Watching to See What’s Next: Michele Seminara launches ‘fourW’ Issue 28

fourW Issue 28 was launched by Michele Seminara at Gleebooks in Sydney on 25 November 2017 at Gleebooks

Michele Seminara launching fourW Issue 28

Before we begin the proceedings, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to the Elders, past and present.

Today I am delighted to be launching this year’s fourW anthology, and thank Editor David Gilbey, as well as those from Booranga Writers Centre and Charles Sturt University, for asking me to launch this important literary journal as it celebrates its 28th year of continuous publication.

This is a watershed year for fourW. As is the case for many literary journals, the economic viability of the anthology has been brought into question as funding to cover the printing of the magazine has this year been withdrawn, and the Booranga Writers Centre Committee explore new ways forward. This hasn’t stopped fourW twenty-eight coming into being however, albeit in a slightly modified form, and the committee are determined that it won’t stop the anthology continuing into the future. As they explore alternatives such as downsizing the print run, printing on demand, or publishing online, one thing is certain – the creativity and open mindedness that shape the anthology will see it continue to adapt and reflect our contemporary transnational landscape, in form as well as in content.

From Russia to Hong Kong to Sri Lanka, from rural to urban and outback Australia, fourW twenty-eight sees its subjects seeking – internally and externally – for meaning; questing, in all the various ways we do, for happiness; and living in states of connection and disconnection that are by turns helped and hindered by modern technology. In Erwin Cabucos’ story ‘Lights of Different Colours’, we see relationships fractured and reconfigured by economic necessity as Christy lives apart from her own family in the Philippines while working as a housekeeper for the Chen family in Hong Kong. Emotions become entangled as Christy grows daily more familiar with her employers and their child, rather than with her own, who she communicates with via iPhone.

She hears the tell-tale moans of pleasure from Mr. and Mrs. Chen’s room at the far end of the apartment and thinks about her husband, and how she wishes she could be with him right now. She wraps herself once more with the flannelette sheet before spreading the quilt on top of her, and ducks her head under the covers before checking the photograph of her family one last time on her iPhone. It’s 1.50 am; in four hours she has to get up again to make her employers’ breakfast before they go to work. Unexpectedly her phone vibrates softly and a text comes up. It is her husband, Lando: “I miss you, Chris. I love you, palangga.” She presses the auto response button that returns her usual message to him – her love. She hugs the phone to her chest and closes her eyes. (19)

High up in another city, in a hospital building in Sri Lanka, George Saranapala surveys the changing landscape of his country – and his life – as he awaits heart surgery. In the story ‘To Keep Pace’ by Rajith Savanadasa, technology facilitates an intimacy that is not always welcome. As George discovers after reluctantly being “hooked-up” to Facebook and subsequently stumbling upon his son Andrew’s account, there is such a thing as too much information:

George started seeing curious things on Andrew’s Facebook. There were rainbow coloured pictures saying ‘All We Need is Love,’ or ‘Colouring Outside the Lines.’ Pink triangles proclaimed, ‘Fix Marriage Not Gays.’ There was a photo of Andrew in a sleeveless top and sunglasses, his arm draped around a topless young man’s shoulders. George clicked and pushed at keys furiously but the windows that revealed these revolting images refused to close. He poked at the power button but his shaking finger missed repeatedly and finally, in his desperation, George pulled out the cord from the wall-socket. He never plugged it in again. If Facebook was telling a truth, it was not a truth George could agree with, not a truth he wanted to know. It was much later that he realised the things he called Truth and Lies were extinct. The new world was full of uncertainties, indeterminacies and cats in boxes suspended between life and death. Where was the clearly defined future he was promised? (143)

As John Carey warns us in his poem ‘Post Truth’, the dizzying array of information we are now bombarded with –

…may be a fake news item bombing
us from Montenegro or Fox News or it
just might be a double-bluff. Trust no-one. (p23)

But we do want to trust, and we do want to connect – the question explored by the pieces in fourW twenty-eight is who should we trust? And how far can we afford to go? In ‘Joel and Jess on the Verge’ by Julie Maclean, the about-to-be-married Joel and Jess contemplate the wisdom of taking the plunge and the meaning behind the oft habitual words “I love you”, when Joel experiences “the urge to vomit” at the thought of pledging himself “to the exclusion of all others” (121), and Jess finds herself turning her back on the partner lying beside her in bed to find solace and connection inside the ever present iPhone. In Louise D’Arcy’s small-town Australian story ‘Alex and Max go for a Walk’, Alec finds a different solution to the same problem as he contemplates whether to break up or shack up with girlfriend Cindy. Like many of us, Alec decides that their dog, Max, is the safest bet when it comes to trusting:

When he got home he’d ring Cindy. Say thanks. Say thanks but no thanks. He’d say you can put back your dried flowers and scented candles round the bath, and I’ll keep Max. He had no illusions about the fallout but you had to break things into manageable portions and then you just had to start somewhere. (p39)

Yes, we have to start somewhere, and Australians love to travel the long roads, or blue skies, or expansive seas, or more seldom the circuitous pathways of their own minds in search of that elusive connection to self, others, and sometimes even a higher power. It is these connections which make life meaningful and – dare we say it – passable, if not always pleasurable. And so poets Rory Harris and Nathanael O’Reilly hit the road in their poems ‘road’ and ‘(Un)belonging’, with Harris telling us how the road’s “old familiar rhythm” helps “to repair & replace the broken bodies of our lives” (59), while a recently returned home O’Reilly wonders “…if I could ever belong / again after so much time and distance”(132). Mran-Maree Laing turns inwards in her poem ‘The raw faces’, asking us to “please tell me the raw faces, including our own” (94), while in Daniel King’s story ‘The Astrological Coasters’ the protagonist is lost in a trance-like search for meaning and identity, wondering “Who could bear, after all, a life that consists in staying where one’s purpose and role are unclear, and where the only kind of guidance seems to come from the stars?” (85) Ali Jane Smith turns to yoga in her poem ‘Christmastime!’ to help her deal with the stress of the festive season, only to find:

… it’s best
to just be yourself
a philosophy I’ve long held
though I’m still learning
the practical applications

and lately I’ve learned too
that self you’re better-off being
is now and then an imaginary reindeer ( 159)

Some choose to go deeper still, like Frank in Biff Ward’s ‘To the West’, who spends forty days alone at sea hoping “he might feel pure again. He thought of it as wanting to die – he was going to sail to oblivion. Yet still he was beseeching God – he was no longer sure what for. All he knew was that he had to go.” (168)

One thing is for sure: whatever path you might be travelling, it’s a good bet the far-reaching writing in fourW twenty-eight has got you covered. Because ultimately, like the surfer who refuses “to come in from the water” in Damen O’Brien’s poem ‘Catching the Last Wave’, preferring instead to stay on her board watching “Each annus horribilis and all the perfect years/ …lining up over the horizon” (129), we’re all just riding the wave of change as best we can. And, just as the creators of fourW are doing, we’re all watching to see what’s next.

 – Michele Seminara

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Michele Seminara is a poet and editor from Sydney. Her first poetry collection, Engraft, was published by Island Press (2016), and a collaborative chapbook, Scar to Scar, (written with Robbie Coburn) was published by PressPress (2016). Her latest publication is HUSH (Blank Rune Press, 2017). Michele is Managing Editor of online creative arts journal Verity La.

