Stephen Romei’s col­umn, A Pair of Ragged Claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Stephen Romei

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.

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