Writing to the Edge: Prose Poems & Microfiction edited by Linda Godfrey and Ali Jane Smith, Spineless Wonders 2014 was launched on Saturday 16 August 2014 at the NSW Writers Centre by Shady Cosgrove. This is what she had to say:
What is it that makes great reading? For people who love novels – and I admit, that’s usually me – it’s about rounded characters. Driving plotlines. Sweeping narrative arcs and a precise use of language. It’s about escaping to another world and having a bit of time there.
Microfiction and prose poems don’t have the luxury of set-‐up because as soon as the story begins, it’s over. It doesn’t have time to take too much time. Poetry, I think, might be a little easier, because you can force the reader to slow down by using imagery and metaphor in beguiling ways but even so the mastery is demonstrated in the brevity.
This is a marvellous collection of pieces that straddle prose poems and microfictions. And I LOVE that there’s a publication that places these pieces side by side because I think there’s a lot the prose poem can learn from the microfiction and a lot that the microfiction can learn from the prose poem.
Sydney writer Bridget Lutherborrow once said that she reads a microfiction for its ending. That the final lines of the microfiction need to shift the narrative status quo and take the story someplace unexpected.
And I was thinking about this as I was reading through the long-‐listed entries for the Joanne Burns Award. And to be clear: not all of the pieces in the book were entries for the award, but many were. It was a difficult task – judging the winner – but I chose Mark Smith’s ‘10.42 to Sydenham’, a short-‐short story about a girl being bullied on the train from the perspective of an African migrant, because of its ending. It’d be easy to overdo the themes in this story, to rely on stereotype or the grotesque – but by using tight, controlled language, he expertly leads the reader through the shifting loyalties of the story. There’s set-‐up, tension, and a resolution that’s not as smooth as we were expecting. And this discomfort, this ending, is what makes the story. It’s a tight, thoughtful microfiction that stays with the reader after the book is closed. Well done, Mark.
The runner-‐up prose poem ‘Happy’ by Hilary Hewitt lands at the other end of the prose poem-‐microfiction continuum. I adore this piece! It follows Hao Zianzhang and his boutique pear venture. What wit! What use of language! This combination means we’re willing to follow the author from the markets of the first line to the marketing campaigns of the last without question. The poem tackles consumerism, waste, communism, infanticide and poverty in thirteen lines and the reader wants more. What? Yes, it’s true. It’s crazy. But each word is precise and this kind of care is riveting.
And I also really enjoyed runner-‐up Mark Roberts’ ‘Cities that are not Dublin’. There’s a wonderful sense of Australia answering back to the colonial canon. The lulling pace and use of white space add to the ambience so that the reader, too, feels like they’re tucked beside a train window, burrowing into Ulysses.
These winning entries were all about Australia’s place in the world or the world’s place in Australia. It’s hard to pull off characters that are both personal and universal – but that was the core strength of these three pieces. We’re taken beyond ourselves, and in that process, recognise ourselves.
Other top pieces in Writing to the Edge: Philip Hammial has some enchanting vignettes that hover between poem and micro-‐micro-‐fiction. Elizabeth Hodgson’s ‘Timeless Crones’ honours the ‘older than anyone else you’ve ever known’ women. Patrick Lenton’s ‘Phraseo Rogue Editor’ excited my inner editing teacher, and made me laugh aloud. That a great first line ‘Adelie kept a locked book of recipes for black’ in Richard Holt’s ‘Her Dark Ground’. And Julie Chevalier’s ‘she cut a whole room of baby furniture from a catalogue’ in ‘The Man Who Walks After Work’ was a great moment that stayed with me. Oh, and the brutal banality that Jenni Nixon exposes in ‘Engaged’. All of it: great stuff.
In essence, this is a superb collection of Australian prose poems and microfiction. Make sure you buy five copies straight away and get some of the marvellous authors who are here tonight to sign them for you.
And finally thank you publisher Bronwyn Mehan and the crew at Spineless Wonders. Thank you editors Linda Godfrey and Ali Jane Smith. As Moya Costello said at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival a few weeks ago: “you guys are real deal”. The most innovative stuff in Australian publishing right now! Thank you for putting out another superb book.
I officially launch Writing to the Edge.
– Shady Cosgrove
Shady Cosgrove is a senior lecturer at the University of Wollongong. Her books include What the Ground Can’t Hold (Picador, 2013) and She Played Elvis (Allen and Unwin, 2009), which was shortlisted for the Australian/Vogel Award. Her short fiction and articles have appeared in Best Australian Stories, Overland, Southerly, Antipodes, the Age and and the Sydney Morning Herald.
Writing to the Edge is available from http://shortaustralianstories.com.au/products-page/anthologies-3/writing-to-the-edge-pre-release-offer/
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