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Anne de Marcken and Jonathan Buckley are joint winners of the 2022 Novel Prize

Anne de Marcken and Jonathan Buckley

Giramondo, Fitzcarraldo Editions and New Directions are pleased to announce that Anne de Marcken and Jonathan Buckley have won the 2022 Novel Prize for It Lasts Forever and Then It’s Over and Tell

The Novel Prize is a biennial award for a book-length work of literary fiction written in English by published and unpublished writers around the world. It offers $10,000 to the winner and simultaneous publication in Australia and New Zealand by Giramondo Publishing, in North America by New Directions, and in the UK and Ireland by Fitzcarraldo Editions. Selected from the submissions of close to 1,000 writers, Anne de Marcken and Jonathan Buckley will share the award, and their novels will be published simultaneously by all three publishers in early 2024.  

The prize rewards novels that explore and expand the possibilities of the form, and are innovative and imaginative in style. Jessica Au’s Cold Enough for Snow, the inaugural winner in 2020, was selected from close to 1,500 submissions worldwide, and was published in February 2022. It has since been sold into over twenty territories, and was the recipient of the Victorian Prize for Literature in 2023.

Anne de Marcken’s It Lasts Forever and Then It’s Over is a spare, haunting novel that asks how much of your memory, of your body, of the world as you know it – how much of what you love can you lose before you are lost? And then what happens? The protagonist is adrift in a familiar future: she has forgotten her name and much of what connects her to her humanity. But she remembers the place where she knew herself and was known, and she is determined to get back there at any cost. She travels across the landscapes of time, encountering and losing parts of her body and her self in one terrifying, hilarious, and heartbreaking situation after another. It Lasts Forever and Then It’s Over plumbs mortality and how it changes everything, except possibly love. Anne de Marcken is a queer interdisciplinary artist and writer living on unceded land of the Coast Salish people in Olympia, WA, in the United States.

Jonathan Buckley’s Tell is a probing, exuberant and complex examination of the ways in which we make stories of our lives and of other people’s. Structured as a series of interview transcripts with a woman who worked as a gardener for a wealthy businessman and art collector who has disappeared, and may or may not have committed suicide, it is a thrilling novel of strange, intoxicating immediacy. Jonathan Buckley is a writer and editor from the West Midlands, now living in Brighton. In 2015 he won the BBC National Short Story Award for ‘Briar Road’, and he is a regular contributor to the Times Literary SupplementTell is his twelfth novel.

Anne de Marcken, on being told of winning the prize, replied: ‘I write with an awareness – a belief – that the work is finished – again and again – by readers. To have It Lasts Forever and Then It’s Over published makes this mysterious, dynamic collaboration possible. To have it published by New Directions, Fitzcarraldo and Giramondo means that this part of the creative process will happen with so much integrity and imaginative force. I am humbled and so grateful.’

Jonathan Buckley said: ‘I’m delighted to be sharing this year’s Novel Prize – it’s a great honour to be joining the lists of Fitzcarraldo, New Directions and Giramondo, three of the boldest and most exciting publishers of contemporary writing.’

The Novel Prize is managed by the three publishers working in collaboration. Submissions were open from 1 April to 1 June 2022, with Giramondo reading submissions from Asia and Australasia, Fitzcarraldo Editions from Africa and Europe, and New Directions from the Americas. The other shortlisted titles for the 2022 Novel Prize include Darcie Dennigan’s Forever Valley, Marie Doezema’s Aurora Australis, Florina Enache’s Palimpsest, Vijay Khurana’s The Passenger Seat, Valer Popa’s Moon Over Bucharest, and Sola Saar’s Anonymity Is Life.  

Alexis Wright titles sold to North America and UK

Giramondo is delighted to announce the following international rights sales for Alexis Wright.

In North America, New Directions will publish Alexis Wright’s forthcoming novel, Praiseworthy, and her bestselling classic, Carpentaria, in 2024. Barbara Epler, President and Publisher, writes:

I stand in awe of Alexis Wright. She washes away the dust on all my everyday notions of what fiction can do. Her voice – with its unique and enormous radiance – is what makes Praiseworthy so splendid and unfathomable. And yet it is also a book so immediate and palpable. The vivacity and utter truth of all her characters; the muchness of her echoes and returns; the untrammeled inner light that shines out of the magic whirl she conjures from weaving history’s shapes and misshapes into an absolutely other cosmology of time; the quixotic quest for the platonic ideal platinum donkey; the yearning for Aboriginal Sovereignty; the sweeping overall power to bend time, landscape, and dimensionality – along with the reader’s mind – it all just knocks me out.

New Directions has long wanted to publish Alexis Wright so it is with special pleasure that we look forward to blowing open new doors in the minds of American readers with both her epic new masterpiece Praiseworthy and her already recognized novel of genius Carpentaria.  

In the United Kingdom, And Other Stories will publish Praiseworthy in 2023 and Wright’s award-winning work of collective memoir, Tracker, in 2025. Tara Tobler, Senior Editor, And Other Stories, writes:

Praiseworthy is extraordinary. It’s a wonder. Page after page of these exploding miraculous sentences. Its satire is eviscerating and moving, its momentum and energy (astonishingly) sustained, and the power of the intelligence behind it practically throbbing. It was immediately clear to us how essential this work is, both in its satire and in its larger arguments about contemporary Indigeneity, about climate change, about interventionist government policy. It’s staggering. It’s brutal. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. Wright has jumped her own bar in terms of energy, experiment, and performance –  nobody can catch her now.  

For further enquiries, please contact:

Aitken, Au, Fogarty and Gorton shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards

Three Giramondo poets and one novelist have been shortlisted for the 2023 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. The shortlisted works:

Revenants by Adam Aitken – Poetry Award
Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au – Fiction Award
Harvest Lingo by Lionel Fogarty – Indigenous Writer’s Prize
Mirabilia by Lisa Gorton – Poetry Award

Read the judges’ comments below. Congratulations to these authors, and to all of this year’s finalists.

Revenants by Adam Aitken

Shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry

Revenants is a mesmerising collection of wistful, atmospheric poems that speak of returnings and revisitations, of the impossible desire to embody and inhabit the past. The poet guides us through places, people and events which no longer exist, but have left their indelible shadows on this earth. Aitken questions what it means to be haunted, and seamlessly juxtaposes the prosaic with the poetic, at times self-consciously subverting the artistic impulse with wry humour. 

With characteristic gentleness and a deft lightness of touch, Aitken displays his restless curiosity and probing intelligence throughout the poems, all the while dancing upon strange currents of longing, loneliness and resignation. Throughout the collection, Revenants reiterates the questions that underpin our meaning-making in this world: What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to be dead? ‘We enter this room / and all stop talking. / Maybe it’s like this / beyond the canvas’. 

— Judges’ comments

Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au

Shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction

Vote for the book in the NSWPLA People’s Choice Awards here. Voting closes 14 April 2023.

A masterpiece of observation and subtle insight, this exquisite novel uses crisp prose and the deceptive simplicity of its narrative to bring intimate relationships to shimmering life. A daughter and mother meet for a holiday in Japan. The narrator-daughter observes her mother as they wander through the streets of Tokyo, into galleries, temples and shops, and into tentative conversations that evoke their shared and separate and sometimes imagined experiences. 

As each deftly rendered episode flows onto the next, a meditation emerges on the elusive, shifting web of meaning made by stories, memories and images in our lives. Deeply felt and brilliantly restrained, this book conveys the often-contradictory dynamics in the parent–child relationship, the way in which both alienation and intimacy, and difference and resonance, shape the relationships between the narrator and her mother, and the narrator with herself.

— Judges’ comments

Harvest Lingo by Lionel Fogarty

Shortlisted for the Indigenous Writers’ Prize

This extraordinary volume of poetry from renowned Yugambeh poet Lionel Fogarty is urgent, poignant and compelling. It reckons with history, interconnectedness and injustice, interweaving individual experience with the larger webs of relationships that link First Nations peoples to each other whilst also speaking to connections with colonised peoples elsewhere. Throughout, Fogarty interrogates expression and form, wielding the English language itself as a decolonising tool. The poet challenges empire while portraying the lives and experiences of First Nations peoples with intimacy and grace. 

Harvest Lingo invites the reader into dialogues that stretch across time, space, and place. This collection is uncompromising in its demand that the voices of First Nations peoples, communities and Countries be heard on our own terms. Every carefully chosen word connects with others to form a rhythm that is sometimes gentle and sometimes fierce, mirroring the heartbeats of peoples, place and resistance that shape this collection. 

