Giramondo

No contemporary Australian writer has higher claims to immortality than Gerald Murnane and none exhibits narrower tonal range. It’s a long time since we encountered the boy with his marbles and his liturgical colours in some Bendigo of the mind’s dreaming in Tamarisk Row (1974). There was the girl who was the embodiment of dreaming in A Lifetime on Clouds (1976). After The Plains (1982) came the high, classic Murnane with his endless talk of landscapes and women and grasslands, like a private language of longing and sorrow and contemplation.

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In July 1999, ABC’s 7:30 Report ran a story on the Western Suburbs Magpies, an NRL club struggling financially and playing out its final season before a merger with the nearby Balmain Tigers. For that human touch, the story featured shots of a family decking out their children in the Magpies’ black and white, their relationship with the ninety-year-old club described as ‘something in the heart’. It was all very warm and fuzzy, at least until the camera cut away and a voiceover delivered a neoliberal sucker punch: ‘love does not necessarily deliver dollars’. Set in the same Western Sydney suburbs still mourning the loss of their team, Max Easton’s terrific début novel, The Magpie Wing, tracks a trio of Millennials as they similarly battle to retain their identities in a rapidly gentrifying world.

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What meaning can be drawn from an individual life? Most of us will disappear without much trace, forgotten by all but friends and family. Writers may hope for more, leaving their art behind for posterity. Performance artists, though, live their art in the moment.

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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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The Gleaner Song by by Song Lin, translated by Dong Li & Vociferate | 詠 by Emily Sun

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September 2021, no. 435

The Chinese poet is so often a wanderer and an exile. The tradition goes back to Qu Yuan (c.340–278 BCE), author of ‘Encountering Sorrow’, the honest official who was banished from court and drowned himself in a river, and it continues to our time. During the Sino–Japanese war (1937–45) a group of patriotic early Chinese modernists were displaced from their Beijing universities to an improvised campus in the south-west, where they read avant-garde Western poetry.

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Sydney-based poet and editor Toby Fitch has spent much of the last decade traversing the field of radical French modernist poets, especially Arthur Rimbaud and Guillaume Apollinaire. That engagement ignited Fitch’s imagination. He began inverting, recombining, mistranslating, and mimicking their techniques in his own poetry. In his new collection, Sydney Spleen, he has made a sophisticated, fresh move that enhances his signature playfulness and tongue-in-cheek poetic antics.

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Fish Work by Caitlin Maling & Earth Dwellers by Kristen Lang

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October 2021, no. 436

New collections from Caitlin Maling and Kristen Lang are situated in vastly different landscapes but pursue similar ideas about the natural world’s fragility and the imminent environmental catastrophe. Maling’s Fish Work, as its title suggests, is primarily interested in marine life and the scientists studying it at Lizard Island Research Station on the Great Barrier Reef, while Lang’s Earth Dwellers explores mountains, caves, and coastlines in Tasmania and Nepal, examining the myriad complexities of ancient ecosystems. Maling’s and Lang’s new books, their fourth collections, urge readers to attend to the work of millennia that has produced these distinctive ecosystems and, in doing so, to appreciate the urgency of protecting them.

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Few books blur the line between beauty and ugliness more than Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1912). The novella follows the ageing writer Aschenbach, whose absurd over-refinement – born in part of repressed homosexuality – is dismantled by Tadzio, a beautiful boy he encounters on holiday in Venice. His obsession with Tadzio represents the displacement of mortality (Aschenbach will soon succumb to cholera) through a wilful surrender to decadence and decay.

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Pip Adam’s third novel, Nothing to See, is a multifaceted and complex work. The complications begin immediately, as we meet the protagonist, Peggy and Greta, who are a recovering alcoholic. The odd combination of the singular and plural here is intentional. As far as appearances go, Peggy and Greta are different individuals with separate bodies and separate minds. Nonetheless, they share one life in an arrangement made difficult by the discomfort and lack of understanding they face at every step. They became two at the lowest moment in their history, when the crushing weight of trauma and alcohol addiction became too much for a single person to bear. One individual whose choices were limited to recovery or death thus became two.

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No Document begins with a description of the opening sequence of Georges Franju’s Le Sang des bêtes (Blood of the Beasts, 1949) in which a horse is led to slaughter – a significant misremembering that Anwen Crawford rectifies later. Franju’s black-and-white documentary actually begins with a collage of scenes shot on the outskirts of Paris; surreal juxtapositions of objects abandoned in a landscape devastated by war and reconstruction.

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