembers. The man looks out and all he can see are colourful blues, ochre lines and carmine. His whole perspective changes. He goes down into the richer shades, away from the battle of his life. Inside the brilliant hues of wool and cotton, the rugs soften him, as a child might play in the tunnel of their weave. When he comes up again from his hiding, he is smiling, embraced by the warmth of this beautiful kingdom of rugs.


Published by Australian Poetry Centre, Melbourne

of Arc & Shadow

of Arc & Shadow
Published by Sunline Press, WA

The Joyous Lake

Par écrit

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Helen Hagemann, MBA(Wrtg) ECowan. Her first literary collection, Evangelyne & other poems, was published by the Australian Poetry Centre in their New Poets Series 2009. 'of Arc & Shadow' is her second full collection published by Sunline Press. She has two e-books, The Joyous Lake & Par écrit: poetry of the feminine @​​docs/joyous_lake/


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