Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Get your head around this if you can

A quick email check has just turned up a press release from the Australian Society of Authors:


The Australian Society of Authors (ASA), the principal advocate for the professional and artistic interests of Australian authors, has condemned the recent decision of the Wollongong Mall management to ban readings in the Mall by poets from the South Coast Writers’ Centre during National Poetry Week.

According to Mall management, poetry reading cannot have any political or religious content. Without such a guarantee, management refused to allow the proposed readings to go ahead. This is despite the fact that the Mall management allows Christmas carols to be performed, as well as the occasional political protest. The “seditious intent” of poetry though seems too much for Wollongong Mall.

ASA Executive Director Dr Jeremy Fisher said: “These sorts of decisions highlight the problems caused by the sedition provisions of the Government’s anti-terrorist laws. Administrators of public property feel it is safer to totally prohibit public performance rather than risk anti-government comments being made. This of course is exactly what sedition laws are designed to do — stifle public debate.”

Significantly, Mall policy on this issue was amended and ratified in November 2005, at the same time the anti-terrorist measures were being pushed through Federal Parliament.

The South Coast writers have not been deterred by the Mall management’s actions, however. A protest reading, featuring political and religious poems, is planned to be held in Wollongong on 6 September. The ASA urges all authors to support the right of South Coast poets to read their works untrammelled in public.

Dr Jeremy Fisher
Executive Director
Australian Society of Authors
PO Box 1566 Strawberry Hills NSW 2016
+61 (0)2 9318 0877 Fax: +61 (0)2 9318 0530
0438 318 673

So richly ripe is this ruling for mockery that I scarcely know where to start, but perhaps I had better not start at all; poking fun at it on a blog is probably seditious as well.

This kind of bureaucratic interference is on a par with the role of the hapless Detective Vogelsang in the unfolding of the Ern Malley affair, and suggests the same degree of incomprehension. You have to wonder what on earth they think they mean by 'politics' and 'religion'. What poem -- indeed, what human utterance -- is not to some degree or another, if only by the power of omission, shot through and through with either politics or religion, or with both?

Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

See you, Jim

Yesterday while in the middle of a mammoth clean-up, I came across an invitation to the farewell lunch in Sydney that his mates at The Australian were having for its former literary editor James Hall ('Jim in person but never in print') on the occasion of his retirement.

This invitation was two years old, but something had made me keep it -- possibly the lovely little drawing of a small dog alone on a stage, watching the curtain come down. I assumed this was a reference to the haunting and quite brilliant essay Jim wrote a few years ago while on holidays in Italy, about a stray dog that had adopted him and was following him around. Looking at the invitation, I recalled the essay clearly, and wondered whether he'd gone travelling again since he retired.

So it was quite a shock, a few hours later, to open The Australian and see that he had died of a heart attack in the middle of a tennis match. He was only 71. I wrote book reviews for him for several years and he was, like most other literary editors I've known, a pleasure to work for and with: thoughtful about his commissions, open to suggestion, tolerant of my occasional errors and screw-ups and apologetic about his own.

The obituary yesterday mentioned that at the very moment his heart attacked him, he was in the process of hitting a, if not the, winning stroke in the tennis match. I hope this wasn't poetic license; it does seem like a good way to go. And I hope he meets up with that Italian hound again, somewhere in the life to come.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Patrick White Corner

'How do you make your money, Tib?' Miss Slattery asked, picking at the mink coverlet.

'I am Hoongahrian,' he said. 'It come to me over ze telephown.'

Presently Szabo Tibor announced he was on his way to inspect several properties he owned around the city.

He had given her a key, at least, so that she might come and go.

'And have you had keys cut,' she asked, 'for all these other women, for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, in all these other flats?'

How he laughed.

'At least a real Witz! An Australian Witz!' he said on going.

It seemed no time before he returned.

'Faht,' he said, 'you are still here?'

'I am the passive type,' she replied.

Indeed, she was so passive she had practically set in her own flesh beneath that glass conscience of a ceiling. Although a mild evening was ready to soothe, she shivered for her more than nakedness. When she stuck her head out of the window, there were the rhinestones of Sydney glittering on the neck of darkness. But it was a splendour she saw could only dissolve.

'You Austrahlian girls,' observed Tibby Szabo, 'ven you are not all gickle, you are all cry.'

'Yes,' she said. 'I know,' she said, 'it makes things difficult. To be Australian.'

-- 'Miss Slattery and her Demon Lover', The Burnt Ones, 1964

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Get your oven-fresh Aust Lit news here

Australian Book Review now, as of yesterday, has a blog!

And from it, I have learned that First Tuesday Book Club has decided to replace one of their two projected books for next month's discussion, Helen Garner's The First Stone, with something else.

On the whole, I think this is just as well, as I think it would have dominated discussion to the point of obliterating comment on any other aspect of the program. Blogospheric discussion of the first episode over the last week has inevitably centred on Garner and TFS, and I am still as astonished as I was when it was first published in 1995 to see the bile still being poured over Garner by people who are still proud to say they have not actually read the book.

Many of these are people who would rightly scorn to write 'I know this is true, because my friend told me' in a scholarly footnote, so why they think it is okay to argue this way elsewhere is one of the mysteries of life.

No matter what one's position, it is intellectually indefensible to trash a book that one has not read.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Things I would have blogged about here by now if I'd had the chance

1) Kate Grenville reading and talking about The Secret River at the University of Adelaide the Friday before last

2) The ABC's First Tuesday Book Club

3) John Kinsella's wonderful gossipy memoir, Fast, Loose Beginnings: a memoir of intoxications

4) More Patrick White

It won't heppen overnight. But it wull heppen.*

* Ancient Rachel Hunter joke