David Brooks & Elizabeth McMahon (editors), Santosh K. Sareen & G. J. V. Prasad (guest editors), India India: Southerly 70/3
Southerly is a venerable institution – the Journal of the English Association, Sydney, it has been going for 70 years (which isn’t long compared to children’s literary journals such the School Magazine or its New Zealand equivalent, but impressive among little magazines for grownups). This issue has a central focus on Indian–Australian literary relations, but I bought it for Jennifer Maiden’s poem, ‘The Year of the Ox’, which doesn’t relate to that focus.
‘The Year of the Ox’ is to an end-of-year family letter what many of Jennifer Maiden’s poems are to diary entries, that is to say, same same but different. It brings us up to date on characters who have been inhabiting her poetry for some time: herself and her daughter, current political leaders (Obama, Clinton, Gillard), iconic figures of the recent and not so recent past (Diana Spencer, Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria, Eleanor Roosevelt) and her fictions George Jeffreys and Clare Collins. It’s a long and complex poem, but from one point of view, it brings us up to date on the doings of this mental family during 2009, the Chinese Year of the Ox, and into 2010, Year of the Tiger, all the while ringing the changes on the images and connotations of ox and tiger. I love the way the poem swings with apparent nonchalance from observations on her own close relationship, the political scene and the nature of poetry, to – what to call them? – Platonic dialogues between icons, to vividly realised domestic scenes from a virtual novel, and all the while there’s a sense of poet-as-ox pulling a plough through the furrows of a mind alert to the world.
There are other excellent poems: by Ali Alizadeh (whose ‘Election Announced’ chillingly mentions someone as ‘the theocrat / a retributivist in speedos’), Judith Beveridge (whose two poems are actually India-related, thanks to her interest in Buddhist lore), Richard Deutsch, Craig Powell and a list of other Australians, and by a handful of Indian poets. I couldn’t get into any of the short stories, with the exception of Sarah Klenbort’s ‘The Chinese Circus Comes to Cessnock’, in which three fruit-picking backpackers encounter the complexities of Australia’s policies about Asian immigration.
Southerly comes from academe, and there a number of academic pieces, in particular surveys of the India-Australia literary connection and studies of particular texts. I intended to read the journal from start to finish, but decided to skip the scholarly bits when I read on page 20 that one novelist’s work ‘might be taken as a case study of Deleuzean deterritorialised nomadology […] Derridean self-critique in which text and meta-text mutually […]’. Too much like hard work! I skipped pieces by Indian critics on Mollie Skinner, Hazel Edwards, and a number of Aboriginal subjects with words like subjectivity, constructing and historiography in their titles. But I was wooed back by Mark Macleod’s ‘Reading my first time in India: the ACLALS Conference 1977’. Once you get past the daunting title, this is a fabulous piece of travel writing structured around two literary conferences. It sheds light all over the place, and abounds with striking images and telling anecdotes.
The other stand-out piece was by Patrick Bryson, a white Australian married to an Indian woman and living in rural India. His ‘The Men Who Stare at Bogans’ explores the Indian press’s coverage of the anti-Indian racism in Australia, and moves on to a brilliant essay on the treatment of ‘tribals’ in India.
As I was writing this, the next issue of the Asia Literary Review arrived in the mail. It’s an English language journal reflecting writing in and about Asia. This Southerly does a nice job of reminding us of one of our strong Asian relationships.