Sunday, March 13, 2011



A few months after the turn of the millennium, in early 2000, comedian Bob Downe was doing a routine about the future, the crux of it being that just like the Y2K Bug, the future was already turning out to be a bit of a fizzer. After all, weren’t we all meant to be living in the contented lap of luxury by now, in a sort of hi-tech heaven, having all our meals lovingly prepared by gadgets and being flown to work in robot cars (only wasn’t work meant to be a thing of the past anyway, with our every need and whim attended to by machines?) Instead, the world of the 21st Century was much the same as it had always been... we drove cars along roads and sometimes still crashed and people got injured, and people still got sick and went hungry, and they pretty well all still hated their relatives, and everyone worked, in fact even longer hours than they had a few decades before. The future? Well, pretty much like the past. With gadgets.

Certainly the world of 2000 had not turned out to be quite the world envisioned by the Futurists, the artistic movement founded in Italy by Filippo Marinetti in the years before World War I. Similar to the Dadaists who would soon follow, they saw the old world of Europe as decadent, and wished to sweep it all away in a wave of the new. The Futurists were techophiles who welcomed the gleaming bright world of tomorrow with its huge cities, vehicles and aircraft, and were repelled by the stodgy world that still was. The movement spawned painting, sculpture, architectural plans, even music, but was largely bypassed by Modernism, while Marinetti and other members were absorbed into the Fascist Party of Benito Mussolini. Well, he liked big things too, largely statues of himself.

Artist's impression of future city

While much of what the Futurists might have dreamed of and wished for has come to pass, in our hi-tech world of today, they and the others who have traded in futures, the science fiction writers of the 20th century, might have been a tad disappointed by the world of now. Unless that is they see themed megamalltowns as the great leap forward.


While we have had no wars of the worlds or invented no time machines, and starship cruisers remain the stuff of gung-ho space operas, Arthur C. Clarke’s dream of communications satellites orbiting the earth did come true. But in the real 2001, there was no manned journey far into the solar system: indeed, we don't know when we might reach out with manned space flight even as far as Mars. Instead, the year 2001 was indelibly marked by an act of an Old Testament kind, of cunning and ruthless brutality.

And while members of the online community might be able to create entire “second lives” for themselves, these bear little resemblance to that envisioned by Philip K. Dick in his classic story The Days of Perky Pat, in which offworlders sought escape from their miserable existence as miners marooned far from earth through a combination of toys and drugs that made them believe they were living perfect lives in the perfect 50s America of Eisenhower. (Trivia question: What is the name of Perky Pat's boyfriend? Answer at the end of the magazine.)

Fritz Lang, in his classic film Metropolis (1927) also foresaw something old in the new, a class struggle over the fruits of automation, climaxing in revolution. That we are yet to see, as well.

Perhaps one of the most acute of sci-fi authors was Olaf Satapledon, whose Last And First Men of 1930 did accurately predict not just the world war to come, but the "Americanised Planet" of the 21stC, and the rivalry between the US and China. But even Stapledon failed to imagine the impact of computers on our everyday life eight decades after his. Instead, many visions for the future concentrated on innovations which no-one has really bothered with, such as the "automated lunch room".

So what really has changed, then? What has actually come to pass in the future dimly glimpsed by the Futurists and three generations of sci-fi writers?

The world wide web is definitively changing the way we communicate, organise and agitate, spend time with friends, conduct business and commerce, and a host of other things. It may even be changing our consciousness in ways we are not yet aware of, as we all engage in an ever more consuming and intimate relationship with our arrays of increasingly intelligent machines.

There may even be, too, a convergence we cannot quite glimpse yet, between the global linkage of computers that the web allows, and the so-called artificial intelligence of computers, growing by the hour. The question is, how artificial? After all, machine intelligence is modelled on our own. And if you discount, as many do, any supernatural “soul” aspect of our being, what are we but autonomic intelligent machines made from carbon and other compounds, doing our daily reptititive routine procedures, and in the knowledge that all will be voided when our capacity to repair and renew ourselves is overwhelmed by our own little quotient of entropy, in what we know as “death”.

