Evelyn Araluen, contributor and 2018 Judith Wright Poetry Prize winner
While 2018 was another year of government failure, it was also a year in which blackfellas thrived creatively and critically. Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country and Rachel Perkins’ Mystery Road rightly took out nine Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards between them, while the less-discussed but equally impressive feature film Emu Runner, developed by Imogen Thomas and Aunty Frayne Barker, shone a stunning light on matrilineal and ancestral love in small-town Brewarinna. We Don’t Need A Map and Occupation Native, by Thornton and Trisha Morton-Thomas respectively, were both sharp, edifying, and provocative interrogations into the constant negotiation of settler and Indigenous identities in the historic and contemporary colony, and solidified the importance of funny lil Captain Cook statues as an expository staple in Australian documentary. Black Comedy once again broke artistic boundaries and polite sensibilities with its third season, one highlight including their parody of the infamous Sunrise debate on Aboriginal adoption, which tackled the age-old question ‘Are white people c*nts?’ with a panel of ‘qualified people and a woman’. Amy McQuire shot back a brilliant response to Sunrise’s hypocrisy and ignorance in her essay ‘Spare Us Your False Outrage’ for IndigenousX, outlining the work of organisations such as Grandmothers Against Removals to address issues in the foster care system long before Samantha Armytage and her expert panel took up arms.
Nayuka Gorrie’s recent essay for The Guardian on prison abolition, co-written with Witt Church, was a powerful intervention into the pervading complacency to the ongoing violence against Aboriginal bodies at the hands of the state, and an important celebration of the grassroots and activist networks that have been fighting to imagine a world beyond prisons. Other critical highlights for me in this year were Chelsea Bond’s ‘The Irony of the Aboriginal Academic’ for IndigenousX, which spoke to my experiences and aspirations in a way that no other commentary on the politics of institutional access and restriction ever has; Jeanine Leane’s ‘Subjects of the Imagination: on dropping the settler pen’ for Overland, which like all her writing is sharp, nuanced, and intellectually generous to those who are actually prepared to resist complacency and acknowledge Aboriginal expertise; and stepping across waters but not struggles for a moment – Cree poet Billy-Ray Belcourt’s ‘Fatal Naming Rituals’ for Hazlitt both broke and built me each time I returned to it over the year.
2018 was also a year of black excellence in literature, with Alexis Wright taking out the Stella Prize for her phenomenal biography of Tracker Tilmouth, Claire Coleman’s harrowing speculative fiction novel Terra Nullius winning the Norma K Hemming Award, and the shortlisting of four fantastic releases for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards – Tony Birch’s Common People, Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip, Kim Scott’s Taboo, and Alison Whittaker’s Blakwork – each highly anticipated releases from writers working in the height of their powers.
In a year that failed to convince me to leave the house much, these incredible works provided excellent company.
Michalia Arathimos, contributor and fiction reviewer
I can’t recall any books that have disappointed me this year, and can’t remember any bad film or theatre experiences, either. My favourite interview of the year featured on The Lifted Brow in July: ‘Balm for my soul: an interview with Jia Qing Wilson-Yang‘ by Lee Lai. I loved this because it contains an almost casual dissection of how an author may disassemble the clearly delineated spaces prepared for some authors. What is an author to do while writing while brown, or in a non cis-gendered body? Jia Qing Wilson-Yang eludes simplification.
A literary highpoint was Melbourne Writer’s Festival of 2018, spearheaded by the slightly left-of-field Marieke Hardy. I loved ‘Love Letters to Loss’, in which participants were invited to write letters which were then transformed into origami. I would describe this space, in which I was guided by silent attendants clad in circus garb, as both ‘deep Melbourne’ and genuinely transformative.
In the book realm I loved The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser, and Our Life in the Forest by Marie Darrieuseccq. A cultural moment I particularly enjoyed was when Caitriona Lally was awarded an esteemed Irish literary prize for her debut novel by the very university that employs her as a cleaner. This is delightful and rather illustrative, I thought.
