Guest Review: Christine Priestly on Etchings Dust Till Dawn

Usually I approach journals by letting the pages fall open, meandering to whatever tugs and pulls. After devouring Ilura Press’s Etchings 7: Chameleons this way, I set out to experience Etchings 8: Dusk Till Dawn in its entirety and in order, like listening to new LP. No skipping to the singles, but absorbing the shape, the flavour, letting the theme emerge—even if I had the urge to skip a track or two.

First I took in the equivalent of the album artwork: the journal’s overall look and feel. I was drawn to its size and shape, the appropriately varied type face, which accentuates without jarring. I was left thinking, I’d like my work to appear in something this sexy.

Next, the small print: who featured, and where are they from, are there any hidden tracks, emergers, nobodies like me, alongside seasoned writers, offering something edgy, raw even, a thing I savoured in Etchings 7? Dusk Till Dawn offered a surprising number of international contributors and a notable scarcity of unknowns.

Then the composition—was there a good balance of fiction, poetry, artwork and essays? Predominantly traditional fiction and poetry, interspersed with artwork and essays. Only a few experimental pieces made the cut, including Christopher Linforth’s essay (really a list): ‘Stalking Woody Allen: Your Guide in 54 Parts’ and Warwick Sprawson’s satirical and bitter insight into the rivalry between emerging writers, ‘_iH_ttocS_’ a piece layered with kooky formatting and typeface (check out p.133 – I nearly missed the bold letters A – R – S – E – H – O – L – E embedded across the page).

As to the theme, there was a refreshing scarcity of vampires and creatures of the night, but the selected pieces didn’t seem altogether cohesive—more like a best-of compilation than an album.

The tracks I would come back to:

  • Ben Goldsworthy’s peculiar narrative confession of unreliability and dishonesty, ‘Movements and Calculations’;
  • A.S. Patric’s ‘The Wife’ whose narrator has no identity and possibly no reality: ‘Was he mad before, or is he mad now? The thing is to go along with whatever the reality is. He has to work out what that is, and then stick to it.’ (p. 154);
  • William McCormick’s darkly haunting artwork, ‘Masks’;
  • Kate Murfett’s tantalising poem, ‘The Red Queen’;
  • Poet Benjamin Dodd’s slightly paranoid, ‘Remnant;’
  • Maria Pavlova’s sensual ‘The Touch’, translated from the Bulgarian, which captures the consuming intensity of love, lust and loss;
  • Anthony Kane Evans’ murder mystery ‘The Problem With Castles’;
  • Scathing rants like the aforementioned ‘_iH_ttocS_’ by Warwick Sprawson: ‘You use words like pellucid and roil and exculpate without the faintest awkwardness that comes from a lexicon source book… Your level of control throttles the life out of words, leaving pages littered with lines like mangled ants.’ (p. 132)
  • The cruel variation in interpretation and intention between a husband and wife, in Ashley Cowger’s ‘Interpretations of Aurora’;
  • Alysse Near’s ‘caustic’ (p. 188) ‘Venus in the Twelve House’;
  • An unfortunate misconception of beliefs and human responses in Georgina Luck’s ‘The Butterfly Shawl’; and
  • An exploration of genocide in Rwanda in Ryan O’Neill’s, ‘The Cockroach’.

Dusk Till Dawn offered variety in length, flavour and colour, a definite must-read, if not quite as can’t-put-down as its predecessor.

Copies of Etchings 8: Dusk Till Dawn and its predecessors are available online from http://www.ilurapress.com, plus check out the ‘Submissions’ page for details on submitting to the upcoming issue, Etchings 10: The Feminine – La Femme.

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Christine Priestly is currently studying for her Master of Arts in Writing and Literature at Deakin University. She writes fiction and creative non-fiction and knows you can never own too many pairs of stilettos or love enough cats.

