The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Jose Borgh­ino

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, souther­lyjour­­pad­dock, 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.

Su­sanna and the Elders,

De­tail from

by Alessan­dro Al­lori

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