Just watching some docos…

EWF has made me realise that I should be blogging/gallivanting less and writing more, so I’ve been staying away from my blog these last few days.

Unfortunately, decrease blogging does not equal increased non-blog writing; I have wasted a lot of time on ABC iView, watching documentaries on Jane Austen and the Brontes.

According to In Search of the Brontes (2003), Wuthering Heights only took Emily Bronte two months to write. Ergh. It takes me two months to write a two-thousand-word story. Hang on, have I ever written a two-thousand-word story…?

I’ll be back at the usual some time next week, after I’ve caught up on some more docos. In the meantime, the Harvest team will be launching their fifth issue this Friday. Come out and join them/me.


Review: Harvest Issue 3

Last week, I promised that I would start doing a 3000 Books with literary journals. For those of you who haven’t come across her blog, Textual Fantasies’ Estelle Tang endeavours to read 50 books per year: ‘…when I started this blog I was 23 years old. The life expectancy for an Australian female is 83 years. 60 reading years left x 50 books = 3000 books. Why yes, it is very literal. Some might also say it is numerical.’

Knowing me, it is unlikely that I will be able to match Estelle’s reading voracity/velocity, but I will try my darnest to get through my metastatic pile of literary journals. This week’s sacrificial maiden was Harvest Issue 3.


Harvest Issue 3 with random sweet potato (19/11/09). Sweet potato courtesy of housemate.

I’m a big fan of Harvest. Not only does it publish meaty literary pieces, it is also beautifully presented, attracting readers outside the usual literary circle. Sarah, my doctor friend, picked up Issue 2 at Readings and gave it to me as a gift. She didn’t recognise any of the contributors; she probably purchased the journal on aesthetic merit alone.

Issue 3 is of similar attractiveness with the front cover designed by Allison Colpoys. Fiction tended towards lyrical, somewhat traditional, not as punchy as I would have liked, though there was masterful use of language in many stories. Jessica Au’s ‘Old Man River’ is almost poetic, her flourishes are something I could never possibly emulate. Paul Dee’s ‘Murder in the Snow’ focuses on the mundane with microscopic detail, and is appropriately accompanied by Stella Kalaw’s  photos of shower taps and rusty oil fin heaters. Borrowing stories from How a Moth Becomes a Boat, Josephine Rowe tapers off sections elegantly with paragraphs like the following from ‘Hole’:

She’s out west now, you heard. Someplace like Yarraville. You kick soft dirt into the hole. See her sitting out there, nights, looking up at the lights along the West Gate. Making different escape plans. Small cat winding round her thin legs.

In regards to poetry, I particularly enjoyed the play of Michelle O. Bama’s ‘Can I Call You Barack?’ and Simon Cox’s ‘Fragments in Defence of The Latter Halves of Half-Truths’*; feature poet Kylie Rose also had some startling imagery: ‘…Mum resumes her pop-dance / over the stuck bubbles, / their ink tails scribbling back to the surf.’ 

Non-fiction had a couple of strong pieces like Greg Foyster’s ‘The New Generation of Readers’ and Lisa Mamone’s ‘In Defence of Wodehouse’, though I was disappointed with finishing on Belle Taylor’s ‘Even Serious Books Have Kissing in Them’, a two-page personal narrative which felt lightweight when read alongside the journal’s lengthier works.

While content was lyrical, entertaining, evocative, thought-provoking, and inspiring, Issue 3’s layout was a bit of a letdown. I got confused with the split in Foyster’s piece: I thought the article ended oddly after reading the first two pages, later realising that it continued on page 49. Admittedly I was tipsy and on a tram at the time of reading, but it would have been nice to have ‘Continued on page 49’ tacked on, in brackets, to the end of page 2’s last paragraph. Marc Martin’s artwork, ‘Bookplates’, might have been more well-placed near Belle Taylor’s personal narrative on book clubs. And Belle Taylor, why is your piece sandwiched between a Harvest advert and the contributor bios? Nobody’s going to read it there.

It’s a small criticism (okay, it’s a big criticism…biggish…) and I’m sure the Harvest team had good reason for making the layout choices that they did. There are only so many ways you can arrange the order of a journal, and sometimes all of your options suck. And bad layout rarely detracts from quality content. So no biggie, Harvest. There’s always next time. Thanks for publishing my poem by the way. It looks very pretty next to Irana Douer’s work. 🙂

Next review will be Lost and Found: Visible Ink 21. Expect it some time next week/month/year. 

