Books

Cover of book: Late Journals

Antigone Kefala
Late Journals

Antigone Kefala, 86, is both a poet and prose writer. She was born in Romania and relocated to Australia in 1959 after living in Greece and New Zealand. Late Journals is the final in a trilogy that began with Summer Visit (2003), followed by Sydney Journals (2008), all three published by Giramondo Publishing.

Fourteen years on, Late Journals resumes the discerning immersion into this author’s world, an intellectual and cultural milieu set in Sydney that is shaped by Kefala’s experience as a migrant. She remembers “the actual places we had left in Romania. Constanta, the Black Sea and the street, that I still remember, going upwards before it falls into the sea.” And she grapples with the experience of living on stolen land: “From when we left Romania, and even before that, I was aware that I was trespassing on someone else’s territory.”

Rich with quotes from books Kefala has read or conversations she hears on the radio, the fragmented journals show a considering mind turning things over – literature, film, opera, two kookaburras sitting on the fence. Occasionally small eruptions of poetic observation – injections of life as it is seen and experienced – emerge from the surrounding prose. “Raining constantly and cold. The crows calling out from the trees like people suffering,” Kefala observes, after jumping from a Kandinsky quote to Pliny the Younger writing to Emperor Trajan AD112. This might imply a disjointed reading experience, but Kefala moves fluidly between poetic observation and philosophical inquiry.

The diary form has received attention recently in the hands of other Australian writers, most notably Helen Garner. Kefala’s journals demand something different of the reader. There’s no plot or, at least, no sense of a series of events within a person’s life. Late Journals reflects something deeper, a writer’s spirit – if we can use that term to suggest a particular nature and attitude to language. Kefala’s voice turns inward, at times melancholic, at others sharply critical.

Discreet nods to months as they pass – January, February, March and onwards over six volumes of journals – is all the reader has to navigate any precise passage of time, and there are no dramatic interludes or endings. What you’re left with instead is the sense of life growing and changing.

As Kefala writes: “life, a continuous process, one moves with it, changes with it.” It describes both her attitude to writing and the experience of reading Late Journals

Giramondo, 176pp, $26.95

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 21, 2022 as "Late Journals, Antigone Kefala".

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Brooke Boland is an arts journalist.

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