Besides the possibilities glimpsed through newtworked computer communication, the other glittering horizon, but one we look upon with a roughly equal amount of fear as of hope, is genetic modification. Through various gene technologies, humanity now possesses the ability to change the fundamental “operating systems” of living organisms, from plants through the animal world, right up to and including ourselves. And while at present we teeter on the brink of re-making ourselves, there can be little doubt that sooner or later we will begin the process. What changes will we make? What attributes will we see as worthy? Will our daughters all end up looking like the women from Baywatch, and our sons like Roger Ramjet? Or will we opt for ways to increase our brain size, and work out how to use it more efficiently than we do now? Both, and far more, probably. Will we find a way to increase our useful lifespan beyond the current three score and ten, after which nearly all of us are either dying or as good as dead? Certainly. And lastly, in search of turning ourselves into supermen and women, will we expose some fatal flaw in our own reasoning or fuctioning, and end up with a world of monsters such as the one created by Frankenstein? Possibly.

While all of these questions confront us with our newly acquired godlike capabilities, there are others of an old brain kind, to do with greed and killing over scarce resources, which will confront us at the very same time. Fossil fuels, food, water, minerals, all are expected to become in rapidly increasingly scarce supply in the coming years and decades, and so just at the moment when humanity possesses the means to remake itself and its world in a better way, it could just as easily destroy itself by inaction over global warming and climate destablisation, and in conflicts over resources. And as of the mid last century, we happen to possess the gun we aim at our own racial temple, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and our finger sweats.

The future? We might not even have one. But we may, and it may just be far better than the past for the mass of humanity. Or, as with our history to date, it may be a lot better for a few, and a little better, by degrees, for the rest. That, or the void, seem the options in these times that one must say at the least are nothing less than interesting. Whatever the case, the getting up in the morning, and the belief to go in with life another day, in pursuit of whatever it is that motivates us to do so, be that money, prestige, sex, or a holiday in the Maldives, makes all of us Future-ists of one kind or another: people who believe in life strongly enough to go forth, even boldly.

-Larry Buttrose, Editor, GROUP 7


Mandy Salomon contemplates second lives

Jack Feldstein treats us to another of his wonderful neon animations, this one a view of the last days, Ex Oblivione, by H.P. Lovecraft

John Birmingham peers into the cloudy glass ball of the mainstream media

James Bradley considers the Hugos and introduces us to "steampunk retro-futurism" and reads William Gibson's Zero History

Angela Sidoti on present and future meat

Martin Kovan invites us in to his "briefly Borgesian neo-eco thought bubble", The Theatre of Returns

Kavita Jindal visits the London of 2021

Brendan Doyle picks at tea and raisin toast packing heat with an SS99

Rob Walker masticates and expectorates GM food

J.R. McRae meditates upon Changelings

and lastly, the eternal dangers of social media

Answer to trivia question: Perky Pat's boyfriend is Walt.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Food of the the Literary Gods.

Once upon a time, food, or rather thinking and writing about food, was considered not just unimportant, but rather shameful. In classical literature, food was a trivial thing, beneath the consideration of philosophers and historians. Plutarch, a founding member of the anti-fun brigade, disapproved severely of those who could recall their past meals too clearly. Such was not the mark of a freeborn man, he thundered, for whom pleasure was found in the perennially fresh feasts of philosophical argument.

Seutonius, in his life of the emperor Augusutus included his diet only as an afterthought. The emperor was 'frugal' in his dining habits. He liked small figs and second-class bread and usually turned up late to his own state dinners.

But of course the Romans also left us the idea of the orgy and vomitorium, where dozens if not hundreds debauched themselves on the likes of boiled goose in anchovy sauce, dormouse and poppy pie, fricasseed snails and stuffed pigs stomach, all washed down with gigantic amphora of wine. The empire turned Rome into an emporium, where anything could be contained and consumed, but of course, only if one had the denarii. Many poets and writers, who did not, often wrote for patrons who fed them. Persius, one of the prettier Roman poets, who lived all his life with female relatives, thought a rumbling stomach was the real muse of most poetry.

