Daily Archives: 11 February 2012

Ampersand 4

Alice Gage (editor), Ampersand Magazine 4: From the Heart of the Forest to the Edge of the Road (Art & Australia 2011)

20120211-182652.jpgI’d seen earlier issues of Ampersand in coffee shops around Newtown and assumed it was a kind of zine with advertising – you know, quirky, poorly crafted stories about queerness, spiky incoherent poems and blurry photos, interspersed with slick promos for hip merchandise. A quick, lazy flip through one copy while waiting for a hot chocolate wasn’t enough to make me rethink,

Then the Art Student gave me this issue for Christmas, and I discovered I WAS WRONG. True, there are a couple of rap-influenced poems, and an over the top postmodernish necrophiliac horror story. But from the opening fold-out photograph, ‘Black Friday’ by John O’Neil, with John Forbes’s ‘Going North’ luxuriating in white space on the back, to the charming appendix noting things that happened when the magazine was in production, this is a delight.

I don’t have to describe the physical magazine because there’s a video of an elegant pair of hands flicking through it here. (Go on, have a look. It only takes about 90 seconds.)

Tommy Murphy (Holding the Man and Gwen in Purgatory playwright) writes about his father’s dementia. Bob Brown (the senator, not an obscure namesake) writes about Oura Oura, his shack retreat in rural Tasmania. Three pages of comics by Leigh Rigozzi tell sweet quotidian anecdotes about life in Newtown (I don’t know if that’s exactly a correct use of quotidian, but it’s a Harvey Pekar term, and seems to fit). Fabian Muir visits people living in the Chernobyl exclusion zone (and makes me wish he and Merilyn Fairskye had been in touch: his article and Plant Life, her recent exhibition of photographs from Chernobyl speak volumes of each other).

There are a couple of wonderful young fogey articles, one inveighing against proposed changes to Fisher Library at Sydney University, to make it more efficient by getting rid of half the books, an auto da fé on an unprecedented scale being conducted in secret, the other lamenting the passing of toll booth operators. An iconoclastic piece on iconoclasm argues that the restoration of works of art that have been vandalised sometimes does more damage than the vandalism. There are pages and pages of high quality colour reproductions of art by Tracy Moffatt and a clutch of Western Desert artists, among others.

I wish I’d read this magazine three months ago, because then I would have made sure to go to the Carriageworks for My Darling Patricia’s Posts in a Paddock, a theatre piece built around murder by Jimmy Governor of ancestors of one of the company: the piece about it here is a brilliant example of Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaboration, infinitely more interesting than February’s I Am Eora at the same venue.

And as a final note: accustomed as I am to thinking of Melbourne as the place where solid new literary ventures come into being, I was pleased to see that this is a Sydney publication. I Googled the editor, Alice Gage, and discovered that though she is indeed a Sydneysider, she produced the first issue of Ampersand while in Melbourne. Her reflections on the difference in the milieux are worth reading,

I’m posting this the day before the launch of Ampersand 5: Eleventh Hour (the link is to that issue’s YouTube teaser).

Southerly 70/3

David Brooks & Elizabeth McMahon (editors), Santosh K. Sareen & G. J. V. Prasad (guest editors), India India: Southerly 70/3

Southerly is a venerable institution – the Journal of the English Association, Sydney, it has been going for 70 years (which isn’t long compared to children’s literary journals such the School Magazine or its New Zealand equivalent, but impressive among little magazines for grownups). This issue has a central focus on Indian–Australian literary relations, but I bought it for Jennifer Maiden’s poem, ‘The Year of the Ox’, which doesn’t relate to that focus.

‘The Year of the Ox’ is to an end-of-year family letter what many of Jennifer Maiden’s poems are to diary entries, that is to say, same same but different. It brings us up to date on characters who have been inhabiting her poetry for some time: herself and her daughter, current political leaders (Obama, Clinton, Gillard), iconic figures of the recent and not so recent past (Diana Spencer, Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria, Eleanor Roosevelt) and her fictions George Jeffreys and Clare Collins. It’s a long and complex poem, but from one point of view, it brings us up to date on the doings of this mental family during 2009, the Chinese Year of the Ox, and into 2010, Year of the Tiger, all the while ringing the changes on the images and connotations of ox and tiger. I love the way the poem swings with apparent nonchalance from observations on her own close relationship, the political scene and the nature of poetry, to – what to call them? – Platonic dialogues between icons, to vividly realised domestic scenes from a virtual novel, and all the while there’s a sense of poet-as-ox pulling a plough through the furrows of a mind alert to the world.

There are other excellent poems: by Ali Alizadeh (whose ‘Election Announced’ chillingly mentions someone as ‘the theocrat / a retributivist in speedos’), Judith Beveridge (whose two poems are actually India-related, thanks to her interest in Buddhist lore), Richard Deutsch, Craig Powell and a list of other Australians, and by a handful of Indian poets. I couldn’t get into any of the short stories, with the exception of Sarah Klenbort’s ‘The Chinese Circus Comes to Cessnock’, in which three fruit-picking backpackers encounter the complexities of Australia’s policies about Asian immigration.

Southerly comes from academe, and there a number of academic pieces, in particular surveys of the India-Australia literary connection and studies of particular texts. I intended to read the journal from start to finish, but decided to skip the scholarly bits when I read on page 20 that one novelist’s work ‘might be taken as a case study of Deleuzean deterritorialised nomadology […] Derridean self-critique in which text and meta-text mutually […]’. Too much like hard work! I skipped pieces by Indian critics on Mollie Skinner, Hazel Edwards, and a number of Aboriginal subjects with words like subjectivity, constructing and historiography in their titles. But I was wooed back by Mark Macleod’s ‘Reading my first time in India: the ACLALS Conference 1977’. Once you get past the daunting title, this is a fabulous piece of travel writing structured around two literary conferences. It sheds light all over the place, and abounds with striking images and telling anecdotes.

The other stand-out piece was by Patrick Bryson, a white Australian married to an Indian woman and living in rural India. His ‘The Men Who Stare at Bogans’ explores the Indian press’s coverage of the anti-Indian racism in Australia, and moves on to a brilliant essay on the treatment of ‘tribals’ in India.

As I was writing this, the next issue of the Asia Literary Review arrived in the mail. It’s an English language journal reflecting writing in and about Asia. This Southerly does a nice job of reminding us of one of our strong Asian relationships.