*Cox also managed to sneak ‘Fragments’ into the October ’09 issue of The Diamond & the Thief. You can read it online here.

100th post: too many literary journals?

Literary Journals to be Read

Literary Journals to be Read

A couple of months ago, I took a photo of my metastatic pile of Books to be Read. Today, I thought I’d trump it with my end-stage metastatic pile of Literary Journals to be Read. As per earlier posts, I frequently commit the sin of not completely reading a literary journal: I scan, I dip, I nibble at a story or two, but I only work through a couple of pages before I get distracted by the Big Four (Facebook, Email, Blog, or Sleep).

Apart from the fact that literary journals are like an individual editor’s YouTube Favourites and consequently not the most cohesive bodies of work, the problem is that there are too many literary journals competing for the top of my reading pile. Overland, Meanjin, Island, Going Down Swinging, Harvest, Stop Drop and Roll, Page Seventeen, Verandah, Torpedo, The Lifted Brow, Sketch, the Mooks, Wet Ink…and these are only the hardcopy journals. How do I, a supposed literary journal enthusiast trawl through so many titles? How does an average punter pick out from the plethora of print out there? Are there too many journals competing for a finite audience?

As this blog reached its hundredth post, I contemplated its role in the blogosphere. Is it just another me-too literary blog? Is it a half-arsed attempt to discuss racism in a literary context? Am I just being narcissistic? Self-promoting? Is this blog an advertorial? Or is it a very public writing journal? Maybe it’s a combination of all of these elements?

According to the ‘Tag Atlas’ in the left-hand column, this blog discusses literary journals. It’s time to add reviews to the mix: do a 3000 Books with journals. Complementing the reviews will be the continuation of ‘You will submit‘ posts, as well as a discussion on journal audience, design, distribution, and promotion. Further down the track, I hope to interview successful journals about their thoughts on these issues.

Cheer up Charlie (in a totally non-VC way) to all of those who like the blog in its current format. Whimsical posts, reportage of various literary events, and notes on racism will continue. There’s just going to be some fine-tuning on the literary journal side or at least that’s the Plan.

First journal for the devouring will be Harvest’s Issue Three. I really should read things that I’ve been published in. So, umm, you’ll probably hear from me in another year or two…?

NYWF 2009: Day Two

After attempting to write a couple of race parody vignettes, I had been looking forward to the ‘You are So Lacist’ panel, and initially, the session touched on the topic, with talk on how racial parody can reiterate what it seeks to deconstruct (Tom Cho), how ‘whiteness is ignored by non-whites’ (Bhakthi Puvanethiran), and how art is like a rorschach inkblot (Tom Doig). But then the audience hijacked the panel* and flew it towards those twin towers of Indigenous Issues and White Guilt and the room was on fire, people started to shout, and I stopped listening—

The ‘Sweet Staple High: The New Class’ panel defined what an Established Journal was. Meanjin, Heat, Overland, Southerly, Westerly, and Island are examples of Established Journals. They have stuck around for years, have greater resources and circulation numbers, maintain a steady subscription base and a staple of writers. Some might be described as ‘set in their ways’ or failing to ‘diversify their content’.

The newer journals, on the other hand, have less money, smaller circulation, and do not usually have a subscription base. Therefore, they are more fluid/inconsistent, and are more willing to take risks with unknown writers/artists. Christopher Currie (facilitator), Kirk Marshall, Bhakthi Puvanenthiran, Sean Wilson, Angela Meyer, and David Edgley read a sample of newer literary journals and voiced their thoughts:

Stop, Drop, and Roll

  •  A beautifully designed publication.
  • Good non-fiction. (Bhakthi)
  • But is it more of the same? (David)


  • Ridiculously over-designed. (Kirk)
  • Fairly consistent but sometimes it makes odd choices i.e. quirky twister game juxtaposed with serious non-fiction.
  • Good non-fiction. (Bhakthi)

The Lifted Brow

  • Has vision.
  • A ‘treasure trove’. (Angela)
  • In terms of style, The Brow is much more punchy.


