Walleah Press

Famous Reporter 41 : July 2010



Famous Reporter 41




Recent writing

Kimberley Mann : 'Awake During Anaesthetic'
     It’s lunchtime, Saturday. Hobart’s Salamanca market is in full swing with musicians adding a rhythmic refrain to the steady ebb and flow of conversation in the street.
     In an office housing the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre and overlooking the market’s melee, seven or eight writers are seated round a table to welcome visiting South Australian poet and novelist Kimberley Mann whose first poetry collection – Awake During Anaesthetic – has recently been released by her publisher the Australian Poetry Centre. The collection’s a slim and modest thing, handily pocket-sized but managing to squeeze in close to a couple of dozen poems. ‘What shall I read?’ she enquires, glancing round the encircling faces. ‘My poems are a bit of this and that ... speak to various moods and topics,’ she adds before settling into a handful of pieces which - as if to prove her point - include the enigmatically titled ‘Oral sex with a chilli’. Now what was that about?
     Mann’s comfortable swapping poems and sharing anecdotes with others at the table. It’s an environment most likely second nature to her, she belongs to a long-lasting Adelaide writing group - comprised of Shen, Jude Aquilina, David Ades and Graham Catt, among others - so it’s no surprise to learn she copes comfortably with criticism, appreciating a response even when negative. ‘Sometimes I’ll take note but not act on it; other times I’ll hear three or four people saying the same thing and think maybe there’s something radically wrong here, which forces me to have another think’.
      Love and loss, purpose and place are represented in Kim’s poetry, in the droll eroticism – ‘you slipped oyster flesh down my throat / and your tongue to follow’ of ‘Terimbula’, the distress of personal loss – ‘I am not sitting in a garden, not in a park, not by a river / not with you on the Harbour Bridge’ - in ‘My Live-in-mistake’, the environmental perception – ‘87 lost white trees in that dry river / sand ghosts / ripping soul from the bark’ – of ‘Inland’, and ‘Drought’. This is not to say all poems hit the mark (something of the prosaic weighs upon ‘My Doll’) but within the collection are very fine pieces such as ‘Native Soil Under Her Nails’, Mann's attempt to step inside the asylum seeker experience. Writing the political is a delicate business, but ‘Native Soil Under Her Nails’ defeats the cynic in that it neither actively clamours for sympathy nor seeks to persuade. The poem speaks of a refugee lifestyle behind fences,  embracing politics but reaching beyond to the personal. Her imagery of ‘the sick yellow floodlight of night’ highlights the artificiality of the refugee’s lot, accentuates the gap between hope and reality, between false expectations and brutish reality.
     It's said the author is no more to be confused with his poems than the actor with the part he portrays on the stage, but in Mann's case it's not difficult to make a corollary between poet and artistic endeavour. In her capacity as a counsellor with a South Australian welfare agency, Mann deals daily with social justice issues. 'The money isn't the greatest but the job's good, I love it.' She says she gains as much from her work as from her writing, that it confronts her with challenges she's determined not to shy away from.'What would be the point?' From Kim's poetry and conversation you're left with the impression that edginess is preferable to a life lived 'safe', that sincerity is a natural part of the makeup. And as John Tranter says, there's nothing wrong with sincerity as long as you're not too earnest about it. [1]

[1]John Tranter, interviewed by Brian Henry : 'The Argotist Online'.


Wet Ink’