For information on how to purchase fourW go to http://arts-ed.csu.edu.au/booranga/fourW

Intensity and Focus: Annette Marfording Reviews ‘Griffith Review 54, Earthly Delights: The Novella Project IV’

Griffith Review 54, Earthly Delights: The Novella Project IV, edited by Julianne Schultz, Text Publishing


gr54-novellaAs the subtitle suggests, this is the fourth year in which Griffith Review has dedicated its annual fiction edition to the novella, ‘those stories’, as editor Julianne Schultz put it in her introduction to the first edition in 2012, ‘that are longer and more complex than a short story, shorter than a novel, with fewer plot twists, but strong characters. Condensed tales that are intense, detailed, often grounded in the times, and perfectly designed for busy people to read in one sitting.’ By undertaking its novella project, Griffith Review has made a significant contribution to the revival of the novella form. Seizure runs an annual Viva La Novella competition, publishing its first winner in 2013 and some individual short fiction collections now include novellas, such as Here where we live by Cassie Flanagan Willanski and Australia Day by one of the contributors to Earthly Delights, Melanie Cheng, which won the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.

From its inception, Griffith Review’s novella project has presented a mix of contemporary and historical fiction, of well-known and emerging authors. It has delighted readers especially with its novellas’ intensity, achieved in part as a result of their strong focus on character. It is that intensity and focus, I suggest, which makes these novellas linger in the mind long after they have been read the first time.

This year’s edition, entitled Earthly Delights, features five novellas selected from 177 entries, and all are contemporary.

In her novella ‘Muse’, Melanie Cheng focuses on an elderly man who grieves for his late wife Lola. Cheng hooks the reader in her first lines by displaying her skill at detail, simile and alliteration:

I’ve neglected her. Her ceilings are soft with cobwebs. Her garden is choked with weeds. Her fence leans, like buckteeth, out onto the footpath. She is getting old, and noisy. Like me, with my snorts and grunts and farts that catch even me by surprise. Her doors creak, her heating claps itself to life, and her pipes splutter up their rusty sputum.

The first person narrator is somewhat estranged from his daughter Bea. One night Bea brings her lover Edwina for dinner, and Edwina, an artist, sparks in him a renewed interest in creativity, and he joins a life drawing class. His focus on the model in turn propels his reflections about his late wife and his former lover. A moving story about family and an elderly man’s life and memories.

Graham Lang is a writer and visual artist who grew up in South Africa and Zimbabwe. His novella ‘A fulcrum of infinites’ explores the meaning of home, ownership and belonging. A terminally ill Aboriginal man, Saul, travels to the Australian outback to die on the land of his ancestors. He settles on the ground under the only tree he can find, close to the house of an elderly farmer who wants him to leave, especially after Saul explains that his ancestors once roamed this land. Lang’s story focuses on the changing nature of the relationship between these two men.

In its focus on an Aboriginal man, ‘A fulcrum of infinites’ does, however, raise the issue of cultural appropriation (http://www.annettemarfording.com/cultural-approriation/) which raged recently in response to Lionel Shriver’s opening address at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of whether authors should be free to write from any perspective and point of view, for those who create an Aboriginal protagonist it is crucial to make him or her authentic, and I’m not sure whether Saul fulfils that criterion. Apart from that reservation, this novella is haunting and well written. Lang’s skills as a writer are particularly evident in his creation of a strong sense of place and in his development of the two characters through their dialogue.

Interestingly, Daniel Jenkins’ novella ‘Those boys from Jalaan’ gives rise to a related issue of authorial freedom. This is not because his novella is set in rural Oman – Jenkins uses his own teaching experience there to good effect, and his main characters are Australian and American teachers –, but because his two protagonists are women, one of whom is sexually assaulted. Despite a small niggle in that respect, ‘Those boys from Jalaan’ gives a good insight into the lives of expatriate women working in an Islamic country.

Although the quality of the writing is high in all these novellas, it jumps to another level with the utterly compelling novellas by Suzanne McCourt, ‘The last taboo: A love story’, and Stephen Orr, ‘Datsunland’, which at more than 100 pages is the length of a short novel. Both McCourt’s and Orr’s latest novels were longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and both were on the respective lists of my top ten reads in 2014 and 2015 (www.rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/12/12/annette-marfordings-best-reads-of-2015/) respectively.

In Suzanne McCourt’s case that novel was her 2014 debut The Lost Child, in which McCourt excelled at creating the voice, world and wonder of a young child growing up in an environment of fear, poverty and her mother’s mental breakdown in the aftermath of domestic violence. In her novella ‘The last taboo: A love story’ McCourt shows herself to be equally masterful in immersing the reader in the inner and outer life of a woman in search for – and eventually reunited with – the son she gave up for adoption at birth. Her use of the rarely used second person point of view is wonderfully suitable because the directly addressed reader is pulled even more strongly inside the narrator’s emotional turmoil of grief, guilt, fear, joy and love.

How does a mother greet a son she has not seen for twenty-three years? Are there rules for such occasions? Accepted etiquette? There is a moment after he closes the door when you’re both standing in the entry hall with barely room to move, and neither of you knows what to do. Your face feels tight with shyness, your mouth dry. But there is a strange recognition pushing into your brain: you are looking at yourself; you are looking at Jim; why hadn’t you expected this? And suddenly you are in each other’s arms.

You can feel the focus, the intensity. And in terms of where she takes this mother’s love, McCourt shows herself to be as fearless as Peter Goldsworthy in his novel Wish in creating an utterly plausible result of overwhelming love.

Stephen Orr’s latest novel was The Hands: An Australian Pastoral (https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2016/05/19/the-politics-of-the-australian-pastoral-jonathan-dunk-reviews-the-hands-by-stephen-orr/). In that poignant and haunting novel Orr explored the impact of the drought on the family of a cattle farmer. His accomplishments as a writer were evident in his psychological insight into his characters, the sparkling dialogue between them, and the spare, vivid detail he brought to conveying the dusty, barren landscape. He displays the same skills in his novella ‘Datsunland’. This time the setting is urban and the relationships he explores are those between a teenaged boy and his father and especially between the boy and his guitar teacher at the private Catholic school which both of them loathe. Orr cleverly makes use of the ongoing child sexual abuse scandals, especially at private schools, to make the reader worry for the teenager’s safety as the relationship between him and the guitar teacher grows ever closer.

Earthly Delights finishes with a special gift to the reader: an extract of the novel The White Experiment which Cory Taylor was writing when she became too ill from her melanoma-related brain cancer to continue. The book Dying: A Memoir she wrote instead – in a few weeks – was published six weeks before her death and gained international acclaim for its power, courage and clarity. The novel extract is bittersweet because every reader will mourn the loss of this immensely talented writer even more while reading it.

 – Annette Marfording

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Annette Marfording is a writer, blogger and critic who lives in regional New South Wales. She was Program Director of the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival until 2015. Her book Celebrating Australian Writing: Conversations with Australian Authors http://www.annettemarfording.com/celebrating-australian-writing/ features 21 in-depth conversations with Australian authors on central themes in their body of work, writing methods, central tips for aspiring writers and more. It is available in independent bookshops in Sydney and online at www.coop.com.au or http://www.lulu.com/shop/annette-marfording/celebrating-australian-writing/paperback/product-22192469.html. All profits from the sale of the book go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Griffith Review 54, Earthly Delights: The Novella Project IV is available from https://griffithreview.com/

Hot Stuff: Andy Kissane Launches ‘4W New Writing’ Issue 26

Andy Kissane launced FourW: New Writing Twenty Six, Edited by David Gilbey, FourW Press 2015, at Gleebooks in Sydney on 21 November 2015.

thirsty crow

The Thirsty Crow, a boutique pub in Wagga Wagga that murders thirst, (they obviously have a good writer working on their publicity) has on its dinner menu, the following: Hawaiian Lava pizza. Ultra hot. Quadruple exclamation marks. And the following advice in red ink: “Do not order this pizza. It’s far too hot for you. Do not come back and tell us it is too hot. Do not try and be a hero. Do not eat this, you will not enjoy it.”