Two thousand years later, the same chasm yawns between power and hunger. In Pablo Neruda's poem, The Great Tablecloth, tyrants come rushing to the table with their temporary ladies, all looking like wasps with big bosoms. Meanwhile the peasant in the field eats only 'his poor quota of bread,' alone, surrounded by wheat, he chews with grim teeth, looking at it with hard eyes.' For him:

Eating alone is a disappointment,
but not eating matters more,
is hollow and green, has thorns
like a child of fish-hooks
trailing from the heart,
clawing at your insides.

George Orwell understood that for the poor of England, poor food was a type of opium. A subsistence wage might just stretch to enough nutrients to keep a man alive if he stuck only to raw vegetables and wholemeal loaves. But as Orwell wrote in the Road to Wigan Pier, 'The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots.' Their diet, consisting of tinned peas and milk, stale white bread and rotten meat, was 'appalling' he noted a physical wasting away of the entire population of the working class.

He had discovered what it was to be down and out while in Paris, sharing his poverty with thousands of struggling artists and students.'

'You discover what it is like to be hungry. With bread and margarine in your belly, you go out and look into the shop windows. Everywhere there is food insulting you in huge, wasteful piles; whole dead pigs, baskets of hot loaves, great yellow blocks of butter, strings of sausages, mountains of potatoes, vast Gruyere cheeses like grindstones. A snivelling self-pity comes over you at the sight of so much food. You plan to grab a loaf and run, swallowing it before they catch you; and you refrain, from pure funk.'

And, so, my little grouplets, let us away to the shop window, where we shall press our noses lightly, frosting the glass with our breath as we feast our eyes upon a link salad inspired by love of food.

A simple love, caught in Amanda Stewart’s

Ockham's Pasta

pepper and parsley
add one primate and butter

And more complex love, like that between a father and son in Brendan Doyle’s

Lunch with my boy

I’d bought the best brie
and real French baguette
for lunch with my son.
I see him rarely these days.
He stood tall and smiling in the doorway,
orthodontically perfect
but otherwise with some of my imperfections.
We sat at the window in the winter sun
and he showed me his latest designs
proudly – he’d taken all the photos himself,
written the business plan
and wants to launch himself into the world.
He ate with relish and a man’s appetite
and asked if he could borrow the laptop.
I’d have gladly given him all I own.
Declined a wine.
Unlike me,
he doesn’t drink in the middle of the day.

But first to Thailand, with the blog Elephant Woman, named after ‘a great track by Blonde Redhead’. Here we find a rejoinder to Orwell’s opinion that most people would sooner starve than live on leaves and twigs, but also some evidence that perhaps George might have been right.

Staying with the travel, lets join Masako Fukui, as she attempts to plumb the meaning of food and her own need to ‘be consumed,’ all while putting to together a seven course haute cuisine Japanese feast.

It is inevitable, isn’t it, that a food ise will bring out the Group’s would be masterchefs, but if, after Masako’s efforts you’re feeling a little bloated and in need of a simpler, cleansing meal, perhaps start the day with Larry Buttrose’s ‘best breakfast’. (Although be aware there is no bacon to be had here). I had very much wanted to link to my old blog at this point, to a long entry I once composed on my yearly feast of cassoulet. Unfortunately that host has gone the way of all things and the article is lost.

No mind. We always have memory, as Proust reminds us. He is famous of course for dwelling on food at length and almost unbelievable depth, as a narrative mechanism for accessing the infinite reserves of memory. Some of these you can taste in jenjewelbrown’s

when the juice flows

these summer days keep ripening
into a lemon bleached strange-world like when you walk
out of a dark kitchen into the zenith blind as Daniel into the den
mice click and rustle under the boards against the fence

she reaches up to peg the shirts
cracks around the washing line
mynas yack and muscle from the desert ash
: the dacks
she’s thinking of the mango juiced-up
on the chopping board

the quickening streaks overhead
whipping her with cold wind up
beach of sky
clouds that tear and rumble
on radio women mutter
thunder a tin roof falling down a mine

smelling the rain
the girls will see a snake swimming the flood

Food does more than disappear from the plate in literature. It signifies. It dramatizes.
It becomes freighted with emotion. Just ask neilwrites. It lends imagery and metaphor to the author, accentuates action, creates spectacle, sets mood, provides ritual, builds a stage around the dinner table, denotes rank and relative status. It confirms ethnicity or suggest hidden meaning. It is sensuality made manifest.

