Wakefield Press

Zach Jones’s début novel, Growing Up in Flames (Text Publishing, $19.99 pb, 288 pp), unfolds after a tragic bushfire, while an approaching bushfire stalks Carly Nugent’s protagonist Persephone in Sugar (Text Publishing, $19.99 pb, 368 pp). The only noticeable flames in Allayne Webster’s That Thing I Did (Wakefield Press, $24.95 pb, 336 pp) belong to a foul-mouthed granny named Daisy, who uses them to light her cigarettes, but Webster’s novel about an unlikely group of strangers on a madcap South Australian road trip is as poignant as it is funny.

 

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In the wake of other recent compelling débuts – Paige Clark’s meticulously crafted and imagined She is Haunted being a standout – three new short story collections, varying markedly in tone, style, and setting, offer bold and unsettling visions of twenty-first-century life.

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In the Room with the She Wolf by Jelena Dinić & Beneath the Tree Line by Jane Gibian

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April 2022, no. 441

In an impressive first collection, the South Australian poet Jelena Dinić incorporates her Serbian heritage and memories of war-affected Yugoslavia into an Australian migration narrative of clear-sighted beauty. William Carlos Williams wrote in the introduction to Kora In Hell: Improvisations (1920): ‘Thus a poem is tough … solely from that attenuated power which draws perhaps many broken things into a dance giving them thus a full being.’ Although far from improvisational, Dinić’s poetry compositionally integrates both fragility and strength as it draws together diverse experiences of war trauma, cultural displacement, the petty administrative routines of immigration departments, a Malaysian writing fellowship, Australian icons (such as the rainwater tank), folklore, and bathing in the Adriatic Sea.

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‘Ern Malley’ – a great literary creation and the occasion of a famous literary hoax – has continued to attract fascinated attention ever since he burst upon the Australian poetry scene more than seventy years ago. But his sister Ethel has attracted little notice, she who set off the whole saga by writing to Max Harris, the young editor of Angry Penguins, asking whether the poems left by her late brother were any good, and signing herself ‘sincerely, Ethel Malley’.

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Precise observation is considered a prerequisite for poetry, but there are limits as to what a surfeit of detail can bring to a poem, or even to an entire volume. Three new poetry collections, each different in tone and subject matter, deploy close observation to varying degrees of success across poems that scrutinise domestic tension, interspecies dynamics, landscape, and everyday grace.

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More Than Mere Words edited by Paul Monaghan and Michael Walsh & Ethnographer and Contrarian edited by Julie D. Finlayson and Frances Morphy

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December 2020, no. 427

Anthropology, in my experience, is commonly confused in the popular imagination with archaeology. ‘We study live people, whereas archaeologists study dead people,’ I have sometimes explained half-jokingly to the perplexed. Although public understanding of anthropology’s engagement with living human societies and cultures is at times sketchy, Australian anthropologists have in fact made significant contributions since the 1970s to the recognition of prior Aboriginal land ownership over vast tracts of the Australian continent. The essays in this two-volume Festschrift celebrate the multifaceted life and legacy of anthropologist and linguist Peter Sutton, perhaps the most significant exemplar of this ‘applied’ branch of Australian anthropology.

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Geoff Goodfellow is best known as a poet. Out of Copley Street, his first non-verse publication, chronicles his working-class coming of age in Adelaide’s inner-northern suburbs during the 1950s and 1960s.

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A short story collection can have much in common with a collection of poetry, where each story pivots on attention to something particular and arresting – an image, a memory, the encounters with strangeness or beauty that can occur in a life. Individual stories build delicately towards such a moment, then fall away quickly, willing a reader to engage with feeling and suggestion rather than the comprehensiveness of narrative.

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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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First encounters between Indigenous Australians and European voyagers, sealers, and missionaries often unfolded on the beach, a contact zone where meaning and misunderstanding sparked from colliding worldviews. This sandy theatre also serves as one of the enduring metaphors of ethnographic history, a discipline that reads through the accounts of European explorers, diarists, and administrators to reconsider historical accounts of the gestures of Indigenous people from within their own cultural frameworks.

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