Tag Archives: Jenny Grigg

Journal Catch-up 14

Both the journals in this month’s catch-up are slim enough to be carried around for reading on pubic transport waiting in queues or even, if the talkative company allows, in the sauna.


Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 2 (Giramondo 2022)

There’s an excellent article on Heat on the State Library of New South Wales website, entitled ‘On Fire‘. The author, Miriam Cosic, gives a quick history, from editor Ivor Indyk’s rage at the Hand That Signed the Paper affair to Alexander Christie’s appointment as editor of Series 3, and pays appropriate homage to Jenny Grigg’s elegant minimalist design of the new series. She interviews Christie, who has a deep respect for the multiculturalism, internationalism, and especially commitment to good writing that characterised the earlier series of Heat, as well as their providing opportunities for new writers:

‘It takes a long time to become a good writer, to really hone your craft,’ Christie says. ‘I want to bring [emerging writers] into the mix and elevate them next to established voices. That’s really important to me.’

The second issue opens with a black and white photo of a bark painting by Naminapu Maymuru-White, which serves as a kind of acknowledgement of country, and has a caption alerting us to an exhibition of Yirrkala bark paintings to take place in New Hampshire in September this year. The six pieces of writing follow:

  • ‘Ludic Literature’, an abstract literary essay by British novelist Helen Oyeyemi
  • ‘Unlock to Ride’, a short story by New Zealand novelist and short story writer Pip Adam
  • ‘Min-Min’, a prose poem / flash fiction by First Nations poet Samuel Wagan Watson 
  • ‘Sit Down Young Stranger’ a short story by Luke Carman, a Heat veteran
  • Three prose poems by Michael Farrell, also a Heat veteran
  • ‘Allen’, a short story by Ren Arcamone, this issue’s ’emerging writer’.

I enjoyed Luke Carman’s story about a depressed musician in Katoomba, and look forward to his next book, which is due out very soon. But, perhaps because I’ve been reading a diary I kept nearly 50 years ago when I was living in a shared house, the piece that most engaged me was ‘Allen’, in which an inner-city 20-something couple have an imaginary flatmate that they can blame when things go wrong in their flat. By good fortune, ‘Allen’ is the one piece from this Heat that has been made available online. If you’re interested, here it is.


Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 244 (Spring 2021)
(Much of the content is online at overland.org.au, and I’ve included links)

There’s so much excellent stuff in this edition of Overland that it’s hard to know where to start. The high point for me is probably the short story ‘Shane’s castration‘ by Michael James, a tale of early teenage humiliation at the skateboard rink that negotiates the intersection of sexism and the oppression of young people with profound compassion for all its characters, and maintains the tension right to the final sentence. The other three short stories are strong, but inevitably pale in comparison. Someone in the sauna asked me what I was reading just as I started Kathryn van Beek’s ‘Honey Babe‘. I read out the first sentence, in which bras are mentioned, and no one asked me to read further. It turns out to be a weird story in which a woman gives birth to a large peach: I’ll never know how it would have gone down with that audience.

The poetry section is, as always, strong. The poems that touched me most were both by Belinda Rule. ‘Pointless, in space‘ is a lament for the Croajingalong National Park devastated by 2019–20 bushfires, and an atheist’s prayer for the timber men (particularly poignant for me as I’ve just read John Blay’s Wild Nature, blog post yet to come, in which the author walks through that forest just before the fires); ‘In the only flats in a posh suburb‘ is a complaint about noisy neighbours, kind of.

It’s the cumulative richness of the articles that take up just over the first half that leaves me in awe. In particular:

  • I would prefer not to‘ by Ellena Savage discusses the toll ‘turbo-neoliberalism’ takes on the lives of millennials, compares her situation to that of her boomer (?) father, and takes both him and Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener – whose catchphrase gives the article its title – as heroes
  • Reading Humphrey McQueen’s A New Britannia in decolonial times‘ by Jon Piccini does what it says on the lid, and among other things argues that Mcqueen’s later self-criticism was unreasonably dismissive of this work (‘There are books that, without you even knowing it, have shaped who you are as a thinker’)
  • Taking what’s owed‘ by Rafi Alam describes the way Community Legal Centres, founded as independent community-based initiatives, have largely been transformed under the influence of neoliberal policies into charities competing for government subsidy
  • Life-making through and beyond the pandemic by Miriam Jones focuses on ‘life-making’ workers, in particular early-childhood educators, speaking as an early-childhood educator herself and doing a brilliant job of contrasting the perspectives of policy-makers who see childcare as primarily a way of keeping women in the workforce, and the the workers themselves who ‘know that children are not only the nations’s future, but powerful, insightful and creative human beings in the here and now’.

