Here’s the Art Student speaking to a meeting at NSW Teachers Federation Conference Centre last week about the imminent cutting of all funding to fine art education in TAFE.
Ain’t she something?
Here’s the Art Student speaking to a meeting at NSW Teachers Federation Conference Centre last week about the imminent cutting of all funding to fine art education in TAFE.
Ain’t she something?
.@LukeLPearson linked to this on Twitter. In the last couple of years Archie Roach has had a stroke and surgery for lung cancer. But cop this:
Elizabeth McMahon and David Brooks (editors), Southerly Vol 72 No 1 2012: Mid-century Women Writers
Spring is here – ‘a box where sweets compacted lie’ as George Herbert called it, in a phrase that could apply just as well to this issue of Southerly. (Or to put it prosaically, this post is an annotated list.)
There’s a new Jennifer Maiden poem, ‘George Jeffreys 13: George Jeffreys woke up in Beijing’. This series of poems has had to find a new focus now that George W Bush is no longer reliably on the television obsessing about Iraq as he was for the first poems. George and his kind of girlfriend Clare seem to be travelling the world, waking up in one troubled locale after another, having adventures involving guns, fires and pirate ships as well as discussing politics, morality, philosophy etc. It’s not a verse novel, or even a discontinuous narrative really, but it is never uninteresting. In this poem George and Clare meet with a recently released Chinese dissident in the Forbidden City where they are joined by Confucius and the Duke of Zhou.
There’s Fiona Morrison’s excellent essay, ‘Leaving the Party: Dorothy Hewett, literary politics and the long 1960s’. Like many Communists, Hewett stayed in the Party after the 1956 invasion of Hungary despite serious misgivings, then left when the tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968. In effect this essay traces the movement of her mind between those two events as revealed in her writing. Strikingly though, it doesn’t refer to either Hungary or Czechoslovakia, restricting itself to literary matters. Some of the essay’s specialist scholarly language took my fancy, and revived my love of double dactyls:
writing in Southerly,
gathers no moss:
says that our Dorothy
wrote a sustained tropo-
logics of loss.
There’s Karen Lamb’s ‘“Yrs Patrick”: Thea Astley’s brush with timely advice on “the rackety career of novel writing”’, an inside look at the relationship between Astley and other writers, with a focus on a particularly unsparing letter from Patrick White. I once heard Astley quote a dollop of writerly advice she had received from White: ‘If you’re going to write about a shit, Thea, you have to make him a really big shit.’ This article is fascinating but doesn’t include anything quite that colourful. Karen Lamb is writing a biography of Astley. Reading her account of Astley’s approach to friendship, I wondered if biographers don’t run the risk of coming to dislike their subjects through knowing too much:
surely doesn’t mean to slam
but she makes her seem ghastly.
I’ll refrain from doggerel for the rest of this post.
There’s the other piece I turned to the day the journal arrived in the mail, David Musgrave’s review of Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray’s Australian Poetry Since 1788. In a measured and judicious manner, Musgrave joins the line of anthologists, poets and publishers who give this anthology the thumbs down. (Incidentally, I note that neither David Brooks, Southerly‘s co-editor, nor Kate Lilley, its poetry editor, got a guernsey in the anthology, but that didn’t stop them from including an elegant narrative poem by Gray elsewhere in this issue.)
Of the theme essays on mid-century women writers other than the two I’ve already mentioned, Helen O’Reilly’s ‘“Dazzling” Dark – Lantana Lane (1959)’ and Susan Sheridan’s ‘“Cranford at Moreton Bay”: Jessica Anderson’s The Commandant‘ persuaded me to add the books they discuss to my To Be Read pile. I skimmed the essays on Christina Stead, Eve Langley and Elizabeth Harrower, and a second one on Jessica Anderson, which are intended for specialist readers. I mean no irony when I say I was grateful to read this near the start of an essay: ‘In her well-known formulation of performativity, Judith Butler argues that repetition of a discourse actually produces the phenomena that it seeks to control.’ Such sentences serve as warnings: what follows is intended not just for readers who can understand the warning sentence, but readers to whom its contents are familiar.