Guest reportage: Eagerly awaiting Etchings 8 – Dusk till dawn

The launch of Etchings 8: Dusk Till Dawn could have been straight out of a how-to manual. It had every element you’d expect:

  1. a sexed-up venue with indoor-outdoor schmoozing space
  2. bar snacks (very important)
  3. bar service (more important)
  4. eager interns (Eliza-Jane Henry Jones and Lana Rosenbaum) taking turns to act as MC
  5. the metaphoric breaking of the champagne by appropriate famous person (poet Anthony O’Sullivan)
  6. a taste of said launch product to activate salivation (A.S. Patric read from his story ‘The Wife’, Georgina Luck, from ‘Clutching the Butterfly Shawl’, Kate Murfett her award-winning poem ‘The Red Queen’, and twenty-year-old writing student from Deakin University, Allyse Near, from ‘Venus in the Twelfth House’)
  7. a plug-in by one or more field professionals (Professor Jennifer Radbourne, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Education at Deakin University, celebrated the literary successes of Deakin’s past and present students)
  8. and most importantly, discounted launch product (I managed to score a copy of Etchings 8: Dusk Till Dawn and Etchings 7: Chameleons – which included drink cards – for not much more than the cost of an extra drink. Happy me).

Having said that, for an issue touted to be ‘dark and sinister’, which ‘delves into the obscure, goes undercover, seduces, spirals into obsession, journeys into other galaxies, and is haunted by the otherworldly and mysterious,’ I had been hopeful of a Tarantino tribute, or at the very least, volumes of vampiric verse.

Instead, with its fabulously floral-faced podium and 80s discothèque dance floor, I discovered a serious insufficiency of ‘Dusk Till Dawn’ décor. None of the guests even got into character or played dress-ups.

On the whole, a successful, if staid, evening.

Here’s hoping the issue itself provides what the launch lacked: some deliciously devious darkness.

-CP

My amateur photos (check out Ilura Press on Facebook for a more professional, less fuzzy and with fewer shots of the backs of peoples’ heads impression of the evening):

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Christine Priestly is currently studying for her Master of Arts in Writing and Literature at Deakin University. She writes fiction and creative non-fiction and knows you can never own too many pairs of stilettos or love enough cats.

All vampired out

Phew, it’s been a long week of vampire-related activities. I’ve been working on a True Blood/Buffy comparison for kicks, as well as a review of Narrelle M. Harris’ The Opposite of Life on Estelle Tang’s request. Estelle Tang is now the online content editor of Kill Your Darlings, which is coincidentally launching its first issue tonight at the Bella Union Bar.

There seems to be a few literary events going down tonight. Etchings is also launching its latest issue, ‘Dusk till Dawn’, at Neverland (South Melbourne), and Willow Tales will be on again at the Willow Bar (Northcote). Christine will be nabbing (and hopefully reviewing) a copy of Etchings for me, but I’m bummed about having to ditch Willow Tales for Kill Your Darlings. I’ve heard some good things about Willow Tales and I keep on missing out. Bleh. I’ll get there one day.

Until then…

News of the literary world

After enjoying reading Etchings’ sixth issue, I thought I’d head down to Etchings Issue Seven’s launch at Lentil As Anything. For those of you unfamiliar with the publication, Etchings is a high quality art/writing journal that is published by Ilura Press. It publishes themed work from established writers such as Alice Pung, and J M Coetzee, as well as up and coming peeps such as Geoff Lemon, Ryan O’Neill, and Chris Currie. I’ve just got my hands on Issue Seven: Chameleons, and it looks like a riot with Bundit Puangthong’s artwork splashed across its covers; hopefully, the text on the page will be just as colourful.

The launch opened with words from the two guest speakers, Shanaka Fernando and Kevin Rabalais. Being the founder of Lentil As Anything, Fernando was the most qualified to explain the ‘Pay As You Feel’ theme for the night. In what might be an unprecedented move, Ilura Press ran a special offer of ‘Pay As You Feel’ book sales and subscriptions at the launch, upholding the independent press ideal of focusing ‘mostly on literature and believ[ing]…strongly in creating a culture, rather than selling books’ (Lisa Dempster from Vignette Press, 14 July 2009). 

Following Fernando, Kevin Rabalais described small literary journals as ‘the news of the literary world for serious readers and serious writers’, and cited Etchings’ inclusion of an excerpt from J M Coetzee’s Summertime as an example; Summertime has since been longlisted for the Booker Prize.  

