Monthly Archives: March 2013

Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images, Edited by Delys Bird: Book Review

The latest outing from Margaret River Press is Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images edited by Delys Bird.

Fire

The dark cover image gives a ‘heads-up’ to the sometimes confronting pieces it contains but nothing could have prepared me for the impact of Cassandra Atherton’s ‘Raining Blood and Money: Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire’. Her description of shoeboxes filled with personal belongings as “mini-coffins” is perfectly sad and sadly perfect.   The term “thud-dead” that is the motif in this devastating imagined recounting is a quote from an eyewitness of the infamous 1911 New York factory fire and Atherton uses it to devastating effect. Of all the thud-deads repeated throughout the story, it was this one that left me breathless:

One of the girls hurtles into a street-light before her broken body lands on a pile of others beneath her.  A muted thud-dead. (89)

If you know nothing of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, I can recommend reading blood and money as a mini-history lesson.  If you know it well, the piece will bring the scene to life in all its unimaginable horror.

Another historical piece amongst the contemporary is ‘No Surrender’, in which Dorothy Simmons presents a different view of the Kelly Gang through a mother’s perspective.  Coincidentally, ANZ LitLovers (where this review will be cross posted) has a recent review of Jean Bedford’s novella fictionalizing the life of Ned Kelly’s sister Kate. Such vignettes into the lives of the ‘bit-players’ in these vast sagas help bring history to life.

David Milroy’s commissioned piece ‘Walardu and Karla’ presents as a pastiche of Aboriginal legend and contemporary realism.  Here we find Slim Dusty cassettes, the shadow of the Flying Doctor’s plane and a faded Dockers jumper, woven into the dreams and landscapes of tradition.  There is some great comic writing in this story like the description of the local expert on the Karla legend who is “happy to live the rest of his life in beer, in cigarettes and in-cognito” (16-17).  And this delightful gem where Alfred fondly recalls meeting the love of his life:-

Then from out of the darkness there came the voice of a goddess.

Ya got any cigarettes?

He turned slowly to face his destiny.

Nup! Don’t smoke. (20)

Underneath this rocking-good humour is a compact and special love story.

Kate Rizzetti writes beautifully in ‘Cool Change’ about a “man of the mountain, as strong and unyielding as the gums he felled for a living” (52), opening her story with Keith’s “unshaven kiss” (49) and ending with an imagined gentle kiss on his “whiskery cheek” (60).

Some of the poems are exceptional, from Paul Hetherington’s ‘Bushfire’ (“Rain came in drops like stones/clagging ash, banging roofs,/making molten dreams” [72]) to Carmel Macdonald Grahame’s expert melodic alliteration (“the lost, last bathroom was green and white,/leafily lead-lit” [73]) in ‘Coming Down to Earth’Miranda Aitken’s ‘Isaac’s Land is Burning’ needs to be seen on the page to appreciate its cleverness.

Metaphors and similes provide for some great imagery in Clair Dunn’s ‘Quest for Fire.  An old termite mound opposite a burnt out tree are, together, “like rusty bedheads” (185)  and morning is described beautifully as a “smudge of indigo appearing in the east” as the narrator feels “the soft underbelly of night” at her back “curling up in hollows and burrows” (195).

The book itself is easy on the eye with an interesting use of white space and thoughtful placement of images, one of my favourite plates being Aerial King Lake – Black Saturday 2009 by John Gollings.  It is so difficult to believe that the image is un-manipulated apart from a “small increase in contrast and red saturation” (39).

This is a collection that invites dipping into, here and there and I am sure I will revisit it many times, perhaps finding kernels of understanding and picking new favourite pieces.  For now though, the thud-deads of ‘Raining Blood and Money’ won’t leave me alone.

Available from Margaret River Press.
This review cross posted at ANZ LitLovers.

BOOK DETAIL

Bird, Delys, Ed. Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images, Margaret River Press, Witchcliffe, WA, 2013.
ISBN: 9-780987-218070

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People and Places Exhibition

I was delighted to attend the opening of the latest exhibition at the Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery.  It is always a pleasure but the level rises when the artist is local, and even more so, when the artist is known to me which is the case with this exhibition, Franco Arcidiacono’s People and Places. As someone who is incapable of sketching or painting anything remotely realistic, I am in awe of artists and love to bask in the reflected glow of those I know.

Franco Arcidiacono is a local artist whose talent is phenomenal, according to many of the admirers at the Gallery gathering on Friday night.

Elspeth Cameron acted as Emcee in her inimitable classy fashion and Counsellor Vic Pennisi gave us a rather lengthy rundown on Franco’s achievements (to be fair, said achievements are vast so it would be hard to condense).

One look at the artwork so carefully and thoughtfully hung, and you realise there is no need for words anyway.  Franco seems rightly proud of his portraits, of which there are many, and it is fun to spot a face in the crowd and compare it to the one framed on the wall.  But it was the landscapes in all their variety of location, medium and style that struck me the most.

I sometimes refer to myself as a synesthete and certainly, when I look at artworks, this affliction (or gift, depending on your point of view) comes to the fore.  So, in the spirit of that old adage that you don’t have to be an art expert to know what you like, I’ll describe my reaction to my favourite painting.

I saw it as I ascended the stairs and stood motionless until someone bumped me up a step.  I couldn’t have spoken if you’d asked me to.  Fellow art-admirers disappeared into a whitewash of blurred images around me as I stared at the 202 x 52cm Granite Belt Landscape in Greys.  I heard its music instantly; a distant haunting harp.  It spoke to me of seasons, silence and secrets.  The silveriness of some of the greys suggested a frosty morning to me; to someone close by, the same colours were “scary, almost sinister”.  Yet another admirer remarked that it was like the aftermath of a bushfire in reverse.  I got to listen to all these comments as I stood, rooted to the spot, hearing the music and whispered voices, the hairs on my arms at attention, shivering with goose-bumps and temporarily transported to a place created by my reaction to the landscape.

I believe Granite Belt Landscape in Greys was quickly nabbed by an astute buyer.  If I find out it was a local, I’ll be angling for an invite to coffee.  In the meantime, if you’re looking for me, you’ll probably find me at the gallery, all glassy-eyed and distant.

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