Owen Richardson: What you miss if you don’t subscribe to Overland

Owen RichardsonWhat would I have missed out on if I hadn’t subscribed to Overland this time last year? Fiction from Jacinda Woodhead (204), for one thing, a story that is politically engaged as well as formally inventive and satisfying, or the splendid young writers issue (201) with Rebecca Giggs, Sam Twyford-Moore, Cassie Wood and Frank Bryce. I wouldn’t wanted not to have read the debate between Mark Diesendorf and Andrew Bartlett on population control (203), or one of Guy Rundle’s indispensable commentaries on WikiLeaks (202) or John Martinkus on what happened to him in Iraq, and more pertinently what happened to him once he was back in Australia (204); or Rjurik Davidson’s piece on sci-fi and politics (202), Alison Croggon on how she has a herb garden in her bookshelf (204), and Jennifer Mills’s knockout ‘How to write about Aboriginal Australia’ (204) (‘When describing an Aboriginal man, always refer to his scars.’) And among the poetry, there has been terrific work from some of the brightest young poets, such as Luke Beesley (204) Judy Durrant (204, 203), Corey Wakeling and Thomas Denton (both 203). (Okay, so some of the people I’ve mentioned here are friends – but a Subscriberthon is a friendly kind of affair.)

I reviewed it, so I can’t honestly say that not being a subscriber meant I missed out on the goodies in the 200th anniversary issue, but that was the one that had Karen Hitchcock and Janette Turner Hospital along with Christos Tsiolkas, and the wonderful ‘Before Elapsing’, in which Derek Motion got twenty poets together to write a poem. (I’ll also cheat by bringing up Anwyn Crawford’s classic piece on Nick Cave, which was a while back now but really too good not to mention.)

And the materialism of left cultural critique has really come into its own with the Meanland Reading in a Time of Change project – it’s usually the first thing I turn to. Now more than ever we need to grasp how technology and economics (of publishing, of audiences, of the very business of being a writer) aren’t the outside of literature, but right there at its heart, from the three-decker novels of the nineteenth century – reading in a time of long train journeys – and the little mags and haute bourgeois patronage systems of Modernism, to the digital conniptions of the present. Meanland are (is?) right on the money following the new technologies, and I say that as a bit of a change-fearing Luddite.

Subscribing also means supporting the blog, which is now an essential part of Overland. One of the noticeable things about the Overland blog is how commenters mostly try to keep their manners: the epic dispute about the literature of commitment, for instance, was a model of good humour. (On the other hand, things did get a bit rough over Jacinda Woodhead’s refusal to be utterly thrilled by the accession of Julia Gillard, but then it was a pretty emotional moment for a lot of people.)

Being grown-ups, Overlanders don’t expect everyone to like them all the time – far from it – so I won’t pretend I think everything in the mag is wonderful. (And, um, could you maybe think of not printing the poetry on coloured paper (204)? Hard to read.) But otherwise we wouldn’t have those exchanges that start:

‘Did you see X’s article/story/poem/review in Overland? Wasn’t it crap?’
‘I quite liked it actually.’
‘Eee-yew, why?

Right there you’re off and running. One might even suspect Overland sometimes of being happy to give people the shits, and not so secretly either. It’s the grit in the ointment, the spanner in the works, a bunch of people who believe in something bigger than themselves and getting on. Long may it and they thrive. Subscribe!

Owen Richardson

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