— Judges’ comments

Mirabilia by Lisa Gorton

Shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry

Mirabilia’s poems stem from deep, eclectic research. As they unpick and anatomise ekphrastic practices (sometimes gutting them), they are propelled by a powerful interest in justice, especially concerning women’s lives and the more-than-human world. The poems’ method involves looking again, assembling evidence in patterns so that poems speak to one another. Lines and images bounce between poems, repositioned, restive. These astounding poems unfold like the chambers of a nautilus: spiralling, repeating in dazzling patterns. 

An eye/I hovers but is brought into question for its complicity in ways of seeing that have cramped or violated the lives and conditions Gorton explores. This eye/I is unsettled, elided, displaced, mirrored and measured. Gorton’s intelligent and inventive poems dwell between the lines of history, art and poetry, cerebral, mysterious and often devastating. They bring to poetry a heteroglossia usually confined to fiction in their exhilarating consideration of how art might be made and unmade.

— Judges’ comments

Autumn Royal: a note on The Drama Student

Melbourne-based poet Autumn Royal reflects on her new collection, The Drama Student, in which she explores the staging of the emotional life. The book was released in March 2023.

I’ve got going a twenty-act drama
the theatre of the active
the critics are surely there
— Barbara Guest

It’s difficult to locate the exact scene where the performance first began. We wagged the afternoon of school each Wednesday and walked into town for acting classes. Our ritual was mary janes scuffing along the footpath and kilts flapping against our ankles as we marched with eyes mascara-lined toward the School of Drama and Expression.

We lost touch after our audition tapes were circulated and we were committed to conflicting roles. I had just started reading Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others when the news was announced. I broke all the televisions and was apprehended by my manager before I could tear up all the newspapers. This is where the questioning began. The hypothetical scenarios. There’s always time for mourning in poetry.

And so, I put my career on hold and devoted myself to studying elegy. I needed to ascertain exactly why love and loss generate such an ecstatic awareness and the uncanny sensation of being both inside and outside of the body. I must admit with a heavy heart that my scholarship was in vain. I found no answers.

Inside the mist of living without death there is the accumulation of living with death. With few options left, I returned to mastering drama. I am forever in this act – embalmed in a mourning dress, I pull the veil over my face and swagger centre stage. One must become perverse when adapting to this genre and I am beside myself.

— Autumn Royal

Photo: Leah Jing McIntosh

Jessica Au wins Victorian Prize for Literature for Cold Enough for Snow

Image: The Wheeler Centre/TJ Garvie

Melbourne author Jessica Au has won both the Victorian Prize for Literature (worth $100,000) and the Fiction award (worth $25,000) at the 2023 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for her novel Cold Enough for Snow. The former is the country’s richest literary prize.

The announcement was made at a ceremony on 2 February 2023 at Melbourne’s Federation Square. (See the moment that Cold Enough for Snow won the night’s major prize.) It came just a few days after the book was longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, the world’s most valuable annual prize for a single work of fiction published in English. 

In her acceptance speech, Au described her win as a ‘life-changing moment.’

‘Prizes, they do fade – you’re left with ordinary life and ordinary time. And that’s just time to think and time to read and time to be. And for me it’s time to stare deeply into the eyes of my cat. And maybe if we’re lucky, out of that time some writing comes – and that’s when you can say all the things that are impossible to say in speeches like this.’

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Au named Rachel Cusk as an influence. ‘I really respect prose that is very clear and direct,’ she told the paper. ‘There’s something in me that likes prose that you can’t really hide behind.’

Listen to Au speak with ABC Radio National the morning after the announcement.

Jessica Au was the inaugural recipient of The Novel Prize, a prize for unpublished manuscripts that ‘explore and expand the possibilities of the form, and are innovative and imaginative in style’. Since it was published in early 2021, Au’s novel has received widespread international acclaim, with rights sold in eighteen territories.

Giramondo congratulates Au, and all the other Victorian Premier’s Literary Award winners and finalists.

Announcing the 2022 Novel Prize shortlist

Giramondo Publishing, Fitzcarraldo Editions and New Directions are pleased to announce the shortlist for The Novel Prize, the biennial award for a book-length work of literary fiction written in English by published and unpublished writers around the world.

The shortlist of eight books, selected from almost 700 entries worldwide, is as follows:

Tell by Jonathan Buckley
Forever Valley by Darcie Dennigan
Aurora Australis by Marie Doezema
Palimpsest by Florina Enache
The Passenger Seat by Vijay Khurana
It Lasts Forever and Then It’s Over by Anne de Marcken
Moon Over Bucharest by Valer Popa
Anonymity Is Life by Sola Saar

Tell by Jonathan Buckley
A novel in two parts, Jonathan Buckley’s Tell forms a complex examination of biography as an art form, and the slipperiness of representation. The first part is presented as a series of interview transcripts with a woman who worked as a gardener for a wealthy businessman and art collector, who has disappeared, and may or may not have committed suicide. One of the principal characters in this monologue is a journalist whose first (unpublished) book was a fictionalised biography of a Viennese woman whom she befriended in the last years of this woman’s very long life, and whose work is in the businessman’s collection. The second part is a monologue consisting of a sequence of short texts written by this woman, who is extrapolating her story from a collection of photographs that date back to the interwar years. This reconstituted life differs in certain crucial respects from the biography created by the journalist, raising questions about the difficulty, or impossibility, of accurately capturing a life through writing. Jonathan Buckley is a writer, editor and teacher from the West Midlands, now living in Brighton. Since 2003 he has been a Fellow and an Advisory Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund. In 2015 he won the BBC National Short Story Award for ‘Briar Road’. He regularly contributes to publications including the Times Literary Supplement. Tell is his twelfth novel.

Forever Valley by Darcie Dennigan
Darcie Dennigan’s Forever Valley is narrated by an unnamed orphan left by a grave as a child and taken in by the cemetery’s groundskeeper. One summer, between childhood and adulthood, she becomes possessed by the sometimes hideously erotic tendrils of flowers she is tending and is sent away to live with a pair of sisters who are the town’s tombstone carvers. This ambitious and imaginative novel is part revenge fantasy, part ghost story, and part bildungsroman. Darcie Dennigan is a poet and writer who lives in Providence, Rhode Island where she directs the Spatulate Church Emergency Shift, a poets theatre collective.

Aurora Australis by Marie Doezema
Ghislaine is a French-American scientist working at a remote base in Antarctica. During her nine months on base, she struggles with the daily challenges of living in a perpetually dark and sub-freezing environment, but her real conflict comes in the form of memories and dreams. She reflects on the early loss of her mother, the loneliness of growing up as an orphan on a farm in Normandy, and her eventual move to the United States for school and work. After an initially promising career at a prominent East Coast university is thwarted by the predatory behaviour of her boss, she moves to a remote birding station in South America, where for the first time she opens her heart to someone else. Now, in the quietude of Antarctica, through her studies of endangered birds and the nurturing of a secret of her own, Ghislaine reckons with the trauma and beauty of her life. Aurora Australis is a deeply moving meditation on mothering, loss and climate change, streaked with joy like the lights of its namesake. Marie Doezema lives in Paris. Her journalism has appeared in publications including the New Yorker, The Atlantic, and the New York Times. She currently works at Columbia University’s Global Center in Paris. Aurora Australis is her first novel.

Palimpsest by Florina Enache
Florina Enache’s Palimpsest, a novel set in a country oppressed by a totalitarian regime, depicts the days leading up to the mass celebration of the National Day, in which citizens are ordered to the capital city to take part in the great spectacle. Told in three female voices, the novel plays witness to fear, uncertainty and brutality, but also to generosity and friendship. Florina Enache’s debut collection of stories An-Tan-Tiri Mogodan was shortlisted in the 2020 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for new writing. She was born and raised in Romania, where she studied English language and literature and worked as a translator, and in 2005 she emigrated to Australia.

The Passenger Seat by Vijay Khurana
Set in an unnamed part of North America, The Passenger Seat charts two relationships – the first between two young men, Teddy and Alvin, who embark on a road trip and whose increasingly unsettling power dynamic leads to tragedy, and the second between two older men, Ron and Freeman, whose connection to the younger men unravels in a moving exploration of mutual responsibility. The two narratives diverge and reconnect, setting the stage for a poignant examination of male friendship, homosocial desire, and the trappings and broader social implications of masculinity. Vijay Khurana is a writer and translator based in Berlin. His short fiction has been published in NOON, the Guardian and 3:AM, and shortlisted for prizes including the Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize, the Cúirt New Writing Prize and the Bristol Short Story Prize. Khurana’s story ‘The Menaced Assassin’ won the 2021 Griffith Review Emerging Voices Competition. His children’s chapter book, Regal Beagle, was published in 2014. The Passenger Seat is his first novel.