A couple of readings followed. I didn’t stay for very long; it was a more mature crowd at Lentil As Anything and I felt a little out of place, attracting the scrutiny of Christopher Lappas (help!) and several nappy-wearing babies, but I wasn’t the only one feeling nervy: Vivienne Christie seemed to be speeding through her piece ‘Things we can’t tell’. A. S. Patrick seemed to enjoy performing the truncated version of ‘Ducks’, whilst Geoff Lemon was a no show, which is a shame since I had enjoyed his ‘Albatross’ reading from a while back.
 

Vivienne Christie performs at the Etchings Issue Seven Launch, an image from 'The Forgotten Ballroom' appearing behind her. (2/8/2009)

Vivienne Christie performs at the Etchings Issue Seven Launch, an image from 'The Forgotten Ballroom' appearing behind her. (2/8/2009)

The submission deadline for Etchings‘ next issue is coming up. Issue Nine’s theme is ‘Love and Something’, so if you’re babysitting some quality love stuff, send it in before mid-August. Two weeks: that’s plenty of warning.

Out of order

Out of order by mod as hell

'Out of order' by mod as hell

As mentioned in my previous post, I like to read literary anthologies and journals out of order. With Robert Drewe’s The Best Australian Stories 2007, I started at the back of the book and worked my way to the front. With Stop Drop and Roll, I read the fiction first and followed up with non-fiction and poetry. Sometimes I read the stories with the most interesting titles or those written by familiar writers, and I wonder if reading out of sync matters?

I usually stick to chronological order when reading single-author collections, such as Nam Le’s The Boat or Tom Cho’s Look Who’s Morphing, and when I do, I notice an overall argument or arc. For instance, with The Boat, Nam Le begins with ethnic writer clichés, then follows up with a challengingly diverse range of fiction, proving his right to claiming the Vietnamese boat story. So, if an overall argument or arc applies with single-author collections, do they also apply to literary journals and anthologies? Does reading out of sync matter?

Naturally reading is a linear experience. What I read today will influence how I read tomorrow. But do editors lose sleep over a collection’s order?

Yes and no. At Verandah 23’s launch, I remember directing such questions to some of the editorial committee, and they told me that they’d thought over the ordering of the pieces. Start light, go serious in the middle, and end with a bang. Or something like that.

Sabina Hopfer from Etchings orders pieces with a different purpose in mind. Her journal follows a restrictive format of text broken up by several blocks of artwork and she must arrange the text in such a way as to avoid wasting pages. The overall arc of each issue is completely serendipitous.

Whatever the case may be, most journals try to begin and end with strong, memorable pieces. So should I change my habits to include reading the first piece first and the last piece last, choosing my own adventure in between? I dunno. What are other people’s thoughts on the matter?

Short Story Alert: ‘I, Dangle’ by Shannon Burns

Over the past year, I’ve been reading short stories from a variety of local literary journals. Since not many people read literary journals, and not many people read the whole journal (at least I don’t), I want to bookmark one story each month so that others may find them.

This month’s pick is ‘I, Dangle’ by Shannon Burns. I came across ‘I, Dangle’ in Issue Six (‘The Ethical Issue’) of Etchings, a story about a man debating whether to take his clothes off at a public beach. Through the insistent repetition of words and phrases, Burns achieves a wonderful neurotic monologue for his protagonist:

I say, she has revealed her breasts. Yes she has taken off the top part of her bikini and revealed her breasts. I should return the sentiment in some way. I assume that returning the sentiment is what is required of me. She has removed her bikini top and now it is time for me to make a similar gesture.

But how? What shall I do? I could take off my shirt but what will that accomplish? Every male on the beach has his shirt off. There is nothing taboo about a male on the beach with his shirt off, showing his male breasts. There is, on the other hand, something decidedly curious about a female prancing about with her breasts bared on this beach, on a beach like the beach we have come to. When I decided to accompany her to this beach I had no idea that she had it in mind to reveal her breasts. Is it legal for a woman to bare her breasts on a public beach? I’m not sure… (p. 114)

I’m a sucker for form, and Burns explores the issue of public nudity (male vs. female, adult nudity around children, etc.) in an entertaining fashion, so ‘I, Dangle’ is this month’s win for me.

If you haven’t come across Etchings, (the high quality triannual journal from Ilura Press), Issue Six is definitely worth a read with Ryan O’Neill’s beautifully written ‘Collected Stories’, and Christopher Lappas’ thoughts on Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation.

 

 

Courtesy of Ilura Press

Courtesy of Ilura Press