Off theme, there’s Ed Scheer’s ‘“Non-places for non-people”: Social sculpture in Minto’, an account of a performance art event, Big Pinko, in which two artists painted a house pink. It sounds like an interesting project, but I found article a little disturbing in the way it talked about the people of Minto. Perhaps the Judith Butler formulation is relevant: the phrase ‘non-places for non-people’ is meant to encapsulate a criticism of the dysfunctional environment in this outer western suburb, but as it is repeated in this essay it comes to read like a dismissal of the people who live there. The essay has a lot in it that’s beautiful and evocative, but in this respect it makes me appreciate all over again Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s at Westside’s labours to foster writers in Western Sydney.
This issue has abundant rich poetry. I love B. R. Dionysius’ ‘Ghouls’, a set of five sonnets about the Brisbane floods.
The white festiva shunted like a tinny, half-tonne maggot into
O’Hanlon Street’s winter bulb cul-de-sac. The Bremer’s brown
Muzzle investigated the bottom stairs of a corner house, sniffing
For the scent of past flood levels left by more malicious beasts.
Of the other poems, I particular liked ‘Rose Bay Airport, 1944’ and ‘Standing Soldiers’ by Margaret Bradstock (both after Russell Drysdale wartime paintings), ‘Holiday snap’ by Andrew Taylor, ‘Hardware 1953’ by Geoff Page, and ‘The Roadside Bramble’ by Peter Minter.
Of the fifty pages of reviews, John Kinsella on David Brooks’s The Sons of Clovis: Ern Malley, Adoré Floupette and a secret history of Australian poetry andPam Brown on Kate Lilley’s Ladylike stood out for me, Kinsella for fascinating ruminations on the nature of literary hoaxes, and Brown for her usual generous intelligence.
David Brooks and Elizabeth McMahon (editors), Southerly Vol 71 No 3 2011: A Nest of Bunyips
In 2001 the National Library of Australia published Bunyips: Australia’s Folklore of Fear by Robert Holden and Nicholas Holden. Robert said in his introduction that writing and editing the book had taken him ‘down many byways of history, literature, folklore, superstition and cultural studies’, and that he had gleaned insights from palaeontology, evolutionary thinking and anthropology.
The title of this issue of Southerly might lead you to expect something along the same lines. You would be misled. It does include a scattering of atmospheric drawings dating from between 1890 and 1912, citing the Holdens’ book as the immediate source, but they are the only bunyips on offer. As David Brooks says in his editorial, the issue is filled with things from the backlog ‘of pieces too good to reject but refusing any easy categorisation, and the bunyip motif derives from Michael Sharkey’s long poem, ‘Where the Bunyip Builds it Nest’, chosen more or less at random from the pile. (The poem isn’t actually about bunyips, but it is a bit of a monster: a long poem in five parts made up of lines taken from other poems from settlement until now in roughly chronological order, all carefully annotated.)
On reflection, Brooks says, bunyips – nocturnal, haunters of waterholes, ‘strange hybrids whose shrill quarrellings can sometimes be heard late into the night’ – sound like some poets. So the motif gained legitimacy: the issue contains work by 28 poets, essays on and by a half dozen more, and reviews of seven books of poetry. And the online supplement, the Long Paddock, has almost as much again, plus a substantial interview with Laurie Duggan.
The riches on offer include:
Southerly is a refereed scholarly journal, and I tend to skip the scholarly articles, or at least the ones about writers I am unlikely to read, and those with Deleuze, Kristeva etc in the title. I did read Kevin Hart’s ‘Susannah Without the Cherub’, a fascinating discussion of A D Hope’s ‘The Double Looking Glass’. It may be, as Martin Johnston said, that A D Hope sent away for a Great Poet Kit, and then successfully used it to become a great poet. This essay bears out the second part of Martin’s quip.
It’s not all poetry. There are four short stories, all of which I enjoyed – Matthia Dempsey’s ‘One Week Gone’, about an old man a week after his wife’s death, is superb.