Something that’s on my radar now that wasn’t in 2017 is the dance form Polyswag, a style championed by choreographer Paris Geobel. Geobel is the driver behind The Palace, a studio that is regarded as the best in the hip hop world, which mixes gender-queer poly and Pasifika styles into traditional hop hop.
On my radar more than ever is global warming, after the UN warned that we have only twelve years until ‘climate catastophe‘. I also read something terrifying projecting what Alice Springs will be like to inhabit twenty-two years into the future. And, both a high and a low political moment: the passing of the Migration Ammendment (Kids off Nauru) Bill in October. A high point because some children in detention will benefit from this. A low point because policies that make it possible to extract specific victims from concentration camps do not address the fact that such camps continue to exist.
Mandy Beaumont, reader and guest fiction ed
2018 has been about power in so many ways – from building it to losing it.
In the world of literature, strong and uncompromising women on the page have dominated my reading. I’ve devoured every book by the acclaimed Roxane Gay, revisited Clementine Fords Fight like a Girl and discovered Carmen Maria Machado, who’s short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, blew me away for its strong narrative exploring women’s lives and their bodies. I also loved Pulitzer Prize winning author Stacy Schiff’s The Witches, a fabulously researched account of Salem in 1692, where strong women were the victim of men’s often-fragile political agendas and religious beliefs. Reading these women, the ground has begun to swell beneath my feet as I begin to feel our shared collective experiences merging as one powerful voice. I’m ready for the revolution.
In politics, I’m also excited by the revolution that feels just within reach for us as workers. As a proud trade unionist, it’s been so empowering and exciting to witness the power that another uncompromising women, Sally McManus, backed by the Australian union movement, has begun to instil in us as workers. As the face of so many of us fighting for greater equality and fairness in Australian, she is shaping and building a popular narrative that explodes the myths of neoliberalism, demanding to be heard on what is fair and just for all working Australians.
2018 has also been about losing power. At the time of writing this, in 2018, men in Australia have killed 61 women. With a federal government seemingly intent on not engaging in any form of meaningful action or discussion to combat this ever increasing number, and a slew of media outlets still relying on old narratives of sexism and slut-shaming to make news, there has never been a more important time than right now to make our feminism loud – in the streets, on the page, in our communities, in our art and in our work.
In the same time period, Safework has reported 109 work-related deaths in Australia. With the federal government’s continued support of the ABCC, and the ongoing demonisation of strong building industry unions like the CFMEU, whose top priority is worker safety, our power is in the rising of our collective voices. We must continue to shape a world in which deaths like these are not commonplace. In 2018, and beyond, it’s important that we continue to build our power collectively to dismantle the systems that support and enable these fatalities to occur. It’s important to continue to build power through our varied activism, fighting for what is right, to honour the dead and make a just world for the living.
Sarah Burnside, contributor and nonfiction reviewer
To be honest, I’ve all but given up on that major pursuit of our age: staying up to date with pop culture. I managed to catch a few episodes of Killing Eve, but I’m otherwise entirely ignorant of all the must-see TV, must-listen podcasts etc of the Year That Was. Frankly, there are just too many shows and, as Tom Carson argues in the Baffler, they are often relentlessly dark and paranoid. Currently, my cultural consumption largely involves children’s books, The Wiggles and the travails of a) the pyromaniacal doofuses who populate the village of Pontypandy and b) the oppressed worker-engines of the Island of Sodor. I did however find time for some highlights, which included:
– Megan Davis’ perspective-altering Monthly essays
– Playschool, which remains uniformly excellent entertainment for small children
– Judith Brett’s brilliant biography of Alfred Deakin which doubles as a wide-ranging political history
– The wise and compassionate Ask a Fuck Up column
– That episode of the Justine Clarke show which features Tim Rogers in leopard print playing electric guitar
Andrew Doyle, fiction reader
I read a number of classics this year, and didn’t love most of them – Moby Dick, The House of Mirth and Washington Square, among others. While they typically finished strong, they were encumbered by their cultural distance, and seeming obsession with hiding their central themes in florid language to the point of obscurity. But I’m also sick of MFA novels, American ones in particular, that are polished, thematically rich and engaging, and utterly soulless. Books produced, shaped, cut and dried by committee, not the individual. Every sharp edge or difficulty is smoothed over or excised.