  • More able to reach a wider audience as it incorporates other material.
  • A curiosity.
  • Nifty pocket size. (Kirk)
  • Something that I would want other people to see on my shelf (Bhakthi).


  • ‘Very specific group and type of writers’. (Angela)
  • A lot of stories are pretty similar; it can become a little bland. (Kirk)
  • Fiction only.
  • Another Me Too McSweeney’s?


  • Alienates readers with its design. (Bhakthi)
  • From a contributor’s perspective: poor editorial feedback/communication. Cutwater seems to take its contributors for granted. (Kirk and Angela)

Since many of the newer journals are Melbourne-based, the audience expressed some concern. Is there a Melbourne clique, and does it influence the content of Melbourne journals? Angela Meyer denied this. Friendless when she first moved down to Melbourne, she has managed to acquaint herself with many of the region’s publishing industry. And her work has been rejected by editor friends several times**.

Naturally, networking helps. After meeting you, editors might be more inclined to read your published work and solicit submissions, but their priority is to produce a quality journal. Or at least, that’s my theory. Feel free to rip into it.

*Wah, if I rearrange the letters, I get ‘plane’.

**And I can attest to this. Editor of The Lifted Brow and Meyerphile, Ronnie Scott, has rejected her work several times. TLB6 will be the first time her work has been published with The Brow.


Upcoming NYWF shennanigans: ‘Crimes Against the Industry’, ‘Distro How-to’, and ‘The Great Gatsby Ball’.

A dash of poetry, a splash of sin (syn)

I thought I’d listen to SYN’s Textual Fantasies before writing up today’s post, and was pleased to discover that the subject of my post, Harvest Poetry Editor Josephine Rowe, was on the program. 

Estelle and Maddie were interviewing the editors from Harvest and Stop, Drop, and Roll, and it was cool hearing how other literary journals do the ‘boring stuff’ i.e. distribution, and promotion. Harvest has started using Selectair as a distributor, while Stop, Drop, and Roll are still pretty much sending out stuff themselves. In terms of promotion, both magazines agreed on the importance of online presence: ‘Most of our promotion is all online’ (SDR); ‘You just can’t underestimate it [the internet] any more’ (Harvest). They also do promotional activities such as leaving free copies of their publication at cafes, and dropping positive comments about the magazine within earshot of prospective buyers.

But back to Josephine Rowe and poetry. The Overload Poetry Festival is happening this week, and Josephine will be performing tomorrow for ‘Dreaming Highways‘, alongside Andy Jackson, Laura Smith, Gemma White, and Jessica Raschke. (‘Dreaming Highways‘ is not part of the official Overload program, but it is poetry; I still think it’s reasonable to mention both in the same sentence.)

There’s also another poetry gig on at La Mama on Monday night, showcasing the likes of Sean M. Whelan, Ben Pobjie, Briohny Doyle, Angela Meyer, and Barry Dickins (this one’s officially part of Overload, I promise). I hear it will be Angela’s first foray into the spoken word poetry scene, so come along and show her some support. 🙂

Anyway, that’s all from me. Thumbs up to Textual Fantasies, Harvest and Stop, Drop, and Roll. They love The Lifted Brow. Ballast-bless their welcome mats.

Issue Three of Harvest

The Harvest launch happened at Eurotrash last night. I was stuck on the side of the stage and the lighting wasn’t very good, so I didn’t get a chance to take many photos. Thanks to my friends who turned up and bought some raffle tickets and a copy of the magazine, even if they did feel awkward amongst the literary scene.

I hope they enjoy the journal. I started reading it last night. Usually I skip over non-fiction, but Greg Foyster combines personal narrative with scientific studies and Socrates in his ‘The New Generation of Readers’. Jessica Au’s ‘Old Man River’ imagery is incredible:

The Lanber he breaks open over his forearm, slipping the red shot cartridges into its cool, steely mouth, easy as you please. In his tortured grip, the old gun is savage and beautiful, with its rich blueing and thin, curled script. 

The wood shined and shaped from the obsession of his loving hands. The metal plates around the receiver, oxidised and sweat-black.

After reading these pieces, I think, shit. Will I ever be able to write like that? Good writing is like a drug: sometimes it’s so potent, it paralyses.

