Review: Voiceworks Issue 79 – ‘Classic’

The last time I subscribed Voiceworks, I was twenty-four and spending most of my salary on clothes from high-end-fashion chain stores. When my subscription and my submission eligibility ran out, I bagged all of my old issues and donated them to a local high school. What was inspiring for other subscribers was depressing for twenty-five-year-old me: these ‘youngsters’ were creating work that I had no hope of emulating.

Two years on, and I’m ready to grapple this journal bitch. Lured to the Wheeler Centre by speak of a guest appearance from Nam Le, I went to the Voiceworks ‘Classic’ launch and picked up my copy of Issue 79.

In her editorial, Bel Monypenny writes about Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson and her failed attempts to mimic their bush poetry style. Issue 79 isn’t about reworking what has come before in style and genre, but more ‘classic moments made new and intriguing by fresh eyes, distinctive voices and unique perceptive detail’: ‘familiar moments—drunken teenage rebellion, questioning the life you’re born into, your first big night out, the death of a loved one.’ However, as I read through ‘Classic’, this theme did not seem present in any of the pieces, which suggests that Issue 79’s writers have managed to avoid what is easy and cliché.

There’s some striking fiction in this issue: Luke Rule’s ‘Pulling Down the Sun’ stands out as an example of literary speculative fiction; dealing with the supposedly banal themes of death, sex, and violence, Claire Marshall’s dark piece, ‘The Edwardians’, also grabbed my attention; and prize winner, Amelia Schmidt has created beautifully fluid, dreamlike work in ‘House-sitting for My Mother’—‘my mother and father disappear in an aeroplane and I pack myself into a suitcase’.

The non-fiction is also particularly strong: Michelle Walter’s ‘Getting Off the Staircase’ is evocative enough to work as either fiction or non-fiction/memoir; Sam Cooney’s column on writer workspace meanders from Roald Dahl to Jonathan Safran Foer, whilst Kate Leaver’s column tackles incest and society’s fascination with sexual violence.

What I enjoyed most, however, were the interviews. I’m not sure if this a recurring section, but Voiceworks talks to a few of its contributors in Issue 79. There’s also a conversation with emerging writer Jessica Au who discusses working on her novel, interning at Sleepers, and her writing process.

And so, despite its youthfulness, and my twenty-seven-year-old bitterness, I took a liking to Voiceworks or at least its current manifestation. ‘Classic’ is available at the usual independent bookstores or you can subscribe to Voiceworks at their website here.

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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.

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.