I picked up this pocket-sized magazine with its ‘Penguin novel gone wrong’ cover not knowing what to expect apart from ‘good’.
It was better than good: I actually enjoyed all of it, even things I usually fail at like visuals and poetry.
The illustrations peppered throughout the magazine range from outsider art to portraits from military hospital archives to tourist pics of the Mexican-American border. There are various time travel advertisements by Simon Greiner that are interspersed with real ads, nicely complementing the text ‘A Time Traveller’s Guide’.There’s also a particularly disturbing series of ‘found photos’ by Erik Kessels, following one woman over several decades. In each photo, she’s holding the same pose, eying her target while staring down the barrel of her gun.
Erik Kessels' 'In Almost Every Picture: Found photographs of Ria Van Dijk, 1936-2008', published in Ampersand's Issue Two (Autumn 2010)
In terms of words, Ampersand Magazine is mix of non-fiction and the nonsensical. Its non-fiction reflects on fascinating subjects such as interstellar messaging, facial surgery in the early twentieth century, the invention of inflatable costumes, and the Rapture. Sometimes, I felt like I was reading a collection of How Things Work for adults. Of particular note, I thought, was Lisa Pryor’s ‘Twin Cities At War’. Tightly written, Pryor’s reflections, comparing and contrasting Australia’s and America’s insularity and the illegal immigrant situation, overturned my ennui towards ‘travel narratives’: it’s a highlight in a selection of very strong non-fiction pieces. Have I mentioned the review by Christos Tsiolkas…?
Nonsensical pieces are printed in portrait rather than landscape format: some playful poetry, a eulogy written in the first person, and a violent Bollywood soap-opera. There’s also an ‘Adventure Story’ by Jazz Andrews that comes across as veering left of normal. Think penises imprinted into tubs of ice cream.
Throughout Ampersand, there are rewards for the observant reader. Briohny Doyle’s footnotes are not to be glossed over: ‘Check out the Left Behind series of post-Rapture Christian bestsellers by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ and ‘Mum was right! Apart from Hobart, Melbourne is the most irrelevant city on Earth!’
The Ampersand index is often poetic:
as affirmed by points of cruelty, 133
as a train wreck 52
as conveyed through a biopic, 29
as degraded by forms of cruelty, 133
as improved by moving to a first world country, 40-1
as scarred forever by seeing a naked man smoking and holding a knife in the supermarket ice-cream section when you are a kid, 105
that grief makes a warren under it, 51
And I had a giggle when I spotted the note under Abhishek Chuadhary’s bio: ‘Ampersand received this unsolicited submission from Chaudhary and was thereafter unable to get in contact. *Ampersand is not officially outsourcing content* – Ed.’
Anyhow, I am now approaching the 500-word mark. This review is getting hairy. I always preferred short and sweet rather than long and unkempt, so it’s time to cut it.
Ampersand is like a compact Lifted Brow. There’s a wonderful miscellaneousness to it. There’s also a willingness to look beyond geographical borders; the writing isn’t limited to purely Australian concerns or the Australian literary scene, which is rare for a local journal. Three cheers to Ampersand. Or three f@$%s for free, whichever you prefer.