The books that stayed with me were the curious, odd, idiosyncratic novels, like Magnus Mills’ strange Explorers Of The New Century, Jenny Erpenbeck’s moving Go Went Gone, Olivia Laing’s baffling Crudo, and Lisa Halliday’s literary star spotting Asymmetry. None of them without faults, but all with the verve, gusto and strangeness of life. Most importantly they didn’t surrender their ideas willingly. They felt like novels written to tell their story, not a moral message.
SJ Finn, contributor and fiction reader
This year has been a romp of theatre and books for me. Trustees by The Belarus Theatre Company and Unknown Neighbours, a collaboration between Korean and Australian actors, topped my list of good shows. As for books, my favourite reads from the year are: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire, Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn, The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills, and my very best favourite, Some Tests by Wayne Macauley.
Benjamin Laird, website producer
While the political climate continues to be despairing there have been some high points of people taking action. Close to home and locally the student Climate Strike and the continual resistance shown by refugees under appalling conditions. In the US, it has been inspiring to see so many grassroots, community-based activists succeed, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Google workers fighting back twice: once against the company’s involvement with the US military, and later over Google’s failure to adequately handle sexual harassment (inside the company).
I’ve read some terrific print and visual poetry this year: Monica Ong’s Silent Anatomies (from 2015) is a clever collection of textual, visual and diagrammatic poetry; Bella Li’s second collection, Lost Lake (2018), mixes collage and prose poetry to stunning effect; and Mercedes Eng’s Prison Industrial Complex Explodes, winner of the 2018 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, is a powerful documentary long poem that interweaves personal poetry, family photos, correspondence and government documents, contrasting the rhetoric of the state on multiculturalism against the existing systemic racism as realised in the prison system.
Rachael McGuirk, prizes & publicity
On the road this year, I wondered how much environment influences the works we engage with. On a tram in Berlin, I begun to read László Krasznahorkai’s novel The World Goes On. Krasznahorkai’s ideas span pages with minimal punctuation and I wanted so badly for it to be worth the work, but for me, it sadly wasn’t. In 2018, time seemed too thin to waste. In London I picked up Deborah Levy’s The Cost of Living and read it in Russel Square Park in 30 degree-heat with a beer. Levy’s riding around there, on an electric bicycle in a stage of remaking, and I can almost see her. What initially reads like an internal monologue is so much more: it becomes not just Levy’s story, but the story of every woman who has spent a life of labour, of serving everyone’s needs but their own.
In France, I begun to read Virginie Despentes Vernon Subutex 1 (translated by Frank Wynne). Shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, this novel was my favourite of the year. Despentes uses the journey of her anti-hero Vernon, a record dealer who becomes homeless, to satirise France’s current political polarisation while examining poverty, pornography and misogyny with true guts, grit and originality. Despentes is fierce and bold, critical and divisive. And the only good thing about this book coming to an end was to realise it’s part of a literary trilogy!
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot was the most memorable film of the year for me. Directed by the very tender and talented Gus Van Sant, it follows the true story of John Callahan, a cartoonist who becomes paralysed at the age of twenty-one, to ultimately find a sense of solidarity in unlikely places.
I always come to Stan in the same way: hungover, hungry and restless; looking for something to distract me. My guilty-pleasures of the year were Sweet Bitter, Smilf and The Bold Type. The series that impressed me the most was Vida, for its originality and characterisation. As we’re introduced to a Latinx community in East LA post-funeral, I felt like I was witnessing something quite special. Reminiscent of a Junot Diaz novel in its hybrid language where no time is wasted on explanations for the monolinguals, Vida is definitely worth streaming this summer.
A report released this year found that since just 1970, humanity has wiped out 60 per cent of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. I haven’t been able to shake that statistic since it was published in October, and I don’t think any of us should move into 2019 without letting it fully sink in.
