'A capacity audience gathered at fortyfivedownstairs on March 18 for the announcement of the fifteenth Peter Porter Poetry Prize, one of the country’s leading awards for a new poem.
'First, there were readings of poems by Peter Porter. Peter Rose read Behrouz Boochani’s poem ‘Flight from Manus’, which has made such an impression on readers since its publication in the March issue. This seemed germane in the light of the appalling events in Christchurch three days earlier – another example of the consequences of the intolerance, xenophobia, and rancorous polemics that have stranded Mr Boochani and many others on Manus Island and Nauru.' (Advances, introduction)
'Rosie Waterland was twenty-one, couch surfing, and working at a cinema when she learned she was pregnant. A hot flush, then a wave of nausea, hit her on the toilet. ‘It was the kind of nausea that takes away any sense of dignity that a person has,’ she writes. She stripped off, lay down on the bathroom floor, and prayed for the feeling to pass.' (Introduction)
'Beyond the Ancient Quarrel: Literature, philosophy and J.M. Coetzee is a new collection of essays on J.M. Coetzee, perhaps the most important author of imaginative literature in the world today. Unifying the diverse strands of argument animating this thoughtful volume, the book’s editors, noted Coetzee scholars Patrick Hayes and Jan Wilm, link the aims of the collection to the ‘ancient quarrel’ between philosophy and literature in Greek antiquity. In their view, Coetzee’s writing can be taken not only to re-examine this quarrel and the way it was settled (in favour of philosophy and against literature in Plato’s Republic), but also, and more importantly, to break with the uneasy truce that has been deemed to govern intellectual life ever since.' (Introduction)
'A Season on Earth is the original version of Gerald Murnane’s second published novel, A Lifetime on Clouds, which appeared in 1976. The story behind this book’s publication is now well known, thanks to interviews Murnane has given and the author’s ‘foreword’ to this edition, where he relates how he reluctantly cut his manuscript in half to fit with Heinemann editor Edward Kynaston’s view of it as ‘a comic masterpiece’. Kynaston was probably trying to exploit the publicity surrounding Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, which had become a cause célèbre in Australia after being initially banned in 1970 but then published after its acquittal in an obscenity trial. The ‘sin of self-abuse’ is also central to Murnane’s novel. Towards the end of A Lifetime on Clouds, rewritten by the author especially for that earlier version, central protagonist Adrian Sherd imagines Melbourne to be ‘the Masturbation capital of the world’, but then comes to realise ‘the same problem occurred in every civilized country on earth’.' (Introduction)
'According to the AFP, two Australians under the age of eighteen are reported missing every hour. Most are found alive, fairly quickly, but an unlucky few will progress to the category of long-term missing persons. From the Beaumont children of the 1960s to the more recent disappearance of toddler William Tyrrell, vanishing children have long troubled the Australian imagination. But the nightmare for their families is not one from which they can easily unsubscribe. Denied confirmation of life or death, families are suspended in an immiscible admixture of grief and hope. Peggy Frew’s third novel, Islands, brings a sympathetic eye to this painful subject.' (Introduction)
'John Berger describes emigration as ‘the quintessential experience of our time’ (And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, 1984), and gives credence to the concept that geographic and psychological exile is pervasive to the human condition. ‘No one willingly chooses exile – exile is the option when choice has run out,’ says the protagonist of Invented Lives, Russian-Jewish émigré Galina Kogan.' (Introduction)
'Carol Lefevre is the author of two novels and a non-fiction book on Adelaide, all well received and awarded. Yet she is not as well known in her own country as she should be, having spent decades in England. I hope The Happiness Glass will remedy that.' (Introduction)
'It’s virtually axiomatic: ‘war can fuck you up’. This pithy observation, made by a veteran in The War Artist, Simon Cleary’s new novel about the travails of an Australian soldier during and after a tour of Afghanistan, goes to the heart of what we now understand about the impact of battle and its psychological aftershocks.' (Introduction)
'At the front of Miriam Sved’s A Universe of Sufficient Size is a black-and-white photograph of a statue. The cloaked figure holding a pen (‘like a literary grim reaper’, reflects one char (Introduction)acter) is the statue of Anonymous in Budapest, a significant setting in the book. Its inclusion is a reminder that the novel draws on the story of the author’s grandmother, mathematician Marta Sved (née Wachsberger).'
'Unusually for literary fiction, Alice Robinson’s The Glad Shoutopens right in the thick of the action:
Jostled and soaked, copping an elbow to her ribs, smelling wet wool and sweat and the stony creek scent of damp concrete, Isobel grips Shaun’s cold fingers and clamps Matilda to her hip, terrified of losing them in the roiling crowd.
'Isobel and her family are escaping a terrible flood that has destroyed Melbourne. Holed up in a stadium – perhaps the MCG – Isobel has no idea what is left of her beachside home or whether there are any plans for anyone to help her or the hundreds of other evacuees now trying to survive amid the bleachers.' (Introduction)
'If you were young and energetic and a believer in a range of progressive causes, Melbourne in the first three decades of the twentieth century was an exciting place. It was even better if you were in love.' (Introduction)
'Leah Kaminsky’s novel The Hollow Bones focuses on Ernst Schäfer, a German who was sent to Tibet by Himmler in the late 1930s, outwardly to collect plant and animal specimens; secretly to ‘search for the origins of the Aryan race’. Himmler’s abhorrent obsessions are not focused on – indeed, Schäfer’s expedition only makes up the final third of Kaminsky’s book. The first two-thirds concentrate on Ernst’s relationship with his young wife, Herta, and his deepening involvement with the SS.' (Introduction)
'Early on in Kindred: A Cradle Mountain love story, the journalist and walker Kate Legge dwells on an ‘extraordinary coincidence’ that took place over Christmas in 1903. While the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria were on excursion to Mount Buffalo, the itinerant prophet of the National Park movement, the Scottish-American John Muir, was also in the mountains of Victoria. On Christmas Day, Muir plunged into the valleys around the Black Spur to verify optimistic claims of eucalypts ‘as high as the Great Pyramid’. He was soon disappointed by how these mountain giants compared in height and age to the redwoods of the Sierras, but he was charmed by the seclusion and intimacy of Victoria’s forests.' (Introduction)
'Alison Whittaker’s début collection, Lemons in the Chicken Wire (2015), introduced a genuinely new voice to Australian poetry: that of a Gomeroi woman, a Fulbright scholar, and a poet who can bend and blend forms with the best of them. Her second collection of poems, Blakwork, places her firmly in both the broad community of celebrated Australian poets and the celebrated Aboriginal writers in Magabala’s lists.' (Introduction)
'Memoirs of illness are tricky. The raw material is often compelling: dramatic symptoms, embarrassing public moments, and unavoidable relationship pressures. The challenge is to share that raw material in a new way. Not every memoir needs to turn on the conceit that illness is an obstacle that must be overcome.' (Introduction)
''Mary Pickford may have been America’s sweetheart,’ Mae West is recorded to have said, ‘but I’m their wet dream.’
'At the start of Stephen’s Sewell’s new play, Arbus & West, West, in her late seventies, wisecracks sexily with audiences around the United States and jibes with her long-suffering dresser and personal assistant, Ruby (played with poise and perfect-pitch by Jennifer Vuletic). As she rests during interval, the famous actress and singer’s witty sense of being irresistible seems undimmed, until Ruby tells her that the photographer Diane Arbus has died. It was suicide, she continues. West is rattled but feigns indifference. She is surprised, she says; surely there were enough people who wanted to kill Arbus, without her needing to do the deed herself?' (Introduction)