fourW Issue 28 was launched by Michele Seminara at Gleebooks in Sydney on 25 November 2017 at Gleebooks
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of the anthology has been brought into question as funding to cover the printing of the magazine has this year been withdrawn, and the Booranga Writers Centre Committee explore new ways forward.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
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