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of the anthology has been brought into question as funding to cover the printing of the magazine has this year been withdrawn, and the Booranga Writers Centre Committee explore new ways forward.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

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

Positions Vacant – Rochford Street Review is looking for (unpaid) staff

Keys

Rochford Street Review is looking for help! Actually we are looking for a host of different people to help the Review continue and expand. Up to now Rochford Street Review has basically been a one person show – but it is getting to point where I have to look at bringing people in the help with the day-to-day running of the journal or to review it’s future.

I believe the Review has a bright future. In Issue 13 we have introduced the concept of a feature artist with Shelia E Murphy providing both the cover image for the issue along with a series of artwork throughout the issue – the final piece will appear later this week. From issue 14 I want to expand this to include an ongoing dialogue with the artist over the three months of each issue. This may take the form of a series of interviews, artists statements and articles, together with a selection of work by the artist. I also want to mirror this with a feature writer who will provide a series of pieces throughout the issue accompanied by a similar level of critical engagement.

I also want to expand the reach and quality of the journal to ensure we are covering launches, openings, books exhibitions, film and drama across Australia (and indeed across the world). Being based in Sydney this is sometimes difficult. So I am looking for help!

Rochford Street Review is, of course, always looking for people to review books, exhibitions, plays and films and we try to make at least a token payment for reviews and articles (depending on the level of donations we receive). If you are interested in reviewing let me know and we will work something out.

I am also keen, however, to involve people in the more day-to-day running of the Review. This could involve learning WordPress to write or load articles, or to update the look and feel of the site (it is starting to look a bit run of the mill). It would be great to have State  and International Correspondents who could keep an ear out for launches, readings exhibitions, films etc. Of course you would get paid the same amount as I’m currently getting – which is nothing –  but I would hope you would get some valuable experience and have some fun.

So, no matter where you are in the world, if you are interested in getting involved in Rochford Street Review get in contact – our email address is rochfordstreetpress@gmail.com

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Issue 9: September 2013 – November 2013

Pacific Solution 2 - Mark Roberts 2012

Pacific Solution 2 – Mark Roberts 2012

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

The more things change…..small presses and magazines then and now.

One of the tasks we have set ourselves at Rochford Street Review is to discover and review the material being produced by the small literary and cultural presses around Australia. This means not only the established literary and cultural journals, such as Southerly, Meanjin, Island, Overland and the like, but the new and emerging magazines and websites which, we believe, are critical to the strength and vibrancy of Australian writing. We will attempt to do this by regularly, at least once a quarter, undertaking a detailed of review of what has been published – picking out the highlights and shining a light into as many corners as we can.

In this first article we will attempt to look at some of the current issues facing small literary publishers and have a look over the last thirty years to try and create some kind of context with which to begin our journey.

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There have been a number of articles on the literary website Cordite over recent months which have thrown the spotlight on small literary presses, both in Australia and overseas. A glance through these articles provides us with a useful opportunity to analyse where small literary presses in Australia have been, where they are now and where they might go in the future.

In one of his first feature posts as new Managing Editor of Cordite Poetry Review, Kent MacCarter examined the state of small publishers currently publishing contemporary Australian poetry in a piece called ‘Australian Print Poetry and the Small Press: Who’s Doing the Books?’ While his article concentrates, in the main on the publishing of poetry books, many of his points can also be applied to the publishing of literary journals and magazines. In his opening paragraph MacCarter poses a number of questions:

  • Are Creative Writing programs creating a glut of writers and, in tandem, small presses to accommodate the ambition of that growth?
  • What is the quality of that which is being written, then published?
  • Can a small press sustain a viable publishing schedule with today’s technology based on points one and two

MacCarter uses these questions as the starting point of his subsequent examination of the current state of small literary press publication in Australia. While I would have liked the question of writing programs creating a ‘glut’ or writers (are there more writers now than there were ten, fifteen twenty years ago?) and a analysis of the question of ‘quality’ addressed a little more, for MacCarter the bottom line is funding/money/liquidity/viability:

“Throughout this article, I’ll interject look-ins at what a few small presses are doing in the realm of business liquidity – a term about as far from poetry as you can march – but any perceived “perfidy” of this pragmatism will get no apology from me”.

Though fortunately he does temper this with the understanding that those running the presses and reading the poetry are motivated by something far more exciting than money.

“The passion for literature, pulp, poetry, criticism, whatever the form this passionate wont may assume, is both arresting and rigorous in Australia. Without that, there is next to nothing to write about in this space”.

In ‘To Anthologize the Now Perpetually: The Literary Situation of the Small Press and the Archive’ (Cordite Features 23 February 2012) and ‘Little Magazines Exemplars: A Companion Piece to ‘To Anthologize the Now Perpetually’’ (Cordite Features 8 March 2012) Edric Mesmer writes from the perspective from the archivist – what can be collected and learned from the small presses. He writes from an international point of view and covers a vast history of modernist writing and small press publishing, but he does provide an expansive background for an analysis of the history and importance of small magazines and presses in Australia

Reading these articles got me thinking about how small literary publishing has developed and changed over my lifetime. In particular it made me recall an article by Marcus Breen “Writing for Readers: The new, small magazines” which appeared in The Age Monthly Review in May 1985. I also recalled a monthly column I wrote for Editions  in the late 1980’s which attempted to look at the sub culture of small press literary publishing. It occurred to me that a reading of the recent and not so recent articles might assist us to start to come to an understanding of the way the small literary press landscape has changed in Australia over the last quarter of a century – and how it might continue to develop over the coming years.

