Monthly Archives: May 2012

Don Lemna Out in Left Field

Don Lemna, Out in Left Field (Holiday House 2012)

In one of my previous lives, when I was editor of The School Magazine, we published a series of Don Lemna’s stories under the general title ‘A Canadian Childhood’. That was in the mid 1990s. It took many years of rewriting, submitting, combining into novel form, resubmitting, relocating from Canada to Montana in the USA, resubmitting, but eventually, in 2008, some of those stories came out between hard covers in Don’s first novel, When the Sergeant Came Marching Home. I may have the only copy of that book ever to come to Australia, and everyone I’ve lent it to, of whatever age, has loved it. Out in Left Field, hot off the press, features all the same characters and a reworked version of one of those School Magazine stories, and I’m reliably informed that a third book is on the way that will take the main character, Don, into adolescence.

It’s 1947 and Don – I mean the character, not the author, though there are surely a number of overlaps between the two – is 11. He and his family are still living on a farm, still scrimping and making do, still – in Don’s case – yearning for such luxuries as a bow and arrows, or skates that fit, or a new hockey stick. Don is an eternal optimist, forever hatching plans to raise money, to shore up his reputation at school, to persuade relatives to come to his rescue. His hopes are dashed, his plans go awry, he is plunged into deep misery – but never into despair. Meanwhile, his brother Pat, one of the most beguiling little brothers in literature, manages with more wisdom and less turmoil (though he is responsible for at least one major explosion).

I laughed out loud many times. Any Australian children’s booksellers happening to read this: do consider getting hold of it.

Screaming Rapture at Vivid

I’ve been having trouble getting to the blogging desk this week, but I can’t let any more time go past without saying what a great time I had visiting Vivid down at the Quay last Friday night.

Vivid is billed as a Festival of Light, Music and Ideas. All I’ve seen is the light. I was at a lecture on contemporary art recently where a stooped and grey-bearded gentleman decried the ascendancy of spectacularism in contemporary art exhibitions. He may have said something about bread and circuses, and he certainly did say that somehow spectacle serves the agendas of governments. So I’m uneasily aware that I may be contributing to the end of civilisation as we know it if I recommend the multi-faceted spectacle of Circular Quay just now. However, recommend it I will.

The lighting of the Opera House Sails is fabulous: the moment when they started to flutter was heartstopping. The sails, the Customs House trompe l’oeil and  the gigantic Socialist Realist animation on the MCA are the Really Big Items, with the sunflowers and roses in the Argyle Cut not far behind. But there are any number of smaller works, many of them interactive, to enrich a stroll around the quay from now until 11 June.

In some ways the most restrained exhibit of all is Screaming Rapture. In contrast to the bright colours everywhere else, it’s a relatively small, stark black structure with a white light inside it. All it does is respond to sound – different ones of its black louvres open in response to different frequencies, volumes and durations. As we arrived from the Rocks, we could hear rhythmic clapping, which turned out to be someone playing with it. In my brief time in front of it, a small child sang and just the top row of louvres flickered. A man shouted basso profondo and just the bottom rows stood open. I sang ‘My love is like a red red rose’, and it moved prettily. Later we heard prolonged screaming and saw the whole rectangle show bright white.

Photo by Reuters, downloaded from hungeree.com

There’s a nice piece on the SMH site where one of the creators, Frank Maguire, talks about it. My son Liam Ryan is another of the brains (and late night labourers) who brought it into being. It’s not just paternal warmth that makes me think that amid all the awe-inspiring (I mistyped that as aww-inspiring, and I guess that’s accurate as well)  spectacle, this piece speaks of a world where technology is at our beck and call, doing the bidding of even the smallest child.

Neil Gaiman on the artist’s life

A friend sent me this link. Just in case you haven’t already seen it in a hundred other places, here is a very cool motivational speech for anyone contemplating being an artist:

I recommend you stay to the end for the best advice he ever got, which he ignored.

Added later: Gavin Aung, of Melbourne, has done a lovely cartoon version of part of the speech at zen pencils.