For a man of action as well as letters, someone like Hemingway for instance, a meal on the page could be existentially empowering. In ‘A Moveable Feast’ he sits down
to eat, burdened by ennui. Sucking oysters from the shell, savouring their strong briny
tang, ‘that the cold wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent
texture,’ he is reborn. ‘I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and make plans.’

Hungry poets know only too well about this. PJ Ryan will tell you.

Most writing about food, however, is more utilitarian. Guides to finding the best muffins, or the most dunkable biscuit. In this category I happily include Billy Marshall Stoneking’s guide to best dives, gin joint greasy spoons. And Mark Mordue’s cautionary thoughts on the spread of food fetishmism.

Friday, June 4, 2010


the literature issue

(This photo was taken by overthemoon.)

Each year, after the annual book fair in the quiet Swiss town of RomainmĂ´tier, the artist Jan Reymond, in a wondrous use of second-hand books, creates an installation in honour of literature. The book fair is held at the town cathedral, a Romanesque structure that dates back to the fifth century. Last year, Reymond situated his installation within one of the cathedral's deep arches, signifying the power books have in our lives. The image above captures the spirit of Reymond's intention: the books are suspended, half-open, and seem to surround those who pass through the arch. It's a perfect metaphor for the ways literature can affect our lives. It's always possible that a remarkable story, a vivid characterisation, a half-remembered poem, or a particular arrangement of words might—if we're lucky—accompany us as we walk through our day. Reymond reminds us that books are doors to other worlds that we may enter and re-enter at will.

In the essays, reviews, poems and stories that follow, the power of literature is shown in all kinds of ways. A writer discusses his new short story collection. A homesick poet remembers his country. A make-believe event in a literary life is energetically animated. In the face of tragedy, a promise to write becomes a call to action. Reading poetry is shown to be an invitation to participate in the act of creation. Words enthrall and tantalize. Books are plundered. We discover over and over that we read not only for pleasure but also to learn how to live. For many of us—the fortunate ones, in my opinion—we read because not to read is a kind of death.

This is the literature issue. I invite you to meander through the selection that follows. Take a moment to respond to what you read and reflect on the powerful ways books, stories, words affect you personally. Most of all, enjoy.


Pioneers in the Digital Snow

Story by Mark Mordue

On Saturday 22nd May 2010, it was announced that Mark Mordue was this year's winner of the Pascali Prize for Critical Writing. It is Australia's most prestigious award for critical expression and reflection on the arts, and carries with it a $15,000 prize. This piece is based on his speech at the Sydney Writers Festival where the award was announced.

The Atomic Adventures of Jack Kerouac
Story and animation by Jack Feldstein

Feldstein's rambling seemingly make-it-up-as-you-go-along, stream of consciousness narratives have been likened to Woody Allen and Spalding Gray, but with an Austrtalian twist. Feldstein was a scriptwriter for many years beforeas he puts ithe woke up one morning and began making neon films.


Christopher Payne's
Review by Sue Bond

If my heart could speak,
/I’m sure it would say, I wish I were/someplace else today./ Among these books, a great amount of knowledge there/must be,/but what good is knowledge where others carry the/keys.

These lines are from a poem written by an unnamed patient on the wall of a basement in Augusta State Hospital in Maine. Christopher Payne has placed a photograph of the poem at the end of the main section of his images in
Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals, in a highly fascinating example of urban exploration literature. Sue Bond reviews this compelling book about the power of words in the most desperate of lives.


Gary Snyder & 'wasp-nest grammar: on poetic pilgrimage

Story by Martin Kovan

Gary Snyder’s work had been with Martin Kovan since his early youth, quietly mildewing in his hippie stepfather’s capacious bookshelf. In this piece, Kovan reflects on meeting and working with Snyder, on the poet's tough graciousness, and how the real man matched up against the demi-god he'd constructed in his imagination.


My Country
Poem by Larry Buttrose

Two years ago in an interview with Janet Hawley in The Good Weekend, the author Geraldine Brooks recited lines from this poem. It turned out the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist knew the entire piece by heart, something the poet himself cannot profess.

