Each year, after the annual book fair in the quiet Swiss town of Romainmôtier, 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.
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.
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 before—as he puts it—he woke up one morning and began making neon films.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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$
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.
Gravel 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.
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.
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. http://www.kavitajindal.com/
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.
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.