Well as I grow habanero chillis, one of the Hawaiian Lava’s ingredients, and as I am a chilli fiend and know how hot they are—I couldn’t resist the challenge laid down by the menu. I wanted to be a hero. And I can faithfully report back to you that this pizza is too hot and I did not enjoy eating it. Though I did eat most of it and the waitress was duly impressed. I told them later that it was too hot and they said it was just meant to be a joke, that people weren’t really meant to order the Hawaiian Lava.

Wagga Wagga is a town, a regional city, renowned for its jokes. There is, for example, the five o’clock wave on the Murrumbidgee, caused by the release of water from the Burrinjuck and Blowering dams, a wave that arrives promptly each day at five o’clock, and if you’re any good you can ride it all the way to Narranderra, one hundred kilometres away. I checked it out while I was walking beside the river and I can faithfully report that it is indeed a whopper and that you could do worse than to catch it, if you ever need to get to Narranderra.

I was, as some of you may know, lucky enough to be a writer in residence at Booranga Writers’ Centre in September this year, where I experienced the generous and marvellous hospitality of the Wagga writing community. Before you come to the conclusion that I spent all my time in The Thirsty Crow, where the beer is great, or the rest of my time surfing the Wagga break, where the waves are huge, let me turn to my anointed task for today, the launching of fourW.

As I understand it, fourW stands for Wagga Wagga Writers Writers and I love the joke that is inherent in the title, I love the repetition. In one of his essays: One Body: Some Notes on Form, the American poet Robert Hass writes: “The first fact of the world is that it repeats itself. I had been taught to believe that the freshness of children lay in their capacity for wonder at the vividness and strangeness of the particular, but what is fresh in them is that they still experience the power of repetition…” The first fact of Volume 26 of fourW— an impressive number and may there be 26 more—is that the magazine includes two forms of writing that are close to my heart—the poem and the short story. In some senses that is where the repetition stops, for my overall reaction to the new writing in this distinctive, idiosyncratic magazine is to be astonished by the vividness, the freshness and the strangeness of the work, and to approach it with a kind of wonder. I can’t possibly manage to convey all that is surprising and arresting about this issue of fourW, so if you’re here and I don’t mention your work, please don’t be offended, there’s a bias in my desire to talk about the discoveries I’ve made, rather than the established writers whose work I have long enjoyed and admired.

Magazines such as fourW are crucial to the development of new writing and new writers and without the early successes that these magazines offer, most people would prematurely stop writing. I certainly would have. The importance of fourW to the Riverina is noted by David Gilbey in his incisive editorial, but one of the things that struck me about issue 26 was the breadth of the catchment area. Sure there are writers from Wagga Wagga and Albury, Melbourne and Sydney, but there’s also work from people who live in Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania and internationally, there are writers from Newhaven and Newcastle in the United Kingdom and Phoenixville and Minneapolis in the United States. I am reminded of the American poet, James Wright, who wrote in “The Minneapolis Poem”:

But I could not bear
To allow my poor brother, my body, to die
In Minneapolis.
The old man Walt Whitman, our countryman
Is now in America, our country,
Dead.
But he was not buried in Minneapolis
At least.
And no more may I be
Please God.

I want to be lifted up
By some great white bird unknown to the police,
And soar for a thousand miles and be carefully hidden
Modest and golden as one last corn grain,
Stored with the secrets of the wheat and the mysterious lives
Of the unnamed poor.

Reading the poetry in fourW is like being lifted up by some great white bird and carried aloft to witness Rob Walker’s concern for the railway children beside Darjeeling station, then sliding with Bronwyn Lang under Long Feng bridge in China, before hovering with Les Wicks in Darlinghurst, as the speaker of his poem struggles to deal with the death of her baby boy. “I will live without compartments” she decides at the end of what is a harrowing flight. fourW is not just international in terms of the writers published, but international in terms of both its subject matter and the quality of its art. But, I must admit, I was astonished by the number of writers who live overseas and are in this issue. Can I just check if any of them are here today? … No, good. Then let me just say that I thought the work of Australian writers was more impressive. But I’m not parochial. One international standout for me was Adam Day’s moving poem, “Dead Friesian in Winter” which is carried by its finely tuned observations.

4wTurning again to the Australians, Joan Cahill’s “The Rose Shredder” utilises the native bug, the Riverina rose shredder as a metaphor for male sexual conquest, a leap that I found truly surprising and reminded me of the idea Robert Bly develops in his essay “Looking for Dragon Smoke” of the long floating leap, perhaps from the conscious to the unconscious, that exists in a work of art. Leaps also abound in Julie MacLean’s poem “Prize Collection” where the speaker suggests, “you have pinned spiders/ to my eyes in celebration/ of our lifetime together.” You must read this poem, it’s a beauty.

There are a number of poems that deal with war. There’s Albury poet Phillip Muldoon’s vivid dramatization of the after-effects of the Vietnam war, Maurice Corlett’s moving elegy to his great Uncle Tass who died in the evacuation from Dunkirk, and David Gilbey’s ekphrastic series, “Shrapnel”. This series avoids the common trap of writing about art works, where the poem becomes merely a description of the painting. Instead, Gilbey uses the art works as triggers for his imagination. In “Shrapnel 4” he evokes the difficulty of living with someone who has returned from war: “You didn’t mean to hurt me, but your eyes looked through my face/ to other faces.”

Derek Motion’s “Density” received this year’s fourW prize for poetry. It’s a poem that I think Robert Bly would admire, where the speed of leaping is fast, taking us from a semi-black bra outline under a white shirt, to Anzac dogs, to the ambient potential of a startled wallaby, to a country girl and to the smell of rain passing the gums. It is a poem which embodies its title, an exploration of the density of the mind and Motion demonstrates the ability to associate quickly and move from the present to memories and back again with a control and a rhythm that carries you along. It’s an intriguing poem, where something it seems, happened in the long grass. I gather this long grass occurs in the Riverina. Interesting. Read it. And read the many other fine poems printed in this anthology.

The work is organised alphabetically by author name, though reading fourW I was struck by a number of surprising resonances, as if one contributor was writing back to another. There are many fabulous short stories published here. I was impressed by Sean O’Leary’s “Nowhere”, a tale of police pursuit and revenge set in central Australia and involving both Indigenous and white Australian characters. The evocative cover of fourW with its tyre marks and footprints is suggestive of this story. In what has been a violent week for world citizens, “Nowhere” confronts the interesting problem of how to write violence, not the sort of stylised violence that Quentin Tarantino excels in, but realistic violence that impacts on the lives of people. There’s a long history of writing violence in literature that goes back to Homer’s Iliad. The French philosopher, Simone Veil wrote:

 

‘To define force — it is that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most liberal sense: it makes a corpse out of him. Somebody was here, and the next minute there is nobody here at all; this is the spectacle the Iliad never wearies of showing us.’

O’Leary’s story is distinctively Australian, and I was completely engaged by its deft plotting, its realism and by the way it tackles the writing of violence, which as I know from my own work is a difficult issue to deal with, but in the end I’m not sure that O’Leary gets it quite right. What happens serves what Roland Barthes’ calls the interests of the story, but I wondered if this character would actually do this. Or to put it another way, the plot and the characterization didn’t quite mesh for me. In one of the many resonances that the journal throws up, Ron Pretty’s poem, “plans” also tackles this issue in what struck me as a slightly more successful manner, but perhaps this is due to Pretty’s foreshadowing of a violent act that is only contemplated and not yet actualised. Violence is difficult for all of us to understand. It’s good that fourW has the courage to tackle it. Read “Nowhere” and “plans” and make up your own mind.