No bunyips, not really, but that’s not a terrible loss, given what’s there instead.
At Sappho’s recently, Kate Lilley said she had always enjoyed the work of the poet whose book she was launching but had never previously had to speak to that enjoyment, a very different and challenging thing. I sympathise. I enjoyed Late Night Shopping – a lot – but don’t know that I’m up to giving an account of my enjoyment. As often happens to me when I contemplate writing about poetry – any poetry from ‘My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose’ to, I dunno, Christopher Brennan’s translations of Mallarmé – I feel a bit lost for words. If you want a proper review of Late Night Shopping, I recommend Lyndon Walker in the Rochford Street Review. But here’s my two bobs’ worth.
‘The Shell’, the first poem in the book, confronts us with the fresh corpse of a woman who has died in hospital:
After that rasping sound when the woman died
she was bleached pale on the surface like a sponge.
The poem foreshadows the main subject of the collection: not so much death as the relationship between physical reality and the reality of the mind; ‘The mind [is] embodied and embrained’; ‘A sheep’s skull is a sculpted housing / fine and hard for a sheep’s brain, / built to retain its idea of itself’; or this, from ‘The Image of the Box’:
All philosophy's a game, It's a clever fox That stops us thinking of the universe as void condensed, a roaring silent trinket of energy rampant
It’s not nihilism or morbidity, but a kind of cool, radical wondering. On the one hand there’s the physical universe, including us, and on the other there’s what we make of it all. Rejecting illusion, perhaps, but still enchanted. The lines from ‘Nomenclature’, ‘Call the unknowable / what you will / from your dug-in position / on the side of a hill,’ could be read as advocating intellectual despair, but that hill, coming at the end of a poem full of abstractions, feels to me like a promise.
A number of poems are responses to images – a photograph, nine paintings by Sidney Nolan, five drawings by Terry Milligan. It seems to me that the surreal Nolan sequence, ‘Evolutionary History of Edward Kelly in Primary Colours’ needs to be read beside the paintings it refers to. As a public service, then, here are the Nolan paintings that I could identify from the notes on the poems, with the name of the poems that refer to each of them (I’ve struggled with the formatting here. I hope it looks the same in your browser as it does in mine):
The day I finished reading Late Night Shopping for the first time, I found a copy of Rhyll McMaster’s Washing the Money, published 26 years earlier, in a secondhand bookshelf (the aforementioned Sappho’s, as it happens). Self-described as ‘Poems with Photographs’, this is full of verbal snapshots of the poet’s early life and her life as a young mother. These poems give us the remembered world of a 1950s childhood in precise detail – a ‘narrow crack at finger-running height’ in a brick wall, a newspaper delivered ‘with a stuffed thud’, ‘grandma’s hair like silkworm thread’. There are actual photos, and some of the poems are responses to them; other poems refer to photos not included.
This book spoke to me in a very personal way: Rhyll McMaster and I were both born in Queensland in 1947, so when she uses words like ‘port’ and ‘togs’ I’m there. The family car, the beach excursions, the mosquito nets are all home territory for me. My father didn’t wash and iron the family’s money at weekends, but the description of the notes strikes a chord. (Incidentally, the poem ‘Washing the Money’, which documents a weird family ritual to comic effect, becomes a rich and deep reflection on family connections when read, as it was by me, with the recent book’s elegiac ‘His Ordered World’ fresh in the mind.)
My biggest pleasure from this book, though, was a piece of uncanny serendipity. Among the photographs is a 1939 studio portrait of the poet’s mother, Jean Isobel. Here it is, and next to it is a studio portrait of my own mother, Esme Isabel, taken a few years earlier. It’s not the first time I’ve felt that a writer knew something very private about me, but I don’t know that any other book has ever come this close:
He ends with some denials. ‘I’ve never ever
called a person bitch. It’s not my lingo
(I just read out letters). And I’ve never
likewise called her liar. It’s a thing, though,
the way she promises no tax forever,
she says East Timor, then Malaysia. Ringo
changed his tune less often. Fuel watch!
