Books

Various
Meanjin, Autumn 2016

In her essay “Listening”, psychotherapist Zoë Krupka maps out how we listen – rebelliously, in surrender, in ways that empty us or fill us up. Reading is a kind of listening. There are essays, poems and stories in the second edition of Meanjin under the editorship of Jonathan Green that, like some patients (or friends), simply dump their problems on the couch and, sympathetic as you may be, you feel relief when your time with them is up. Others amuse, excite and deepen or even shift your perspective on the world; they can stay. 

“Listening” certainly belongs to the latter category. Another is Shannon Burns’ delightfully provocative “The Lumpen Critic”. Burns describes the Australian young adult novels he was forced to read at school as “simple-minded texts for disenfranchised children” that “left me loathing our national literature for a long time”. And then he stops being so polite. Luke Carman’s “Getting Square in a Jerking Circle” can be read as a kind of companion piece. Carman bemoans the “corrupting influence of ‘creative writing’ courses” as churning out the kind of “phoneys” who “enflamed with a sense of revolutionary zeal born of the resentment they feel towards those with genuine talent”, nonetheless do “make wonderful guest spots on Q&A”. 

If Burns and Carman point out what is wrong with Australia’s literary culture, this issue of Meanjin, now in its 75th year, offers testament to what is right about it as well. The inclusion of Gray Connolly’s sharp, insider critique of Australian conservatism (who but an insider could write “Be not afraid, conservatives!”) is a refreshing antidote to the silo-isation of opinion that marks so many of our journals and media. He demands of those “conservatives” who demonise Muslims and even unionism, “What is conservative about promoting divisions in a pluralistic society?” 

Other standouts include Gabrielle Chan’s meditation on the bush as “a person, wrapped in a landscape”; K. W. George’s candid memoir of a painful outing with her disabled sister; Michael Salter on the problem with the “Real men don’t hit women” campaign; poetry by Julie Chevalier and Simeon Kronenberg; Ryan O’Neill’s side-splitting “From Their Brilliant Careers: Barry Burbage (1959–2009)” and Paul Daley’s account of the surprising true story of Alf Stafford, the Gamilaroi and Darug man who became Robert Menzies’ driver and confidant (“Driving Mr Menzies”).  CG

MUP, 188pp, $24.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 19, 2016 as "Various, Meanjin, Autumn 2016 ". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: CG