I’m almost caught up on my journal-reading. This isn’t a result of my diligence, but of the difficulties besetting literary journals just now. Heat has been appearing like clockwork, but the Summer 2022 edition of Overland arrived in my mailbox in mid Autumn 2023, and Southerly and the Australian Poetry Journal and Anthology – to which I subscribe – haven’t published hard-copy issues for two years.
Here are two almost-current issues, blogged with attention to page 76 as per my arbitrary blog policy.
Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 7 (Giramondo 2023)
From the Heat website:
The first issue of HEAT was published in July 1996, in the wake of the Demidenko Affair, in which an Australian author of English background posed as Ukrainian in order to gain credibility for her Holocaust-inspired novel. The anger provoked by this hoax accounts in large part for the magazine’s name, and a commitment to the publication of genuinely diverse writing.
The third series is different from the first two in many ways, but it continues to make a rich contribution to Australian literary culture through its commitment to writing from non-British backgrounds. This issue includes translations from Chinese, Spanish, French and Ukrainian, as well as work by two non-Anglo Australians – П.O. and Eda Gunaydin. Five poems by Melbourne poet Gareth Morgan may make him an exception, though a man in one of his poems says, ‘He must be fresh off the boat,’ which seems to imply a non-Anglo appearance.
I most enjoyed Eda Gunaydin’s ‘Fuck Up’, a comic tale of two young Anglo men who set up a Go Fund Me for an imaginary anti-Islamophobia conference, whose scheme goes awry when they find themselves actually trying to organise the conference. Two stories by Zhu Yue (translated from Chinese by Jianan Qian and Alyssia Asquith) reminded me of Jorge Luis Borges; Andriy Lyubka ‘Roasted Uganda’ (translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan), a letter from the war in Ukraine, is available to read on the Heat website.
Noémie Lefebvre’s ‘Les non-dupes errent and other ghosts’ (translated by Sophie Lewis), which begins on page 76, overcame my codgerly resistance to stories that invoke French Theorists: the narrator is stuck in the middle of writing a tragedy, pondering the futility of literature given the state of the world and remembering her mother’s anorexia as she prepares to eat some toast – as one does – when Lacan (no first name) turns up and they have a weirdly obscure, but funny and resonant conversation.
Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 249 (Summer 2022)
(Some of the content – less than in the past – is online at the revamped Overland website, and I’ve included links)
Apart from its usual excellent content this issue of Overland brought tears to my eyes with a letter to ‘the Overland family’ from the editors committing themselves to the MEAA’s Freelance Charter, which among other things means not passing on the effects of funding challenges to their contributors. I’m an MEAA member, book editors’ section. They’ve just guaranteed that I’ll keep subscribing for the foreseeable.
The issue kicks off with an excoriation of Heather Rose’s Bruny, which almost makes me want to read the novel to see if Elias Grieg, the excoriator, might have failed to notice that the narrative was deeply ironic. But I can resist. There are also interesting articles on forced adoption (by EJ Clarence), brain tumour as experienced by an environmental activist (Bonnie Etherington), and language liberation (Natalia Figueroa Barroso).
Of the generous array of poems, I most enjoyed Ouyang Yu’s uncharacteristically upbeat ‘To Richard Ouyang’, a meditation on the naming of his bicultural son.
There are five short stories, including one (by Avi Leibovitch) that features a talking cat, another (by Tim Loveday) that features small dogs in a bushfire (and mentions in passing a horrific practice in commercial dog-breeding), a family drama (by Rob Johnson) told from a child’s point of view (‘it was like a movie and I wasn’t part of it’). I enjoyed all of them. Fortuitously the one beginning on page 76, ‘Black Spring’ by Hossein Asgari, is perhaps the most interesting.
The protagonist of ‘Black Spring’ is a university teacher who has moved back in with his parents during the pandemic. It begins:
He pushes his chair back and stretches his limbs, turning himself into a multiplication sign before taking his glasses off and rubbing his eyes. He knows how they must look: red, irritated, thirsty for a few artificial tears. Has he just snapped at a student? In an online class which was recorded? God damn it! He slams his laptop shut, opens his desk drawer, picks up his eyedrops, and walks to the window. His father still squats where he’s been for the last hour, under the shade of the fig tree, a garden trowel in his hand.
The family relationships reveal themselves – the father is in early stages of dementia, the mother has health issues, the pandemic brings its own problems, it’s not easy working from home when it’s also your parents’ home, and so on. It reads as a Melbourne story, like most of Overland‘s contents, with mild hints of non-Anglo culture in the father’s habit of sucking on sugar cubes, or the mother’s offer of a choice between dates and dark chocolate with a cup of tea. Then there’s a deft reveal, first with the mention of an Imam influencing the water supply, and then with a place name, that the story is unfolding in Iran. No big deal is made of the reveal, and the story continues – a sweet, understated piece of anti-Othering.
Heat 8 has already landed (and been reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog). The good things just keep coming.