The key theme of HEAT 19 is death. In 224 pages, a collection of Australian writers and academics pay homage to the departed in a range of essays, poems and short stories. The journal opens with Judith Beveridge’s moving and personal tribute to the poet Dorothy Porter. According to Beveridge, ‘Dot’ (as she was known to her friends) was a ‘consummate professional and her public performances were unfailingly polished’. However, Porter ‘also had a very fragile side, vulnerable to the pain of exclusion and rejection’. The title of Beveridge’s piece is ‘Trapper’s Way’, which is the name for a strip of land in the New South Wales suburb of Avalon where Beveridge once lived with Porter.
In the pieces that follow, bereavement becomes a recurring topic. I found the trio of stories by Mark Mordue particularly engrossing. These stories are assembled under the (somewhat crude) title ‘Dead Women’, and focus on Mordue’s relationship with his grandmother and a number of women who lived and died around her. Mordue displays a fine eye for detail and evokes a feeling of tenderness for a period in his life that is now gone but not forgotten. Also, I enjoyed Berndt Selheim’s poem ‘Still Life: 2001’. Selheim uses the 9/11 terrorist attacks to investigate how contemporary society has become desensitised to horror and violence. As Selheim puts it, ‘to wake up I got to set my skin on fire’.
A change of pace, both in terms of theme and genre, is the collection of photographs by Robyn Stacey. This collection, entitled ‘At Home with the Great and Good’, is dedicated to those ‘families whose interests and influences gave [Australia] gardens, museums and universities’. The photographs depict striking close-up images of fruit, wildlife, wine glasses and crockery.
Bittersweet and frequently moving, HEAT 19 is an ideal read for an icy winter’s night.