I’m not across the detail of the Australian government’s National Cultural Policy – ‘Revive: a place for every story and a story for every place’ (here’s a link) – but I hope it means our literary journals are in a less desperately mendicant state. Certainly, I’m grateful that they continue to exist and even proliferate, even though my reading is limited. Just two on this blog post, both from last year, and both blogged with attention to page 76 as per my arbitrary blog policy.
Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 6 (Giramondo 2022)
There are two wonderful homegrown pieces in this Heat: Fiona Wright’s essay about ageing, ‘To Begin / It Broke’; and Oscar Schwartz’s ‘Father Figures’, a collection of ultra-short prose pieces written as the birth of his first child approached. You can read the latter on the Heat website at this link.
There are translations – four poems translated from Chinese and an essay from Norwegian – and six pages devoted to images of witty ceramic pieces by Kenny Pittock with the self-explanatory title ‘Post-It Notes Found While Working in a Supermarket’.
Page 76 is near the beginning of the longest and most ambitious piece, ‘Dear Editor’ by Amitava Kumar. Kumar was born in India and now lives in Poughkeepsie, New York. The story starts with a writer flying to Mumbai from New York composing an op-ed in his head about the plane’s broken toilets and the smell of shit. He keeps it up:
My ability to exaggerate does on occasion get the better of me but, believe me, I’m not being fanciful when I say that even the blue carpet in the aisles exuded a faecal odour – no, a heavier element, a moist miasma, that entered the nose and seemed to paralyse the senses. This preceding sentence was going into the op-ed.
My resistance was immediate and intense. Why is an Australian literary journal giving over more than a third of its pages to an Indian-born USian complaining about his country of origin? There are quite a few more sentences for the op-ed, but just as I was about to skip to the end of the story, the scene changes to a hotel in Mumbai where the daughter of an old friend is to be married.
It took a few pages, but the narrator has a fleeting sense of himself as an obnoxious expat and starts a conversation wth a fellow guest, an older woman. The imagined op-ed takes on a more serious tenor, and eventually disappears altogether as the narrator is absorbed by the woman’s story. I have no idea how much of this story is fiction, how much journalistic truth, but the ‘mix of arrogance and condescension’, as he later describes it, turns out to have been a slipway into an account of the coming of Hindu-style fascism to a small village. My resistance was completely dissolved, and I’ve added Amitava Kumar to the list of writers I wish had been invited to the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May.
Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 248 (Spring 2022)
(Some of the content – less than in the past – is online at the revamped Overland website, and I’ve included links)
Many of the articles in this Overland have a literary academic feel: Thomas Moran writes about M Barnard Eldershaw’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow; Michael Griffiths compares and contrasts T S Eliot and Catholic German sometime Nazi Party member Carl Schmitt; Abigail Fisher discusses Bella Li’s Theory of Colours. All three are in accessible English, but aim for a readership who is more specialist than usual for Overland articles and, I confess, more specialist than I am.
The poetry, on the other hand, is more accessible than usual. I especially like Isobel Prior’s ‘The Medical Man’, a narrative about a hospital tragedy somewhat in the manner of the late, great Bruce Dawe; and Paul Magee’s ‘Flag mask’, a reminder of what the Australian Parliament was like before May 2022.
Of the five short stories, two play masterfully and unsettlingly with the notion of consent: ‘Espalier‘ by Kerry Greer and ‘What it means to say yes‘ by Megan McGrath.
Page 76 falls in the middle of the other short story that spoke strongly to me, ‘In the garden‘ by Jayda Franks. A character introduced as ‘a young man’ visits another character referred to mainly as ‘the woman’ in an aged care facility. As they chat and play with dirt in the garden, we realise that they have a history but there is a reason beyond her dementia for her not remembering him. It’s a simple, poignant tale whose twist is an emotional twist of the knife rather than a surprise. Here’s a little from the dialogue in the garden to give you a sense of the way the narrative captures the way conversation with someone with demential can go, while suggesting that something else is going on:
‘I don’t remember you,’ she says. She is much more lucid now. Her eyes are sharp and clear and they fix on his own.
‘Please don’t be. I don’t blame you at all.’
She watches him crack his fingers and her brow furrows. ‘The counsellor here says we should ask visitors to tell us about themselves. Even if it doesn’t help us remember. Would you like to do that?’
He smiles sadly. ‘I am afraid I am a very different person to the one you remember.’
She turns to the spider lilies and he watches the conversation leach away from her. She beams at their slender petals and her whole face crinkles up like a young bud in bloom. When she looks back at him, she falters and his heart contracts.
I subscribe to two other journals, but they seem to be on hiatus. May they be revived by Revive before my next Journal Catch-up blog post.