Jennifer Mills, fiction ed and contributor
In a year when I was looking for more Anthropocene fiction, Ling Ma’s Severance and Richard Powers’ The Overstory were two of my favourite novels – very different books that I think engage with the political in refreshing ways. In nonfiction, Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains, Sarah Sentilles’ Draw your Weapons and Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic were essential, deeply moral books that together made me re-examine all my assumptions.
We have a luxury of choice for political lowlights in 2018. My pick: watching yet another Australian government find itself unable to commit to anything much at yet another UN Climate summit. My frustration has only been compounded by October’s IPCC report, which confirmed the urgency of cutting emissions. Time’s running out and loyalties are becoming ever clearer.
Highlight: seeing young people all over the country walk out on Climate Strike has kept me from despair. Let’s make 2019 the year we quit coal!
Lizzie O’Shea, contributor
A low point on 2018 would have to be the disastrous final parliamentary sitting days, with the Coalition doing its usual fearmongering and the Labor party doing its usual display of spinelessness. Together they passed encryption laws that put us all at risk. But while parliaments may not have covered themselves in glory this year, the people who elect them continue to show themselves as a force for change. The repeal of the 8th Amendment in Ireland, a country in which reform on this issue appeared a daunting prospect not to long ago, was an incredible achievement, powered by hope, hard work and wonderful women who had faith that everyday people could be won to a vision of a better world. It was a joy and an honour to be part of such a campaign alongside my Irish sisters.
One of the most wonderful books I read this year was Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, an engaging examination of Aboriginal political economy and society prior to colonisation. It’s full of fascinating insights, as well being a powerful call to action in world in which we urgently need to find better ways to manage our natural resources. A worthwhile addition to any summer reading list.
Rebecca Slater, fiction reader
2018 was a year of hope and horror for women worldwide, and my reading habits reflected this. I loved Carmen Maria Machado’s feminist short fiction collection Her Body and Other Parties (soon to be adapted for TV!), Sophie Mackintosh’s dystopian debut The Water Cure and Sophie Collins’ poetry collection Who is Mary Sue?. For sassy girlpower vibes I went for tunes by Soccer Mummy with a sexy side of graphic work by Melbourne-based writer/illustrator Eloise Grills.
Andrew Stuckgold, poetry reader
Best things: Working on my own manuscript – a poetry collection. It’s just about done so I’m starting to look around for a publisher.
Being an ongoing member of Judy Beveridge’s Every Other Wednesday Poetry Workshops. A very talented group of poets indeed. Then there is the sheer gold of Judy’s helpful commentary on people’s work. The best workshop I’ve ever been involved with.
A trip to Fiji with my partner Penny. We stayed in a resort on the island of Tuvalu, saw dolphins and pilot whales and did a lot of snorkelling on the reefs. We also took a bone-shattering trip to the east of the island in a tinny; the payoff was swimming with manta rays!
Best books: Judith Beveridge’s new collection, Sun Music. One poem in particular about Judy’s dog Bandit (recently deceased). Just lovely and wonderful.
The Horse, the Wheel and Language by David W Anthony. Hard-going but very engrossing. Tracing back to the origins of western languages through the march of Central and East-European archaeology.
Michelle Cahill’s The Herring Lass. As always, just great poetry.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. One of the so much betters; a Hugo and Nebula Awards winner. Very short but wonderful. An easy read with simple, sharp language that is a delight. The main protagonist is a kind of cosmic, punk, Bantu girl who accidentally finds herself facing the perils of a first-contact situation. Okarafor may well prove to be a worthy successor to Ursula Le Guin in years to come.
A Fistful of Hail (Vangabond Press), a chapbook by a very talented young writer called Dimitra Harvey. At a mere $10, it would have to qualify as best (poetry) buy for 2018.
Best television: The highlight of this year for us has been In the Line of Duty, British Crime with (many) a twist – stories based on the activities of C12, the British Police Force’s anti-corruption unit. Splendid, intelligent and well-acted drama as only the Beeb can do.