     Wet Ink - edited by Phillip Edmonds and Dominique Wilson - is a relative newcomer to the stable of Australian literary journals, though in the sense its existence is underpinned by recent Australia Council funding ($20,000 for the publication of four issues during 2010) it can be said to have ‘arrived’, sharing the stage with prodigious journals such as Meanjin, Overland, Island and Southerly.
     Its editors suggest the magazine carries no overt ideological agenda other than the promotion of writers to readers, a policy that invites reflection on the nature of projected audiences for small magazines. (Does there exist an ‘ideal reader’ as entertained by Overland’s founding editor Stephen Murray-Smith, ie the nursing sister at Port Hedland hospital?) To its credit, Wet Ink escapes the restrictions of a journal’s first and natural line of support - a readership of writers - by concentrating on audience as well as acquiring local and international distribution and the odd advertising dollar. ‘We needed a national distributor, and found one, and are militant in the belief that we should at least cover our production costs through advertising.’[2]
     A four issue, $54 annual subscription [$48 concession, a little more for institutions] typically entitles readers (taking issue 17 as an example) to eight pieces of fiction, two non-fiction, four poems (in the previous issue there were six), an interview, a reviews section and an editors’ introductory note. It’s a distinctive editorial direction: most journals tend to publish more poetry than fiction. Strong essays - never easy to find - are integral to the mix; Jenny Sinclair’s ‘The night train to Brisbane’ [Wet Ink 17) is worth a subscription alone, a long and discursive piece exploring a pivotal point in the past but - one gets the impression - requiring the filter of time and experience to pull together.
     The magazine has a strong reviews’ policy, with a dozen in number in Wet Ink 18 (March 2010) including coverage of Kim Chen Boey’s Between Stations and Michael Farrell’s a raiders guide. Boey’s Between Stations - a mix of memoir, essay and personal reflection in the mould of Eva Sallis, Pete Hay, Cassandra Pybus and Martin Edmond at their best - is arguably one of the finest Australian books to appear in 2009 and it’s pleasing to find it supported within these pages. Fiction editor Emmett Stinson assumes a poetry reviewing role with his appraisal of Michael Farrell’s a raider’s guide. Farrell - who probably approaches reviews of his work with a dubious regard, never knowing whether to expect confusion, criticism or acclaim - would be comfortable with this one. Farrell’s poetry evokes ‘strong reactions from readers who have a prescriptive notion of what a poem should be’, Stinson notes, adding that while reading Farrell’s poetry might be an unsettling experience for some readers, ‘that is the point after all, and those who do will be rewarded by their strange beauty’.
     For Wet Ink, the question and answer form of the literary interview is standard fare. Some interviewees here are more comfortable in front of the microphone than others: Mike Ladd in Wet Ink 16 is breezy and opinionative in explaining that he enjoys experimentation but can’t stand overly literary, deliberately obscure or snobby poetry. ‘Some critics get the horrors if you’re too easily understood, as though it’s a crime to have a message in a poem, but I’ve always wanted to communicate, not hold out on people’. Mathew Condon’s ruminations on the writing process (Wet Ink 14) are well worth a read. Condon wrote his first published novel, The Motorcycle Café, when he was twenty, scribbling away during lunch hours while performing ‘dull, monotonous’ work in a garage/service station. ‘I think now I brought some form of colour to my life by scribbling away when I could. It was a choice and it wasn’t. And it wasn’t hard because I had no experience at it, no expectations, no critics, no limits to what I thought I could and couldn’t do. I had complete freedom. Without even a thought of publication, I just kept writing and rewriting it until I couldn’t pare it down any further.’ David Malouf too (Wet Ink 17) concentrates on writing styles and conceptions of the role of the writer, the way writing ‘generally sets out to take what seems familiar and make it strange, and to make it strange in such a way as to make us look at it as if for the first time. When you do that you expose contradictions we think we’ve resolved.’ This doesn’t necessarily suppose you find a reconciliation of opposites, Malouf maintains, ‘because the truth might be that those opposites are not reconcilable and the wish to reconcile them is a way of reducing experience rather than allowing it to exist in its full complexity.’
       There’s a tough realism to much of the magazine’s short fiction. Hilaire’s ‘Beyond language’ in issue 17 is a stylish intrigue set against the background relief of the joys and difficulties of foreign travel. In the same issue, overtones of bestiality in the opening paragraphs of Jason Gent’s ‘Sex in the kitchen’ might deter some readers, nevertheless Gent has much to offer. His story focusses on a young worker’s first day’s employment as a kitchen hand; interactions with fellow workers are alternatively casual, intimate, intense. Peter W. Bishop’s ‘Lukey’ (also issue 17) is a strong, individualistic piece but his bio’s just as original: the “W” in his name is employed to distinguish himself ‘from the famous man who runs Varuna and whose errant emails are much more interesting.’ And Randall Longmire’s ‘A mob of recalcitrant mountain-men looking for a horse’ (Wet Ink 17) plays cleverly on Paterson’s ‘The Man from Snowy River’.

‘What’s it worth?’

A thousand pound,’ I said, and the excitement began to build. I watched the unruly mob for signs of trouble. There was no time to waste. This poem had to move along.

