Thuy On

A Thousand Crimson Blooms by Eileen Chong & Turbulence by Thuy On

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July 2021, no. 433

The biographical note to A Thousand Crimson Blooms observes that Eileen Chong’s first book, Burning Rice (2012), is ‘the first single-author collection of poetry by an Asian-Australian to be studied as part of the NSW HSC English syllabus’. Having run many writing workshops for students and adults over the years, Chong takes her pedagogy as seriously as her poetry. It’s no surprise, then, that A Thousand Crimson Blooms, Chong’s fifth collection, is replete with scenes of instruction. In ‘Teacher’, the poet corrects her mother’s pronunciation (‘I say TEAcher, then, I say teacher.  / … I feel like an arsehole’) only to stand corrected by memories of her mother’s gentler tutelage. The collection’s dedicatee, Chong’s grandmother, metes out corporal punishment in ‘Hunger’, but has her own body disciplined in ‘Float’. The poet learns the meaning of ‘thole’ (Scottish for ‘to endure / what is barely bearable’) and after surgery discloses the origins of her nurse’s name. If there is pathos evoked by these anecdotes, much of it has to do with the way knowledge – how to care for the body, where to look for the roots of words – helps the poet overcome the inertia occasioned by violence, whether racial, sexual, or medical.

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Pushing Back by John Kinsella

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April 2021, no. 430

Comprising more than thirty works of poetry, fiction, memoir, and criticism, John Kinsella’s prolific output is impressive, and this figure doesn’t include his collaborations with other artists. Here is a writer who swims between boundaries, experiments with form and content, and eludes easy categorisation. His most recent novel, Hollow Earth (2019), was a foray into science fiction and fantasy, and his most recent poetry volume The Weave (2020), was co-written with Thurston Moore, founder of NYC rock group Sonic Youth.

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The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan

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September 2016, no. 384

The Paper House begins benignly, even buoyantly, with a recently married couple, a new house, and the stirrings of pregnancy. But the intense grief that suddenly ...

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Twitcher by Cherise Saywell

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March 2013, no. 349

When sixteen-year-old Kenno and his family are evicted from their coastal rental property, Kenno is unconcerned: he has a cunning plan that will give them enough money to purchase his dream home. The idea involves lodging a compensatory claim for an accident that happened years ago. But Kenno needs his older sister, Lou, to fill in the details. She has a welte ...

The birth of Tom Downs on the banks of the Murray River in South Australia tragically coincided with the death of his mother. His premature arrival – in the breech position – subsequently informs how his life is played out.

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Sixteen-year-old Jemima (Mim) Dodd lives in a dilapidated house on the edge of suburbia, with an overweight, couch-loving mother. Mim’s two elder half-brothers are in remand for drug-related offences, and she is struggling not to be sucked into her neighbourhood’s vortex of sex, crime, and violence. Mim seems to be a victim both of her hostile social environment and her dysfunctional family ...

The initial premise of John Tesarsch’s first novel sounds like a modern-day reworking of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol as seen through the prism of B-grade Hollywood melodrama ...

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Sometimes you can get away with judging a book by its cover. Even without knowing the sub-title, a cursory glance at Mardi McConnochie’s latest novel suggests high romance, with its picture of an elegantly coiffed woman kissing her paramour against a seascape backdrop. Indeed, The Voyagers unashamedl ...

The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky

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May 2011, no. 331

In 1967, eleven schoolgirls and their teacher take a field trip to the public gardens in Sydney. There, Miss Renshaw and her young charges meet the teacher’s friend and possible paramour – a gardener and a poet. The charismatic Morgan takes them to a nearby wet, low-roofed cave, ostensibly to see some sacred Dreamtime paintings. The girls are both giddy and alarmed at this unauthorised excu ...

Sustenance by Simone Lazaroo

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September 2010, no. 324

Food is often used as a metaphor for a range of emotions, and this device is underscored in Simone Lazaroo’s fourth book. The title alludes to the idea of nourishment as a substitute for love, sex and religion. Indeed, the protagonist, Malaysian Perpetua de Mello, is a chef at a four-and-a-half-star Balinese tourist resort, the Elsewhere Hotel. Although the slogan in its promotional flyer encourages visitors to ‘Find yourself at Elsewhere Hotel’, most of the guests have come to lose themselves, to seek consolation from whatever ails them back home. Though undated, the novel is set soon after the bombing attacks in Bali; the tremors of the terrorist strikes still reverberate. It depicts a nervous island desperate to attract more tourists, if only to stimulate its damaged economy. There has even been a directive in the local media to smile more at foreigners.

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