SWF 2012: The Weekend

First, a photo from Friday night. This is Tamar Chnorhokian, who read first in Moving People. That’s not a sponsor’s logo in the background, the story was set in a supermarket. You can see what I mean about the performers having nowhere to hide.

And now a sprint through my crowded weekend. My only serious queuing experience of the Festival was for the 11.30 session of What Would Edith Do? on Saturday – I got there before the previous session finished and so was comfortably towards the front of the queue. Edith Campbell Berry, the main character in Frank Moorhouse’s Dark PalaceGrand Days and Cold Light, may not have seized my imagination, perhaps because I haven’t read the first two books, but she has clearly been important to many people. I went to this hoping to find out what I’ve been missing and I got what I was after. Emily Maguire, novelist, discovered Edith in her late teenage years as a model of how it might be possible to live – rising to challenges and living nervously out of one’s depth rather than settling for the life mapped out by social expectations. She said there had been a number of times when she had actually asked herself the WWED question. Sadly, she deemed only one of them suitable for public exposure, but as it involved being invited to speak at a function in North Vietnam when she actually had no idea of the purpose of the function or who the Party functionaries thought she was, it was a perfectly satisfactory anecdote. The other panellists, journalists Annabel Crabb and Cynthia Banham, had come to the character later in life, but managed to convey the appeal. I realised that Cold Light is all aftermath: a woman who has lived daringly and intelligently, challenged convention in her private life and made a contribution on the world stage, returns to Australia in the 1950s where there is no place for such a woman and lives on scraps for the rest of her life. For those who have seen Edith riding around Geneva in a cowgirl suit or (is this really what they said?) stroking Anthony Eden’s head in her lap, the third trilogy is heartbreaking. Frank Moorhouse wasn’t there, but the best line of the session was his. He had told Annabel Crabb that one of the advantages of having spent 20 years with a single character was that she can now do her own PR and he doesn’t even have to turn up.

National Treasures was another poetry session that wasn’t quite what I had read the advertising to mean. I thought the participants – Mark Tredinnick, Vivian Smith and Judith Beveridge – were going to talk about Australian poetry they treasured, and read some to us, plus some of their own. What we got was excellent, but it wasn’t that: Judith Beveridge stayed firmly in the chair role, and the others talked of their own writing careers, and read from their work. When he was 15,  in the 1940s, Vivian S had sent off poems to The Bulletin, then pretty much the only place that published poetry in Australia. He received encouraging responses from the literary editor, Douglas Stewart, advising him to ditch the archaic poeticisms and recommending that he read contemporary poets such as T S Eliot. Decades later, Mark T was similarly advised by critic Jim Tulip, but the poets he recommended were William Carlos Williams, Robert Gray and Vivian Smith.

Tasmanian Aborigines was next, in which Lyndall Ryan talked to Ann Curthoys about her new book, a rewrite of her 1981 book on the same subject. Inevitably, the session involved a revisiting of the so-called History Wars: Keith Windschuttle had singled Professor Ryan’s 1981 book out for his accusation that lefty historians had fabricated evidence of massacre and his claim that in fact the original inhabitants of this country had just faded away when the Europeans arrived, possibly because of their inherent weaknesses. Windschuttle has been thoroughly discredited as a historian, of course, but it was interesting to hear Ryan’s take on the episode now. Asked what difference his intervention had made to our general understanding of Australian history, she said that paradoxically he had driven her and other back to interrogate their sources more thoroughly, and where in her first book she had focused on Aboriginal resistance, she had now looked at ‘settler activism’ and found that the evidence indicates that the violence of the frontier was much worse than historians had previously understood. Massacre, for instance, looms much larger in the new book than it did in the original.