Nadine Brown’s “Drowning”, a story of a woman married to an evangelical pastor, is a fresh and fascinating study of how people can think one thing and do another. Jane Downing’s “Don’t Write it Down” is a story with considerable charm that deals with how a mother can hope to explain to her thirteen year old son, these lines inscribed in her copy of The Decameron: “To my only true love, my arms will always be open to you. Forever, Hal.” Hal, as her son knows, is not her husband. This story utilises the sophisticated technique of a narrator talking to a narratee. Many of the other writers collected here are also particularly adept at their manipulation of narrative technique. There’s the flashbacks and intercutting of Jarrah Dundler’s “Caravan”, which recounts a dramatic encounter with an Eastern Brown snake. In Beverley Lello’s “Surfacing”, Jay’s childhood experience of almost drowning becomes the central metaphor for a relationship that is moving, human and memorable. Michel Dignand’s “Chain of Events” demonstrates the centrality of power in writing dialogue. This wry, modern take on sexual politics resolves through a twist in the tale that I didn’t see coming.

Maryanne Khan’s “An Inconvenience” a charming, humorous and delightful story was the worthy winner of the fourW prize for fiction. Set in the south of Italy, it’s a portrait of an old Italian woman who is shunted between cousins. I enjoyed the way this story critiqued the myth of the family, while presenting an old woman who survives, it seems to me, because of her ability to live in the moment.

Dorothy Simmons’s story, “Try Me” also features an older single woman, Alice, a school librarian, who while fishing at night is confronted by drunken Year 11 students who call her a witch. In response she summons Macbeth, “by the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes” and Sylvia Plath: “Out of the ash/ I rise with my red hair/And I eat men like air.” This is a brilliant story which builds to a surprising twist, a twist which is… well, wonderful is the word that comes to mind.

There is much more in fourW that I don’t have time to detail—it’s a truly International magazine full of surprising, engaging and wonderful work. It’s there for you to read, to ponder, to savour. My congratulations to everyone who performed the hard slog of producing it, or contributing to it. And unlike The Thirsty Crow’s now infamous, uneatable pizza, it’s hot stuff, but not too hot for you. You will, I promise, enjoy Issue 26 of fourW New Writing. It’s my pleasure today to send it out into the world.

 

 – Andy Kissane

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Andy Kissane’s books include his fourth collection of poetry, Radiance (Puncher & Wattmann, 2014), which has been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry and a book of short stories, The Swarm. He was the winner of the 2013 Fish International Poetry Prize and is the Coriole National Wine Poet, with six poems featuring on the back label of their cabernet shiraz. He has read his work in Ireland, England, Vienna and many venues in Australia. He teaches creative writing in the community, schools and universities. http://andykissane.com

For information on how to purchase a copy of 4W New Writing visit the Booranga Writers’ Centre website https://www.csu.edu.au/faculty/arts/humss/booranga/home

The Australian Poetry Podcast: Episode 3 Mark Roberts on Rochford Street Review, Publishing & Writing

podacstNathan Hondros and Robbie Coburn created The Australian Poetry Podcast earlier this year, partly in response to the axing of the flagship ABC Radio National poetry program Poetica, but mainly because it was a cool thing to do. So far they have produced 3 episodes featuring interviews with Andrew Burke, Jill Jones and Mark Roberts.

In the third episode Mark Roberts talks, among other things, about setting up Rochford Street Review and some of the ideas for the journal’s future.

All three episodes are available from https://medium.com/the-australian-poetry-podcast or you can search for them on iTunes.

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The Restraint of Meaning: Stevi-Lee Alver reviews the #concrete issue of ‘Australian Poetry Journal’.

Australian Poetry Journal Volume 3. Issue 2 # concrete. Edited by Bronwyn Lea

APJ-3.2_Front-CoverThe diversity of contributors and the perceptivity of criticism make this an approachable and compelling introduction to the form and history of concrete poetry. For those same reasons, the #concrete issue of the Australian Poetry Journal is also an amusing read for those acquainted with the movement.

Bronwyn Lea, in her final volume as editor, has selected pieces that place more emphasis on the role of the reader and revisit that century-old phrase: a picture is worth a thousand words. Lea, in the forward, summarises the poetic intention perfectly when she says, “concrete poems ask readers to look simultaneously ‘at’ and ‘through’ language.”

In this issue, the pieces attempt playfully to free language of its burdensome obligation as the transmitter of meaning and ideas. The common aim of concrete poetry is to enable semiotics to stand alone as an object, in and of itself, free from objectification. Constantly evaluating the ambiguity and contradiction of this task, the pieces forever fold in on themselves, making the point—if ever—only momentarily possible.

Toby Fitch’s, ‘Missing Scène(s)’, and John Warwicker and Karl Hyde’s, ‘from In the Belly of Saint Paul’, are pieces that ensure no two readers will approach, or interact with, the work in the same way. ‘Missing Scène(s)’, somewhat resembling the screen of an archaic video game or that of a confused crossword, does not demand to be read in any particular fashion. Although the poem’s appearance and content generate an undeniable and questioning undertone of: ‘what’s missing?’

Warkicker and Hyde, taking samples of spoken language and placing them on paper, examine how modes of communication transform the ways in which meaning is conveyed. This eight-page extract—a series of poems appearing in shapes of infrastructure—attempts to capture the city’s mutableness by analogising the flux of infrastructure with that of language, giving the work a distinct O’Haraesque feel.

John Warwicker & Karl Hyde - 'from IN THE BELLY OF SAINT PAUL'

– The first two pages  ‘from IN THE BELLY OF SAINT PAUL’ by John Warwicker & Karl Hyde

The pieces show us that, like infrastructure, language is a dynamic entity with which we interact and, through interaction, participate in the continual deconstruction, construction, and reinvention of the ability to perceive meaning and experience.

I particularly enjoyed the pieces with colour, especially ‘A Quiet Voice’ by Australian artist and poet Angela Garnder. In ‘A Quiet Voice’—a stunning fusion of watercolour, origami and poetry—Gardner delicately uses space and silence as an additional form of expression, and catalyst, that swings the reader between reading and viewing.

The first page of 'A QUIET VOICE' by Angela Gardner

– The first page of ‘A QUIET VOICE’ by Angela Gardner

Karl Kempton has two poems appearing in this issue of the Australian Poetry Journal, the first of which is called ‘Playground’. In a universally recognisable way, Kempton arranges the first three letters of the English alphabet—A, B, & C—to resemble that of a child’s A-frame swing set, making the poem both inclusive and amusing.

‘Playground’, a seemingly straightforward visual poem, represents much more than language at play. It simply, yet sophisticatedly, analyses how language and child’s play inform one another, and explores how these interactions are responsible for, or at least influence, the invention of semantics.

'PLAYGROUND' by Karl Kempton

– ‘PLAYGROUND’ by Karl Kempton

A fascination with the development and understanding of symbols and meaning is the common thread running throughout the journal. Most poems, in one way or another, weave and capture the repetition and playfulness of the sight-sound blending that occurs during language development. They highlight the innocence and freedom that children have prior to developing metacognition and consider, critically, the purpose of knowing about knowing.

While none of this is ground breaking or revolutionary stuff, it encapsulates the materiality of language and the mystery and uncertainty of experience. Personally, I found it exciting and refreshing that an Australian print journal would dedicate bravely an entire issue to such an experimental form.

– Stevi-Lee Alver

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Based in Bangalow, Stevi-Lee Alver currently studies at Southern Cross University and nurses at the North Coast Cancer Institute. Her poetry and fiction have recently appeared in Writing to the Edge, Jabberwocky, and Northerly, and will be forthcoming in Coastlines 5, Homegrown Ghosts, and Questions.

Australian Poetry Journal Volume 3. Issue 2 # concrete is available from http://apj.australianpoetry.org/issues/apj-concrete-3-2/

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Rochford Street Review relies on the support of its readers to continue. If you like what we are doing please consider making a donation.