Moon Over Bucharest by Valer Popa
Valer Popa’s Moon Over Bucharest charts Romania’s volatile history through the latter half of the twentieth century. Twenty-four years after the fall of Ceaușescu’s dictatorship, a feckless young accountant in Bucharest becomes fascinated by Mrs Irina Enescu, a reclusive upstairs neighbour. As the accountant’s life begins to disintegrate, he retreats into his imagination, envisioning her life through the Second World War, shaped by the country’s political troubles. Valer Popa was born in Bucharest, Romania. A graduate of Cornell University’s MFA program in fiction, he now teaches creative writing and lives in Chicago with his family.

It Lasts Forever and Then It’s Over by Anne de Marcken
Anne de Marcken’s It Lasts Forever and Then It’s Over is a spare, funny, haunting, and luminous novel that asks how much of your memory, of your body, of the world as you know it – how much of what you love can you lose before you are lost? And then what happens? The protagonist is adrift in a familiar future: she has forgotten her name and much of what connects her to her humanity. But she remembers the place where she knew herself and was known, and she is determined to get back there at any cost. She travels across the landscapes of time, encountering and losing parts of her body and her self in one terrifying, hilarious, heartbreaking situation after another. Anne de Marcken is a queer interdisciplinary artist and writer living on unceded land of the Coast Salish people in Olympia, Washington.

Anonymity Is Life by Sola Saar
Sola Saar’s Anonymity Is Life is a dark comedy about an eccentric family. It follows Vera, a sardonic young writer and her sister Katrina, a neurologically atypical budding philosopher. As Vera navigates young adulthood, depression, and a bad economy, the novel explores the concept of drawing from one’s own life experiences and simultaneously attempting to write from a place of deep anonymity. Sola Saar is a writer and artist based in Los Angeles, who received an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University and a BA from UC Berkeley.

The Novel Prize offers US$10,000 to the winner in the form of an advance against royalties, and simultaneous publication of their novel in Australia and New Zealand by Sydney publisher Giramondo; in the UK and Ireland by the London-based Fitzcarraldo Editions; and in North America by New York’s New Directions. The judges are looking for novels which explore and expand the possibilities of the form, and are innovative and imaginative in style.

The inaugural prize was won by Australian author Jessica Au for Cold Enough for Snow, which was published in English in February 2022 and is set to be published in 18 territories.

The Novel Prize is managed by the three publishers working in collaboration. Submissions were open from 1 April to 1 July 2022, with Giramondo reading submissions from Asia and Australasia, Fitzcarraldo Editions from Africa and Europe, and New Directions from the Americas. The winner will be announced in February 2023, and published in early 2024.

Congratulations to the shortlisted authors.

Shaun Prescott: a note on The Town

Six years after it was first published, Shaun Prescott reflects on his debut novel The Town, released in a new edition in February 2023 with Giramondo. Prescott’s second novel, Bon and Lesley, was published in September 2022.

It’s likely the case for many a debut work, but The Town was a novel I spent all of my adult life writing. It went through a half-dozen variations across roughly fifteen years, with each new never-completed version different to the former. It required that much time for me to discover the right way to evoke what I thought might improve my life, for its successful evocation. That seems to me a fairly normal process for a novelist writing their first novel, not to mention subsequent ones. As for the version that exists, that took me about three years worth of Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights drinking beer on a Marrickville porch.

I had intended to self-publish The Town, like I had some shorter works. The thought of submitting my fiction to publishers was a nightmare to me, so simply not submitting helped to avoid any inevitable deflation. Writing is enjoyable work, albeit often taxing. Some of the most gratifying moments of my life have been spent alone, writing fiction. But with time it becomes hard to do it without a reader, even just one.

Drawing to the end of what I thought was a final draft, I emailed then-publisher of The Lifted Brow, Sam Cooney, to ask if he would read my manuscript, because I had written occasionally for that journal. I just needed someone to read it and tell me if it was better than bad, someone other than my long-suffering partner. I sent the email after several beers, which I’ve learned is a good time to send emails. Sam charitably agreed to read it. He offered some useful and unpaid feedback, and eventually – after a lot more unpaid work – also published the book. Sam and the former team on Brow Books are entirely to credit for the book’s existence, but none made any money from working on it, as far as I know.

I have grown apart from The Town but it scratched some itches. I am unhappy with many passages and remain proud of some. A part of me wishes I had saved this book for later in my life, but I could say the same for Bon and Lesley too. You don’t know when you’re going to die, so it’s better to parade your messes as soon as you can.

— Shaun Prescott

Headshot_Shaun Prescott_

Eulogy for Antigone Kefala (1935–2022)

Antigone Kefala

The great Australian writer Antigone Kefala died on 3 December 2022, at age 91. The following eulogy was delivered at the funeral of Kefala at St Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church, Kingsford NSW on Wednesday 14 December 2022.

Antigone Kefala was born in Braila in Romania, a small city on the Danube not far from the Black Sea. Her parents were Greek from a community that had been in Romania for some generations. Her father was a teacher and like her brother a musician, her mother an avid reader. The intimacy of their relationship is beautifully portrayed in ‘Conversations with Mother’, the third of the novellas collected in Summer Visit. In 1947, after the Soviet occupation of Romania, when Antigone was sixteen, the family left for Greece. They lived in a displaced persons camp in Greece for three years, until they were accepted as refugees by New Zealand. In 1959, after graduating from Victoria University in Wellington, Antigone and her mother left for Sydney. Her earliest poems and her first prose work The Island, reflect the trauma and estrangement of this double displacement from Romania to Greece to New Zealand, and the family’s life as refugees. Sydney, on the other hand, exercised an immediate spell, from her first sight of the harbour, ‘shimmering, overflowing with light’. Antigone worked to support the family – as an administrator at the University of New South Wales, and then as multicultural literature officer at the recently formed Australia Council. She was there at the beginning, a supporter of the new writing by Australian authors of migrant background, and one of its most important contributors. In her essay ‘Towards a Language’, she describes how she wrote in the Mitchell Library after work. ‘Typed things out at weekends, surprised myself that I had finally found a voice…with a feeling of levitation, of having escaped the constraints of gravity. The climate, the landscape, my own inner release coincided to give me a feeling of euphoria.’ This unique sense of euphoria permeates her writing, alongside the darker notes, born of the experience of death, loss, and the fragmentation of identity. Her early poetry collections The Alien and Thirsty Weather speak to this experience; in her later collections European Notebook and Absence she revisits the past as it survives in the present and in her memory, in understated lyrics of haunting beauty. But it is in her two collections of journals, Sydney Journals and Late Journals, that her love of the city is most apparent. The journals are not only an enduring record of our life and times, but a tribute to the power of friendship, as many of you here will know. It took a long time for Antigone to receive public recognition – her most recent collection Fragments won Australia’s most prestigious poetry prize in 2017, and only a few weeks before her death, she received the distinguished Patrick White Literary Award. But her friends and readers have for a long time cherished Antigone for her vitality and generosity, her wisdom and curiosity, and the inimitable qualities of her voice, as a poet and as a companion, and will long continue to do so.

Lionel Fogarty and Jessica Au shortlisted for 2023 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards

Works by Jessica Au and Lionel Fogarty have been shortlisted for the 2023 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Au has been nominated in the Fiction category for her novel Cold Enough for Snow, and Fogarty has been nominated in the Indigenous Writing category for his poetry collection, Harvest Lingo. Read the judges’s comments below.

Lionel Fogarty’s anthology of poems covers an enormous breadth of subject matter, marrying humanistic compassion and intelligence with remarkable formal experimentation. Topics covered by the poems include international terrorism, the Internet, medicine, and Emiliano Zapata, but Fogarty brilliantly collapses categories and gives a true sense of the interrelatedness of phenomena. Particularly striking are the ‘India Poems’, which form the second part of the anthology and discuss the Indian caste system and economic inequality in relationship with the position of Australia’s First Peoples. The poems emphasise revolution as a global movement and the need to cross territorial boundaries; at the same time, they contain achingly personal and poignant reflections on death, desire, and memory. The style of the poems is intellectually and aesthetically challenging without being abstruse. Fogarty often defies easy interpretation, but never retreats into obscurantism. Some lines strike the reader as a blinding flash of insight: ‘Fascism is the dead flower for every dead voice’.

