Essays

Writing Down the Voice

Gillian Bouras
Wednesday, 10 June 2020

My great-grandfather Robert had a beard, a pointed one, presumably grey. He stands in a sepia-coloured photograph, gazing steadily at the camera, leaning on a walking stick and wearing a grainy-looking overcoat. But these are only dimly recollected details: I have not looked at the relevant album for years. Much more vivid is the voice I never heard. It was transmitted by my mother, who is now also dead. Throughout my childhood my imagination was peopled by various characters, as she recalled their exact words, entertaining my sister and me as she herself had been entertained: by using remembered voices she recreated her past and created one for us.

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Mateship, Friendship and National Identity

Ronald A. Sharp
Friday, 05 June 2020

A year ago, I came to Australia prepared to spend the first half of my sabbatical leave completing a book on John Keats. Never having been to Australia, I was eager to spend some time here: five months in all. When I participated in the 2008 Mildura Writers Festival, it became clear to me that something both delightful and extraordinary was at work. There was a fine group of writers, including Les Murray, David Malouf, Alice Pung, Alex Miller, Sarah Day, and Anthony Lawrence. But what made the festival remarkable was the combination of conviviality and serious talk about literature and ideas that surpassed anything in my previous experience, which included far more such events than I could begin to count.

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The Survival of Poetry

Peter Porter
Wednesday, 03 June 2020

Some years ago I wrote a poem called ‘A Table of Coincidences’, which contained the lines: ‘the day Christopher Columbus discovered America / Was the day Piero della Francesca died.’ This is a verifiable fact, unless changes in the Western calendar have altered things. Clearly, I was being sententious and reactionary: the ancient good of the world and its new doubtfulness seemed to start on the one day. A hostile reviewer pointed out that every date in the world is the anniversary of some other date, and poured scorn on my notion by suggesting that a momentous event like the Armistice in 1918 might share a date with the invention of Coca-Cola. But we still honour anniversaries, and I am only too conscious of the 365 days that have passed since 11 September 2001.

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Reading Mr Robinson

Inga Clendinnen
Wednesday, 03 June 2020

I grew up in a once-upon-a-time land when milk and loaves appeared at the door to the jingle of bells and the clopping of hooves, when housewives were wistful Cinderellas in sacking aprons and hair permanently rollered for the ball, when men wore hats, and lifted them to the funerals of strangers passing in the street. That time – the forties, the early fifties – has been mythologised into a Camelot of Anglo-Celtic virtue, or a dark age of tribalism and British cooking. In my recollection, of course, it was neither, but simply the way things were. It is disconcerting to find one’s private past, one’s little collection of ordinary memories, become a matter of ideological dispute, and to discover, after peaceful decades spent reading historical documents, that you have become a historical document yourself.

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Reading the Mess Backwards

Yves Rees
Tuesday, 26 May 2020

When I’m ten or so, my brother appears shirtless at the dinner table. Ever the eager disciple, I follow his example without a second thought. It is a sweltering January day, and our bodies are salt-crusted from the beach. Clothing seems cruel in these conditions. As my brother tucks into his schnitzel, tanned chest gleaming, I grow conscious that the mood has become strained. Across the table, my parents exchange glances. The midsummer cheer of recent evenings is on hold.

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There’s a script for everything. Someone, voice wavering, says, ‘She’s dead’, and you say, ‘What?’ They say it again, and you say, ‘Oh, my god.’ You ask the usual questions, and then hang up and everything is incredibly quiet. You tell your boyfriend, and you both walk around the house trying to pack useful things: a sleeve of Valium, warm socks. You call your brother in London. He texts to say it’s five am there, can it wait? You call back. Before he even answers the phone, he knows.

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'Sunday at Glen Alice'

Nadia Wheatley
Friday, 15 May 2020

We are having a Sunday picnic. It is not a cosmopolitan affair, with pâté and brie and champagne, nor even a dinky-di one, with sausages and sauce and tinnies. Simply an impromptu, let’s-get-out-of-the­house event: a jar of peanut butter, a jar of honey, a tub of marge, half a loaf of Friday’s bread and a packet of jubes.

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Caitlin McGregor reviews 'Blueberries' by Ellena Savage

Caitlin McGregor
Friday, 20 March 2020

The writerly ‘I’ is notoriously fraught and political in non-fiction writing. What are the implications of writing from a biased and limited perspective (as all of us inevitably do)? How to get around – or work within – the constraints of the personal? These questions are ethical ones but also ones of craft. Many memoirists and essayists have grappled explicitly with them on the page.

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Shannon Burns reviews 'Essays One' by Lydia Davis

Shannon Burns
Friday, 20 March 2020

Essays One is the first of two volumes of collected non-fiction drawn from all periods of Lydia Davis’s long career. While the second collection will, according to the author, ‘concentrate more single-mindedly on translation and the experience of reading foreign languages’, this volume has an alternating focus on writing and reading practices, translation, commentary, reviews, and personal essays. It is loosely structured, non-chronological, and doesn’t shy away from repetition or reiteration – particularly throughout the several pieces that share the subtitle ‘Forms and Influences’.

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At the beginning of this wide-ranging collection of criticism by the novelist, critic, and academic Anthony Macris, the author notes wryly that an early candidate for the book’s title was Personality Crisis, such is its diversity of topics and styles. The implication here is that reviews and essays form a kind of autobiography. I’m not sure I would use the word ‘crisis’ to describe it, but certainly the portrait we have in this case is of a writer driven by very different kinds of curiosity: about literature and writing but also the art forms that lie beyond them – and, as centrally, by a social and political curiosity about the ways those forms change when they respond to the world around us.

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