P76 Issue 7 is a special tribute issue devoted to the work of Cornelis Vleeskens and was curated by Pete Spence.  Vleeskens was one of Australia’s leading Visual/Concrete poets (among many other accomplishments) and works by by  Vleeskens and Spence are included in  Australian Poetry Journal Volume 3. Issue 2 # concrete. P76 Issue 7 is published by Rochford Street Press and is available from http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/p76-literary-magazine/

Announcing P76 Issue 7 – Special Cornelis Vleeskens Issue

p76 issue 7 coverSometime in the early 1990s someone described P76 as an “occasional” journal of writing and creative arts and, as Issue 7 stumbles towards a photocopier to be printed, I suppose that 7 issues in 31 years could definitely be described as ‘occasional’. Over the years, however, P76 has published a wide variety of work – some of it by established writers, or writers who went onto become established and some by writers and artists who should have become much better known.

This is the first time, however, that P76 has published a ‘special issue’. P76 Issue 7 is a special issue devoted to Cornelis Vleeskens and has been guest edited by Pete Spence. The issue contains a selection of published and unpublished work by Vleeskens and includes poetry, visual poetry and artwork. Jenni Mitchell  and Scott Bugbird write of their memories of Vleeskens while Mark Roberts revisits some of his major collections of poetry.

P76 Issue 7 will be available from 26 March but you can order your copy now.

cart
P76 Issue 7 within Aust $15

cartP76 Issue 7 International Aust$29

P76 Issues 5 and 6, along with other Rochford Street Press titles are available from http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/

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Cornelis Vleeskens: towards a retrospective – Mark Roberts

This is an edited version of a article which will appear in the special Cornelis Vleeskens issue of P76 which will be curated by Pete Spence http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/p76-literary-magazine/
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Trivial Pursuits, PressPress 2012. 
Broken Glass & Driftwood, originally published in Riverrun Vol 1.No 3 1977. Republished Earthdance/Donnithorne Street Press 2012,
Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems, Gargoyle Poets – Makar Press 1976

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Trivial PI first read Trivial Pursuit in April 2012 and felt like I had rediscovered a friend. I had meet Cornelis Vleeskens a couple of time in the mid eighties – around the time of Fling poetry. He was one the poets whose work I had read in various magazines and admired and I remembered being very impressed by Full Moon over Lumpini Park. Then suddenly it seemed he disappeared from the poetry scene, the work in magazines all but dried up and there didn’t seem to be any new publications. This was, in fact, not the case. Vleeskens hadn’t stopped writing and creating. He was still working, but at a very personal level. He was writing some very fine poetry and circulating it among a select group of friends and colleagues. At the same time he had expanded the scope of his work and was actively involved in producing mail art and a body of very impressive Visual Poetry.

Then about the time I read Trivial Pursuits in 2012 I heard that Vleeskens was very ill and that the prognosis was not good. I had intended to write on the new book immediately after finishing it, instead I hunted out his other work, his earlier books, his visual poetry – whatever I could find. Perhaps I felt it was important to put this late work into some kind of context, perhaps I just wanted to catch up on some of what I had lost. While it was not unexpected, Vleeskens’ death on 11 May 2012 did came as something of a shock.

For me Trivial Pursuit became a way back into Vleeskens’ work and a way of trying to piece some of the fragments of the last 20 years together. It is a single poem, made up of many parts, running through a 32 page chapbook. The first thing that stands out about Trivial Pursuit is that it is funny. It is a long time since I found myself laughing out loud with a poem (as opposed to laughing out loud at a poem!) but I did find myself giggling on the bus while reading this book. Not all of the jokes, however, are one liners. In a long sequence half way through the poem we read:

I misunderstand the cold!
I struggle to misunderstand warmth!
I often misunderstand 11.30 in Glen Innes
I misunderstand my misspent youth
I misunderstand youth!
and hiphop and bodypiecring and tattoos
except on sailors in sleazy bars down the docks
I misunderstand D.O.C.S
I’m pretty sure I misunderstand angels!
I misunderstand the strawnecked ibis
I misunderstand breaking the bank at Monte Carlo
but I’m not sure I’d misunderstand a windfall!
I misunderstand why bats turn left at the exit
I misunderstand “no right hand turn”
I never misunderstand ORANGES! But
I sometimes misunderstand my kelpie
I think I misunderstand Rob Kars’s smirk
I definitely misunderstand this poem!
………………………………………….(p16)

While this section is quite humours in itself with the repetition of “I misunderstand” setting up a rhythm which is only associationally broken, the real word play lies in how this section relates to lines in other parts of the poem. For example the reference to the time “11.30 in Glen Innes” contues a pattern in the first part of the poem where Vleeskens places sections of the poem by referring to the time: “it is 12.20 in Glenn Innes and a Friday” (p3), “it is 1.35 on a new day/and I’m walking on the sunny side/of the street:” (p6), “it’s 12.40 in Glenn Innes/(lunchtime) I need a break….(p11), “it’s 10.50 in Glenn Innes/and there’s a knock at the door! (p15).

The actual reference which caused me to disturb the serenity of the morning bus commute, however, came a few pages later:

the gang’s all hair and another
strenuous hike takes us to the edge:
did the Brisbane River break
the bank at Monte Carlo?

……………………………(p24)

Suddenly the earlier link with the bank at Monte Carlo is made, is this the misunderstanding, or is it the earlier meaning? I was too busy giggling to worry.

These word plays run through the poem. One of the most obvious and successful begins on page 4 when Vleeskens links orange the colour to orange the fruit and orange the national colour of Holland (his birth country):

………..I think it’s kosher
to eat an ORANGE while
listening to a Dutch composer!
On page 10 he expands the word play to include place
and ask myself did the defeat
of the Boers create an ORANGE-free state?

Then there is the reference to misunderstanding ORANGES in the section already quoted from page 16, a line on page 18 “how many slabs for an ORANGE hangover”, then place is referenced again on page 22 when he asks: “do they grow oranges in Orange?” And given the number of mentions of Orange in this poem one can’t help but think of Frank O’Hara.

Running through this of course is the reference to Vleeskens’ Dutch background. He listens to Dutch composers, discusses Dutch artists and pulls in a Dutch reference when you least expect it:

well blame it on my eyesight
or Ashbery or the schizochroal eye!
Which works like a series
of aplanatic corrective lenses
(as if designed by Huygens in
the 17th century Netherlands)

………………………………………(P8)

While the poem appears at first reading to be loosely structured, the word play and the interconnectivity of the text suggests that there might be more than first meets the eye. The poem actually layers image on image, carefully building so that the mundane act of walking down the street becomes a discussion on poetry and poets, on art and artists, on food, about place and history – among many other things.

While Pursuit highlights the skills of the later poet it is interesting to turn to his earliest work which appeared in Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems (Makar Press 1976) and Broken Glass & Driftwood (Reprinted Earthdance/Donnithorne Street Press 2012 – originally published in Riverrun Vol 1.No 3 1977).

There is a gentle lyricism to a number of poems in these two collections, indeed ‘Poem for Celia’ in Hong Kong Suicide, recalls Dransfiled’s ‘Pas de deux for lovers’:

the quiet of the dawn;
lost in the fishermen’s lights
trawling harbour waters;
seabreaze blowing mosquitoes;
& stars through the open
window. we lay side by side
i, dreaming clouds of smoke;
you dozing in your quiet
music; skin gently played by
the knowledge of goodbye.

While Hong Kong Suicide was Vleeskens’ first published book (part of the original Gargole Poets series which featured poets such as Alan Wearne, Antigone Kefala, Rae Desmond Jones, Kris Hemensley, John Tranter, Jennifer Rankin and many others), the work in Broken Glass & Driftwood belongs to roughly the same period and, I some ways, introduces some of the elements which we find in Trivial Pursuit.