The most obvious change is technology. Back in 1985 Adam Aitiken and I were riding the last wave of the ‘gestner revolution’ with P76 magazine. I was also using the gestner machine to produce a number booklets for  Rochford Street Press. By producing a roneoed journal we were following a long and proud tradition in Australian small press publishing including such publications as Free Poetry,Your Friendly FascistMagic Sam, Kris Hemensley’s Ear in a Wheatfield and many others. There was no internet so we wrote and received lots of letters, we networked through writers groups, other magazines, band venues, political meetings and anything else we could think of. But most of all we fought the good battle to distribute our publications through bookshops who were nervous of stocking books that looked ‘different’.

Cut to 2012 and the landscape seems to have changed considerably at first glance. One can ‘Google’ poetry journals or use the website of numerous writing organisations to find list of journals and presses. The ability to order and pay for books over the web has meant that the critical dependence of small publishers on distribution has, to some extent, been broken (that is not to say, however, that it still not important for small presses to get onto bookshop shelves – it is perhaps not quite as critical today as it once was). But small press publishers are still networking and trying to distribute their publications just as hard – they are just using some different tools.

That is not to say that it is easier for small magazines and presses as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century. They face some different challenges – and some challengers which would be very familiar to the small literary presses of thirty years ago. MacCarter, in his Cordite article, for example, mentions the current funding issues facing the Tasmanian based journal Island, who last year lost a substantial funding source. It was a similar issue which drove much of the ‘literary activism’ that Marcus Breen  refers to in his 1985 article. Breen opens his article with a dispute. In 1984 two relatively well established and important journals, Compass and Imprint, lost their Literature Board Funding. These journals had began as small journals run on a shoe-string like most literary journals and had slowly built up contributions, reputation and circulation until they were able to successfully apply for Literature Board Funding. Among other things this allowed them to pay contributors. Unfortunately the funding landscape for literature in Australia has never been secure and suddenly, like other magazines before and after, they had their next funding grant denied. The resulting anger, frustration, shock etc resulted in the Literature Board setting up a meeting to discuss the situation with the funded magazines and journals. For many this was the final nail in the coffin. The funding authority looked to explain why it had effectively killed off two established and respected journals, and to outline its publishing subsidy scheme moving forward, to those ‘favoured journals’ who had retained their funding. At the very least those journals that had lost their funding deserved to be represented. Indeed the feeling among many writers and small publishers was that the Literature Board was indeed answerable to the wider writing and publishing community – and so a small press lobby group was formed in Sydney – SMAP (Small Magazines and Presses).

(I must declare a interest here. AS an editor of P76 I was involved in setting up SMAP and was eventually one of the SMAP delegates invited to the meeting with the Australia Council)

Writing a number of years after the 1985 meeting in Editions Review in 1989 I reflected on the outcomes of the meeting and indeed of the whole SMAP episode. On one level SMAP did achieve some positive outcomes:

“A number of articles on small literary presses appeared in the arts pages of the major dailies and the ABC radio pro­gram Books and Writing produced a special report on small presses. In Sydney Neil Whitfield, former editor of Neos (a maga­zine devoted to publishing creative writing by writers under 25) set up a small press stand at Harkers Bookshop in Glebe………was it worthwhile? Well there were some spin-offs. Contacts were made, a net­work was set up between magazine editors in different regions and, for a period, liter­ary magazines and journals gained at least a little of the literary spotlight”

But by 1989 Tom Shapcott was once again speaking at the Word Festival and one of his concerns was outlining when and how the Lit Board determined it was time to ‘kill’ off a journal….. Things had come almost full circle in four years.

As we can see by the Island incident, where the Tasmanian State Government cut funding for 2012, the established, funded magazines are only as secure as their next grant application. Indeed, while it might seem alarmist to suggest that old established journals like Southerly, Meanjin or Overland could have their funding cut and their future thrown into turmoil, one only has to look at the actions of the new conservative government in Queensland  (the axing of the Premier’s Literary Award within days of coming to power), to realise that a decision to kill off a literary institution can be made at the stroke of a pen by a new government with a symbolic point to make.

Given the apparent dependency of our writing culture on government subsidies, and the likelihood that these government subsidies may become more difficult to obtain as the political landscape across Australia changes, MacCarter’s concentration on the economic bottom line of poetry publishing becomes a little more important.

In coming months Rochford Street Review will attempt to examine how Australia’s literary presses and journals are responding to these challenges. We will look at individual issues to understand who is publishing what, provide a platform for new and emerging magazines and journals (both printed and web-based) to announce their arrival as well as documenting their battles to publish, distribute and be read.

– Mark Roberts

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

A new ‘lost’ issue of P76 has recently been published. For details, and a listing of all issues of P76, go to http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/p76-literary-magazine/

References:

Cordite Poetry Review

Age Monthly Review

Editions