Anne Curthoys was warm and personal as her interlocutor. She opened with a wonderful quote to the effect that in order to write history, one needs to have a deep commitment to the subject that relates to some great love or business in the present, and asked Lyndall Ryan what this love or business was in her case. But Professor Ryan was not to be seduced away from her calm, scholarly demeanour, and answered in terms of the breakthroughs in research since 1981. The question in my mind, which I didn’t get to ask, was along the same lines: as a white Australian, uncovering the evidence of terrible things done by your own forebears, how do you keep your composure, or if (as I think would be desirable) you lose your composure how do you keep your scholarly integrity? I guess I’ll just leave that one hanging.

Then I was back to the sun-filled Bangarra Mezzanine for Poetry Australia with Robert Gray, Rhyll McMaster, Tricia Dearborn, Geoffrey Lehmann – and the unfulfilled promise of Robert Adamson. It was a dazzling session – the sun was low over the Harbour and from where I was sitting it was impossible to look directly at whoever was at the lectern. Speaking less literally, it was okay. Each of the four poets read from their own work – some startling eroticism from Tricia Dearborn (I mean that in a good way), two poems from Rhyll McMaster that had me reaching for my pen to write down brilliant lines I knew I’d forget, in a scribble I now can’t read – her new book, Late Night Shopping, is now on my To Buy list. Geoffrey Lehmann read ‘Parenthood’, which begins ‘I have held what I hoped would become the best minds of a generation /  Over the gutter outside an Italian coffee shop watching the small / Warm urine splatter on the asphalt’, and lives up to the promise of it opening. Almost as if in direct reference to Ali Alizadeh’s scathing Overland review of the Lehmann–Gray anthology, Robert Gray read a number of John Shaw Neilson’s limericks.
In the short Q&A, someone did tactfully name the elephant in the room. A bookseller from Perth, she said that the anthology Australian Poetry Since 1788 was selling brilliantly. But, she said, she didn’t understand how a fine poet such as Fay Zwicky hadn’t made the cut. Ali Alizadeh, John Tranter, Peter Minter and other fierce critics of the anthology might have asked the same question but added a hundred names and whole classes of poetry, and gone on to challenge the inclusion of limericks. Here it was a genuine question rather than an attack. It seems to me that what was missing in the selection process was the intervention of someone who knew the field  and could veto the editors’ eccentricities. I can see why it would be hard to resist modifying the general perception of John Shaw Neilson by including a swag of limericks, or to include 14 poems by ‘Bellerive’, whose poems never even made it to the literary pages of the Bulletin of his time. But that’s when an authority figure needs to step in and rap someone over the knuckles.

Oh my paws and whiskers, across the road again to see Hilary Mantel on a huge screen in the Sydney Theatre talking about Bring Up the Bodies. What can I say? She was magnificent, and I’ve now got the book on my iPad. A friend of mine couldn’t read Wolf Hall, because he couldn’t tell who was being talked about a lot of the time – the book would say ‘he’ and expect you to know it was Thomas Cromwell. Evidently a lot of people had the same difficulty, because this new book says ‘he (Cromwell)’. As Michael Cathcart, interviewing Ms Mantell from our stage, said, you can almost hear the author saying, ‘Is that clear enough for you?’

[Added on Wednesday: The Literary Dilettante has an excellent account of this conversation here.]

Gluttons for punishment, we rushed from the theatre and drove to Marrickville for an evening of youthful cabaret/burlesque, which might have been on a different planet, but that’s another story altogether.

On Sunday, I only managed one event, The Oskar Schindler of Asia? in which Robin de Crespigny (pronounced Crepny) and former people-smuggler Ali al Jenabi conversed with ABC’s Heather Ewart (who is much smaller in person than she seems on the TV screen). This was 2012’s equivalent of last year’s conversation with David Hicks. Like Hicks, Ali al Jenabi is being treated unjustly by the Australian government. Although the title of the session is a quote from the judge who tried him for the crime of people smuggling, the government is so committed to the demonising term ‘people smuggler’ or at least so terrified of being attacked by the snarling Tony Abbott  if they are seen to be soft on such people, that al Jenabi, who seems to be a perfectly decent man who has endured terrible things, remains on a bridging visa pending deportation, even while all his family are now Australian residents.

