UWA Publishing

Oliver Driscoll’s note on his first book I Don’t Know How That Happened (Recent Work Press, $19.95 pb, 74 pp) praises the inclusive flatness of David Hockney’s still life paintings, and it is to this inclusiveness that his poems and prose pieces aspire. Droll reported speech creates a comic atmosphere but also moves into Kafkaesque alienation where nothing seems to follow any pattern.

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Set in colonial Australia in the 1960s and 1970s, Karen Wyld’s new novel Where the Fruit Falls examines the depths of Black matriarchal fortitude over four generations. Across the continent, Black resistance simmers. First Nations people navigate continued genocide and displacement, with families torn apart by the state. Where the Fruit Falls focuses on the residual effects and implications of such realities, though it presents a quieter narrative: one of apple trees, wise Aunties, guiding grandmothers, and settlers both malicious and kind-hearted.

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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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Tony Page’s Anh and Lucien is an intricately plotted verse novel set in French Indochina during World War II. It centres on an unlikely same-sex love affair between Lucien, a colonial bureaucrat, and Anh, a young Vietnamese communist who supports Ho Chi Minh’s independence movement.

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Adrian Martin’s Mysteries of Cinema is, above all, an impassioned love letter to film, a written record of a life defined and driven by the pleasures, ambiguities, and indeed mysteries inherent in what André Bazin, co-founder of Cahiers du Cinéma, called the ‘seventh art’. In the author’s own words, the book ‘covers 34 years of a writing life’. It charts both his ephemeral and enduring fixations and obsessions, many of which converge on cinema, film form, the role of the critic, pockets of film culture, and the psychological, emotional, and intellectual responses that cinema elicits. Mirroring much of Martin’s oeuvre, Mysteries of Cinema is not easily classifiable; it cuts across different strands of film theory and thought by employing ‘a mode of synthetic film analysis attuned to … the mysteries of cinema’. Martin’s devotees will devour Mysteries of Cinema, savouring its details, imagery, and linguistic flourishes. At more than 430 pages in length, it might prove a formidable undertaking for the more casual reader.

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Queer memoir is particularly given to formal play, to unpacking and upsetting the conventions of genre in order to question women’s roles as both narrator and subject. Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015) mixes scholarship and bodily transformation. Carmen Maria Machado’s In The Dream House (2019) unpacks the nature of narrative itself to reflect on an abusive relationship. Into this field comes Sky Swimming, Sylvia Martin’s ‘memoir that is not quite a memoir, more a series of reflections in which I act as a biographer of my own life’. For Martin, the critical distance of the biographer enables her to consider the resonances that exist between her own experiences.

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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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‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,’ writes Annie Dillard in The Writing Life, her timely appeal for presence over productivity in modern life. Turning the page on a new year reminds us of the seasonality of time, its familiar cycles of life, death, and rebirth. But flipping through the empty pages of a calendar can also remind us that time is a human construct designed to regulate our lives for maximum efficiency and output. In today’s attention economy, where time is treated as a currency by the technologies we use to satisfy our animal need for connection, how might we rediscover the joy of being present in a moment, a body, a community, a place? In other words, how are we to live?

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Dear Chancellor French, I write this open letter to you to make certain points about the environment of university press publishing, in support of UWA Press and its Director, Professor Terri-ann White, and her team.

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Word gets around quickly. Within a week of the University of Western Australia announcing the closure of UWA Publishing after eighty-five years, and the peremptory sacking of its staff, a petition had gathered almost 10,000 signatures. This is nothing new. Proposals to close UWAP in 1973, 1990, and 1996 were soundly defeated, after being robustly debated at UWA’s Academic Board, Convocation (alumni), and Senate. This rescued UWA from vociferous criticism voiced nationally and internationally.

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