University of Queensland Press

The Observatory: Selected poems by Dimitris Tsaloumas, translated by Philip Grundy

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October 1983, no. 55

Migrant writing in this country isn’t just burgeoning, it has begun to flourish. The writing itself and the study of it begin to look like a ‘growth industry’. What I know of it is varied both in kind and quality, but I’ve no doubt at all that the poetry of Dimitris Tsaloumas is an important achievement by any standard.

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ART

Contemporary Aboriginal Art: A guide to the rebirth of an ancient culture

by Susan McCulloch

Allen & Unwin, 248 pp, $39.95 pb

1 86508 305 4

Contemporary Aboriginal Art (first published in 1999) contains a wealth of information for those interested in the history, practice, and culture of Aboriginal art. By its very nature, Aboriginal art is constantly changing and evolving, and, in this revised edition, Susan McCulloch details new developments in already well-established communities, and the emergence of some entirely new movements. McCulloch, visual arts writer for The Australian, has travelled extensively to the Kimberley, Central Australia, Arnhem Land and Far North Queensland, and her book provides first-hand accounts of Aboriginal artists and the works they are creating.

Beautifully illustrated, Contemporary Aboriginal Art also contains a comprehensive directory of art centres and galleries, a buyer’s guide, and a listing of recommended readings.

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In a famous letter to her friend and fellow writer Lorna Sage, Angela Carter declared that no daughter of hers should ever pen a title like Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945): ‘BY GRAND CENTRAL STATION I TORE OFF HIS BALLS would be more like it, I should hope.’ The choice between getting sad or getting mad, the dilemma of how to represent the reality of female anguish without romanticising or pathologising it, is a recurring theme in twenty-first-century women’s writing: it forms the main subject of Leslie Jamison’s essay ‘Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain’ (2014); it is the premise behind the post-feminist revenge films Jennifer’s Body (2009) and Promising Young Woman (2020).

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How do you get a first novel up and running? Random House has done so with a show of faith unusual amongst Australian publishers ... and faith can move mountains of books. The Last Time I Saw Mother is handsomely produced and has an equally handsome print run of 20,000. It’s been sold into the shops in numbers and its author – Manila-born Sydney-based copywriter, Arlene J. Chai – has had her name linked with Amy Tan and Jung Chang. The back cover has a brisk encomium from Bryce Courtenay, who encouraged her to write. Effective marketing indeed, although one reviewer has commented on an element of cultural cringe.

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The Jaguar by Sarah Holland-Batt

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June 2022, no. 443

I first encountered Sarah Holland-Batt’s poem ‘The Gift’ in The New Yorker. It begins, ‘In the garden my father sits in his wheelchair / garlanded by summer hibiscus / like a saint in a seventeenth-century cartouche’ – an unremarkable opening, I thought, to a poem of personal anecdote, a genre too ubiquitous among our contemporaries. Rereading the poem in the context of her third collection, The Jaguar, I became acclimated to her style and manner, and admired the alertness of its verbal performance. If the new book remains a personal memoir, narrating the devastating illness and death of her father, it is also charged throughout with a strong writer’s intelligence and vulnerability. ‘I will carry the gift of his death endlessly,’ she writes, ‘every day I will know it opening in me.’

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The Burnished Sun (UQP, $29.99 pb, 288 pp) by Mirandi Riwoe, Danged Black Thing (Transit Lounge, $29.99 pb, 240 pp) by Eugen Bacon, and Sadvertising (Vintage, $32.99 pb, 298 pp) by Ennis Ćehić are powerful, inventive, and self-assured short story collections that traverse fractured and contested ground through their often displaced and alienated narrators.

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True crime books sell. Few of them, however, are as well written as this book. John Shobbrook’s Operation Jungle is one of the most entertaining and gripping memoirs of law enforcement in Queensland that has been published by the University of Queensland Press. It is set during Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s controversial premiership (1968–87). Nostalgically recalling a time before the internet and mobile phones made the world a smaller place, John Shobbrook’s stories of solid detective work and police corruption are persuasive and well told.

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In his extraordinary journey through Iceland’s history, Saga Land (2017, with Richard Fidler), Kári Gíslason described Icelanders as ‘being reserved’ and ‘a bit severe’ at first glance, likening them to the Hallgrímskirkja church that looms over Reykjavik with its enormous basalt column wings and stony façade. The first three days I spent alone in that city gave me a wholly different impression of its people. On my first day there in 2013, I was greeted by what appeared to be most of the city’s population lined up on the Lækjargata strip waving flags, smiling from ear to ear, and dancing as the annual Gay Pride parade rolled by in all its garish joy. 

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Dropbear by Evelyn Araluen & TAKE CARE by Eunice Andrada

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November 2021, no. 437

There is a moment of reflexivity in Evelyn Araluen’s diary poem ‘Breath’, in which the poet, thousands of kilometres away, follows news reports of bushfires ravaging Australia, including the Dharug Country where she grew up. ‘I’ve started a book which seeks to tease the icons of Australiana that have been so volatile to this country. They, too, are burning,’ she writes. Several reviewers have focused on this dimension of Araluen’s début. Dropbear contains many poems that excoriate the tropes of colonial literary kitsch. This genre takes native vegetation and wildlife, and Aboriginal people, and transforms them into the cute, the twee, or the fearsome. Dropbear responds to May Gibbs’s Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Dorothy Wall’s Blinky Bill and Nutsy, D.H. Lawrence’s Kangaroo, and Banjo Paterson’s poems and diaries, among other texts and films. In a scholarly essay (2019) that addresses the legacy of Edward Said’s Orientalism, Araluen has argued that we still underestimate ‘literature’s power to operate as a force of imperialism’. For the Bundjalung poet and academic, the personal in poetry is inseparable from the political – as well as from the historical and the literary-historical.

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Good poetry uncovers the secret in the manifest, and the manifest in the secret. Three new collections throw this paradox into vibrant, unsettling relief. Each book deserves a broad readership. Each beats back the lethargic thinking that has invaded society under the cover of the pandemic.

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