One thing you’re never going to forget is that first green light. Red lights surround most writers like a city in permanent gridlock. That first movement forward feels like a liberation from purgatory and fills our heads with dreams of open roads and freedom ruffling our hair. A few metres down the bitumen later, we know we’ll go on dreaming of those mythic speeds and spaces, but that first green light is still the most glorious release. Page Seventeen is all about illuminating those kinds of lights.
17 first time writers are published in Issue 7. It’s not my first story published but my contribution to the magazine is (fittingly) the first story I wrote. And a part of me suspects that in some ways it still might be the best thing I’ve written. Those first pieces we write to completion, the breakthrough stories or poems, can sometimes carry the most basic elements of our creative DNA.
That’s true for many writers more worthy of consideration than me. I still think Paul Auster’s ‘Invention of Solitude’ is the best thing he’s written and it was first up in his career. Similarly for Margaret Atwood and her mostly ignored masterpiece, ‘Surfacing.’ There are writers like Jack Kerouac, who wrote his breakthrough ‘On the Road,’ and then began a gradual decline for the rest of his career. Even when it’s not that kind of falling away, for a writer like Philip Roth, who continues to produce work of the highest calibre, if you read his breakthrough work ‘Goodbye, Columbus’ you’ll see him at his elemental best. The essential ingredients that went into making one of the greatest writers of modern literature are already there. If you then read ‘American Pastoral’ it becomes a different kind of perfection, one that has roots and has grown, rather than just sprung up from nowhere.
Even with local writers we’ve all seen published previously in magazines here and there, the examples of their writing in this issue of Page Seventeen, strikes me as the best of their work. It also speaks to the editorial acumen of the editor, Tiggy Johnson, that her choices seem so consistently spot on. My usual experience when reading through a literary journal is more like watching a game of percentages. So many clear misses that boggle the mind with their inclusion, that aren’t even explained by subjectivity. From page to page of Issue 7, every choice seems to clearly merit its place before your eyes. And I could go on in this vein, but I only hope that I’ll encourage a few people to go out and see for themselves.
I suspect though that the magazine will go the way of most small press publications. Scattering out across the country, read only by a few dedicated readers, finding homes in disparate places, among other writers mostly, but cherished by a few because it contains their only printed contributions in the harsh landscape of Australian literature. But there’s a lot to be said for those releases from gridlock, and even more for the magazine that has specialised in presenting them to us for much of the last decade. This is still where we will find most of our green lights and those first breakthroughs.