Jordie Albiston (1961–2022)
In early March, the Australian poetry community was shocked by news of the death of Jordie Albiston. Known for both her appetite for formal experimentation and her poetry’s emotional range, Albiston was the author and editor of twenty-two books including the award-winning collections Nervous Arcs (1995) and the sonnet according to ‘m’ (2009), as well as the historical works Botany Bay Document (1996) and The Hanging of Jean Lee (1998). (The latter was adapted for opera by Andrée Greenwell.)
Few contemporary Australian poets thought as deeply about form as Albiston, who drew on areas as far-flung as Euclidean geometry and atomic science for inspiration. As Joan Fleming observed in a review of Albiston’s new volume, Fifteeners (2021), for ABR’s March issue, the latter’s work is animated by a desire for capaciousness, by a world-crafting and world-catching ambition. ‘Albiston’s Everything,’ Fleming wrote, ‘is made with great tenderness’.
Like ‘world’, ‘life’ was also something of a talismanic word for Albiston. When interviewed as ABR’s Poet of the Month in May 2016, she remarked that ‘Life is inspiring. Poetry is (joyful) work.’
After a pandemic-induced hiatus, Australian writing festivals – at least those where one can jostle with crowds and be buffeted by the elements – are back with a vengeance. Starting on the westernmost side of the continent: Perth Festival’s Writers Weekend (26–27 February), with headliners including Tim Winton, Hannah Kent, Claire G. Coleman, and Helen Garner, recorded close to 6,700 visitors, despite interstate author sessions being moved online due to border closures. Perhaps the largest demographic who turned out were aspirational authors, with Georgia Richter and Deborah Hunn’s How to be an Author the bestselling book over the weekend at the Freemantle Arts Centre bookshop.
On the other side of the Great Australian Bight, the Adelaide Festival’s Writers’ Week took place from March 5 to 10. Still Australia’s largest free literary festival, the event treated festival goers to one last hurrah from outgoing festival director, Jo Dyer, who is standing as an independent for the federal seat of Boothby. Of the many sessions dedicated to our worsening political predicament, perhaps none was as damning as the panel on the government’s prosecution of whistleblowers. The discussion was chaired by Andrew Fowler and featured Bernard Collaery (whose case Kieran Pender examines in forensic detail in our cover feature), David McBride (the former military lawyer whose allegations led to the Brereton Report on Australian war crimes in Afghanistan), and Jennifer Robinson (Julian Assange’s lawyer). As Pender puts it in his article, these prosecutions are nothing short of ‘a stain on our democracy’ and ‘an insult to our legal system’.
On some brighter notes, Advances was reliably informed that one of the highlights of the festival was the ABR party held on 8 March, attended by local luminaries and friends of the magazine. Congratulations, too, to Helen Ennis, whose book Olive Cotton: A life in photography (reviewed in our January–February 2020 issue) took out the $15,000 prize for non-fiction in the Festival’s Literature Awards. Ennis, a regular contributor to the magazine since 2005, received ABR’s George Hicks Foundation Fellowship in 2013 in support of her work on Cotton. Her essay, ‘Olive Cotton at Spring Forest’ (June–July 2013), focusing on the second phase of Cotton’s life when she married Ross McInerney and moved to Spring Forest in regional New South Wales, can be read online by subscribers.
Continuing our creep eastward, Advances welcomes the return of the Newcastle Writers Festival (1–3 April). Featuring 110 writers from throughout Australia across seventy free and ticketed events, the festival program will match the temper of the times with an opening gala focusing on love’s transformative impact and closing with a discussion of Sarah Wilson’s most recent book, This One Wild and Precious Life, with ABR contributor Beejay Silcox.
And, finally, to bring our own festival tour to a close, Advances has just heard that Michael Williams will be stepping down as artistic director after this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival. Brought on, in his own words (and with a nod to The Godfather), ‘as a wartime consigliere, to see the festival through the COVID period’, Williams has previously directed another literary institution, Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre. Williams’s swansong program will ‘drop’ (as they say these days) on 24 March and the festival will soon be recruiting a new director.
With at least two vacancies to be filled on the festival circuit this year, Richter and Hunn should get cracking on a sequel to their bestseller.
Seven years after opening its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle, Amazon has announced that it will close all twenty-four of its physical outlets and a further forty-four pop-up and ‘4-star’ stores. When the e-commerce giant opened its first shopfront in 2015, Americans were bemused by this seemingly retrograde move; after all, hadn’t the convenience of Amazon’s ‘1-click checkout’ been responsible for bookshop closures all over the country (and not just independent retailers, but also behemoths such as Barnes & Noble)?
Advances can only surmise that Amazon’s bookshops were intended to provide a more ‘comforting’ veneer to the company’s ruthlessly algorithm-driven business – Bezosism with a human face – but consumers, it seems, failed to be convinced. To understand why, turn to James Ley’s review of Everything and Less, a new study by literary scholar Mark McGurl of what the successes and failures of Amazon’s business model tell us about how and why we read.