Stephen Romei’s column, A Pair of Ragged Claws
WHO was it who said it’s OK to blow your own trumpet because no one else is going to toot it for you? Louis Armstrong perhaps. Anyway, it is with that advice in mind that I’m delighted to report that eight poems published in these pages during the past 12 months or so have made the cut for Black Inc’s annual Best Australian Poems, due out on November 5.
THIS time next week (by which I mean the afternoon of November 3) I will be chairing an Emerging Writers Festival event at the NSW Writers Centre in Sydney’s Rozelle (in the grounds of an old insane asylum; make of that what you will). I’ll be joined by writer and publisher Bronwyn Mehan and novelist Kirsten Tranter to discuss the future of literary prizes, a topic spurred by the Queensland Premier’s decision to scrap that state’s book awards and also by developments such as the Stella Prize for female writers, mentioned here last week. Details: www.nswwc.org.au.
IN that Stella item last week, I said the prize would be open to poetry and plays. I’ve since been told this is not the case. So Australia’s female poets and dramatists will have to look elsewhere for recognition.
TODAY (by which I mean Saturday, October 27), Ed Wright, who writes the New Australian Fiction column in these pages, will launch his first full-length volume of poetry, When Sky Becomes the Space Inside Your Head, published by the folk at Puncher & Wattmann. I wish him all the best with it.
SPEAKING of Dr Wright (no joke), he is the author of one of the six stories, chosen from more than 200 entries, in the Griffith Review’s inaugural Novella Project issue, which I will be launching at Sydney’s Gleebooks next Friday evening. The other five are: Mary-Rose MacColl, Lyndel Caffrey, Katerina Cosgrove, Christine Kearney and Jim Hearn. The idea here is that the novella — longer than a short story, shorter than a novel — is back in vogue in this era of digital publishing. Of course some of the great novels are short ones. Ian McEwan said recently he’d die happy if he could write the perfect novella, citing Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis as shining examples. I’m sure we all have our own favourites to add to that list (and some may suggest McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers). I’d start with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Opinions are divided on when a short story becomes a novella but stops short of noveldom — anywhere between 10,000 and 70,000 words, it seems — but I think we all know a novella when we see one. This started me thinking about the best Australian examples. Jessica Anderson’s Tirra Lirra by the River (1978) would feature on many people’s lists. But the first one that popped into my head was David Malouf’s 1975 debut, Johnno.
Quote of the week: ‘‘Someone like Sybil never forgets anybody. She even remembers people she met in Australia.’’ From Gielgoodies! The Wit and Wisdom (& Gaffes) of John Gielgud, a collection of the great thespian’s observations. I assume Sybil is actress Sybil Thorndike, who did tour Australia. How can we stop at just one? Here’s Gielgud’s professional advice to the young Alec Guinness: ‘‘I can’t think why you want to play big parts. Why don’t you stick to the little people you do so well.’’ Gielgoodies! (Oberon Books, 120pp, $24.95) is distributed here by NewSouth.