When Lavrentiy Beria, the former head of Stalin’s secret police, fell out of favour with the Soviet government and was executed, the authorities proceeded to expunge his achievements and very existence from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. The publishers created four extra pages of the closest alphabetical entry – the Bering Sea – and sent them to every one of the encyclopedia’s subscribers so they could replace the entry for Beria. For people who lived in the Soviet Union, compliance with this kind of request wasn’t optional: being in possession of banned or unrevised texts implied criticism of the regime and carried with it a range of unpleasant consequences.
What I want to try to explain is why Australian books cost as much as they do. This is because readers tend to know very little about the process of book production and the various factors that drive up prices. (As a secondary point, lower prices do not guarantee higher sales. There is a limit to the number of books even the biggest bibliophile can read in a year. Books require a significant investment on the part of the reader, both in terms of money and time, and so publishers need to worry about quality control as much as affordable pricing.)
When teaching creative writing, I invariably ask my students why it is they want to write. The answers range from the predictable – ‘to straighten out my thoughts’, ‘to create my own world and escape reality’, ‘to remember and capture memories’ – to the faintly quirky – ‘to reproduce the contours of my mind’, ‘to take ideas out and decide if they are a diamond or a piece of glass’. While these reasons are perfectly valid, I am yet to encounter a student who gives the answer I did when I first began my writing journey: ‘to change the world.’
In June 2016, an Australian on minimum wage earned $656.90 per week. That is $34,159 a year, before tax. According to the Australian Tax Office’s ‘simple tax calculator’, the tax owed would be $3030, leaving a take-home salary of $31,128. Let’s call it $600 a week.
It’s fair to say that many of us would struggle to make ends meet on that income – $600 a week does not go very far in modern Australia.
I write in response to AJ Carruthers in ‘Four perspectives on race and racism in Australian poetry’ (Overland 222). Aside from noting that his characterisation of what seems to be the undefined majority of Australian poetry as ‘conventional verse culture’, which simply imports and slightly renames ‘official verse culture’, that term of dismissal used by US experimental against what used to be called ‘academic’ or ‘confessional’ poets, I thought I should say something about the way he portrays part of my poetry.