Liar’s an awful word, but she’s a botch.
‘I didn’t say that women are destroying
the joint – I know it’s on the tape like that,
but I meant just some women. It’s annoying:
I defend them, fund them, I go in to bat
for women ‘cos they don’t waste time enjoying
red wine and cigars at lunch. My hat
is tipped to tough ones who excel in arts.
I don’t despise their gender, just some parts.
‘I’m here to face the music, clear the air
in person, not on paper. Them that flogs
their products on my show will see I’m fair.
I thank you all for coming. Go the Dogs!’
Go, not so little poem, to Lord knows where,
but first to readers’ eyes by way of blogs.
It’s Jones who speaks in almost every line:
The words that do not please are surely mine.
Martin Alexander (editor) Asia Literary Review 24, [Northern] Summer 2012
[Added in 2021: Most of the links in the blog post are broken, but the title above and the image to the left will get you there. The whole issue is available online to subscribers.]
I subscribed to the Asia Literary Review in 2009 for worthy motives: they had published a short story by my niece Edwina Shaw, and I wanted to support a publication that had faith in her; it also seemed a relatively painless way to ensure some cultural diversity in my reading. I’ve kept on renewing my subscription because every issue has something to delight – from a photo essay on Karen exiles living on the Thai–Burmese border to a splendidly simple pasta sauce recipe. The current issue doesn’t disappoint.
Martin Alexander’s editorial announces that this journal is organised around the theme of identity. The contributors, he writes,
reflect, and reflect upon, the multiplicity and complexity of their identities. Each piece was composed in isolation, but when brought and bound together their explorations of identity complement one another in unanticipated and intriguing ways.
I would add: in laugh out loud ways, and weird ways, and ways that make you want to weep. Many of the pieces are about dislocation – through migration, exile or invasion. Many are about the experience of being mixed-heritage. There’s a fascinating, kaleidoscopic effect as voices from China, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Japan, India, Thailand, South Korea, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the UK, the USA and Australia, Uyghur, Hawai’ian and Burmese voices, echo one another’s motifs, answer one another’s questions and question one another’s answers.
My precious blogging time is being taken up with doggerel endeavours these days, so I’ll limit myself to mentioning, pretty much at random, just a few highlights.
Kavita Bhanot’s ‘Too Asian, Not Asian Enough‘ asks if it isn’t a new form of Orientalism for so-called British Asians to simplify their identities and perform them rather than striving to understand and reveal their own complexities. The journal’s imprint page reveals that Madhvi Ramani’s short story ‘Windows‘ is taken from an anthology edited by Kavita Bhanot with the same name as her article. Ramani’s story illustrates beautifully the kind of thing Bhanot is advocating: it starts out with Mrs Sharma, close to the stereotype of the elderly, widowed Indian living in Britain, locked out of her home, and ends in a completely unexpected place.
In Win Lyovarin’s Rainbow Days, the Bangkok Reds and Yellows demonstrations are seen, to wonderful satirical effect, from the point of view of a barely legal Burmese street merchant. This is one of a number of pieces translated into English, in this case from Thai by Marcel Barang. Kim Jae Young’s ‘Elephant‘, translated from Korean by Moon-ok Lee and Nicholas Yohan Duvernay, is another: an impoverished and desperate little community of immigrants is seen through the eyes of a young boy, son of a Nepalese man and a Korean mother who has abandoned them.
There’s an interview with Donald Keene, pre-eminent expert on Japanese literature, who in his late 80s, not long after the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear accident last year, decided to leave the United States and become a Japanese citizen.
I’ve always thought that Chinese criticism of the Party and bureaucracy was inevitably an earnest affair. Jimmy Qi’s ‘Yu Li: Confessions of an Elevator Operator‘ (translated by Harvey Thomlinson, whose Hong Kong based Make-Do Press has a novel by Jimmy Qi in the pipeline) demonstrates definitively that this just isn’t so. At one level this story is a completely serious satire, but at another it’s an immensely enjoyable piece of silliness.
I plan to keep my subscription up.