An old man was among the crowd with hair as white as snow. It had to be Harrison because there were no other white-haired old men around. While casting him would be easy, he wasn’t prominent until stanza four. …

       Publishing a literary journal isn’t all beer and skittles, one needs to navigate the inevitable criticism of style and aesthetics. One reader of Wet Ink mentions being distracted by the proliferation of line drawings supporting the writing, another states a preference for the inclusion of more poetry. Perhaps in the final analysis this comes down to no more than a diversity of taste. ‘And vive la diversification I say’,[3] (to quote Philip Mead, commenting on aesthetic differences between Australian literary magazines). ‘It’s postmodern, there’s no centre, anywhere’s a somewhere….’  That Wet Ink’s heart’s in the right place is no better exemplified than by its reviews’ policy. The inclusion of reviews isn’t a necessity for a literary journal; Meanjin survives without them, preferring to apportion extra space to primary creative material. And reviewing is subjective: some efforts succeed better than others, and in this regard Wet Ink is no exception. But who could not harbour a soft spot for a publishing outlet that provides such generous exposure of new Australian writing?
[2] Phillip Edmonds, 'TEXT Journal', April 2007.
[3]Philip Mead, 'Magazine Aesthetics', Famous Reporter 16, Dec 1997, pg 13.



Andrew Hardy & Chris Rattray, ‘Far Beyond The Sun’,

     There are many reasons to compel the publication of a book of poetry,  among them acceptance by a publisher, self-publication,  a competition win - but Far Beyond The Sun owes its raison d’etre to reasons beyond.
     A dual collection comprised of the poetry of Andrew Hardy (who died in 1997, aged twenty-two) and inseparable friend Chris Rattray, Far Beyond the Sun is published by Andrew’s father Barry. Rattray and Hardy lodged together in Launceston, composing poetry on a shared computer. With the exception of some more recent poems by Chris Rattray, the work here serves as a time capsule for that period of their adolescent lives.
     In a commentary constituting part of the collection, Carolyn Glock (Chris and Andrew’s former English teacher during their final years of college), notes that in the microcosm of Andrew’s poetry, in the paradox of his lightness of spirit and the darkness of his writing, lies a sadness, an unknown. ‘What sort of writer and writing would we have encountered had Andrew had the opportunity to move beyond the turbulence and raging uncertainty of the adolescent and young adult? This can only be guessed at and right now we have what Andrew left us: his words.’
     It’s a simple matter, sadly, to portray Hardy’s work as cut off in its prime and characterised by beginnings and uncertainty of expectations. But Chris Rattray’s poems similarly deal with notions  of promise and possibility. His poems extend from the time of his friendship with Hardy to document the teenage years when ‘Coming to terms with shaving’, lathering cream to ‘look like Santa’ until a face ‘Shines out ‘ to grow / into / a / man.’ Rattray is perceptive, writes of ‘a normal person / Trapped in a crazy world’ proffered pills for what is euphemistically termed ‘behavioural correction therapy’. The pair’s writing is full of contrasts, nevertheless common themes emerge. To the melancholy of Hardy’s ‘Early Mornings’ [‘And purpose seems just lost and never near’] is the riposte of Rattray’s agitated ‘Red Shoes in a Blue Crowd’. In addressing love lost (with his reference in the poem ‘Survivor’ to Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight’), Rattray echoes the thematic flights of Hardy’s  ‘Sunflower Seeds’, ‘27th of March 1993’ and ‘Efficient Combustion’:

         Efficient Combustion

          Our lights winked out so fast,
          I’d grown accustomed to your warm song.
         Your dusty prints
         Around my spaces.
         There’s no proof, no record,
         You’re the dream -
         These fading scents of filmy presence -
         All the little whirlpools when my plug is pulled.
         ‘You swim now, on my ocular edge,
         Distant with blur and
         Sea salt to lash
         Those horizons that we set,
         It isn’t hard to see,
         We just –
         Ran out of fuel.’
        What comes through strongly in this double-dip of a collection is a profound sense of a tragic loss of talent. Chris Rattray’s contributions are fundamental to Hardy’s memory; the presence of one complements the other.  It's a collection overall that is necessarily confined to modest parameters of beginnings, transitions and 'what-ifs' but breaking free to present, as Glock rightly suggests, writing 'that is startling in its honesty, refreshing in a world often tarnished with cynicism and falsity'.