Walleah Press

Famous Reporter 42 : December 2010



Famous Reporter 42




  On Going Down Swinging No. 30


Come and go with me, it's more fun to share,
We'll both be completely at home in midair.
We're flyin', not walkin', on featherless wings.
We can hold onto love like invisible strings..’

- Paul Williams via Gonzo, The Muppet Movie

What is so important about round numbers?  Why do we need to celebrate milestones, eras or fixed points in time?  And is it the basic function of art to mark that time — whether it be the creation of poetry, stories, comics, any form of art — are we searching for some order from the chaos or are we hoping to create more?

 If you direct that last question towards the editors of a journal the answer may most likely be ‘to create order’. But if you go deeper, perhaps the true answer is ‘both’. Because in practice, journal editors open the doors and windows to artists all over the world, and invite the chaos in. The editor must create order, reach a number of pages or fill a round number of minutes, curating images and sounds into a coherent whole. Then a printer stamps it down, a reader or reviewer encapsulates it all in a thought or a sentence, and we find a little portion of human chaos has been cut and polished, filed under ‘art’ or ‘literature’ in the local library. Does this satisfy? Of course not. Because once it’s done, we go and do it all again. And we love it. It might be a fundamental function of the human mind to swing from chaos to order. Telling stories, making stories. There and back again.

Going Down Swinging No.30 — which we have affectionately dubbed ‘the clusterfuck issue’— began as all good stories do with an open invitation to chaos. We called for new work. This time, artists and writers accepted our challenge in a terrifying way — we received twice the usual number of submissions in almost half the usual time. Simultaneously, and at the same time, as Gonzo is known to say, we pulled on the strings of the past — which brought the whole, creative, dysfunctional, global family of GDS tumbling down on our heads. Some of the best of this gaggle of creative souls, Kevin Brophy, Myron Lysenko, Adam Ford and Grant Caldwell, stepped up to order the chaos of two thousand poems, stories, haiku and comics into a cohesive book. Meanwhile, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, Ian Ferrier, Ian Daley and David Prater fired spoken word tracks across the seas, filling our ears with some of the sexiest voices we’ve heard in ages. And we’ve heard a lot of voices.

Our commissioned writers and artists Paddy O’Reilly, Eddie Paterson and Michael Camilleri delivered us the most extraordinary pieces of art. Eddie and Michael’s work in particular challenged our equally courageous printers, Arena, with some unique problems. Luckily, problems are what printers (and journal editors) exist to solve. Meanwhile, Melbourne artist Katrina Rhodes was painting one of the most wonderful pieces I’ve ever seen, so we plucked up the courage to ask her to let us reproduce her ‘gentleducks’ on the cover — even as she was still applying the paint. She said yes.

 These serendipities are what make this business of publishing so addictive. You make considered choices about the people you work with, and that is obviously key. So much fine craftsmanship goes into every edition. But then, there is also an aspect to this business that is really – without getting too cosmic on you here – about alchemy, blind trust, magic. I don’t know if this is true of all literary journals, but this is certainly true of Going Down Swinging. What GDS achieves is not through a wealth of resources, of time, or of money. It’s through a wealth of goodwill, from a community that goes way beyond the Melbourne literary scene, into all walks of life. That we can draw on the expertise of so many wonderful and talented people, who work above and beyond the call of the pay-check, is something quite precious. And it stretches right back to the goodwill of its founders, because you simply cannot work with GDS without a bit of that altruistic spark in your heart.

 Reportedly coined by the hippie poet Ed Sanders in the 1960s, the term ‘clusterfuck’ is frequently used in the military to describe a particular kind of Catch-22, in which multiple complicated problems mutually interfere with each other's solution. According to Wikipedia, anyway. In the house of GDS, the No.30 clusterfuck is a marvelous collection of interrelated complications that combined to a) create an incredible edition of an incredible journal and b) cause the kind of sleep-deprived inspiration that is necessary in order to not only make this happen with very few resources, but make this happen well. The logistics of working with, effectively, eleven editors on the one issue — not to mention working on a slew of special events, articles, radio shows, podcasts, and a website — is not the kind of thing you can approach with a sane mind, let’s face it. At GDS ideas are always big.

 Since January Nathan, Ella and I have looked through the twenty-nine editions of GDS, puzzling over the various cover images, reading over the works of the literary scene that was, plucking out names that have become synonymous with Australian writing. Amid this curious study, three things became apparent about why this humble literary journal has remained so unique for so long.

 Firstly, GDS always seems to be reviewed not only for its content but for its attitude.  It’s been called ‘eclectic’, ‘provocative’, ‘feisty’, the ‘champion of the literary underdog’, ‘a journal with an ego’, ‘surprisingly youthful’, and (our favourite) ‘PC pap’ — only once has it been described as ‘a serious literary magazine’, and that was in the context of an insult.  And yet it’s regularly mentioned alongside these so-called ‘serious literary magazines.’  We’re not sure whether that says more about GDS, or about the seriousness of Australian literary culture in general but we figure another thirty years should sort that question out. Speaking for myself and my co-editors as writers previously published in GDS, when you’re in GDS you’re not just scratching more publication marks in your desk. It feels as though you’re joining in on a conversation with the times, adding to a crazy, intelligent, often unintelligible intellectual chain reaction. In other words, it feels good.

