Transit Lounge

James Jiang on three new poetry collections

James Jiang
Monday, 27 July 2020

Mount Parnassus remains a proscribed destination for the moment, but Aidan Coleman’s Mount Sumptuous (Wakefield Press, $22.95 pb, 56 pp) provides an attractive local alternative. Following on from the poems of love and recovery in Asymmetry (2012), this collection marks the poet’s reawakened appetite for the sublimities and subterfuges of suburban Australia, from cricket pitches ‘lit like billiard tables’ and Blue Light Discos to the flammable wares of Best & Less and the implacable red brick of ‘all-meat / towns’. As these poems and their pseudo-pedagogical endnotes show, Coleman is a keen philologist of the language of commerce. The title’s ‘sumptuous’ (from the Latin sumptus for ‘expense’) keys us in to the vital ambivalence of a poetry, which on the one hand honours the rituals of everyday consumption (‘lounging / book in hand, Tim Tams / … tea a given’), and on the other speaks to the exploitative logic of consumer capitalism (‘Take the juiceless fruits / of day labour and a white / goods salesman’s leaden chicanery’).

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For some of us, love for a work of literature brings with it a desire to learn about the work’s gestation. All the literary theory in the world can insist that a piece of writing is not a question to which the author holds the answer, but whenever a book or poem or essay catches our interest, we want to know more about the person behind it. 

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Perhaps reflecting the long gestation period of Bem Le Hunte’s third novel, the term ‘Asian Century’ occurs early on in Elephants with Headlights. The sobriquet is certainly apt. Induction into this vaunted space does not befall a country haphazardly: its temporal aspect serves to remind us that the fate is written in centuries-old geopolitical legacies. Before there was an ‘Asia’ to eponymise in this fashion, a wealth of cultures simply went about their business. But the determinations of capital and colonisation were made long ago, and now we live with the press.

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Catherine de Saint Phalle already had an impressive publication history – five novels written in French and one in English – when her elegantly written, often heart-breaking memoir Poum and Alexandre was shortlisted for the 2017 Stella Prize. Her new novel, The Sea and Us, is her third book written in English since she came to Australia in 2003. Its title works both literally and symbolically. The Sea and Us is the name of the Melbourne fish and chip shop above which the middle-aged narrator, Harold, rents a room, having returned to his childhood city after eighteen years of living and working in South Korea.

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Gregory Day reviews 'Field of Poppies' by Carmel Bird

Gregory Day
Wednesday, 23 October 2019

When Claude Monet lived in Argenteuil in the 1870s, he famously worked in a studio-boat on the Seine. He painted the river, he painted bridges over the river, he painted snow, the sky, his children and his wife, and, famously, a field of red poppies with a large country house in the background. Argenteuil is to Paris roughly what Heidelberg and Templestowe are to Melbourne. Once a riparian haven for plein air painters interested in capturing the transient optics of natural phenomena, it is now a suburban interface with a diminishing habitat for anything but humans.

Actually, Heidelberg and Templestowe are in good shape when compared to Monet’s old river haunt. When he was living in Argenteuil, the population was fewer than 10,000 people, most of whom were asparagus farmers, vintners, fishermen, and craftspeople. Now the suburb is home to more than 100,000, many of whom are commuters making the train trip into Paris every day to work. The only shimmering light of interest would probably come from their phones.

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Chris Flynn reviews 'Hollow Earth' by John Kinsella

Chris Flynn
Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Astronomer Edmond Halley (also known as Edmund, debate still rages over which spelling he preferred) may be best known for the comet that passes through our solar system once every seventy-five to seventy-six years (next sighting due in 2061, set a reminder in your iCal), but in 1692 he proposed an intriguing theory: that the Earth was hollow.

Halley suggest ...

Brenda Walker reviews 'The Returns' by Philip Salom

Brenda Walker
Tuesday, 27 August 2019

A bookseller, Trevor, sits in his shop in Melbourne making conversation with his customers: an exasperating mixture of confessional, hesitant, deranged, and disruptive members of the public. One man stalks him, armed with an outrageous personal demand; another tries to apologise for assaulting him. The apology is almost as unnerving as the attack ...

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In Melissa Ferguson’s impressive sci-fi début, wealthy, tech-enhanced Homo sapiens cordon themselves off behind a shining wall. In the desert outside their City (‘City 1’), ‘Demi-Citizens’ live in slum conditions, riddled with disease, hunger, and mistrust ...

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2018 Publisher Picks

Nathan Hollier et al.
Tuesday, 18 December 2018

To complement our ‘Books of the Year’ feature, which appeared in the December 2018 issue, we invited some senior publishers to nominate their favourite books of 2018 – all published by other companies.

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In 2016 A.S. Patrić’s first novel, Black Rock, White City won the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Two years earlier (he told an interviewer) he couldn’t even get a rejection slip for it: not one of the big Australian publishers responded when he sent the manuscript. The independent company Transit Lounge took it on ...

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