Max Easton’s second novel begins in early 2022 when an ensemble of thirty-somethings loosely connected through mutual friends and subcultural scenes decide to lease a four-bedroom share house. The house in Sydney has its flaws. Mould colonies grow on ceilings and walls in a ‘rich spectrum’, aided by a series of La Niña weather events. Situated just off a main road and surrounded by high-rise apartment buildings, the property offers little in the way of privacy. The fascia gutters are blocked by champagne corks popped from the apartment balconies above.
In 1985, five (or four, depending on the source) Australian poets went on a sixteen-city reading tour of the United States and Canada. Π.O. was one of them. Originally titled ‘The Dirty T-Shirt Tour’, The Tour is ostensibly Π.O.’s diary of that trip, the dirty T-shirt standing for the narrator’s ‘difference’: his migrant, working-class background; his flouting of social conventions; his ‘performance poet’ status. While the other poets are (repeatedly) washing and ironing in their rooms, he is out walking the streets, making astute observations, meeting interesting people. Π.O. names the well-known poets and lesser entities he befriends and the famous poets he doesn’t meet – the disreputable T-shirt given as one reason for his exclusion – but he omits the identities of the poets on the tour and the tour organisers.
One striking feature of Nicholas Jose’s fine new novel is its principled versatility. Set in multiple locations – Adelaide, Washington, DC, East Timor – and introducing alternative narrative voices, Jose evokes a world of complex intersections comprising many different angles and viewpoints. As a former diplomat himself, he writes with expert knowledge of a variety of professional and personal environments. His novel ranges across the ‘loyalties and long memories’ of lives rooted in Adelaide, along with some of the city’s ‘dunderhead complacencies’, while also presenting an insider’s view of diplomatic exchanges in Washington, DC and Canberra.
For a long time, Australia has had a conservative poetry culture. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when modernist poets in Europe, Asia, America, and – somewhat belatedly – the United Kingdom revolutionised international literature, Australian poets continued writing mainly conventional verse.
Myths about space travel have always been uncomfortably tangled with incarceration and exile. Author Manu Saadia has described the private plans of the current crop of hubristic billionaires as ‘carceral fantasies’. Despite science fiction’s recent utopian turn, there is no reason to believe that space colonisation will be anything but a repeat of the earthly version’s violent history. Giants, too, have a long mythology and once held a significant place in literature, from Atlas to Swift and Wilde; both burdensome and burden-carrying, they often have an outcast sadness. Pip Adam’s fifth book, Audition, brings these myths together.
There are striking parallels between I Have Decided to Remain Vertical by Gayelene Carbis and The Drama Student by Autumn Royal. Both are new collections from experienced Melbourne poets; both think through women’s places in social and material contexts; both display an intense interest in material things and material places; both engage with works of art beyond their own pages.
An ochre-coloured haze has gathered permanently over the town of Praiseworthy somewhere in the Gulf country. It is composed of dust, soot, broken butterfly wings, memories, and grief – and it isn’t going anywhere. Meanwhile, on the ground, thousands of feral donkeys are being corralled into the town cemetery by an Indigenous leader called Cause Man Steel. Most call this man Planet because he is always banging on about the collapse of the planet.
In the early sixteenth century, the Italian Renaissance poet and philosopher Giulio Camillo conceived an imaginary structure for universal knowledge named The Theatre of Memory; essentially a classical amphitheatre that inverted the position of spectator and stage, turning the auditorium into a tiered structure that fanned into rows of encyclopedic knowledge. Imants Tillers makes no mention of Camillo’s theatre in his anthology of essays, Credo, but the structure could be a parallel schema for his own expansive project The Book of Power – an ongoing inventory of all the canvas board panels Tillers has painted since 1981, which totalled 102,663 by 2018.
Our high school art teacher would often look at a student’s work and judge it ‘interesting’. Sometimes this was a written comment, accompanied by a lacklustre mark like 14/20, which led us to suspect – perhaps rightly – that ‘interesting’ was a euphemism for ‘inept’. Now I wonder if it occasionally meant: curious, out of the ordinary, sui generis, hard to grade or categorise, or distinctive if not fully achieved. If so, Luke Carman’s short story collection An Ordinary Ecstasy is ‘interesting’: eclectic, uneven, at times ungainly. You have the sense that Carman is following the maxim ‘write for yourself’. Past success has earned him that privilege and, as Carman’s tumbleweed talent rollicks untamed across the streets of Sydney’s Inner West out to Blacktown and as far north as Byron Bay, the results are never pedestrian.
In keeping with his successful début fiction, Shaun Prescott’s Bon and Lesley is set in a declining regional Australian town filled with oddball characters and plagued by otherworldly phenomena. The Town(2017) was published in seven countries and garnered apt comparison to, among others, Franz Kafka and László Krasznahorkai, as well as Australian writers Gerald Murnane and Wayne Macauley. Like these influences, Prescott’s work eludes definitive categorisation, though his second novel maintains distinctly ontological and surrealist emphases.