 Secondly, GDS has always had an adventurous and unapologetic deliberation of style.   From the first hand-made issues to the yearbook-style of the 80s; from the ‘paperback years’ of colour covers to the cheeky ‘spoken word CD with bonus literary magazine’ 90s; followed by for-the-love-of-good-paper-and-beauty 00s.  GDS as a journal has always been kind of self-reflexive.  The actual process of publishing, of making ends meet, of sticking things to paper and recording onto sticky tape and rust (or, these days, burning plastic) is as much a part of its identity as the stories, poetry, comic art and spoken word that fills its pages.  Perhaps this is because it’s almost always been edited by poets and artists.  But that seems too simplistic. Many journals are edited by poets and artists.  It has to come down to the chain reaction that the founders began, back in 1979, when they decided to — slowly and with intention — blow some shit up in the Australian literary playground.

 The key words here being ‘slowly’ and ‘intention’. This was no random explosion. The first editions of GDS have a sense of real gravitas mixed with natural irreverence. The process and the struggle are unapologetically laid bare — the door and window latches are always half-open to the chaos. ‘GDS will appear haphazardly,’ they say. ‘In fact, Myron is $4,000 in debt and Kevin has broken his collar bone and is off work…’. But the intent is also self-assured and clear.  GDS will ‘feature … writers we think are important influences on Australian fiction’. It’s a confident setting out with authority and order, but the focus is on influence, as opposed to celebrity. Kevin and Myron weren’t very interested in who was the ‘hottest’ writer around, but who was really, substantially, changing the prevailing winds by influencing those who would become the ‘hottest’.  The word radical is often overused and undeserved, especially for late 20th century literary caricature. But Kevin and Myron’s GDS was radical. In Australia’s particularly celebrity-driven literary scene, this journal thumbs its nose at all that. Any attempts to turn an editor of GDS into a celebrity are always undermined by the journal itself. GDS is the only celebrity here.

Kevin and Myron, and under their influence, all GDS editors since, recognise that journals and collections are moments in time; that they follow those times but must also lead them.  The decisions and the orders that the editors stipulate change the climate in the room of the reader.   All thirty editions of GDS — as with all journals around the world — stamp down the influences and catalysts, flaring matches of every new literary artistic or social revolution.  Journals, if they are publishing new, unseen work, are not just ‘surveys’.  They are much more dynamic than that.

Back in 1980 Kevin and Myron’s small detonation of ideas and effort sparked a self-propagating series of explosions.  If we imagine uranium as the idea and water as the effort, then GDS is the second only known natural self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction — the ultimate clusterfuck.  Each issue is really a sum result of individual fire, grunt and exhausting correspondence, plus the behind-the-scenes hits and misses that stick with us in a heartfelt way. Perhaps this is the third element — the total lack of a safety net, the often terrifying knowledge that there is no ‘five year business plan’ and, like many of the best things in life, the future is not certain.  Sometimes that means GDS has experienced a ‘rest’ year and sometimes we’ve gone biannual. Someone’s always in debt; someone’s always got a broken bone (or a broken heart). But still we manage to produce something; still we use the best recycled paper and the finest valve compressors we can get to produce something beautiful. Whatever it takes, whoever saves GDS’ bacon in the next hairy moment; it’s the collective consciousness that drives all of these heroic efforts. The knowledge of what’s come before. Editors jump on board to pilot this beautiful balloon for a little while, holding on, as the song suggests, to those ‘invisible strings’.

Welcome then, to Going Down Swinging No.30.  Nathan, Ella and I hope that the writers and artists in this edition flare matches in the listeners’ and readers’ hearts; that this year’s efforts keep the chain reaction going. With one voice, all of GDS’ editors past, present and future salute Kevin and Myron for starting this fantastic explosion. On behalf of the whole magnificent clusterfuck, to all the writers and artists who completely overwhelmed us with your work, thank you for showing us just how loved, respected, and wanted, this little journal still is. And I know that I speak for all when I say onwards and upwards, to all who all understand that you cannot fly if you’re not prepared to crash as well. There’s definitely something in the air here, and we all in some way coast on the collective updraft.

As Team 2010 swoops away on our own particular jet streams, and new pilots Geoff Lemon and Jessica Friedman get in their flight suits and prepare for takeoff in 2011, GDS enters yet another era and the future is, yet again, unknown. Can the little magazine that could, still do it, for another thirty years?  If history is anything to go by, if the energy and enthusiasm and abiding love of our wider community is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Something that’s operating on thirty years of hot air simply has its own momentum.

To paraphrase Kevin Brophy and Myron Lysenko’s now immortal words: ‘This is the thirtieth blow as we go down swinging…’

-Lisa Greenaway

— with Nathan Curnow and Ella Holcombe, editor of Going Down Swinging , 2010