For listening:


Atlas Crouched: The Poetic Voice of Christina Conrad
Story by Billy Marshall Stoneking

What one finds in Conrad's poetry is not knowledge but inspiration. It is in what she leaves unsaid, what she deftly alludes to but seldom expresses and never explains, that her poetry and art are most clearly perceived. But the perception that is there is made by the reader/listener/viewer of Conrad's work, and in the way she fashions her verse, so that it continually invites the reader/audience to participate in the act of creation.


Books in Our Lives
Story by Adair Jones

We read not only for pleasure but also to learn how to live. In this personal essay, Adair Jones meditates on the intersection between life and books.


Story by Belinda Jeffrey

This extract comes from the beginning of a novel in progress called, Maquerel, inspired by the true story of a Nazi naval officer who worked for the Jewish resistance preceding World War 2. He deserted his ship, S.S Leuna, in Sydney harbor in 1938 where he was hidden in a brothel until the Nazis discovered his whereabouts and attempted to assassinate him. For the last years of his life Walter lived with the author’s family, dying in 1975. Before his death, Belinda Jeffrey's grandmother gave Walter a birthday card with a picture of a silhouetted ship on the front. He said, 'I don't know how you managed to find me the black ship of death. My father always said that the Black Ship of Death waits on the horizon for seamen when they die. That's where my father waits for me.' Did he know of the poem of that name by D.H. Lawrence? It's something that will never be known.


The Fall: Reviewing Jordie Albiston

Story by Matt Heatherington

This piece was originally written in 2004 for Cordite Poetry Review, which is one of the best all-poetry-related sites based in Australia, publishing three times a year. Not precisely a 'book review', the piece is really a theoretical/emotional/fragmentary response to Albiston's work: an attempt at inhabiting a role Oscar Wilde called 'the critic as artist'. The Fall is one of Heatherington's favourite collections of poetry written by an Australian, one he hopes will one day receive more of the recognition it deserves.


Pride and Prejudice and Profit$

Review by Blazenka Brysha

In this review of Pride and Prejudice with Zombies by Seth Graheme-Smith (Quirk Classics, 2009), Blazenka Brysha takes a look at a best-selling publishing exercise in plundering the copyright-free vaults of classic literature.


The Wild Orchid
Story by B.M. Buttrose

BM Buttrose shows us how a simple promise to write can take on transformational power in this touching short story about love, friendship and interconnected lives.



Poem by rob walker, vision by Ben Walker

This exquisite rendering of a poem by rob walker, in collaboration with his son Ben Walker, won the Newcastle Poetry Prize for New Media in 2009.


Peter Goldsworthy on Gravel
Interview by Angela Meyer

is Peter Goldsworthy’s new collection of short stories – amusing and moving - covering a range of predominantly white middle-class characters in conflict with their own egos. Angela Meyer joins Goldworthy in conversation on this newest work.


Reading Like a Writer
Story by Nike Bourke

A good writer reads because not to read would be a kind of death. Because, as Susan Sontag once wrote: “Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.” Nike Bourke explains her theory on why good writers are first and foremost good readers.


There was a Turtle
Story by Kavita Jindal

In this nuanced short story, Kavita Jindal weaves together a rich tapestry of the ways superstition and psychology operate in modern life. On a trip to New Mexico, Jindal discovered Zuni fetishes (tiny carved ‘charms’); their beauty inspired the story.


Lit Prizes: Hiding in Plain Sight
Story by Sam Cooney

In this country, it's customary for a prize announcement to be coupled with a slickly worded collective argument outlining the decision, but rarely are we given any clue as to how this judgment was reached. Sam Cooney ponders the nature of the literary prize, the mystification of the decision-making process, and the real-world benefits of such awards.


the contributors

Sue Bond is a writer, reviewer, and book reviews editor for M/C Reviews: Culture and the Media. A very long time ago, she got a medical degree, then quickly segued into literature, obtaining an MA in Creative Writing with the wonderful and much missed Jan McKemmish. She has had short stories, articles and reviews published and is (still) mulling over her memoir of living with her adoptive parents; additionally, she keeps an erratic blog called The Wordy Gecko.