Giovanni Tiso, contributing ed
My best and worst of 2018 was the IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. The world is literally collapsing around us. I am amazed that we manage to talk about anything else. For instance: why am I still watching Better Call Saul? And why is Better Call Saul seemingly slowing down at every episode – is it also afraid of the passing of time? Better Call Saul is a prequel of a show that was set in the past to begin with and the prequel is the cultural dominant form for good reason. Soon everything will be a prequel.
I haven’t read any fiction published in 2018 yet. My favourite poetry collection was Are Friends Electric by Helen Heath and my favourite book of nonfiction was Daniel Trilling’s Lights in the Distance. I enjoyed Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin. It was released in New Zealand in March so it counts.
Sam Wallman, contributing ed
Marc Pearson and Michael Hawkins have established a blossoming printing outfit, Glom Press, operating largely out of their loungeroom and kitchen in Preston, just off Bell street. The two primarily employ the use of decades-old risograph printing machines (a Japanese technology which combines photocopying with stencilling to print a distinctive dusty ink coating in vibrant colours). They buy the machines secondhand and repair them on their own, with the help of youtube tutorials. Glom Press has produced hundreds of bold art prints for cartoonists and illustrators over the last year or two, experimenting with different colour combinations and paper stocks. They recently perfected a bookbinding method that enabled them to publish six small comic books, mainly by female cartoonists from around Australia. The books were funded by Glom Press and a small crowd-funding campaign. They are discrete, thoughtful, inventive and honest comic books. Glom Press have also printed activist posters for grassroots political campaigns taking place around Melbourne, including street posters supporting housing occupations, and an illustrated poster celebrating the young workers who took part in a successful wildcat strike at the ‘i-view’ call centre in Richmond. These posters were produced for free, in support of the social movements. A year-end head nod to Marc and Michael, whose invisible labour demonstrates their quiet integrity and commitment to concrete community building. You can follow Glom Press here.
Rasheeda Wilson, editorial intern
When I think about 2018 in retrospect, a lot of newly released literature, pop cultural trends and world events stand out. I would say that a definite highlight would be Black Panther released early this year. As an American Hollywood film, it broke through a lot of barriers concerning representation of minorities within mainstream media. As a Muslim woman, I was ecstatic to see an American film that featured mostly minorities to be received well by the general public. It did so well that Marvel is considering producing films in a similar vein. Word on the street is that an upcoming superhero movie featuring a Muslim woman of colour as Ms. Marvel is in the works. It goes to show how important it is to support films that represent minorities. Hollywood films definitely have a way to go when it comes to representing race, gender and class on screen but there is no doubt that they are a significant cultural influence that have the potential to change the way we talk about social issues.
One of the major downers of 2018 would have to be the appointment of Scott Morrison as Prime Minister in the recent liberal leadership spill. To see another racist, homophobic and conservative politician rise to a position of power and political influence was devastating. He has only been prime minister a couple of months but has already done a great deal of harm to the LGBT+ community and other Australian minorities including Muslims and the Sudanese community. In 2019 I hope to vote him and the Liberal party out of parliament!
Jacinda Woodhead, editor
In books: Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic, Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip, Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties, Alison Whittaker’s Blakwork and Andy Jackson’s Music Our Bodies Can’t Hold are all brilliant and burning works that left indelible impressions this year. Possibly my favourite book in 2018 (a hard phrase to commit to) was Jane Rawson’s novel From the Wreck, which was stunning in concept and execution. And one that I’m not sure I loved but its strangeness still haunts me is Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Worker, a commentary on late capitalism as much as gender oppression.
In 2018, I read many superb short stories – but one standout I would like to share is Laura Elvery’s ‘Your cart is empty’, from our most recent edition, which took out the fiction category of this year’s Fair Australia Prize.
In film: New Works from the Karrabing Film Collective that screened at MIFF: this is filmmaking that pushes the boundaries of what cinema is, and how and why it’s made (read an interview with some members of the collective here). In television: The Good Fight, Vida, Jane the Virgin – inventive and moving and funny and enraging and sharp, all three. In games: Return of the Obra Dinn, Hollow Knight, Two Point Hospital: I spent too much time on all three and didn’t finish any of them, which is why I haven’t yet started Subnautica. In podcasts: I’m not quite sure when it happened, but I listen to so many podcasts now: when I’m riding, typesetting, cleaning, cooking, shopping etc. And I’m constantly boring people with recommendations – but if I may share just one essential series here, it would be Ear Hustle, made by inmates at San Quentin State Prison.
