Tag Archives: Going Down Swinging

Going Down Swinging Longbox

Geoff Lemon, Katie Pase, Rhys Tate & Simon Cox (editors), Going Down Swinging Longbox (2015)

gdslbxFaced with the recurring heartache of literary-magazine editors, of having to reject excellent material because it exceeds the magazine’s word count, the Going Down Swinging crew had the bright idea of publishing a boxed set of such rejects. And here it is, a collection of five slim books (for a range of values of the word ‘book’) enclosed in a paper box. It’s a beautiful artefact – like Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library, but for grown-ups. The separate pieces are:

gdslb5Bridget Lutherborrow, Thirteen Story Horse (illustrated by Harley Manifold)

Thirteen short stories set in a block of flats, each story bearing the number of its characters’ flat. There’s a talking horse who makes furniture out of egg cartons, a girl called Henrietta who has a mysterious supply of eggs (and useful egg cartons), a woman who irritates her neighbours by calling her husband’s full name when they’re having noisy sex, another woman who grows big hairy man hands when she drinks too much, someone who talks almost entirely in cliches, and so on. The stories are full of apartment living’s tangential connections and mysterious glimpses into other lives, with added weirdness and the horse providing a through line. Lovely ink wash drawings add a lyrical dimension.

 alt=Andrew Denton (with a little help from Megan Herbert and David Squires), Looking a Little Drawn

Who’d have thought Andrew Denton had a whole other career in him? Yet here he is, with 30 original cartoons, each printed on a separate card, all but three executed with the skill level of a bright five year old. The resulting combination of sharp wit and primitive technique is totally disarming. The three exceptions, which are executed by Megan Herbert and David Squires (to help him, Denton says in an author’s note, ‘realise some ideas that neither the left nor right side of my brain knew how to draw’), wouldn’t be out of place in, say, the New Yorker. For example, a giant, radiant, bearded figure in a white robe sits on a throne in a supermarket with a tiny human on his lap; an onlooker says to a companion, ‘See? He really is real.’ How good it would be if The Monthly and/or the Saturday Paper started publishing such single-frame cartoons just for fun. Not that Denton totally avoids topicality: I ventured to reproduce one in my blog post on David Marr’s quarterly essay on Bill Shorten.

Version 2Luke Johnson, Ringbark

Ringbark is an excerpt from Luke Johnson’s unpublished novel On Dead Highways. It’s an elegant 74-page book with a gorgeous cover drawing by Caroline Hunter, but I can’t tell you more than that because I have a policy of  not reading excerpts from novels in newspapers or magazines. I’ll wait for the whole thing.

Version 2Pat Grant, Toormina Video

A graphic novella–memoir in which Pat Grant tells the story of his alcoholic father. It’s pretty sordid, but it’s complex, and in the end respectful and full of love. The novella was first published on the internet two years ago, and you can still see that version at Pat Grant’s web site. Here, the 44 pages of the story are printed on 11 sheets of paper, each of which unfolds to reveal a single drawing and text on the other side, filling in details, responding to comments on the internet, meditating on art, addiction, family and other maters raised: the equivalent of DVD extras. I found it deeply satisfying, and I imagine that anyone who had a non-violent alcoholic parent would find it even more so.

Version 2Version 2Katherine Kruimink, News from a Radiant Future
Libbie Chellew, Protein
(both illustrated by Anthony Calvert)

Two dystopian novellas back to back. In Protein a city (country? world?) is under threat from a mysterious epidemic that shares some features of the zombie apocalypse. From a series of vignettes, we piece together a picture of what’s happening. Many questions are left unanswered, and the panic of the situation gets under the reader’s skin. At least it did mine. And then, the end, and we’re left with it.  Katherine Kruimink’s story is likewise a patchwork – memos from a noticeboard, dialogue, what may be a diary entry by someone who is in 21st century terms illiterate. We are in the middle of things again – a small community of human survivors live in a compound, survivors of an invasion by Them (who are left undescribed apart from passing mentions of tentacles and technological superiority). Is it safe to leave the compound as the younger generation believe? Will the heroic sacrifice of two of the older generation come to anything? Will the group survive to another generation? All is left unresolved, brilliantly.