Oopsie poopsie

Whoa. Today was my first viewing of my poem, ‘Red Den Beauty’, in print. Harvest has done a beautiful job pairing the words with artwork from Irana Douer. However, I’ve just realised that the printed version differs from my version. I had workshopped the poem with Josephine Rowe who later on offered to publish it in her journal, Harvest. I must have forgotten to give her the final ‘submission’ draft.

The two versions are pretty much the same except for lines seven and eight. The Harvest version reads:

Star of his favourite Nam Le exotic boat story

celluloid-bound, snared in silk, embroidered

whilst my final version reads:

Slavishly limmed in far-east finery

Star of his favourite Nam Le boat story.

Both versions allude to the same thing, but I thought the final version sounded stronger, offering a breather before launching into the next part of the poem.  

Oopsie poopsie. Well, there’s nothing I can do about it now…

Poetic equations


ONE PICTURE: Red Den by Richie Fahey

Red Den by Richie Fahey




The Boat by Nam Le






MANY WEEKS of redrafting


HELP from the marvellous Josephine Rowe

Image courtesy of Graham Nunn

A poem loaded with exotic/ethnic stereotypes.

‘Red Den Beauty’ will be published in Issue Three of Harvest. Magazine launch details are on the invite below. See you all there!

You will submit to Visible Ink

I can’t believe it. The boyfriend had netball. Sarah had a night shift. Everyone else…what was everyone else’s excuse? I’ve just been sitting in the Empress Hotel for the last three hours, randomly chatting to strangers and listening to more strangers read their stuff. Grr. NOT HAPPY. But I had promised to read tonight, so I did, performing my one and only good poem, ‘Red Den Beauty’, which will be appearing in the upcoming issue of Harvest.

Apart from the lack of friends, it was a good night. I got to chat to Tom Conyers about his book Morse Code for Cats, a contemporary novel about sex and drugs and a guy who tries to live his life like a book, and the friendly crew from Visible Ink 2009 happily answered all of my questions. I also scored a weird Greek pastry thingamybob and a copy of the Sleepers Almanac 2007. There were a lot of readings (some too soft for my underachieving ears), as well as some ’em & em dash’ beatboxing. 

Visible Ink is publishing its 21st bumper issue this year. There will be text, there will be artwork, and there will be funcakes at the November launch. The submission date is drawing near so do submit soon. I’m not sure what the editors are looking for, but have a read of the magazine’s older issues. If you’re still in doubt and are feeling charitable (there’s a $5 submission fee), send in your stuff anyway before 15 August 2009.

Short story alert: ‘The Voice of My Father’ by Nghiem Tran

Nghiem Tran’s ‘The Voice of My Father’ (from Harvest Issue Two) is a boat story told unconventionally. Tran writes not from the point of view of the survivor but from the point of view of his impatient son; it is the son’s thoughts and actions that initially dominate the text. When the survivor asks his son to translate his recollections, the son tells him that he doesn’t have the time, thinking of all the email and TV he has to catch up on, and the survivor’s story, like the survivor himself, ‘sit[s] quietly’. What happened on the boat is revealed, almost coincidentally at first, in chunks of italicised, broken English:

The boat driver give every adult a 20 litre can of water. Everyone bring their own food. Usually sticky rice or a dry rice mix, look like ‘Rice Bubbles’.

As the son continues to work on his father’s story, these chunks of text become weighted with significance:

The Malaysian police not let us land at first…

‘What do you mean, “at first”?’

‘They pushed us back onto the boat and tried to send us away.’

…I stare, unfocused, at the short sentence on the computer screen. It was all my father’s English could muster to describe the landing. Its brevity belying the pain on his face.

 Like many boat stories, what happened to the survivor is so beyond the common experience, it almost feels Biblical, and readers may have difficulty relating to him. Tran mirrors this difficulty in the son:

His measurements and numbers suddenly compute and I am reminded of those South American prisons shown on TV. Those crowded little cells with a toilet in the middle. No privacy or even a plastic seat. I know I should be disconcerted that I can more easily picture crowded South Americans than my parents among Vietnamese. But I’m not. Instead I just think of the stained porcelain seat in the middle of each cell.

Slowly revealing the survivor’s tale through the eyes of another character, one who occasionally, like the reader, fails to understand, Tran offers the reader enough space to find their own connection with the events on the boat. He asks for, rather than demands, a response; his story, told simply, is one of the most moving Vietnamese boat stories I have encountered so far.