Above all, Harvest Lingo presents a truly unique poetic vision. Despite the diversity of the poems, there is a consistent sense throughout that political struggle without love is ultimately futile. As Fogarty writes in ‘Stay Alive Next 16 Years (Fish Trap)’: ‘We don’t want desire to be dead leaves.’ It is rare to encounter a book which operates so effortlessly on the intellectual, poetic, and political registers.

— Judges’ report, Harvest Lingo

Jessica Au’s lyrical second novel, Cold Enough for Snow, opens up new horizons for Australian literature. Featuring an unnamed protagonist travelling with her mother in Japan, Au’s work gently poses the question: how well can we know the ones we love? Masterfully slipping between memory and the present, the novel carries a subtle eloquence, replete with astute observations. Au’s prose is like a river, pulling the reader along as the story pools and eddies, flowing steady and deep. It may be a slender volume – but this book holds all the heft of a writer in full command of her craft.

— Judges’ report, Cold Enough for Snow

Andy Jackson wins Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry with Human Looking

Andy Jackson has won the 2022 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for poetry for his collection, Human Looking. The announcement was made in December at a ceremony in Launceston, Tasmania.

The book, which gives a ground-breaking insight into the experience of disability from a distinguished poet lives with Marfan Syndrome, also won the ALS Gold Medal and was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

Read the judges’s comments below.

In Human Looking Jackson shows he has a highly distinctive poetic voice, and writes with great technical skill and variety. Starting with its ambiguous title, Jackson’s book is an extraordinary poetic exploration of his own disability – Marfan’s syndrome, which is disfiguring and distorts the shape of his face and body. His poems are blistering in their power, wonderfully subtle, objective and with no self-pity. The first poem in this book ‘Opening’ plunges straight in to the main subject, and deals with corrective surgery – the long incision, which his condition required. But Jackson does not stop with the physical incision. He confesses “the long suture ruptures/ in my head – the scar remaining open.” What happens to our bodies becomes our mind. Astonishingly he takes this yet one step further. Through his poem, Jackson tells us, you the reader “are becoming/ this unstitching, this sudden opening.” Jackson does not falsely valorise suffering – suffering is suffering – but it opens us. He is able to rise above it, feel love and empathy, and accept himself. In his poem ‘Borne away by distance’, referring to Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, he writes of “I, this wonderful catastrophe . . . turning toward/ tremendous being.” Tremendous indeed. And beautiful.

— 2022 Prime Minister’s Literary Award judges

You can listen to Jackson talk about the book on The Garret Podcast and on the Poetry Unbound podcast.

‘Can we truly know another’s inner world?’ – Jessica Au on Cold Enough for Snow

Since its publication in the Australia, the United States and United Kingdom upon winning The Novel Prize, Jessica Au’s Cold Enough for Snow has been published in numerous countries, with translation into eighteen languages.

In July 2022, the book was published by Serbian publishing house Laguna, who asked her to comment on Cold Enough for Snow’s genesis and themes. Read their interview with Au below.

How did Cold Enough for Snow become a novel? What did you initially want to tell with this book?  

Like many things, it became a novel slowly over time. The first iteration was a short story that I wrote ten years ago about a mother and daughter travelling to Tokyo. After that, I tried to work on other things, thinking I might get a collection together, however none of those pieces felt ‘alive’ in the way of that one short story. So I returned to it after several years and tried to work on it. In using the journey between the mother and daughter as a container, many of the other things I had been thinking on – being a young woman in the world, or feeling connected to art and literature without necessarily feeling like an artist – began to find their way in, making up many of the digressions into memory that ended up in the book. 

I don’t know if I wanted to tell anything at the outset – so much of writing is intuitive – but looking back, I can see that one of the driving questions in the book is about distance. It is relatively common for families to have within them some points of divergence, which could be anything from class to education, or culture, place of birth and language, or personality and character. But I wanted to ask what happens when, due to the speed of migration, all of those things end up being present in a single relationship? There was this gap, paired with the fact that children can know their parents very intimately.

Where did the story take you during the writing? What did you learn about yourself and the world around you while writing this novel?  

Rather than necessarily taking you anywhere definitive, I think that writing allows you to dwell in spaces longer than ordinary time permits, and sometimes this working-through and holding can be a form of catharsis, though not always a source of change.

I think I was trying to understand how things come to be and to do so in a way that felt true to me. So much of what I had read about the nature of diaspora, of distance, didn’t seem to really match the lived experience of it: the confusion, the sense of incompleteness, paired with closeness and nostalgia. (It’s not that there aren’t writers out there who have done and are doing this, but for much of my childhood, this was undiscoverable for me). So I was trying to define, rather than be defined, to reconcile my inner world with the outward one. Perhaps if I learnt one thing, it was that the experience of migration, even though it can be perceived as fragmented and discontinuous, and was once looked down upon, can in fact be a rich, generative thing, a thing of literature. 

Who are the mother and daughter in your story? Why was it important for you to tell their story through a novel that does not have a specific plot, but rather a novel of atmosphere? 

They are characters who represent, at different times, parts of myself, parts of my family, and parts of the questions of life and literature. 

On plot, I’ve always been unable to write this because in a way I don’t feel that’s how life happens. Or rather, if a dramatic event occurs, then this too is often punctuated by boredom, by everyday tasks or wandering thoughts. Conversely, I also think that so much of life – the things that really affect us – actually happen in these small, almost unspeakable moments, deeply felt but not always fully conscious. You can’t always parse this at the time but they may return to you later, and are formative.

Whether we have the right to truly know the inner world of another person, even when it comes to our closest ones, is one of the key questions of your book. What was the answer after writing? 

Maybe I would phrase the question as: can we truly know another’s inner world? I think that to really know another, and to know ourselves completely is impossible, in part because nothing is fixed or singular. Yet there is still something worthwhile in the attempt. Writing, and by correlation reading, is really an act of understanding, and thus is perhaps the first step towards empathy; it is as close as we can hope to get to experiencing another consciousness.

You raise a number of other questions with this book – the question of identity, closeness, differences between generations, differences in origin… How difficult was it for you to fit all that into the story? Which of these questions was most important to you? 

It was more generative than difficult in that I felt that all these things were interrelated and spoke to each other. In that sense too, I couldn’t put one about the other. Words like ‘identity’ or ‘belonging’ or ‘home’ can be useful in some contexts, but they are also such large, abstract nouns that don’t necessarily convey or capture the complexities or nuances of simply being a person in the world. Thus who the narrator is as a woman, her experiences and her education, are all deeply connected to her questions about family and heritage.

For example, in one digression, the narrator thinks back to her time at university, studying the Greek classics, a place that she has gained entrance to in part due to her mother’s work. It is in some ways an enlightening, vital place. It frees something in her. On the other hand, her knowledge also comes at a cost, because in studying philosophy or criticism or theory, she suddenly comes to understand her mother as a figure in history, and the impacts of colonial thinking, of domestic work and of motherhood on her. And this is linked to understanding her mother’s suffering in earlier life, of how others might see her.

The title Cold Enough for Snow is very striking. How did you choose this title? Does it also suggest the nature of the mother-daughter relationship? As much as they seem to know each other, there are many moments when it seems like they are strangers to each other. 

I didn’t have the title till very near the end of writing. One early working title was A Common Language, which was taken from The Dream of a Common Language by the poet Adrienne Rich, which I think does express something of the desire for connection between the mother and daughter, as well as the impossibility of it.

What I liked about Cold Enough for Snow was its abstract, unfinished quality – that it could be both a fragment and a question, that it could relate to either time or place. I also liked the temporal element – snow comes only when the conditions are right, and when it does, it can be beautiful, almost magical, but it will also all disappear. And it is one of only a few questions that the mother asks in the book.

How did you feel when you received The Novel Prize? What does it mean to you personally, and what does it mean to the book? 

It was a shock and was, and continues to be, a huge honour. I had admired all three publishers – Giramondo, Fitzcarraldo Editions and New Directions – for so long. It was a dream and a privilege to get the chance to work with them, and proved to be a wonderful experience: kind, thoughtful and stimulating. The Novel Prize I think opened up opportunities that the book would never have had, not in the least the chance to be translated with publishers like Laguna. At the same time, life also continues very ordinarily outside of prizes.

The portrayal of the relationship between life and art is also important to Cold Enough for Snow. What is art for you? 

Sometimes it’s a way to try and preserve or keep in touch with a mood or feeling, to be reminded of a way of being outside the concerns of capitalism and work. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s something I try to look for if I can.