The package was produced with the help of crowd funding. My copy arrived as a fabulous surprise long after I’d made my donation. But you don’t have to have been a member of the funding crowd to own a copy. You can buy it online.

aww-badge-2015Added later: Though they are part of a bigger bundle, Thirteen Story Horse and the Protein/News from a Radiant Future pair are the seventeenth and eighteenth books I’ve read for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

David Marr’s Faction Man

David Marr, Faction Man: Bill Shorten’s Path to Power (Quarterly Essay 59)


Some trivia to start with: Timothy Conigreve, whose memoir Holding the Man has been made into a deeply affecting film, attended the same secondary school as Bill Shorten: the Jesuits’ Xavier College in Melbourne. Congreve performed in a school production of Romeo and Juliet in the late 1970s; Shorten staffed the box office for a Romeo and Juliet in the mid 1980s.

David Marr’s Quarterly Essay doesn’t mention Tim Conigreve or Romeo and Juliet, but it paints a portrait of a man who, having functioned brilliantly behind the scenes, now stands centre stage. It also reminds us that Tony Abbott is another Jesuit old boy, and invokes the Jesuit ideal of ‘a man for others’ of Shorten, a phrase that is at the heart of a brilliant piece on Abbott by Katherine Murphy. A Jesuit education can clearly lead to very different outcomes.

Marr asks about Bill Shorten the same question he has asked about Kevin Rudd, George Pell and Tony Abbott in previous essays: who is he? The question has a particular flavour in Shorten’s case because, as Marr says, he is ‘a man from nowhere’: ‘Where Tony Abbott is disliked quite viscerally now that he is known, Shorten is suspect because he isn’t.’ One of Andrew Denton’s cartoons in the fabulous Going Down Swinging Longbox (which I’ll blog about soon, and which I assume it’s OK to quote here), makes a similar point:


To treat politics as if it is all about personalities is to debase the public discourse. But it really does help to know something about the people who are vying for the top political job, about where they come from and – now that politicians are so intent on telling voters in marginal seats what they want to hear – what we can figure out about their agendas.

Marr’s essay gives the background – one of twins, the son of a university lecturer mother and a sailor turned small businessman father, Shorten educated in Catholic schools, including Xavier, joined the ALP while at school and threw himself into student politics at university. The story gets interesting – and incredibly intricate – when young Bill becomes an organiser for the AWU and enters what Marr calls ‘the dark world of Victorian politics’. Shorten quickly mastered the politics of the ALP right, proved to be a brilliant recruiter who, as he took on leadership, reanimated the ‘shot duck’ union.

The history is interspersed with vignettes that are closer to the present moment: Shorten’s successful management of potentially rancorous differences at the ALP National Conference this year; Shaun Micallef’s skewering of his sub-Keating wit, his ‘zingers’; his time in the witness box in Tony Abbott’s politically motivated Royal Commission; a list of his nicknames, from Lot’s Wife‘s Bill ‘Career Move’ Shorten in 1987 to Tony Abbott’s Barnacle Bill in 2014.

The picture that emerges is a man who has a phenomenal talent for union politics. Bill Shorten has been a master of the deal – all the hard work, sweet talk and hard-man tactics, betrayal and compromise happen behind the scenes. His role in the manoeuvring to replace Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister with Julia Gillard and then to replace Julia Gillard with Kevin Rudd was in that same mode, though more visible and not a good look (Marr doesn’t mention it, but the captions of newspaper photographs of him at that time called him, paradoxically, a ‘faceless man’.) Now that he is seeking to become Prime Minister, he is in new territory: this competition has to happen in the open – out of the box office and onto the stage, perhaps. When the essay was written, Tony Abbott was his opponent. With the infinitely more personable Malcolm Turnbull in the other corner, Shorten’s challenge remains much the same. This essay helps us to see who he is and the world that he comes from: he needs to find a way to show himself in a way that the electorate will take to him.

Speaking at Gleebooks last night, David Marr said this was the hardest writing assignment of his life, because ‘the terrain is so unspectacular’. Maybe, but there will be a federal election in the next 15 months, and Bill Shorten’s conservative Labor style and substance will be part of some interesting times.


Up the back there are 40 pages of correspondence about the previous Quarterly Essay – that is to say, some discussion of IS, Iraq and Syria that doesn’t bristle with terms like ‘death cult’, ‘baddies and baddies’ or even ‘evil’, but is all about military strategy. I’m a pacifist, but I love the way these people can argue their cases.

I’ve been mentioned!

I may be easily thrilled , but thrilled I am. I’ve been mentioned in a review – Tim Howard’s review of Going Down Swinging No  28 in the July–August 2009 issue of the Australian Book Review.