Nike Bourke is a Queensland writer and the co-director of Olvar Wood Writers Retreat. She is the author of The Bone Flute, The True Green of Hope and What the Sky Knows.

Blazenka Brysha
is a Melbourne writer, arts journalist and dance critic. Since 2003, she has been exploring the possibilities of writing for the cyber-space medium that was opened up by the internet. She began this, initially, as a way of extending her work beyond the space/time restrictions of traditional mainstream print/ radio media.

BM Buttrose is an artist and writer living in the Blue Mountains. Her alter-ego is Jane Smith, interior design guru and artiste, whose book Finding the Shelf Within: Spiritual Development Through Home Improvement was published last year by New Holland Publishers.

The author of more than a dozen books, Larry Buttrose's current project is writing a new stage version of
Don Quixote for the Bell Shakespeare Company.

Sam Cooney is a writer living in Melbourne. He recently completed a graduate writing degree with a second major in literature, and writes fiction, non-fiction, and journalistic pieces, some of which get published. Sam works with Express Media, and also reads fiction for journals and anthologies. You can find him in all the usual overcrowded dens on the internet or in Berlin next year.

Jack Feldstein is a Jewish animator from Sydney. His trademark style is the neonizing of a combination of live action video recording and public domain material, particularly cartoons. Neonizing is a complex computer-based technique that renders the lines of an image like a neon sign. Feldstein describes neon animation as a deconstructionist, post-modern animation filmmaking style that utilises appropriation and pop art techniques, in a Warhol meets Vegas look.

Matt Heatherington is a writer, musician, lover, father, humble self-promoter, sky-digger, vegetarian bludger, DJ, frustrated housewife, connoisseur of fine scents and dog-biscuits, twin brother, old school soccer nut, poverty stricken aristocrat, and Bodhisattva wannabe. His most recent poetry collection is I Think We Have.

Belinda Jeffrey
is a Brisbane-based writer and the author of Brown Skin Blue (UQP 2009), her first novel. Her second novel is due out in September. She is currently hard at work on two other projects, a third young adult novel and her first adult novel.

Kavita Jindal was born in India and spent several years living and working in Hong Kong before settling into domestic ineptitude in London. She is the author of Raincheck Renewed, the poetry bestseller. Her most recent short story is the cult hit, ‘Preludes & Elusions’. Her novel, Phosphorus, is in the works. She writes regularly on the Arts for a variety of publications, including newspapers and literary websites.

Adair Jones is a writer from New York now living in Brisbane. Her articles, reviews and short stories have been published widely, many of which may also be found on her literary blog WordSearch. She is exuberantly involved in the Australian literary world and dedicated to the writing life.

Martin Kovan studied music, English, philosophy, and Buddhism in his native Australia, in India, and the US, where he completed an English MA degree with beat poet Gary Snyder (described in this issue of The GROUP). He currently lives in Paris where he writes fiction and non-fiction, and researches a PHD in Buddhist ethics for a London university. When he is not in Europe, he is making tracks for South and South-East Asia, and when he is not there, he is fantasising a full-time return to Australia.

Angela Meyer's short stories, reviews, articles and interviews have been published widely. She is a former acting editor of
Bookseller+Publishing magazine, chairs panels at various writers festivals, and is working on a novel through a Doctor of Creative Arts at the University of Western Sydney. She runs the popular literary blog LiteraryMinded.

Mark Mordue is an award winning writer, journalist, and editor working internationally. He currently teaches narrative writing and literary journalism at the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), is in the process of completing a first novel for his MA in Writing (by Research) at UTS, and is also about to embark on a major biographical work. He won this year's Pascali Prize for Critical Writing.
(Photo: Ingvar Kenne)

Billy Marshall Stoneking is an Australian/American poet/playwright, filmmaker, script consultant, teacher and author of seven books, including the modern-day classic, Singing the Snake : Poems from the Western Desert. His poem, 'Seasons of Fire', was recently selected by Les Murray and re-printed in The Reader (University of Liverpool, UK) as one of the 10 best Australian poems ever written.

rob walker has three poetry collections: sparrow in an airport, micromacro (currently out of print), and phobiaphobia. Recently, he has also been writing short fiction. Try his website for more self-promotion.