As I write this, we are still in mourning from a right-wing terror attack on Christchurch that took many lives, and damaged us all. Two weeks ago today, the true and brutal nature of fascism yet again showed its hideous visage.
There is a word I love in Italian for which there is no equivalent in English: dimenticatoio, the place for things you want to forget, or have forgotten already. You might say, for instance, that an old, cherished custom has ended up in the dimenticatoio, a concept you would likely render in English with the phrase ‘has fallen into oblivion’.
All living things are categorised, in order to make the dazzling, teeming variety of life comprehensible. Scientific taxonomies run from the general to the particular: human beings, for example, are in the domain of the Eukaryote, the kingdom of Animalia, the phylum of Chordata, the class of Mammalia, the order of Primates, the family of Hominidae and the genus of Homo, hence our species name, Homo sapiens – ‘wise man’.
Whether Abbott’s position is genuinely held or simply a vindictive political gesture is difficult to assess. I don’t think it matters as much as his goal – the goal of denialists more generally – to ‘keep minds turned off on the meta-level,’ as philosopher Elizabeth Minnich puts it, so there are ‘no questions about [the issue], no looking back and wondering, no reaching for connections to beliefs.’
‘Loud’ writing attracts attention with its zeitgeisty theme or high-concept plot. An ambitious, edgy approach to form or genre that demands to be read as spectacle. A punchy, fast-paced writing style that doesn’t so much invite you into the story as hustle you along with it.
I read in the Cambodia Daily that Survivor has wrapped up filming on Koh Rong, in the Gulf of Thailand, so I go to see for myself. It’s July, the wet season; by midday the sky is a silvery purple that deepens until it bursts in the late afternoon. I picture a barely inhabited oasis, rugged and poised, the kind of island I mentally synthesise when in bed watching Survivor, but with the remnants of a major US game show – discarded fibreglass reproductions of Angkor devas, a neat circle of attractive stones around a pile of ash.
While thinking about this huge subject of silencing, the muting of voices, and bullying tactics used to oppress, humiliate, manipulate, create fear and exclude, I thought about how to tell this story about censorship in another way – by visualising an extreme situation where the world was stopped from telling stories. Let’s say we lived in a story-less world where our rich literary traditions no longer existed, and have been excised from memory.
But for decades, palaeontologists have been trying to hose down myths around firestick farming. UNSW Associate Professor Scott Mooney, who led a 2010 study of charcoal records across Australia dating back 70,000 years, told the ABC: ‘The firesticks are definitely in the colonisers’ hands, not the original inhabitants.’ Whitefellas, he explained, have ‘imagined the past’.
Kashmir is a tourist retreat in an occupied land. Every year, as the monsoon rolls across India, bringing with it both soaring temperatures and pounding rain, the county’s elite escape to the overwhelming beauty of the Kashmir Valley. These two realities – Kashmir as a haven for holidaymakers and a warzone for locals – remain remarkably separate, so much so that when one invades the other the effect can jar, like a jolt of absolute reality.
Chinese-Australians continue to be marginalised and othered in dominant culture and discourse, assumed by many to be more recent arrivals than anyone who happens to have white skin and an undetectable accent. This prejudice persists through the same tired stereotypes and colonial fears of the Yellow Peril. We are blamed for everything from driving up house prices to threatening national security.
Talking to other women, we all seem to cycle through this: switch it on, swipe, start a bunch of awkward conversations, go on a bunch of terrible dates, get frustrated and tired, delete the bloody thing, before downloading it again a few weeks, maybe a few months, later. In a moment of weakness, we say, but it’s not that, or not exactly.
To understand Australian concepts of enjoyment’, Donald Horne wrote in The Lucky Country, ‘one must understand that in Australia there is a battle between puritanism and a kind of paganism.’ Puritanical leisure, Horne felt, was the product of numerous religious sensibilities, yet ‘ordinary’ Australians – who Horne saw as white, middle-class suburbanites – tended to embrace an opposing view of their recreation: a worship of nature and the body for their own sake.
Reading 311 submissions gathered from across the world in the tight window of one week is complexly affective. Encouraging through the breadth and energy of the futures and pasts being simultaneously imagined; confronting in the depths of suffering and despair under capital those narratives so often described. Finally, of course, it was an impossible challenge to say which of so many stories, in so many voices and styles, should be published at this particular moment.
This is Cassilis, a place somewhere in Victoria, I can hear my mother saying through the grey-green sheet. Several nights like this, with the sheet between us, and I am pleased to say only the faintest sounds issue from the other side. Mostly I hear her tongue moving in her mouth and then, in the mornings, the soft swish as she fastens the five buttons along the trim of her coat.
Long long time ago, before the apocalypse, there lived an old woman. She kept the seasons in her body, the land rose and slept when she blinked. She held the tides in her breath, and the earth spun around the sun in rhythm with her heartbeat. She sang all the stories that were held in her body, and the songs became wind and rain and heat and language.
No-one says anything when we leave our small baby blue townhouse from the back door. We do this because the front door has been broken since the owner said he’d fix it when I was sixteen, but now I’m pushing twenty-one and still no sign from the landlord. I wonder how a middle-aged white man who sells ice cream and manages an extermination business from the same garage could be so busy for years that he is incapable of fixing his own door.
The melancholy new patriot wants to be alone.
This is the story of his smithereens.
The three winning poems, as with those on our shortlist, are vastly different in their aesthetics, but what unites them is a shared ethics of seeing the world and its sociopolitical constructs anew, and a searching for patterns that might make sense of what’s impossible to resolve – our shared, though disparate, existence in the Anthropocene.
Can you see this picture – in Ngiyampaa and Gamilaraay country?
in the outback, a Toyota police car cruised on a misty, quiet as death, night,
near the outback town of Wilga, a tidy town
i don’t know who my friends are, their names keep changing. as if geometry had texture, textures, the world bleeding into the horse from above. i move an emotion before the court. the judge is a series of bevelled cornices.
Blackfellas is over the edge
a sheer drop beside a path
perched against the limestone cliff
Artwork for this edition by celebrated photographer, Hoda Afshar.