What is hope and why do humans need it? In this issue, in her inimitable style, Alison Croggon ruminates on this idea. Is hope ‘a desperate mirage to combat despair, an expression of our inability to comprehend the reality of our own mortality’, or ‘perhaps, this light, falling now, on that tree?’
‘What did it mean for a Black woman to be an artist in our grandmother’s time? It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop the blood,’ wrote Alice Walker in her 1974 article ‘In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: The Creativity of Black Women in the South’.
Recently I stumbled on a tweet that claimed to ‘love’ my podcasting appearances because ‘her lush plot summaries save me ever needing to read the book or watch the film’. The accusation of prolixity stung: I’ve always felt ashamed of writing, speaking and being … too much. As I considered the excessive lavishness of my descriptive powers, my blue-grey eyes grew luminous with tears, smearing my eyeliner into wings of woe.
One can praise succinctness, and opine that more words don’t always equal better words. (Karl Kraus: ‘There are writers who can say in as few as twenty pages what it takes me as many as two lines to express.’) But what if you don’t have enough to say? The wikiHow page entitled ‘How to Make an Essay Appear Longer Than It Is’ contains many useful suggestions aimed at the US college student who has trouble completing an assignment, but its wisdom is more widely applicable and would have impressed old man Dumas himself.
How do you trace the deaths of hope? Is it when you read that, after years of warnings, the Great Barrier Reef is dying? When you finally understand that no amount of evidence will change the fixed convictions of a bigot? When, in the parade of democratic debate, journalists expose once again the criminality of vast corporations – bribery, corruption, wanton environmental and social destruction – and after a dutiful flurry of outrage everything subsides back into ‘business as usual’?
In October 2015, thousands of South African students took to the streets, bringing their country to a virtual standstill. Mobilising under two interlinked movements – #RhodesMustFall (RMF) and #FeesMustFall (FMF) – the students organised a campaign that shut down the nation’s twenty-six universities. They were protesting an 11.5 per cent tuition hike that was to be introduced for the 2016 academic year. Just weeks after their protests began, the students had won: President Jacob Zuma announced there would be no fee increase.
I read Carol Shields’ last novel, Unless, in the summer of 2003, a book that examines, through the fictional life of author Reta Winters, the ‘callous lack of curiosity about great women’s minds’, and the differences in how our culture values books by women and men. Unless helped me realise that all my years of reading books – so-called great books – by male writers had left me fairly clueless about women’s lives. Through my literary education, I had come to embrace a world in which I, as a woman, saw myself as marginal, ephemeral, vague.
But Brandis’ real legacy as arts minister will be his oversight of the biggest restructure in arts funding since the Australia Council was given statutory authority in 1975. Brandis’ restructure of the Council in 2014, his elimination of the artform boards, his cutting of the Council’s budget in favour of the National Program for Excellence in the Arts (later relaunched as Catalyst – Australian Arts and Culture Fund), and his establishment and then shelving of the Book Council of Australia (BCA) have significantly changed the funding landscape.
Any Australian wanting to make the case that the right prefers fairytales to science, reason and logic will not lack raw material. This story merits some unpicking, but what is rather extraordinary is that the Abbott and Turnbull governments have seemed intent on proving it to be true. The casual observer could be excused for concluding that the Coalition harboured some deep-seated grudge against the sciences, as though somehow, at a formative age, someone in a lab coat wielding a Bunsen burner had hurt the government’s collective feelings and it had never truly recovered.
At a recent meeting with business leaders Key expounded his vision to transform the country into the ‘Switzerland of the Asia-Pacific’. Where Europe is beset by terrorism and refugees, America by the spectre of populism left and right, China by ecological catastrophe, and Australia by incompetence, New Zealand remains blissfully unafflicted. Key offers New Zealand as the last new world with echoes of Emma Lazarus: ‘Give me your tired plutocrats, your foreign capital yearning to breathe free and I will give you flexible labour markets, trust-fund anonymity, few investment restrictions and 0 per cent capital gains tax.’
Reasons for coming out vary; I don’t recall exactly why I did it. In hindsight, it was something I had to do before something fatal happened. I came out after I moved to Melbourne, where I found clubs with boys kissing boys and middle-aged men buying me drinks. Before I came out, when living in rural Victoria, I altered my speech and my body language. I changed the names of my dates when I spoke to friends, kept track of lies I told. After I came out, this stopped. The world kept spinning.
So I applied to join the police academy and in due course took my place alongside two dozen other fresh-faced hopefuls. For six long months we studied laws and memorised regulations; we clambered over obstacle courses, practised combat techniques and marched aimlessly around a parade ground, withering under a barrage of hollered commands, until at last our inculcation was assumed complete and we were ready to be sent out into the world. Our graduation ceremony took place on the same Friday that we received our firearms.
How can I write if I look at my hands and they seem to me formless lumps? I can barely pick up the spoon to taste a mouthful of soup. The other day a young woman, a work colleague, tried to assist me, but I refused her help. That my hands have lost something of their human form is daily humiliation enough. I don’t want her compassionate eyes on me.
This was what happened, Salvador. You summoned me and I came back to life.
I called her in the middle of the night and waited for her to answer with no voice at all, with a voice that I didn’t know and hadn’t heard in years, with a voice from a phone book or a gentle collision in the street, and the dark inside was strong and the grass outside was weeping with dew while a light frost had honed its edge on the corners of the lawn in the shadow of the night now night, and there in my hand was an old-fangled phone with its dirt-cream body like a shack-town sink and its dial all hurried and laboured.
When I saw this young woman walking around town, I knew she was rich. Glossy brown hair in curls, not like our curls, loose, and she’d pulled it on top of her head like a pile of dog shit. She could not have come from this island – and not because she’s white. Our mothers here would not let her leave the house looking like that, like such a rag doll. That’s how I know she’s rich.
When I woke that morning I felt as if
I had a slight fever; warm and viscous
with the slippery perception of vertigo.
On your Christina Rossetti lips
Is this page scribble-ready?
Possibly, but how the word?
That match, I watched it sitting on my hands.
Just around the street corner the sky heard
The man say to the woman
But that’s what this place is like
In the dream, there is repetition
In the dream, I cannot make them understand
In the dream, my fingertips itch, and they redden –
and they apologise in all their emails
and they remember where they put their keys
and they buy vegetables and milk
The swung torch scatters seeds
The intemperate torch grazed
In the umbelliferous dark
‘I had read in books that art is not easy’
that words hide themselves in dark corners
no-one warned of the colourful spires
Yonder the rainbow gum by the mangrove choke point, which catches plastics and suburban stormwater debris where the river mouth kisses the lake and feeds algae and plankton and newly hatched schools of bluefish
- burnt by moonlight
- had sustained stab wounds
- consequence of financial trouble
Sponsored by Trinity College at the University of Melbourne and supporters, the Nakata Brophy Prize recognises the talent of young Indigenous writers; first place awards a three-month writing residency at Trinity College, $5000 and publication in Overland.
This year’s shortlist was very strong, with the top three poems closely matched. All three winners are available to read at overland.org.au.
don’t know how it happened
think I got
a non-Indigenous girlfriend
who thinks she’s an expert
Above his desk it is written: ‘I wish I knew the names of all the birds.’ I know this room through tessellation of leaf and branch,
Emirates Airline flies Zagreb to Mexico City with as few as eight passengers, and still
makes a profit.
Sandra is telling me this because I was eating Croatian kiflice, to which I return.