Tuesday, 23 October 2007

I was going to discuss Phoenix, the University of Sydney Writers Journal (2006) but the prose is uniformly dull and the poetry didn't push many buttons either. They're all compliant with the maxim 'show not tell' yet missing is a daring needed to keep me reading past the first para.

Given a choice, I'd spruik Micah Horton who, in the society's meetings, sports a black felt hat. His poems contain an accuracy of expression missing in all the short stories (many labelled 'extract from a novel', depressingly). For example, this from 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik':

You walk to the station
through a horror cliche underpass;
lonely streetlights, furtive bed rolls and
cask bladder pillows,
walls cast with calligraphic scrawls.

Past the high-siding banks, where
immigrants slip through
hurricane fences to snip
wild aniseed in scented explosions.


You can see something original but not quite under control and yet there's the lingering suspicion he's taken inspiration from a late-night stroll through the local streets in anticipation of a favourite CD when he goes home. Alone.

The word 'immigrants' sticks out and, being a standard nominalised formulation, does not link directly to what he's looking at. Where's the pathos signed to? Nevertheless, I like the 'wild aniseed' and the 'scented explosions': the irony is self-referential and high-minded. But what kind of immigrant does so? More likely, he's thinking of a segment seen on SBS TV about border crossings between South Africa and Zimbabwe. If so, his is a cry that derives much of its power from the failure of our standard, breast-beating post-colonial narrative to provide answers.

We're all afraid of being just that much better than the rest. Or, at least, most of us.

I was going to write about this little volume which even boasts a stamp of official approval in the form of an intro by the head of the masters in creative writing progam at the uni, and an essay, 'Evolution of a Poem', by Australian poet Judith Beveridge. You can hear the rounded vowels of the elite, the tenure, the obeissances of grateful students. But does it damage the end product?

Instead of writing about the book, I want to talk about the visiting speaker, Jack R Herman of the Australian Press Council. The body was established in the mid-70s in an attempt to prevent mooted federal legislation, to cover print journalism. Broadcast media are regulated by another law and the Press Council is a self-regulating watchdog.

They have four permanent office staff but Jack didn't go into the sources of funding. Details of the composition of the council were, however, forthcoming, but I didn't think it important to note many. Of most interest is the fact that the chairman (the word is enshrined in the council's constitution, apparently) is an ex-linguistics professor who, we're told, studied under Noam Chomsky (the uber-guru of post-colonial convention).

In the past, the chairman was always a lawyer. The Web site shows that all the journalist members have Anglo names. What a surprise! It's endemic in the industry and few senior journos can count a funny name as part of their credential to report on our highly-diverse society, ethnically speaking. And only one woman: Prue Innes, appointed in August.

Jack was great fun, though. It's really true that journalists know a heap of stuff. They're also very up on what goes and what does not, in terms of printability. Today we dealt with three complaints handled by the council. Since establishment, they've had about 10,000, most of which are settled prior to adjudication. Member firms are obliged to print a prominent retraction after an adverse finding.

This kind of stuff is easy, unlike the really tough elements of journalism such as details of defamation law. We sat for two hours discussing the pros and cons of cases such as Rodney Adler's complaint following the printing of a photo of him with his son about to board a "first-class" flight to ski in Europe. The story appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald immediately after the collapse of Adler's insurance company, HIH.

The problem is obviously that his son, then aged 14, was shown prominently, in full-face and clear enough to recognise him if you saw him on the street. The complaint was thrown out, we're told. The reason is "off the record", according to Jack. If I tell you, they'll have to kill me.

Another story, about a shooting murder of two men in a remote Queensland town, drew the ire of local residents, many of whom knew the deceased and learned of the deaths via the Cairns paper. Clearly, in this case (which was upheld), the paper would not have been so targeted had it been a metropolitan daily. The modern nation state has a monopoly on violence, one of the concommitants of the rule of law, and out back they're not used to casual gun activity that leads to the death of innocents.

The third case, which was at the back of the handout (so nobody read it), dealt with the use of the word 'bludger' in association with a photo of an Aboriginal family. The money they had wasted, the paper averred, might have paid for a carer for a man with a mental disability.

Of most interest, thanks to Jack's cranial repletion, is the fact that 'bludger' derives etymologically from 'bludgeon' (a weapon like a cosh), a word in 19th century England meaning 'pimp': someone who "lives off the immoral earnings of women" (I remember Jack's phrase). Surely such a description contains a stunning double standard. Who's immoral? The man by association with a prostitute?


Anonymous said...

lol, i found this review boring and lacking in any real criticism was poorly structured and misdirected. Also the use of self-righteous pomp was liberal (as with use of words like "post-colonialist") and I get the distinct impression that you'd be a boring tit in conversation.

Matthew da Silva said...

hey there. look, it's a blog post, not a 'review'. you're entitled to your opinion, but i observe that a weak argument is routinely buttressed by ad hominem remarks. you fit the bill.

Anonymous said...

Hey, did you mean to review the 2006 edition or the 2007 one?

Anonymous said...

Wait, I apologise, it is the 2006 edition. You should pick up the 2007 one and see if it's any better?