An eclectic tour de force: Mark Roberts reviews Famous Reporter 43

Famous Reporter Issue 43 Published by Walleah Press, PO Box 368, North Hobart Tasmania 7002.

There is always (or at least almost always) a scene of sadness around an impending death. Friends and families wonder how they will cope, how things will change, how they will be able to fill the gap……it is much the same with literary magazines. Some go out in blaze of glory while others hang around for far too long, dying long slow lingering literary deaths. Of course there are also those magazines that you miss even before they are gone – and the famous reporter is firmly in that category.

Fr 43, which was launched in late May 2012, was the last issue with founder and long time editor Ralph Wessman at the helm. There will be one final issue but it will be edited by Dael Allison and Michael Sharkey. After that silence…….

Ralph Wessman, talking about his years editing famous reporter, recalled a conversation he had with Ken Bolton where Bolton claimed that “a magazine renews itself, its vitality, by finding a course and sticking with it through thick and thin on a particular aesthetic, political [whatever] direction” (https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2012/07/25/getting-excited-by-the-writing-wanting-more-of-it-ralph-wessman-recalls-25-years-as-editor-and-publisher-of-famous-reporter/). While Wessman admits that he found this notion persuasive, he points out that the famous reporter has moved in the opposite direction, towards the eclectic.

A measure of this eclecticism can be seen in FR 43. The issue opens with 11 pages of haiku edited by Lyn Reeves . FR is one of the few journals in Australia with a dedicated haiku section with a dedicated haiku editor. This concentration on haiku began in 1993 and ends with this issue as there wont be a haiku section in the final issue. The tradition and concentration on haiku has paid off for FR with some very fine pieces in this edition. Perhaps my favourite in this issue was from Leonie Bingham:

in the doorway
of the osteopath
spring leaves

The contrast between the distilled lyricism of the haikus and James Dryburgh’s essay, ‘Chico’s Story’ which immediately follows the hakiu section, is, at first glance, almost confronting. ‘Chico’s Story’ is an account of a refugee from El Salvador who fled form his country during the US backed military crackdown during the 1980’s, finding a new home in Melbourne. Years later he returns to El Salvador and finds a country still trying to come to terms with its past. This is a powerful essay on a number of levels – having spent the 1980’s following the struggles of the Latin American people in countries such as Nicaragua and El Salvador, there was something very familiar about ‘Chico’s Story’.  It is the account  of a conflict and of a refugee program that many of us have forgotten. At the same time it reminds us that the terror and repression which drives people to leave their home and seek refuge is still very much with us and that we should be learning from the past not pretending that suffering and repression is not part of the 21st century.

FR 43 also contains a wide range of poetry from both new and established poets (if not new, at least poets I was coming across for the first time). I was particularly pleased to find a wonderful poem by Judith Rodriguez, ‘Sayings of my Mother’, which explores notions of memory triggered by scanning old photos into a computer and blowing up the images:

Decades crumble to a night in the zippy thirties:
off the road and over the small-scrub plain
skitters his Willis, jibbing at burrows and tussocks,
headlights jumping, hoyed rocks, rabbits playing games.
All the lighting we can manage won’t hold the image
galvanic , the freckled print, a blur, Dad’s face.

It is a measure of the success of the eclectic nature of FR that the poetry in this issue can move easily from Judith Rodriguez to Les Wicks without blinking. Wick’s ‘Eight Words to a Life’ moves through a life in eight sections: ‘ Rot, Slink, Stroke, Strike, Stuck, Shiver, Squat and Give’. It is an ambitious poem, ranging over decades of English history, from post war docks to Thatcher’s Britain, ending with almost despairing acceptance of how a life half lived is not living up to expectations:

Nothing turns out like our clever plans
termites build & destroy
we too are argute toys in havoc.