Journal Catch-up 13

I used to call these posts Journal Blitzes, but there’s nothing very Blitzy about them. Just two journals this time: an Overland from a year ago and a Heat just one issue back.


Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 243 (Winter 2021)
(Much of the content is online at overland.org.au, and I’ve included links)

This issue of Overland opens with a suite of excellent articles:

  • Coming through ceremony, a brief insider’s history by Kim Kruger of the Melbourne-based Aboriginal theatre company Ilbijerri, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year
  • A teleology of folding, and of dying by Dženana Vucic. Don’t be put off by the high-philosophic title. This is a lucid personal account of the complexities of being a white Muslim – a child refugee from Bosnia – who is now atheist and hipster-presenting yet still identifies viscerally with Muslims worldwide who are facing something akin to the Nazi holocaust
  • The bridge and the fire by Robbo Bennetts, published before the terrible floods of 2021–2022, and perhaps written before the terrible fires of 2020–2021, reflects on the effects of two disasters he has been close to: the Westgate Bridge collapse in 1970 and the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009
  • Torrey Peters Detransition, Baby, in which trans person Yves Rees reviews a novel that has a Sex and the City frothiness, but whose ‘window onto transfeminine interiority is nothing short of revolutionary’. Recommended reading for anyone struggling with their inner TERF.

In a welcome return to tradition, this issue includes the winner and two runners-up of a literary prize. The inaugural Kuracca Prize for Australian Literature, established by Overland in honour of the late Kerry Reed-Gilbert, is open to all Australian writers for fiction, poetry, essay, memoir, creative non-fiction, cartoon or graphic stories, and digital or audio storytelling. The winner this year is a short story, the runners up are a poem and a personal essay.

There’s a generous eight-page poetry section, and three short fictions, of which the stand-outs are ‘Tight lines’ by Allee Richards, a tale of the collateral pain when the main character’s relationship with a child is brought to an end by the ending of a relationship with the child’s father; and see you later by Zowie Douglas-Kinghorn, a vivid evocation of work on a dairy farm, which most satisfactorily brings up to date the genre of workplace short stories.


Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 1 (Giramondo 2022)

Heat is back from hiatus. Series 2 Nº 24 was published in 2011 (my blog post here) with no promise of a return. Now here is Series 3, slimmer, with a new look and a new editor, promising to appear every two months and – in my opinion – well worth the annual subscription price of $120 (slightly more for individual copies). My sense is that the new, intimate format is better suited than the previous, book-sized issues to the limited attention spans of our image-dominated era – there’s also a deft use of images.

This issue, introducing a minimalist design by Jenny Grigg, kicks off with a one-page linocut by Ben Juers, which works mainly as a reminder that Heat has in the past included substantial sections of visual art. The main body is made up of:

  • ‘Only one refused’ by Mireille Juchau, a Heat veteran. The essay tracks down the story of a family member who survived the Nazi camps, and makes dramatic use of illustrations, including a double page spread of the ‘Hollerith card’ that recorded her relative’s physical features, and a photograph of ghostlike women recuperating in the Mauthausen infirmary soon after liberation (This article is on the Heat web site, at this link)
  • ‘Special Stuff’, a grim short story by Josephine Rowe, featuring a woman, man and baby doing a futuristic equivalent of ‘duck and cover’, seconds before a nuclear explosion
  • Five poems by Sarah Holland-Batt, all dealing with the death of parents. I’m especially glad to have read these so soon after hearing SH-B read at the Sydney Writers’ Festival (my blog post at this link). If these poems, especially ‘Pikes Peak’, are any indication, her latest book, The Jaguar (University of Queensland Press 2022), is definitely something I want to read
  • ‘Brief Lives’ by Brian Castro, a kind of Decameron for readers with short attention spans, blended with a lament about ageing, with raging bushfires as a backdrop
  • Death Takes Me’, fiction by Hispanic USer Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Sarah Booker and Robin Myers, an esoteric variation on a police procedural that opens with a quote from Renate Saleci to the effect that castration is a prerequisite for sexual relations, and does nothing to allay the scepticism the quote provokes.

Number 2 is waiting on my shelf, and I’m looking forward to reading it.


PS: There’s a word in the Heat that I need help with. In the Brian Castro story, there’s this, speaking of an ageing writer taking refuge in a guesthouse with a number of other people:

He thinks. He thinks too much. Never sleeping. Now that Eros is held in liam in the other room, he fades into ancient tapestries.