In case you can’t read it, the bit that thrills me is this:

[Lisa] Greenaway and her co-editor, Klare Lanson, share a taste for free verse; their selections include pithy and expansive poems. Jonathan Shaw’s ‘Correspondence’ is a concise, sardonic jab at historical amnesia and bureaucratic impotence.

And I don’t even know Tim Howard!

GDS launch at PPR in Newtown


Last night I went to the Sydney launch of Going Down Swinging No 28. As I may have mentioned, I have not one but two poems in this excellent publication, and I’d missed the Melbourne launch last Wednesday. So of course I made my way to Penguin Plays Rough headquarters in Newtown for last night’s event.

I’d left my PDA at home, so we had a little trouble finding the place. I remembered the address as 475 King Street. That turned out to be a convenience store, which didn’t seem right. My companion wanted to phone home for instructions, but my dim recollection of the Google Street Image made me expect to find a door down the side street. And sure enough there was one.

‘But look, through the windows, you can see that it’s someone’s home,’ said Madam Circumspect.

‘Remember the New American Vaudeville,’ I said.

‘That was fifteen years ago,’ she muttered, but the little New York adventure I was referring to had taken us to a door just as unlikely as this one in the Bowery, and it had opened onto a strangely enjoyable evening of fire-eating, Groucho Marx impersonations and bad folk music. So we climbed the stairs last night, to an evening that was at least as enjoyable, with its own kind of strangeness.

It turns out that we had been seeing someone’s home through the windows. The story as I gleaned it in the course of the evening is that two young women moved into the flat above the convenience store, and when they took a good look at the high-ceilinged, crumbly front room, they decided it was too big to waste as a bedroom or even as a shared living room, and should be put to work as ‘a space’. And so Penguin Plays Rough was born: at 8 o’clock on the third Sunday of every month five programmed writers and five wild cards sit in a red velvet wing chair and read from their work to a paying audience (a wild card is someone who puts their name on the blackboard at the door on arrival).

Last night the room was comfortably full of mostly young people drinking beer and what I thought at first was soup but was actually mulled wine. An assortment of chairs – wooden from the kitchen, wrought iron from the garden, upholstered and plastic – lined two walls, but most people sat in comfortable, picnic-style circles on the floor. My companion’s prediction that we would be the oldest people in the room proved correct by a good ten years, and we were possibly as much as 30 years above the mean. Klare Lanson and Lisa Greenaway, editors of GDS were there. I knew a couple of people, including Mark Tredinnick, poet, essayist and creative writing teacher, who was there to give moral support to one of his students who was reading. But mostly I had a sense that this was a thriving group of people who enjoyed each other’s work, had fun writing and reading and providing an audience for each other. We were treated, among other things, to the final instalment of a Philip Marlowe spoof serial drama with a zombie and cheerful gay male incest. My favourite PPR part of proceedings was a nasty homophobic encounter on Windsor Railway Station told in the language of Shakespeare (‘Ho, varlet, what music doth enter thine ear through yon iPod buds?’ ‘This be Anthony and the Johnsons’), and incorporating a giant green tentacled alien.

A charming young man introduced simply as Shag (who Google tells me is a Radio FBi personality) did the actual launching. He hadn’t actually seen a copy of GDS until he arrived at the venue, but that didn’t stop him from doing a nice job: he had written a piece of ‘Creative Writing’ entitled ‘What I Imagine It will be Like to Launch Going Down Swinging’ which managed to be funny, self-deprecating and devoid of actual reference to the subject of the launch. Nonetheless there was a sweet mood of celebration. Klare Lanson had a few moments in the chair, and managed to slip us a couple of factoids (Peter Carey and Brian Castro appeared in early issues, and in spite of the implied pessimism of the title, it’s now been going and swinging for 30 years). A couple of contributors read their poems and stories from the GDS, Literary culture is alive and well and having a good time in a room above a convenience store in Newtown.

Mark Tredinnick mentioned in a break that his book The Blue Plateau is to be launched tonight at Macquarie University. ‘Do you imagine it will be like this?’ I asked. ‘Absolutely not,’ he said, ‘and that’s not altogether a good thing.’

Hard copy

I was in Gleebooks this morning buying yet another copy of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, this one for a friend who has just gone into hospital for a longish stay, when I saw a stack of the new issue of Going Down Swinging:


Not only is it very beautiful, its contents include two poems by me. I didn’t buy a copy because I’ve pre-ordered six which I’ll pick up at a launch. But don’t let such considerations prevent you from splurging. There are a couple of hundred pages and a CD that feature stuff not by me, and my first quick impression is that it’s fabulous.