In the novel, I was also interested in the idea of art trying to depict life, while at the same time of us trying constantly to understand life through art – that circular, recursive relationship. In a similar way, I was also thinking about ekphrasis, and metaphoric thinking. Why is it that we seem to need a ‘third thing’, whether that is dance, music, a painting, a novel, to try and understand something? It strikes me that there is something about life that is complex and inarticulate and perhaps the only way to get close to the truth of it is to write around it, or to look at it obliquely.

Which writers, which books inspire you? 

Mavis Gallant and Tove Ditlevsen for the cleanliness and seriousness of their sentences, and the way they speak of being both a woman and a writer in the world. Annie Ernaux, Édouard Louis and Simone de Beauvoir, especially for their books I Remain in Darkness, Who Killed My Father and A Very Easy Death respectively, which try to understand parents as products in history to whom we are intimately bonded. Jhumpa Lahiri, V S Naipaul and Yiyun Li for the ways in which they write about diaspora and exile. Natsume Sōseki, Yasunari Kawabata and Junichiro Tanizaki for their indirect style that makes you pay close attention to all that occurs beneath the surface. And of course, Rachel Cusk.

What does a writer’s day look like? 

I rarely manage to do this, but my ideal day would be some mixture of routine, physicality and solitude. Periods of writing and meandering, and at some point a swim at the pool or a run. I have a small, narrow room, a sunroom, where I can work, and where my cat sits at the window. I love, most of all, the days when I rarely need to leave the apartment, when I can do small domestic tasks while simply thinking and being quiet.

In one of your interviews, you said that you lived in Europe for a while, including Sarajevo. What impressions do you have from Sarajevo, how did life there affect you and your writing? 

We travelled around Europe for about nine months, and three of those were spent in Sarajevo. I have truly incredible memories of that time – the valley, the river, the surrounding mountains, hearing the call to prayer in the evenings, the markets, the architecture, burek and pomegranate juice… These I think are linked both to the beauty of the city, as well as to the feeling of being young and travelling. From there, we travelled to Belgrade, Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Budapest and so many other places. But it was in Sarajevo that I first wrote the short story that was the early version of Cold Enough for Snow.

The Australian edition.
The Serbian edition.

Josephine Wilson’s launch of Monster Field by Lucy Dougan

Lucy Dougan’s poetry collection Monster Field was launched in November 2022 at The Balmoral Hotel in Perth, Western Australia. Below is the launch speech given at the event by Josephine Wilson, the Miles Franklin-winning author of Extinctions.

I want to acknowledge the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation as the traditional custodians of this country and its waters and that we stand on Noongar country. I want to pay respects to Noongar elders past and present, and acknowledge their wisdom and advice, and note that Sovereignty has never been ceded.

Everyone who is, was or will be a reader and/or a writer is compelled to navigate the words of others. I say this not as if it is something onerous, as if words of others were a challenge to be surmounted, like K2.

I don’t mean that at all. Rather, I mean that we readers and/or writers, we want to see what others make of it all – words, life, the whole lot – and to do this, we have to find a way in. And with the poem, there are many ways in. We can begin by trying to appreciate the poet’s efforts in bringing a collection to publication. Endless are the arrangements of words, many the ways that lines begin and end; there are things to be decided – the words themselves, the way they fall upon this particular page and give way to the next. There are the spaces, breaks, long dash, short dash – the odd full stop here and there; capitals, lower case; nowhere is the writer’s fine hand more visible than in poetry, where there are no requisite left justifications and ragged right, no style guide, no A4/ 1.5 to make the decision for you; it is you who decides where this will end, where this will begin, where it will leave off and where it will return. The order of things; the division of parts. Depending on your personality type, all decision could be deferred, decided by dice, or the shape of the clouds at noon, or arrived at by some kind of clever algorithm. But regardless, the reader will think the decision yours.

It is my great pleasure and honour to speak about Monster Field, the powerful new collection by West Australian poet Lucy Dougan. It is a collection that rewards a reader attentive to the subtle labour of poetry, and how it seems effortless in its mastery. The introduction speaks of how in this collection the mundane becomes significant, charged; we find ‘weird extremities in the field of the ordinary.’ In Monster Field, the ordinary is rendered precious, and no more so than in our middle ages, that period of ‘disorientations’. In her own words, Lucy sees this work as about ‘survival at mid-life – about losing parents, gaining grandchildren, and change of life. And it’s a book about the ways in which mysterious connections are enlivening.’

As I set out, I turned the pages slowly, looking for a way in. I am not sure how you imagine the moment before you begin to read; do you stand as if before a clear sky? A vast sea? An empty desert? Float in deep space? In truth we know there is no such thing as empty spaces – and that includes on pages. We have to move across a book of poems with care, responsive to the complex terrain, its hidden resistances, its crevasses, attentive to the things that might fall in our path on a windy day – the tree across the road that force us to stop, turn around, double back, and return to questions of navigation.

Those of you who know Lucy Dougan’s work will also be aware that this is a sustained practice, built over years. Lucy has published a great deal and won many awards, including the WA Premier’s Prize in 2016 for The Guardians. Her work is read widely, and I have no doubt at all that Monster Field will see many, many readers cross its 91 pages. In support of my conviction, I have tried to make a preliminary map – a mud map – of my own first journeys into Monster Field to share with you. I apologise in advance for the well-worn metaphors (including that one just there) – but I have no need to be original. Besides, as Ms Dougan makes clear in her work, it is within the most general that we can find the most particular.

Please think of my map as written in some kind of childish invisible ink that is not meant to last, or with one those square red toys filled with magnetic filings that wiggle and disappear as we turn the knobs, or perhaps drawn on tea-stained paper, to be burned after reading with the unauthorised use of your mother’s box of matches.

As I embark, I note the epigraph by the English artist Paul Nash: ‘Monster Field. Where, where? Over there, to the left, the next field beyond the hedge. It was always the same, elusive and ubiquitous.’ That elusive referent.

At the front of Part 1, I can’t help but note in passing the words of English writer Deborah Levy bear a certain uncanny relevance: ‘It was true that I had no idea how to endure being alive and everything that comes with it.’

(And later, in ‘The Throne‘, the poet names the fear: ‘What does it mean/for home to be a failure?’)

I turn the page to ‘Why You Stopped Making Things‘. It begins:

Driving, you tell me
why it is
you stopped making things.
It was the terrible pressure
you felt that everything must have significance
and worse, significance for you
alone. You couldn’t bear it.

I stopped for a while on those lines. I thought, I must ask Ms Dougan about them. This is either very sad for the addressee, or else this person who the narrator is addressing is a narcissist. Shame on them!

But then I think, I am probably going the wrong way altogether; poetry is, after all, the art of indirection.

Art is everywhere in this collection. In ‘Art Detective’, our first-person narrator is watching TV.

I lie on the couch
like a beaten dog
as Philip Mould advances
his latest art forensics
and there are these absolutely
loose and liberated daubs
of greens and browns
in close up on the screen.
They are of the earth
in a surprising way, counter
to all that brocade, country houses,
rich people by the yard.
And from my beaten-dog pose
I fall in love with Gainsborough
How could I have not before?

But is that a real name? Mould? I take a detour to check. Indeed it is, and I can only imagine Philip is devoted to the total elimination of that which he is named after and remains on high alert for all signs of decline in the world of art, especially things like foxing.

Philip Mould’s suit combos are impeccable.
He is always consulting experts,
always moving crisply thought the weak light of investigation sites
– the galleries – but his eyes/look infinitely tired
as if has done so much looking for us.
I trust his close-ups.

As I stepped away briefly to the Wiki, I could not help but notice that Philip Mould lives in the Wirral, a wonderful word that is also a place near Birkenhead, Liverpool, where I too was raised, albeit briefly. I am thus led to consider the Wirral not as a location on a map, but as a word, as a sound, and decide I rather like it, and make a note to thank Philip Mould – and Ms Dougan – for reminding me of that fact.

Monster Field takes its title from the British artist Philip Nash, who I had known as a surreal chronicler of war, but not as an observer of trees.

Art is studded across the Dougan’s work. In ‘Crumpled‘, the narrator begins in a vernacular mode of introspection, in the devastating lines:

I need to sit with myself again
to know how I felt
before I got crumpled.

They are watching Paula Rego on TV. It is Rego’s artwork which gives the poem its title; ‘Crumpled’. The lithograph they’re discussing is not lovely; rather, writes Ms Dougan,

…It’s of Jane Eyre ugly,
not Jane Eyre prettified:
and she’s lying at ground zero
beneath her monstrously hatched skirts
in the room at Gateshead Hall.
And yet there’s no room,
only the sheet of miraculously restored paper
with all the crumples alive.
On TV Sheila Hancock asks Dame Paula
Have you ever felt like that, so like that?
Oh yes, she answers in the most phlegmatic of ways.