There are some other very fine poems in this issue: Emma Rooksby’s ‘Red bloodwood’,  Margaret Cambell’s ‘Rained-in’, Michael Sharkey’s ‘Nothing for granted’, Pete Hay’s ‘The Duck’s Guts’, Bronwen Manger’s ‘ Few are Immune’ (is it just me or is there a hint of an early Gig Ryan about this poem?), Lucy William’s ‘paper aeroplanes’,  Cliff Forshaw’s ‘Lat. 43 degree’, Margaret Bradstock’s ‘Weedy Seadragon’s, Shane McCauley’s ‘Idyll’, Ben Walter’s ‘Dolerite’, Dael Allison’s ‘House’,  Cecila White’s ‘Breath’ and  Cameron Hindrum’s ‘Leaving an island’ were my personal highlights. But the best lines in FR 43 must go to Kimberley Mann:

My kiss is a noun
Yours is a verb
We need to talk

Grammar of Us

The diversity of the poetry in FR43 is matched by the four pieces of fiction. Mark O’Flynn’s ‘The Phone Rings’ is a disturbing account of an Asian man, accused of a crime he didn’t commit, or understand. Alone in prison he is listening to recordings of phone calls made to his house, searching for the piece of evidence that he was convicted on in order to mount a defence. The more he listens the more confused his past becomes. Solid relationships, marriages begin to blur- “the ominous years ahead are shedding their meaning like a snake’s skin”.

‘Leaving Kathmandu’ by David Francis is a short piece about departure and loss. A man is leaving Kathmandu, leaving his lover of five months behind. They both know that this departure is a leaving, an end, and there is, at least at one level, a sense of relief on both sides. But as soon as the plane takes off there is almost instant regret from the man “I saw the face of a drowning man who had missed the chance of a proffered life vest”. While not, perhaps completely successful, there is deep emotional undercurrent to ‘Leaving Kathmandu’, which is almost poetic and which makes the story stand out.

Jo Langdon’s ‘Paint’ is also, at one level, about the end of a relationship. This time the drama plays out inside the house as the narrator, the ‘I’ details how the other, the ‘you’ begins to change the rooms in the house by painting seas and landmasses,  then adding in clouds, before washing it clean and starting again. This time the other starts painting the interior of the body, the organs and bones on the walls of the room.

“…until suddenly I lost patience and objected……shouting fuck, this is like living inside a rotting corpse! You seem to consider this, picking at a scab of dried carmine on your wrist and nodding slowly….”

John Hale’s ‘Landscape of the Enemy’ is perhaps the most ambitious of the four pieces of fiction, it is certainly the longest. It is an interesting piece, well written and confronting. Set in the devastated German city of Hamburg immediately after the war, ‘Landscape of the Enemy’ is a shared memory of two people who meet briefly in the ruined city. The first section introduces the male character, whose name, we later learn, is Richard Dart. He is in a foreign town, browsing in a second hand bookshop when he opens a book on German Post War theatre and recognises a photograph of an actress. He knew her very briefly as a much younger woman.  The next section is his recollection of his his meeting with her in Hamburg just after the war when, as a very young merchant seaman his ships docks in the ruined city for 24 hours.  For the price of a block of chocolate he spends the night with her whensShe takes him back to the house she shares with her grandfather and mother. The final section recalls the same incident from the woman’s point of view. The title of the piece, ‘Landscape of the Enemy’, hints at the complicated power relationship which drives this encounter, the young male sailor, naïve, but on the side of the victor and the young street-wise woman, forced to be wise beyond her years in order to survive.

Beyond the creative writing we have to also acknowledge the non-fiction, both literary and non literary. I have already mentioned  ‘Chico’s Story’, but there are also a number of other pieces that fall under the ‘ Essay, memoir, miscellany’ category, one of the most interesting being Rick Haughton’s ‘Rebuilding Timor Leste Schools’.

There are also interviews with poets and activists – Peter Hay, Grant Caldwell and Melanie Barnes as well as number of launch speeches and reviews of poetry. All in all FR43 is a tribute to its long time editors, a kind of eclectic tour de force which highlights just how many bulls-eyes you can hit when you fire in multiple directions at once. But this is not quite the end we still have FR44 to look forward to before the FR printing presses fall silent.

– Mark Roberts

__________________________________________________________

Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review.

Famous Reporter can be found at http://walleahpress.com.au/past.html

Ralph Wessman remembers 44 Issues of FR https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2012/07/25/getting-excited-by-the-writing-wanting-more-of-it-ralph-wessman-recalls-25-years-as-editor-and-publisher-of-famous-reporter/

3 thoughts on “An eclectic tour de force: Mark Roberts reviews Famous Reporter 43

  1. I can only say damned right to this overview of FR. In one review I did years ago I described the mag as “intensely interested” & that has been the hallmark of this superb publication. I wish Ralph well in his future ventures.

  2. Pingback: Issue 5: August – October 2012 Contents | Rochford Street Review

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