Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review - Flame Tip, Short fictions by Karenlee Thompson. Foreword by David Walsh

Flame Tip is a collection of short stories that pivots around the devastating 1967 bushfires that ripped through Southern Tasmania, leaving 62 people dead, 900 injured and over seven thousand homeless. These fires have been seared into the Tasmanian psyche and, fifty years on, even as history drags this moment in time away from us, Tasmanians are hyper vigilant and aware of lessons learnt from those days. Those attributes, which could be as a result of trauma suffered by the community more broadly, have meant that recent suburban and peri-urban fires and the damage wrought is felt more keenly, but also that they have been responded too more wisely.
I often get nervous reading new short fiction, as it is rare to find true gems amongst any literature, even rarer amongst the smaller population of writers in Tasmania. I breathed a sigh of relief after the first story in this collection, confident that KarenleeThompson can construct a solid story and take the reader on a short journey with her prose. These stories hum a good tune, and are generally well constructed.
As mentioned, the book’s stories pivot around the ’67 bushfires, but they also cover the territory of domesticated life, love and romance. Some of them delve into deceit and one of them, ‘The Keeper of the Satchel’, fairly distinct in the collection, delves into a man’s mind as he creates a new dictionary, a dictionary that better reflects his understanding of the world. A recurring theme is the burnt, or deceived woman, which is treated with a small element of bitterness in the poignant story, ‘A Bird in the Oven’, where a wife is left by a husband who is dizzy with a new woman, and the story follows her personal regeneration, and that of her family.
Alongside the destruction of fire and ensuing loss are other motifs including the tacky ex husband. These stories have an edge of spite to them, though the cuckolded woman is the victor. They do seem to be a little raw though, a little as if it has been written as a revenge story, and this detracts from the reading experience. They feel burdened.
In her introduction, Karenlee Thompson borrows from the Nobel Prize winning Chinese writer Gao Xingjian, and talks about presenting a version of truth ‘under the mask of fiction’, and this does leave the reader to wonder what aspects of the stories are autobiographical, but that is superfluous, really, as these stories generally, save a few, have a good narrative arc and propel the reader onwards.

The book also has a foreword by David Walsh, with typically wonderful and obscure references, which has surely lead more people to pick up a book of short stories, which is a good thing.
The fact that the book pivots around the fires is tricky territory, as this book’s readership will predominantly be in Tasmania and to bring a version of fiction to an event that is painfully true for many, is brave, and ultimately healing. We must, however, consider that the fire has been carried on, through living memory and even through epigenetic dispersal (not to get too Walshian on you’all) and that to bring it front and fore not only offers space for healing, but also for pain to arise.

Versions of this review have been published in Warp (May 2017) and TasWeekend magazine (May 27, 2017)



Monday, May 15, 2017

Sholeh Wolpe and the essence of contemporary Persian poetry

Sholeh Wolpe is a wonderful poet and translator, hailing from Iran, currently residing in LA, via the UK and Trinidad, where she was sent to live with her aunt at age 13. Her work, while contemporary, is part of a centuries’ long Persian love and respect for poetry, and in this interview, recorded in Guangzhou, China late last year, she will tell you of childhood call and response games that revolved around poetry.
She is not able to go back to Iran, partly because it would mean giving up citizenship elsewhere, and partly because she translated the powerful, erotically charged poetry of Forough Farrokzhad, a poet, whose words, says Sholeh, unveiled the words of Iranian women. Her new translation, of the twelfth century Sufi Mystic, and teacher of Rumi, (who is incidentally the biggest selling poet in the USA today) Attar’s Conference of the Birds,  will be released from WW Norton this year.
This interview was first published on Transportation Press.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Richard Fidler on the process of interviewing

A few years ago I had the absolute pleasure and delight of interviewing Richard Fidler on the art of interviewing. You can hear the full interview here. A couple of the gems he imparts in this discussion include
Interviewing "allows you to ask impertinent questions of interesting people and gives you a plaform to do it". "Radio is the most beautiful medium, it is just lovely". (oh! how I agree with this)
When interviewing "you should imagine you are at a cocktail party and you must always bring the listener in, and make sure they don't keep looking after your shoulder".
He talked about how curiousity is so important and how Virginia Trioli said that you must bring out your inner five year old and get rid of a perceived need to sound authorative
"If you are authnetically curious people respond to that, the trick is to not interview anyone unless you are really curious."
and that, as an interviewer, it is "incumbent on you to read and research as much as you can".
Have a listen here.
















Saturday, May 6, 2017

Review - Seven Stories, Dewhurst Jennings Institute, edited by Ben Walter

At the launch of Seven Stories in Hobart recently Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan said “this is a significant book in Tasmanian letters.” I’ll go further than that - this is a significant book of contemporary writing in Australia, that deserves an international audience.
It is a selection of seven short stories (hence the title) by people writing in Tasmania today. These are writers who are committed to their craft and they are also some of the most exhilarating voices in contemporary literature in Australia. Without exception they transcend the fads and fashions of Australian literature, which is currently stultifying around ‘dusty realism’ and a banal Sydney-Melbourne banter. Seven Stories houses the genius brigade of writing in Tasmania, some of the most exciting writers on the ground at the moment.
The subject matter and styles of these writers vary wildly. There is acute suspenseful realism in ‘The Shy Birds’ by Emma L Waters in which she takes the reader alongside a couple walking on an East Coast beach. They meet an old fellow who offers to show them a special nest, is he genuinely friendly, or malevolent? The tension ebbs and flows with a perfect foreshadowing from the sound of gunshots (the couple then realise there is a rifle club up the road), and the nervous “pip-pipping” of the black and white birds.
Robbie Arnott’s story, ‘The Reach’ is a punch in the guts. Told through the eyes of one young brother experiencing a fit (epilepsy?) and ruining the other’s Lego, it is a tragedy of filial relations in two pages.
Ben Walter, who, through the elusive Dewhurst Jennings Institute put together this selection which won a Community Writers Award (Fellowship of Australian Writers) in 2015, is at his flagrant poetic best with the wild ride that is ‘An Anti-Glacier Book’. This is a lush story, not easy to read, replete with some literary trickery and nods towards writers who made significant literary change in the twentieth century.
Ruairi Murphy roams the library knowledgably and with aplomb, his story about a library closure and what that means for individuals who frequent it, is constructed as a series of vignettes. It is wryly funny, and shot through with darkness. Susie Greenhill, who was awarded the national Richell Prize for manuscripts last year is back with her delicate prose, this time in a story that speaks of love and loss in a war zone. Seem like too big a theme for a short story? Not in Greenhill’s increasingly deft hands.
‘The Chaos of Life Beyond Death in the Outback’ by Adam Ouston is a rambunctious and exhilarating story of a man hitchhiking in the eponymous Outback, picked up by a zombie film making crew, who he eventually murders. Michael Blake’s ‘Donny and Bucket on the Treeless Plain’ completes the anthology. It is about two teenage boys making the break from their home town, making a run for it. It is a liminal story, one that does not cover a journey, but a decision.

The print run of Seven Stories is tiny, but the book is now being picked up by booksellers around the country, I urge you to get your hands on the book while you still can.

A version of this review appeared in TasWeekends, May 6, 2017 
This review is dedicated to Tadhg Muller who coined the term "genius brigade"

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