Other highlights: Everything Janelle Monae. The work of the bold and indefatigable Seed – including occupying the lobby of Parliament House just a couple of weeks back, and their ongoing fight against Adani; the organised defiance and exuberance demonstrated by the Climate Strike a few weeks ago; and the campaign in Queensland to finally legalise abortion in the state. Now we need to take the fight to access.
Stephen Wright, contributor
I have read approximately two billion picture books out loud to children throughout my life, so I am more qualified than anyone else in Australia to say that Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Patchwork Bike is a very excellent book, and should probably win the Stella or the Miles Franklin, or whatever. Put it on your shelf alongside Alison Whittaker’s Blakworks (which is like an 800-page epic, epically condensed) and Eunice Andrada’s Flood Damages. And of course Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, which everybody in Australia has had time to read by now. If you haven’t read it, please get with the program.
I hardly ever watch things on screen, and tend to believe that Casablanca was secretly written by Frantz Fanon, Avengers movies are revolting, and fans of Games of Thrones should be viewed with deep suspicion. However Black Comedy is undoubtedly the funniest, most transgressive, and politically sharpest thing you will ever see on TV. I cannot begin to comprehend the size of the brains that produced it. Nayuka Gorrie and Nakkiah Lui should immediately be elevated to national treasures or gods of national sanity or something.
Speaking of sanity, the podcast Wild Black Women, hosted by Chelsea Bond and Angelina Hurley, has kept me from vomiting in despair several times this year. They use humour with really devastating effect and they are not afraid, and I thank them from the bottom of my wretched heart.
Award for Best Twitter Account goes jointly to: critical whiteness scholar Alana Lentin, who uses it to educate the rest of us brilliantly, and links to her comprehensive blog and lecture notes on investigating whiteness; to IndigenousX (who you should all support on Patreon immediately) for forthright and immensely varied content and commentary, and to the Murrigellas, a group of Aunties and Nigella fans who talk about cakes and dinner and Christmas and remind me that it’s possible to use the internet to look after each other.
Worst Newspaper of the Year Award goes to the Guardian, for another twelve months of stellar scaremongering and smear campaigns about radical politics, broadcasting of transmisogyny, Macron-worship, and continued employment of a battalion of the most pompous, reactionary, entitled columnists in Christendom.
Toby Fitch, poetry editor
2018 dropped with two cracking poems by Evelyn Araluen, ‘Guarded by Birds‘ and ‘Dropbear Poetics‘, which placed first and third in the Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize and confirmed the arrival (if her wins in the previous two Nakata Brophy Prizes hadn’t) of a special poetic voice. The year brought us other unique new voices in Australian poetry – first books by Elena Gomez, Rae White and Eunice Andrada stand out for their embodied poetics, each in different ways. The poems of Gomez’s Body of Work (Cordite Books) are screenshot-like, ‘bewitching torching’ and obliquely about what work, the internet, and other power structures, elicit from the body (see ‘Sp eak‘ and ‘Trial‘ in Overland #228). Andrada’s Flood Damages (Giramondo) is by turns vulnerable, angry, and sensual as it explores diaspora, love, violence toward women of colour, and intergenerational trauma – ‘do you hear the chords in me struck / down when she can’t breathe?’ White’s Milk Teeth (UQP), which includes ‘what even r u?‘, the second-placed poem in the last Judith Wright Prize, is a fearless depiction of identifying as non-binary, and of the self-care necessary for survival under ‘cis-tems’ of rigid categorisation.