This collection honours the world of memories, of new life and old, and of objects. The object might be fixed, but the words swirl around it, passing across quickly, like the moon in an eclipse. Objects beckon in this collection: the throne-chairs, bags, dolls.

In ‘The Dolls‘, the narrator recalls how the old handmade dolls, those boxed-up objects, were not always hidden from sight:

Once they sat in the centre of things
with that loud silence
that dolls can own.
But they frightened the children
The smallest would tiptoe past
with eyes closed.

The precision of this writing banishes sentiment and nostalgia, offering instead a candour that puts a sharp tack in truth, then steps back to look.

An old handmade doll
is a strange makeshift business, an agreement between
any number of materials
to come together,
to stay together.
Is this what scared the children?
Is this what drew me to them –
their little tilt
of what it is
to be feminine

These aides de memoire returns the narrator to another time:

I still remember the texture
of the day I found those dolls.
I swung down the street
feeling open, reckless,
and I swear the dolls called to me.

This short lyric of three stanzas leads from old dolls in a box to a point where the narrator locates her purchase as a transaction with her self, as the moment where she agreed to abide with the makeshift, improvised materials that constitutes life as a woman:

To this day, I think of it
as a return –
the moment I bought myself back –
agreed that warring selves
could live beneath my skin.

I apologise for dwelling on early poems in this collection – on Part 1. It’s because there are unexpected features in the landscape here that stop me in my tracks; sort of Mount Humiliations that speak to a woman of my provenance (if I dare use the language of Philip Mould, art historian and gallerist, collector of rare plants who lives in the WIRRAL).

I turn the page and feel something akin to apprehension. The title is ‘Home Economics’– or as the first line says,

Eco Homo, as we joked about it,
was clearly about being tied up
in knots of time wasting; about humiliation,
performance. What the fuck
is the golden triangle
of a kitchen anyway?

Ah, yes; those low-stakes feminine performance tests …(I remember a failed Brown Stew and a flat Scone). Such things offer Lucy Dougan the opportunity for a brief, dramatic flurry of fury – a souffle of fury, perhaps?

What the fuck/is the golden triangle/of a kitchen anyway?

And also activity sheets
involved being tethered
to yet another kind of string
in which you had to draw the snare line
to match shoes to an outfit.
Go ahead (full stop). Put the vampish mules
with the work overalls
and the high tops with the wedding dress
and run, run for your life – …
Flash your triangle all you like.

I turn the page and I can’t believe what I see: ‘High School Sewing’. Not Ms Dougan too?

I remind myself that this is not about me, that I am a selfish reader. I try to put aside my painful memories but for a moment endure once more the humiliation of being unable to complete a single simple pillowcase in class (Mother Cyril finished it for me and displayed it as my own for open day, but she did not fool my own mother, who raised an arch brow in my direction as she turned the cotton case labelled JW inside out to check the seams. She had no illusions as to my capacities with the machine).

I love this work – ‘High School Sewing’. The first lines are short:

Wincey – but
really – wincey,
a baby word
from a nursery rhyme
is what was doled out/ by the metre.

You could make a layette, girls
Because who would know
when you might need it?
Strange shapes and sizes
dolly small or too big

Portion control is what it was.
Getting ready to get ripped off
in all sorts of ways. It was practiced in Home Ec. too.
Measly sizes from magazine recipes:
toad-in-the-hole and egg-in-the-nest.

This is a return of the familiar, seen anew, yes, but familiar only in the way that a tuppence might be familiar; virtually unrealisable. I had to look things up to stitch them down:

Wincey: noun BRITISH: a strong, lightweight twilled fabric, typically made of a mixture of wool with cotton or linen.

Until I read Ms Dougan’s ‘High School Sewing’, I believed that a layette was one of those handmade padded blue or pink cot liners, rimmed in ricrac, made for a tiny newborn – hence lay (as in lay down) and ette – as in the French suffix for small, or, in Italian, –ino, or -ina.

While I was with Wincey – NOT Whimsy, I couldn’t help but note that far less pertinent questions were being asked of Google:

Is Pittering a real word?

Is Spizzerinctum a real word?

How do you spell Melage?

Does the word Successless exist?

Is Confuzzle a real word?

But I knew I had briefly left the terrain of Monster Field because I was a little afraid of its elusive exactness, of how it spoke of things I knew something of: loss, regret, death, wallpaper, found objects, womanhood, lost opportunities.

In ‘The Narrows (One, Two and Three)‘ voices carry across the dark water, as they do on a still night on the river: Dougan writes: ‘sound bounced around/the cold shadowed column.’ I know that sound as you pass under the bridge in a small boat, or on a bike.

In ‘The Narrows’ there is what was, and is no longer: a father, sisters, ‘skiffs and freedom’. Here memory and landscape are feminised, brought back to the body. Dougan’s river is ‘narrow waisted at the closest part,’; later, ‘the water gathered glamorous as a waist in satin.’

I love the specificity of this voice. It is a brave voice. In “Blue-black”, Dougan writes,

These days
I’m fading
I have to colour myself in;
Lips, brows, lashes, hair,
with little tools
that I’ve never really understood.
I thank fate for my mother
so oblivious to all this,
and for my daughter
great confident wielder of Kohl.

In ‘Your Shade‘, I.M. Fay Zwicky, it is the loss of what some might call feminine, inessential, minor – a signature shade of lipstick – that drives the lines towards their end.

They don’t make the lipstick
you wear any more.
The small grief of this niggles you
as if some part of your armoury
or what it is that helped you face
the day is gone forever.
You enlist me in the hunt.
In the past I’ve done your footnotes,
faxed handwritten pages,
but this, this archive
of lost shades
is a tipping point
into something that lies
stubbornly beneath/everything.

As a mark of decline, of age, of death, the discontinued product – subject to ‘the phase out’, known by ‘product codes/ guttering out to deadstock’ – invades everything:

…your bare lips kept moving
but the sounds they made,
the questions they asked,
began to get lost in the queue.

I want to say so much more about this collection. There is the trace of French and Italian films, there are home movies. In the apostrophic ‘Leonie’ an epoxy resin bust survives endless room and house moves; like the Grecian Urn, or perhaps a chipped statue of the Virgin in the corner of the lounge, Leonie is called upon to provide something, in this case constancy and salvation, in what comes close to secular prayer:

Paid artist’ model,
your face has lived with the family for decades

I cannot see you as empty for in your hollow head lives the clamour
of us all.
And something else, you still abide with us
even though our mother and father are dead and gone.
Stranger, stay with us, never leave us.

There are things to be sorry for; like throwing out the little horses. Things are tossed in fits of rage, in moments deeply regretted, those stubborn memories that remain like old wallpaper, under the surface even if plastered over.

I too wish I had kept all my chipped and broken things. In ‘The Horses I Threw Out’, Dougan writes,

O little abandoned horses,
I am sorry, I am sorry.
Where was it that we travelled
my unharnessed companions?

In ‘Wait (Aspete)’ the sheets are both cotton and marble, as if writing about the body and material transformed the ephemeral into something hard and permanent, while retaining the appearance of the delicate and temporal, like words of a poem on a page.

Monster Field ends with ‘Little Ditty’.

I am an irregularity
in a space of ironed out irregularities
Or if these are entirely impossible to eradicate
they are bagged up
and made a virtue of at the raw end.

I am sure you have your own way of entering this wonderful collection. I began at the beginning, but you are free to enter where you like. The book is there for you to read. It is brilliant, and congratulations again to Lucy Dougan and Giramondo.

Josephine Wilson launches Monster Field.
A photo from the book launch (Lucy on the left).
Monster Field (2022, Giramondo).

Giramondo Talks: Antigone Kefala in conversation with Ivor Indyk

Antigone Kefala and Giramondo publisher Ivor Indyk. This photo was taken in November 2022 when Kefala was announced the winner of the Patrick White Literary Award.

Giramondo launches our new audio series with Antigone Kefala, the Sydney-based award-winning poet and writer of fiction and non-fiction. In a recording made in March 2021, she spoke with Giramondo Publisher Ivor Indyk about her books, her experiences, and her conceptions of poetry and prose.

Antigone Kefala’s most recent work, Late Journals (Giramondo, 2022).

Antigone Kefala wins 2022 Patrick White Literary Award

Giramondo is delighted to congratulate Antigone Kefala, who has been announced as the winner of the 2022 Patrick White Literary Award.