The title poem ‘Broken Glass & Driftwood’, for example, is a poem about making poetry. The physical world becomes a metaphor for the writing process:

1.

words pass like seconds & minutes
of days spent. they’re like a taunt
line in harbour tides, not always

a catch: mullet nibbling the torn
edges of poems: broken glass &
driftwood. (for robert adamson) lies

of years blowing in the trees. the
blues of nothing caught off jetties &
the rocks. my line lies on the bottom

2.

driftwood memories have been laid
out in the sun to dry. i’ll need
them to fry my catch. maybe I can

forget the broken glass. it’s drawn
enough blood already. washed up on
beaches & islands & harbour shores &

always leaving pieces behind when a new
tide pulls me out again. I wonder if
there’s enough left to build a poem.

Interesting the reference to Robert Adamson provides an immediate echo of this poem in Trivial Pursuits through the lines:

throw in a line Bob the mullet
are running:

…………………………………….(p. 10)

Broken glassOnce again there is a unforced lyricism to this poem, at times almost haiku like. The link between words and time “the seconds & minutes/ of days spent” moves easily into the image of fishing (and during the mid to late 1970’s references to fishing could not but help to suggest Robert Adamson who was riding high at the time as editor of New Poetry and the writer of poems such as ‘The Mullet Run’. Interestingly there is a line in ‘Mullert Run II which refers to the river “turning orange with mud”)). In the second stanza there is the unexpected use of the word ‘poem’ “mullet nibbling the torn/edges of poems”. For anyone who was every taken fishing as a kid, the expectation was that the mullet would be nibbling the torn edges of prawns (I remember the feeling of the line tugging gently and reeling it in only to find the prawn still on the hook but torn all around by small fish mouths too small to take the hook). The poem becomes something more at this point, the image in the first line “words pass like the seconds & minutes” is recalled and extended and becomes much more ambitious.

Interestingly the next direct reference to poetry does not occur until the final line but the imagery runs right through the poem. The fishing line that lies on the bottom, the “driftwood memories…..laid out in the sun to dry” suggest the struggle to find the words, to create the poem. But in the final instance the easy link between writing a poem and catching a fish is denied. It is not the mullet waiting to be hooked or the memories of driftwood – “of years of blowing in the trees,” that represent the poem. Instead in is the broken glass, which at first is to be discarded “maybe I can/forget the broken glass. it’s drawn/ enough blood already”, which becomes the core of the search of the poem. Blood has been drawn, but obviously there must be more, as after each tide fragments of glass are washed up on the shore. “i wonder if/there’s enough left to build a poem’.

So while at first reading ‘Broken Glass & Driftwood’ appears to be a relative simple poem relying on some strong imagery to draw the reader in, on closer reading it is actually much more complex. The creative process is linked to ebb and flow of tides, and of time which turns fallen trees into driftwood and wears broken glass down into fragments of colour washed up on the shore and, in the end, the poem itself comes from an unexpected source.

In most of these early poems the actual act of writing is nearly always central to the poem. In the second poem in Broken Glass & Driftwood, ‘Between Sleep & White Uniforms’ there are, once again, moments of almost intense lyrical beauty:

(waking again: chalkdust
blown over the harbour
like unwritten poems

the chalkdust echoes the fragments of broken glass – though this time they are blowing over the water rather than being washed up on the shore. They are being blown over the harbour, fragments of unknown/unwritten poems. Later, however, the poem does materialise

waking again: new chalk
& typewriter poems for
dusty lovers

‘Between Sleep & White Uniforms’ is a longer poem running over a number of pages, each section is a different waking, a different attempt at a poem or a relationship with a lover or probably both. There is a transience to both the poems and the relationship here as chalk poems can disappear in a flash

…………..chalkwritten words wiped for

falling short. i came to these pages for

explanations ……………..there are none

This transience is emphasised in a later, unnamed, poem in the book:

a rewrite of old poems scribbled on the
outgoing tide while we were digging for

olive shells.

The poems in Hong Kong Suicide, while still retaining their lyricism, have a sightly harder edge to them. The title even hinting a something a little darker than driftwood and broken glass. The title poem is subtitled ’10 preludes’ – is this a wink at T S Eliot or Wordworth or Katherine Mansfield? Probably not, though it is an interesting train of thought. I suspect Vleeskens was bypassing the other ‘famous’ literary preludes and going straight to it’s musical roots. Each of these ten pieces can stand alone as a poem, but they also work as a sequence with everything working up to a final flip of the corn.

The imagery here is grittier, more crowded and a little more desperate. The images are that of a crowded city with people piled up on each other:

the more people in the room/the less room.
four chinamen bent over mahjong; the back
room sending sweet smoke signals and the
occasional laugh; Sesame Street sounds
strange in chinese, the kids don’t seem to
notice it;

………………………………………………prelude 1

and

suzie quatro
carpenters
don mclean
& chinese opera
blaring forth
scratchily
from cheap speakers;

………………………………………………prelude 2

The list in prelude 2 recalls a poem in Broken Glass & Driftwood ‘ – Another Chalk Poem – which simply refers to a shopping list written out in chalk. But here the list is part of a slightly larger whole. Prelude 2 is a simple capture of an image, almost like an extended haiku, but it is a dynamic opening image, the clashing of sounds and cultures which lead into the final lines:

……..……………..Shangai Street
haggling over the price of a bowl of won ton mi

And we are led into the other Preludes and we are reminded that Vleeskens’ Hong Kong is the British Hong Kong before the handover. There is the feel of a ‘frontier town’ of border guards and searches and spying. There is also a playfulness here in Prelude 3 we are told:

not after the shock of seeing
the police superintendent up on illegal earnings charges
the night after
i slept with
his daughter.

and then in Prelude 5.

sketches like this don’t work without
some sex-appeal, another girl friend perhaps?

give her the same name/……. i lie every time

…………………………………………..i use it

give her a guitarcase/ …………the lies come easy

…………………………………………..once you admit to them.

So as we piece the preludes together, the narrator/poet’s voice is undermined by the poem itself. In Prelude 9 there is a description of an early morning dash across Hong Kong by two lovers in search of breakfast. But we sense the narrative starting to unwind:

i live in Jordan Road, Kowloon
with an empty refrigerator/she
stays with her uncle (foreign
office or something). he doesn’t
like me, even my poems have
become third person, singular

first person, plural:
we alight from the peak-tram,
have a champagne breakfast &
soil borrowed white sheets (the
maid’s on our side, she’ll wash
them for a bribe, Hong Kong’s
like that…..

first person, plural:
we are an inveterate liar.

so what/who to trust the ‘I’, the poet, has declared himself a liar, but the poem is still there – jumping from the first to the third person and back again. But what of the suicide? The tension builds through the Preludes – after all the sequence is called ‘Hong Kong Suicide’ so there should be a suicide somewhere, unless the poet is indeed an “inveterate liar”.

So, like a good thriller it all comes down to the final scene, or the final prelude in Vleeskens case:

he stands exhausted penniless.
(the poem has turned impersonal
but refuses to reach a conclusion.
he’s tried to swallow his pride
hoping to choke on it
but the little he has left
went down without complications.
(throw in his three year old son
if you really want complications.
they stand on the roof of the
newly completed Connaught Centre,
overlooking the Star Ferry.
he flips his last coin…….

There is something almost filmic about this last prelude, the image of the lone person standing on the edge of a tall building making deciding what to do. Once again the poem has changed to the third person, something that Vleeskens announces bluntly in the second line. Like a story teller developing his plot as he goes Vleeskens intrudes once again by adding in the man’s three year old son – so that he “he stands” of the 1st line changes to the “they stand” of the 10th line.

The ending of this last Prelude leaves us hanging, literally. The coin has been flipped but we don’t see it land. Does he jump? Does he take his son with him? Or does he turn around, take he elevator down to the ground floor and disappear into the crowd to return to his room to start writing the poem? The sequence is called Hong Kong Suicide, so he must have jumped, but we already know that he is “an inveterate liar”.

