At times, being a woman in Australia is easier than it used to be. Women can go to university, have careers and are part of the public discourse; some women have economic independence and some can marry their girlfriends (overseas, anyway).
It’s very common. It happens to millions of women. It’s hard to talk about because you feel culpable. It must have been your fault – you are the slut those men said you were. Or you feel the shame of being made a victim. I never wanted to be made a victim. I am a victim. I am not a victim. It took me a long time to work out that I had agency in relation to men. I was raised to please a man. My mother told me I should take care never to appear more intelligent than a man.
One of the illuminating understandings that come with parenting a different child is how effectively childhood has been de-politicised, and how narrow and arid our perceptions of childhood are – and, by extension, how narrow and arid our perceptions of ourselves are.
If – as Matthew Arnold claimed in the nineteenth century – poetry is ‘a criticism of life’, the twentieth century has broadened the domain of the critic to include all forms of human expression and, ultimately, expression itself – that is to say, how we communicate experience to one another.
Perhaps I feel embarrassed to meet my favourite writers because I cringe at the whole literary cult of personality. Charisma may be the stock-in-trade of politicians, actors and musicians, but what makes writers heroic to me is their writing. That’s all. I don’t find their lives romantic, or seek to emulate their tastes or personal qualities.
There is nothing edifying about it. Of all human emotions, jealousy is the ugliest, the least dignified, the most destructive. It is inferiority, weakness and hostility. It is distress and anger and powerlessness. It is the desire to destroy, fuelled by deprivation. It is the urge to ‘rob and spoil’ in the face of happiness and privilege.
But if the literary left sometimes hesitates to defend literary value, the right might be more alert to its radical potential. It is possible to view the 2014 demise of the Literature Board within the Australia Council structure, the cutting of the Get Reading program and the shift of resources from individual grants to an industry-based Book Council as a series of ideological gestures.
In tracing this early history, it is important to acknowledge the women who were present throughout, such as the human computers of the 1940s, or Ada Lovelace (responsible for significant early contributions to the understanding of computer programming), or Veronika Megler (who co-created the critically acclaimed 1982 video game The Hobbit). But the existence of these women does not render the field less patriarchal – that is, open to men and often closed to women.
Now that the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program (DIP) has been released – not the full 6700-page document, mind you, but its 528-page executive summary – there is what the committee’s chairman Dianne Feinstein calls ‘comprehensive and excruciating detail’ available for public scrutiny.
I received the news digitally, in a text from an old housemate, Kat. Just to let you know, the message said. I was curled up on my couch, twined up with the new lover, whom I was introducing to a trashy sci-fi series I’d watched in the months after my first stint in a hospital day program, when I still felt too fragile for the social world, too tentative in my new routines, my new thought patterns, my new skin, to expose them too frequently to the wider world.
There’s a hopelessness about child sexual abuse. We’ve criminalised it. We prosecute it. But we can’t seem to stop it. The terrible stories that tumble out of every inquiry, every institution when it’s shaken upside-down, are too similar to the stories that keep rolling into news reports. This stuff is still going on.
The explosion of an atomic bomb above Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 came as a shock to Australians. The existence of the weapon was a well-contained secret – physicist Sir Mark Oliphant was one of the only Australians directly associated with the atomic bomb project – and the front pages of Australia’s newspapers were accordingly full of fear and wonder.
This year, the second Nakata Brophy Short Fiction and Poetry Prize for Young Indigenous Writers attracted a high calibre of entries. The judges – Jennifer Mills of Overland, Tony Birch, University of Melbourne, and Sally Dalton-Brown, Trinity College – unanimously selected this year’s winner.
We were fourteen kilometres out of Wilcannia when the rain pulled us up. A long gash of water had formed across the dirt highway, and we sat on our bikes, on the wrong side, swearing at it. A cop at the servo had told us that if we made the first fifteen, we’d have no worries. You’ll gun the rest of it, he had said.
I nudge my thumb down the cervical vertebrae until I feel the cut. Then I push in, grab, and twist. The break is a dull knuckle crack. I slice the skin through the cutter and chuck the neck in one direction, the chicken in another.
‘You are not going to make it to Australia,’ the Minister had told the Clients. ‘Not even in your dreams.’
Albert sits by his son’s hospital bed. A scrawny chicken in a summer shirt, his shoulders jut upwards like folded wings, his eyelids droop. The Akubra stays on his head; Albert doesn’t stand on ceremony.
I actually find it a little bit annoying when people who get all high and mighty and want to make some backhanded comment about my well-known business acumen say to me in that scoffing sort of tone: Leigh, let’s face it, you’d sell your own mother!
Opposed to ‘graceful asymmetry’ are those who misread ‘informality’ as a mess of disorder, indifference and vulgarity. Form in poetry has always been a moral or ethical problem, a political gesture.
rip through traffic lights in Brunswick to the sound of night lions sugar strings – teeth to tongue
In the beginning I carried fireflies for fuel, used a walking stick borrowed from the first blue gum and stuffed my pockets with scribbly bark;
tonight the pigment will rise through your skin, form in fawn formations deer: your stockinged