The award, presented by Perpetual, recognises Kefala’s achievements as a poet, and a writer of fiction and nonfiction. She has published four works of fiction and five poetry collections, including Fragments, which won the 2017 Judith Wright Calanthe Award and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry. She has also published two collections of journals, Sydney Journals and Late Journals.

On winning the Award, Kefala commented: ‘I am full of admiration for Patrick White, and for the encouragement he has given to Australian writers. I met him several times and liked him. I am very honoured to receive this prestigious award given in his name, and the recognition it offers, as for a long time my writing has existed outside the major lines of Australian literature.’

Kefala will receive $15,000 in recognition of her outstanding contribution to Australian literature. The 2022 judging panel included Dr Felicity Plunkett (Chair), Dr Julieanne Lamond and Ms Michelle de Kretser.

The Patrick White Literary Award was established by Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick White to advance Australian literature ‘by encouraging the writing of novels, short stories, poetry and plays for publication or performance’. For the past 48 years it has been awarded to an author who has made an ongoing contribution to Australian literature but may not have received adequate recognition.

The Award is managed by Perpetual as trustee, and many authors of different status and experience may qualify for consideration. Perpetual Managing Partner of Community & Social Investment, Caitriona Fay said: ‘Patrick White has left a truly remarkable legacy through this award, with many past winners being authors that have made such a significant, yet sometimes understated, mark on the Australian literary community. Kefala’s longstanding contribution to Australian literature through her outstanding collection of fiction, poetry and collection of novellas and journals, encapsulates the very essence of the Patrick White Literary Award.’

Judges’ citation

Antigone Kefala is a poet and a writer of fiction and nonfiction. Born in Brăila, Romania in 1935 to Greek parents, Kefala moved with her family to Greece after World War II, at first living in a refugee camp in Athens. The family initially migrated to New Zealand / Aotearoa, where Kefala earned a MA in French literature at the University of Victoria, and then, in 1959, to Australia. Kefala has worked teaching English as a second language, and as a university and arts administrator with the Australia Council for the Arts, where she was instrumental in establishing supports for community and multicultural arts practice in the 1970s and 1980s. She lives in Sydney.

Kefala has published six collections of poetry and seven prose works. Martin Duwell, writing in the Sydney Review of Books, observes that Kefala’s career ‘is marked by the way in which it embraces almost all of the shorter forms of writing including… short stories, a number of novellas, journals and even a parabolic fairy tale for ‘advanced children’. Her work has appeared in bilingual English-Greek and English-Czech editions, and in a trilingual English-French- Greek edition.

There are two anthologies of criticism of Kefala’s work. Antigone Kefala: A Writer’s Journey collects reviews, essays and analytical writing, and is edited by Vrasidas Karalis and Helen Nickas (Owl Publishing, 2009). Antigone Kefala: New Australian Modernities is edited by Elizabeth McMahon and Brigitta Olubas (UWA Press, 2021).

Kefala is a deliberately spare writer, practising an aesthetics of asceticism that is crucial to the power of her work across all forms. Her poetic minimalism belies the meticulous construction of echoes and patterns in her poetry, while the notable formal compression of both her prose and poetry distils intense experiences and perceptions.

In ‘The Journals of Antigone Kefala’, an essay in the Karalis and Nickas collection, Ivor Indyk identifies ‘powerful expressions of absence and loss [that] stem from her own experience of displacement as a refugee and a migrant’ as central to Kefala’s work.

In their Introduction to Antigone Kefala: New Australian Modernities, McMahon and Olubas write that ‘it would be difficult to overstate the significance of [Kefala’s] life and work in the culture of this nation’. Sneja Gunew notes the rhetorical sophistication and playfulness of Kefala’s writing, and locates it within a cosmopolitan, ‘ex-centrique’ modernism (‘ “To find our measure, exactly, not the echo of other voices”: Antigone Kefala’s Ex-centrique Australian Modernity’ in Antigone Kefala: New Australian Modernities).

Michael Tsiniakis comments on the ‘fundamental error’ of viewing Kefala’s work solely through the lens of multiculturalism/migration. He believes that Kefala has been ‘the victim of her biography’ and emphasises the intellectual underpinning of her writing (‘Antigone Kefala: “Clinical” View over a Shadowy Conscience/Consciousness’ in Antigone Kefala: New Australian Modernities).

Dimitra Harvey writes in Mascara of her early encounters with Kefala’s poetry, noting its ‘stark, radiant imagery; lean punctuation; the slightly disorienting effect of the syntax; an imaginative vision of sensuous waking life enmeshed in subterranean realms of memory and dream’. She praises Kefala’s capacity to evoke the senses ‘with startling vividness’.

Sarah Holland-Batt observes that Kefala’s poems ‘are supremely confident: composed of clean, terse lines, they ride on the rhetorical surety of the speaker’s voice. They invite you to embellish where they remain silent’ (‘The Fragment: on Antigone Kefala’ in Fishing for Lightning, UQP, 2021).

Kefala began publishing poetry in Australian journals and anthologies in the early 1960s. One of her poems appears in the ground-breaking feminist anthology edited by Kate Jennings Mother I’m Rooted (Outback Press, 1975).

Kefala’s first book-length poetry collection was The Alien (Makar Press, 1973). Gunew describes this book as launching ‘a disconcerting Australian poetic voice’ (‘We, the only witness of ourselves’ in Antigone Kefala: A Writer’s Journey). The collection is marked by a sense of strangeness and removal, emotional intensity and a determined ambiguity about the position or context of the speaker. Kefala continued to develop a poetics infused by European frames of reference but ‘welded to an Australian spatiality’ (Gunew) across her succeeding volumes of poetry, Thirsty Weather (Outback Press, 1978), Absence: new and selected poems (Hale & Iremonger, 1992), Poems (Owl Publishing, 2000), Wayfarers and Other Poems (Picaro Press, 2010) and Fragments (Giramondo, 2016).

The fragment is Kefala’s preferred form, evocatively deployed across her practice. A fragment suggests both destruction and salvage, and thus perfectly embodies the preoccupation with loss and renewal that runs through Kefala’s writing. Fragments is the title Kefala chose for her most recent collection of poetry, almost twenty years in the writing and published to acclaim.

Alexis Late writes that in this collection, Kefala ‘faces the disintegration of a life, but the fragments of her past and loved ones are elevated’ (Cordite). Holland-Batt describes these poems as feeling ‘urgent and necessary, full of sharp revelations about life’s fleetingness and the liminal state between life and death’. Efi Hatzimanolis is similarly struck by the poignant sense of time passing in this books. She also notes the ‘many fine poems that create a memorable sense of place in the Australian landscape – indeed there are poems that are almost elegiac in their compassionate view of the fragility of the land’ (‘Feeling for Time for Antigone Kefala’s Fragments’ in Antigone Kefala: New Australian Modernities). Fragments won the 2017 Judith Wright Calanthe Award in the Queensland Literary Awards.

The First Journey (Wild & Woolley, 1975), The Island (Hale & Iremonger, 1984) and Summer Visit: Three Novellas (Giramondo, 2002) are fictions that blur the boundaries between the short story and the novella, while also drawing on poetry in their expressive compression and figurative richness. Jane Gibian points out that this ‘in-between’ formal status mirrors the way Kefala’s work straddles cultures and continents (‘In-between Lives: The Island and Alexia: A Tale of Two Cultures’ in Antigone Kefala: New Australian Modernities). Journeys are a constant in her oeuvre, movement across space and, via memory and dreams, across time.

Like much of her poetry, Kefala’s fictions focus on departures and arrivals, and the disorientation they entrain. ‘I wandered from room to room among unknown people,’ says the narrator of The First Journey, encapsulating the fate of all those displaced by war. Memories and dreams, frequently evoked, are the refugee/migrant’s resource and consolation for loss. Yet at the end of the book, as heavy rain ends a heat wave, the narrator feels ‘free for the first time’, in an acknowledgment that the destruction of the past makes space for invention and possibility.

Konstandina Dounis draws attention to the ‘glorious mosaic’ of women’s lives that Kefala’s work pieces together (‘Antigone Kefala: Of Journeys, Songs and Stories’ in Antigone Kefala: New Australian Modernities). Kefala writes about older women with particular tenderness, as evidenced in her evocative and moving portraits of Aunt Sofia, Aunt Niki and Angheliki in The Island. As Dounis points out, women’s histories, including their very presence, are often invisible; this is especially true in Australia of the histories and presence of immigrants. In rendering such women visible through celebration of their stories and songs, Kefala’s writing resists that erasure.