Like a piece of good music ‘Hong Kong Suicide’ improves with multiple readings. While at first it appears like a sequence of good but loosely connected poems, it soon becomes clear that there is an underlying structure to the sequence which propels it forward, like a post modern film noir, to leave the reader dangling on the precipice. But Vleeskens’ structure is not an easy one, as he says in another poem:

there’s more form crept in
than i intended to allow:

……………….– The Motorcar as Poem in Two Parts

hong kongIt is a jumpy structure which may run for two or three lines and then suddenly change. An unexpected line break, a dropped line or a section that is indented and/or cut up adds to the jagged feel of the sequence. One senses that Vleeskens was struggling to keep the poem out of control as much as the character in the poem was trying to keep in control.

There was allot of poetry between Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems, Broken Glass & Driftwood and Trivial Pursuit – in most cases at least 36 years worth of poetry. Some of that poetry can be accessed in collections such as Full Moon over Lumpini Park (Fling Poetry 1982), The Day The River (UQP 1984), Treefrog Dreaming Fling Poetry 1990 and many others (a non exclusive bibliography is included at the end of this paper). While some of these works can be traced through libraries, many others were published in very limited print runs and are almost impossible to locate. There is a definite need for a major poetry publisher to bring out a collection of Vleeskens’ work.

In the end I have come back to Trivial Pursuit and a piece that seems to bring together a number of the themes running through Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems and Broken Glass & Driftwood:

OH! cast down your eyes
on these scraps of paper:
they’re blowing on a brisk Westerly
like hamburger wrappers
they’re covered in scribbled notes
indecipherable like a foreign language
or poetry! you recognise a score
and orchestrate the notes
it’s symphonic! it’s mindblowing!
it’s a rip-off!! (AND you’re tonedeaf)
what happened to the I?
is he the first person asleep?
all this time I’ve achieved so little!
it’s 12.40 in Glenn Innes
(lunchtime!) I need a break…..

…………………………………………….(Page 11.)

There is the echo here of the chalk dust poems blowing across the harbour and the slipping between the first and third person. In the end I am left thinking about the title of this last chapbook, Trivial Pursuit. Throughout his work the act of writing and reading poetry was central to his thinking. For Vleeskens the act of walking down down the street was poetic and chalk dust or waste paper a potential poem. For him the trivial acts of life, checking he mail box, catching a tram in Hong Kong or writing out a shopping list was the stuff of poetry. As he says on the final page of Trivial Pursuit:

(it’s all smoke and mirrors!)

-Mark Roberts

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Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He is currently undertaking Post Graduate studies at the University of Sydney and currently edits Rochford Street Review and P76 Magazine (http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/p76-literary-magazine/).

Other books by Cornelis Vleeskens that are still available include:

CVpic

Cornelis Vleeskens – picture from the back cover of Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems 1976.

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Rochford Street Review relies on the support of its readers to continue. If you like what we are doing please consider making a donation.

Regime Takes a Stand Against Plagiarism: Mark Roberts Reviews Regime Issue 2

Regime: Magazine of New Writing. Issue 2, 2013.

regime02As much as I would like the whole issue of plagiarism to go away, it appears that the recent scandal is set to haunt us for some time yet. In particular Graham Nunn’s situation has become a tricky one for a number of publishers who are finding that the Nunn poem  they had accepted and published is probably not his at all. Added to the difficulty faced by these publishers in the fact that Nunn isn’t returning their calls – so what is to be done. Well Regime magazine has gone on the front foot – I=in a statement on its website last week called ‘Plagiarism in Regime Magazine’ (http://www.regimebooks.com.au/plagiarism-in-regime-magazine-statement-by-the-editors/) it announced:

Several weeks ago the editors of Regime Magazine were approached with concerns that a poem in the second issue of Regime Magazine was plagiarised. Graham Nunn had submitted the poem, titled ‘Empty Gardens’. This poem, in the opinion of the editors, is the work of US poet John Yau. It seems that Mr Yau’s poem ‘Bare Sheets’ was copied, a small number of changes were made to it, and then it was submitted without acknowledgement to Mr Yau and without his agreement”.

They went on to say:

We feel as though we the editors, and, more importantly, the readers of Regime Magazine have been deceived. We have written to Mr Yau and apologised and do so now again publicly. As poets, we are disappointed that his work has been mistreated and disrespected.

Regime has gone further. It has recalled copies of the magazine from bookshops and has taken steps to remove Nunn’s poem from their online and from their print on demand channel. All this, of course, has come at a cost to the magazine and one can debate as to whether it was actually necessary to withdraw the magazine from sale. Nevertheless they have made a strong statement on their position. They have also clearly stated that they had approached Nunn for a explanation before taking this action but had received no reply.

Along with a number of other Australian magazines Regime have tightened up their submission process ensuring that all contributors have to sign a declaration that the work they are submitting is their own before actually submitting – thereby putting the legal responsibility for the ownership of the work firmly on the author.

Regime issue 2 has actually been sitting on my desk for a month or so waiting for review. As long as I avoid the Nunn poem now seems as good a time as any to look under the Regime hood and check out their engine.

Published out of Perth Regime positions it self as an Australian journal of “poetry, short fiction and performance writing” with an international outlook. While the majority of writers in issue 2 are Australian, there is also a sprinkling of international writers, most of which were new to me. US poet Frederick Pollack’s ‘Reception Theory’ was a particular favourite with its almost prose like descriptions:

Again and again in the late work,
spring leaves block
his view of a street. Should he use
‘a street’, with its general appeal,
or insist on ‘the Parkway across the river’
for its petty honesty?

There are also writers like Rose Hunter who, though born in Australia, now lives overseas and has published, it seems, almost exclusively, outside Australia. Her poem ‘[umbrellas]’ is one of a number of poems in the journal which plays with the page, with split lines in the middle of the poem effectively visually breaking the poem into two triangles. It’s a technique that makes us stop and think about how to actually read the poem and to consider what might be a jagged stanza break.

While there are some well know names among the writers in issue 2 – Andrew Burke’s ‘Unintentional Art’ and Kate Middleton’s ‘Globe are standouts – the real strength of the issue is in the quality of the work by names I haven’t come across before. Helga Jermy’s ‘Jury Duty’, for example, is a finely balanced poem matching the mundane with the graphic reality of a trial:

and we’re just peers peering in on
back stares of discomfort, wondering
if the kids are home from school,
if the paintings reached the gallery,
last night’s Tuscany pork will stretch
to a kind of cassoulet, then graphic
piecings to inattention, busts
through flesh and bone

Indeed while I would not probably classify every poem in this issue a ‘success’ (an entirely subjective judgement of course), it is safe to say that each poem is interesting and it is possible to understand why it was selected – something that is not always possible to do with some contemporary literary journals.

There is also a smorgasbord of short fiction in Regime 2 and much of what I’ve said about the poetry in this issue also holds true for the fiction. Petri Ivalo Sinda’s ‘Meltdown Express’, for example, reads like an extended prose poem (all 13 pages):

I rummage among my futures, chasing after each one but they’re like a flight of starlings exploding out of a tree. I grab at them. I want to catch history in my hands and hold on for all I’m worth.

It is an extended personal, sociological, geographical, political, architectural and psychological study of the modern city and our space in it. It is an intense and exhaustive read – a good introduction to a writer who it will be interesting to follow over the coming years. Of course there are also more conventional stories in the issue, Michelle Faye’s ‘Blowie’ for example, where two young boys are taken on a night time fishing trip with their father and uncles. The younger brother’s sense of inadequacy underpins the story and is told with sympathy and understanding. But there is also an acceptance which makes us understand that this is, at least for the moment, is how it has to be.