It was a great Festival. Now I have to get back to work.

SWF 2012: Poetry, prose, performance

Here it is, Sunday already and this is my blog on Friday at the Writers’ Festival. Sorry! All this talking to people takes up good blogging time.

After a morning spent catching up on email and keeping the neglected dog company, I bussed back to the Wharf for what Kate Lilley called the Mum Show: Dorothy Hewett Remembered.

It’s ten years since Dorothy died and this Monday would have been her 89th birthday. The room was full of fans, friends, fellow poets and family, including my former employer Katharine Brisbane, founder of Currency Press. The elderly woman sitting beside me told me that when she was a Communist in Melbourne in the 1950s, someone from the Party had said to her, ‘There’s a young woman Party Member who’s just come over from Perth. She doesn’t know anyone yet and has a very sick baby. Would you go and visit her?’ The young woman was Dorothy and her friendship with my new acquaintance endured.

I expect that half the people in the room could have shared Dorothy Hewett / Merv Lilley stories (Merv, as larger-than-life as Dorothy, is her widower, whose health is too fragile to allow him to attend). On this occasion, fittingly, Dorothy was celebrated almost entirely through her own words: ‘I used to ride with Clancy’, ‘On Moncur Street’, ‘The Dark Fires Burn in Many Rooms’, other poems, excerpts from memoir and a conference paper.

Kate Lilley was joined by her sister Rozanna Lilley and their brother Joe Flood, as well as Fiona Morrison (editor), Gig Ryan (poet), Rosie Scott (novelist). As a finale we were invited to sing along with Dorothy’s song ‘Weevils in the Flour’, which Joe described as ‘synonymous with the Depression in Australia’:

Dole bread is bitter bread
Bitter bread and sour
There’s grief in the taste of it
And weevils in the flour.

I had a ticket for my next session, so no need to queue, and could spend some time catching up with old friends, one of whom I didn’t recognise until we were introduced – embarrassingly, we had chatted as strangers the day before.

Then I crossed the road to the Sydney Theatre for some prose in The Big Reading. This is as much a tradition as Thursday’s pitching session, but this one has been on my must-see list for years. I love being read to, and I’ve been introduced to some fabulous writers. I also tend to nod off – though not deliberately: my sleep mechanism has a mind of its own and is unyielding in its judgement. This year’s sleep-inducers will not be identified.

As always, the writers were wonderfully diverse in age, gender, nationality, and reading style.

Emily Perkins, from New Zealand, played a straight bat with an excerpt from her most recent novel Forest. Geoff Dyer’s comic tale of cultural difference and queue jumping from Geoff in Venice, Death in Varanasi struck a chord – pertinent for me as I’d just seen a man who could have been from Varanasi blithely bypass the previous session’s sluggishly moving queue.

Riikka Pulkkinen read her quiet, introspective piece in Finnish first ‘so you get the idea’, a great way of educating us in how to listen to someone whose English is a little unsteady. Jesmyn Ward’s Katrina piece would have been the highlight of the evening if she hadn’t been followed by Sebastian Barry, who began and ended in resonant song and filled the space with the music of his narrative, from The Other Side of Canaan.

Then we hopped in the car, stopped off at home to feed the aforementioned dog, picked up some friends and drove to Bankstown for the not-to-be-missed BYDS and Westside Publications event, this year entitled Moving People.