Summer Visit: Three Novellas (Giramondo, 2002) continues this contemplation of losses and gains, couched in Kefala’s characteristically visual prose. Here the splendour of a new country, and specifically of Sydney, is emphasised: the ‘marvellous city, a living thing breathing in the night. The buildings full of crystal reflections, rising in the night sky sustained by a will of their own.’ The middle section of the book is a meditation on returning. When the narrator of ‘Summer Visit’ goes back to Greece, her memories of the country, like the people and scenes in old photographs, are at odds with the changes she finds. Everything now is ‘looking prosperous’ and people don’t resemble their old, pictured selves. The narrator finds ‘herself longing to escape from here and into her own life’. But when she is finally on her way back to Sydney, she is ‘alone in the dark universe’, in between again in the night sky. The sense of being permanently unhoused is prominent in the last piece, ‘Conversations With Mother’, an exquisite work of mourning that forms part of ‘the glorious mosaic’ noted by Dounis. The mother’s disappearance, at once ‘total’ and ‘impossible’, makes even art seem pointless; the struggle to transcend time leads only to ‘painted images in a dark tomb’. Yet the stories the mother used to tell live on, like the flowers she planted, and with time the narrator once again finds meaning in art and in the natural world.

Sydney Journals (2008) and Late Journals (2022) showcase Kefala’s distinctive, cosmopolitan vision. They are, among other things, wonderful Sydney documents, capturing the city’s changing moods and forms through charged, astute, visually rich observation. Indyk has written about the love of Sydney that runs through Sydney Journals.

Considering the description, ‘The magic of the city in summer, at dusk, holding your breath. The smell of the empty streets, the post office clock glowing in the night…My type of country’, he notes the sense of exultation and belonging implicit in the last phrase. This, he suggests, is ‘in stark contrast to the usual view of Kefala as displaced and in a kind of perpetual mourning for the past’ (Karalis and Nickas).

Similarly, while the loss of community attendant on migration is felt in Kefala’s Late Journals, this work highlights a different, sustaining kinship: the artists and intellectuals Kefala engages with, their presence and their work serving to enrich her days. There is wonderful generosity in Kefala’s acknowledgment of the creative work that matters to her, and a sense of celebration in her intransigent faith in the value and power of art.

Both Anna Couani and Brigitta Olubas have written about Kefala’s centrality to various creative circles in Sydney. This community, embraced by Kefala since the 1960s, isn’t limited to newcomers to Australia, but they constitute a significant proportion of it. Couani remarks on Kefala’s excitement and relief at encountering the ‘urbane, artistic and cosmopolitan’ aspect of Sydney life, and discovering shared experiences. (‘Before whom shall the drama be enacted?’ in Antigone Kefala: New Australian Modernities). While noting that some of the men in these circles were capable of dismissing creative work by women, Couani writes that Kefala’s artistic friends all ‘acknowledged and supported’ her practice.

Olubas, writing of these cosmopolitan ‘networks of friendships’ and their ‘poetics of displacement and self-establishment’, draws attention to the role landscape played in at least one of these creative connections (‘We Had Nowhere To Go: Artist Friendships and Migrant Poetics in the Work of Jurgis and Jolanta Janavicius’ in Antigone Kefala: New Australian Modernities). Late Journals testifies to what Olubas calls ‘friendship grounded [in both] visits to galleries and long drives through the bush and the Australian interior’, a reminder of the significance of both art and place in Kefala’s work.

Kefala’s oeuvre includes two books for younger readers, Alexia: A Tale of Two Cultures (John Ferguson, 1984) and Max: the Confessions of a Cat (Owl Publishing, 2009). However, Gibian points out that the former doesn’t fit neatly into the category of children’s books. She writes that it ‘unfurls multiple possibilities for the expression of the gendered, imaginative and literary self’ (Olubas and McMahon).

If a narrow concept of writing by migrants that would confine it to a certain kind of realism or memoir has affected the reception of Kefala’s work, she has continued, undaunted, to write in her chosen manner regardless of the demands of literary fashion and critical responses. In Sydney Journals, she quotes from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet: ‘Works of art are of infinite solitude, and nothing is less capable of reaching them than is criticism’.

Duwell hopes that, with the passage of time, ‘critics, publishers and scholars are a little better at seeing Kefala’s output in some kind of perspective – perhaps, even, seeing it as a whole’. In naming Kefala the winner of the Patrick White Award, the judges acknowledge the scope and range of her work, its precision, insight and distinctive contribution to Australian literature. We also note Kefala’s contribution to Australian literary culture through her work at the Australia Council.

The judges congratulate Antigone Kefala on the award.

Antigone Kefala’s most recent work, Late Journals (Giramondo, 2022).
Fragments by Antigone Kefala (Giramondo, 2016).
Sydney Journals by Antigone Kefala (Giramondo, 2008).
Summer Visit by Antigone Kefala (Giramondo, 2003).

Imants Tillers: a note on Credo

Published below is Imants Tillers’ preface to Credo (December 2022), a collection of essays on art and art history, written across the distinguished contemporary Australian artist’s career.

From Wassily Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911) to Joseph Kosuth’s ‘Art After Philosophy’ (1969), artists have always been important contributors to the written discourse on art. The first essay in this selection, ‘Locality Fails’, was commissioned by Paul Taylor for an early issue of Art+Text in 1982, and the last, ‘The Sources’, by Ivor Indyk in 2019 for this collection, and is published here for the first time. Unlike the iconic and polemical texts of Kandinsky and Kosuth, which can stand alone as powerful manifestos of a particular time and place, this selection of essays has no overarching theme, no grand narrative. It is fragmentary in nature, with essays written for specific purposes – for magazines, for exhibition catalogues, for conferences, for lectures – these texts are akin to ‘speeches delivered on just such and such an occasion’.

Since I never envisaged these essays being collected in a single volume, overlaps occur. Indeed, from time to time I have quoted the same sources exactly, and so inevitably there are a number of repetitions. Instead of editing out these repetitions, I decided to keep them. For I am not afraid of ‘repetition’ – indeed repetition is one of the fundamentals, not only of my writing, but of my painting as well. Occasionally I have tried to make exact copies of my own pre-existing work. In my paintings, which combine text and image, there are several phrases which have been repeated so many times that I have forgotten their origin, and they now seem to emanate from my own body of work.

Without doubt the phrase that I have repeated the most is from the French symbolist poet, Stéphane Mallarmé: ‘A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance.’ Since 1998 this phrase has become something of a mantra for me – framing almost every painting I have executed. It speaks to me about some kind of profound truth in relation to ‘chance’ and ‘destiny’ – the essence of the mystery of our lives – the degree to which we can and cannot mould, influence or determine our life-trajectory. We well know that the unexpected can arrive at any moment, though fortunately not every life will end up as a shipwreck!

Therefore, just as ‘quotation’ and ‘appropriation’ are fundamental tenets of my work, so too is ‘repetition’. Also, as Mallarmé once declared: ‘All the Great masters, ancient and modern, plagiarized Homer, and Homer plagiarized God.’

— Imants Tillers

Photo: Corinna and Dylan (2018)

Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au wins the 2022 Readings Prize for Fiction

Jessica Au’s Cold Enough for Snow is the 2022 winner of the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction.

The announcement was made at a ceremony at Readings Emporium in Melbourne on Wednesday 26 October 2022.

Cold Enough for Snow was ten years in the making and, during that time, being in the world of independent bookshops and talking to booksellers was one of the best literary educations I could have asked for,’ said Au upon receiving the news. ‘I was so humbled even to be part of this year’s shortlist alongside such incredible authors. My gratitude to Readings staff for their irreplaceable knowledge, and to the judges of this year’s prize.’

In their report, the judging panel said of the work: ‘It was a difficult decision to choose one title from this list. The judging panel reflected on, rather than judged, how each title gave us a new insight into our humanity. To that end, Jessica Au’s quiet contemplative prose about a mother and a daughter traveling was considered the needed juxtaposition to the past year.’

Au’s book is the inaugural winner of The Novel Prize, which saw her manuscript selected from hundreds of international submissions and published by three publishers in three continents: Giramondo Publishing (AU), New Directions (UK) and Fitzcarraldo (UK). The book has since been shortlisted for numerous awards and translated into 18 languages and counting.

The judges of the 2022 Readings New Australian Fiction Prize were Christine Gordon (head of community engagement and programming and chair of judges), Carolyn Watson (Readings Doncaster), Susan Stevenson (Readings Malvern), Tye Cattanach (former schools and libraries specialist) and last year’s winner, Andrew Pippos (Lucky’s).