(page 69)

What does ‘liam’ mean? Or is it Iiam (that is, does it begin with a capital ‘I’ rather than a lower case ‘l’? Given Heat 2’s propensity for typos and malapropisms, it may be an error. But if so, what is the correct word? All answers welcome, even correct ones.

Leave to remain

Abbas El-Zein, Leave to Remain (UQP 2009)

9780702236921There was a piece on the news recently about a conference on Islamophobia. My lay thought on the subject is that the best way to make headway against that polysyllabic malady is to make friends with actual flesh-and-blood Muslims. A probably less efficacious but also less challenging cure might be to read books by Muslim writers. Irfan Yusuf’s Once Were Radicals is a case in point. So is Leave to Remain. Both books are memoirs by Australian Muslims who were born elsewhere, both deal with what it means to be Muslim and ‘of Middle Eastern appearance’ living in Australia; Irfan Yusuf comes from the rough and tumble world of blogdom and doesn’t know when to write ‘my friend and me’ rather than ‘my friend and I’, whereas Abbas El-Zein is a university professor and novelist, parts of whose book have appeared in literary journals. Once Were Radicals did a beautiful job (for me at least) of ‘de-Othering’ Islam – that is to say, I felt that the author had done a brilliant job of bridging the Islamophobia chasm. I approached Leave to Remain expecting something of the same, for a different generation, a different national background (Yusuf left Pakistan for Australia when he was a small child; El-Zein was an adult when he came here from Lebanon).

Paradoxically, even though Abas El-Zein’s childhood and youth in war-torn Lebanon could hardly have been more different from mine in what someone has called the cotton-wool peace of White Australia, I had much less of a sense of chasms being bridged with this book. Perhaps that’s because Yusuf’s memoir deals largely with his adolescent exploration of Islam, which is still pretty much a closed Book to me; while El-Zein identifies unwaveringly as ‘an adherent … to Enlightenment ideas and practices concerning the secular state, pluralism, science and technology’, close to my own cultural identity.

The book has elements of biography, but is actually a collection of personal essays with a stage of the writer’s life as subject and springboard. It’s divided into two parts, of roughly equal length: the first, ‘Origins and Departures’, takes us up to the 32-year-old El-Zein’s arrival in Sydney in 1995, the second, ‘Unhappy Returns’, deals mainly with his return visit to Lebanon and his responses to the wars that have afflicted that part of the world since. I don’t have time to say much more than that there’s some wonderful writing and give some samples.

On his adolescent anti-Americanism (which he repudiates as naive, but records all the same):

As a teenager, I worried about America because I could not understand how it could show off its wealth so casually on screens around the world. Was it not afraid of exposing itself, of being so present in the lives of so many individuals, a presence which  was all about America itself? Once, during the war in Beirut, my mother told my teenage sister not to go out with too much jewellery round her neck because the only men she would be likely to attract were robbers. I thought America could benefit from a little talk from my mother. Not that America was likely to grant an audience. America was a blind Narcissus, constantly playing mental images of himself with no hope of seeing himself, let alone anyone else, because he was Narcissus and because he was blind. America could not see. It was made to be seen.

On the War on Terrorism:

A Manichean view of history – in which ‘we’ are indisputably good and ‘they’ are inherently evil – remains the West’s dominant form of expression about terrorism, post–September 11, and barely disguises its racial overtones. It is one of the mysteries of our time that the Soviet nuclear warheads and the IRA campaign on the British mainland, to name two relatively recent threats, did not cause nearly the same ‘existentialist’ panic that a Middle-Aged tribesman has succeeded in inflicting on the West’s collective psyche from his remote hideout in Afghanistan. For all the atrocious deeds of Al Qaeda and European Jihadists in New York, London and Madrid, who does seriously believe that they pose a threat to our existence in the West?

There is a wonderfully comic–grotesque description of his first walk from Redfern Station to Sydney University a few weeks after his arrival in Australia. ‘There was more mutilation around this street than I could live with,’ he writes – and we remember that this is a man who grew up in a civil war. He writes beautifully about his parental anxieties: his little son Ali announces with glee that his name can be found in the word Australia, and a few days later, just as excitedly, that it’s also in Alien. He writes graphic and instructive accounts of religious practices, especially of the Shi-ite festival of Ashura – mentioning in an aside that the public bloodletting that is so alien to Western sensibilities may well have been imported into Islam from the practices of Catholic Spain.

Incidentally, the book was designed, beautifully, by Jenny Grigg, who has been responsible for some of Australia’s most beautiful books (she redesigned The School Magazine ten or so years ago).