In may ways Regime 2 is more an anthology than an issue of a journal. At 193 pages (191 if you remove the two Graham Nunn poems) it is a substantial collection and one that is well worth the cost of admission. One hopes that, despite the current setback and the financial hit they will obviously take by withdrawing copies from sale, they will be able to continue to produce further issues which bring together such talent.

– Mark Roberts

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Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review and P76 Magazine (http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/p76-literary-magazine/).

You can purchase print on demand copies of Regime 2, as well as finding out much more about the journal at http://www.regimebooks.com.au/regime-02-magazine-of-new-writing/

Sydney Launch of Mud Map: Australian Women’s Experimental Writing – Text Special Issue 17

TEXT Special Issue No 17 April 2013: Australian women’s experimental writing  Editors: Moya Costello, Barbara Brooks, Anna Gibbs & Rosslyn Prosser. To be launched in Sydney at The Reading Studio Berkelouw Books, 70 Norton Street Leichhardt. 5.30 pm Friday 19 July.

Mud-mapAnna Gibbs, in her introduction to Mud map: Australian women’s experimental writing, writes that the original intention of the collection was to be a “landmark anthology of Australian women’s experimental writing in the vein of thje maps made by collections of the 1970s and 1980s: Mother I’m Rooted (edited by Kate Jennings, 1975)….and F(r)ictions (edited by Anna Gibbs and Alison Tilson, 1982)”. Somewhat surprisingly the editors found it difficult to find a publisher for a contemporary anthology which would seek to expand upon the traditions of the earlier landmark anthologies. (the reasons why contemporary publishers refused to pick up and support the concept of the anthology probably deserves a seperate, in depth, discussion). Faced with this apparent road block the editors opted for a journal publication as a special issue of the online journal TEXT (the Journal of the Association of Australian Writing Programs).

The result is an exciting online anthology of ‘experimental’ writing by MTC Cronin, Jill Martindale Farrar, joanne burns, Jo Gardiner, Loma Bridge, Carolyn van Langenberg, Jenna Sten, Pam Brown, Sal Brereton, Sarah Holland-Batt, Nour Dados, Tiffany Hambley, Ashley Haywood, Teri Hoskin, Kate Lilley, Maria Zajkowski, Linda Marie Walker, Emma Ashmere, Cath Davies, Virginia Barratt, Hoa Pham, Nasrin Matouhchi, Anne Brewster, Jordie Albiston, Karina Barker, Barbara Holloway, Naomi Horridge, Ella O’Keefe, Jyanni N’Steffensen, Gillian Barlow, Robyn Ferrell, Gig Ryan and Kathleen Mary Fallon.

Of particualr interest in Gibb’s introduction is her desciption of what consitutes ‘experimental’ writing. While covering off the convention desciptions “cut-up, collage, appropiation, automatic writing….” and “the body of contemporary work that derives largely from North American  L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E traditions”, shew also hints a broader definition: “What would happen, then, if we took work by women to define  the experimental – if the idea of experimentalism was generated from the work itself rther than any particular pre-given image of the experimental?” Such a discussion on the definition of ‘experimental’ writing, particularly in the Australian contex,  is one well worth having, and one I hope we can return to in Rochford Street Review in a future in depth review of this anthology.

The anthology will be launched in Sydney this Friday.

– Mark Roberts

Vive la madness! Chris Mansell Launches P76 Issue 6

P76 Issue 6.  Launch Speech by Chris Mansell at the Friend in Hand Hotel, Glebe 21 October 2012.

P76 magazine was founded by Mark Roberts and Adam Aitken 1983 and, over the years, it has featured work by many leading poets and writers. Five issues were published between 1983 and 1991 (for a complete listing of each issue go to http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/p76-literary-magazine/). Issue 6 of P76 was scheduled to appear during the summer of 1992/93 but, due to a number of issues/incidents and circumstances, it never appeared – existing only on a old floppy disk which was presumed lost. Earlier this year the floppy disk was rediscovered and finally, after many years, issue 6 struggled towards the photocopier (rather than the gestetner) to be born. Chris Mansell kindly agreed to launch this long awaited issue………

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Greetings everyone on this Sydney Sunday where resurrections seem ripe – as do many of the attendees. It’s a brilliant, magnanimous, expansive day which seems to reflect the spirit of these new/old things – and their new/old editors and friends. We welcome the madness of the day and of this editorial adventure both then and now. It’s liberating to see P76 up on its legs again. It has been kicking about online recently, and now, over the horizon the Lost Edition appears like the Lone Ranger once again. (I think this makes Your Friendly Fascist Tonto by the way).

Most of us spend time feeling unreasonably constrained by what we are supposed to do or be – whereas, in fact, we are not constrained at all.

Small mags and presses come out of that freedom, that realisation, that we can do as we wish and have, up to now, the freedom to do and say as we wish. (Senator Conroy notwithstanding.) There might be opprobrium and marginalisation, even invisibility, but it allows us to do as we will.

The marginalisation or invisibility depends of course of where you’re standing. Stand on the high pinnacles of accounting self-righteousness and the small mag looks minute; stand on the shoulders of an international publishing company, and small mags look, if they appear at all, like typing errors – mildly irritating but inconsequential. Stand where we are standing, however, and they are innovative, transgressive, and places for writers to try things out.

Chris Mansell launching P76 No. 6

Of course I’m thinking about this because I’ve just read the article on small presses in P76 (the lost issue) – the Now and Then article (which first appeared in Rochford Street Review). It mentions Compass magazine (of which I was an editor) losing its funding. There were good reasons for that – I’d handed it over to someone else and they weren’t very good at accounting. Now as then the reliance on government funding is, I think, problematic. Can you imagine any government in their right minds funding YFF or Nigel’s Post-Modern Writing, Meuse, Magic Sam or 925? We wouldn’t want them to. That freedom is more important than ever, that under the radar, I’ll Do What I Want, is the important thing about little mags (online or off). Compass only ever had funding to pay more to the contributors, not a cent went elsewhere btw. That’s the advantage of funding – but the disadvantages are many – constraint and that argumentative, small-minded, nit-pickery which goes with handling someone else’s money.

The spirit of the small mag is back with the zine culture, and tiny presses taking advantage of sophisticated technology to do small but effective things (insert advertisement for PressPress here.). It’s appropriate that P76‘s final (is it final Mark?)* print edition should come out in this context. There’s almost no-one here who HASN’T edited or published a small press or small magazine at some stage. Vive la madness, I say.

The P76 – and YFF – time capsules we have in our hands today are a testament to a sort of literary exuberance, a charming, feckless arrogance that what we all had to say was worth investing our hard-earneds in – as editors, writers and readers. What amazes me is that some of us are still alive – given that recklessness. It was a great delight to open this slightly-overdue issue and see it had work by Joanne Burns, Rae Jones, and Margaret Bradstock for example.

Poignantly, Margaret says, (speaking about Nushu, but it could apply to us):

Marks on water,
sounds filtered by the wind,
how many times
must we record our names?

Who knows, who knows, but apparently, at least One More Time.

Thank you to the editors for making all the effort. The stapling alone I believe involved casualties. I’m glad Mark and Linda finally cleared out under their house and found those 5¼” floppy disks, broke into a computer museum and liberated the data. It’s a fine-looking, if somewhat-delayed, though not late, issue. Well done.

– Chris Mansell

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* There will probably be an issue 7. A call for submissions will probably be made early in 2013. – Mark Roberts.

Chris Mansell is a leading Australian poet, writer and publisher. She can be found at the following websites: www.chrismansell.com, www.presspress.com.au and www.wellsprungproductions.com.au.

P76 Issue 6 is available from http://members.optusnet.com.au/rochfordstpress/

Note. P76 is published by Rochford Street Press which also publishes Rochford Street Review