Nearing the end of my versification of Alan Jones’s ‘apology’ press conference. Click here for Part 1 and here for Mr Jones’s press conference, from which – believe it or not – a lot of this is taken verbatim:
‘Put Julia in a chaff bag – yes, it’s true
I said that. I said, Drop her out at sea.
But not to drown out there in the big blue.
No! See if she’d swim home! Analogy!
And metaphor! That’s what my dad would do
with damaged goods out in the bush, you see.
I bought the chaffbag jacket at the bash.
Those poor beleaguered people need the cash.
‘If I must be belted up, well here I am,
off my own bat. (I don’t know how this chap
got in there – he’s a liar and a sham.)
It’s like Gallipoli, we face the shrap-
nel from Turk Gillard. It’s like Vietnam:
dark humour as we hear death’s dark wings flap.
No joke, that phrase that I, naive, repeated:
Our backs are to the door. And now it’s sheeted
‘home to me. But think of Kevin Rudd.
Like him or not, he was Prime Minister,
and his own party trashed him as a dud.
This bit’s best left unsaid, but it’s so sinister:
Holy Nelly, the ALP slings mud
and don’t apologise. This one’s a mini-stir.
I spoke unwisely. Now they’re hurling stones
and tweeting flak to silence Alan Jones.
‘Are we sure the tape wasn’t faked by them?
Did I say this awful thing? Or am I clean?
Julia said her problems as PM
weighed heavy on her dad. What did she mean?
I do not say aloud, at least pro tem,
that she meant he felt shame. I know she’s been
shown up as a liar many times.
A good dad would feel bad about such crimes.’
Dear patient reader, not much more to go.
He meant no harm. He likes her and her dad.
It was no joke, but echoed people’s woe.
He don’t remember making such a bad
remark. He made it at a private show
and was recorded by a total cad
who may have faked it. It was mostly true.
Others have done worse. He’s true blue.
Tune in again in a couple of days for the thrilling conclusion – surely. The Press conference went for 43 minutes. I should be able to bring it home in under 23 stanzas. The bits that made me start out on this enterprise are yet to come: ‘I didn’t say women are destroying the joint,’ ‘I didn’t call her a liar, and ‘I’ve never called anyone a bitch ever.’
Andy Kissane, The Swarm (Puncher and Wattmann 2012)
I read this collection of Andy Kissane’s short stories a month or so ago, just after reading some Chekhov stories for the first time. (The reason for the delay in posting is that – a rare event for me – I received an advance copy from the publisher, and the book isn’t being launched until Sunday.) The stories in The Swarm made me realise, with some embarrassment, that I had read Chekhov as if I was visiting a museum: it was interesting, instructive, challenging, but all at arm’s length, preserved, from another time and place. Andy Kissane’s stories are as alive and immediate as neighbourhood gossip.
Partly that’s because these stories, all except two, are set in the present. And partly because of the book’s strong sense of place. Most of the action takes place in an inner city landscape as distinctive as Chekhov’s rural villages, and the characters – musicians, mostly unsuccessful actors, a twenty-something artist, a young mother screwing up her courage to invite her recently widowed father to move in – are as much part of that landscape as Chekhov’s peasants, idlers and provincial bourgeoisie are of theirs. I imagine the sense of the local in these stories would appeal to any reader, including one for whom the Marlborough or St Vincent’s are no more than names, but it’s especially sweet to me because by and large, it’s my local.
[About 200 words about being a North Queenslander deleted here.]
A sense of place doesn’t make a good story, of course. And there is a lot more than that to enjoy here. Again and again a commonplace experience is seen freshly, charged with moral or emotional meaning the way commonplace things often are. A young man stands at a condom vending machine in a pub toilet. A couple spend an evening playing Monopoly when the TV set has died. An old man cleans up his daughter’s yard. A musician watches his cello being played badly by a prospective buyer. A man (who could have come from the pages of On Western Sydney) boasts of car-related derring-do. Looking at that fairly random list of closely observed, mostly domestic events, I realise that the common subject of the stories is love: romantic love, parental love, love betrayed, love unfulfilled, love surprisingly revived or belatedly recognised. Nothing flashy, just a deepening sense of what it means to be human and in connection.
