Daily Archives: 31 December 2015

My AWW Year

This is my mandatory round-up post about the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge 2015. I think I undertook to read 10 books by Australian women writers. I read 21. It was not an ordeal.

• I read poetry, such poetry:

I read two stunning memoirs:

In My Mother’s Hands, Biff Ward

Reckoning, Magda Szubanski, as an audiobook read brilliantly by the author

• I read biography and recent history

Barbara Baynton: Between Two Worlds, Penne Hackforth-Jones

The Streets of Papunya, Vivien Johnson

• I read novels:

The Golden Age, Joan London

When the Night Comes, Favel Parrett

The Strays, Emily Bitto

The Soldier’s Wife, Pamela Hart

The Life of Houses, Lisa Gorton

Chasing Shadows, Leila Yusaf Chang

• I read a brilliant essay:

Quarterly Essay: Dear Life, Karen Hitchcock

• I read short works, including a book of short stories, components of Going Down Swinging‘s Long Box, and children’s books:

Go to Sleep Jessie, Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood

The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present, Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood

Bush Studies, Barbara Baynton

Thirteen Story Horse, Bridget Lutherburrow

News from a Radiant Future, Katherine Kruimink

Protein, Libbie Chellew

Its not as if I read these books just because they were written by women, but I doubt if I would have read them all if not for the challenge. My life is definitely richer for it.

I intend to sign up for the 2016 challenge. Of course.

Jennifer Maiden’s Fox Petition

Jennifer Maiden, The Fox Petition (Giramondo 2015)

The-Fox-Petition Like all Jennifer Maiden’s books for several years now The Fox Petition has a huge cast of historical and fictional characters, as well as some living politicians and a couple of non-human entities.

Most of these appear in Maiden’s dialogue poems. Julie Bishop makes her debut, and so do father and son act Keith and Rupert Murdoch. Making return appearances are Kevin Rudd and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who seem to be forever on an aeroplane; Tony Abbott and Queen Victoria, whose relationship is becoming even more tense; George Jeffreys and Clare Collins continuing their adventures, this time in the Greek financial crisis and with refugees from Syria; Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt, still flirtatious and remonstrative in pretty equal measure.

I think the Hon. Carina Monckton, created by the inhabitants of the Carina Galaxy, has appeared in an earlier book, but I’m positive that the Harvard School of Business has not been seen before his chat here with Julie Bishop.

Then there are the Diary Poems, so called because they seem to ramble like diary jottings, though those appearances are hugely misleading. Many other characters get a guernsey in them, including Tanya Plibersek, Gillian Triggs, Penny Wong, Joan Baez, Labor politician Melissa Parke (Maiden’s ‘favourite politician / now’) and eighteenth century Whig Charles Fox (her ‘favourite politician / of all time’).

Heavily populated though the book is, it has an extraordinary coherence. The title refers to a recent protest against measures in New South Wales making it illegal to keep a ‘newly acquired fox’, even if neutered and vaccinated, and also to Charles Fox’s defence of habeas corpus during the Napoleonic Wars. What links the two, apart from the word play (of which there is a lot) is Maiden’s passionate dislike of the single-minded self-righteousness she has previously called ‘ethical security’, which here is represented literally and metaphorically by Biosecurity: the goal of being safe from germs, feral animals, refugees, and moral complexity of any kind.

As my regular readers know, I’m a fan. I love the voice of these poems. A Maiden poem characterically feels as accessible and even as interactive as a chat with a friend about the TV news, making you laugh and perhaps confirming your prejudices.Then extraordinary lines emerge, such as:

it is vital to be Australian, which
seems to mean rat poison and a flag.

Something else has been going on behind the chat. It is, after all, poetry made from the stuff of the nightly news, that pushes the reader to think and feel in new places. Did I also mention that it’s fun?

aww-badge-2015 The Fox Petition is the twenty-first and last book I read for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.