With Ivor Indyk as tutelary deity and Michael Mohammed Ahmad as inspired energiser, these events are always strikingly staged. This year there was a microphone and a lectern on a bare stage, backed by a screen. Each of the fourteen participating writers in turn strode out from the wings and read to us without introduction, explanation or by your leave. This created a tremendous sense of connection between each reader and the audience – there was nowhere to hide. Unlike at the rest of the Festival, there was no veil of celebrity, no established persona to speak through. The exceptions test but don’t demolish the rule: Luke Carman has appeared in the pages of Heat and in This Is the Penguin Plays Rough Book of Short Stories, about which I’ll blog when I’ve finished reading it; Fiona Wright, also with Heat connections, published Knuckle, her first book of poetry, last year; Michael Mohammed Ahmad himself appeared recently in Roslyn Oades’s brilliant I’m Your Man Downstairs at Belvoir Street. Their pieces – respectively an oddly dissociative tale of male, twenty-something aspiring inner-city writers, a memoir of a stint as a young female journalist in Sri Lanka, and a riproaring cautionary tale about young Lebanese men, cars and drugs – were given no special treatment, simply taking their places as part of the evening’s tapestry. Benny Ngo did some spectacular break dancing while his recorded words played. Nitin Vengurlekar had a nice turn reading absurd short poems from crumpled pages found in his jacket pockets. A smooth essay on getting the dress codes wrong in Indonesia, a dramatic monologue from a supermarket security guard, traveller’s tales, the chronicle of a shared house experience, a young Muslim woman’s story of getting a tattoo and her family’s unexpected response (this one sounded like autobiography, but the writer’s family were in the row in front of us and their attitude was not at all that of the story’s family): it occurred to me that part of the reason that I was less enthusiastic than many people about Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap may be partly that his treatment of multicultural suburbia doesn’t seem so very groundbreaking if you’ve been following the creations of this group.

And they gave us pizza!

[Added on Wednesday: Kevin Jackson, theatre blogger, was at Moving People too. You can read his excellent account of it here. And the Australian Bookshelf blogged it here.]

I’ll write about the weekend tomorrow.

SWF 2112: Poets, Harbour, pitches and more poets

This was my first day at Walsh Bay, and in striking contrast to recent weather, the sky was cloudless and there was no wind – perfect festival weather.

The tiny harbourside room generally reserved for poets at the Festival couldn’t have been a more appropriate venue for my first event of the day, Harbours and Rivers, with Robert Adamson, Neil Astley, Martin Harrison and Jennifer Maiden. I joined the uncharacteristically long queue with minutes to spare, and only when it became clear I wasn’t going to get in I realised I was in the wrong place: this time the tiny room had been given to young writers talking about the Second Novel Effect, and the poets had been given a much bigger and incidentally much darker space. I briskly walked the length of the Wharf and arrived part way through the introductions.

The poets, refusing as poets should to be pigeonholed, paid at best slant regard to their allocated topic. Jennifer Maiden read a long new poem, ‘The Uses of Powerlessness’, which she described as a diary poem but was actually pretty much a philippic on Julia Gillard, not in the ‘X woke up in X’ form, but a straightforward furious meditation. I wrote down one of many striking lines: ‘The Labor Party, like Gillard, is an obedience addict.’ Martin Harrison and Robert Adamson both spoke of the complex interplay between observation of the natural world and self-discovery. ‘All my harbours and rivers are internal,’ the latter said, somewhat disingenuously, ‘even though I live on a river.’ Among the poems he read was the sublime ‘Kingfisher’s Soul’, an intensely personal love poem that grows richer with each hearing. Neil Astley, advertised as editor of English publishing house Bloodaxe Books, turns out to be a poet as well. He was in Darwin for Cyclone Tracy, about which he read two striking poems followed by an excerpt from a novel that engages with an English countryside.

Jennifer Maiden, Robert Adamson, Martin Harrison and Neil Astley not far from the Harbour

In short, it was very good. Afterwards I ventured to introduce myself to Jennifer Maiden, but I was probably working so hard at no being too fanboyish for the conversation to have made much sense.

After a brief interval I went to the Club Stage for So You Think You Can Write, my first time to this a regular Festival event in which random audience members get to pitch a project to a panel of publishers.

The specially decorative lights for the Club Stage area – each bulb has an open book for a shade.