In 2018 a few Australian poets left us. The first literary festival of the year, Perth Writers Festival, commemorated the great Fay Zwicky, who died in 2017, with readings from her Collected Poems (UWAP). In mid-2018, poets Ramon Loyola and Candy Royalle died too young. Ramon’s last book The Measure of Skin (Vagabond Press) was published just this year in Vagabond’s Decibels3 series, and is distinctive for its directness, its keening for beauty and connection. Candy was a brilliant spoken word poet and activist and her first official book A Trillion Tiny Awakenings (UWAP) was only just released (see the ‘Transqueer‘ edition of Cordite Poetry Review and Australian Poetry Journal 8.2 for individual poems). The book, which includes a long poem on her Palestinian heritage, is a long-overdue publication, and a sad one given she isn’t here for it. I’m looking forward to reading it over summer.
The vastly under-appreciated (and to many unknown) language artist Leif Mahoney also died this year. He was an eccentric, intelligent, gentle poet who often bemused audiences at the Sappho Books Poetry Nights I host in Sydney with his consummately avant-garde cameo performances. I’ve been fortunate to be able to publish a handful of his poems in Overland, including the allusive, concrete, Dada-esque ‘eight horizons‘, and his interleaving of Ern Malley poems, ‘Night pieces‘. He has unpublished manuscripts that should be seen to by publishers. Enquire within.
As poetry editor of Overland, and in my other part-time lit-world jobs, I’m lucky to have the opportunity to survey so much Australian poetry each year (though no one can read everything). 2018 was intense, in terms of the quantity and diversity of what was published, and so I’d simply like to list a further 11 books that mattered to me. I’ve limited my choices to poetry collections published strictly in 2018*. You might find a summer read or two in here:
Click here for what we do by Pam Brown (Vagabond Press), for its four long poems that appear as scrolling feeds of disjecta membra, and which accumulate into an evocation of pure surface – ‘just an info phase / we’re going through’.
Hot Take by Liam Ferney (Hunter Publishers), for its political and Twitterly pastiche poems that ‘coax the infant to say “dada”’
Blakwork by Alison Whittaker (Magabala Books). Empathetic, feral, ‘Heart … full and burstin’ blak’, these conceptual poems about race and oppression experiment with an array of forms on the page.
False Claims of Colonial Thieves by Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella (Magabala Books). Via call-and-response free verse of grief (‘Everything but money is very dead’) and healing (‘ground flowing rich with aridity’), this collection lights the way for how collaboration might happen between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous cultures.
Lost Lake by Bella Li (Vagabond Press) is another beautiful book object (her follow-up to Argosy); contains clean-cut collages and photography of decay and growth; interspersed are floating, surreal sequences of poems – ‘Each bedroom full of unknown people and strange birds’, simultaneously capturing feelings of loss and awe.
Subtraction by Fiona Hile (Vagabond Press), a kaleidoscopic, philosophical, cynical, lyrical critique, ‘Gliding like prophecy’ through the chopped-up waters and ruins of failed love.
The Alarming Conservatory by Corey Wakeling (Giramondo) presents poems as structures of culture and anxiety, and of limitless syntactical shifting – ‘My mishearing is the beginning of the truth’.
About the Author is Dead by Pascalle Burton (Cordite Books), for ‘machine[s] made out of words’ that typify play between the literary and digital worlds.
Aqua Spinach by Luke Beesley (Giramondo), for its synaesthetic montages / ekphrastic poems (of ink, paint, film and music), ‘always drawing on emotions caused by repetition’.
Walk Back Over by Jeanine Leane (Cordite Books) puts on record, again, the atrocities, erasures, traumas, and denial of colonial history – ‘Shake off that irksome black arm band’.
Tilt by Kate Lilley (Vagabond Press), for poetry that has a tilt at social evils, including sexual abuse and the harmful bureaucratic language employed to discriminate against minorities; a book that also documents and embodies a queer life, telling it slant, ‘I never really came out / just started turning up with lesbians’. It doesn’t waste a word – my favourite book of the year.
* Some excellent titles published in late-2017 were Parenthetical Bodies by Allison Gallagher (Subbed In), New and Selected Poems by Alison Croggon (Newport Street Books) and Chatelaine by Bonny Cassidy, Passage by Kate Middleton, and I Love Poetry by Michael Farrell (all three Giramondo).
Image: crop from cover of Blakwork by Alison Whittaker (Magabala Books).