The historical stories – ‘A Bright Blue Future’ and ‘A Mirror to the World’, about asbestos mining at Wittenoom and racist frontier violence respectively – mostly keep to a similar domestic perspective. They too can be read as about love – one man makes disastrous moral compromises out of concern for his family’s short-term wellbeing; tentative overtures between Aboriginal Australians and settlers end in disaster.
‘A Mirror to the World’ is the longest and most ambitious story in the collection. It is based on an incident that happened in Rockhampton in the 1870s – an incident, interestingly, that’s interpreted quite differently in Ross Gibson’s Seven Versions of an Australian Badland. At least, one of the story’s two narratives is based on that incident. The other belongs to the author–academic who is writing that historical narrative, in between running a creative writing course where he lectures on multiple narratives, mise-en-abîme and other devices that are used in the story itself. So, yes, unlike the other ten stories it draws attention to itself as an artefact. It does this in other ways as well. There are explicit references to at least two other stories in the collection: a character from one makes an offstage appearance, and a situation from another is echoed in detail. It’s cleverly done, and there’s a final twist that crowns the cleverness, but it serves a serious purpose. As the story turns back on itself, it opens the way for questions about what it means for a white Australian to tackle the appalling injustices of our colonial past, about the question of moral judgement, the difficulty of imagining the inner world of the early settlers without either surrendering or imposing a modern perspective. The ending is both a technical delight and a moral/political challenge. It’s a story I’d love to discuss – but not here, not to spoil it for people who haven’t read it.
Full disclosure: As well as receiving a free book, I have a degree of commitment to Andy Kissane’s work, since the script for the short film currently known as Scar!, which regular visitors here will know I co-wrote, was inspired by his poem ‘The Station Owner’s Daughter, Narrandera’.
‘It’s incumbent on me now to make a call.
I rang The Lodge and there was no one there.
I’d speak to her: A father’s death’s no small
loss, no tiny cross for her to bear.
She is a human being after all.
Her migrant parents gave more than their share.
I’ll more than happily praise her father’s name,
but don’t say I’ll deny he died of shame.
‘That speech last week would have been better made
without the phrase attributed to me.
It was no joke. It grew from the first grade
frustration felt out there, black parody
responding to the way she has betrayed
us all. It was a wail at arvo tea.
I don’t dislike her: we swapped birthday greetings.
I just pass on the spleen from barbie meetings.
‘There’s no excuse in hindsight. Here’s the context.
This was a Sydney Uni private dinner,’
[The invite called it public – what the hecks!]
‘a rollicking affair, we all were in a
mood take the mickey, throw off checks
and balances. But still, I’m no beginner.
That shouldn’t have been repeated but it was
by me and some sneak journo from the Oz
‘or Tele who was taping the whole do.
I’d say to her I understand her grief
and hope I haven’t added to it. Who
would wish that on her? There is no relief
from my remorse but I’ll say one or two
more things. Some tweeters had a beef
with me and said they hoped my prostate cancer
would return and kill me. Now, my answer
‘is, I’m fair game so why not Julia Gillard?
You won’t hear me complain, you’ve got to cop it.
I don’t condone my comment, but it’s still hard
that I get singled out. You’d all say, Hop it!
if I said, Lay off Abbott. There’s a shrill guard
round the PM, oh the poor wee moppet.
No joke to say her father died of shame.
That’s no excuse for saying it, all the same.
‘I’ll tell you now of anger that’s deep-seated.
The carbon tax! The mining tax! She lied
about the Socialistic Forum. I get heated
about an anguished mother whose son died
because of Gillard’s batts. She’s lied and cheated.
Australian Workers Union? Watch her hide!
I’m personal. You must front and say sorry.
Simple as that. You have to. Don’t you worry.
I’m up to page four of the 11 page transcript, which this follows closely, though the transcript does start repeating itself around about now, so I may be more than half way through this opus. To be continued.