I don’t know that anyone who was at all savvy about publishing would participate in this, unless for the sheer fun of it. And it was mostly fun. A 15 year old boy pitched a detective story set among the Egyptian pyramids. There was an earnest tract for children aiming to foster leadership skills and an understanding of democracy. One or two pitches were for books that could have been anything, so broad were the descriptions. One woman had already had an iBook version of her project downloaded thousands of times. The winner – of nothing apart from the glory – was a psychological detective story in which the character realises a day of her life has gone missing and then is shown photos of herself taken on the missing day. The thing that won the audience and panel’s approval was that the photos were improbably and bizarrely orgiastic, involving vegetables and cigars in unspecified lewd ways. It may not be Scandi-Crime, but this audience loved it. You read about it here first.

And then off to the poets’ lightfilled room. Gig Ryan and Kate Lilley, feminist-identifying experimental poets, drew an overflow crowd, including Adamson, Harrison and Astley from this morning, plus John Tranter, Ivor Indyk, Toby Fitch and many faces familiar from the Sappho open mike nights. Each of the poets introduced the other. They read from recently published books and, on being requested by an audience member to  compose a poem together on the spot, they parlayed the request down to each of them reading a poem by the other – with interesting results.

I confess that I went to this session expecting to suffer. I’ve read very little of either of them and my experience has been that if I don’t know a poet’s work I have trouble hearing it when read to me. (A possible contrary experience was hearing Jennifer Maiden this morning, but I am familiar with her voice and preoccupations, so had a head start.) Gig Ryan reads quickly, and her language is very compressed: I had difficulty distinguishing the words, let alone grasping the connections between them. Kate Lilley has a gratifyingly expressive delivery, and the woman beside me kindly allowed me to look over her shoulder and read along as the poems were read. But I was still pretty completely mystified. Both women talked about how people in their lives met their work with blank expressions, so I didn’t feel too stupid, or at least not alone in my stupidity.

One of Kate Lilley’s poems, ‘Maisily’, consists of a string of about a hundred adverbs. This was the first time she’d read it aloud and it was quite a feat – all those lys. It seemed like pointless nonsense to me. Then she explained that it was made up of all the adjectives used by Henry James in What Maisie Knew. That made it seem like hi-falutin pointless nonsense to me. Then I remembered that it was part of an elegiac sequence about the poet’s relationship with her mother, and it no longer seemed so pointless – maybe I was finding an emotional subtext because that’s the kind of reader I am, but I did find one, like a deeply submerged nostalgia for childhood when the adult world was as inscrutable as to little Maisie in James’s novel. I wonder how it wold go if read, not as a near tongue twister, but with the rhythm of a tolling bell.

As if the poets had read my thoughts, their conversation turned to the business of reading poetry aloud. Lilley said she knew and loved her poetry long before she heard her read, but when she did hear her read it was a revelation. Maybe my difficulty is as much to do with my increasing deafness as with unfamiliarity with the poetry.

So the poetry was difficult, but the session was excellent. Both were very funny about the business of being poets, and how they see each other’s poetry. Even when they drew our attention to the complete absence of critical articles on Gig Ryan’s work, even though she is generally acknowledged as an important Australian poet, and surmised that this absence may well be because she is a woman, somehow that seemed richly comic.

On the way home in the bus, I ran into an old friend who had been to a panel with Peter Hartcher, George Megalogenis and a third journalist talking about Australia’s parlous economic situation. I felt I had been very frivolous, but I was glad of it.

SWF 2112: Mark Tredinnick Throwing Soft Bombs

The State Library again, this time for a morning poetry workshop with Mark Tredinnick. I did a community college creative writing workshop with Mark a couple of years ago, soon after which I had my first poem accepted for publication. Since then Mark has published The Blue Plateau and won some prizes, including the prestigious 2011 Montreal Poetry Prize. I liked the blurb’s idea of ‘learn[ing] some old ideas and new tricks to turn [my] poems into soft bombs’, though I wasn’t sure what that meant.

There were 16 of us. Mark’s distinctively resonant voice had taken on a richer tone thanks to a head cold, but he soldiered on. One of the six male participants excused himself, explaining that he had recently had a lung removed and didn’t want to risk catching whatever Mark had, but the rest of us presumably had less at stake and were willing to risk it.

