FROM BUNYIPS TO MACARON BOWS
EACH new issue of a literary magazine is a gamble for readers. Will it be a finely balanced anthology or a grab bag of pieces of embarrassingly disparate quality? Will it herald a radical shift in editorial direction or follow the tried-and-true path of past editors? Will it be a themed issue or a miscellany? Curated or random?
In a light-hearted editorial, Southerly coeditor David Brooks confesses that coming up with a theme can be a bit of a lucky dip. With no obvious motif among the submissions to the magazine (his ‘‘ current pile of treasures’’), Brooks ‘‘ plunged [his] hand in, relying on chance and [his] incipient psychic powers’’, and there it was: Michael Sharkey’s poem Where the Bunyip Builds its Nest.
After walking the dog, Brooks conceded that poets and bunyips had much in common and, given he had so many poetry-related submissions, voila! So, this issue of Southerly is titled A Nest of Bunyips.
Among strong poems from Jennifer Maiden, John Kinsella, Tom Shapcott and Margaret Bradstock, the standouts are Kate Middleton’s duo Gretel and Hansel and two by Craig Powell: and catch the heart off guard ,a sonnet about the death of the narrator’s wife, and Fort Da (1920), a touching lyric about Sigmund Freud’s loss of his daughter Sophie.
Southerly is based at the University of Sydney and this issue proclaims its scholastic DNA with academic essays prickly with footnotes and replete with ungainly phrases such as ‘‘ an absence that is ever-present’’. The best essay, Kevin Hart’s Susannah Without the Cherub, however, is a ripper: an effervescent, meticulous reading of one of my favourite Australian poems, The Double Looking Glass, A. D. Hope’s slyly erotic re-reading of the biblical story of Susannah and the Elders.
Southerly posts much material on its website, southerlyjournal.com.au/longpaddock, and this issue includes an entertaining interview with poet Laurie Duggan.
Matters digital are central to the latest Island magazine. Dale Campisi’s editorial, ‘‘ Attack of the Killer Internets’’, indicates what’s at stake for literary magazines by warning this could be the last issue of Island unless new sources of funding and forms of distribution are found. Four substantial articles by Tim Coronel, Caroline Hamilton, Lisa Dempster and Alex Adsett explore the digital publishing revolution from different angles. The problem is that, as we are in the middle of that revolution (or, more accurately, in the middle of the beginning of it), it’s impossible to discern its actual shape or what it will look like in five years. Consequently, these brave prognosticators too often are forced back on to well-worn statistics and cliche.
Island is based in Tasmania but follows its mainland cousins in publishing poetry, essays and short stories. The best fiction in this issue is Adam Ousten’s surreal We the Survivors, in which the grisly serial murder of a city’s dogs escalates in unexpected ways. It reads as if written by Kafka on holiday in Buenos Aires.
There’s an extract from Robert Dessaix’s latest collection of essays, a typically puckish and pungent take on Montaigne, the art of conversation and travel writing. And breaking the predictable lit mag mould is Gregory Mackay’s award-winning graphic story, Slow Panic, which deals hilariously with loneliness, awkwardness and supermarket shopping.
The grand dame of Australian literary magazines, Meanjin, continues to impress. The funky cover of this latest issue manages to be
:etchingsmelb. 10: The Feminine
Edited by Sabina Hopfer and Christopher Lappas Ilura Press, 196pp, $24.95 Edited by Dale Campisi Island, 139pp, $19.95 Edited by Sally Heath MUP, 191pp, $24.99 Edited by Alice Grundy Seizure, 96pp, $14 Edited by David Brooks and Elizabeth McMahon Brandl & Schlesinger, 264pp, $29.95 modern and retro, and the internals are crisply readable. What I don’t understand is why the best piece, Sonya Voumard’s interview with Helen Garner, titled ‘‘ The Interviewer and the Subject’’, is printed on smaller, differently coloured paper. Is it just because it can be?
The interview is a deft exploration of Garner’s work, especially her nonfiction, with conscious reference to Janet Malcolm’s magisterial The Journalist and the Murderer. In the same vein, Rebecca Harkins-Cross contributes a fascinating essay on Joan Didion’s two recent memoirs, arguing her style that ‘‘ teeters on solipsism’’.
Of the poets, I was again drawn to Powell’s Birthday Poem , another signature excavation of the poetics of loss and pain. There’s a lovely micro-memoir by Jessie Cole about her son’s leap into manhood. And Neil Armfield’s recollection of Patrick White is an opportunity not only to publish a priceless photo of eight-yearold Patrick dressed as the Mad Hatter but also to reveal White’s recipe for haloumi souffle.
The theme of the latest issue of :etchings is the feminine. Fiction predominates in this Melbourne-based magazine, although poetry, interviews, reviews and memoir are also included. This magazine’s point of differentiation is its art reproduction, the photography and full-colour paintings of George and Ruby Kannavas being the most striking. I enjoyed Janelle Moran’s interview with Kate Holden, the controversial columnist, memoirist and author of In My Skin and The Romantic. Moran perfectly captures Holden’s worldly yet unaffected conversation. There are many lesserknown names in the pages of :etchings, so the thrill of discovery is ever-present but it also means a patchier selection.
Seizure is more at home on magazine racks than bookshelves: it’s the size of The New Yorker although it sports a card cover. Calling itself ‘‘ a launchpad for Australian writing’’, Seizure embraces themes: it started with food, moved on to science fiction and now we have style. The magazine has a kaleidoscope of design and printing effects, a homage to the 1980s golden years of The Face and iD. When this aesthetics of excess works — as it does in Jacinta Mulders’s essay Liberty Prints and Macaron Bows — it’s brilliant. When it doesn’t, pages begin to resemble eye tests.
Seizure doesn’t have the academic or literary pretensions of the other magazines reviewed here. It pitches stories as intelligent feature journalism. Shelley Gare’s The Real Sixties, about the fashion of the early 60s, is a perfect example: opinionated, tightly reasoned and bristling with panache. Seizure eschews poetry and adulterates fiction, as in Fiona Wright’s A Guide to Recognising your Sports Clubs, a tour of inner-Sydney clubs in the form of a coming-of-age memoir.
The established lit mags sometimes come across as po-faced but there’s a refreshing sense of humour about Seizure. The parodies at the end of each issue are hilarious.
by Alessandro Allori