It was fun. He took us, instructively, through a series of drafts of a short poem, and handed out several sheets of poems, reflections on poems, aphorisms about poetry. He covered a white board with suggestive phrases – ‘self:Self’, ‘enormous moments’, ‘politics of poetry’, and so on. He talked and answered questions without an obvious structure, and after some time passed we realised he had covered all the phrases on the white board. Then we did an exercise, and each of us read out what we had written, or one we’d prepared earlier. Mark commented, always generously and appreciatively, and did what he called some editing on the run.

Linda Gregg’s poem, ‘Adult‘ provided the ‘prompt’ (evidently a technical term in writing workshops) in its opening phrase: ‘I’ve come back’. This is what I wrote:

I’ve come back to this room
he fills with viral baritone
words – his own, his teachers’,
ours. Teresa sees language as God’s
best gift, but worries sometimes
she mistakes gift for giver.

He rightly said I needed to think whether this would lead anywhere or whether it was just a clever thought in a writing class.

That’s all. I’m writing this on my iPad in the reading room of the Mitchell Library. Now I’m off to catch a bus home. Oh, the thrill of almost live blogging!

SWF 2112: Tabloid – David McKnight on Rupert Murdoch

The Sydney Writers’ Festival has started. In recent years I’ve been kicking my festival off by attending the Premier’s Literary Awards dinner on the Monday night, and it’s been a great way of getting momentum up. This year, the dinner – if there is one – will be in November, so I began with a visit to the State Library on this cold cold night to hear David McKnight talk about Rupert Murdoch in a conversation with Jonathan Holmes. It was good to see Mr Media Watch in person, and David McKnight has read and watched an awful lot of a certain kind of journalism so the rest of us don’t have to. And written a book, Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power.

My pick for quote of the evening was David McKnight on the anti-elite ideology pushed by Murdoch and his allies: ‘A librarian living on a pension is a member of the elite if she has liberal views, and Rupert Murdoch is not. It’s a beautiful move ideologically.’

In the Q&A, someone remarked that the  Australian‘s columnists seem to have contempt for their readers, considering them incapable of rational thought. Jonathan Holmes said something to the effect that the columnists see themselves as speaking to the concerns of those readers, echoing and amplifying their anxieties and prejudices; if they have contempt, it is for people like the questioner, who is clearly one of the ‘elite’.

No one asked David McKnight if he there was anything he admired about Rupert Murdoch, but he told us anyway, saying that he had prepared the answer and in all his presentation about the man no one had ever asked the question: he has never heard him be racist, and he seems to be a genuine believer in free speech, as he has never sued anyone, or even threatened to sue them, for libel.

It was like a top level Gleebooks evening – which would cost maybe $5 and  be free to Gleeclub members. I don’t know if either of the presenters was paid for his appearance, but each of the mainly silvery heads at tonight’s sold out event  paid $20. I guess the money went to a good cause.

The Screaming Rapture Cometh

Last year my son Liam was one of the team that created Social Fireflies for the Vivid festival. This year they’re producing Screaming Rapture. The social fireflies moved in response to light, from outside or from each other. The louvres of the rapture respond to sound. You make a noise. They flash. I don’t know about the title, but it’s looking cool.

Maurice Sendak

About 1970, when I was in my mid 20s I asked my school-librarian housemate for advice on what to give my niece for Christmas. She suggested Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and at a stroke she introduced me to a world of children’s literature that had been transformed since I was a child. I loved the book. So did my nieces and nephews, who named all the monsters after adults in their lives.

When I became a parent, I must have read the book, and In the Night Kitchen, and Higgledy Piggledy Pop and  The Sign on Rosie’s Door (which has the best last line ever) hundreds of times. Not to mention Pierre:

And when the lion gave a roar,
Pierre fell out upon the floor.
He rubbed his eyes and shook his head
and laughed because he wasn’t dead.

If only!

The moral of Pierre is: Care!

Dwight Garner has an excellent elegiac ‘appraisal’ of Sendak’s work, with lots of excellent links, here.